Tuesday, December 31, 2013

We Made It!

As I sit here in my pajamas drinking coffee on the last morning of 2013, I am overwhelmed with a sense of relief because this year is over. Seriously, I'm giddy about it! I opened my eyes this morning and let out a huge exhale of "Whew, I made it".  Not that I ever had any legitimate doubts that I would physically survive to see 2014, it just felt that way sometimes. While I spent a few months this summer under a heavy blanket of sadness, I knew in a far off part of my brain that things would improve. I knew it as a fact, but my heart and soul were too burdened to believe it for a while.

When looking at the past year in review, it's easy to think of the negative things, the sad things, the hurdles. But for each of those things there's at least two positive things, happy things, times when I was lifted up. I find myself thinking of 2013 as a "bad" year because I lost my sweet canine companion but that event was a catalyst for so many amazing changes in my life.  Over the past few days I've been working on a short list of things I've learned this year to post as a FaceBook status today. Here's what I came up with:
           1. If you hate your job you should quit it.
           2. Dogs are truly amazing.
           3. I am no longer a "city person".
           4. I am loved.
           5. Everything is going to be okay.
Looking at that list makes me feel happy and full. There are a couple things on there that I thought I knew before but hadn't actually experienced in my heart. I'm glad I took time to make the list because it's a great reminder of how much I've grown and loved throughout this year.

Another thing I've done over the past few days is read the book The Four Agreements. It's been on my "To Read List" for close to two years. I even own a copy I picked up at a yard sale but for some reason I'd always skipped over it. Right after Thanksgiving my life coach sent me a link to an article she had come across after our most recent session, saying the topic reminded her of me and our discussions. The article referenced The Four Agreements so I said "Okay Universe, I get it. It's time to read this book." Reading it right before the new year was perfect timing. The four agreements are: be impeccable with your word, don't take anything personally, don't make assumptions and always do your best. These are concepts I work on constantly in my life. It's a tough cycle to break: You make an assumption about another person then you take that personally and that affects your actions and that personal makes assumptions about you and one and on. It's toxic behavior but it's what we do naturally. This book spoke clearly to me. There were a couple times when I'd be reading along and then my jaw would drop open because I was shocked by a line that seemed to be written specifically for me. I know this book will be an important tool in the work I have yet to do when it comes to accepting and loving myself. I highly recommend it.

Along those same lines is one more awesome thing that's crossed my path in the last few days. One of my derby sisters shared a link on FaceBook for The Year of Enough. The title sparked my interest so I followed the link and was practically in tears by the time the video was over. One of my personal mantras that I've developed with the help of my life coach is "I am enough." I scanned the contents of the webpage, thinking over and over "This is for me! This is for me!". It's a network of people who have come together to share positive messages that each person is enough, just as they are. I immediately signed up to participate. If you have a second, follow the link and check it out. Sign up for you feel so inspired and please let me know if you do. It's such an amazing concept, isn't it? That we are enough just as we are. I have my moments of feeling confident but I don't know if I even go a whole day at a time feeling totally sure that I'm enough. I'm not good enough at roller derby, at writing, at cleaning the house, at keeping in touch with my friends. The list can go one and on. I'm too short, I've gotten too heavy, I'm too anxious, too lazy. I can beat myself up over anything. But just like the tiny part of my brain that knew I was going to be okay when I was depressed this summer, there's a tiny part that tries to call out "Look at you go! You're such a bad ass! You're beautiful and tough and funny and kind." I know it's there, I just have to tune in better. So here's to 2014! This will be the year I realize that I am enough, that everyone I love is enough, that my life is enough. It's a great life. A full, fun, life that I've worked hard for. It's time for me to enjoy it!

I'm so grateful that all these things came together to create a perfect storm of inspiration for me. I have a wonderful support system of people (and pets) who have helped me get this far in life. I'm excited to ring in the new year with some of them tonight and start off from a place of love and celebration. Happy New Year to you!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

It's Better To Give And Receive

I know the saying goes "It's better to give than to receive" but after the Christmas holiday I experienced this week, I'm not entirely convinced it's true. Now I'm not coming from a selfish place here, I'm just saying I can't see how one can be better than the other because they're so tightly entwined, especially at Christmas time.

I enjoy giving presents. I truly do. I love it when I come across something, maybe at a yard sale or thrift store, that I know would be appreciated by someone I know. To give an unexpected gift, no matter how small, is always fun. Birthdays are my favorite holiday because it's a chance for each person to be acknowledged for how awesome they are separate from anything else. As the Christmas season approached this year, my biggest stressor was the fact that our household income was not near what it was the past few years so we simply couldn't afford the type of Christmas we've had previously. I had myself convinced that Christmas was going to be horrible because I couldn't afford fancy gifts and I might not be able to reciprocate to everyone who gave me something.

I'm not exactly sure when things changed for me, but gradually my mindset shifted. I'm sure it has a lot to do with having an incredibly patient and supportive partner who reminds me on a regular basis that everything is going to be okay! In our families, tradition is you make a list of what you want and people buy your gifts from it. You might get something small that wasn't on the list and you probably won't get everything that was on it but for the most part, you get what you ask for. When it came time to make a list this year, I found that the things I wanted were much different than previous years. Last year I had an iPad on my list and the year before that a Kindle. This year I asked for the specific mechanical pencils and notebooks I write with, for lavender lotion and bath salts, for a thesaurus, a book light, a travel mug. When I was working full time, these are things that I would go out and buy whenever I needed them but they aren't necessities. When I unwrapped these items I was thrilled, even though I suspected I'd be getting them. I'd been using the same brand of lavender lotion on my face every night at bedtime for over two years but I ran out a few months ago and didn't buy more because it's over $10 a bottle and I don't really need it. When I received not one but two bottles of it, it was even better than I had imagined! "Yahoo! This is going to last forever!", I exclaimed. My boyfriend's brother, who has his own soap making business, gave me homemade lavender and peppermint soaps in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. After I'd piled it all into a box, I looked at it and happily thought "I'm not going to have to buy soap for years". To take away a burden of having to buy something or to know I'm not going to run out of items I like to have, those things are truly gifts. I know that a year ago I would have appreciated receiving these items, but not in the same way that I have now.

The same thing went for giving. I like to think I'm a thoughtful gift giver no matter what, but I had to put extra thought into purchasing this year. Would this person rather have one pricey gift or two smaller ones? Instead of going online and ordering everything at once, I'd buy one or two things then wait til I got another temp job and buy a couple more. For two of my family members, I enlarged and framed a special photo. The cost was minimal but the recipients were surprised and touched by the gesture. I spent an entire day baking with a friend and gave out plates and bags of homemade treats to friends I'd normally want to treat with a bottle of wine or a gift card to a favorite shop. Several of the friends had seen my FaceBook photos from the baking day and were thrilled that they were getting some of the goodies.

Some of the people I gave stuff to reciprocated but not all of them. Likewise a couple friends gave me a gift and I didn't have something in return. Although there was an initial pang of "Oh crap, I don't have anything for her!", I was able to silence it quickly. A gal in my online book club sent me a gift certificate to Amazon. She expressed her gratitude for being included in the club and having people to share and discuss books with. I sat back and received that thanks. I used it to buy a book on my Kindle that we've chosen as our January selection. I probably wouldn't have wanted to spend the money on it otherwise because I have so many books in my house that I still need to read! One of my closest friends took one of my photos from FaceBook and made a beautiful ornament that honors my dog who passed away this year. I have another friend who works for one of my favorite home town sports teams. He sent me some high quality warm weather gear emblazoned with the team logo because he knew I was in need of a new jacket. I know it took a lot of effort on his part to prepare and send a package right before Christmas. A couple of my family members even bought presents for my dogs. Honestly, my mind was blown by the thoughtfulness of my loved ones on more than one occasion this season. Looking back though I shouldn't have been surprised. I have worked hard to surround myself with kind, loving humans. They all know I've had a rough year and that I'm short on funds and they don't care.

So what was better, giving gifts to these amazing people or receiving gifts from them? I honestly can't say. I know it sounds cheesy, but just knowing these people, being around them and being loved by them, is a huge gift in itself. I care about plenty of people who I didn't exchange gifts with or even mail a greeting card to. That doesn't mean they're less significant to me. People complain about the commercialization of our holidays and I agree to a certain extent. I think there is definitely a general assumed link between the size or cost of the gift you give and the feelings you have for the recipient. I don't buy into that philosophy. My boyfriend didn't buy me expensive jewelry for Christmas. He bought me a thesaurus because he knows how important my writing is to me and a new skate tool because he knows how much I love roller derby and want to take care of my gear. Anybody can buy an expensive gift without putting much thought into it. It's a true friend who will buy an adult themed coloring book because she knows you'll think it's hilarious and color all the pages!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tis The Season...

When the holiday season rolled around this year, I remember thinking "Nope. No way. Not interested. No Christmas for me this year please." If you read this blog regularly, you'll know that 2013 has not been a stellar year in our household. There have been a few drastic changes since last winter. In fact, this is my first holiday season without my beloved dog Ritz. To say I wasn't looking forward to it is an understatement. I haven't worked full time since May so I wouldn't have nearly the same amount of funds to spend on presents as I have previously. My brain could come up with all sorts of reasons that Christmas would be awful. However despite my best efforts at ignoring it December arrived anyway, in all it's bright cheerful glory.

Typically at this time of year I'm gritting my teeth to get through my To Do list one item at a time, until it's January and things go back to normal. As I've mentioned before, I'm not a "Christmas person". I'm an only child from a small family and while I certainly recall that Christmas was fun as a kid, it's never been a huge fancy deal for me. I said that to someone recently and she replied "Are you a Christmas hater?!" Woah, I definitely wouldn't go that far! I like the idea of Christmas time, just not the actuality of it. I like all the special food, exchanging gifts and hanging colored lights on the house. What I don't like is the frantic feeling that comes with all the obligatory shopping, gift giving and socializing. There's always a lot to do in a short amount of time!

Each year my boyfriend and I trek into the mountains on our snow shoes and cut down a tree to bring home and decorate. While I have never loved the idea of a live tree in my living room, it's one of the traditions we are making as our own. I was fully prepared to make the trip again this year as a part of my own process of moving forward without Ritz. We couldn't go last weekend due to dangerous sub zero temperatures and this week my other half is battling the illness I had a couple weeks ago. I could feel how heavy his heart was when he admitted to me that we probably wouldn't be able to go get a tree this year. While I was secretly dancing a jig inside, I never like to see someone I love be sad so I thought of a compromise and went searching for the small fake tree I knew was tucked away someplace in our house. It was high on a shelf in a closet where it's sat in its dusty box since before Reggie & I were even dating. I put it up this weekend and hung our smallest ornaments on it's flexible plastic branches. It's definitely not the same as a big live tree but it still feels Christmasy.

Last year's tree
This year's tree

Unexpectedly, putting up that little tree started a chain reaction of holiday spirit in me. Once I got it decorated I was even inspired to hang some lights around the living room window and put a wreath on the front door. On Sunday I spent the entire day with a friend, baking and cooking like maniacs until we had her kitchen  covered with cooling racks and colored frosting! After I put together plates of goodies for some friends, I decided to dig out greeting cards to attach to the plates. As I was filling out the cards I started thinking of other people in my life who deserve a card and a note of thanks. Handing out those cards and treats this week has been pretty powerful for such a small gesture. Everyone appreciates knowing they are thought of and most people I know like cookies too! For me, finding a way to show my gratitude that was within my means was incredibly important and left me feeling more comfortable and hopeful about my current circumstances.

Going through tough times this year made me acutely aware of the people and circumstances in my life that are positive. While part of my heart is still sad and grieving for Ritz, the rest of it is full of joy and love for the sweet puppy I have for his first Christmas with us. My loved ones rallied around me when I was low and celebrated with me when I reached new milestones. My mom also lost a wonderful dog this summer and has a new puppy. I'm looking forward to visiting her more than I have in as long as I can remember. Introducing our pups will be fun!

My two dogs with Santa this year
So, during the times I catch myself thinking "I can't wait until this year is over", I stop and take a deep breath. Even though my life is different than it was a year ago, it's simpler. The people who are in my life now are there because I have actively chosen to maintain those relationships. I might not be working full time but when I do go to work at a temp job, I'm happy to be there. I don't have any co-workers to bicker with or a staff party to arrange that no one actually wants to attend. I'm not going to visit my family because I feel obligated to but because I want to spend time with them and give the few special gifts I've bought. Instead of feeling like Christmas is about obligation, today I feel like it's more about opportunity. Because my life has changed so much this year, I'm quite aware that by this time next year it could all be altered again. It makes me hug my friends and listen patiently to my mom repeat a story. I still wouldn't call myself a "Christmas person" but who knows if that might change by next year!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Cabin Fever

After several weeks battling various degrees of sickness, I finally started to feel like myself again over the weekend. I was a bit antsy by Monday, after about ten days of barely leaving the house, so I treated myself to a trip to the grocery store. I wasn't even going for cough drops or Kleenex this time! It was a dreary day, with a mix of snow and rain falling throughout the morning. Luckily I returned home just before the temperature started dropping and the precipitation turned to snow for good. Then the temperatures dropped some more. On Tuesday, I stayed home, peering out the windows feeling as if I were stuck in a snow globe. Then the temperatures dropped even more. Here's a screen shot of my phone from 7:30 this morning:

With the windchill it was -30! Temperatures this low certainly aren't uncommon in this part of Montana. We almost always see a few days each year than dip below zero but this is a bit earlier in the winter than usual and it's sticking around longer too. I read in the paper that we could be getting the lowest temperatures over a ten day period in over 40 years. Even though we might experience these temperatures every year or so, it still feels absolutely brutal. You can't be outside for long with exposed skin, it can take half an hour to get your car cleaned off and warmed up, and everything is much slower like gas pumps and commutes. I know what you're thinking: Yes, it's Montana and yes people choose to live here. For the most part life goes on regularly no matter how cold it is or how much snow we get. We have plenty of inventions that make life safer and easier under these conditions like down coats, balaclavas and block heaters for our car engines. But no matter how warm I'm dressed or how prepared I try to be for winter, it always makes me throw up my hands and say "Okay Mother Nature, I get it. You're in charge." 

So even though I'm feeling better and ready to return to the world and run errands, I've stayed inside with my dogs all week as I wait out the cold snap. I've been writing, getting housework done and  watching 30Rock on NetFlix, but I'll admit I'm starting to get bored. Now that my bronchitis is gone and I can finally exercise it's too cold to run, even on the treadmill in the garage. I'm getting my cardio from playing dancing games with the XBox Kinect, which is fine but it doesn't give my dogs much chance for exercise (they just aren't very good dance partners). Instead of letting the pooches into the back yard and taking advantage of a petless kitchen to sweep the floor, I stay at the door  so I can let them in as soon as they're finished. My poor Boston Terrier puppy can barely stay out there long enough to pee on a snowy corner of the patio before darting back in. Needless to say, our housebreaking has taken a couple steps backward recently. Even my Saint Bernard mix, who likes to leisurely inspect his territory and is typically stoic when it comes to weather conditions, does his business close to the house and trots directly back to the door. 

Having five pets who enjoy the outdoors be stuck inside for days on end certainly creates some entertainment. I actually think it has forced some major steps when it comes to everyone getting along. 

Thankfully the puppy has only gotten into trouble in ways that are cute, funny and not harmful to himself. I'm constantly amazed at how quickly he can go from a dead sleep to wreaking havoc. He's keeping me on my toes, that's for sure!

Today was the first day of sunshine all week, so this afternoon when it "warmed up" to zero degrees, I started my car for the first time since Monday. It didn't start on the first try but it started. My driver's side door was frozen shut and I almost landed on my butt when it finally opened, but I was just thankful the handle didn't break off in my hand. As I drove to check the mail (the bank of mail boxes is a half mile from my house), I thought of a George Carlin quote a friend of mine in Florida often says to me when I talk about Montana winters. I'm paraphrasing here but it goes something like "I'll never live in a place where I might die of exposure going to the mailbox." That usually makes me roll my eyes but today it would be a valid concern! One of the reasons people choose to live in Montana is for all the outdoor recreation opportunities. I love to ski and snowshoe but not when it's below zero! What makes it worthwhile for me is that even though I couldn't stay outside for very long today, this is the view from my driveway:

I might have a case of cabin fever but at least I know I won't die from it!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Gratitude In Review

Yesterday was the final day of my Gratitude Project. I'm proud to report that I succeeded in posting a FaceBook status every day in November to list three things I was feeling thankful for. As a strong believer in the power of positive thinking, I jumped into the challenge looking to strengthen my own gratitude practice and hopefully inspire others to do the same. Initially I found the project easy and fun.  I posted my list each evening as I reflected on my day. I challenged myself to ignore negative things that had happened and find the silver lining when I encountered an undesirable situation. And then I got sick...

I am not one of those stoic people who can continue on when they're sick without disruption of daily life. I am not a pleasant sick person. I try to be, but I can never pull it off. Instead, I'm a weepy pouty sick person who shuffles around wearing a bathrobe all hours of the day, leaving a trail of damp snotty tissues. It's been more than two weeks since I first felt the inklings of what I thought was a head cold but turned out to be a sinus infection, which turned into bronchitis. For more than half the month, when I was supposed to be focusing on feeling good and thankful, I felt like crap and I was grumpy! At first I tried to power through. I truly tried. I had to leave a roller derby practice when I got nauseous after skating a few laps despite feeling dizzy. I went to a football watching party and a game night (in the same day) even though my ears crackled and felt like they might burst. I took NyQuil and DayQuil and rested for a few days, but I kept getting worse. After witnessing a violent coughing spell that forced up my breakfast, my usually mellow boyfriend approached me with a stern look on his face and convinced me it was time to go to the doctor. So I went. That was Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, the same day his parents and two siblings arrived at our house for the holiday.

Each day I managed to find three things I was grateful for but I'll admit there were a few days there that were rough. There were a few nights when I spent a long time staring at my bright white FaceBook page, logged on much later than usual, racking my brain to come up with positive things to list. I struggled to get through a couple days with company in my house, trying to not be a miserable bitch. On Thanksgiving Day I found my puppy chewing on a prescription medicine capsule belonging to one of our guests. I lost my cool and dropped a couple of f-bombs on my in-law family. I'm not proud of it and I tearfully apologized, but that's when I realized I was maxed out. After everyone left the next day, I put on yoga pants with a sweatshirt and parked myself on the couch, getting up only to eat turkey and cranberry sandwiches and pie. Yet I still made that post each and every day. I knew that even though it felt like everything had gone to crap, I really did have a lot to be thankful for, like having leftovers so I didn't have to cook and having people who love me even when I'm not at my best!

As I've mentioned before, there's been some negative feedback to the gratitude movement on FaceBook this month. Fortunately, the responses I've gotten personally have been nothing but positive. Just yesterday I received a message from an acquaintance that re-newed my faith in myself, that I had lost while feeling low. She agreed that I could share her note here:

"Hi, I know we never got to know each other much but I wanted to thank you for sharing your work and positive affirmation with your coach. I have struggled my whole life with negative thoughts and need to concentrate on happiness. If you have any advice I would appreciate your input on how to do it. I need to retrain my brain... Lol. Thank YOU for putting yourself out there."

Isn't that beautiful? I responded and let her know I thought it was. I took on this Gratitude Project hoping to inspire others and look, I did it! It made me stop and think about the past couple weeks in a different way. One of the things I work with most with my life coach is not being so hard on myself, especially when it comes to making mistakes. She taught me one of my favorite mantras "Nothing is good or bad, it just is." I've been beating myself up for pushing myself when I felt so sick, for not being able to keep my cool. There's nothing I can do about it now but forgive myself and learn from my experience. Looking at those words written down, it seems so much simpler than it is in my head!

I'm finally starting to feel like myself again, even though my bronchitis symptoms still linger. The house is back to normal after having guests, the dining room table takes up less space without the leaf and dogs have taken back their spots on the couch. The holiday didn't go perfectly but then again nothing ever really does. We just expect it to and then feel disappointed when it doesn't. I've learned a lot this month, about some of my FaceBook friends and about myself. Today marks the start of the final month of the year. It's a time I typically spend reflecting on the year that's past and planning for the one to come. But this year my goal is to stay in the present, to continue to look for things in each day to be grateful for.