Self care and scarcity

IMG_9551.JPGIn thinking about how I’m going to go about having this midlife crisis, wherein I dig out of of my 15 year phase of self neglect, I am finding it helpful to use the information I’ve gathered over the years from my work with children, my own and other people’s, and my work with the elderly. My mom, who went from being a preschool teacher to being a corporate trainer used to tell me, in reference to the transfer of skills from her old job to the new one, that people really didn’t change as much as they thought they did from 4 to 40. Their basic needs, the way they tick, and the things that help motivate them, were really pretty consistent across the years. My own experiences working with the very young and very old have shown that to be very true.
Teepa Snow, a popular dementia educator (if you love someone with dementia, you owe it to yourself to check her out) says that there are four major types of human activity that need to be addressed to create meaning in a person’s day. The first is productive activity. This can be paid or not. It’s what you contribute to society and your community. This is an area where I feel very blessed. Everyday, both at work and at home, presents me with ample opportunity to feel productive and contribute to the greater good. This particular kind of activity is not something most adults my age are conciously grateful for. We often have so much more opportunity for productive activity than we can realisticly handle that it feels more like a burden than a blessing. That is one gift that working with children and the elderly has given me. Seeing how much both groups struggle when they don’t feel as though they have a valuable contribution to make has helped me to cultivate gratitude for the work I have to do.
The second type is leisure activity. Things you do for their own sake. This can be anything from watching a game, playing cards, playing music, worship, or reading a novel. I could use a little work in this area, but not as much as you’d probably imagine. I am passionate enough about the things I do for their own sake that, when things do get out of balance in this area, I naturally push back and make time for them.
The third type of activity is self care. This is where I really fall down. The thing I have noticed is that most of my arguments to myself about why I should do better at this also surround the needs of others. If I were better rested, had better health, and took better care of myself, I would have more leftover to give. While this is true, I think it’s probably not a very good motivator for longterm change. Somehow I have to get to the point of valuing self care as much for my own sake as for others. How exactly I’m going to do that, I haven’t figured out yet.
The fourth type of activity is rest and restoration. This is also an area I struggle with, but again, not as badly as you might imagine. At 40 years old, my body just flat out refuses to cooperate anymore if it gets to the end of it’s energy and doesn’t get a recharge. Really, that window where you can just abuse yourself and push through without rest was short. I have some young coworkers who can pull 16 hour shifts, sleep three minutes, eat a bowl of ramen and get back to work. I remember being like that, but I had pretty much wrapped that phase of my life up by 25. Due to the lack of self care, my ability to recharge isn’t all that efficient, but it’s not completely neglected. Honestly, if there was one thing I would do differently in my youth, it would be to place a higher value on rest and restoration. It’s vastly underrated.
So the question, as it always is, is how to give myself the resources I need for better self care, when my resources are limited and already stretched. What kinds of self care am I most in need of? One source of frequent frustration between my husband and myself is that he is pretty good about just taking something if he needs it. If he needs new pants, he buys them. He doesn’t fret over it, or feel guilty over it. If his hair is getting too long, he cuts it. If he’s hungry, he eats. He’s not doing these things because he thinks he deserves them and I don’t. He’s doing them because they are reasonable self care, but I often take it personally, like he is taking a bigger slice of the pie. I constantly feel the pull of productive activity. I can’t decide how much of that is just reasonable, after all, there is a lot of productive activity that needs to be done, and I often feel like it’s not done very well, and how much of it is a habit of busyness. That is something I am really going to need to examine this year of I’m going to get a handle on this thing.

On Insecurity

I’m in a group coaching program that is forcing me to look at how my thoughts create my feelings – big time.  Some days it feels like too much to open the lid on my brain and take a look.  But look I must, because I’m not fully pleased with all the aspects of my life.  And that’s why I’m here today with this particular post.

I’m here because part of my plan to allow and feel the feeling of insecurity is to make more posts on Snowshine Cottage.  You see, my jam has been setting up the backend of this blog and thinking of ideas.  And there it stopped.  And I’ve let the awesome posts that Ilse and Stephanie have been doing intimidate me.  Their intentionality and dedication is inspiring me to step up and actually do what I committed to do – a post a week.

I do angst pretty well, so get ready.  LOL – just kidding, but only a bit.  My angst meter has been turned way down since joining the above-mentioned program, but I still indulge in a bit now and then, which tends to be when I like to write.  🙂

Community and Routine: Reflections on Breakfast and Goodness

IMG_9125.JPGEvery Saturday morning since we have lived here, Zach and I have gone out for breakfast at a little coffee shop just down the road a piece from our house. It’s a cute little place, with a cabin theme. Every Saturday, the owner and one of the two women who work there greet us, and, without even a question, bring us the same thing we always have. Coffee, caramel rolls and a croissant sandwich for Zach. Cream, but no sugar, for the coffee, and butter for the caramel roll. A group of older gentlemen, who also frequent the place every Saturday, greet us, and we ask each other about our respective weeks. We strike up a conversation with our servers about whatever is going on in our lives, and Zach and the owner, who owns a landscaping business, talk about the jobs they are working on now. I sit back and drink my coffee, listening to the sounds of the other patrons discussing the weather, and the crops, and the news from friends who are absent that day.  Zach plays a crossword puzzle on his phone, pausing frequently to ask my advice on a clue.

When I was 15 years old, almost 16, I took a job at the coffee shop down the street from my house, Java Joes. It was that year that I started PSEO at the University of Minnesota, and, in an anthropology class, was assigned to read the book, The Great Good Place, by Ray Oldenburg.  The book introduced me to the concept of the Third Place, at the same time that Java Joes was introducing me to it’s reality. A third place is a place outside of home and work, like a coffee shop, a bookstore, a hair salon or a pub, where people come together with regularity, to set aside the cares of daily life, and socialize. In the book Oldenburg argues, and I agree, that such places are a bedrock of healthy communities.  The friendships made in these places are often lifelong. 25 years after I got the job at Java Joes, I still have friends that I made there. Working there exposed me to conversation with people of varying ages and walks of life, and gave me the opportunity, at a young age, to talk with them about everything that gives life value and meaning. In our modern world social media has taken up some of the functions of the third place, which I think is part of why it has become so wildly popular, but I don’t think it can completely replace it. There’s just something about the physical presence of the people and the shared experience that can’t be replicated online.

I can see the fruits of this kind of community building in my work with the elderly. The mere mention of the places that functioned as third places in this town when the residents were young brings smiles to their faces, and a flood of memories and questions about people they knew in common. The stories start to flow, and even without ever having been there, I feel like I’m an adopted member of the club.

I’ve felt a deep need for that kind of connection for a long time, and moving to a small town, with places like this, is finally filling that need. I owe a great deal of who I am today to the opportunities I had at Java Joes to share my thoughts, build relationships, sharpen my arguments by exposing them to real discussion, and sharpen my wit. I learned how to have real conversations and real friendships with people I didn’t always agree with, and how to be kind and respectful without losing my sense of identity. I can’t help but feel like the world could use more of that, these days.

Simply Adventurous Dates: Local Music

IMG_9568.JPGZach and I have been pretty good about date nights for a long time now. Prior to having kids old enough to babysit, we had a built-in babysitter in my Dad, so it’s always been something that was easier for us than for most parents, in spite of our larger than average family. Yet even when we lived in the city, with it’s dizzying array of options for date nights, we usually opted for half price appetizers at various restaurant happy hours. This isn’t so much because we really love eating out, although I do enjoy that, but because happy hour is cheap, and, at the end of a long day, doesn’t require a lot of brain power.
One of the things I have been thinking about a lot as I am embarking on my Year of Goodness project, is the balance between rituals and routines, which bring about a sense of safety, comfort and reliability, and the need for adventure, which feeds our human need for novelty. Ever since I went back to work full time, I have been really dependent on my rituals and routines. In most ways that has been wonderful. As an ADHD adult, with several ADHD kids, I really thrive on routines. It’s easy for things to get chaotic and out of hand when I don’t have the regularity of a daily schedule, and, as the point of dates with my husband is the time spent together, what we are actually doing is, most of the time, not all that important.
I’ve been listening to Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home on Audible, and really enjoying it. In the book, she gives herself a few resolutions each month that help her to boost the happiness of her family life. One of the resolutions, which never came to fruition, was to have monthly adventures with her husband. For them, as natural homebodies, the decision to forgo that resolution was a positive one, but spontaneity and a sense of adventure were part of what attracted Zach and me to each other. I decided that it would be fun to ask Zach if we could adopt a monthly adventure date as a tradition.
Amery has a pretty thriving arts community for a small town in rural Wisconsin, and my work at a memory care center, has, strangely, put me in touch with a lot of really creative people. We often have musicians, artists, dramatists, and other creatives come in to do activities with our residents, and many of them had suggested that I check out the music offerings at the Apple River Opry. I decided we might as well try it. It was a night well spent. The Amery Classic Theater is a fun little place, and the music was very good. It was fun to have a reason to get a little dressed up, and have somewhere new to go. Having grown up in a family that highly values the arts, I think it’s time that I start supporting the kinds of things I want to continue to exist in my area. I felt like I got a better value for my $20 than I did back in the days of half price appetizers at Applebees, and it benefited my community as well as my husband and myself.

Year of Goodness

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Every year, on my birthday, I assign myself a spiritual theme for the year. Last year’s was humility. That went just about exactly the way it sounds like it would, and, while I can very clearly see the fruits of that exercise, it also left me feeling pretty broken down. My mother got sick, and died a difficult death. We had financial difficulties. The contractor we hired to renovate our dream house left us in a nearly desperate state, and we are only now finding a replacement for him. I had to have surgery. My cousin, just a few years older than me, was diagnosed with ALS. And that’s just the highlights. Every little thing that could go wrong, did go wrong. Broken appliances, cars in ditches so often the local tow truck driver knows my name. It was brutal. Everything in my life changed. I went back to work full time, and my kids went from being home-schooled to public schooled, and I was on the receiving end of some harsh judgements for my choices, past and present. There were a million little humiliations. There were times I thought I was truly in the throes of a nervous breakdown. There have been few nights for the last year that I haven’t woken in the middle of the night in a panic.
This year, as I pondered and prayed about what I needed in the coming year, the theme my tired soul kept drawing towards was goodness. What is it? What does goodness mean? In my faith tradition truth, beauty and goodness are considered “transcendents.” They are things that point beyond themselves, and towards their creator. They draw our souls upwards and invoke in us a reaction we can’t put into words, but we know it when we feel it. Something about my year of humility has finely tuned my senses, and, while I don’t know how to describe goodness, or all of the nuances of what it is, I can see it in breathtaking colour. I can see it when I work with the elderly, and when I work with my children. I can see it in families, and communities, particularly this community, which helped me pick up the pieces of my broken self when I was a stranger. I resolved that I would keep track of these moments, and bought myself a journal.
There is a type of prayer in my faith, called the Examen, where you look back over the details of your day, and look for the moments of light, and the moments of dark. The moments where you can see the beauty of God working in your life, and the moments where you clearly see the ways in which you have fallen short. The ways in which things went well, and the ways in which you are struggling. The result is not, as it might sound, like some sort of spiritual guilt trip, in which you dutifully flagellate yourself for failing, but a calm, quiet, realistic acknowledgement of the true state of things. The result of this is that the moments of light set against the background of the darkness, shine with all the tranquil beauty of the stars. This prayer is the bedrock of my Year of Goodness. I am hoping that the more I acquaint myself with goodness in all its forms, the better my soul will embrace it.