Back to School Blues

I’m in a funk.

A stressed-out, down-in-the-dumps funk.

I have a precious few days left before the intensity and insanity of the school year returns.

And I feel like I’m wasting them.

I feel pressured to make the most of this time while also also allowing anxiety to build from the other direction as I start to think about what needs to happen for this school year (the local paper constantly reporting on the changes to testing/teacher evaluation doesn’t help!).

It’s not unlike the mad dash of an Alaskan summer to get everything done before the harsh winter sets in.

But I’m letting the upcoming winter cool my summer.

I’m allowing August to seep into my July.

It’s like a steroided-out version of the Sunday night blues – when you mourn the loss of the freedoms of the weekend while berating yourself for not accomplishing every goal and allow thoughts of Monday’s tasks to intrude.

Ugh.

It doesn’t help that the intense humidity and near-constant storms have kept me from my usual cure for anxiety and too much thinking – a long run. I managed to get in four (very sweaty) miles yesterday, but that wasn’t quite enough. I still feel the pent-up energy building in anticipation along with the frustration that my days will no longer be mine to schedule.

I’m giving myself a series of goals and intentions for the last few days and I’m sharing them so that I am held accountable:

– Embrace rest. Time resting is not wasted. Give yourself permission to just read or nap or chill by the pool. It’s okay.

– Don’t waste time thinking about the changes and new pressures coming at school. You’ll have plenty of time to think about them when you’re there. And, really, they matter less than you think.

– Do something special each day you have left (favorite lunch buffet. hike, yoga class, paddleboard rental,  etc.). Mark each day with a smile.

– Don’t add to your pressure. If you want to write, write. But don’t force it. The blogs will be there.

– Rather than focus on what didn’t get accomplished this summer, be happy about what did get done and, even more importantly, what did get enjoyed.

– Prioritize sleep.

– When thoughts of school come up, shift them to thinking about how good it will be to see your teacher friends again.

– Run in the rain and try not to get struck by lightening:)

 

 

 

 

 

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Speechless

We arrived home last night this morning just after midnight after a weeklong Alaskan cruise and a Seattle stay over. We had been gone so long, the cat hid under the couch until she decided/remembered that we are effective feeding and cuddling organisms. Today is a day of tackling the emails and work tasks that lack of connectivity forced us to ignore as well as chipping away at the seemingly ever-expanding load of laundry piled high on the dining room floor (dressing in layers translates to LOTS of laundry loads!). Our jet lagged bodies seem to keep finding the bed for impromptu naps, Tiger often joining in, exhausted from playing with his buddies at the vet. Our muddled brains struggle to form coherent thoughts as our circadian rhythms straddle both coasts.

It feels great to be home. To be reunited with our animals and our routines.

Already, the sights and smells of Alaska feel like a dream. Too big to be real.

But it is. And those are memories that we will carry. Images that can be triggered by words or pictures, but never truly captured – the jade green of the water darkening into endless chasms, the soaring heights of the jagged cliffs, clouds dancing across their fronts like some teasing burlesque dance and the power of nature in its rawest forms.

I have yet to transfer the pictures from the camera or from my husband’s iPhone, but here are a few from my phone:

So much of Alaska reminded me of a Bob Ross painting. Look at all the happy trees!
So much of Alaska reminded me of a Bob Ross painting. Look at all the happy trees!
This was from a hike around the Mendenhall Glacier outside Juneau and there's a story to tell about that day!
This was from a hike around the Mendenhall Glacier outside Juneau and there’s a story to tell about that day!
The temperature seemed to always be 59 degrees. But that could mean shorts or winter coat!
The temperature seemed to always be 59 degrees. But that could mean shorts or winter coat!
We drove a small Zodiac boat in Ketchikan. A bald eagle snatched a fish out of the water just feet in front of us!
We drove a small Zodiac boat in Ketchikan. A bald eagle snatched a fish out of the water just feet in front of us!
One of the coolest moments of my life - Tracy Arm Fjord and glacier from the hot tub!
One of the coolest moments of my life – Tracy Arm Fjord and glacier from the hot tub!
We were extremely lucky and never had rain, although it was almost always cloudy.
We were extremely lucky and never had rain, although it was almost always cloudy.
It's pretty amazing how close these ships can get to the water's edge!
It’s pretty amazing how close these ships can get to the water’s edge!
I REALLY wanted to see moose in Haines. This was the closest I got!
I REALLY wanted to see moose in Haines. This was the closest I got!
We tried to see a sunset every night to no avail (I think it's a myth that the sun sets in Alaska in summer). We finally succeeded near Victoria BC!
We tried to see a sunset every night to no avail (I think it’s a myth that the sun sets in Alaska in summer). We finally succeeded near Victoria BC! Cool detail – that’s the moon just above and to the left of the sun:)

 

I want to extend a thank you to all my guest posters and readers for taking care of the place while I was gone. I’ll try to catch up on comments and messages in the next couple days. After a nap.

Scheduled Smiles

It’s all too easy to believe that happiness is fixed. Unchangeable. Set in place by internal or external factors that feel beyond our control.

We may not control all of the strings on the marionette of our lives, but we do have the ability to manipulate the ones that produce a grin.

And all it takes is a calendar. Some intention. And some follow through.

Studies consistently show that our happiness increases when we are anticipating a trip or other exciting, planned event. We experience this. We revel in its gleeful power and, then, we all too often face a symmetrical slump on the far side of the vacation.

I used to see this pattern – up echoed by down – as inevitable.

Until my divorce.

He left days before an anticipated trip to the coast. That trip was my motivator and smile generator all summer.

And then it disappeared, a mirage replaced by hell.

For those first several weeks, I simply struggled to survive. Any smiles were spontaneous, fleeting whispers of joy teasing my lips.

One night, I opened a calendar. The only entries were for legal proceedings and work related deadlines. I knew I was looking at a tough year ahead and the calendar certainly confirmed it.

And then I got angry. I felt like he stole the one little vacation from my year.

Yet I was the one that had allowed him to erase all of the entries of happiness.

Over the next few weeks, I got busy.

I started with the big things – scheduling a trip to San Antonio over Christmas and to Seattle over spring break. I also planned one more big-ticket item – a 3 day meditation and yoga retreat for that fall.

My wallet was empty at that point, but my heart felt a little more full as I saw those plans printed on the page.

But I wasn’t done.

I penciled in hikes for weekends that should have good weather. I looked up festivals and wrote them down. I visited the websites of local bands and marked down their concert dates. I followed with release dates for books and movies and museum openings. I researched gluten free friendly restaurants and marked them down on the page as well. No event was too small.

Related: Goal Post

The timing of some of the events was dictated by necessity, but others I intentionally placed just before or after events I was dreading.

Sometimes, we chaff at the idea of having to schedule pleasantries. Think of the advice for busy couples to schedule a regular date night or regular sex. We feel like we shouldn’t have to plan it, that it should just happen.

But then we get busy.

And it doesn’t happen.

If it’s important, plan it.

Of course, I still enjoyed the unexpected smiles. I made a commitment that year to say yes to every invitation, to every query of, “Do you want to…?” I loved those spontaneous smiles. They created some of my best memories. But they lack the guiding power of anticipation.

Even though I am no longer in hell, I still make sure my calendar is heavy with scheduled smiles. Instead of feeling let down at the end of the wedding week, I am looking forward to meeting a blog buddy for the first time, going to see Lewis Black, an annual Octoberfest weekend with friends and an upcoming visit with a childhood friend that I haven’t seen in 15 years. I don’t have time to be morose.

My life used to be cluttered with to-do lists. Notations of what tasks needed to be accomplished and what responsibilities needed tending.

They’re still there. After all, stuff still needs to get done.

But now, I make sure that two more important lists are more prominent:

The gratitude list that reminds me of all that I have to be thankful for (I love that I had to shrink the font on this one to get it to fit on the page!) and

The calendar that lists the upcoming smiles.

And that makes me happy:)

My challenge to you today – open up that calendar. Find a week with nothing fun planned and find something to add that you can anticipate. Bonus points if it also involves bringing anticipation to another.

And then enjoy the little happiness boost that comes from scheduling a smile.

 

 

 

Saying “Yes”

Several weeks ago I let myself get down about my upcoming summer. I was in the midst of the end of school year crazies and a planned camping trip had to be canceled (along with several other weekends worth of activities) due to the constant rain that drenched Atlanta this past spring. I felt like I had nothing to look forward to this summer and all I could envision was hours spent working in front of the computer (which was pretty much how I spent last summer while finishing the book!). I allowed myself to be grouchy about the whole situation and found myself grumbling about the adventures that others had planned. Not exactly an attractive mood nor one that is likely to improve my outlook.

All I can say is that it is amazing what a different a few weeks and some awesome people can make. Well, that and some actual sunshine!

It started with my mom coming to my rescue after my whiny post. I had already booked a trip to San Antonio to see her in June but she knew that I needed more of a “vacation” feel than just visiting my hometown. She and our close family friend, Kay, worked to book a trip to the gulf coast while I’m in Texas. Not only is this precious beach time (Atlanta is pretty landlocked!) but it’s also a rare opportunity for the three of us to be together. For most of my latter childhood, it was just my mom and I. Well, two people, especially when one is a hormonal teenager, alone can get to be a bit much. Kay was frequently added to our family. She is like a sister to my mom and a cool aunt to me. She brought in needed energy and helped to mediate between my mom and me when it was needed. The last time we were together was two years ago when I last visited Texas. We went on a tour of various Hill Country Wineries. We sampled jalapeno wine, nicknamed a miniature donkey outside a wine tasting room a “burrito” and laughed more than is socially acceptable. All I can say is that Texas better watch out for this go round:)

Sardinian Miniature Donkey, Kew Gardens.
Sardinian Miniature Donkey, Kew Gardens. (Photo credit: Jim Linwood)

Just having that coast trip on the horizon to look forward to was enough to break my funk. Sometimes it’s amazing how much of an impact a small adjustment can make. Just knowing how three days of my summer were to be spent made me see the entire expanse in a different light.  I hope I can remember that lesson next time.

In the span of a few weeks, this has gone from a summer that I dreaded would be monotonous to one that is full of reconnection with my past and new adventures. And all I’ve had to do is say, “yes” to the opportunities that resented themselves. I’m reconnecting with old friends and teammates in Atlanta as we take advantage of the opportunity to leisurely lunch without cafeterias full of kids. I’m meeting up with my old boss and friend in San Antonio whose family adopted me for many holidays and birthday celebrations (he and his wife are two of my love mentors).  I’m going to see Austin and Lake Travis (where I spent some time in college) from a new angle as I zipline over the lake (thanks to Kay!). And Brock and I will be returning to St. Marys (where we first talked marriage last summer:) ) to stay with our friends (and other love mentors) there.

Yippee!!!

On a more emotional front, I’m going to visit the youngest dog from my former life, who was adopted by a friend’s parents and now lives on a farm in Alabama. I’m excited about this, but also nervous, as I have not seen her (or any of the dogs, for that matter) since that life ended four years ago. I think tears will be guaranteed.

Glottis
Glottis

On the new front, I spent yesterday tubing with a new group of friends. I will be going skydiving for the first time with another group of friends once I return from Texas (assuming I live through the ziplining!). I have my first girl’s weekend of my life in Tybee Island at the end of the month with an impressive group of women, only one of whom I really know.

I’ve gone from feeling grumpy to feeling grateful (and delightfully nervous about the sky high adventures!). I feel so incredibly lucky to be surrounded by such amazing people.

I feel like I’ve reversed my 20s and 30s in many ways. While touring a new friend’s college campus yesterday, it really struck me how I never did my 20s. I went to school, yet only lived the campus life for one year and even then, I was the one who would make all of the 8:00 am classes on time and would get annoyed when spontaneous parties broke out in the house. The rest of my college experience was spent working and going to school, often commuting quite a ways to reach the campus. Through all of that, I was with my ex. I never dated in my 20s. We bought a fixer-upper house at 22 and I was more concerned with the best toilet gasket to buy than finding the best blues and brews bar in town. I had friends but work and/or school was always my bigger priority. I stayed busy with occasional binges of fun, usually while on vacation.

Now, solidly in my 30s, my life has shifted. I now put more effort into finding, creating and maintaining relationships. I’ve learned that there is value in relationships and that time spent cultivating them is time well invested. I make sure fun is on the to-do list (and apparently get grumpy when it is absent!). At a time when many of peers are settling down and leaving the craziness of their 20s behind, I am welcoming some of that craziness into my own life and not just on vacation.

I don’t regret not living the life of the typical twenty something. I was happy with my choices. But there’s no rule that says that life has to take some predetermined path. That the 20s are about finding yourself and fun and the 30s are about settling down and getting serious. Besides, I’ve always found that I enjoy play more after the hard work has been done. I’m just getting better and sprinkling the play into the long sessions of work.

I feel silly now that I let myself get down. That I allowed myself to wallow in self pity. I may not have the finds that my student’s families do that allow elaborate vacations. I may not have the big family that rents a beach house for a month every year. But I have what I need and I have amazing people around me that remind me every day about what is important and make me aware of how rich my life is. My grumpiness has been replaced with gratitude and excitement (and a little healthy fear!).

It’s okay to have fun. It’s okay to set work aside for awhile. It’s okay to create things to look forward to. It’s okay to say “yes.”

And if you hear any screams coming from South Texas this week, don’t worry; It’s only me going down the zipline:)

 

Gulp!

Skier carving a turn off piste
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, last night I made a committment. I made a nonrefundable payment towards a ski trip in North Carolina over the winter holiday. I know what you’re thinking, “That sounds lovely.” It does, but it also sounds scary.

You see, I’m not afraid of snakes. Or clowns. Or heights. Or public speaking. I am; however, afraid of land that slopes away from me. Perhaps it’s because I was born in the flatlands of Florida and raised on the unvarying topography of south Texas. Maybe I had some hill trauma as a young child that has since been repressed (are there any therapists that specialize in hill trauma?). Who knows? I just know that the thought of standing at the top of a snowy icy (it is man-made stuff there) hill while standing on long, thin strips makes me panic. Just a little.

Learning to Go Downhill

I have never been skiing before. I have learned to appreciate the winter sports of sledding and tobogganing, both of which are executed a safe distance from the ground (read: under an inch). Knowing me, my first attempt at skiing will probably have me in a full squat with my butt just barely clearing the land below. Go ahead and laugh – the image makes me giggle too.

I am signing up for lessons for the two days we will be there (otherwise I would probably never move from the top of the runt bunny slope). Since I know nothing about skiing, I considered reading up on techniques prior to the trip. But then I changed my mind. You see, the reason that hills scare me is that I over think them. I want to be in control every step (or slide) of the way down. But that just isn’t possible. You have to plan at the beginning, set up your path and let go. And trust. Why is it that I can do that in my life but not on a hill?

So, I am going to try to not use my brain on this trip. I am going to work on feeling the instruction rather than memorizing and analyzing it. I am going to learn to trust in myself and my ability to get down the mountain hill relatively unscathed. Maybe I should picture myself giving a speech to a bevy of evil clowns holding snakes…that might help to keep me calm:)

So, until the trip, I am going to work on making the rest of the reservations and locating all of the gear needed, but I am not going to plan how to ski. For that, I am just going to trust my gut.

Gulp!