For much of my life, I joked that I have a brown thumb, that my house is where green things come to die. But something’s changed in the past few years. I’ve started keeping house plants alive. A while ago, I decided to try the experiment of talking to them to see if it would help them do more than cling to the last vestiges of life and actually begin thriving.
I believed it was hokum, even as I started doing it. But it turns out my three indoor specimens of indoor potted vegetation have perked up, greened up, and look truly healthy. It’s not because I say good morning to them every day. It’s because putting this practice into my daily routine reminds me to open the curtains to give them sunlight, along with checking the soil to see if they need water.
When I pass by one of my plants and ask “How ya doing today?” they don’t know it means I care. My utterances don’t provide the self esteem needed for mental and physical health, as it they would for humans. But making a point of interacting with my plants does cause me to notice if any leaves are turning brown and need pinched off, to think about how long it’s been since I put plant food spikes in the dirt.
The words I’m saying don’t matter. Or do they? I’m convinced my plants would have responded in the same way had I said nothing to them at all. But would I have responded to them in the same way? Become as nurturing? Noticed their needs? Speaking to them reminds me they are indeed living things that need attention and care. Maybe this is a tiny example of how we change the world by changing ourselves.
I just told the Christmas cactus on my desk that I’m posting its photo on the internet. Since it didn’t object, I’m going to go ahead and click that “publish” button.
I have a brain that doesn’t like to stop. It’s like a toddler at a playground, running from one structure to another, never wanting to rest because there’s so much to explore. I’ve been experiencing a fair amount of stress in my life lately, sending my mind into a frenzy of anxiety. Instead of fun and joyful discovery, my mind has been peering into all the dark nooks and crannies to see what terrible things might be lurking there. World and national news doesn’t help. I’ve had lots of sleepless nights, bad dreams when I do sleep, and an often racing heart, with none of my usual measures really working for me.
It took a while, but I managed to get set up with a counselor. During one visit I mentioned the tricks I use on myself to keep from doomscrolling the internet. But as I spilled out my worries for the present and future, he said, “Sounds like you’re doomscrolling your mind instead.”
I expected him to give me tips for how to stop or at least slow down my mind. But he told me that might not be my best approach. “Your ability to think so much and imagine possibilities is a super power,” he told me. “Instead of trying to stop your thoughts, you need to teach your brain to imagine the positive possibilities and notice the things that are going right more often.”
I went home, thought it over, and realized he was telling me to treat my brain like a toddler. Anyone who has raised one of those small humans knows that saying “don’t” is usually futile. Instead of saying “Don’t climb on the refrigerator,” you offer an alternate activity. “Let’s play with toy cars on the floor.” Redirect, redirect, redirect. I have lots of practice at this. I understand it.
The photo above, the milkweed with a monarch caterpillar, is something I told my mind to notice going right. I first planted milkweed two years ago, hoping to attract and nurture monarch butterflies. I have seen a couple of adults flitting about before, but this is the first actual caterpillar I’ve seen. I’m so excited. It’s working exactly how I hoped it would. My brain would like to dwell on my various failures, but hey, let’s look at the ecology project that’s succeeding instead.
A funny thing happened partway through my motherhood journey. One day I realized I was more likely to get what I wanted if I stated it out loud instead of expecting anyone to read my mind. I’m not saying I’ve ever been guaranteed to get what I wanted, but I have become a big believer in clear, specific communication. Saying something along the lines of “just surprise me” is asking for trouble.
I don’t generally care for a big hullabaloo on Mother’s Day. Mostly, I’d like not to cook and to have some time to relax. I’m very clear that I have no desire to be in a crush of people waiting in line somewhere for brunch or dinner. Even pre-pandemic, the crowds were too much for me.
I guess I forgot to tell my employer the wish to relax part because they scheduled me to work this afternoon. However, I was very specific with my husband that I would like donuts from the new bakery that opened a few blocks from our house recently. So here’s my celebration before I head out to be of service to others:
Happy Mother’s Day to all who play a mothering role in someone’s life. Remember, you’re occasionally allowed to speak up and say out loud what you want.
Do you ever think about catching up with an old friend, but then feel overwhelmed with where even to begin? Everything seems either too monumental to explain or too trivial to bring up. That’s how I feel about this blog right now. However, let’s go with something trivial and frivolous.
I try to strike a balance in our diets around here between healthful, from-scratch, lots o’ veggies fare and a few indulgences. Sometimes I just want a frozen store-brand pizza because it’s easy and it’s what I want. It’s a certain kind of comfort food and I’m honest with myself about it. But then the pizza goes putting on airs.
Oh, frozen pizza. Sigh. I didn’t buy you expecting an Instagram influencer or a renowned chef. Oooh, serve on a plate as they do in the fine restaurants! How fancy! You don’t have to be pretentious with me. Just be yourself. I love you exactly for who you are.
It finally happened! A year after we started the process of trying to get our front stairs redone, here they are.
I won’t repeat everything our contractor said about the old stairs nor how he maligned the long-ago person who built them. He assures us, “These are done right.”
No more daily worries about whether our mail carrier survived the journey to our porch and back. And I’ve had the opportunity the past few weeks to pick up more work than usual on both of my jobs, so we’re even able to pay for it.
I keep a running list of home repairs and projects that need done, but I’m not even going to look at it for the next month or so. I’m just going to bask in the glory of these steps.
The hubs and I are living the dream over here in our vintage house. This dream:
About a year ago, we started looking for a contractor who could rebuild these things:
We’ve had a number of people out to look at them over the months. Some bigger outfits thought the job was too small to be worthwhile. Some handyperson types told us the job was too big for them to take on. A few contractors said they’d get back to us with an estimate and then ghosted us. We had begun to despair of ever finding anyone to tackle the project.
But a coworker’s husband who does various home repairs (and had told us the job was too big for him) was assisting a concrete and foundation guy on a job in our neighborhood a few weeks back and brought him by to show him the stairs. Turns out foundation guy was between big jobs and looking for small jobs to fill in while waiting for some paperwork to go through on a project with the city. He said he’d do it!
All we had to do was give him half of all the money we owned to start and then the other half of all our money when he finished. I exaggerate, but not by much. At this point, hearing similar stories from friends, we figure the contractors can set their prices for whatever. The stairs needed to be rebuilt before someone was injured on them. I myself nearly took a tumble one day when a chunk broke under my foot.
We wrote him an enormous check and he began demolishing the old stairs the very next day. That was…a while ago.
The hard part is done — taking out and hauling away the old stairs. It was loud and our cat was terrorized. But we celebrate every inch of progress. When it happens. I keep saying, “The trailer is still in our yard. He has to come back at least once, right?”
Of course, this being the lower Midwest, the weather isn’t exactly stable. We’ve had repeated cycles of 60-degree days followed by snow storms. So that’s slowed the work down. But during our last unseasonably warm day, some forms got built. We now have a hint of stairs to come.
And there it sits while we wait for the latest snow to melt.
Good thing we have two other doors in and out of the house. Surely this will be done before summer. Right? Someone tell me I’m right! I’m already planning to use some vacay time from work to repaint all this. I have a vision of stairs that are both safe and spiffy.
Remember how I was going to try new things and have more firsts in 2022. Here’s the first first of the year. It’s the game all the cool kids are playing – Wordle. I had never attempted to solve one until yesterday.
I love word games. The simplicity of this one appeals to me a lot. I like that it’s free and there are no ads. And I especially like that there’s one word per day, so I don’t get sucked into an endless vortex that shreds my to-do list. I don’t need any extra help with that.
I’ve been thinking about where I want my focus to be in 2022. I tend to set one modest, concrete goal each January 1 with the self-knowledge that my ability to think up great ideas far outstrips my ability to follow through on all of them. I can easily overwhelm myself and give up trying anything at all if I set out to do too much. For example, one year my goal was to establish the habit of taking reusable bags to the grocery store. That was the one self-improvement task I assigned myself, and by not letting it get lost in the noise of a thousand other efforts, I was able to make this single positive change a part of my routine to the point that I usually don’t even have to think about it anymore. The next year, I could move on to a new single goal.
This year, I believe I’m going to extend myself a little and set goals in more than one area and maybe not keep it as specific to one action. The first and most important involves climate change. I haven’t generally gotten into “issues” too much on this blog, but I believe every one of us needs to make sustainability our top priority. My sort of nebulous aim is to remain mindful of my actions and to continue to educate myself. A concrete goal is to foster more native pollinator plants in my yard. In addition, I am on the newly formed Sustainability Committee at my workplace and we’re in the first steps of working up a plan there to put in a mix of more environmentally-friendly plants than the swaths of uniformly green grass we have now.
Moving on to the personal, I have been pondering how easy it is to let your life shrink. I grapple with anxiety a lot and I’ve discovered that with all the not going out except to work and the grocery store has inculcated in me a whole new level of dread around things that used to be fun or at least neutral. I’ve been hunkering down in my ruts because they’re familiar and feel safe and predictable, which is okay some of the time as a way to recharge. But it’s also a way to wither. So I’m going to spend 2022 trying to do and learn new things, to experience more firsts.
The great thing about this as a goal is that it’s really pretty easy. For instance, there are a lot of great walking and biking trails in my area. I’m going to explore a bunch of them this year. A new experience can be as simple as cooking and/or eating a food I haven’t tried before. It can be listening to a musician recommended by a friend. It can mean identifying a bug I see in my yard and learning about it. Or trying a simple craft project. There’s a whole universe of firsts always waiting, no matter how old I get.
I’m hoping to hold myself accountable by posting here at least once a month about what new things I’ve tried, even if I’m the only one who reads it later. I hope I have something fun and interesting to report. Talk to you again after I’ve gone and done some stuff.
“Well something’s lost, but something’s gained in living every day.” — Both Sides Now, Joni Mitchell.
One reason my blogging on this site petered out quite a bit this year was because I felt I’d been posting about loss, loss, and more loss for a while. It continued for me relentlessly to the point that I didn’t want to write on that theme anymore, even though it’s what was going on in my life. But of course, the world goes on and there are gains as well, plenty of them.
Let’s just get the losses and difficulties listed and out of the way in one post here, and then move on to gains and goals for the new year. Sound like a plan?
I’ll start with the big ones. It’s been a bad year for brothers-in-law in my family. My parents raised six kids to adulthood. Five of us are currently married. Of those five, three of us lost a brother-in-law in 2021. In late March, the wife of my oldest brother lost her brother suddenly and unexpectedly to natural causes. One week to the day later, my husband’s brother died in a boating accident. That was a huge blow and consumed a lot of our energy this year. Last month, the husband of my oldest sister lost a younger brother to cancer. None of the three were especially old – all in their fifties or sixties. I’ve also had a couple of old friends who died of COVID before the vaccines were widely available. It’s been rough. I know big picture it’s a good thing to realize how fragile and fleeting life is. But maybe it could be a little less in our faces for a while.
The smaller losses seem continual, too. And I guess that’s normal. As Joni Mitchell reminded us, life is constant loss and constant gain. One that stung because it was the result of my own lazy negligence was when I lost a lot of my creative writing to a failed logic board in my previous laptop. That would be the laptop I kept meaning to getting around to backing up…for several months. This happened around the time I had two basal cell skin cancers removed from the face I had inadequately protected from the sun in my youth. Well, well, well…if it wasn’t the consequences of my own poor choices come to call. And speaking of health, multiple episodes with kidney stones, including one surgery, have meant that I’ve had to give up some of the foods I like best, as well as quite a bit of money to copays.
Talk of money segues into my older kid — who really seemed to have things finally going his way — getting his car totaled by a hit-and-run driver. He wasn’t injured, which is the most important thing. But since he works as a delivery driver, this took away his ability to earn money. He had some savings and has now gotten a check from his own insurance company. But my husband and I will need to supplement that for him to replace the car — or at a minimum, cosign a loan.
Among the things gained this year, perspective is probably the most important. I have really stopped fretting about some petty shit. I guess the less cuss-y way to say that is, I’m not sweating the small stuff, at least not as much as I used to. I’m talking about the annoying habits of other people (glad I don’t have any of those, though!), my own minor mistakes, the errors of a particular sports team I follow, the fact that my house will always have an endless supply of small maintenance issues, whether the lyrics of a song on the radio could have been improved with my editing.
Other gains include that my oldest kid has a new love and they both came to visit recently, before Omicron started cancelling flights. I really like this person a lot and the two of them seem happy together. (I hope I’m not jinxing it.) Another gain with child number one is that he’s handling the car loss pretty well, navigating the insurance, making a plan and budget for replacement, being an adult.
Another big win in our family, one I did announce here, was that son number two released a game — Happenlance — for sale this year after several months of collaboration with colleagI have lost some people, but I got one back. One of my sisters with whom I could previously go years without contact has started calling me. For a long time I didn’t even know where she was or how to get in touch with her. But she has a new phone and appears to have decided she doesn’t want to spend whatever days we all have remaining estranged from family members. She called to give me the new number, and we have spoken a couple of more times since then.
More smaller gains: My strength and stamina are much better than they were both before and after my surgery. I was able to take a 13-mile bike ride recently, something that would have been unimaginable earlier in the year. You know what? That’s not a small gain; I’m moving over to the big wins category. Also in the value-added column — while I’ve had to give up or limit some of dietary items I love, I’m developing new favorites. Used to drink cup after of cup of black tea, but now that I can’t I’ve discovered green matcha and red rooibos. Can’t have the spinach quiche that was a dinner-time staple around here. Let me tell you about the popularity of the broccoli quiche I started making in its place.
As I was typing this, my older son sent me a photo of the car he just bought, so that’s taken care of now. It’s pretty – a red 2003 Toyota Corolla with low miles for the age.
I was going to talk about goals for 2022, but this is too long already. Maybe I’ll make another post tomorrow. Happy New Year, everyone!
I guess I could have hidden that extension cord before taking the photo, but my Christmas theme this year is “enjoying the real.” Things don’t have to look perfect to bring joy.
Our holiday celebrations are over for the most part. My older son and his partner flew in from halfway across the country to spend last week with us, flying back away last Sunday. We made Friday the 17th our Christmas Day. All of those gifts in the picture have already been opened. Add in the fact that I’m working Sunday the 26th and it’s as if I’m living in the future from everyone else, having already had Christmas, and am now merely experiencing a regular old two-day weekend.
There are aspects of holidays with little kids I miss, but let me tell you what’s great about celebrating with all adults in the group. When I was off work for their visit, I was able to sleep in if I wanted. And this morning, I slept in again. I felt no need to count and recount the packages to make sure everyone had the exact same number. We spent roughly the same amount on everyone and it was all good. I didn’t have to buy or distribute presents to teachers or friends of my kids. Truly, the workload was so much less.
In fact, as five grown-ups, we discussed and came to consensus on the idea of ordering carry-out from a local restaurant/micro-brewery our special dinner. We could each get what we wanted and I didn’t have to spend hours in the kitchen. The only real hassle came with the food pick up, which turned out to be a tricky two-person job. The location is in the middle of downtown, which was an extremely busy place on a Friday night, with no available parking. Hubs jumped out of the car and made a dash for the restaurant while I was stopped at a red light. I then circled the block three times until he came out again with our bags of food. As evidenced by the horn honks, a couple of other drivers may have been a little peeved when I held up traffic so he could jump back in with me, but I saw no other solution and it honestly didn’t take that long. I hope they’re over the aggravation by now.
Absolutely the best part of the week was getting an extended visit with my firstborn for the first time since May of last year. Since bedtime was not an issue, we spent a couple of nights sitting up late together, chatting about this and that — sharing funny videos on our phones, talking about books we’ve read, him telling me about how certain elements from The Lord of the Rings related to J.R.R. Tolkein’s life experiences. Now that we’re past the point where I make and enforce rules for him, the tension is gone. I think we’ve reached the payoff point I’ve always heard about where you get to be friends with your adult children. Lucky for me, this person makes an excellent friend.
We’re supposed to go visit him in June, but with the new virus variant, who knows. It was hard saying goodbye with the future looking so uncertain. I might have cried a tiny bit when I was tidying up the remnants of their visit. This air mattress and I deflated at about the same rate:
I didn’t allow myself to wallow for too long. I’d much rather think on the fact that the week they were here was one of the happiest I’ve had in quite a while, building up my bank deposits of fond memories.
I’ve heard from many friends and family members whose holiday plans have been disrupted by the new pandemic surge. If this is you, I hope that life gets easier for you soon.