Tag Archives: Sunday Self-Care

Sunday Self-Care: Unplug

I promised myself I’d unplug from social media after the election, because the campaign had me so tense, it literally made my face hurt, and there’s a limit to how much valerian tea I’m willing to drink in the name of sanity.

Then the election turned out to be such a trainwreck that I couldn’t stop looking at it, and I spent several days bouncing insensitive jerks from my life and commiserating with like-minded people who are as concerned about their black, Latino, Muslim, Jewish, LGBTQ, and other non-cishet-male-WASP friends as I am.

On Friday, I unplugged for several hours while we spent the afternoon and evening in Southern Illinois, listening to Leonard Cohen on the car stereo, wandering through the Rainmaker garden in Makanda, sampling hyperlocal food and drinks at Scratch, driving along the Strip in Carbondale, and hanging out in my parents’ living room, where Dad offered some consolation in the form of references to long-ago presidents who’d risen above their questionable personal histories to become competent leaders.

On Saturday, I slept in late, spent time with the dogs, did a little housecleaning, and composed a handwritten note to Hillary Clinton, who I am fairly sure feels quite a bit worse than I do this week. I prefabbed a couple of blog entries. I played “Imagine” on the piano. I tuned my guitars and played folk-revival covers until my fingers were numb. I had a bowl of green-chile cheese grits for dinner. And then I lit a piece of charcoal, laid a pinon chip on top, and spent the balance of the evening with Miss Shirley in Coldwater, where she poured me a strong cup of Irish coffee, shook her head at my stress, and set me to work transcribing her story to take my mind off things as the wind wailed across Sangre Mesa.

I may not bother logging into social media again for a good long while. It’s peaceful here at the Tumbleweed, and I’d much rather sit here at Miss Shirley’s kitchen table, gazing into her otherworldly eyes and listening to her spellbinding stories, than waste my time fussing over a world I can’t control at all.

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: Overcoming intimidation

We live in a house that was built sometime during the 1920s. It has hardwood floors in the living and dining rooms — not laminate you put down over Masonite, but actual bare floorboards. They creak when you walk over them, which I’ve always regarded as a sort of safety feature: If anyone were fool enough to break in, the floorboards would telegraph his movements, making it impossible for him to sneak up on me.

Unfortunately, some of those floorboards got a little too creaky for their own good, and a couple of them developed splits that made them feel spongy underfoot. They were starting to worry me: What if somebody stepped on them wrong and went all the way through?

Predictably, the culprits were located directly over an area in the basement where somebody had nailed a big piece of sheet metal to the joists. I had no idea what was under that metal, why it was there, or what dire fate would ensue if I removed it to get to the spongy boards. And even if I could get to them, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with them.

I ignored the problem for weeks. It got worse and worse, until I finally gave up and asked Dad to come look at it and tell me what it needed. I was afraid I’d have to hire somebody to fix it, but Dad told me the mysterious metal was just the bottom of the cold-air return for my HVAC system, and I should simply pry it off, repair the floor from the underside, and put it back on when I was finished.

I was fine with that until I realized I’d have to work around water lines, cables, and conduits full of Romex to get the metal off. I worried about that all week, but there was no choice; if I didn’t fix the floor, we were liable to crash through it, which I really didn’t need.

I looked at it again Friday, came up with a workaround Ron agreed was a good one, and spent the balance of the weekend playing with power tools.

I’m sore, scratched, bruised, and tired, but I’m also relieved, happy, and kind of proud of myself. DIY projects make me feel grown-up. I’ll try to share the details of this one tomorrow.

Emily

Sunday self-care: Everything in its place

I opened a folder in my photo archive the other night and saw something alarming.

I saw how I used to live.

When we moved from Belleville to Tulsa, I put away as much stuff as I could. Some of it fit in our new house. Some of it didn’t. I piled the excess in a spare room and promised myself I’d organize it eventually.

While I waited for “eventually,” I went about the business of living. I started projects with the intent of using up art supplies. I bought art supplies with the intent of starting projects. I subscribed to magazines I didn’t have time to read. I pursued new hobbies, accumulating equipment and materials each time. Clutter grew like kudzu over every flat surface in the house, and I just couldn’t seem to get ahead of it and stay there.

Looking at old photos, I cringe now, realizing even my occasional attempts at decluttering often ended up looking — well, cluttered. (Case in point: I once decided it would be more efficient to hang all my accessories on the wall above our bed. Just thinking about that wall gives me a headache.)

When we moved to Cape, we lost about 250 square feet, so before we moved, I halved our household inventory, and when we arrived, I unpacked everything and put it away immediately. This little bungalow, I decided, would be my laboratory for learning minimalism and test-driving storage methods ahead of our tiny-house retirement dream.

My life is neither more nor less stressful than it was during most of my time in Tulsa. But back then, I took at least a dozen road trips a year and had dinner out several times a week. I was never home if I could help it. Route 66 was my excuse, but looking back, I think I was trying to get away from the mess. Looking at the state of my house made me feel guilty, so I didn’t look.

Today, my house is generally uncluttered, and despite its diminutive size, it feels open and spacious. Cooking is easier. Cleaning is easier. Living is easier. Breathing is easier. I spend more time with my dogs and enjoy being at home. Decluttering has become one of my most valuable forms of self-care, because my mind and my home tend to sync up. If the house is cluttered, my thoughts are a jumble. If the house is neat, it’s easier to find a peaceful space in my mind.

I needed that peace more than I realized.

Emily

P.S.: If you need to declutter but aren’t sure where to start, I highly recommend Flylady.net. She’s got some great tools for establishing good habits without getting overwhelmed.

Sunday Self-Care: On procrastination

I will never understand why I procrastinate. Putting off a difficult task makes sense. Dreading a challenge makes sense. But altogether too often, I put off projects I really want to do, jobs that will make a big impact when they’re completed, or simple tasks that are likely to take half an hour or less.

Sometimes it’s inadvertent: I make a to-do list for my day off, prioritize it, and then get tired or run out of time and carry the lower-priority jobs over to the next week. If they don’t have deadlines, they end up at the bottom of the next week’s list, too, and the cycle starts all over.

After a few weeks of seeing the same unfinished job on my to-do list, I start to feel overwhelmed. The longer it’s on the list, the more Herculean it starts to look.

If there is an up side to this phenomenon, it’s the exquisite sense of relief I feel when I finally finish the project I’ve been delaying.

I had that feeling this weekend.

About 15 years ago, Ron commissioned a replica of one of the neon swallows that hang above the garages at the Blue Swallow Motel. When we moved here, I had to keep it in storage, because I didn’t have a good way to keep Walter from knocking it down.

Several months ago, I found a vinyl channel that would mount to the wall and keep the cord from dangling and turning my beautiful swallow into a cat toy. All I needed to do was paint it, install it, and hang up the sign.

As usual, one thing led to another, and the neon installation drifted to the bottom of the to-do list until Friday, when I finally got a hand free and forced myself to do the job.

Hello, old friend. I've missed you terribly.
Hello, old friend. I’ve missed you terribly.

It took longer to unpack the swallow than it did to install it.

This piece was the literal light of my life in Belleville, where I’d turn it on and look at its soft argon glow whenever I was depressed and needed a break but couldn’t quite manage a 14-hour road trip to Tucumcari. I denied myself access to that soothing blue light for three months longer than necessary, and I have no idea why.

Lighting the darkness.
Lighting the darkness.

If you’re feeling out of sorts, try turning your to-do list upside-down just long enough to complete that task you’ve been deferring for weeks. I suspect you’ll find the sense of relief and accomplishment that follows will lighten your mood as surely as a neon sign lights up a dark wall.

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: Family time

I love summer, but it puts a serious cramp in my style when it comes to spending time outside. Spring, fall and even winter are much safer times to take the dogs out for a walk or let them romp around the park, and after an exceptionally hot summer that started early and overstayed its welcome, I’m making a concerted effort to enjoy autumn.

To that end, we take the dogs for several walks a week, and when time and weather allow, I like to join them on their trips to the backyard, too. Part of this is of necessity (if I’m not out there to supervise, Lillian refuses to leave the porch, especially at night), but it’s also nice just to be out there with my four-legged family members.

Riggy, left, and Lillian hang out on the deck, waiting for me to let them back inside the house. Songdog was busy playing in the yard.
Riggy, left, and Lillian hang out on the deck, waiting for me to let them back inside the house. Songdog was busy playing in the yard.

There’s something soothing about hanging out with dogs. Their worldview is so different from ours, and they notice things I’d miss. Each dog teaches me something different.

Songdog is one of the most affectionate beings I’ve ever known. No matter what’s going on, he looks up at me like I’m the most important creature in the entire world. Give him even the slightest opportunity, and he’ll teach you what it is to experience unconditional love.

Riggy is utterly irrepressible, as rat terriers tend to be, and it’s a joy to watch him stride confidently through the world despite having lost his eyes to a genetic condition several years ago. Every walk with him is a lesson in perseverance and resourcefulness.

Lillian — who was part of a breeding operation but ended up in a shelter for nine months after her owner got sick and had to give up all her dogs — is almost heartbreakingly neurotic. She responds to things differently than any other dog I’ve ever had, and she forces me to slow down and think about how my actions might look to a six-pound Chihuahua mix who is trying hard to trust me but hasn’t quite figured out how to be a dog and needs a little help understanding what’s going on before she can be OK with it.

Together, the three of them are helping to buff off my rough edges and soothe my frazzled nerves.

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: Take a load off

I try to be productive on my days off: Clean the house, do a home-improvement project or two, prep a few meals for the coming week, maybe go for a run.

Sometimes, though, it’s good just to spend a couple of hours wandering down various rabbit-holes to see where they lead.

A Twitter conversation yesterday got me thinking about musicals, which led to an Evita earworm, which sent me to YouTube to dislodge it by listening to Patti LuPone sing “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.” Somehow LuPone led to Nicole Scherzinger, who led to Lea Salonga, who led to Bernadette Peters, who led to Joni Mitchell (I didn’t really follow what the algorithm was doing there, but when Joni Mitchell and Mama Cass show up in the sidebar, you don’t ask questions; you just say, “Thank you” and click on over), and Joni Mitchell led to The Band — and this incredible version of “The Weight,” featuring the Staples Singers.

Mavis is sublime here. I wouldn’t have minded if the guys all just piped down and let her handle the whole song.

I didn’t get as much done yesterday as I’d hoped. I installed a new composter, made a batch of soap, and got a fritatta ready to bake for this morning’s breakfast, but I didn’t do the paint touchups I’d planned, and I haven’t banked as many upcoming blog entries as I might have liked.

That’s OK. I didn’t have “sing along with songs I haven’t thought about in ages” on my to-do list, but it was something I needed to do; I just didn’t know it when I was making the list.

Sometimes it works like that. Sometimes you have to set your to-do list aside and give yourself permission to waste time. You can’t do that every day, of course, or you’d never accomplish anything. But now and then, it’s good to blow off a few non-essential projects and settle in for a little me time — and more often than not, I find that when I do, I end up working more efficiently and getting more done when I return.

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: It’s a beautiful day

I never liked Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood when I was little. I think it’s because I learned to read so early that by the time I was old enough to watch the show, I’d already outgrown it.

In fact, while most people my age talk about how soothing he was, how good he made them feel about themselves, or how much he helped assuage their fears about this or that, my earliest and most persistent memory of Fred Rogers involves a roughly 4-year-old me becoming irrationally angry about the fact I could make a much better construction-paper fish than the weird, angular shape he cut out and tried to pass off as a fish for some project he was doing on the show. I have vivid memories of shouting to my mom with barely suppressed rage: “I can do a better job than that, and I’M ONLY FOUR! He’s a grown man, getting paid for this, and that’s the best he can do?”

Mom gently explained that other little kids weren’t as coordinated as I was, and Mr. Rogers was screwing up his paper fish on purpose to make them feel better about their own work.

I was apoplectic.

“He’s a grownup, and he’s wasting paper ON PURPOSE?!!!?”

Preschoolers, as you may have surmised, possess neither a particularly nuanced worldview nor a great appreciation for the value of differentiated instruction.

I didn’t have much respect for Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood in 1979, but 37 years later, I think I’m ready to move there.

Nobody in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood is afraid of immigrants. Nobody in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood is making fun of people with disabilities. Nobody in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood is fat-shaming anybody or gossiping about anybody else’s sex life. And there jolly well isn’t any wall keeping anybody out of Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, because everybody there understands that other people are SPECIAL JUST THE WAY THEY ARE.

A couple of weeks ago, a Twitter conversation prompted me to wonder: How much better off would we all be if we spent more time listening to Mr. Rogers and less time listening to people who prey on our insecurities and encourage our worst instincts? I decided an experiment was in order, so for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been watching old episodes of the show on YouTube and paying attention to the message.

I was too old for Mr. Rogers when I was little. But in my 40s, I’ve come to the conclusion that a daily trip to that peaceful, accepting neighborhood might be just what I need as I search for an antidote to the anger, frustration, and disappointment I battle every time someone tries to defend a sexist dogwhistle, a xenophobic policy proposal, or any of the other myriad forms of bigotry that have shown themselves during this election cycle.

Won’t you be my neighbor?

Emily

Sunday self-care: A walk in the woods

A view of the Whitewater River through the window of the mill.
A view of the Whitewater River through the window of the mill.

Ron wanted to check out something we’d never seen before this weekend, so when we were both off Friday, we drove out to Bollinger Mill, a long-defunct grain mill at Burfordville that has been preserved as a state historic site.

The mill is enormous.
The mill is enormous.

Ron, whose late uncle used to run a feed store, liked touring the building and seeing how the machinery worked, and we both enjoyed meeting the resident mill cat and walking across the covered bridge next to the mill, but for me, the best part of the trip was the trail leading up through the woods to Bollinger Cemetery.

We walked through this covered bridge and down a country road past fields of soybeans that will be harvested soon.
We walked through this covered bridge and down a country road past fields of soybeans that will be harvested soon.

Amboy Crater remains my favorite place to hike — followed closely by Tucumcari Mountain and La Bajada Hill — but beggars can’t be choosers, and I’ve become increasingly enthusiastic about the prospect of spending time off traipsing through the woods, usually at a pace considerably faster than Ron would like. For everyday training, I like smooth, fast trails or climate-controlled tracks and treadmills, but there’s something to be said for rugged terrain that demands your full attention and forces you to focus on the task at hand instead of counting steps, timing intervals or making mental to-do lists while you log your miles for the day. Tree roots, spiderwebs and steep inclines force you to be fully present in the moment; failure to do so generally comes with unpleasant consequences.

You cross this creek on the trail leading through the woods and up the hill to Bollinger Cemetery.
You cross this creek on the trail leading through the woods and up the hill to Bollinger Cemetery.

I was too busy concentrating on keeping my feet under me — a demanding task, as the heavy rains we’ve had this summer appear to have eroded the trail pretty badly — to take many pictures, but the trail is pretty, and the hill is just steep enough to be challenging without posing any significant risk of shin splints or sore knees on the way back down.

Bollinger Mill is off Route HH about 19 miles from Cape Girardeau. If you go through Gordonville, to get there, I highly recommend a stop at the Gordonville Grill for lunch. If you hike the trail during warm weather, take bug repellent. I didn’t have any with me Friday, and the mosquitoes were exceptionally obnoxious.

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: Jonathan Livingston Seagull

gull11

“Look with your understanding, find out what you already know, and you’ll see the way to fly.”
— Richard Bach

As longtime readers of this blog know, the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull has had a profound impact on my life — so I was pretty excited a few weeks ago when I became aware that Richard Bach had released a revised, expanded edition.

Bach claims he wrote the novel in four parts but initially published only three. If this is true, this fourth part — published in 2013, more than 40 years after the first three were released — is downright prophetic.

Without giving away too many details, I’ll say that Bach delves into the tendency of worshipers to become so focused on dogma, tradition, and remaining firmly ensconced in their own comfort zone that they miss the underlying message of their chosen faith.

I’ve been increasingly frustrated with the Christian Establishment in recent years, for this very reason. Too many faith leaders seem to conflate spiritual truths with cultural traditions — or worse yet, political expediency.

In 2012, after watching error in the form of politics infiltrate the absolute last place I expected to find such nonsense, I walked away from organized religion altogether and tried, with varying degrees of success, to maintain my faith and my connection to God on my own.

Absent the structure and accountability a church provides, I found it slow going, though perhaps not as slow as it might have been had I been hampered by increasingly uncomfortable conflicts with people who seemed less interested in facilitating my spiritual growth than policing it.

Throughout my life, Jonathan Livingston Seagull has been my touchstone. The first edition of the book feels like an allegory for my own spiritual journey, and I tend to reread it whenever I find myself at a crossroads. It’s never disappointed me.

I suspect it’s not a coincidence, then, that I learned of the expanded edition around the same time I began visiting a local church that seems more inclusive and open-minded than some of the congregations to which I’ve belonged in the past.

My broken wings finally seem to be healing — and just as I’m attempting another flight, lo and behold, here’s Jonathan, as relevant now as he was the first time I encountered him 30-odd years ago, offering a new chapter that mirrors my experiences as well as the first three always have.

I don’t know yet whether I’ll join this church I’ve been test-driving. I’m still carrying baggage from the last go-’round, and I don’t trust as easily or commit as quickly as I did a decade ago. But even if I don’t, it’s reassuring to know, after all these years, that I’m still not flying alone.

Emily

Sunday self-care: Coffee break

Sometimes taking care of myself involves doing something big and time-consuming, such as going out for a 10-mile jog.

Sometimes it’s much simpler.

For the past six months or so, I’ve made a point of enjoying one simple pleasure every day, without fail: my morning coffee.
coffee

I don’t drink as much coffee as I used to. Sleep is too precious and too fragile these days to jeopardize it with two or three shots of espresso or several cups of coffee. Instead, I concentrate on quality over quantity, and I start my mornings with a pourover made from the best quality coffee I can find (usually Sumatran, and preferably from a local roaster), ground on the spot and prepared using the pourover method, which is a little time-consuming but yields a better cup of coffee than anything an automatic drip machine is likely to produce.

pour

The whole process, from heating the water to tossing the spent grounds in the compost bucket, takes about five minutes. I spend another five to 10 sipping the finished product and enjoying a few minutes to myself before the house wakes up.

On a cool morning, I’ll let all the dogs out and take my coffee out to the garden to sip while they play; when it’s hot, I stay inside, where Walter might decide to curl up on my lap or Lillian might toddle into the dining room to sit on the floor beside my chair in companionable silence. The simple ritual of heating the water, grinding the beans, and slowly pouring the water over them makes for a nice transition from rest to running around, and one I’ve come to cherish.

Emily