A Year in the Life-January*: On the Last Gift of Time

We’re buried in snow here this weekend, but you know what? We don’t care. We’ve spent the past two snowy days sleeping in, drinking extra pots of coffee in front of the fire, watching birds come to the feeders in droves, reading books and watching movies on TV. 

Yes, I said WE because as of January 31, my husband is officially RETIRED. 

I know that word strikes fear in the hearts of many women, but so far we are managing quite well. I am much more mellow than I was even a few years ago, my expectations for being productive in a day have changed dramatically, and I’m enjoying the ability to be flexible with all the free time in my own schedule. 

Still, it’s obvious some adaptations will need to be made.  Jim is more of an afternoon-evening person, while I am definitely an early morning person. He likes to relax and take life slow, I like to be busy and get things done. He’s all details and logic, while I’m touchy-feely and sensitive.

But we’ll figure it out. We’ve been together for 45 years and are committed for the long haul. 

A Journey of a Thousand Miles

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which direction to go we have begun our real journey.” ~Wendell Berry

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” 

This morning I clicked on this space and was startled to see it has been over two months since I’ve written here. Over two months since I’ve written much of anything, actually. During that time we’ve sustained another loss - our precious Molly dog became ill in early December, and died on December 11, just shy of five months after we said goodbye to her brother, Magic.

I never imagined the possibility of losing both of my dogs in such a short period of time. Yes, they were both elderly dogs - Magic was almost 15, and Molly was 13 - but after Magic died, we hoped for another year or two with Molly, who had always been a very healthy little dog. And once my initial grief for Magic dissipated, I enjoyed not only her gentle company, but the relative ease of managing one dog, especially this one who was so undemanding. 

Broken Engagement

A few weeks ago I wrote of my intention to limit my time on social media, and as you would imagine, I have had varying degrees of success. To paraphrase an old song, it’s a hard habit to break, and most of you are well aware of that.

On days when I am successful, however, here’s what happens: I’m more content, more focused, less flustered, and I accomplish a whole lot more. And by accomplish, I don’t mean just checking stuff off my to-do list. The biggest accomplishment I’ve achieved in those days when the phone stays tucked into its pocket inside my purse and the iPad remains closed on the kitchen counter is that of doing nothing. Of sitting on my couch and looking out the window, watching birds fly in and out from the feeder, listening to my little dog snoring softly from her bed in the corner. 

Of being quiet.

Good Intentions

 I’m a woman who loves her routine. I actually prefer to think of it as ritual because that word lends a more sacred connotation to those predictable activities that anchor my day. Over six decades of life on earth, I’ve developed a good number of these daily rituals, and the older I get the more embedded in them I’ve become.

After my last post about growth mindset and overcoming the fear of trying new things, I began to consider ways in which my daily routines might change for the better. I felt a faint shiver run up my spine at the mere thought of it, but soon realized that I needn’t write any such changes in stone, I could simply experiment and see how it worked out. 

My thought process on the subject led me to set some Intentions for myself - a word I much prefer to the word Goals. You know how some words just irritate you? Goals is a word that irritates me. As does the word Discipline, another one often used when discussing self-help and life improvement projects.

But Intentions? I like that word. It seems to fit me and my personality. Where Goals and Disciplines feel like they’re imposed from the outside, Intentions are more personal and individualized. The idea of Intentions implies an independence of thought and a freedom from adverse consequence. It give me a positive and encouraging vibe. 

So how about those specific Intentions of mine?

Two of them went into effect back in August when I removed sugar from my diet and added daily strength training into my home exercise program.  As a result I’ve lost 10 pounds and firmed up some flabby places. I feel stronger and more energetic. My original intention was to try this until September 1, but it’s worked so well I have no intention of changing it!

This month my intentions again are two-fold and interconnected. First, I am determined to free myself from a social media habit that borders on addiction. Social media eats away at my time, at my attention, at my ability to focus and - most importantly -  at my creativity. As an example, one of my life long rituals is to spend about an hour each morning with coffee and reading. That time often leads to writing ideas, which get transcribed into morning pages, and later into blog posts or other things I may be working on. Lately, I’ve allowed the world of social media and online news to sneak into my morning routine. I’ve realized that as soon as I log onto the internet all my writing ideas go up in smoke, my brain starts jumping from one topic to another, I waste hours of time and then have to scramble to get through my to-do list for the day. 

New routine? No social media until after the aforementioned reading, writing, and exercise are done.  I set the kitchen timer for 30 minutes to go online while I eat breakfast. After that, the iPad goes away until 5:00 when I give myself another 30 minutes to go online while dinner cooks. I’ve taken all the social media apps off my phone with the exception of Instagram because I find that to be a kinder, gentler forum with fewer distractions.

In conjunction with this intention comes another very important one:  WRITE EVERY DAY. At least 250 words of something. Morning pages, a blog post, part of a new book I’ve started working on. But WRITE.  I’m keeping written record of my progress, and rewarding myself at the end of every week I stick to the program.

That word intention has another meaning which appeals to me. In medicine, intention describes the way in which a wound heals. The first intention healing process occurs when a wound closes via natural contact with its parts. Second intention healing occurs when the sections of the wound are too wide or deep to come into contact naturally, so over time the body will create a new layer of skin to bind the wound together. 

Sometimes our own habits, even our beloved daily rituals, can unknowingly create wounds in our lives and spirits. We do things that damage our physical bodies, our mental acuity, our imagination. The world has evolved in such a way that it’s easy to indulge in activities that at first seem worthwhile and pleasurable, but are actually harmful or even dangerous. When that happens we must take time to create a new layer of habits to heal the damage. 

At my current stage of life, I have the privilege of being able to set my own schedule. In the current political climate, I’m learning that with privilege comes responsibility. But that applies to my personal life as well. By taking control of my time and being deliberate about the way I spend my days, I regain a sense of control over my own life at least, a feeling that’s been missing as the world around me tilts more and more off course every day. 

 Maybe my little intention setting program is pedantic. But change has to start somewhere. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I might as well experiment with some good intentions and see what happens.


Setting Your Mind to It

Last week my grandson received something called a Growth Mindset award at his elementary school’s Friday morning assembly. He’s only been in kindergarten three weeks, and I’m not sure he quite understood the reason he’d been called to the front of the cafeteria to have his photograph taken with the other recipients. Nor did I, his 61 year old grandmother, have any idea what a Growth Mindset Award was about. Was this peculiar to his school, one known for its progressive ideas about education?

My daughter in law explained that growth mindset was a very important concept in schools, especially in their district. “It’s about believing you can learn new things,” she said, “and not being afraid to try."