The Saturday Sabbatical

So blessed readers,  several fellow bloggers have posted recently about the importance of  consciously committing to creative time.  It is said great minds think alike and while I lay no claims to any form of genius, I found myself in sync with these same thoughts.  Here is my post on the matter.

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I must admit I felt  a bit jaded at the turn of this New Year.  It is uncharacteristic for me to feel so mundane about New Years.  I usually look forward to the opportunity to reflect on accomplishments and set new goals. I realized much of my malaise stemmed from challenges we are facing at the high school where I work as a special education assistant. Although I love my job, recent changes in my schedule have added significant stress to the work day. I began to find myself dreading Mondays.  Worse yet, our Christmas vacation ran much longer than usual because the holidays fell on Wednesdays. We were off for a full two weeks and by New Years I was in a deep funk at the thought of returning to work. I hadn’t felt this way in years.

I knew I needed to do something different. So, after using some of the extra time to “pack up Christmas”  ( my least favorite chore of the season and one I usually put off as long as possible)

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  I asked myself what I most wanted to do with the remaining time off. I had left several creative projects in “pause” mode to focus on the flurry of holiday activities and traveling. There was a backlog of recipes I had been wanting to try.  I love to cook, but only when I can take my time to experiment.  I hardly consider the quick meals I dash together on busy weeknights as “creative cooking,” even though my daughter usually thanks me for dinner and tells me it was “delish.” I decided to spend the last days of vacation doing only what I wanted to do. Those cobwebs that magically reappeared after the pre-holiday house scouring could wait, as well as laundry, year end accounting and all other chores normally relegated to the weekends.  I went to our regional farmers market and discovered a whole new building had been opened and it was HEATED! One of the vendors featured a mind boggling array of hand made pastas….curry fettuccine? mushroom penne? garlic and spinach linguine?

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Wow, the possibilities for meals was endless. My favorite local coffee roasters (whose van I had stalked the previous summer by following their locations as they posted on social media) was also there.  I no longer had to motivate myself to drive through snow covered roads to the University area where parking is scarce to get my fresh roasted beans.  I promised myself I would bring my camera next time to gather material for my on line photography class and future blog inspiration.

And I went back to the local rescue where I had been a volunteer for two years and started walking dogs again…in sub zero temps…. and Lake Effect snow bands….. just like the winter when I first volunteered as  a way to stay committed to exercising and keeping down winter weight gain. Somehow the prospect of bracing against negative wind chill factors and climbing snowbanks with a 40 lb pit/lab/hound mix is more motivating than trudging on a treadmill in my heated basement.

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 I had taken a year off to gain some perspective on rescue work (a topic which is in itself a future blog post ) and it was encouraging to see all the changes that had come about while I focused on fostering dogs at home. I missed my friends at the rescue too, both the two and four legged kind.  That weekend I slept better than I had in quite a while and I realized if I kept doing what I was doing  I might continue to feel less anxiety about the stresses of work.

So the Sunday evening before school started again I made just one New Year’s Resolution.  I would give myself the gift of one day every week to do whatever I wanted and I realized I would have to approach my weekends with a different perspective to make that happen. Coming from a work ethic  where chores had to be done before fun was an option, Saturday mornings had always been allotted for chores with the hope that by the evening I would have some free time.  I realized my list of tasks not only consumed Saturdays, they often took up a good chunk of Sundays well. No wonder I felt so drained when faced with yet another Monday. So my first Saturday after work, I refrained from my usual tasks promising my anxiety that everything which  needed to get done could and would get done the next day.

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I spent the day sorting photos, trying three new recipes and walking dogs in an evening snowstorm. It was great and yes the laundry, dusting and cleaning of bathrooms got done by the time the sun set on Sunday, which left me time to watch a movie with my daughter. The next weekend, I even managed to sort through two boxes of “stuff” which had been left after cleaning out a closet last summer.  Somehow allocating less time for mundane tasks was allowing me to get more done.

Maybe it was my attitude, like a quote from an inspirational calendar sitting on my desk says it’s the state of mind you are in not what you are doing that matters.

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Happy trails readers and remember “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”  Peter Lawrence Berra.

Words not mine

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An evening dog walk

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grateful they’re not mine.

Who’s on First?

So blessed readers….a post on the Bedlam Farm Creative Group page got me thinking…..

First you may note the change in my greeting.  I have felt for a while now the blog intro sounded forced.  To greet this virtual gathering as “dear” implies a level of amity ( look it up,  it’s a word worth knowing) I would not wish to claim without consent. Social Media creates an artificial sense of  familiarity I find disconcerting.  On the other hand, I have made connections with people I might never have known but for social media. Like many elements of modern technology, it is a double edged sword.

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Blessings however require neither intimacy nor consent. This may sound like a brash statement; it comes from a mentor who taught me to send forth blessings in the most trying circumstances.  Stuck in traffic? Long lines at the grocery checkout? Sitting behind and in front of crying little ones on long airplane rides? Empty the mind of irritating thoughts by sending out simple prayers of blessing.  There have been days I stood at the end of my driveway, waiting to gather my mail from the mailbox across the road as car after car after car zoomed by and I would sigh and say “Good Heavens there are so many people in need of blessings today.” The majority of these people do not know me (occasionally a neighbor will honk as they pass by)  but they WILL be blessed whether they know it or not!

I would hope anyone reading my posts would be in some way blessed by giving me their time and attention. It may be a bit of laughter, a shared emotion or healing memory pushed to the surface by what I have shared.  If the words I gather here in my attempt to make sense of life experiences help other people in any way then I certainly feel blessed.  I harbor no illusions of having some special level of power to administer blessings beyond the simple grace which we all hold within our hearts. Anything I am able to give to myself or others comes through me, not from me.

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Which brings me to the post I read today.  It posed a question about the fine line between compassion and enabling. It prompted an excellent dialogue of powerful insights on how we can help others while maintaining necessary boundaries for our own well being. Reading it I could hear my grandparents telling me “First things first.”  My grandfather said this when we worked in his garden, a small but prolific patch of green next to his garage in the Bronx. I was required to carefully pull weeds, deadhead blossoms and trim thorns off roses for my grandmother before being allowed to cut my own little bouquet to take home.  My grandmother applied this wisdom in the kitchen. It was my task to carefully line up various bowls, teacups and a set of ceramic spoons as she gathered the ingredients for some wonderful dessert.  Grandma had me measure out flour, sugar, spices and seasonings in specific teacups, spoons and bowls.  Pans were carefully prepped and all ingredients lined up well before any mixing was begun.  I do not ever recall seeing her use a printed recipe or cookbook, although she very well may have had both. It took me years to replicate her rice pudding recipe. I still regret not buying the set of vintage mixing bowls similar to hers I once found in an antique store, they might have helped.

It took me many years to realize “first things first” did not mean everything and everyone else came first.  Several times I found myself burnt out and lost because I had forgotten to care for myself. I began to realize that guilt was a big clue.  The more guilt I felt when saying “no,” the more likely it was I should in fact hold my ground and maintain some boundaries. It was crucial to reach out, ask others to step in and help so I could step back, take a break and renew my spirit. I began to realize I was a “better” person, a more patient Mom, more efficient co-worker and stronger rescue volunteer when I took time to tend to my own needs because I was more peaceful and content.  It might be a day hike, a weekend of camping trip or even five minutes of quiet in the car before leaving for work.  Sometimes it is as simple as letting the young man at our local feed store carry the big bags of birdseed or dog food out to my car.

Caring for others brings out larger issues, in our personal, family and even societal dynamics. I see this with my friends caring for family members who are ill or aging, with the ongoing efforts of local rescue groups and with the families of the special needs students at work. I myself can only do so much to help and I can only do my best when I am at my best.  If this requires taking time to regain my sense of peace I know I will not be able to move forward until I step back.  Significantly, stepping back sometimes clears the way for things to progress in a way I had not envisioned.  It’s only taken me half a century to apply this insight consistently! Much of the time the process ran similar to the confusion in the famous Abbott and Costello routine “Who’s on First?” and yes a large part of my attitude now comes from the ability to take things, especially myself,  less seriously. I have come to realize if I am not smiling, at least on the inside, when I am doing what I do, I might in fact be adding to the struggle. It is only when I am coming from a heart of peace that I can truly help.

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Note: the photos here are from a recent photography experiment where one of our group member shared the process of creating orbs from existing photos.  What we found most enjoyable was how it gave us new ways to look at the images we had on file.  Taking what seems common place and seeing it in a new light, the heart of creativity.

Ode to the Zombie Pig

So, dear readers.  This poem insisted on being posted.  It is an inside reference to a muse of one of my Bedlam Farm Creative Group friends.  It may seem mysterious to some, especially the photo orb.  But perhaps some inspiration will rise from pondering it.

There is a place 

   where nothing is impossible

      Time waits

          Forgiveness is free

              Broken hearts mend

                 Hope is never lost

It is not somewhere over a rainbow

It is here

    It is now

        It arrived when Pigs Flew.

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Sunset comes too soon……

So dear readers,  I am standing at the window ( or was until I sat down to write) watching  the sun sink below the snow covered rooftops and cursing the sleet that keeps me and the dogs inside.

I could use a good walk to clear my clouded thoughts.  You see this is the sunset I have been dreading for a while.  It marks  the can’t turn back starting point of this year. While we were still on break, I could maintain the illusion that the new year had not quite begun. It is so convincing, I haven’t sent out my New Years Cards ( Japanese families send cards for New Years rather than Christmas,  it is a good tradition to fall back on when one has a holiday season so packed the Christmas Cards will be woefully tardy.) But tonight the illusion ends, when I wake tomorrow morning there will be no denying that it is 2014.

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I felt this way once before, the year my oldest daughter traveled to Japan to study in Tokyo for a semester.  That year the sensation began soon after Thanksgiving, although with the clatter of holiday preparations, it took me a while to realize it was there. As December progressed, there was no denying the feeling of sadness which came each afternoon as the sun sank below the cold horizon and darkness gripped my heart. It made absolutely no sense to me.  I had long dreamed of taking my daughters to see my mother’s homeland, the country where I was born. One of the main criteria in her college search was a study abroad program in Japan. We planned to visit her during our spring vacation break.  It wasn’t that I feared for her safety.  I had traveled on my own from Asia to New York to attend college. I found my way just fine and I had every confidence my daughter would do the same. This made the terrible sensation all the more puzzling to me, yet every evening as daylight shifted into dusk sadness almost overwhelmed me.  Sunset has always been my favorite time of day. Suddenly  I wanted to stop time, to freeze the sun in the sky at the golden angle when the light was all shades of living reds. One afternoon while walking the dogs, I paused at the end of the road where there was a wide open field.  I watched the sun sinking slowly below the trees.  “Don’t go!”  I whispered.

I whispered it again tonight, from my window reflecting the golden reds of sunset blurred by ice. Tears fell, my heart ached.  This is the year my daughter and son-in-law are moving to the West Coast.  Last spring, they visited Portland, Oregon where so many people of their generation and interests have gone.  It is a vegan friendly, dog loving, progressive city. She brought back brochures for me about bird watching and bookstores; she gave her Dad an issue of the local magazine featuring brew pubs. “You would love it there,” she said. I have no doubt we will when we visit later this year and I know they will be happy. I have no more desire to hold them here, than I did to hold her back from the magnificent adventure of Japan.

Still as the light faded from the sky and darkness fell, my heart whispered to the sun “Come back.”

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Tomorrow I will rise in darkness to feed the dogs before going to work. In winter  the sun does not rise before I do, in fact thanks to daylight savings time going into effect earlier in recent years, the sun will not rise before me until late March. However, the point is it will rise.  There is no stopping time and I know even if it were possible I could not bring myself to do so. I must let go if my daughters  are to live a full life of their choosing. I raised them to follow their hearts and I cannot, I will not be the force that stands in their way. So I will watch the sun set each day and send blessings ahead to meet them on their path.

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Walk gently on the trails this year and may adventure find you ready my friends.

Waiting

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Beneath ice and snow

Fish sleep dreaming of spring’s return

All in good time. Zen