Summarizing Summer, or The New Beginning

Here I am at the final Friday of my summer.

I started this final Friday in a great way, having coffee with my best friend! We had not gotten to catch up all summer, somehow, so starting off this day with a visit was wonderful. I love our visits and wish we had them more often, so when we do get together it’s a special treat. But it’s also something I plan to build into the schedule a little more often, whether it’s coffee in the morning or a drink on a Friday evening. It’s something that is important and will go into the goal-setting category as I go into the fall.

The other wonderful way I will spend part of this day is with yoga. On Fridays this summer I went to class with Yoga Becky. Her class always calms me and helps me feel a little more centered. This fall I plan to add Friday evening yoga happy hour as a goal. What a great way to end a week and start a weekend!

But right now, on this final Friday of summer, I feel the need to summarize what I’ve done over the past three months, acknowledge where I am, and think about where I want to go from here.

What have I done? I lost 35 pound this summer! Whoo hoo! I’m not done, though. I have fifteen to go by my birthday, but I know that will happen because I am on track. With school starting next week, I will have a schedule to help me stay on track. Although this summer my motivation kept me on track with food and exercise, as time goes on, a less full schedule makes it harder for me. So I am actually looking forward to the start of school.

Next? Organization! I worked at trying to figure out my goals and then actually planned for those goals on a weekly basis. Reflection and goal setting have been crucial tools for me this summer. I now plan to use those same tools in my professional life. In fact, I will be doing a little goal-setting and planning later today. I am also learning how to jot when the ideas hit me. For instance, yesterday I had some goal ideas while in the car. Having no paper handy, I grabbed my box of kleenex and jotted my goals on the side. Any port in a storm, right? So those got transferred to a more traditional spot and now I am working on those.

When I return to school, knowing that I have 10 years until retirement, I am planning to spend more time focusing on specific goals: setting aside planning time; spending time each week to send notes to kids (I bought four boxes of blank cards and my first roll of stamps – the plan is to write a note to each kid and send it to her or him at home via snail mail; everyone loves to get snail mail, right?); reflection time; professional reading/research time; and time at the end of each day for a mini-meditation before I leave the building. With the morning meditation I currently practice, I have determined I would also like to end each school day with five minutes of quiet before I leave so I can leave in a peaceful state of mind rather than feeling frazzled and frustrated.

Knowing that I will be spending 10 more years teaching, I have also resolved to change my mindset. No more whining, bitching, and/or moaning. This is my life and I will make the most of it. I will find classes to take to get 10 more credit hours and move up on the salary scale to make this count. I will also try to do a better job of being a good role model, both to my students and to my colleagues. Whining gets me nowhere and has no payback. None. Not even in the sense of releasing frustrations. I now believe that bitching about my job gets me nothing and only leads to more complaining. It does not help. So I am going to refuse to feed that particular beast. Don’t be the problem; be the solution. The end.

Final takeaway (honestly, I hate that term, but unless I can think of a better word choice, for the moment I’ll have to keep this one): mindfulness.

Since returning from Kentucky, I have spent five minutes at the start of each day meditating. Some days it’s been really great. Some days, I struggle to empty my mind of crazy crap. Such is the nature of my meditations. But, regardless, I have spent my first five minutes sitting quietly. And I plan to continue that practice every single day. Why? Because I believe it has helped me calm down. I don’t think I swear nearly as often as I used to, and believe me it used to be quite a bit. Plus things don’t rev me up the way they used to. I’m a little better at accepting things like getting stuck in traffic or having to change plans at the last minute. I recognize when I am getting angry and that helps me diffuse it. Not always, but more often than before.

It has also helped me slow down. In a previous post I talked about slowing down time. In the past week, I have had trouble trying to get back to this. So today I am making a more conscious effort to focus on being mindful, being aware of the world around me. Earlier this week, I listened to an interview with Jon Kabat-Zinn (note: this link is not the interview I heard; couldn’t find it, but here is another) about mindfulness and his study of it, and it got me thinking. I always want to share mindfulness with others in the hope that they will take it up. I especially wish my husband would try this because I think it would help him in more ways that he realizes.

But I also understand I cannot control what others think, as much as I wish I could. In my mind, these practices would be infinitely helpful. Yet, as helpful as I think they would be, I also understand that this is something I cannot really control. So, I will simply pass along what I can and know that, when I toss it out there, it is out of my control. While this is a topic my therapist and I have visited more than once, and likely will again, I am trying to let go of that push to control the world and people around me. I have to accept that I can control me and no one else. Again, the end.

So, as summer comes to a close, I have made some positive life changes and am working to incorporate others. I feel like I am finding who I am, and I am changing who I was into who I truly want to be. One point where I truly realized I had made progress was when I was at the bookstore perusing magazines. I saw several touting mindfulness and how to become happy. Rather than think, “I need to buy and read that,” I thought, “No. I don’t need to buy that one. I’m already working on it.” What a stark change for me, and a big “Aha” moment.

This summer I’ve felt successful in lots of ways, and I am coming out the other side of summer a new person, one I feel more comfortable and happy with. The end. Or, rather, welcome to the new beginning.

Cheers.

 

 

 

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Stopping Time

I have finally figured out how to slow down time! Really, I have! And it’s not how I ever thought. It’s a revelation to me, which sounds silly. But it really is. Here is how you stop time:

Slow down.

That’s it. It’s simple, really. And it’s always been out there. I just never realized it, and I never slowed down enough to understand. If you, like me, are someone who would cram each day full and run around frantically trying to get all the day’s tasks completed, you could never even contemplate a time when things would ever slow down or give you space to breathe.

This summer, miraculously, I found that space.

For quite some time, I seem to have been collecting books on mindfulness. I’d read bits and pieces here and there. I’d nod my head and say to myself, “Yes. This is it. I really need to be mindful.” And I’d believe it. I just never really did it. I never took the time. I also found a book on slowing down. Again, I nodded to myself and said, “Yes. This is it. I really need to slow down.” And yet.

And yet.

So, somehow this summer, miraculously, I did it. It was like a happy accident. Once we returned from Kentucky and North Carolina, for some reason (honestly, I think it’s vacation – it really changes my mindset; I feel like a totally different and new person when I am on vacation) I decided to start using the meditation app on my phone. Every day now I start out on the porch and sit still for five minutes. Just five minutes. That doesn’t seem like very long, but clearly it’s long enough for me. Today was day 28, I think.

Then I picked up the book I got at Christmas that’s meant for planning and goal setting to help organize my life. And I started to think, “What goals do I have for myself, personally, right now? How can I reach those goals on a daily or weekly basis?” And then I write them down, get specific with my calendar, and each day I write out my To-do list.

And, perhaps the most important thing, each day I just take time to sit. Just sit. Maybe with coffee, maybe not. But I sit: on the back deck and look at the yard; on the front porch and look at the yard; on my blue Adirondack chair and look at the yard. Wherever. I just sit for a while and literally do nothing. And on each day that I do that, I am stopping time. I fully realized this on a day or two this week when my day was so full of this, that, and the other that I never took my time to just sit. It’s the just sitting that enables me to stop time.

It is wonderful. I now build in time each day to sit. It helps to start the day this way, but at the end is okay, too. It’s a way to find and center myself. It is truly changing my life.

I am also taking time each day to write. Sometimes I do it here, but right now the plan is just to sit each day and write a minimum of 500 words. With the exception of one day, that’s exactly what I’ve done. Sometimes it’s just a glorified journal. Sometimes it’s more. But it’s building the writing habit for me. Because writing is what I love to do, so I need to make sure I’m doing it. It brings joy into my life. And something that can bring joy is something that must be cultivated and tended. So, I’m tending every day.

That brings me here. My overall goal is just to write each day. For now, I’m not too worried about posting here because I’ve always been a little sporadic on the blog anyhow. But I figure once I get the daily writing muscle up to speed, the next step will be to make sure I post once or twice a week. At this point, I’m not sure exactly when that will be, but as school starts in another week, I figure I will need some time to find where some of my new practices will fit into the schedule. But I am glad I have been working on slowing time this summer, because as the new school year starts and things get hopping, it will help me to keep my calm and help me to better deal with the stresses that come with teaching.

So I am excited to start the new year. And I am delighted to have one more week to continue to work on stopping time.

Cheers.

Dinner with Friends

Last night we had some friends over for dinner. Nothing big. Ed smoked a roast. I made some rosemary roasted potatoes and green beans from the garden with bacon. A little red wine was provided by Karen. Ed made a cherry pie. The star of the show was watermelon. Ed and Tim had a very deep conversation about watermelon the day before, and Ed told Tim he could make him a watermelon snob and we’d have them over to try it once a watermelon was ready. That happened to be the day after the conversation.

We sat on the deck under the umbrella festooned with lights, which turned out just fine because we sat there talking till after it got dark. Saw a few bats swoop by. Lightning bugs dotted the yard. A slight chill was in the air. All in all, it was a lovely evening.

Dinner with friends is one of the nicest slow things you can do. It drops the blood pressure (except for the moment when someone, while trying to root the limes out of the fridge for G&Ts, knocks over your glass of red wine, spattering your new capris – thank heavens for Spray & Wash). It slows life down. It’s a good thing all around.

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A few months a go I found a book titled The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down: How to be Calm in a Busy World. It is a book to read in little doses because each page or two gives you something to ruminate upon. It is not a book to read cover to cover. It is meant as a treatise on the mindful, thoughtful life. Haemin Sunim, a Buddhist monk and teacher, decided to publish it because so many people craved the kinds of nudges toward mindfulness that he provided in his Twitter feeds and Facebook page.

How to slow down? Dinner with friends. A slow evening where the rest of the world doesn’t matter, even if you do talk a little politics. So next time the world is driving you crazy, take a deep breath, pick up the phone and call a couple friends to have them over for dinner. Don’t fuss. Just make something simple. Simple is best anyway. Uncork some wine, take a sip, and relax. There’s no better way to spend a summer evening.

Cheers.

Taking Up the Big Idea

A year or so ago, I read a book by one of my favorite authors and life gurus, Elizabeth Gilbert. The book was called Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. In it, Gilbert talks about the concept that sometimes the universe tosses you a nugget. Something that, if you choose, you can pick it up and look it over and then use it to spur your creativity, whatever path that might take. She says that we may not always be aware that this is what’s happening at the moment, but sometimes we are. There are times when you see something and “Wham!” it smacks you upside the head.

Now you have two choices should this head-smacking occur: pick it up or leave it alone. Should you leave this little catalyst alone, her theory is that is will return to the swirling cosmos and then, later on, smack someone else upside the head. They will have the same options. But if you left it and they picked it up and ran with it, should you see this at some later date on the big stage of the world, you may hang your head, or maybe bang your head, a’la Homer Simpson (“D’oh!”) and think, “That idea came to me first! Why didn’t I do something?”

So, earlier this summer I was visiting a friend, and in her laundry room she had a framed poster of her great-grandmother and sisters who were a Vaudeville act. “Wow!” I said to her. “There’s a book there!”

I took multiple photos of the poster and asked a few questions. And now, today, is the day I start taking that nugget and trying to crack it open and see what I can do with what’s inside. My friend and I have texted a little back and forth and I have gotten more information that leads me to believe I am doing the right thing here. At some point today, I will visit my local library archives and start digging through old newspapers for ads, reviews, stories about Vaudeville. I do know that at some point during the Vaudeville era, Fred Astaire and his sister Adele performed at the Adler Theater in downtown Davenport (although perhaps it was the Capitol Theater – research, research, research).

Okay. I hear some younger folks saying, “Vaudeville? What’s that?”

Well, dear ones, Vaudeville was a time period in the late 19th and early 20th century where acts of all kinds toured theaters across America. Good acts (the Astaires) and bad acts (“Baby Alice the Midget Wonder”) but rarely boring acts. The best way I can help you to understand Vaudeville might be to recommend you watch the movie The Greatest Showman. Even though P.T. Barnum created a circus, the sideshow aspect of his circus (The Bearded Lady, General Tom Thumb, etc.) were some of the things that would become parts of Vaudeville acts.

This could be really amazing. Fiction or non-fiction? To be determined. Either way, I am going to be on the research trail. I love it! I adore doing research! I think it was what I was made to do. Research and write about what I find. I have some other ideas, too, but on other topics. One I’ve been holding onto for nearly 20 years. I really do need to get to that one before someone else does, but I think that one’s a pretty deeply buried topic. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean someone else might accidentally find it as I did.

In any case, I am on the trail and excited for what I will find. Stay tuned! You can get your tickets here, and you’ll get to see the greatest acts ever to cross a stage, Ladies and Gentlemen! Excitement, action, the unusual and the bizarre. All here for your entertainment! Step right up!

Cheers.

A Dull Routine?

I’ve been slow to write lately. Not exactly sure why that is. I love writing. I’ve been journaling daily, but not blogging. Maybe I need to just sit down and see what happens. Kind of like now. But this seems to be more than a little disappointing. I need a good topic to get me started, and I don’t seem to have one. Why? Because life seems to be going pretty smoothly right now, all things considered.

A life without conflict can either be seen as a life of contentment or a dull routine. Personally, I prefer a dull routine. Last summer was hardly routine and it was awful.

To be honest, this summer has actually been pretty far from routine, with auction school, then a trip to Kentucky and North Carolina and, on Thursday, a trip to Wrigley to see a Chicago Cubs game (a win!).

However, Thursday’s trip had a little too much boring to it, with it taking six hours on a bus to get to downtown Chicago. Six! Not three, which is usual. Not even four, which is what it took us to get to Evanston on a prior trip (on the North side of Chicago, for those keeping score and unfamiliar with Chicagoland geography). But six!

We are still not sure what the bus company was thinking in planning the route, but before we even left Davenport (already 20 minutes late), they took a screwy turn and added at least five miles to the trip. When we asked why we were taking this route, as we missed the last possible turn to the interstate that wouldn’t take us another three miles out of town the wrong way, we were told the driver had to go “where the dispatcher told him to.” Despite the fact that we were from town and the Dispatcher was….where, exactly? I get the whole Dispatcher thing. Really, I do. But this was just absurd. We were supposed to arrive at the ballpark at 4:45 for a 6:05 game. When did we enter the park? It was 6:40 on my watch.

So, an inning and a half into the game, we found our way in. And this was after Ed had to surrender his pocket knife at security on the way in (not sure why he even had it, but I suppose it’s a farmer thing). That was where I lost it, temporarily. But I managed to pull myself together and we found our seats.

After a million people settled and got their hotdogs and beer and whatever else was being hawked through the aisles, we got to see a great game. We got to see a Cubs home run and some great plays. And who led us in the seventh inning stretch version of “Take me out to the ballgame?” Harry Caray, of course (via the magic of video tape). Happily, we also got to see them come from behind to win the game, so we got to sing the Cub’s song (Go, Cubs, Go!)

We had beer and hotdogs and popcorn (me) and nachos (Ed). I got myself a Cubs baseball hat. Made some new friends in some girls from Quincy, Illinois, who were part of the trip and a man from Bettendorf who was originally from Durant and a couple years behind my dad in school. And, all in all, it was a great night (the bus ride up notwithstanding). It was so much fun to get to see the Cubs win at Wrigley. And today, as we listened on the radio to the game, Ed decided we ought to try to go see a game once every summer. I agree! It might become part of our summer routine, which really isn’t dull at all, now that I think about it.

Cheers.

You Can Call Me Colonel

Well, actually, I prefer you don’t. But I did earn that title last week at the World Wide College of Auctioneering. (WWCA) I am now an auctioneer!

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So, after last year being a year of loss (an uncle, and aunt, my dad, my dog), this year is turning into a year of firsts and a year of new things. At age 52, I feel like I am finally getting my sea legs (I know – in the middle of land-locked Iowa?).

As you may recall from a previous post, I signed up for classes at WWCA on my dad’s birthday in January. From then until the middle of June, I practiced tongue twisters and number scales all the time. When I started, I practiced a little too much and nearly lost my voice (I thought in teaching 7th graders I talked a lot – I didn’t know the half of it).

Orientation started on a Saturday at noon. Our guide through this journey, Mr. Paul C. Behr, had a phrase we would hear often: “Get ’emĀ  up, get ’em up, get ’em up.” This was the directive to our instructors, meaning to get us students up and practicing as much and as often as possible. Daunting? You bet. Paul said we would be pushed out of our comfort zones. Yes, yes and yes! But get up we did. All 71 of us. There were a few seasoned students in the crowd, and even a few who had already been auctioneering for a while, as well as a two-time Junior Champion! If you don’t think that’s more than a little intimidating, think again.

But the other thing I learned at WWCA was how supportive they are. One-on-one instruction also means one-on-one support. Add to that the support you get from the other students who become dear friends by the time the ordeal is over and you’ve got a brand new, really big, family. We are staying connected via Facebook mostly, and it’s so amazing to see where everyone is going and how excited and passionate we all are.

The big job now is to go out into the world and do something with what we’ve learned. Without the instructors here with us, now we have to push ourselves out of our comfort zones. My dear friend, Emma Jay, has already gotten to work an auction (her brother’s an auctioneer, so that helps), and she was great! I love being able to see videos of my friends (like my two new sisters, Emma Jay and Kylee) and grin from ear-to-ear with pride.

Maybe the most important things I learned at WWCA are the important life lessons: stay positive, be a person of integrity, take care of your business, and know that you can do anything if you set your mind to it. Oh, and have fun and practice, practice, practice!

I never thought I could do this, but now I know I was wrong. I can do this and I will continue to do this. Because I am strong, and because it’s so much fun! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some tongue twisters and number scales to run through before some bid calling practice.

Cheers.

P.S. Did I also mention that I am also a certified bilingual auctioneer? Si amigos y amigas!

bilingual diploma

I’m On My Way!

On Tuesday, I began something new. I started a truly serious weight loss program. One that costs me lots of money, but that I am confident will work for me. It’s an investment in me. Medically-supervised with a once a week check-in and, for the near future, “food” that comes in an envelope or in bar form. I don’t have to even think or take time to cook. Right now, that’s kinda nice. And convenient. At this time of year, the less I have to think (be it about planning menus, shopping lists, or what to use from the pantry) the better. And that jump start is working.

This morning’s weigh-in tells me I am down 7.3 so far. Whoo hoo! I also know that I probably can’t expect this rapid loss to continue, though it would be cool. But holy cow!

I am learning to be more mindful. As I start my journey, I feel hungry a lot, and I recognize that (I literally think to myself, “I am hungry. This is what hunger feels like. And it’s okay to feel this way, because I am going to feel like this for a while.”).

I also was super hungry and very tired yesterday, making me plenty grumpy. I would get made at any and everything, it seemed. At one point, I just said to myself, “I am so mad.” Then I teased apart why I was mad, and realized it was because I was hungry and tired and frustrated by both of those things. I also realized this is just one stage in a long journey. And, somehow, that helped dissolve my anger. I love mindfulness! But that is also a work in progress. I think this is going to be a good way to use it to help myself improve and stay strong.

My dear Ed is also being very supportive. Last night, after some tears and a little yelling, he held me and said, “It will all be okay. You are doing great and sometimes you might need a hug.” Love him. We also realized that I’m probably going through the DTs, only for food and, primarily, for sugar.

I’d been good for three whole days. But last night, I had my first slip. But, as slips go, I didn’t think it was too bad. Ed was having steak for supper, and it smelled soooo good. So I had him give me one bite. Only one. And it was protein. And I savored that one bite. I ate so mindfully you wouldn’t believe it. One bite was all. No more. But it was enough. This really made me realize that I need to think more about what I eat when I eat it. No more reading a book or watching tv while I eat. Just eating and paying attention to how good my food tastes, one bite at a time.

After being in touch with my counselor (not sure if that is the right term or not, but for lack of another title), she says that what I felt yesterday is totally normal, and that by day 4 or 5 my body will hit the ketosis point where it will tap into those nasty fat reserves to feed itself and I will be a happier camper.

Today, it’s day four, and I feel good. I’m still hungry, but the crankiness level has dropped dramatically, thank heavens. I also am staying out of the lounge, because the ice cream and treat day I thought was yesterday is actually today. Even though I think I could resist, it’s never good to court temptation. So here I am instead.

My weight loss so far is very helpful, and I am starting to feel different; better about myself already. I’ll take it, because I know that, the way my brain works, every day won’t be like this. So I have to take the good ones and put them in the bank for those days when I really struggle.

But I’m on my way. And I’m feeling good about it.

Cheers.