Christmas Present

Regardless of which version of history you believe and what holiday(s) you do or do not celebrate, I think it’s worthwhile to have a “winding down” of the year during which we shift focus from frenzied work and socialization to calm time with family and friends–and with ourselves in quiet reflection.

For me, it goes kind of like this:  work extra hard for weeks getting ready to be (mostly) out of the office; run like mad for a couple of days to get ready to go visit family; spend a day traveling; relax, unwind, and enjoy being with people I love for a day and a half; discover when I relax that I am exhausted and require frequent naps; spend a day traveling back home; collapse and relax (relatively) quietly until New Year’s Eve, reflecting on the past year and working on some sort of self-discovery that I optimistically believe will lead to life-improvement.

The time with family and the week “off” between Christmas and New Year’s Eve are the times that matter most to me.  I’ve given up on massive consumerism in favor of minimizing the gifts and enjoying the visit.  For gifts, I go with silly stocking stuffers and money for my college-aged nephews.

Tisen is the only one I go overboard on.  I bought him a fleece that fits him like a dress, a bigger Lamb Chop, and some treats.  He’s easy to buy for and he thinks every gift is perfect.

Oddly, now that Christmas is so much easier (stocking stuffers for 4 and money for 2; I don’t even do cards anymore), it’s less enjoyable.  Having removed the majority of the consumerism from the holiday seems to have also removed much of the potential thrill.

After all, the best gift I ever got wasn’t a gift I received, it was the gift of having thought of the perfect gift for someone else.  It truly is the thought that counts–but I want the thought to be “I know you; I see you; I love you as you are.” Not “you really need this thing you’ve never heard of because I think you do.”  Or, “I have no idea what you would want, so thank you for making a list.”

Gone is the feeling of connectedness and belonging that comes along with knowing someone else so well or at least having paid close enough attention that you came up with that perfect gift for them.

On the flip side, after years of failing to think of the perfect gift for the people I love, I go in with realistic expectations and come out without disappointment.

Perhaps the secret is not tying the spiritual calming of year end reflection and time with loved ones to gift giving.  Perhaps we could give gifts when the perfect idea presents itself instead of based on a date on the calendar.  Then the only problem is if the perfect idea never comes.

Brain Fog

Ah, Saturday.  A day to get things done that I want to do instead of things I have to do.  But there seems to have been a problem with that plan.

It all started when I made the mistake of logging on to my work computer.  I did this for the purpose of changing my password because it was about to expire and I didn’t want to be locked out.  The problem started in that I had to open my inbox.  One should never open one’s inbox when one only wants to work for 5 minutes.  2 ½ hours later, I realized I was still in my PJs, my dog hadn’t been out yet, and most of the morning was gone.

After taking care of Tisen, I spent some time trying to get my head around my latest volunteer gig–I’m now the photo contest chair for the local photography club.  I had no idea how complicated it is to organize a photography contest.  The good news is that it’s fun and I’m getting to know more people.

I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but another couple of hours disappeared between testing FileZilla and realizing it was time to take the dog out again.  I decided I was not going to appear for a second time in the park in my PJs and headed for the shower.

. . . .

At the end of our walk, Tisen and I passed a chattering Belted Kingfisher hunting for fish over the wetland.

Now, I know it’s a long shot, but I figured something had to go right today, so maybe it would be getting a shot of the kingfisher?  My trusty iPhone is worthless when it comes to bird photography.  I rushed the last 100 yards of Tisen’s walk to get home and get my DSLR.  5 minutes later, the elevator reached the ground floor at the exact moment I realized the battery in my camera was dead.

Back up.  Back down.  Low and behold!  The kingfisher was still hunting over the wetland!  I crept down the long slope to the water, not looking at the bird.  Carefully, I raised my camera to focus on the bird.  The moment my lens pointed his way, he went chattering off to another section of the wetland, on the far side of a barrier that blocked my view of him.

I tried to move to the other side of the barrier, but as I was climbing over the rock wall, he reappeared, fish in his mouth, and flew off to enjoy his meal where he was never to be seen again.

This is when I discovered it is possible to do landscape photography with a 70-200mm lens and no tripod.  It’s kind of funny, really.  I think I started out doing landscape photography with the “wrong” lens and no tripod.  Today, it felt like a brand new epiphany.  As I searched for a subject, I discovered fog rising off the river.  Now that was fun.

Tail Wag

The other night,  I sat at my desk trying to wrap up a few last things.  My dog decided I had already been working too long.  He came over, tail wagging, playfully bouncing, and stuck his nose under my mouse hand, knocking it away from the mouse.  When I turned toward him, he jumped up to put his front paws in my lap and started licking my face and pushing at me with his head, clearly trying to motivate me to get out of my chair.

When I stood up, he started racing around in circles, tail going so fast I thought it might fall off. I couldn’t help but smile as we began our evening routine.

Even though I don’t leave for work physically, I leave mentally.  My dog has tuned into my work day and mostly just naps near by during the hours he’s come to expect me to be working.  But when he needs to go out or is just tired of being ignored, he won’t take no for an answer.  He’s become my alarm dog, telling me when it’s time to take a break if not put work away for the night.

I am reminded of something a friend said to me once about how people should greet each other the way dogs greet their people.  That if we would dance around with wagging tails when we were reunited with friends, we would probably all be happier.  It occurs to me that if we were all as willing to express our feelings and our needs so unambiguously, we’d probably all be a lot happier, too.

I rarely know what I need.  Even really basic stuff like needing to use the restroom.  I will be in the midst of my day hopping from one conference call to the next and have a vague notion that perhaps I should take care of one of life’s most basic and unavoidable needs and then forget until, hours later, comes a sudden moment of urgency that cannot be denied or postponed.

Not knowing what I need makes it nearly impossible to ask for it.  I am surprised and delighted every time my husband magically appears to deposit lunch in front of me.  Realizing I forget to notice when I’m hungry, my husband makes sure I have something to eat without me having to stick my nose under his mouse hand.  I think it’s the most romantic gesture there is, except maybe when he does laundry.

But since he often shows up with lunch in the middle of my work day while I’m in the middle of doing work, I don’t jump up and run around in circles wagging my tail.  He’s lucky if I make eye contact with him and smile before he returns to his own busy day.  Perhaps I will give that a try on Monday.  Note to self: jump up, wag tail, run around in circles excitedly when Pat brings me lunch.

Somatic/Somnus Exercise

I have a bad habit.  Well, I have many.  But, the one I’m willing to write about publicly at this particular moment is that I read in bed.  I have been advised by 2 sleep specialists not to do this, but it seems to switch my racing brain off so I can fall asleep.

Friday night, I started a book on how our cultural expectation of work has shifted over the last 100 years and how we now have the lowest job satisfaction rate of all time.  It’s a book about finding fulfillment in your job.  However, I had only downloaded the free sample and had trouble getting the rest of the book to download, so I switched to a book I had started long ago, but never finished called “Finding Your Own North Star” by the irrepressible Martha Beck.  I would enjoy this book just because of Martha’s sense of humor, but it’s a practical approach to looking at what we do because we think we’re supposed to vs what we really want to do.

Interestingly, as much as I feel like Martha has an exciting (and entertaining) approach, I tend to fall asleep very quickly when I read this book.  Many years ago, I discovered that at times of the greatest stress–which for me meant painful feelings–I would start to nod off.  I have the sneaking suspicion that the same self-preservation mechanism kicks in when I read Martha’s book–perhaps I don’t really want to know what my true feelings are?

But, first thing Saturday morning, I checked Facebook and a friend had coincidentally posted an article about a book by someone else on the same topic.  I took this as a sign that I really needed to push forward.  I decided to try an exercise from Martha’s book.  The exercise is designed to reconnect you with physical responses that can clue you in to your true feelings about things.

I started to do this exercise at 9AM.  But, then I thought I should take the dog out first.  And then feed him.  And then play a game of Sudoku.  And then shower.  And then eat something.  And then help my husband hang a light fixture.  And then vacuum.  Finally, I sat down to give it a try at 2PM, which happens to be about my lowest energy time of the day.

The exercise starts with deep breathing and then you start mentally working your way from your left big toe through each part of your body, checking in and making sure you can actually sense it and focusing on areas where you have no sensation.  This is supposed to help determine if you are ignoring/repressing physical and/or emotional responses that are lurking in your body, waiting for you to pay attention.

I made it through my toes before I fell asleep.  Martha says falling asleep means my next step is to get more rest.  I think this is where I started?

A Missing Dog (or, Gratitude, Part II)

I feel bad that I only made it through 3 things I am grateful for in last week’s post.  Last Monday night, I found myself thinking about this while I was sitting in a running mini-van with the brights on, pointed down railroad tracks.

I watched my husband disappear from sight with my window cracked in spite of the cold, listening in case he was attacked.  He headed beyond the reach of the headlights to an abandoned homeless camp in search of an abandoned dog.

A homeless couple we often see in the park had recently disappeared.  Supposedly, the man was arrested and the woman found a job and is living in a motel.  Rumor has it they left their dog behind.

With temperatures dropping into the low 20’s and arctic winds making it feel like the teens, my husband was determined to rescue this dog.  It was his second of 3 trips down the railroad tracks–so far, no sign of the dog.

How can I not feel gratitude for having the kind of man in my life who is both brave enough and compassionate enough to wander into potential danger to save the life of a dog?

I should mention that this couple has always seemed both lucid and happy.  We are under the impression they have chosen a homeless life for their own reasons and that they are capable of choosing a different course.  The dog, however, has no choice.

And so, I sat in the van on that cold night poignantly aware that I have much to be thankful for:  a reliable vehicle kicking out hot air; my own cuddly dog, healthy and happy beside me; a husband both strong and gentle; a hot meal to return home to; a comfortable bed to sleep in; hot running water; the list goes on and on.

But in the end, it’s the people who have been part of my life and/or who are part of my life now that I am the most grateful for (and yes, I include animals when I say “people”).  While mountains, clouds, and oceans provide much needed respite from time to time, it’s the people that keep me going day in and day out.

From passing acquaintances that make me laugh in the middle of a tense moment to friends who know me well enough to ask the most pertinent questions that allow me to see a situation in a new way, I don’t know what life would be without all of them.  Even the strangers who fail to acknowledge my “hello” remind me that I have been there, making me feel connected to them in an odd sort of way.

The people who ultimately made all of this gratitude possible are, of course, my parents.  I am grateful they were flawed human beings who made remarkable parents.  Of course, I didn’t think they were remarkable when I was growing up.  I’m also grateful that perspective changes.  🙂