What? Me Retired?

Last week when a friend asked me if I was making visual art or writing, I caught myself saying, “No, I’m retired.” Even though I haven’t been painting or writing much these days, I haven’t considered myself retired. I’m still busy as a bee and can’t seem to tell you where the days go. Since then I’ve found myself using that word more often, especially when it’s time to get up in the morning and I tell myself, “Oh, there’s plenty of time. After all, you are retired.”

Interestingly, I’ve recently talked to two artist friends my age or a bit older, and they tell me they aren’t making art either. They, like me are simply letting the days unfold before them and are enjoying things they haven’t done in a long while, like sleep in, travel, and not worry about tomorrow.

So I’m beginning to think that maybe I really am retired. I’m taking it easy, working on getting the kinks worked out of my stiff body, and enjoying extra sleep time. It’s time for lots of reading, writing in my journal, and eating foods grown on the lush farms all around me. Virginia Peaches are just coming in and their sweet juiciness is what summer is all about. Our farmer’s market is the place to go early on Saturday mornings if you want to fill your frig with the best veggies. It’s also where I often catch up with friends I haven’t seen in a while.

As a way of testing whether or not I’m retired, I’m taking some time off here and blogging only when I have something important or inspiring to say. Though we’re mostly at home this summer, we’re eyeing a lovely cruise up the New England and Canadian coast, then down the St. Lawrence Seaway in the fall. And who knows what else will present itself? I’m opening up my life and my days by leaning into the breeze and seeing where it takes me. I’m not giving up the visual art and writing ghosts at all. I’m simply allowing my muse the extra time and space she needs to fly.

See you next time! And have a wonderful summer!

I’m Ba-ack!

The first Hellebores of 2015, taken on March 9th.

The first Hellebores of 2015, taken on March 9th.

During the writing retreat I took with four friends back in February, Shirley and Kathy talked about taking a Lenten sabbatical from all things “Social Media.” Envious, I told myself, “They both are already published writers with terrific, heart-grabbing books. They can afford to do that. They have great followings and six to eight weeks of being in absentia, wouldn’t hurt their sales, ratings, or any other business issue.”

Feeling a tad burned out by all of the things I do on a daily basis, including revising my memoir, keeping up with my blog, email, Facebook, Twitter, and my daily household duties such as cooking and keeping the house tidy, I wished I could go on sabbatical, too.

A week later.

A week later.

Facebook and Twitter, two places I’ve been told are absolutely necessary to participate in to build a platform were taking up too much of my time. I  threatened to quit both on a daily basis. They annoyed me. Whenever I’d start checking Twitter and Facebook trying to find something of interest to post about, Iwould get hooked, read everything but what I needed to read, and then feel as though I’d wasted an entire day. And while I’ve always loved working on this blog, I was tired and running out of ideas. I needed time to figure out where I was going with it. I yearned for time to just stare into space. I wanted more time to read for pleasure. I had a yen to get out my paints, brushes, and splatter glowing colors on a huge piece of canvas, as well as myself.

Same Hellebores on March 14th.

Same Hellebores 2 weeks later.

So, on the evening before I published that last blog post, I made the snap decision to join my friends on sabbatical. I asked myself, “Why not?” I was tired of waking in the night to use the bathroom, and not being able to go back to sleep because I’d start worrying how to get good reviews for the book I hadn’t even finished yet.  I’d try various breathing techniques to calm the knots in my stomach and then get up again to take a pill to remedy the headache that was worsening. For someone with an anxiety disorder, I was not taking care to keep myself from overwhelm and the inevitable panic attacks that can result.

I reasoned that if I took back the time I spent on social media, including my blog, I’d have more time to revise my memoir. I chose not to worry about my “platform,” or what the experienced big boys and girls were saying about what I had to do in order to be a successful author. I was getting more and more anxious about how I was going to get my book published and then spend the rest of my dotage being a saleswoman. I declared, “ Enough already!”

I had big plans for all the extra time I’d have. I’d allow myself to daydream, providing myself with new creative ideas, and time to just relax. I’d take at least an hour every day to read for fun. I’d get back into a daily stretching routine and help my body to get over it’s aches and pains. I’d take brisk walks and go for the 10,000 steps I knew I needed to take every day in order to stay fit. And in order to fill that yearning to start doing some visual art, I decided to keep a weekly visual journal in order to give myself some play time.

It all started out beautifully. I started ripping things out of magazines, got out the glue and markers, and started putting together my first journal page. I walked every day, and spent time stretching my stiff parts. I read, experimented with some new recipes in the kitchen, and took naps when I felt I needed to. I started feeling better immediately and was grateful that I’d chosen to quit the self abuse and just take some time off to get my head back together again.

Chinese Magnolia, April 1st.

Japanese Magnolia, April 1st.

So here I am, back on my blog and taking time to peek at and comment on Facebook and Twitter. I’m happy to be back, rested and wiser for the experience. Next week, I’ll fill you in on what I learned and how it all turned out.

In the meantime, I’m posting some photos of what spring has looked like here. I hope you enjoy them and come back next week for more.

Being Mindful In A Mindless World

IMG_0027In this age of multitasking and always needing to be first in line, I work at keeping myself from getting involved in doing too many things and out of the general hubbub around me. I want to live in the moment. Mindful of the way traffic is flowing. That there is someone tailgating me and that I need to be careful. I want to notice all of the colors the sky takes on at sunset. And yes, I even want to experience the sadness I feel about losing a friend or the pain I feel in my hip. Being mindful is about being awake and aware of where you are, how you feel, and what is happening around you. It’s about being present in the moment, in relationship, and with the world around you.

It’s taken me a long time to figure out what mindfulness is all about. I first heard the the term years ago when I started going to the local Insight Meditation Community meetings on Tuesday nights to meditate with a large group of other seekers and to hear dharma talks espousing the teachings of the Buddha. I thought that during meditation you are supposed to empty your mind completely and experience some altered state of being. I thought, “Wow, that will surely make my life happier and I won’t have to suffer anymore.”

Imagine my disappointment when I found that wasn’t going to happen. I tried over and over again to concentrate on my breath, only to find myself planning tomorrow night’s dinner or badmouthing the lady who pushed herself ahead of me in line at the grocery store today, resulting in my dropping everything I was carrying and breaking the eggs I needed. But with time and a lot of missteps, I realized that everyone else in the meditation group struggled with the same thing.  I learned that meditation was not only about relaxing and bringing a peaceful vibe to the day or evening. It’s about learning to understand how our minds work and what pulls them away from the moment of quiet and peace we are currently trying to experience.

There I was trying to empty my mind while my mind insisted on being full of other stuff that seemed to be more important than what I was currently trying to do. Have you and your mate ever gone out to dinner and spent a good part of the time checking your email on your iPhone instead of enjoying each other’s company? Have you ever been driving your car lost in thought, suddenly discovering you’ve been unconscious for the past five minutes and didn’t remember to turn right after the last traffic light?  It’s what happens when we don’t give ourselves enough time and space to breathe deeply and be with ourselves in the moment.

As I sit here at my keyboard I’m aware of the words forming on the screen as I dictate to my fingers.  I’m aware that I’m writing about something that is important to me and want to share my thoughts. I notice that sometimes the words I find on the screen aren’t the best ones I could choose. I go back and change them.

I notice that my eyes are dry and tired. I close them and stop typing. I hear a robin and a several other birds practicing their spring mating songs just outside the window and the hum of the heater warming the room. I notice my back feeling stiff and my need to get up and do a few minutes of stretching before getting back to work. When I’m mindful of what my body needs I can help it feel better and my writing will be easier and better.

The problem is I easily get distracted. As I write I find myself keeping one eye on the clock, knowing I have only a few more minutes to finish this post. I’m going to be late getting to my Pilates class if I don’t hurry up. Before I leave I need to put the dogs out, check the washing machine, and find the list of groceries I need to get after class. My writing is no longer making sense and I’m just wanting to finish it.  All that leads to a host of other possibilities: like speeding, running a red light, getting a traffic ticket, or causing an accident. I stop and ask myself, “Is it worth it?”

For me the secret of being as mindful as possible is to slow down and give myself the time and space to practice being in the moment. Instead of filling my plate with too many things for me to handle at one time, I slow down and take my time choosing one thing to do. I decide I’ll finish this post later. Otherwise, I’ll become as mindless as the next person, charging down the highway trying to keep up to speed with the world around me.  I’d rather pay attention and do one thing well, than do two or three things and only do a half-assed job at any of them.

Hope you’re enjoying these wonderful spring days.  To my family and friends in New England, I’ll be thinking of you over the next few days.  I hear you’ll be getting yet another snowstorm.  I’m extremely grateful to be here in Virginia.

Reno Week #1

The living room.

The living room.

The week that was went by in a flash … but it also seemed to take a year to pass.  I don’t quite know how to explain that but that’s how it was.  The hard wood flooring is being put in now and should be finished by Friday morning.  The hall and powder room where the laundry room will be located has now been gutted and work proceeds there.

All in all it was a pretty good week. I managed to do everything but work on my memoir.  Even though my studio is in another building it’s hard for me to focus.  The dogs are jumpy from all the noise and the poor cat doesn’t quite know what to do with herself.  All of us except Sweet Lilli, the cat are staying at a nearby Residence Inn, but even there the dogs aren’t themselves.  They are very much creatures of habit and all of the turmoil is intruding into the quiet security they are used to. It’s the same for both Bill and I but we’re the humans and are supposed to be resilient. We try and are encouraged every day by the progress that is being made.  I can already say that the new floor in the kitchen, though only partially laid, is going to be gorgeous and will make a huge difference in the amount of time I spend cooking.

My biggest hangup has been eating and cooking. I’m gluten-free and am trying go mostly Paleo, meaning no grains whatsoever.  I am also a cook-it-from-scratch kind of person and the limited kitchen arrangements in our room have been a problem until yesterday when we moved into a room with a real stove with four burners and an oven.  It’s still tiny and cramped but I don’t plan on making anything that is complicated. So I think we’re good until our kitchen here is done.

I could go into a rant or have a pity party and cry about how hard all of this is, but it wouldn’t help. Yesterday I finally made friends with the idea that this is going to be a time of getting little serious writing done and having untold interruptions no matter what I’m trying to do. Unlike several people I know who went to Europe while their homes were being renovated, I find it helpful to check in on what is happening in order to keep from being surprised at the end of the day.

As I watch the rest of the world, the work being done here and the great people who are doing it, I find myself being grateful that this interruption in my life is as small as it is. It is nothing in comparison to what the single dad who is supervising this job goes through every day, for his daughters, three and six years old. I’m grateful for the cooking space I do have that is inside a warm building and the choices available to me when it comes to what to eat.

Kitchen floor in process.

Kitchen floor in process.

I’m grateful for everything I have and for a huge amount of stuff that I don’t have. Sure I’m somewhat stressed. Who wouldn’t be?  Life is what it is, but I happen to be one of the most fortunate citizens on this planet.  Suffering is an option but for the moment I am choosing to live mindfully and simply notice what is happening around me and what is going through my head. The only thing I can change is the way I perceive what is going on and I’m especially grateful that I’m able to do just that.

What stresses are happening in your life and how are you keeping it from turning your life upside down?

Keeping The Holidays Simple

Christmas in New York, 2007

Christmas in New York, 2007

Here we are just a little over two weeks before Christmas and I’m not in panic mode.  I don’t think I’ve ever spent a Christmas without being completely overwhelmed by all that had to be done and the impossible expectations I set for myself.  I’ve run into a number of people over the past week or two who have mentioned that they have way to much to do and little time to accomplish even the most important things for them.  That sounds very familiar to me but I’ve had to smile at myself and pat myself on the back for not being driven to distraction by the usual holiday stress mess. So what’s the difference between this year and the past?  Firstly, we usually go down to North Carolina to be with our daughter, her partner and grandkids.  Last December we all decided that it might be fun to just have our own individual holiday celebrations this December.  It sounded like a great idea to me and though I’m especially going to miss Noah and Zoe, I think it will be good for them to just be with their two moms, doing something more laid back and simple, than entertaining their grandparents. I’m extremely grateful that I don’t have to prepare for a trip. I generally don’t like to travel on holidays of any kind because of the traffic and the rush-rush attitude I tend adopt in order to get ready to hit the road on time.  And to be honest, long car trips are not one of my favorite activities at this point in my life. Being fairly active, even an hour of sitting in the car, brings on joint stiffness and it takes a lot of work to iron it all out. It’s at least a six hour trip down to North Carolina, without pit stops. After our trip to London in October and the almost eight hours of sitting on the plane, one-way, I’m particularly happy to stay put this year. Mark and his family, who live nearby, will be away, so Bill and I are planning a very quiet day.  We will  go to a few parties in the neighborhood during the week and treat Christmas itself as a day to relax, without stuffing ourselves with way too much food.  Maybe we’ll go out a see a movie, and if the weather is nice spend some time wandering about with our dogs, who always love to visit new walking spots.  The smells are different from their usual stomping grounds and they may well get to make friends with dogs they’ve never met before. The other thing that’s helped keep my stress at a low level is that since the day before Thanksgiving I haven’t been shopping except to go to the grocery store.  Everyone in the family will get gifts, but they’ll be things I’ve purchased on line, and sent directly to the recipient. In other cases a gift of some money will help those out who need a little extra cash this year.  By staying away from all of the stores, I keep myself from being in contact with the holiday grouches and those in such a hurry that they mow everyone down in front of them. We’ll keep our Christmas meal simple like we did at Thanksgiving when I made Eggplant Parmesan, a big tossed salad, and apple crisp for desert, all gluten-free and delicious. I haven’t yet decided what I’ll make for Christmas dinner, but you can be sure it will be something simple. Gone are the days when I enjoy an overloaded table of food and then have to take five mile hikes for the next two months to lose the pounds I gained. If there will be any stress, it might be over some renovations our house will be undergoing come January sixth.  We’re getting a new hardwood floor installed in the kitchen. The hard, uneven slate floor that was in place when we bought this place has not been easy on my legs and back. I’m very excited about spending more time cooking comfortably.  We’re also demolishing the powder room on the main floor and will be moving the washer and dryer into that space from the basement, making it unnecessary to climb steep stairs while clutching an overloaded basket of laundry. They’ll be situated right next to our bedroom, making doing laundry much more easy. I’m sure there will be stress enough living without a kitchen and laundry facilities for about four weeks. But in the end when it is done I’ll be able to swing back into my regular life and proceed as usual, but much more easily. In the meantime I’m working on Part Three of my memoir.  I am pleased that I allowed myself to forget my October first deadline for finishing the first draft of the entire book. The trip to London, even though I was sick for part of it was just what the writing doctor order.  Taking my time with it has opened up a new avenue for the way I’m handling the last part of my story and so far it’s it’s really going well. It’s taken me a long time to figure out how to reduce strain and worry, especially during the holiday season.  Do you have special ways of handling holiday stress?