Family · Health Care · Life on the Island · Uncategorized

Changing My Mind

It started with a drive home. I dropped my son off at an event in the next town and rode back looking at all the Christmas lights.

I’ve lived in this town almost thirty years. I barely see it anymore. It remains a beautiful place, but after a while, you stop thinking about it. I’m not sure why my attention was caught by the Christmas lights that early evening, but for a few moments I really saw the beauty of an ordinary drive I’ve done more times than I can count. I was present, and content; the first time in a while I felt truly happy to be living here.

The town’s tree. Yes, it’s tilted.

I’ve written about aspects of this before, but it has been a hard couple of years. Between getting laid off, health problems, huge medical bills, the politics of the age, and family-related stress, I went into self-protection mode and dropped out of everything. The health stuff was brought on by panic attacks, so my response was to remove myself from anything that might exacerbate my anxiety. I spent months feeling as if under siege, I needed to rest and to recover my equilibrium.

I do this from time to time. When I’m hurt, exhausted, embarrassed, or otherwise in need of emotional restoration, I retreat. I’m very much an introvert anyway (until you know me, then I seem like an extrovert), and people exhaust me. Every year I take the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day and hermit myself away from the world as much as I can. At the end of that time, I am usually ready to go back to work.

This time, my self-imposed exile has lasted about two years. I’ve been in a mental and emotional limbo both waiting for this transplant to move forward and wanting the “second half” of my life post-transplant to move in a different direction. Most of what set me on this trajectory two years ago has resolved itself or at least become less of an issue. The family is stable; I’ve managed to stay out of the hospital for months now (knock wood) because I know more about managing my Afib episodes. We’ve just had one of the most pleasant holiday seasons ever. It was low key, but everyone in the house approached it with the same spirit.

This year, there’s no work to go back to. I’m still keeping my eyes open for something, possibly part-time, local or remote, so that I can have some money coming in, but avoid an exhausting and expensive commute. I’m still trying to write more regularly. I’ve been at a standstill for two years, frozen in place, stuck. It’s past time for me to get moving again.

I worked briefly with a therapist earlier this year and soon came to the conclusion that it wasn’t a match. She was more focused on the practical day to day stuff, and less about how I felt and how I could cope. I struggled with how to end the sessions and then I discovered that the deductible for counseling services with my health plan was enormous; decision made. I was relieved, but no better off.

Driving home that night before Christmas I decided I need to experience that present and contented feeling more often, and that by deliberately seeking those “moments of light,” I might be able to help get myself unstuck. I might be able to start changing my mind. I’ve been thinking about how I might help myself do this, and here is what I came up with:

Movement – This is the probably the most important effort, but also the toughest, particularly in the winter when the cold air can make it difficult to breathe. I was never an athlete, but I used to walk everywhere. The myriad health problems I’ve been dealing with have put me in a state of de-conditioning (that’s what the cardiologist called it). With osteoporosis running in my family, and the effects of my rheumatoid arthritis meds, I need to start battling back to regain my strength. When I was doing yoga regularly, I always felt this peace at the end of a session. I need more of that now.

Dial down the carb-reliance – I don’t diet. I don’t need to lose weight. I don’t eat a lot of junk food or fast food or fake food; but I love pasta, bread, potatoes, and other carb-heavy ingredients. I put sugar in my tea and I’m a fan of the occasional soda. A small chocolate treat is a staple of most late afternoons. I absolutely need more protein, particularly at the start of the day. I’m very curious to see if tweaking the balance here has any noticeable effect on my mood and energy levels.

Gratitude / Appreciation / Observance – After the last two tempestuous years, things have calmed down enough for me to notice and appreciate moments of family harmony and growth. Sure there’s still plenty to work through, but reason and cooperation are more frequent visitors to our home, and they are most welcome. I have been trying to be on the lookout for things that support this feeling – whether it is the the boys working together to decorate for Christmas, the birds at the feeder, or the flowers I buy to fill our home with something natural.

Confront Shame – At a workshop a few years ago we were asked to think about some of the messages we heard or internalized growing up. My parents had quite a few snarky sayings that stuck with me, but I came to realize that a major theme of my childhood, between school (nuns), church, parents, and the society of the age, was “It’s not okay to make a mistake.” That got me to thinking about how much we used to control children by shaming them. We still try to do this to a lot of women. On some level, I rejected these attempts at control (hence my allergy to authority), but I know they made a huge impact on how I see the world. I know that a lot of my paralysis, a lot of my impulse to cloister myself comes from a sense of shame.

Engage, Create – I do need to get out more, and since 2016, I have been searching for a way to have better impact than I did as a School Committee Member. I’m not a protestor or petitioner, but my interests have moved from education, to health care and transportation. Next week I will be going to a talk on Medicare for All, to try to understand, and see how much the proponents understand about our current health care system and a plan to move forward. Of course I will write about what I have learned. I am still hoping to find a role in the community, I’ve talked with a few people, but now I feel like I can be less tentative about it, and get myself out there.

Social Media Diet – Another tough one, especially for someone as hermited as I can be. For my own sanity I declared a moratorium of all things Trump for the holidays. I don’t want to hear him, I don’t want to hear about him, I don’t want to listen to the Sunday talkies, or other news programs, I’ve mostly stayed away from Twitter and Medium this week. It’s been glorious, and I feel so much less anxious. I’ve taken to leaving my phone upstairs for most of the day when I’m trying to write. I’m happier and less distracted that way. Writing longhand first is usually something that helps my creative process anyway.

I can’t call these resolutions. Rather, they are behaviors and ways of thinking that I want to use to check in with myself about regularly. I’m really hoping that this time next year, I will feel perceptively unstuck and moving forward.

Happy New Year!
Life on the Island · Uncategorized · Writing Life

First Snow

I filled the feeders before the storm. When the snow stopped and the sun came out again, a pair of Cardinals, a reddish House Finch, and a large Red-bellied Woodpecker all came to visit, presumably breaking their fast. Occasionally, a squawking Blue Jay scatters the smaller birds, but when he takes a seed or two and flies away, the others return as if to say, “That’s just Jay, he’s obnoxious like that, just ignore him.”

These are the kind of winter mornings I can tolerate. The sun reflects off the newly fallen snow, making everything seem clean and bright. The sky will turn grey in an hour or so, but for now, I will sit here by the window with the light on my face, basking as if outside, on the patio, in the summer.

A nearby cove.
Photo by T. L. Tingley

From my seat, I can see tracks in the snow where birds have sought seeds dropped from above. I’m fascinated by the behavior of some birds who light on the feeder, pick and toss seeds from the opening until they find just the right one. They fly off and come back to do it all over again. There are other critters out there, too. We didn’t used to have small brown squirrels, but now they’re everywhere. The dog sniffs about in the snow, pausing every few steps to bay at some unfamiliar scent. I haven’t seen a coyote recently, but I know they are around.

In a few days, we will go and get our Christmas tree, and part of the living room, including the table where I’m sitting now, will get shifted temporarily to make room for festive decor. The tree will be placed in front of this window, blocking the sun and my view of the feeders.

I really should move my workspace back upstairs, but the light is not the same. The guest room that also serves as my office faces west, so the sun comes in toward the end of the day. I will take the full spectrum light up there; that might help. I’m pushing myself to start the day earlier (still not early by most people’s standards), and the full-spectrum light makes it easier on grey days. I am napping less, and cooking more. I still have my flat days – when I can only accomplish the bare minimum, but there seem to be fewer of them.

In a few weeks the days will start getting longer again. It will be imperceptible at first, but I love noting the time of the sunrise, even if I’m not up to see it. There are still long months to get through after the holidays. I will be looking for ways to make the most of the available light.

She's Crafty! · Uncategorized

Flowers for Sanity

When I worked in publishing, early in my career, I was introduced to the thrill of buying cheap flowers from street vendors in Boston. Every now and then I would grab a bunch of roses on a Friday and bring them home on the train to enjoy over the weekend. They never lasted much longer than that, but for what little I paid for them, it was hard to mind. I wasn’t home during the week to look at them anyway.

There aren’t as many vendors as there used to be. You might find them at Back Bay or South Stations, but no longer at North Station, where I would pass through to the commuter rail. The guy who used to stand in a doorway on Boylston Street with his buckets of about-to-fade bouquets is long gone; no doubt chased away by the new managers of the storefront, or new owners of the building.

This week’s choices. Roses, freesia, hydrangea, and I’m not sure what those spiky things are.
A group from early summer. Roses, peonies, alstroemeria

When I stopped commuting and was home in the colder months, I started to buy tulips at the supermarket, when they were available, to keep me sane during the winter. The cold weather irritates my lungs and makes it harder to breathe, so I don’t get out in nature much during the winter. Just to be able to pass by a vase of flowers and take in their bright green leaves and pastel petals gives me hope for Spring and lightens my spirit. I tend to gravitate toward the hybrid tulips with two colors; lavender and white, pink and peach. I thought I would stop buying them when the weather got warmer and I had my own garden to visit, but what happened was that the variety of flowers available expanded. So I started changing it up a little.

Overflow arrangement from this week

Now almost every week I get several bunches of flowers from Trader Joe’s and mix and match to create my own arrangements. I have no training in this sort of thing, so I’m making it up as I go along, but I just find it so peaceful to work with the flowers and bask in the freshness of them.

A family friend owned a florist shop in Pacific Grove, CA, and as a wedding gift she did the flowers for the ceremony and the reception. She flew the flowers out to Connecticut and assembled them at my mother’s house. Had I not been the bride, I might have had the opportunity to learn a thing or two from her, but there was no time.

So I’ll remain self-taught, and keep bringing flowers home to get me through the winter.

Fun with Food · Uncategorized

Less Meat Mondays?

I will never be a vegan. I mean, never mind meat, I don’t know if I could go through life without butter or cheese. I grew up in a very meat and potatoes oriented home. My dad frequently ordered prime rib at restaurants. We always had our spaghetti with meat sauce. Cheeseburgers were a staple of summers

But with all this concern about global warming that is finally seeming to get the news attention it deserves, one of the suggestions for adapting to the climate crisis is to eat less meat. Now that I can do.

I was raised Catholic. During Lent we weren’t supposed to eat meat on Fridays. That led to weekends beginning with homemade mac and cheese or tuna fish and macaroni salad. I’m lucky that I really do like salads, and vegetables, and fish.

I was thinking about this as I made dinner tonight. Now that I’m home, I am either making dinner or at least coming up with ideas for L to make when he gets home. Somedays are just for leftovers. It’s a bit easier now that both boys have their own schedules and I don’t always have to come up with things that all four of us will eat.

Tonight’s offering was risotto. I’ve been experimenting with different ways of preparing it. Our most common effort is with butternut squash and parmesan cheese. This time I used acorn squash, onion, garlic, white wine, and a single Italian sausage stripped of its casing and chopped up for flavor. It was pretty good!

Uncategorized · What I'm Reading

Sunday Reads 11.24.19

There’s nothing like hanging out on the couch on a Sunday morning reading a book or the Sunday paper with your coffee or tea. What I’d like to do with this occasional series is showcase some of the books I have read and enjoyed. Some will be current, and others with be old favorites of mine that might deserve a new audience.

I’m no book critic or professional reviewer, and that’s not my intention here. I’m merely sharing titles that struck me and hoping that you enjoy them as I did.

This week, I’m sharing a book I first read in my twenties. Composing a Life is a study of the improvisations of women’s lives and the shifting of experience to accommodate childrearing, career, or creativity. Using her own story and those of some of her friends, Mary Catherine Bateson, an anthropologist, looks at how women adapt to different stages and roles.

I relate to this book more and more now that I’m older and have seen more of these phases as a woman trying to balance childrearing, a career, a ridiculous commute and trying to find time to write for myself. Now that I am in my 50s and looking back on what I was doing in my 20s, 30s, and 40s, I can see places where I had to adapt, particularly around parenting when there were a lot of expectations and not a lot of answers.

Some of both partnering and parenting has evolved since this book was written, but women still carry an outsized share of the physical and emotional burden. As much as it might not seem so when we are in the throes of it, parenting is just a few chapters in the long book of most of our lives. Now that I am approaching the end of my active parenting years, I am already thinking about the next stage, the next step, the next improvisation.

Other things that caught my eye this week:

I have a couple of projects that I am researching. The first is a story that takes place during WWII. I was trying to find out more about Lyons, France at that time and discovered traboules. I can do something with these for sure.

Another thing I am looking into is a possible family connection to rum-running in Connecticut during Prohibition. It’s gotten into the family lore, and it’s certainly possible, but my mother vehemently denies it. This is a story of rum-running in the area. It’s given me a good starting point.

Life on the Island · Uncategorized · Writing Life

Lights On, Anybody Home?

Wet woodpile. Sigh.

The November rain is kicking my ass; the constant grey, a dampness that chills the bones even when the temperature is reasonable, in the 40s. Blustery days have more leaves in the wind than on the trees now. At this point, I think I might prefer snow.

It doesn’t help that when it’s this cloudy out, my house, which is full of windows, is very dark during the day. It can be really depressing to come downstairs to an empty house with all the lights off. I fell weird about putting the lights on when it’s just me in the house, but I really need them.

Last year, I think I slept through most of the winter. It was an extremely stressful year on all fronts; health, work and family. This year is better, so I’m a little surprised to be getting hit with the same sluggishness. I know part of it is the medication I’m on. We’ve talked about switching medications, but I have to be in the hospital for three days to do that and that costs money.

This quote was in the box of my full-spectrum lamp, literally branded Happy Light. They are not kidding.

I was not this tired in the Summer. Yes, I still took naps, but I was also able to do stuff without constantly yawning and struggling to keep my eyes open.

Last winter I actually bought a full-spectrum light, but never opened it. It sat on my desk for months and today I remembered it was there. I was never sure about whether I really had Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), because I used to really love the winter months. Today I used the light for the first time and it made a difference almost instantly. My energy levels improved quite a bit. Considering that I haven’t been able to write much in the last several days, I’m grateful to have found a seemingly simple solution.

Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny and a bit warmer, thank goodness. I need to get outside.

Uncategorized · What I'm Reading · Writing Life

Sunday Reads 11.10.19

This is a bit of an experiment. We’ll see how well I am able to keep up with it.

One of the good things about being home these days is that I have much more time to read than I did when I was working full-time. Last year, when I was really and truly resting and trying to recover from all the health-related and teenager-induced stress, I read constantly, partly as an escape, partly to fend off boredom, and partly to explore the kinds of stories I wanted to try my hand at writing. I’ve slowed down some recently, which is not a bad thing; I am feeling better and a little more active.

But I’m still reading, and what I’d like to do is showcase some of the books I have read and enjoyed. Some will be current, and others with be old favorites of mine that might deserve a new audience. There’s nothing like hanging out on the couch on a Sunday morning reading a book or the Sunday paper with your coffee or tea.

I’m no book critic or professional reviewer, and that’s not my intention here. I’m merely sharing titles that struck me and hoping that you enjoy them as I did.

Last week I finished reading The Tiger’s Wife, by Téa Obreht . This book was a finalist for the National Book Award. It is an unusual story of grief, fantasy, and folk-tale superstition in an unnamed Balkan country after the war there. I was hooked right away. It deals with themes of war, family, and the things we do and do not say to family and friends.

Other things that caught my eye this week:

I have to make some side dishes for my neighbor’s Thanksgiving. I want to do something different. I looked up rutabagas because I’d never had them before. They look an awful lot like turnips.

This is one of the most awkward marketing campaigns I have ever seen.

This guy took the term Napoleon Complex to extremes (graphic story).

Finally, this is a story that took place locally many years ago. There are still people living around here who claim to know whodunit.

What are you reading?

Uncategorized

We Need a Little Christmas?

Husband is kind of creeped out by toy soldiers / nutcrackers.

I had a little time between pick ups this afternoon, so I ducked in to a Home Goods near campus while I waited for T. This is always dangerous. In fact we have a brand new Home Goods much closer that opened last month and I’ve been avoiding it since I don’t want to spend more money right now.

Of course, they are all set up for Christmas. Yes, they had a few tables that still had Thanksgiving related merchandise, but most of rest of the halls were fully decked (seriously, you know how hard it is to get past another person’s cart in an aisle because that place is so stuff with stuff?). It made me think about how often recently I’ve seen people complaining about others decorating for Christmas already when we haven’t had Thanksgiving yet.

Yet, wandering around amid the festive tchotchkes, the trees painted with faux snow, and the holiday dishes and linens, I didn’t feel annoyed or rushed, I felt happy. Now, I’m not going to be one of those super-early decorators, but I am on their side. These are dark times, and for those of us who are uplifted by whatever the season means to them, bringing out the spirit early offers a little reprieve. There’s a feeling of nesting that goes along with that, and the revisiting of family traditions with ornaments that may have an origin story.

I didn’t buy much this afternoon. I really don’t have room for any more decorations. By the way, it always amazes me that the smallest houses seem to have the most lawn ornaments for any holiday – where do they put them when they are not on display? I bought a new tablecloth and napkins, a gesture of hope that we’ll be having more family dinners this winter. I sort of want to dig out the Christmas dishes, but I probably won’t.

Tell them, Lady Mary

Last year I was part of a discussion with some women about when the Christmas / holiday decorations come down. Several took everything down the day after Christmas, others waited until after the New Year or the 12th Day of Christmas (Epiphany). In my house the tree comes down the weekend after Epiphany, the lights outside will come down slowly through the winter. Several years ago a local wrote to the paper asking people in the area to leave their holiday lights out through February so that there would be light through the dark hours of winter. As someone for whom the first three months of the year feel interminable, I signed on right away.

Uncategorized

You Can’t Go Home Again, But You Can Visit on the Internet

A few weeks ago, I got a Facebook invite to a new group of people from my old hometown. Unlike similar groups I have joined in the past that were started by town historians or gentrifying newcomers, this one was started by someone who had been in my circle of friends in high school. Its membership is mostly my peers – or at least within a ten year window whether older or younger.

Senior Photo. I have no idea what happened on those dates in my sketch.

For the first week or so, as the group continued to grow, I scrolled through updates from people with whom I had once been friendly but hadn’t thought about in 25 years. It was interesting to see what people looked like now that we were all in our 50s. How many had stayed in the area? How many had moved on?

There were several threads about elementary school and middle school (I wasn’t a full-time resident there yet), various teachers; the good, the bad, the funny, and the creepy. Much reminiscing about parties I was never allowed to attend (did no one else have parental supervision in high school?). There was a whole thread about people who had passed away since high school (so many, OMG!). Some I knew about, most I didn’t.

I wasn’t contributing very much, just reading. As days went by I started to realize that I was feeling very unsettled by all this revisiting of our youth. I’m still not entirely sure why. My post-high school experience felt very different from many of the other participants, perhaps, in part, because I left.

I loved my high school experience and most of the people in it, but I’ve always said that I’m glad I’m not living where I grew up because I’m not the same person I was when I was 17. Yet, although I only lived there year-round through high school, it is more “home” to me than the place I’ve lived for the last 28 years. There’s a pull that never leaves, I guess.

I felt it last year when I went back for my uncle’s funeral. My grandparents lived in the next town and we spent a lot of time there with cousins. My uncle was the last person to be buried in the family plot that holds my grandparents and a couple of my grandfather’s brothers. After the service and some time spent with my cousins I drove around both Branford and Guilford for the first time in over a decade. For reasons that have more to do with family history, I think the sadness I was feeling was about lost opportunity.

One thing I do like about this new group is how much they support one another. 30 + years seems to have erased the clique and class differences and people are banding together to do things like raise money for a veteran’s remembrance effort and a local business owner who just underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor. If I had more cash available, I’d send some their way too.

Do you live where you grew up, or do you go back to visit?

Uncategorized

National Blog Posting Month 2019

If you are a writer, you may know November as National Novel Writing Month. Every year I see notification of this effort, and I think – – well, maybe I should try this. This year I actually have a project but I am still in the research phase.

It also happens to be National Blog Posting Month. This was an effort begun by Eden Kennedy, and revived by Asha Dornfest, both longtime bloggers and writers. The goal is to post every day for the month of November, though the “rules” are much looser than that this time around.

I’m going to participate because I need the motivation, and I may do something that I haven’t done much of before: planning. This afternoon, I’m going to sit down and list the various things I might want to write about or share.

I’m also really interested in hearing from other participants who still have blogs. I’ve been blogging off and on since 2005. I didn’t get to go to a lot of the early BlogHers so I sort of missed out on that part of the relationship building. My current contact with other bloggers of that era is now mostly from following them on Instagram. Many of them have moved on to other projects, just as BlogHer has moved on from what it once was. I miss the long form writing, the humorous episodes, the frank treatment of life’s difficult experiences.

Will, I be able to post every day? Probably not, I’m a slow writer, but I’m going to try to do as much as I can. This is going to force me to think of things to write about, and that’s not a bad thing.