Saturday, June 29, 2019

This Here, This Now

I'm sitting here in my quiet house, on the last Saturday I know I'll be alone here for the summer. I hurried through my morning errands partly because it is going to be hot today, and I wanted to be done before the heat really set it, but mostly because these hours are part of what helps me restore my equilibrium when life gets hectic.

Which is not to say that restoring my equilibrium is the be all end all. It's not. I know that. There are so many serious things going on in the world, so many people only wanting their basic needs to be met, for their humanity to be recognized and respected. So I am doing what I can for them, but I know it's not a lot. It's not enough. Some coins in cups, a meal from Tesco, a chat on the weekend, an online donation to bail someone out. We all need to work together for it to be enough, pressure those in power to do better. I think it's important, too, to recognize our own privileges and work to extend those privileges to others. Maybe we can sacrifice a bit of our own comfort for others; I know I could do this. I think about it a lot.

In our family life, we have been quite fortunate. None of us have stories that are without pain, but right now we all seem to have reached a place of contentment. I know this comes and goes, but honestly, this is the best it's ever been. It feels easy in a way it hasn't before. I see my kids growing, learning, making their peace with things on their own terms. They are so good to and for each other - they fight, and they'll tell you that themselves, but overall they support and care for one another in a way that I have hoped that they would. They are both growing into such wonderful people, and I am so proud of who they are.

And in other ways, too, life is easy. Nearly everything that we want materially, we have. Oh, sure, we need to wait to buy some bigger ticket items. We still need to stick to our budget, and I still shop the sales. But we get the groceries we want and have extra leftover for treats. If there's something we need to replace, it's no big deal to just do it. We have a holiday booked for the autumn, paid for in full, without a lot of stress. It's not always been that way, and I am not taking this for granted. If anything, there is an undercurrent of wondering if it's all too good to be true. This life, this family, this home in this city. Every night I think of all the things I am grateful for, and I say thanks. There are a lot of things to be grateful for; I fall asleep before I am done.

So now the question is, what do I do when I wake in the morning, having fallen asleep knowing I have been blessed beyond what I deserve? Honestly, sometimes I wake up and I do all the things I know are right and good, and some days I do not. But the work ahead of me is to tip the scales always toward using what I have - not just materially, but my own sense of peace and comfort - to make things better for others. I don't know what that will look like beyond what I already do. But I know that there is a purpose to having all this goodness in my life, and the purpose is not to hoard it. I am lucky, maybe I can make others luckier still.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Reframe as a Means of Stress Relief

I worked eleven days straight doing cat jobs, finished on Saturday, then had a full Sunday. We've had slow mornings the four days since, and I am grateful for this. Our afternoons speed things up, and I feel like getting dinner on the table is at somewhat of an internal fever pitch for me. I'm trying to reframe things so I don't feel so much stress about it - I mean, no one in the family seems to care how quickly I get dinner on the table but me, so it's not anyone else's issue.

As my business grows, I am trying to figure out many small sources of stress that I can eliminate or at least reframe, in order to keep most of my energy free for my paying job and my parenting job. And let's face it - when one is a parent, a lot of sources of stress just need to be reframed. For instance, I am not going to reject all invitations to outdoor parties because they're too stressful for me. We'd be declining a lot of invitations to parties if we did so, because it seems that I am one of the few people who is not keen on a party in the park.

But seriously: I am not keen on parties in the park. Is that weird? I don't know. I think it's either weird of me, or other people are lying about how much they like these types of parties. I do like the part where E runs wild with a bunch of other kids, because it makes her extremely happy and also helps her fall asleep quickly that night. I like the part where our friends are happy we've come to celebrate with them. But other than that? Meh. No thanks. If I attend a party, what I really want is a comfortable seat, a plate of food, possibly a beverage, and not to have to awkwardly hover nearby and decide whether or not to introduce myself to someone who is also awkwardly hovering. In parks, there is a lot more space to awkwardly hover. It pains me.

But I've got a plan for reframing this and for making it more comfortable for myself in the future. First of all, I need to plan ahead. I ended up taking E to a party in a park on Sunday, and it was all very last minute. I had originally left the decision up to J, who is not as much of a planner as I am, and he was being his usual laid back self and hadn't let me know he'd decided when suddenly, friends were offering to take E with them in their car, and they needed to leave ASAP. Because J was sorting the bookstall after liturgy, I was the one who ended up in the room where it happened, and I ended up making the final decision without a lot of time to think it over or discuss with J. Thus felt that I should be the one to commit to go to the party with E, since J didn't end up having the final say.

At that point, any or all of us could've shown up later, but J and Z decided not to go. On the way home (home! my favorite!) they also stopped at Starbucks (alas, for a peppermint mocha to ease my party struggles!), and it felt like a giant insult. I'm not keen on feeling resentment toward my husband or kid(s), so I know that in the future, I can't leave things to the last minute.

Second, I am adjusting my view to embracing these types of activities as taking one for the team. Or for multiple teams. Family team, friend team, kid team. I do not need to like everything I do, and sometimes it is really nice to do something for someone else. I have had lovely conversations with others at outdoor parties, and sometimes the food has been amazing. Also, there is the aforementioned joy and delight experienced by my youngest child in particular. So it is certainly not all bad, and again, I can take one for the team(s).

Third, I am planning ahead for my comfort. On Sunday, I had absolutely nothing with me. No food, no coffee, no picnic blanket, nothing. I had at least dressed comfortably, knowing that it was a possibility I'd end up at the party. But in the future, I need to put my own snacks in my bag and maybe a bottle of iced coffee. Even if I don't know for sure if we are going, I can put these things in my bag as insurance.

I realize this may seem strange to a lot of you. But I am guessing that a lot of you are also nodding along. (High fives to my fellow planners!) It's ok to be someone who does not go with the flow very easily, and it's also ok to be someone who doesn't like something that a lot of people are really into, like parties in parks. We can learn and grow and adjust. And sometimes? We can just stay home and let others have their fun.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Cats! Cats! Cats!

I am in the middle of day three of eleven of cat work. Or, as I like to call it, professional cat lady-ing. The jobs seem to come in spurts, and this suits me. For this run I've got three different clients, and there is a bit of overlap, but nothing unmanageable. Tomorrow will be the busiest, with two clients both morning and evening. And then it tapers off for a few days, picks up for a few days, and then I'll be done. For morning jobs, I've got to get the work done before Jarod needs to leave for work, and as a non-morning person, this is a challenge. However, I am a professional cat lady, so I do what I have to do.

I have been surprised at the amount of business I have been getting - I am one of the higher priced cat sitters in my area, so I assumed I'd get a couple of people who were really into their cats and wanted a proper cat lady to come look after their cats, but mostly people would choose someone more affordable. Well! I am happy to find that I was wrong. In fact, if business continues to pick up, I'll start having to make actual business decisions, like about how many days I am willing to work in a row, and then how much of a break I want in between. As it stands now, I will likely need to file taxes next year, which I honestly did not think would happen. It's good to be surprised! And I do like that people trust me with their cats and in their homes, and choose me above a bargain.

This work is a gift to me, and I won't pretend that it's not. It's been a gift to our family as a whole, really, because it allows us a little more financial breathing room, and we have been able to purchase some things that we've wanted and/or needed but have not been able to afford. That said, it's still just a side hustle. My main occupation remains home education and facilitating various things that allow us to have a good family life and for the kids to develop the skills they need to flourish as adults. This work will always take a backseat to that, and this is what I am keeping in mind as I make my professional cat lady business decisions for the future.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

In Pursuit of a Little More Quiet

We've just returned from the annual church conference. It's basically a bunch of people from our Orthodox Christian Deanery that get together at a conference center outside the city and listen to talks and have discussions based on a theme. There is a children's program, which I now help plan and carry out, somewhat under duress (kidding but not kidding, if you know what I mean), but this year I made the time to listen to a couple of the talks and to attend the icon workshop. Being raised Protestant, my knowledge of and appreciation for icons was nonexistent before I became Orthodox myself, and even after ten years I still have a lot to learn. What I do know is that I love icons, and that I want to learn more about them, so signing up for this workshop was the thing to do. Above is my practice drawing the lines of icons. The goal with the hands is that they wouldn't look like a bunch of bananas. I think I was somewhat successful, but I need more practice, and I must make time for that practice.

I am trying gradually to make more space in my life for a variety of things which are enriching to me both emotionally and spiritually. The challenging part of this is that, having proved myself reliable and capable, I get asked to do a lot of things, and while I have gotten good at saying no, I am not good at ending things which are not a good fit. I've gotten myself into a bit of a pickle because, in the past, I accepted some jobs which are leading to burnout, and for which I now know I am not well suited. So there are some opportunities ahead to grow as a person, to learn to gently but firmly assert what I can and cannot do.

The other challenging part is retaining my sense of the importance of these self-enriching pursuits in my life. So much cries out for my attention, and the easiest things to sideline are the things which matter only to me. In some ways, this is as it should be, but in other ways, it is not to anyone's advantage when I neglect to take time to settle my own heart and mind. I am also mindful that after so many years of intensity in our family life, I am in need of a rest for my spirit as well as for my body if I hope to continue to parent my children well, and then when they no longer need me, to offer of myself to a new pursuit of caring. When I think  of what I would like to do once my own children do not need me as much anymore, I know that I want to continue to offer care directly in some way to others. That will not happen if I am completely burned out. I must take this time, when my children's needs are not so big as they once were, but are still big enough that their care and education is my main occupation, to recalibrate, to find balance and rest.

So I am going to make space for creative, spirit-nurturing pursuits, ten minutes a day at minimum, hopefully more. If I am successful, this will result in a little drawing practice, a little more writing about things that are in my heart and on my mind, a little more time that is spent in quiet. And eventually, it will result in me feeling ready for whatever comes next.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

This Latest Lesson

Hey! Here's another cat photo! You're welcome! (Seriously though, you're welcome. Look at that adorable snuggling! Teddy can't even breathe under there probably, but he is committed to the snuggle. Adorable.)

I've been meaning to write all week. I have so much to say. But it turns out that resting works, and so I keep resting instead of doing other things, including trying to string some words together at the end of the day.

I am finally well after many weeks of having a cold/flu/whatever. It was only rest that made a difference. I am learning a big life lesson about rest. I've already learned some big life lessons about food and exercise, and now rest is next.

It's actually just one life lesson, really. These things are all related. The lesson is this: I can trust my body. Yes, it's that simple. It turns out that my body will tell me what it needs and when it needs it. I don't need to follow a complicated system. It can actually be easy. Or simple, at least. It is never easy to quiet the voices I've heard all my life, that still try to clamor for my attention.

We are told in so many ways that we absolutely cannot trust our bodies. We are given the message that our bodies are something to conquer. Aging, weight gain, the potential for illness. We must be ever vigilant! But is this vigilance, this conquering, actually good? For me, no. I have fought against my body for far too long. I have chosen to nurture it instead. I have been given this one body, and it is a good body. It was made well, and I can trust what it is telling me.

I want to share more about what this has looked like for me, this shift from conquering to nurturing, and I will. It has taken a long time to come to this place. But I feel better than I have in years, especially mentally. My body is my friend, not my enemy. It is a gift.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Rest, Rest, and Rest Some More

Hi, hi, hello, hi. It appears that I will eventually recover from this cold/flu/possible allergy thing, though it's not quite done with me yet. (I know. It's endless.) As predicted (but initially resisted), the only thing that works to get rid of it is rest. There were some other things which helped ease my suffering from the symptoms, but rest is what does the healing job. There is absolutely no way around this.

I find this to be frustrating. I am an Enneagram 1, and my inner critic is not down with just doing nothing. My inner critic thinks I should recover faster. My inner critic does not think that taking a short nap after returning from an early morning cat care job is acceptable. My inner critic wonders if I have seen the state of the kitchen lately? Or my disaster of a desk? My inner critic asks if I've figured out the budget for the rest of 2019, and if I shouldn't just get up in the night to finish that?

My inner critic clearly needs to shut up.

Because overall, things are going well. I no longer feel like someone has filled my sinuses with concrete. My energy levels have come back up to a level which allows me to get most things done without feeling like I need to sit down every few minutes. I booked a holiday for late September/early November, and that gives us all something to look forward to. Pascha is coming up this weekend, and we've got a plan to keep it as low stress as possible. So my problems right now are small, it seems.

For example, I'm experiencing dinner-making burnout. I just don't feel like making dinner anymore. I love cooking, but suddenly it seems that I've made enough dinners. Why does my family still want to eat dinner? Haven't they done that enough? Apparently not.  But they do seem to have accepted mediocre dinners pretty readily. Mediocre is better than nothing, and they know it! And also I got a bunch of pizzas on clearance, so there's a backup option in the freezer if necessary. Let's just keep it real.

Also real? That I have other things to do besides complain about making dinner to my audience of 35 willing readers. Like grate cheese for tonight's mediocre dinner of quesadillas heated in the waffle iron. Off I go.

Monday, April 15, 2019

A Quick Note About Resting (and How I've Been Doing It Wrong)

Aaaaaaand...we're back to the cat photos. You're welcome. I took that photo while lying on my bed today, massaging my face with frankincense and lavender oils to try to get my sinuses to stop making my whole head hurt. It was nice, lying there with the cat nearby. I'd say it was nice to smell the oils, but I honestly couldn't smell a thing.

I'm spending three days trying to recover from the cold/flu/who-knows-what that I've had since early March. I thought it would be gone by now. I took little breaks! I did! But my problem has always been not being able to allow myself to take the kind of rest I really need. Sometimes I'll take as little as possible, and other times I will take not quite enough. Logically, I know that I need it. Practically, I see all the things that need to be done and figure that if I can drag myself out of my bed to do them, I probably should. This is a lie, but it's one that I apparently believe, as I keep doing things instead of resting.

Spoiler alert: that doesn't really work out. And yet, today I started on the project of swapping my winter wardrobe for my spring/summer wardrobe when I had vowed to rest. I meant to do it! But there I was, contemplating which things were truly for winter and which were more transitional between winter and spring.

I also did laundry.

And some dishes.

But then I laid down. Many times. In between the laundry and dishes. Because some things that can wait turn into absolute disasters if they are not attended to in a timely manner. I did what I had to do, in order to not suffer terribly later. I don't have a solution for this. All I can do is spend these three days lying down as much as possible and hope for the best.

For the long term, I am trying to build things into our lives that will mean that I get more rest overall. I took a free online course about increasing energy, and I'm going to incorporate some of the strategies I learned as well. (If any of them work, I'll let you know.) But none of that helps me now. What will help me now is lying down as much as possible. And that is hard for me, but I am going to do my very best.