The Anti-Resolution Path to Resolutions

Every year I struggle to not set New Year’s resolutions.  Every year, I tell myself that I am not going to set myself up for failure one more time.  And then, every year, I find myself excited and motivated about some crazy goal (or, more likely, 14 or 15 crazy goals) that somehow managed to slip into my consciousness without me acknowledging they’re new year’s resolutions at all.

This year, I am going to head myself off at the pass.  I’m going to set a few, simple resolutions.

First, let’s talk some more about being judgmental.  I’m no expert, but it seems like the path to being a bitter and lonely person is to make your way through the world by clinging to small thoughts, thinking the worst of others, jumping to uninformed and unfair conclusions, and summarizing others whole characters based on what may be a few isolated events.

Since “Don’t be judgmental” doesn’t work so well as a resolution–it’s oh, so hard to focus on not doing something–I will instead:

  1. Notice when I am being judgmental
  2. Correct myself in my phrasing or thinking to make it non-judgmental.

For example, if I hear myself saying, “He’s an idiot.”  I will correct myself to say, “In this particular instance, his idea doesn’t work so well.”  This gives me a positive action to take instead of something to worry about avoiding.  After all, if there’s one important lesson I’ve learned from hang gliding, it’s that when we fixate on what we want to avoid, we end up right in the middle of the puddle.

Second, I want to revisit the idea of coming up with great gift ideas for my loved ones.  Since trying to come up with ideas for everyone might be a bit too much to expect, my resolution is to come up with great gift ideas for the 2 most difficult people I buy gifts for:  my nephew and my husband.  The rules for this resolution are that the gifts must be within the price range I normally spend for Christmas, but can be purchased and given at any time.  The gifts must be received and agreed upon to be great gift ideas by both my nephew and my husband for my resolution to be achieved.

Finally, since I like a list to have at least three items in it, I resolve to eat more fruits and vegetables.  I am a bit disappointed that I need this resolution–eating lots of fruits and vegetables had become a way of life for me some time ago.  However, since I find myself eating fewer and fewer fruits and vegetables, I resolve to eat enough fruits and vegetables to average 3 or more servings per day.  By fruits and vegetables, I mean raw or steamed, unprocessed foods.  French fries are not a vegetable.

Three resolutions.  We shall see if even that is too much.

Fire in the Sky

Tonight, as the sun sinks, I look up just in time to see the clouds streaking across the sky, brilliantly lit in red and orange.  I’ve never seen the sunset in such a way as to create a striped backdrop for the skyline before.  I drop everything and run up to the roof.  Well, maybe not run, but walk as quickly as I can without falling on my face while carrying a tripod and camera.

When I get to the roof, I am amazed by the stillness of the air and the feeling of warmth rising from the roof.  I stand up my camera and start to shoot.  I would like to shoot nothing but the sky, but I can’t get the roof top across the street out of the frame.

The clouds create a blaze of fire over the horizon.  I stand there pondering whether my photos will look fake, the color is so brilliant.  I wonder what about Chattanooga causes so many glorious sunsets?  Is it just that because our windows give us a great view of the sunset that I notice how beautiful it is?  Or does Chattanooga have some sort of special set of circumstances that generates spectacular sunrises and sunsets on a regular basis?  Perhaps it’s just that coming from Columbus, Ohio, we so seldom saw the sun.

I stand for a moment between shots.  I let the light change a little before taking the next one.  I zoom out and try to capture the vastness of the sky.  It’s impossible.  I decide right then and there I’m buying a wider-angle lens.  I breathe in the evening air, moist with humidity rising off the cooling river.  I breathe out and let go of every worry.  All I see, think, and feel is the blazing sky.

I look closely and take aim.  I capture a moment of light and clouds and manmade structures all combined in a way that they have never been combined before and will never be combined again.  I adjust my exposure until, at last, what I see in my LCD is as spectacular as the sky that surrounds me.  I breathe again as I look at the Christmas tree reflecting in the river.  I wonder if it will show up in my picture.

I watch as the sunlight fades and the sky turns to more subtle shades of fire against twilight blue and then I shoot again, this time zoomed in to capture the reflection of the city on the river.

When the last of the light has faded away and I stand shivering on the roof top as the wind picks up, I pack up my tripod and camera and head back inside.  I take a look at my photos on my monitor and I am pleased.  While I have much to learn, at least there is one shot that perfectly captured what I wanted to capture while standing on the roof, shooting fire.

Muddy Paws

Bogart, one of our English Mastiff Canine Kids in 2008

I have the great pleasure of walking dogs today.  Taking a walk with a person versus taking a walk with two dogs are two different experiences.  Walking with a person means compromising on pace and distance based on someone else’s mood.  Walking with dogs means I get to set the pace and distance, but only if I’m willing to enforce a no-pulling rule.  Although I accommodate sudden stops of the dogs’ choosing whether for potty breaks or sniffing.  Since I don’t want the dogs to pull me, I figure I shouldn’t pull them.

Fortunately, these dogs are trained to walk with a gentle leader.  This makes things considerably easier.  If they start to pull, I stop until the leash goes slack.  That’s my goal–to get them to walk so the leash has a little slack.  After a few times, they seem to understand and we walk at the pace I choose.  At least until they stop.

One dog seems to like to sniff a lot.  I eventually realize that she is actually trying to rub off her gentle leader.  I decide to distract her by going for a short, slow jog.  This works well until the other dog suddenly needs to poop.

Apparently there is some kind of trigger that once one dog poops, the other dog will have to poop exactly 10 steps after I have tied a knot in the poop bag, forcing me to use a second bag.  That is another difference between walking with humans and dogs–on a good day, the former doesn’t require picking up poop in a plastic baggie.

We wind our way around a paved trail that goes through the woods.  They try to walk on fallen leaves or grass whenever possible.  Interestingly, neither dog wants to walk in mud or puddles.  They go around puddles without any encouragement from me.

I smile at this.  We used to have two English Mastiffs who never really noticed what they were walking through.  They would leave giant paw prints that would have strangers stopping and wondering if a bear or lion was loose in the neighborhood if they had never seen our dogs (and sometimes when they were looking at our dogs).

Then, when we got home, we would have a pile of “dog towels” by the door that we would use to wipe the mud off of their feet.  They were pretty good about standing and letting us wipe their paws, but it was hard to keep the one who went second from walking all over the place with their big muddy paws while they waited. There are a lot of days when I miss having to wipe muddy paws.

Today, I will have no muddy paws to wipe–these dogs are more dainty than I am when it comes to staying out of the mud.  But as we jog along briefly, the accompanying jingle of dog tags makes me feel like it’s going to be a good day.

Turning on the Heat

We have not turned on the heat.  There is no reason for this other than a combination of my large sweater collection and stubbornness.  My husband doesn’t care–he’s usually hot anyway.  I, however, am always cold.  One might assume this would motivate me to turn on the heat sooner, not later.  But, my logic goes like this:  I am cold when it is 72 degrees and I am cold when it is 65 degrees.  Our apartment is 65 degrees for free, but to heat it to 72 degrees would increase our electric bill.  Therefore, there is no return on the additional expenditure for turning on the heat.

In truth, I’m waiting for two milestones to occur.  First, I would like to make it until January until we turn the heat on.  The second is a more logical milestone:  if the apartment fails to get up to 65 degrees for more than 2 consecutive days, I’ll turn the heat on.

In the meantime, I find creative ways to deal with the cold on cloudy days when the apartment peaks right at 65.  I noticed the other day that my coffee consumption has doubled and I’m also drinking hot tea when I used to drink water.  I have started layering on extra sweaters.  Sometimes, I will put on a layer of long underwear, a long sleeve T-shirt, a cardigan, and then a big scarf I can wrap around my shoulders.  If that’s not warm enough, I throw a blanket around me while I work at my desk.

However, I really struggle with my hands and feet.  My nails turn blue and my hands stiffen as I type.  My feet seem to be permanent ice blocks.  The only way to thaw them is to sit cross-legged and tuck my feet under my thighs.  This doesn’t work so well in my desk chair.

Since I can’t put more clothes on and still fit in my chair, I get up and drink some tea when I find my fingers are getting stiff or my feet are aching.  I find walking around the room does more to warm me up than adding an additional blanket.  When I get my heart beating a little, it helps move warm blood into my cold toes and fingers.

Since I’m drinking more coffee and tea, I need to use the restroom more often.  This forces me to get up and move around even more.  Interestingly, I find that the need to get up and move is also helping my neck heal.

Pros:

  1. Saving money
  2. Reducing use of electricity (we have electric heat) reduces the amount of coal burned and the associated release of greenhouse gases
  3. Getting up more often and getting more exercise throughout the day
  4. Keeping my neck more limber and having less pain overall.

Cons:

  1. Drinking more coffee and tea may contribute to my decreasing sleep
  2. Drinking more coffee and tea definitely contributes to heart burn

Looks like the heat will stay off for now.

Landing on My Feet

We have returned to the hang gliding hills.  The instructor, Dan, tells me to run like I’m on Baywatch.  I try to channel David Hasselhoff as I take my next run down the hill, although I’m certain Dan had someone blonde and female in mind.

The rest of the morning, my flights seem to get better and better.  Dan asks me if I want to start trying to land on my feet.  I have seen many people land on their feet.  They swoop in low and then allow the nose to reach trim, move their hands up on the bars, and then push up, tipping the nose back so that the glider is like a super-hero cape behind them.  Then, they lower gently to the earth and land on their feet, just like any modern-day super hero should.

My first attempt, I get close, but when I try to flare, my arms go out fully extended and the glider is just barely tipped back.  I get enough lift to almost put my feet down, but then I crash to the ground with a thud.

I go through several more attempts, making mistakes each time.  My closest attempt culminates with me falling flat on my face.  I didn’t think it was possible to actually hit your face on the ground while strapped into a hang glider, but I manage it.  Pat pulls up on the Kubota and says, “Are you OK?  You landed flat on your face!”  I assure him I am aware I landed on my face.

After a final roll-in landing, I decide it’s time to call it quits for the day if I want to make sure I can get up tomorrow.

As I change into my dry clothes, I count the bruises.  I have a scraped ankle, bruises on both knees and both hips.  My shoulders are bruised, my arm is bruised, and my wrists and forearms ache.  For a moment I wonder why I continue beating myself up.  I smile to myself as I remember the feeling of having a really good flight.  The feeling of being lifted up into the air and then riding the ground effect for that brief moment before the wheels touch down.

I look at my bruises a second time and smile knowing I earned them because I took a major step forward today.  I think, “This is fun.  I’ll stop when it’s not fun anymore.”

I’ve always believed the saying, “it’s about the journey, not the destination,” but I’ve never really done anything that way.  Learning to hang glide is the first time I’ve taken on learning something with no goal in mind. I don’t know if I will ever do a mountain launch.  All I know is I really like the way it feels to glide off the training hill.  I’m having a ball right where I am and I’m having a ball learning one small skill at a time.  Why would I give that up?

Christmas Aftermath and Unabashed Silliness

I repeat the start of yesterday, rising before the sun and sitting alone in the living room watching the lights on the tree.  But this morning, I reflect on Christmas yesterday.  The remnants of wrapping paper remain on the floor.  I have yet to turn on the news to see if world peace was achieved.

Instead, I think about the crazy toys we picked out for my nephews, 18 and 19 years old.  We got funny whistles that play when they are turned over and the whistle slides through a tube.  I laugh as I recall my nephews trying to synchronize their whistles to play a chord.

We also got them a Pokey and a Gumby–I was pleased when each took a few moments to contort them into ridiculous poses.  But my favorite was when they opened the cheap mustache kits and each adhered a fake mustache to their faces.  The oldest resembled Charlie Chaplin with the thick, squarish mustache he picked out and the youngest looked like a silent movie villain with the skinny mustache he tried on.

While we did get them each a gift they wanted in addition to these silly finds, I suspect it will be these toys they remember with a smile when they tell their kids about the Christmases they had.

I grow serious for a moment and do a mental check on how I did with judging.  I am pleased that I noticed every time I was judgmental.  I think about what triggered a judgmental response and recognize that I am guilty of the things I judge the most harshly.  I am reminded of a friend of mine who told me he was a horrible gay basher until he came out of the closet.  As if we somehow distance ourselves from our own guilt by harshly condemning others for what we want most to hide about ourselves.  Hypocrisy is not my friend.

I wonder for a moment if “coming out of the closet” about my own secrets would somehow free me from this tendency to judge.  But I recall that my friend did not leave his judgments behind by revealing his sexual orientation; rather he changed sides on who he thought was right and wrong.  Perhaps he was ashamed of having been cruel.

Rather than follow in my friend’s footsteps, then, I decide I will simply stay with noticing when I am judging and letting it go.  This was quite effective yesterday.  Instead of getting worked up and angry, I simply noticed I was judging and moved on.  It may have been my most peaceful (and silly) Christmas yet.

I’m happy with my progress even if it wasn’t perfect.  I was freed to focus on creating silliness in the here and now instead of talking about (and getting upset about) things in the past or things imagined.

I decide I need to amend my wish for this holiday season:  peace, love, joy, and unabashed silliness.

Christmas Past

It’s still dark out.  There are no hooves clacking on the roof, no “Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas” echoing through the air.  But there is something magical about this morning none-the-less.  The sun will start to rise in another hour or so.  By then, my nephews will either get up or we will wake them.  But for now, I sit quietly, alone in the living room, looking at the colored Christmas tree lights reflected in the glass.

A million memories swirl in my brain.  They focus around a Christmas tree and rotate by like a slow moving carousel, colorful and full of laughing children.  There is me and my brother, rushing into the living room of long ago, mouths wide open, amazed at the fancy packages under the tree.  Wrapping paper flies as we tear into that moment of hope and expectation.  We are absolutely convinced that what lies below the paper will fulfill our wildest dreams.

As my carousel of memories continues to rotate, our faces fade as my nephews move into the prominent place on the carousel.  Their eyes amazed, their teeth gleaming as their mouths gape in smiles that couldn’t possibly stretch any wider.  They, too, attack the packages before them.  Once more, wrapping paper flies through the air.  And the carousel rotates again.

Now, I see our parents pretending to love the silly dime store gifts we picked out for them and paid for by saving our allowance.  I see their eyes shining with emotion–a detail I missed when I was a child.

Next, our Grandparents smile nervously and watch us intently while we open gifts.  They strain with their desire to see how happy we are with what they so carefully chose for us.

As the carousel begins another pass, I see our parents again, but now watching my nephews instead of us.  They smile wider and their eyes have a little more twinkle as they open homemade gifts from their grandchildren.

I have few memories of what any of the gifts were, either received or given.  What stays in my mind is that shared moment when a group of people lean forward with barely contained anticipation.  In that single moment, before the first gift is unwrapped, we all share in the possibility that our love for one another will transcend any disappointments, any difficulties, any trials or tribulations and we will achieve the perfect manifestation of love through the act of giving.

That is the moment I look forward to every Christmas.  When people ask why can’t Christmas last all year, this is the moment I imagine hanging onto year round.  That perfect moment that is absent of disappointment, history, baggage, judgment.  That perfect moment when the excitement that we might be able to amaze and delight those we love electrifies the air.

When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things – not the great occasions – give off the greatest glow of happiness.  ~Bob Hope

All I Want for Christmas is World Peace

I would very much like to think of myself as a non-judgmental person.  But then I catch myself saying something like, “that crazy person is so judgmental–s/he thinks s/he is better than everyone else” and realize this is a lesson I’ve yet to master.

If you judge people, you have no time to love them.  Mother Theresa

Judgment riles me up, makes me feel righteous, justified, and even vengeful.  It separates me into the “right” and leaves those I judge in the “wrong.”  Having cast judgment, there is no need to listen or consider; all that can follow are proclamations.

Why do I judge?  There are practical reasons to make judgments.  For example, I choose to spell “judgment” with the standard American spelling instead of “judgement,” the standard British spelling.  Which is preferable?

In my case, this simple choice hides a deeper judgment.  I spell it “judgment” because I was taught that Americans who spell it “judgement” are ignorant.  If someone were to comment that I misspelled “judgment,” I could point them to a dictionary and explain that this is the correct American spelling.  I would be left feeling redeemed and, if I am painfully honest, even superior.

What I would not feel is connected to my fellow human being, negotiating the world together in harmony.

Love is the absence of judgment.  The Dalai Lama

What would I lose in giving up my judgments?  Clearly, my judgments benefit me in some way or I wouldn’t make them.  Would I be less smart if I never judged someone else to be stupid?  Would I be less hard working if I never judged anyone else to be lazy?  Would I be less competent if I never judged someone else to be incompetent?  Or do I make these judgments out of fear that I am what I judge?  Is pointing at someone else and calling them names a way of separating myself from what I don’t want to be?

I would hate to be discounted because I made a mistake.  What I would like is to be accepted for a flawed human being with the best of intentions.  What I need is to be heard and understood without being called good or bad.

 The moment that judgment stops through acceptance of what it is, you are free of the mind.  You have made room for love, for joy, for peace.  Eckhart Tolle

And that, dear reader, is what I want for Christmas:  love, joy, and peace.  I arm myself with the awareness that I judge.  I prepare myself to notice when I am judging.  I know that with attention, I can create more space for love, joy, and peace.  And in this gift to myself, I hope I can contribute just a little to a gift to the world:

World peace must develop from inner peace.  Peace is not the absence of violence.  Peace is the manifestation of human compassion.  The Dalai Lama

Why I Don’t Bake Christmas Cookies

Hello.  My name is Dianne and I’m a sugarholic.  I went for two years without sugar.  Then, a colleague showed up with a box of Thin Mints.  It was so humiliating.  I ate half the box in 15 minutes.  I had to ask her to lock her cookies in a drawer, all the while hoping she would just hand me the other half of the box.

I’ve since learned that total deprivation leads to massive binges.  I try to include healthier indulgences like super dark chocolate and fruit smoothies sweetened only with a little honey.  Occasionally, we buy ice cream, but I only trust myself with a pint at a time.

I once consulted with a nutritionist who had me do an experiment with “limited supply foods.”  She had me choose a snack and portion it into small servings that totaled the number of calories a day I was willing to spend on junk.  Then, I stocked a cabinet next to the fridge with about 2 weeks’ worth of baggies.  I could eat 2 baggies a day and no more, but I had to look at the baggies every time I got a craving and tell myself, “If I run out, I’ll buy more.”

The first day, it was torture.  All I could think about was that cabinet full of goodies calling my name.  By the second day, I was doing better between snacks and didn’t find it so difficult to concentrate on other things.  By the third day, I only remembered to eat 1 baggie.  By the fourth day, I forgot to eat them both.  Those baggies suddenly became a nice surprise when I remembered to open the cabinet instead of a looming fiend trying to corrupt my good intentions.

This was an important lesson that I have since failed to apply:  when I think something is a limited supply, I will eat every bite as fast as possible.  The nutritionist described this as a survivalist response and said it’s common among people who grew up in homes where a particular type of food was restricted.

But how to apply this to holidays and Girl Scouts?  These truly are limited supplies.  My mother-in-law sent Pat and me a box of goodies last week.  It was a large assortment of homemade and German imports.  My half lasted approximately 2 days.  My husband took pity and shared some of his half with me.

Similarly, if I make Christmas cookies, I have a problem with the dough.  Frequently, the dough never makes it into the oven.  And, realistically, me making cookies more than once a year is so far-fetched it’s comical.  So, how do I convince myself that I can get more?

The thing is, I really enjoy these things.  The tradition of celebrating friends and family through indulging in delicious food is one I don’t want to give up.  I just want to be able to enjoy them a little at a time.

Christmas Cards and eMail: Can They Mix?

On the subject of Christmas, I have a confession to make. I still haven’t sent cards for last year. Maybe not even the year before. I certainly haven’t started on this year’s yet.

I used to always send cards and I sent them far and wide. It didn’t matter if it was a friend I saw daily or a relative I hadn’t seen since I was 12, I was sending a Christmas card. I also didn’t take people off my list if they didn’t send me one.

I’m not sure if the advent of email started making Christmas cards seem less important to me (since I was staying in touch with most of my card list). But, each year, the fun of doing Christmas cards got to be less. Perhaps as my job got busier and busier towards the end of the year I just stopped having time?

Every year, I was sending my cards later and later. I caught some people off guard who had apparently taken me off their card list and were probably irritated when they got a card from me the day before Christmas–suddenly a card would show up from them shortly before New Year’s. Finally, I started buying New Year’s cards and doing them the week between Christmas and New Year’s, when I was usually off work.

But then we started traveling over Christmas. I started trying to do New Years cards on the plane or in the car, knowing that if they didn’t get done by the time we returned, they weren’t going to get done at all.

I can’t recall what happened last year. I just remember the build up of guilt as Christmas cards kept arriving and I still hadn’t gotten around to mine. It was not a Christmasy feeling–the sense of having something I needed to do and putting it off. By the time I got back to work in January, I was still thinking I was going to send New Year’s cards. I still remember the sense of relief when I gave up and said it wasn’t going to happen this year.

This year, I would like to put together a nice letter with photos and email it to friends and family. It shouldn’t be hard to come up with material–at least not since August. 🙂 According to one Christmas Card Etiquette Advisor, eCards do not count as holiday cards. This same advisor, by the way, says that Christmas cards are supposed to be sent the Saturday after Thanksgiving! Is that actually possible?

That said, I’m pretty sure that wedding etiquette advisors would have told us we couldn’t invite our guests with an email titled, “Top 10 Ways to Have an Untraditional Wedding,” but that didn’t stop our guests from showing up. Are people offended when they get an email invitation to a wedding? Are they offended if they receive an email instead of a paper Christmas card? Or is this an etiquette rule created by greeting card companies?