Eating oranges

When company’s coming, I normally tidy up the house hurriedly, clearing up clutter quickly. Everything must find its home–James’ smelly socks sitting in the middle of the mudroom floor, Maggie’s tiny pile of clean laundry atop the dining table outside her room, the four coffee cups on the kitchen counter. Even if I don’t have time to scrub each surface with bleach or mop the floor with wood oil soap, I can’t relax until the clutter isn’t visible and the dishes are loaded in the dishwasher.

12801343_605792375922_8706710045606079300_nAfter the mad dash through the house, I typically glance down at myself in horror and jump in the shower. Even if I don’t have time to apply makeup or shave my legs, bathing myself and brushing my teeth are essential.

This Sunday, after caring for a very sick little girl by myself for three days, I found myself staring at the clock in anticipation of my friend Erin’s visit. I looked around me; thankfully, since James had been out of town for three days, the house was already clean. I looked at myself; if I’d had an ounce more sleep, I might have cried after catching a glimpse of my hair in the mirror. However, I’d reached the point of subsisting solely on coffee fumes, and brushing my teeth and pulling my bangs away from my face was the best effort I could muster.

When Erin arrived, I laughed. She looked similarly smocked and just as exhausted. We consumed even more caffeine while halfheartedly entertaining Maggie and catching up on life. She came bearing gifts of a toy puppy, a teeny tiny watermelon from her garden, cranberry cookies, and s’mores dip. We consumed sugar and watched leaves fall while Maggie chased chickens.

That night, I explained to my mentor that I wasn’t sure what lesson I was supposed to be learning, but every time James left town, one of us was really sick. I often reached out to people asking for babysitting assistance or inviting them to visit, but by and large, I couldn’t reach people or found that people had other plans. What was the lesson I was supposed to be learning here? Could I just learn it, please, and stop dealing with this?

While scrolling through Pinterest, I came across a post about oranges.

“The smell of an orange relieves stress. Smelling an orange or eating one can reduce stress by 70%” (ThePsychMind.com).

Is this true? Is it legitimate? Is it scientific? It’s on PINTEREST, for crying out loud. But I know this—when I peel clementines for my little Maggie (which is rather tedious and a bit time-consuming), I love the scent and seem fully present and engaged. Why? I don’t know. I don’t care. I stopped caring about why things work a long time ago. I just do what works.

As I reflected on three long, stressful, sleepless days and nights of caring for a sick little girl (cuddly, but sick), I recognized that I may have done a great job of caring for her, but I was sucking in the self-care department.

Ah. So that’s what I was supposed to be learning here. The age-old adage about putting on my own oxygen mask. How do you do that when your child is hacking up mucus? How do you do that on three hours of sleep? It wasn’t just about meeting my physical needs. I could handle that part and did so most of the time while taking care of Maggie. But was I mindful of my own well-being, mindful enough to stop to meet my needs even if it meant altering our daily routine and plans? When was the last time I did something frivolous and fun for myself—not related to work, an organization, or my family? Do I care for myself with as much love as I care for my daughter?

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

I decided I’ll start by peeling an orange every day. I’ll peel it for myself. I will enjoy the way it smells and then eat it myself instead of giving it away, which is what happens 89.5% of the time I attempt to eat one.

I think someday, when Maggie is old enough to understand the importance of loving herself—and not laying herself down on the altar of taking care of other people, or losing who she is in the name of trying to save someone else—she will thank me for eating one small clementine every day.

Daily grind tip

*Big thanks to my friend Henry Petty for sharing his thoughts with us in today’s post.*

timeDuring the daily grind, we seldom find time for ourselves or a chance to really focus on “me”.  This is a great technique to cope with the daily life, to break it up a bit, to focus on yourself and to care for yourself.  If you’re finding yourself wondering where the day has gone and going to bed feeling empty and unfulfilled, this is for you.

Get an app on your smartphone that will go off every 2 hours during the day (there are lots out there).  When that timer goes off, stop what you’re doing and think to yourself, “How do I feel?  What do I need right now?”

copingcards.jpg (2)Take a few really deep breaths, scan your body and see what kind of pain is there, what it is that you need in the moment, and how you are feeling.Then try some techniques to relieve that feeling or to make yourself feel better.  It could be going for a brisk walk, doing some deep breaths, stretching, maybe listening to some stand-up comedy on YouTube, or listening to your favorite song.  Whatever that is, write it down on an index card.

This coping technique will not only break up your day, but will also make you feel good about doing something…for you!  It will show how grateful you are to be here, to be doing something loving and kind for yourself.

When you have made a stack of index cards, punch a little hole in them and put a keyring or something in them so you can refer to them every day.

Talking her off the ledge

With my friend Amy, sophomore year of college

With my friend Amy, sophomore year of college

I remember the first semester of my freshman year of college. After a whirlwind week full of orientation activities, including dances, parties, receptions, matriculation, and workshops, I settled into my tiny dorm room with my roommate who had a real love for brewing beer and listening to opera music. I wanted to make friends, do well in my classes, work part-time to pay for necessities, and spend time with my boyfriend. But finding the time to do it all was difficult. Ultimately, I spent most of my first semester holed up in my dorm room or a study room on campus, cramming and memorizing and reading and writing. Having graduated from a less than stellar itsy bitsy high school, I knew I had a learning curve if I planned on maintaining a good GPA at the difficult, private, liberal arts college I’d selected to attend.

I couldn’t find the mean between extremes my first semester. I made all A’s, but I didn’t meet many new people. I didn’t have much time to relax. I don’t even recall going to many events on campus or watching a movie.

Second semester was a different story. The pendulum swung back toward the middle. I hung out with people on the weekends. I danced my heart out. I made friends with new people, sat around doing nothing in the quad but eating apples and watching grass grow, and skipped class a few times. I still kept my grades up, but I stopped obsessing about having a perfect GPA. I just lived my life as a college student and enjoyed it.

This morning I talked to my favorite college freshman. I heard my 18 year-old self in her desperate voice, trying to balance work, campus life, friends, family, and course work. I remembered the overwhelming feeling of having too much to do and never enough time to do it. I remembered the constant stress of feeling that my life could not possibly get busier.

This morning while my 9 month-old baby napped, I shared a little of what I have learned about balance, eating the elephant one bite at a time, making a budget and living below my means, learning to ask for help when it’s needed, prioritizing long-term educational success over short-term employment, lowering expectations, and making new friends.

But I tried to bite my tongue, too.

My experience has taught me that advice is ample. Ultimately, though, the lessons I have learned were learned by doing, not listening or talking. “Show, don’t tell” is not just a great writing tip I procured from Dr. Tebbetts in Advanced Composition. It’s a way of life.

Talking to someone who really listens is good. Praying with someone who loves you and lets you fall helplessly into the arms of a loving God is priceless.

Sometimes talking someone off the ledge doesn’t require many words.

Just outstretched hands.

Things never change

Gratitude rarely actually changes things.

Not in my life, anyway. Things stay the same. Circumstances come and go, as all circumstances do.

My big fam, 2012. Photo by Phoopla Photography

My big fam, 2012. Photo by Phoopla Photography

My family members who irk me continue to irk me. The one who never says “I love you” may never say “I love you.” My sisters will probably never agree with my lifestyle choices. I will probably never agree with all of theirs. My mom and mother-in-law will probably always dish out unsolicited advice, despite multiple attempts to curb this behavior.

The people I know and people I love who are addicts may or may not get sober. If they do get sober, they might or might not stay sober. They may never accept that their lives are unmanageable. They may never find serenity or the courage to change the things they can.

The turds in my life will probably always be turds. When I worked for a miserable woman I affectionately referred to as Satan, my writing a daily gratitude list didn’t change her attitude one bit. She did not become more kind or human. She might still be a turd to this day.

The list of things that stay the same, get worse, or may never change is endless. It overwhelms me if I let it.

Thankfully, I don’t have to. At the advice of my mentor, I began writing a daily gratitude list about five years ago. Since then, the practice of gratitude has morphed me into a more gracious, loving, and appreciative person. It’s restored a sense of wonder and adoration in my heart. It hasn’t changed my life. It has changed ME.

This morning, for example, my baby girl woke up at 5:15 a.m. Her normal wake time is about 7 a.m., and sometimes later. She also happened to fight sleep for quite some time last night. That, coupled with some annoying health issues, resulted in this mama getting about five hours of sleep in comparison to her usual 7 or 8.

As I rolled over to look at the clock while listening to my daughter coo over the monitor, I groaned. I did not want to move. I did not want to get up and make the doughnuts. I wanted someone else to nurse my baby. I wanted breakfast in bed with extra shots of espresso, please.

But I couldn’t change the fact that my baby woke up early. I can’t change the fact that she fought sleep last night, either.

All I can change is me, and sometimes, that’s a struggle, too.

Switching my attitude from one of contempt, grumbling, negativity, self-pity, and cynicism to one of gratitude almost always changes me. It changes the way I view those things that I can do nothing about.

Yes, my daughter woke up early and went to bed late. Yes, this caused me to get way too little sleep.

The three of us, May 2013

The three of us, May 2013

But she woke up this morning.

She is alive.

She suffered no ill effects from any of the annoying symptoms I faced during pregnancy. She recovered like a champ from a somewhat traumatic delivery with no side effects. She has slept in her own crib since she was two weeks old, and has slept through the night since she was about six weeks old. She smiles. She eats well and has no digestive problems. She is, as I often pray, healthy from the top of her head to the bottom of her toes. She laughs and tries to talk to me and touches my face and lights up my world every single day.

After thanking God aloud for these gifts while nursing my daughter in a semi-conscious state, I realized that between 6:15 and 6:20 a.m. this morning, nothing changed.

But I did.

My attitude switched gears.

It works every time, if I work it.

 

Accurate to within 11,000 years

*Big thanks to my friend Debra Dickey-Liang for writing today’s post and taking some of the stress of life away in such a humorous way.*

While reading some interesting news articles the other day about the most recent pyramid discoveries in Sedeinga, Sudan, and, ‘New evidence suggests comet or asteroid impact was last straw for dinosaurs’, it was noted (within the asteroid information) that the BGT scientists were “dating tektites from Haiti, analyzing them using a calibrated argon-argon technique to determine how long ago the impact occurred.  The tektite results agreed with recalibrated previous data but were more precise”  [UC Berkley study].  Now all that is somewhat technically comprehensive; however, the sentence following that is the one that grabbed my attention:  The new extinction data is precise to within 11,000 years.”  Can that be??  I love it!

timeHmm… a ‘grace period’ of 11,000 years!  Wow!  As one who lives during the days of ‘being on time’, ‘everything down to the wire’, ‘the eleventh hour’, ‘not enough time in the day’, ‘programmed to the minute, ‘statistics and data’, ‘accuracy counts’, etc. etc. etc., . . . .  what’s 11,000 years, right?!?

We are compelled to predicate our lives by minutes, hours, days, weeks and months — go to work, pay our bills, plan for college, raise our children, balance the budget, add columns of numbers, execute events….. so how nice would it be to get it almost right, say, I don’t know, within 11,000 years?   I must have been having ‘one of those days’, because for some reason, it just tickled my funny bone!

Believe me, in no way am I minimizing the breakthroughs that those scientists are making; however, on this particular day it just so happened that that the timing statement struck me as hilarious and inspired a comical moment for me.  In these days of deadlines, coming in early/working late, trying to do four and five things at once to get it all done, juggling work, family, and personal responsibilities every day, I just thought to myself, “How fun would it be to not worry if you got everything necessary accomplished, today, or this week, this month, or even this year.  Heck, I have the luxury of 10,999 years to figure that out and get it right — plenty of time, no problem!  Your appointment?  Why, I have you on the schedule in 5,681 years– did you need something today??  ( :

As a facilitator myself, I will admit that there are days when I have surely felt “off my game” by about 11,000 years! So I am one of the most grateful of folks when I can communicate and coordinate with those able persons who are precise and able to keep me on track!  I truly, truly appreciate them and their competence!  The other reason I am most grateful for them is because I thoroughly comprehend the hours and days that have been invested in order to do their job well, with character, and to such a degree and element of quality.  Because I, too, am that daily ‘voice’ of assistance. I regularly recognize it in others.  Therefore I take this opportunity to extend my especial gratitude and profound thanks for everyday encounters with those extraordinary artisans, who perform chivalrous, benevolent, and meaningful roles which add value to the lives of the people they interact with, on time and precise, most certainly without the benefit or advantage of an 11,000 year margin for error!

I need to work on that!   “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”  [II Peter 3:8]    Maybe that’s it.  I like it!

 

 

The small stuff

“Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

I agree. Now whether I’m always able to avoid stress-related perspiration . . . well, nobody’s perfect.

I was thinking yesterday when a friend of mine commented on how clean my house is that in some ways, the small stuff does matter.

I’m not referring to stressing out over every nook and cranny being dust-free and sanitized. I’m not implying that I think it’s wise to over analyze every single aspect of each of my relationships until I’m exhausted from aiming at perfection. Nor am I insinuating that I prefer to spend seconds of my precious life painstakingly dotting every i or crossing every t.

When I looked around our home last night, I certainly did not see a perfectly kept house. There was a stack of mail which needed to be tended to in the living room. A broom in the corner of the kitchen. A few dishes in the sink. But overall, the house was the way I like it–generally tidy and clean. At the end of a long, hot day, there’s nothing more relaxing than walking into the house, looking around, realizing there are no chores urgently calling my name, and enjoying time with my husband.

That would not be possible if I didn’t pay attention to the used paper towels left sitting on the coffee table. The pile of clean towels waiting to be folded. The pair of flip-flops flung into the corner of the wrong room. Lots of daily and hourly decisions to maintain the home combine to produce the desired end result: a comfortable, relaxing, and stress-free place to prop up my feet.

I suppose I could ignore all the little hourly messes and live in squalor, maybe even achieving hoarder status. But I’d rather make those small, daily decisions that are simple and quick than allow the clutter in my life to compile and overwhelm me. I’d ultimately have to dig through the rubble, and as I’ve learned, the easier way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.

Thankfully, I’ve learned to apply the same principle to the hours of my life in other ways–spiritually, psychologically, mentally, and physically. I’d rather choose water over soda pop today than wind up attempting to burn a ridiculous number of calories after letting my weight go berserk. I’d rather make the daily, sleepy decision to talk to God every morning and meditate on Scripture rather than turn on the television right away. I’d rather face the bitterness I feel toward someone who’s hurt me while the wound is still small and stinging than allow it to fester, become infected, and poison my attitude and relationships.

Sometimes, making the simple decision–over and over again–to pay attention to the small stuff helps me avoid the inevitable consequence of eventually wading and sorting through waist-high garbage in my life.