Sunday, February 07, 2016

Seven Things That Are Saving My Life This Winter

Winter took a long time arriving to New England this year, unlike last year when we were buried under feet of snow by this time and winter showed no sign of letting up. We just received our first plowable snowfall this past week, and it looks the bitter cold is coming behind on its heels.

Generally, by this point in deep winter, I have fallen into what some might call "winter doldrums" or the "winter blues", but its more serious form is scientifically known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I find it a tad bit ironic that the acronym is SAD, because that is exactly how I feel by the time we hit mid-winter; sad. By the time the end of February rolls around, I feel like I can barely push through my regular day-to-day activities. Housework is hard. Interactions with other people are hard. Some days, just the simple act of getting out of bed is hard. I don't feel like going out into the world, and just want to hole up in my house and do...well, some days, nothing. It's almost like a hibernation from life, and on some of my worst days, I have sat in a chair in my office staring out the window for hours. Activities that I enjoy such as knitting, reading, writing, and even getting together with friends and family feel like a monumental chore that involves far too much energy that I just do not have.

Yet every year, once the daylight returns and the days begin to get longer, the darkness creeps back, and I begin to feel like my normal self again. Usually by April I feel like a new person, and I can get back to the business of living again, because during that period of deep winter, it sometimes feels like a slow death.

This year, however, I am in a far better place than I have ever been before. I don't know if it's because we have had such mild weather up until now, or because of some of the steps I have taken, or a combination of both. Either way, it's deep winter and I'm still my same old self, and I'm going to keep on this path and see what happens. Here's what I'm trying this year:  (there are NO affiliate links in this post)

1. A Happy Light by Verliux. My therapist recommend this to me back in the fall, and almost every day since November I have spent two hours in front of this light each morning. The directions that come with the lamp call for a minimum of 30-60 minutes, but my therapist said two hours, so that is what I have been doing. Fortunately, my job is at a desk, and so I turn it on 15 minutes after I arrive and do all the essential "non-desk" things I need to get done right away, and then I just do my regular work. It has a half-power setting for people who need to use it later in the day, but it can mess with your sleep cycle also, and my sleep is messed up enough, so I just stick to the morning.

2. Vitamin D3, 1000 IU's. I started this last year, after both my primary care physician and ob-gyn recommended it, and then my therapist also brought it up, so 3/3 doctors can't be wrong. Plus, I am dairy intolerant, so the added vitamin D is an important dietary supplement. I get D in my multi-vitamin, which is why I don't go for the 2000 IU's. Too much D is bad for you. I take Mega Food's supplements, because they are made of whole food products, are allergen free, and contain no artificial anything or fillers. Win-win.

3. Omega 3 Fish Oil. I wasn't sure how I felt about this, especially since my gall bladder is failing and I've had to go meat free in order to keep it from flaring up. However, other oils don't cause it any issue, and as it turns out, taking 1 Fish oil capsule in addition to my daily vitamins does not cause any issues. I had to make sure my capsules were allergen friendly, so I went with Spectrum Essentials.

4. The Miracle Morning. Hal Elrod wrote a book about starting your day off on the right foot. 6 steps that you can do, each morning, that set the tone for the rest of your day. You can do them in as little as 6 minutes, or spend as long as an hour or more. I generally spend between 30-40 minutes each day on this practice, and it is changing my whole outlook. I do my Bible study, spend time reading personal development books, and even have time to journal and plan my day.

5. Daily Walks. Back in December I fell (OK, I was knocked over by my puppy) and broke my wrist. In the healing process, it turns out I also have some tendon damage). Due to this, I haven't had much use of my left arm/wrist for almost ten weeks now. Exercise of any kind has been essentially non-existent, but with the lack of snow and ice, what I have been able to do, is walk. Well, except when it rains and freezes, because I also have not been able to risk falling. It's amazing what a brief ten minute walk around your neighborhood can do for your mood, especially if the sun is shining.

6. My Bullet Journal. I could write a whole blog post about this, and I might yet, but if you haven't heard about this yet, then check out that link. It's no secret that I am a very organized-down-to-the-last-minute kind of person. Being able to keep track of "all the things" as my kids would say, in one central location has been amazing. Of course, being the creative type, I have modified mine to suit my own needs, and doodle and other things to get my creative needs met while I'm busy with college and work. That's the great thing about the system. You can use it however you want, and all you need is a pen and a notebook.

7. My puppy. I have heard about therapy dogs, and how spending time with pets can increase your mood, and all of that, but I never really paid much attention to it. Maybe because I never really had a pet who loved on me as much as my puppy. Our first dog was defiantly my husband's dog, and she only loved on him as much as she could, due to the circumstances that she came to us from. Our Willow, however, is a love bug. She loves on everyone, and is happy to snuggle in your lap and kiss your face until whatever it is that is bothering you has become a distance memory. I am convinced that she is a big part of why I am sill smiling, here, in the depths of this winter.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

When You Open Your Heart Again

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I wasn't prepared to love another puppy, especially not so soon.

I wasn't prepared to have Amelia, in all honesty, when we welcomed her home at the end of March. We had lost our first dog to a sudden illness, after twelve years, in October of 2013 and I thought we were done with dogs. We disposed of everything except her crate and metal dishes and I was fairly certain we were now cat people.

I wasn't prepared for how losing Amelia would break my heart, and I didn't want to go through that heartache ever again. Standing in the kitchen the day we put her down, surrounded by all of her things, many which were still in "near new" condition, was overwhelming. So, I did the only thing I could think to at the time and I packed them away. Out of sight, out of mind. I knew that my husband wanted to consider another puppy later on down the road, but I thought maybe the idea would pass.

I wasn't prepared to find myself looking at photos of puppies online just a few weeks later. The kids asked about another puppy and if we had plans to "try again". Conversations turned to what kind of breeders were in our area, and eventually curiosity got the best of me and very tenderly I looked on the Internet. Just to see. I still wasn't sure if my heart was ready to love another puppy, or if it ever would be.

I wasn't prepared to come home from Vermont after visiting my daughter during Family Weekend, to a message from a breeder we were in conversations with about potentially adopting a puppy later on down the road, and find out he had what he claimed to be, "the perfect puppy for us." Someone had backed out of their agreement to take a "sweet little girl" who was going to be 8 weeks old on Monday, and were we interested? Monday marked two weeks since we had put Amelia down, and that seemed a little ominous. We talked about it for the rest of the night, and all morning Sunday before agreeing to drive up and meet her. We'd see how our meeting went, and then make our decision on Monday. I didn't know if I was ready.

I wasn't prepared to have a puppy be placed in my arms that afternoon, and within 10 minutes begin licking my face like I was her long-lost best friend. I'm fairly sure that a few tears fell into her fur as we stood there, the two of us. She continued to lick, and I marveled at how sweet and gentle she was, as I reminded myself not to cringe when her face came near my own.

I wasn't prepared to leave there with her that afternoon, truthfully, and begin the long ride home from northern Vermont with her fluffy little body snuggled safe in my arms. She alternated between sleeping, and watching out the window and licking my face. We began a bond that I hope continues as she grows bigger and older.

I wasn't prepared to love another puppy so soon, especially as my heart was still broken and tender. There have been plenty of moments that have made me cry over the past 8 weeks, like when she lies in that exact spot next to the chair asleep, or the first time I heard my husband call her by the wrong name. She is a vivacious kisser, and I have to constantly remind myself that she's gentle and friendly, and not vicious and out to bite me with her mouth.

I wasn't prepared for how different it would be to have a puppy that isn't constantly demanding behavior modification every waking minute of the day. We play and snuggle, and she makes us laugh with her antics, and boy does she have a lot of antics.

I wasn't prepared to be the "favorite person" again, and yet somehow I have been placed into that role. Maybe she sensed that my heart was broken and decided that I needed extra love and attention. She might have been right, as I often tell people she has been the balm that is healing my broken heart.

I wasn't prepared to love another puppy so soon, but this little sweetheart has won my heart.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

When Your Heart is Broken

Nothing can prepare you for the overwhelming heartache that envelopes you the first time you walk into your house after having put your dog down before her time. You can't be prepared for that moment when you look around and see it all: the empty crate, the empty bed, the basket of toys, the dog bowls still on the floor. 

No one tells you how you will stand there, sobbing, unable to catch your breath, and your heart will break more than it already has. No one tells you about the guilt that will come with those waves of tears, and how you will instantly begin to second guess your decision, despite knowing in your logical brain that you made the right choice for everyone, including your dog. 

Nothing can prepare you for the insensitive people who judge your decision, and make heartless and cruel statements about you to others on the most painful days of your life. No one can know the path we had to walk to get to this point, or the heartbreak that it took to make such a difficult decision, but they can judge our actions in less than a minute. 

No one can help you to clean up the house, or pack away the dishes and toys, because that is a task you have to do on your own. No one tells you that for days afterward you will continue to find things in places that you forgot about: YoPups tucked into the freezer, hiking bowls stashed in the closet, training meat in bags in the fridge. No one tells you that each time the grief will hit you like a freight train all over again, and you will start to think that you might never stop crying. 

Nothing would have made me happier than to be able to keep my dog. Putting her down was one of the most painful, heartbreaking decisions that I have ever had to make in my life. My logical brain knows that we did the right thing, which was confirmed after a long consult with our trainer and our vet, but my broken heart feels like we failed her in some way, and wishes she was still here. 

Nothing we did led us here, and I know that, in my logical brain. My broken heart questions all. I wonder what we could have done better. How we could have helped her more. Why we couldn't have saved her. What we failed at that sent her spiraling backward when there seemed to be hope for such a short time. My broken heart holds on to that hope we had, all those months ago when we thought she could be fixed. 

No one saw this photo, taken on April 23rd, when she was just 12 and a half weeks old. She was enrolled at Puppy Kindergarten at the MHS at the time, and we hadn't started our work with a private trainer yet. She was 3 months old, and had been with us for only a month. She had issues with biting, poor impulse control, lack of self-control, low tolerance for frustration, anxiety, issues with being handled (pet, touched, hooked to a leash), and she was fearful and shy around other puppies. That look on her face, as she bit and tugged at that leash, became known to us as "danger". 

No one saw this look on her face when she was a 60 pound adolescent dog, pulling at the end of her leash on a walk, because she was suddenly frustrated about : not getting to meet another dog, go the way she wanted, fill in who knows what here. In addition to the biting and tugging, she would also jump up and bite at the leash, right near my hand, and pull and fight, until something else distracted her, whenever that was. It was a scary time, and our walks were no longer enjoyable. 

No one saw her spiral downward, unable to be at rest, unable to deal with the smallest bit of frustration, unable to keep her teeth off of everyone, and eventually turning on me, the person she loved most in the world. No one saw her fight the vet in her last minutes, fully sedated, a fighter to the end. 

 No one will ever know how worried we were when we first got her, and she couldn't keep her teeth to herself. No one will ever know how hard we fought for her, wanting to raise her up to the potential that we saw in her.  No one will ever know how much we loved her, and how much joy she brought into our lives. No one will ever know how much we miss her, and how broken our hearts are without her here. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Fallow Does Not Mean Failure ..

In the agricultural world, farmers often will leave a field fallow, or plowed and unsown for a season, so that it can rejuvenate and become fertile once again to be planted with a different variety of crops. Bystanders, unfamiliar with this practice, often view these fields as failures as they pass them, assuming that whatever the farmer planted in them during the course of that year failed to thrive and grow. Fallow doesn't mean failure, however.  It is a time to rest and renew, and to cultivate something different to ensure the success of the farmer and his fields.

This last season of my life has been particularly challenging and I have been struggling to thrive. I made a commitment to myself last year that I would set out each day with a positive attitude, looking for the positive things and not focusing on the negative. "Find the joy" became my motto, and it was something I really challenged myself to do each day. That school year struggled along, and then I was moved to yet another new school, and like a newly sprouted plant, I fought to reach toward the sun each day. The weeds of despair, unhappiness, and stress began to grow large around me, blocking the life giving rays of the sun, and each day that went by just complicated the situation more.

Instead of being able to say, "I have survived xx amount of days, there are only xx amount of days left", I was barely keeping it together enough to get through each individual day. I cried on the way to work. I cried on the way home. I tried to come home and do my college work, and for the first half hour I was home, I would sit in my desk chair and just stare out the window. I was paralyzed by the heaviness of it all, and was barely keeping my head above water.

To complicate matters further, I started coughing around Thanksgiving, and developed a tightness in my chest when I was outside for recess duty or in the cold. It ended up being pneumonia, which didn't clear up for the rest of the winter. In early February I got sick, and then during February vacation, I got sick again, but much more severely this time.

Still fighting lingering pneumonia, never ending exhaustion, and on the brink of an emotional breakdown, I quit my job on the Sunday night at the end of February vacation. I was at such a low point that I could not figure out how I was going to manage to get out of bed and go to work the next day, forget the 3.5 months that were still left ahead of us. It was reckless and a little crazy, and more than anything it was desperate. My closest friends said it was brave. Almost two months later, I still can't believe that I did it.

It was single handedly the hardest decision I ever had to make for myself. I loved my job when I first started. I loved working with children, and helping the ones who needed that extra support be able to thrive in the classroom. I didn't love where my job had ended up these past few years, with the focus on passing the test, and geared more towards behavior management. I don't miss that part of it one bit. One of the little boys I worked with this year sent me a card the week after I left that said how much he liked working with me, and that he loved me, and it about broke my heart. It is nice to know that I have made a difference in the lives of kids over the last 11.5 years, but it was coming at too high of a cost.

So, I am taking a break from education. I found a fabulous job working in a church office in the next town over. I might stay there just until I am finished with my college work, or I might stay there until we decide what the next phase of our life looks like. I don't know yet. I know that it's calm, stress-free (compared to school), and I am happy there. I know that I will get back to teaching, because I want to teach at the secondary level, but right now, I need to rest and renew, much like the fields.

I don't consider myself a failure for quitting, even if it was 3/4 of the way through the school year. It was an act of self-prervation, and perhaps the first thing I've done solely for myself in a long, long time. I am looking forward to recharging and finding myself again. I know that in time I will emerge stronger, healthier, and replenished, much like the crops that come out of the once fallow field.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Birthday Letter to My Son as He Turns Twenty

It has been three weeks now since your twentieth birthday, and I'm finally sitting down to write your birthday blog post. For an entire year I have been mentally preparing myself for the idea of you being twenty, and I think the idea of it still hasn't quite sunk in yet. This past year was the year I turned forty, and everyone asked how I felt about it. "Forty," I would reply, "is no big deal. Let's discuss the fact that Corey is going to be twenty this year."

You see, this year, when I turned forty and you turned twenty, is remarkable for several reasons. The first is that you are now as old as I was the year that I gave birth to you. I think about that year, and where I was in my life, and I look at you, and where you are in your life, and I am so proud of you. By twenty, we both had overcome huge hurdles, and unthinkable adversities, and while I felt like I was still struggling to get out from under the weight of mine at twenty, I look at you and feel that you have risen above yours. Life is not always easy, and your path may continue to twist and turn, and there may be mountains for you to climb still, but you should feel encouraged knowing that you have the strength to overcome those challenges. You have done it before, and you will be able to do it again. If you ever doubt yourself, all you have to do is reach out, and I will be your biggest cheerleader. I'll even get the stupid pop-poms, if that is what it takes.

This year, you have been alive for half of my life. Moving forward, you will have been a part of my life for more than half of it, and that is so mind-blowing to me. The part of my life that was before you, will be smaller than the part of my life with you, and eventually, it will be of little significance. For almost half of my life, you have been here, at home, and now you are moving into a period of your life when you are making preparations to move on with your life. I am excited for you, and sad for me at the same time. Your life is just beginning, and you have great potential and are going to do amazing things, I just know it. I cannot wait to hear about the places that you go, and the projects that you work on, and the things that you are part of, that mostly I will not understand. Never forget that you will always have a place here as well. Never forget that even if things don't work out, and the project fails, or the job falls through, I am still proud of you. Never forget that I love you with all of my heart. Happy birthday.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

My Life is a Series of Piles

Behind me on the counter in my office where the printers live, is a stack of magazines that I have yet to find the time to read. Many of them are October and November issues, but only because sometime last weekend when I was not feeling that great, I sat down and read through a handful of them. I can testify to the fact that there were at least three, if not four, issues from the summer still hanging around.

In the kitchen, at the end of the counter in front of my Cuisinart food processor, is a stack of mail belonging to my daughter. Most of it has been opened, and all of it is college related. The fliers, postcards, and packets arrive on a daily basis now, offering her waived enrollment fees and campus tours. I add the new pieces into the pile and wonder how she does not become overwhelmed with all of the choices being presented to her. She tells me that she gets dozens of emails a day, sometimes multiple emails from the same school, trying to convince her that she wants to attend these institutes of higher learning.

Next to me, on the table that has served as my desk for all of these years, is a pile of papers that I keep meaning to deal with. A guide to updating my resume, so that I can begin searching for a new job. A letter from the credit union that holds my mortgage payments, offering to refinance my car loan, and the last statement from the bank that holds my car loan, so that I can see if it is worth my effort. Somewhere in that pile is to-do list of snacks to make when I get a chance, and what I plan on eating this week for lunch and dinner.

My yard is littered with piles of leaves, needing be raked up before the first snow falls. The wind has blown them into piles against the house, the fence, and the hedges. My neighbor hired a young kid to come and tend to his leaves, and he showed up one drizzly day last week with a leaf blower, and began blowing leaves into my yard. I would like to say that this was a huge help and I am grateful for the head start, except that in his youthful eagerness to be finished with what appeared to be an overwhelming job, he basically just made a mess of leaves everywhere he went. It's a start, however, which is more than we had before.

In a basket next to the TV stand, not too far from my favorite chair, is a pile of unfinished knitting projects in clear storage bags to protect them from the sharp claws of my cats. I thought if I took the projects that I was in the middle of, and put them out by my chair, I would be inspired to work on them when I sat down to watch TV in the evening, or when I had a free afternoon to watch a movie with The Boy. The problem with that plan, is the lack of time to watch TV in the evening, or a free afternoon. Life has been hectic these past few months with the fall marching season and the start of school.

There are piles of belongings left behind in Corey's room that need sorting through, and organizing when he comes home over Thanksgiving break. The fall cleaning got off to a great start back in August, and then quickly stalled. The calendar reads November now, which puts a pressing urgency into my mind, knowing that soon the calendar will be flipping over again, and Christmas will be upon us. I feel like if I could just get my life in order, everything else will feel a little bit more settled. I think I will start with some of these piles.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Light Shines Through the Darkness and the Darkness Does Not Overcome It

I love fall. I love the smell of wood smoke in the air, and the way the light changes in September  from a warm, summer color, to a cooler, fall color. I love the crisp, cool mornings, that turn into warmer, summer-like afternoons. I love crunching through the newly fallen leaves, and raking them into big piles of red, orange and yellow. I love tall boots, warm sweaters, and cozy blankets.

Despite all of these things, each year I dread the arrival of fall.  As the sun begins to set earlier each evening and the morning light begins to change to a glowing orange color that arrives later each day, I am forced to face the harsh truth that soon the days will be long, and the amount of daylight we have will be short. You see, I suffer from seasonal depression, and in the quiet places of my heart, fall signals the return of the season of darkness. I know that once the leaves have all fallen and the calendar turns to November, I am going to begin an uphill struggle for my emotional, mental, and even physical well-being.

I have referred to the hardest times in my marriage as a "season of darkness", and it is for many of the same reasons that I refer to winter as the season of darkness. When I fall into a seasonal depression, everything becomes dull and meaningless. It is hard to find the joy in everyday things that normally bring happiness, and even the easiest tasks become a struggle. In the darkest days of my marriage it was hard to find the joy in the every day tasks of living, and it felt similar to being in the middle of a depression. I don't believe that it's any coincidence that our problems often feel large and overwhelming in the middle of the night, when the darkness is large and overpowering. I find that it often helps to get up and turn on all the lights. Once the darkness ebbs, or morning comes, those problems that seemed so huge and larger than life in the middle of the night, often become more manageable. It is the same with seasonal depression. Once spring comes, and the light returns, my mood beings to improve, life beings to look up again, and everything falls back into what I like to consider "normal". In Genesis chapter 1, it says, "God said, "Let there be light, " and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. The light shines, and all is right again.

Last winter, I began taking Vitamin D supplements, and found that they really improved my mood drastically. I also infused my house with more light. Extra lamps spread throughout the rooms I frequent the most helped, as did an influx of candles.

This fall, just in time for the holidays, DaySpring is launching their new Everlasting Light collection, which includes these beautiful new candlesticks. Perched on a mantle, or gathered in the center of a table, they are the perfect solution to holding back the darkness of the shorter days of fall and winter. They would also make a wonderful gift, and come in the set of three, shown in this photo.

They are made of mango wood, and range in size from ten and a quarter inches to fourteen inches high. They are handcrafted in India, and the candles are not included.

If you are looking to make your space feel a little bit bigger and brighter, this gorgeous sunburst mirror might be just the thing you are looking for. Hung on a wall, set on a mantle, or even perched on a shelf as part of a small grouping, it is sure to add a bit of sparkle to your day.

It is also made of mango wood, and has a sawtooth hook for hanging. It is twenty-four and a half inches in diameter, and is just the sweetest thing ever.

I can envision it hanging in a college dorm room, with white twinkle lights surrounding it. How cute would it be in a nursery with a celestial theme? It would be perfect on the wall of a guest bedroom or even a small bathroom. There are so many decorating possibilities to choose from. The neutral color of the mango wood will match just about any decor. Right across the bottom it is etched with the verse, "You will shine.. like stars in the sky" Phil. 2:15.

In addition to home decor pieces, DaySpring also has several pieces of beautifully crafted inspirational jewelry pieces in their Everlasting Light collection, in both silver and gold tones. I was particularly drawn to this pewter bracelet that reads "Shine Your Light". It is made of nickel-free, lead-free pewter and is adjustable from six inches to seven and a half inches.

The back is engraved with "Phillipians 2:15".
The verse is the same as the one etched on the mirror, "You will stars in the sky".
There is an enclosed card that reads, " Each piece in this collection captures the awe and wonder of the heavens and reflects the creative of our Creator God. Look to the starts and remember- God has separated the light from the darkness. His light is in you too- so shine on! 

Whatever season you find yourself in right now, there is sure to be something beautiful and encouraging in the new Everlasting Light collection from DaySpring. The darkness is coming, but the light shines through the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it. John 1:5.