Pandemic Birthday #2

Yesterday was my birthday — my second birthday during the ongoing Pandemic. It’s a weird milestone. But then, I think everything, from the mundane, everyday things to the milestones, feels weird right now. How can it be otherwise, in a world that has turned topsy-turvy? I remember, at my birthday last year, thinking, “So it all feels eerie and strange. But next year at this time, I’m sure everything will be back to normal.” And yet, here we are: One year farther along in my own, personal odyssey of life, and, still, nothing is normal.

There was no gathering of friends and family. There was no fancy dinner out with my husband and daughter. There was no weekend trip into the city to celebrate. There were none of the things that we are used to doing and having in order to mark down the special occasions and milestones in our lives.

But there were other things. There were beautiful roses — my favorite! — from my husband and daughter. There was a lovely and cheerful Spring bouquet from some dear friends. There were phone calls from family and well-wishes over Facebook and text. There was a rainy, chilly day spent feeling cozy and comfortable in my office space as I worked on nail photos, wrote a nail blog, and watched a show on Amazon Prime BritBox. There were cuddles with the dogs and the cat. There was a beautiful cake ordered by my sweet husband and watching movies with my little family. There was a session of Zelda: Breath of the Wild with my daughter, staying up late to watch videos on YouTube, and reading a good book before I finally turned in for the night … or early morning.

In all, it was a quiet day, quietly spent with those I love the most in the world. And you know what? I think it was just what I needed. I needed some time for my brain to sit quietly, forgetting the constant anxieties of making sure people are 6 feet away from me or whether I remembered to bring my mask, or whether my elderly parents are able to stay safe. I needed some time to take a deep breath after a tough work week and enjoy puttering around doing things I love but so often have to put off to a time when I’m not so busy. (And you know what? “Not so busy” never seems to come!)

I wonder if, maybe, this is “normal” now — a “normal” that is quieter and hums contentedly in the background. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I do miss the “normal” of my recent past, from before the pandemic. I miss not having to wear a mask and, especially (!), not having to be afraid of catching a virus that might kill me or those I love. I miss being able to head out to eat in a restaurant or go to a bar whenever I want, without having to worry or plan ahead. I miss being able to travel for a weekend trip on a whim. I miss seeing friends and family in person. And, yes, I do miss those more public types of milestone celebrations that we blissfully enjoyed in the past.

And yet, this new “normal” is lovely, too. There is something graceful, beautiful, and comforting about celebrating a life milestone quietly with those few people you love the most in all the world. There is something soothing about celebrating yourself with the kindness of spending time doing things that you love and that bring you joy. For me, I feel like these things got a little bit lost in the past.

If we get past this pandemic and are able to go back to our old “normal”, will I be unhappy about that? No — not in the least! That’s not what I’m saying at all. But I think it’s important to stop and think about and realize all the beauty that is in our new “normal”, too. I suppose the point, for now, is just this: It was a good birthday. And I am ready to face another year.

A Snowy Adventure …

Have you ever been stuck in the snow in the middle of nowhere, Illinois? I have. Just a couple of days ago, in fact.

It all started out innocently enough. After a looooong string of snowy, cold, and gray days, we finally had a couple of days of sunshine this past Thursday (or was it Wednesday? Hmmm …) and Friday. On the first sunny day, we decided to head out in the evening for a little family drive. We were all feeling a bit stir crazy from the pandemic and the cold and the snow. Hubby and I haven’t even been able to walk because it’s been too cold. It was so nice being in the car, just enjoying the sunlight and being outside the house. Of course, I neglected to take my DSLR with me on that trip, and we had the most glorious sunset that evening. It was bold and magnificent and awe-inspiring. I grabbed some pics with my phone, but I felt dissatisfied with them, overall.

So, when Friday dawned with sunshine and blue skies, I was excited. My whole plan was to head out in the afternoon, about an hour or so before sunset, to enjoy the light and, hopefully, grab some fabulous sunset pics with my DSLR. The whole day was sunny and gorgeous. Cold, but gorgeous. Until it was time to head out for pics. Like clockwork, the clouds rolled in. It was like the Universe was trying to tell me something.

I refused to be daunted. I had planned to take pictures, and that was what I was going to do! I sent my “RAWR!” out at the Universe, and determined we would head out for sunset, after all. Hubby and Darling Daughter were more than willing, even with the cloudy skies. Have I mentioned we are all feeling more than a little stir crazy?

It was not a wasted trip in the least. I love Winter Sky. It’s almost hard for me to put it into words. There is something so peaceful and compelling about the way the skies turn pastel and soft during a Wintery sunset. I feel like these muted skies happen often in the Winter, but particularly so on cloudy days. It’s almost like I can look at those beautiful skies, with their soft pinks and purple-toned blues and blue-grays, and I can breathe again. I feel stress fall away, and my soul is uplifted. Winter Sky is like pastel watercolors that paint themselves before my very eyes. Sunset is a slow and unstoppable process. It marches across the sky at its own pace. And yet, I find I cannot take my eyes off of it. I could sit for hours, just watching the sky change colors and begin to darken toward night.

But, much as I love it, this story is not about Winter Sky. This story is about being stuck in the snow in the middle of nowhere, Illinois. I don’t know if all of Illinois is like this, but our town is weirdly surrounded by rural land, roads with no visible road signs or names, and corn fields. Lots and lots of corn fields. Our town is not big. It has around 100K in population, and the back roads lead to other, smaller towns that surround it. Most everything is flat, which means there are not many landmarks. This is particularly so in the Winter, when the corn is gone, and the fields are bare and full of snow. It doesn’t take long to get turned around or completely lost out in the midst of those back roads that snake between those fields.

This is exactly what happened on Friday. We were following the sunset, trying to get whatever photos we could. And, before we knew it, we were completely turned around and a bit lost. Not to fear, though, because we had GPS. And all wheel drive. What could stop us?

I’ll tell you what: S-N-O-W.

Our GPS took us down a road that was not plowed. We saw a sign saying it was not plowed, but the snow did not look that deep. This was our first mistake. And, clearly, it shows that we don’t know what it truly means to live through a snowy winter in Illinois! The GPS was pointing us down that road, so we headed in that direction. Once we got a little ways into the road, we realized the snow was much deeper than we thought. And we were in our very low sedan — mistake number 2. We got stuck once, but we managed to get unstuck and felt that we had no choice but to continue moving forward. We couldn’t really turn around and head back because the snow was too deep for that. Was this mistake number three? Maybe.

We made it a bit farther before we got stuck a second time. By this time, we were well and truly STUCK. We couldn’t back out. We couldn’t go forward. We couldn’t dig the car out enough to get it moving. Basically, we were at “leave the car here until Spring”. It was not pretty. And it was getting dark. And remember how I mentioned that a lot of these roads don’t have visible signs? If you are from here, you know exactly where you are at all times. But we are clearly not from here. We had no idea where we were.

I was the only one in the car wearing snow boots. So I got elected to hike back to the nearest house while Hubby and Darling Daughter tried to get a tow truck. I was not privy to all their efforts, but I know it involved a disastrous call with AAA. By the way, if you are ever stuck in the snow in Illinois, don’t bother calling AAA. They won’t even try to come help you. They won’t even try to figure out where you are! There was a second tow company that was closed due to illness. And then, my hubby finally called the tow company that actually came out and rescued us. Of course, since we didn’t know where we were, Darling Daughter had to figure out the GPS coordinates so that the tow truck could find us.

While all of this was happening, I was hiking through knee-high snow and 19 degree Fahrenheit temperatures. I originally thought the house was only about a quarter of a mile or a mile away. It turned out it was probably closer to two miles, and it was through deep snow the whole way. The whole time I am struggling through the drifts and the ruts in the road, I kept thinking to myself, “Self, why were we so stupid? How in the world did we think we could get through all this dang snow?!?”

My entire walk through the knee-deep snow was for nothing. Just about the time I got to the porch of the house, Darling Daughter texted that they were on the phone with a tow truck, and that I should come back. Well, I take that back. She texted just after I struggled up the house’s icy steps onto the porch and knocked at the door. Guess what? No one came to the door. So it was a wasted trip in more ways than one. I sighed and carefully made my way back down the icy steps. And then, re-traced my way through the ruts and the deep drifts all the way back to the car. It’s Sunday evening, and I’m still coughing from all that cold air, by the way. And I’m still sore as heck!

By the time I got back to the car (after tripping and falling into a pile of snow), the tow company had figured out where we were. They told us to sit tight, and one of the drivers would be to us in about thirty-five or forty minutes. And so, we waited. And tried not to think about how we were in the middle of nowhere … in the cold … in the snow. Actually, it wasn’t all that bad. It was peaceful and quiet. And we had some good family time. We laughed and talked and shared memories.

Eventually, we saw the tow truck come up behind us. It was some distance away, but by this time it was dark. We could see the headlights. They parked and stopped for the longest time before, slowly, turning around and leaving. I looked at Hubby and said, “I think they can’t get to us.” But my tone was one of disbelief. It never occurred to me that the tow truck might get stuck. And yet, that is exactly what happened! The first driver got stuck twice. He shoveled his truck out both times, only to get stuck again. Eventually, he realized trying to move forward was futile.

The company owner called us and told us that the first truck was stuck and not able to reach us. He was coming to us with a bigger truck, so we should just sit tight. He was out of town on another job, and it would be about another hour before he could reach us. But he was coming. And so, we waited some more. By this time, it was pitch dark. And, of course, there were no clouds, so we couldn’t even look at the stars while we waited. Tempers were running a bit shorter by this point. Darling Daughter was hungry. Hubby was annoyed with all of our bad life choices. I had to go to the bathroom. Plus, my clothes were all wet. Remember how I fell into that bank of snow? Oh, and it had started to snow. Yeah …

Eventually, we saw the lights from the second truck behind our car. They were far back, around where the first truck had gotten stuck. I saw them stop and pause for a long time. I saw them flicker, and I knew the driver was walking in front of them, moving from one side of the truck to the other. I felt this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, because I was pretty sure this second truck was also stuck. I made myself keep this thought to myself, because everyone in the car was feeling guardedly optimistic at the sight of those lights. I didn’t want to ruin that.

The truck lights came a bit closer. Then, they stopped again. And I saw the flicker of someone walking in front of them again, moving from one side of the truck to the other. I had that same sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. But eventually, it kept moving forward until it was actually there, right behind our car!

In the end, it turned out the second truck also got stuck. But because it was higher than the first one, the drivers were able to dig it out. For what it’s worth, the first driver never left. He just turned his truck around and parked it on the side of the road, slightly out of our view. The two guys were so kind and friendly. And they were a very welcome sight! They drove their bigger truck back and forth over the snow behind us to pack it down. They ended up digging our car out of all that snow. They hooked chains to our back end, and they basically just winched us out of the snow while Hubby kept the wheel pointing straight so that we didn’t run off the road.

As Hubby was paying the bill, the second driver asked, “What kind of car is this, anyhow?” Hubby replied with the make and model and asked why, and the driver replied that he thought he wanted to buy one. He was very impressed we had managed to make it so far down that road. Hey, if you do something stupid, do it in the most spectacular manner possible. Right? Right!

So. All’s well that ends well, as they say. We managed to get winched out of the snow. The tow guys were kind enough not to laugh at us to our faces. We got turned around and headed toward home. We had left our house around 4:30PM that afternoon, and we finally made it home at 9PM that night. We made eggs, bacon, and pancakes for dinner. And we watched some TV together before heading to bed. I was exhausted from my snowy adventure. I’m still exhausted from it!

And I have resolved that I shall not leave the house again until Spring. Or, until the next time I want to take pretty sunset pictures.

Ringing in the New … and Good-Bye, 2020

I spent a lot of time in 2020 trying not to talk about all the weirdness of the year. I think, because I was living in the midst of it (as were all of us!), I didn’t want to spend time mulling it over or thinking about it. It took so much energy to deal with social distancing and isolation and cleaning my groceries and coping with the bizarre mess that has been my daughter’s senior year in high school and worrying over my parents and feeling anxious about the state of US politics … Well, as you may be able to guess, I could go on and on. And I would not be telling any of you anything new, different, or unexpected. Because, wherever you are, we are ALL living through this time together. We are all trying to figure it out day-to-day. And we are all trying to muddle through.

I think my touchstone saying for 2020 quickly became, “I’m doing the best I can!”. This is something I have been saying to myself on a daily basis all year long. There were many days when I felt my best was never going to be enough. On those days, this whispered reminder helped heal a little bit of my soul. Because, really, it IS good enough, isn’t it? It’s not just good enough … it is our best. And that has to be worth everything. In a way, 2020 taught me this. Of course, it was something I always knew — somewhere, in the back of my mind. It’s something we all know and have known. And yet, it can be so easy to forget, can’t it?

2020 also gave me Time. I was lucky enough to be busy with work during the week for most of the year, but we spend a lot of time rushing from one thing to another outside of work hours, don’t we? But, in 2020, we didn’t have anywhere to go. There were no extra-curricular activities for my daughter. There were no plays or concerts. There were no museums to visit or movies to attend. There was just a lot of time to sit around at home. It sounds terribly boring, doesn’t it? And yet … I had time to sit around and think about things. I had time to spend with my family every evening. Probably, we should have been doing this all along, but we had fallen into the bad habit of going our separate ways at the end of each day. More importantly, I had time to spend with my sweet daughter before she flies the nest and starts her own life adventure.

I feel grateful to 2020 for these things. They are quiet blessings. They are not flashy. They are not necessarily things that would jump out at a person as something you would want or desire. And yet, like many things that are not flashy, they are extremely precious. Without the weirdness of 2020, I am not sure I would have realized any of this.

At the same time, I have to admit I am happy to show 2020 the door, so to speak. It’s been an exhausting, worrisome, and anxiety-producing year. No matter how grateful I am for the quiet life lessons 2020 has shown me, the year wore on me. It grated on my nerves. It made me feel so tired and hopeless and just … sad. I feel like I have been looking forward to the end of 2020 ever since March. And, at last, it is here. Huzzah!

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think life is magically going to be easier just because 2020 has ended and 2021 has begun. It’s not like anyone can wave a magic wand and make COVID disappear or make people suddenly have good sense. Honestly, I am not sure there is enough magic in the universe to make that last thing happen. COVID is here to stay. Vaccine roll-out is going to be slow going. Many people will elect not to take the vaccine, even when it is available. We still have to figure out how to move forward and make our way through a life landscape that has become eerie and unexpected. We still have to figure out how to live with all the faults and frailties of human nature.

I don’t know what 2021 will bring. I know it will have its ups and downs, but I don’t know if it will end up being good or bad, overall. But right now, when the year is still new, I feel hopeful for the first time in many months. I feel like better days are coming; they are just on the horizon and out of sight. One day soon, I will get to hug my parents and brother. One day soon, we will be able to sit with friends and laugh and eat together. One day soon, my daughter will start her own adventure in college, which I hope will be in-person and on-campus. One day soon, we will all figure out our new normal.

Happy Belated …

This is my very late “happy birthday USA” post. I only missed the Fourth by 7 or 8 days, so I’m within the window of birthday-ness. Right? Eh. Considering the mess that is this year and the mess that is my country right now, I think 8 days late isn’t too bad.

I’ve thought about this post a lot. I’ve thought about a lot of posts a lot. Basically, COVID, self-isolating, and the ongoing racial injustice in the United States has led to lots and lots and lots of thinking. Along with some worrying and some crying and some feeling hopeless. It’s been sort of a cycle for me. Right up until the actual fourth of July, I didn’t feel much like celebrating. In all honesty, life in general and life in this country, in particular, has begun to bear down with all the weight of despair and hopelessness it could possibly possess.

It didn’t help my mood that everything was canceled. No public fireworks. No getting together with friends. I had hoped for my parents to come visit this Summer or to visit them, but that couldn’t happen, either. Of course, people in our neighborhood set off fireworks on their own. Until the extremely wee hours of the morning. I hate neighborhood fireworks. I know I sound like the grouchiest, grumpiest grump that ever grouched. But the noise scares my dogs and makes it impossible to sleep, especially when fireworks are going off until 2 or 3AM. And I always worry about my roof catching on fire. Anxiety is not your friend, folks!

So, by necessity, it was a quiet Fourth of July for me and my family. My daughter has a friend whose family has practiced the same level of self-isolation as us, and that friend came over to spend the night. My husband grilled. And we all watched Crazy Rich Asians together. Was it the type of Fourth I would have wanted? Probably not. But it wasn’t a bad holiday. The long weekend was peaceful. My family is all safe and, so far, healthy. We are really fortunate in many ways.

That evening, I sat on my computer and read through articles about the protests happening all over the United States. I read about statues coming down and about brands changing their names. And … I don’t know … somehow, my mood improved.

I love my country. I love it very much. But I do not love all the things about it. I do not love all the things that happen in this country. In particular, I don’t love the way so many of us in this country are complacent and casual about the racism that is bone-deep here. We grow up with it, and it permeates so much of our everyday life that we get to the point where we “just don’t see it”. As a country … as a people … we have lived with and profited from this callousness and cruelty for far too long. By “we”, I mean white people like me. “Just don’t see it” just doesn’t cut it any longer. And you know what? It never should have. “Just don’t see it” was NEVER good enough. We should have seen it, all along. We should have looked for it. We should have fought to root it out and expose it to the light of day.

But now, changes are happening. Black and POC voices are being heard more than ever before. It seems like more than ever before to me, a person looking from the outside. I hope this is the truth. Because these voices need to be heard. We need to listen to these stories and face the uncomfortable truths contained within them. Protests are in the news, people are talking, and people are listening. People are learning. I hope we are all learning.

I know the changes that have happened so far are small. In the grand scheme of things and to Black and POC people who have struggled their entire lives to feel valued and respected, I imagine these changes are minuscule. But they are changes and a sign that our future has a chance of looking different than our past. Each small change … each protest … each instance of a Black or POC person feeling empowered to tell their story and speak their truth … Every one of these things gives me hope that we, as a country, can be better and do better. I have hope that the momentum will keep going. I have hope that voices will continue being heard. I have hope that we will ferret out the stink and dirt of racism at every level in this country.

Because that’s what we have to do. We HAVE to be better than we have been. We HAVE to do better than we have ever done. This country is a dream. It is a dream of a place where all are equal, all have justice, and all can live without fear. I know this sounds naive and idealistic of me, but I love that dream. I want to live in that place, where Black and POC mothers can send their children to the store without being afraid for their lives. Where Black and POC people are respected for who they are, and where Black and POC achievements are celebrated by everyone. Where Black and POC people can find justice — not justice in name only, but real and true justice. I want this dream for myself because I am a selfish person. But mostly, I want it for my daughter and for all the children of every race who are coming behind us. We owe it to them. We owe them more than what we have given.

I often think there’s nothing I can do. I feel powerless in the face of the injustice and unfairness running rampant all around me. I feel sad and hopeless. I am just one voice, and I am not the kind of voice that should be heard right now — that NEEDS to be heard right now. So I fall into the trap of thinking I should stay out of it or just stay quiet or whatever. But you know what? That’s bullshit. It’s the same thing as living with all of this my whole life and “just not seeing it”. Because I was naive and stupid as a child and a teenager and, even, as a young adult. I didn’t see it because I didn’t know what to look for. And, much as I hate to admit it, I never even thought to look for it.

I know better now. I have seen it. I know it is out there. And I know I can do something. I can listen. I can continue to learn. I can think about my own thoughts, my own actions, and my own words, and I can take care that those things reflect the true feelings and beliefs in my heart. I can — and will! — continue to have hard and uncomfortable conversations with others I encounter. In many instances, I am sorry to say I have those conversations with my own family. In the past, I might have backed down or let it go. But no more. It’s a small thing, but I can stand up each and every day. I can do better. I can be better.

My one corner of the United States is small. My reach is small. But maybe — just maybe — I can change one heart. Maybe — just maybe — I can change one person’s way of thinking. Maybe I won’t change anything, but I don’t care. I am going to hold myself accountable to continue working in whatever small way I can. Because I owe it to every Black and POC person in this country who has ever felt fear because of the way they were treated by white people … who has ever felt anger because of the way they were treated by white people … who has ever been made to feel less than human because of the color of their skin … who has ever lost a beautiful son or daughter or mother or father or anyone to the systemic racism that pervades our country.

A Week of “Meh” …

Last week was a week of “Meh”. Remember how I mentioned I was doing some contract work for a local nonprofit organization? And remember how I mentioned that I was enjoying the work? And remember how I mentioned that I was starting to feel more alive and better about myself than I had in years?

Yeah. Well … that’s all gone. Thank you, COVID-19. I found out last week that I won’t be getting any more contract work for now. Luckily, the company feels it’s a temporary pause. They didn’t cancel my contract, and they told me they are looking forward to having me back on the team when things go back to normal — whenever that might be.

I’m not mad about getting shut down. I totally get it, and, honestly, I was not surprised. I felt really fortunate to be getting work as this pandemic started rolling across the U.S., but, in the back of my mind, there was that feeling of dread. You know the one I mean: that nervous, sinking feeling that tells you things are going too well, and that you are soon in for some disappointment.

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It sucks. I don’t think I’m overstating things when I say that. The people I was working with were very apologetic. I know they feel terrible about it. But, really, they have no reason to. It’s not their fault. It’s not my fault. It’s just the way things are for right now. Times are uncertain. We have no idea how long we might have to huddle in our houses. Maybe only until the end of April. But maybe all the way to June. Or maybe even longer. Everything feels uncertain and scary now. Businesses have to cut expenses. And, of course, an independent contractor is the first expense to go. I’m not angry about it. I’m just … sad.

So, my contract work dried up last Monday. Before the pandemic happened, I had applied for a job with a company in our town. Last Tuesday, I got a call from the hiring manager for that job. He wanted to let me know they are dropping me from consideration, although he appreciated my interest in the job, and he said he wants to introduce me to other people in the company’s legal department once we can all leave our houses. I came into the hiring process late, and they already had people lined up for second interviews, so I didn’t have much of a chance, from the start. The hiring manager told me this, up front. I appreciate his candor and his willingness to continue offering me some of his time and assistance. It was incredibly kind of him to make the effort to call me in person, instead of letting the form rejection letter speak for itself. But … getting rejected sucks, too. Even if you weren’t totally sold on the job (which I wasn’t), getting rejected is a blow to the ego. Last week felt like a combination knock-out punch!

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And so, I have been feeling bad about myself. No matter how much I tell myself none of this has anything to do with my skills or qualifications … No matter how much I remind myself no one could foresee how everything has had to shut down due to COVID-19 … No matter how much I remind myself that this is all a matter of bad timing and nothing more … I feel like a big, fat, ridiculous, stupid LOSER.

Depression has joined the party in my head, whispering that I am worthless and making it hard to do anything I want or need to do. It’s hard to get up in the mornings. It’s hard to work up the energy to do even the simplest household tasks. Luckily, I can’t avoid cooking, as my family still needs to eat. And the dogs still need to be fed and loved on. These have been saving graces for me. Even so, I can feel it pushing down on me — that black cloud of self-hate, tinged at the edges with feelings of failure and worthlessness.

Here’s the thing: I need to get my shizzle together and stop whining over what I have lost. Today, I sat down and thought about all the good things in my life: my family loves me, my parents are still in good health, my dogs are a constant delight, and so on. Yes, I may have lost out on something that made me feel good about myself, but my family is still okay. My husband’s job seems stable, and we are (so far) weathering this crisis pretty well. I don’t hate staying at home, which is a huge positive right now. I can still enjoy nail polish and reading and all the little things I love on a daily basis. No one I know is sick with this horrible virus. I am so fortunate in many ways, and I don’t even realize it.

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No, I think it’s not quite that I don’t realize it. I think it’s more that Depression has a way of hiding these things from me. At times when I start feeling down on myself, I have to remember to go looking for them. This isn’t to say that feeling sad over getting rejected or losing work is wrong or anything like that. On the contrary, it’s a valid feeling, and I need to let myself grieve over the things I lost. But I need to remember I haven’t lost everything. I need to remember I have also gained. And I need to remember that this loss, no matter how awful it feels, isn’t the end of the world.

Today, I took a walk in the sunshine. I felt the wind against my skin. I smelled the freshly cut grass. I raised my arms toward the blue sky above, and it was Good.

The YouTube Rabbit Hole … and Tattoos

So I fell down a YouTube rabbit hole a couple of days ago. You guys know what that is, right? It’s when you happen upon some random video and click it. And then, you click on a similar one after that. And another and another and another and … Well, you get the idea, right?

There is some scary, yucky, and downright disturbing stuff on YouTube. For the most part, I do a good job of avoiding all of these things. You can also find some unexpectedly interesting stuff on there, and that’s how I usually end up falling down one YouTube rabbit hole or another. One time, I ended up watching about a dozen videos by a person who is an artisan costumer and jewelry designer. She makes these amazingly elaborate wire wrapped designs and jewelry pieces. I still watch her videos from time to time, because I find her work incredible and fascinating.

Most recently, I stumbled upon the “Inked” channel. So, of course, it was all about tattoos: tattoo artists talking about their careers, their “crazy” customers, their art, their experiences, and so on. It was fascinating to me. I fell down that rabbit hole hard, to the point that I was sitting in front of my computer around 1 AM, telling myself, “Okay, Self. Just one more. And then we are DEFINITELY going to bed!”

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I love tattoos. I think they are beautiful, and I’ve always wanted one. I’m not creative or original. If I were to get a tattoo, I would probably get some type of dragon. I know it’s terribly unoriginal, but I love dragons! I would want one that looked fierce and a little scary, but also graceful. I think I would have to research different artists and look at a lot of portfolios before finding the artist who was “just right” for me. Unless, maybe, all tattoo artists are totally “over” dragons and consider them too boring now. Hmmm. I tend to be out of step with the world around me, so that could be the case. Who knows?

But let’s face it … I’m almost 50 years old. And I’m kind of a wimp. So no matter how much I want one, the likelihood is that I will never get a tattoo. I’m nervous about and a little afraid of the whole experience. And listening to some of the stories in these videos didn’t make me feel any more courageous or confident. I told myself these are extreme stories; otherwise, they wouldn’t be in the videos. But still, the kernel of doubt is there, now, swirling around and mixing with all of my previous doubts.

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And, of course, this rabbit hole of tattoo wisdom and thought made me think about the scariest tattoo I ever saw. This was several years ago, when my daughter was small. I think she might have been around 4 or 5 years old, so this was around 10 or 11 years ago. And I can still picture this tattoo clearly in my mind. That is how much impact it had.

We were visiting family in Austin (TX), and we had decided to eat at an old favorite haunt from our college days. If you’ve never been to Austin … Well, you should go! It’s a great city. It’s a place where, for the most part, anything goes. You can see all forms of dress and undress, all types of hair style and coloring, any kind of piercing you can imagine (and, probably, some you can’t!), and any type of tattoo. Beautiful ink is on display at every turn. I think it’s great. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve told someone how much I admire his/her tattoo, leading to an incredible and interesting conversation about artists and different styles.

On this particular day, there was a server in the restaurant who had a full face tattoo. He was a very light skinned person with very light-colored eyes. He was bald, either naturally or intentionally. And the tattoo was a puzzle done in bright, almost electric, blue ink. It was all over his face and his entire head, except for one eye, where the design had a piece missing for his eye to “peek” through. It was striking and beautiful. I couldn’t help but admire the dedication this person must have had to his artistic vision and the determination he must have had to sit for such a large piece. It must have taken a long time, and I imagine it must have been incredibly painful, too.

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I feel horrible for saying this, but … It was also Scary as Hell. I first saw him from across the room, and his back was to us. Even with only seeing the back of his head, the tattoo took me by surprise. But then, he turned around so that I got the full impact of it, and I felt a little thrill of fear slide down my spine. It was an involuntary reaction, and I hid it, reminding myself I was sitting in a full restaurant under bright lights and that this server was a normal, ordinary person who, I was sure, was perfectly nice.

At the same time, I was sitting there with a small child. Small children aren’t good at hiding their reactions to unexpected things. And my daughter hadn’t seen him … yet. I kept thinking, “Please don’t let him be our waiter. Please don’t let him be our waiter.” This had nothing to do with HIM. It had everything to do with me being afraid of how my daughter would react in the moment. In hindsight, I realize I should have pointed him out to my daughter right away and quietly explained that a person having a puzzle tattooed on his or her face is no big deal. Because that’s exactly what it is: No Big Deal. But, in that moment, I had a “deer in the headlights” experience. I was frozen in place.

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So, of course, he was our waiter. He made his way to our table. I watched him the whole way. My daughter was busy coloring, and she didn’t notice his approach. For a moment, I thought we would be lucky. Perhaps she wouldn’t look up at all until after we had ordered. She had already told us what she wanted, after all.

Nope. My daughter looked up just as he stopped next to our table. As he was trying to tell us, “Hi. My name is ___. I’ll be  your server tonight,” my daughter looked up at him and screamed. She screamed like her life depended on it, and the sound cut through all of the background noise in the restaurant. For a few moments, silence descended around us, and it seemed that EVERYONE was looking at our table. I’m sure most people really didn’t notice or care at all, but I was mortified.

As the background hum of rattling dishes and conversation started up again, I apologized. I was so embarrassed that I stumbled over my words and sounded like a complete doofus. Our server was, as expected, a nice person, and he was great about the whole thing. He shrugged and took it completely in stride.

“It happens,” he said. “I have a puzzle on my face.”

I laughed a little, trying to overcome my own embarrassment. But, to this day, I wish I had told him, “Yes, you do, Kind Sir. And it is pretty freaking magnificent.”

The Dead Wood

I trimmed my roses back a week ago. Or, maybe it was two weeks ago. Not that it matters. The important part is that I did the trimming, not the time frame in which it happened. I love my roses. I really do. Generally, I don’t even mind pruning them. I try to keep up with dead-heading them in the Summer, when they bloom and bloom and bloom. And then, as cold weather approaches and Winter starts to close in, I give them a really big prune. And I mean “big”. We are talking a drastic cut back.

The last two years of my life have been a mess. In so many ways, I have felt like most of what I knew was wrong … most of what I had built was crumbling … and a lot of fear and uncertainty took hold. I still struggle with my own depression. My daughter was diagnosed with depression. My husband had a heart attack and quadruple by-pass. I lost both my beloved aunts. My husband lost his job. And he is still searching for a new one. And truthfully, I know we are still lucky and blessed. There are so many people who are suffering and sad in this life. There are so many people who have it much worse than me. It feels selfish, in a way, for me to talk about or write about the things I have struggled with over the last couple of years. And yet, selfish or not, it has been a struggle. And continues to be one.

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My roses have always been such a joy. They have bloomed enthusiastically and energetically all throughout the Spring and Summer. And even into the Fall. But this past Summer, they hardly bloomed at all. And I realized that, in the scurry and struggle of my life, I had been a bad rose mama. I had neglected them terribly.

And so, I pruned. It felt good to stand in the gentle breeze and focus on nothing more than the one cut right in front of me. And, after that, to move on to the next and the next. All things in their proper order. As it should be. It felt good to talk to my roses, to apologize to them for being absent for so long, and to thank them for all the beauty and joy they have brought into my life. The rhythms and motions were familiar and comforting. It feels like it’s been a long time since I have slipped into my own life and worn it like a comfortable shoe.

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At the end of it all, I was left with something that resembled a pile of sticks. By the time I was done, the sun had started to set. I stood in the gathering half-light of dusk and surveyed my work. And, as always, I had this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. What had I done? My beautiful roses! Had I gone too far? Had I ruined everything in trying to do something good?

Right now, my rose bushes look sad. Our weather has been cloudy and drippy and chilly. I think this makes them look even more pathetic, and the one little string of lights we have wrapped around them to decorate for Christmas hasn’t helped in the least. Have you ever seen that Charlie Brown Christmas special where Charlie Brown rescues the saddest, smallest, most pitiful little tree and, then, the whole gang puts lights and decorations on it? Yeah. That’s what my rose bushes look like with their little string of holiday cheer.

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But I have to keep faith and hope that, by Spring, things will look different. Things will look better. By Spring, there will be fresh leaves and new growth where, before, there was only dead wood. And by Summer, there will be blooms once more. Even though, all Winter long, I am going to look at my stick-bushes and feel that same sinking feeling. But it’s temporary. I have to remind myself it’s temporary. And I have to remind myself that removing the dead wood is good, even though it might feel like a bad thing. New growth can’t happen without it.

And maybe there is a life lesson in there for me, too. Maybe I need to cut away some of my own dead wood: my regrets, my sorrows, my guilt. I need to look in the mirror and say kind things to myself. I need to have faith that this difficult time will pass, and that there are better things on the horizon. In the Spring, there will be new leaves. And in the Summer, flowers.

Out of Step

Do you ever feel like you are completely out of step with the rest of the world? I’m sure everyone feels like that from time to time. It seems to me a perfectly human way to feel. I feel like this a LOT. Usually, I can brush it off and ignore it enough to continue about my day with my normal amount of zany weirdness. But there are times when I become so aware of my out-of-stepness that I can’t ignore it. It sneaks up on me at the oddest moments, and brings with it an almost physical pain laced with a longing that is all too familiar. It’s a weird feeling — almost like stepping outside of yourself for a moment. One moment, you are sitting there, minding your own business and living your internal sort of life. And the next, you are standing there, right next to yourself, looking in surprise at … well “you”. It brings reality into sharp-edged focus in a way that is singularly disconcerting.

This happened to me not that long ago, as my daughter and I were sitting down to breakfast at a favorite restaurant. We had gotten up early that morning for an appointment. My daughter recently got her braces off, and we had to go into the dentist’s office that morning so the techs could make her permanent retainer. We decided to grab a little breakfast while waiting for the retainer to be completed. I hadn’t slept well the night before. My allergies were bothering me more than usual, and I had been up most of the night not feeling well at all. I am NOT a morning person, even on the best of days, but this day was particularly bad. I felt horrible. And grumpy. And yucky. My hair was a mess. I had on an old t-shirt and an even older pair of yoga pants, because I had been running late that morning. These were the first clothes I could grab. I had no makeup, although I seldom wear makeup. I had forgotten my glasses and only had my sunglasses to wear so that I could see the world. My eyes were swollen and puffy from lack of sleep and allergies. I had dark circles under them, and I couldn’t breathe. Basically, I felt like my entire body and soul had been coated in slime. I was sitting at our table, slumped over a glass of iced tea and feeling really pretty awful about the world, and I kept seeing these cheerful families walking by. Whole families of morning people, joking and laughing and smiling and having a great time. And, just like that … it hit me.

These are not my people.

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I wish they were. I wish I was one of them: a person who goes to bed on time and gets up early in the morning with a smile on my face. I wish I was a person who looked forward to the coming of each new day with anticipation and excitement and fun in my heart. I wish I was always turned out and put together perfectly: makeup on my face, cute outfit, hair done and in place, matching shoes. I grew up striving for this ideal of “perfection”. I grew up being told this is what I should want. I should be pleasing to those around me. When people look at me, they should see things that are socially accepted and expected. The face should always be done. The hair should always be done and perfect. The nails should always be done, in an appropriate color and with no chips. The outfit should always be cute — not cute to me alone, but socially acceptably cute. The shoes should always match, and they must be socially acceptable as “girly” / feminine shoes. This means high heels. There should always be a smile on my face, even if my feet hurt.

I’m not any of those things. I’m not girly. Although both my husband and daughter think I am (thank you, God!), I am not particularly pretty. I hate clothes. I hate the whole process of shopping for them and mixing and matching them into different outfits that use all the same pieces but look completely different so that no one will know I only own three skirts. (I really, actually only own, like, three skirts. But I only like one of them. So I wear that same one over and over again.) I would walk around wearing a garbage bag with holes cut out for my arms and head, if I didn’t think it would get me arrested for public indecency. Now that I no longer work in an office setting, I am strictly a t-shirt and jeans or yoga pants kind of gal. I fail at hair, so mine is generally messy. I can’t fix it so that it looks nice, no mater how many times I try. And it’s blue — well, mostly blue, but with some purple and green tossed into the mix. My clothes are wrinkled and look as if I slept in them. Sometimes, this is actually true. My shoes don’t coordinate with any kind of “pretty” or “girly” outfit. I only own 3 or 4 pairs of shoes, to begin with. I used to have more, but my feet grew after I got pregnant.

I am scoring big on the nails, though. The rest of me might be a hot mess, but my nails always look good. I feel I should give myself points for that.

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I never get enough sleep. I plan to go to bed early. I have the best of intentions, but it never works out. I get distracted. Or I hit productive creative streaks late at night. This means I never get up early, given the choice. I am never willingly up at the crack of dawn  and looking forward to a productive morning. I seldom see “morning”. For me, “morning” starts around 10:30, which is practically lunch time for most people. I am never happy to face a new day. In general, I am hung-over and groggy from too little sleep. And I look it, too. I can admit this. It hurts, but I can admit it.

So I wonder, sometimes, what my goal in life should be. Should I be longing, even in a subconscious way, to be more in step with the rest of the world? My husband thinks I should be. My parents think I should be. I know it sounds weak and a little bit lame as I type it out here, but I have tried to be this way. I have tried to change so that I can be the way those around me want me to be. I have tried to change so they will be proud of me and happy with the person that I am. Is this me, trying to gain acceptance and love? I’m sitting here thinking about it, and I think … yeah, that’s probably what it is. I’ve tried so hard to be someone else — anyone else — just so I won’t be “me”.

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But isn’t it kind of stupid to continue trying, only to fail miserably every time? Each time I realize this is not who I am, I feel a sense of utter failure. I feel bad about who I am. I feel bad that I am not normal or conventional or creative in the proper ways. I just feel … bad. It doesn’t sound like enough to describe the true depth of how I feel, but it’s the only word that comes readily to mind. How many times do I have to bang my head against the same wall before I realize all I’m going to have at the end is a headache?

Maybe, instead, I should try harder to focus on the person I am. Maybe I should try harder to learn to love her. Maybe I should look at her, in her t-shirt and her slightly ratty yoga pants, and think, “She is a great gal. She is smart and creative and not afraid to live her own life.” And, if I think this enough times, maybe one day it will sink in. And then, it will be true. I won’t be afraid to live my own life and be who I am. I won’t feel out of step with the rest of the world. Instead, I will feel perfectly and beautifully in step with ME.

A Rough Flight & The Kindness of Strangers

When we last met, I was (rather unhappily) preparing to wing my way to Hawai’i with my family. Oh, how I hate to travel. I like going to new places, having new experiences, and making great memories. But I hate the mechanics of getting there. I hate it with a passion. I keep telling myself to roll with the flow, or whatever, but I am not sure I will ever learn to do that. The whole act of traveling from Point A to Point B is stressful and overwhelming, especially when going by plane. We are three days into our trip now (well, 2.5, technically), and I am far enough removed from our airport experience to say it was worth it. It has been a fun and relaxed trip so far. In fact, I have thought of so many things I want to blog. But I have been too busy living and enjoying my family to take the time for it! Now, that’s a good vacation!

This afternoon, my husband and daughter are at the beach, enjoying sand and sun and ocean waves. I begged off, since I have little to no interest in going into the water. And I am just about the whitest person I know — literally. I am so fair-skinned I could almost be invisible. Hours in the sun are not a great idea for me, even if I slather on the extra-heavy sunblock. And so, it seemed like the perfect time to sit down and blog a little.

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So … Let’s start where any good adventure story must: in the beginning, with planes, trains, and automobiles. Remember how I said life would be grand if I could figure out a way to drive to Hawai’i? If that underwater car or a personal submarine ever becomes a thing, sign me up! Because our trip might have been a lot smoother if we had used some other mode of transportation. Sadly, Hawai’i is surrounded by water. Islands tend to be that way, after all. Right? So our travel choice was by plane. The first leg of our trip left at o’dark-thirty. We got up around 3 AM so we could leave home by 3:45 and get to the airport two hours ahead of our 6:30 AM flight. My husband thinks I’m insane because I have to be at the airport 2 hours ahead of my flight. It’s not just a suggestion with me. It’s a compulsion. I have so much anxiety and dread over going through airport security and getting scanned and talking to strangers that I need to have the mental luxury of knowing I have lots of time in which to accomplish this entire process.

We did the trip in two legs: Dulles to Chicago O’Hare. And then Chicago to Maui, which was our final destination. The first part was a little under 2 hours. The second part was a little over 8 hours. And all ten hours was pure, hellish torture.

Remember how I mentioned my daughter has strep? We got the diagnosis and her antibiotics on Thursday afternoon. We left home on Friday morning — way, way, way early on Friday morning. Even so, she had two doses of medication, and we knew she wasn’t contagious. I was worried about her flying with a lot of congestion, but her doctor told me it was okay for us to go on the plane. Keep in mind her doctor didn’t diagnose her with a sinus infection or anything like that. Initially, they told us to do the saline rinse and antihistamines for congestion. After the strep test came back positive, they prescribed the antibiotics. Which is fine. I’m not complaining about this at all. I am happy for my daughter to have as few doses of antibiotic as possible and only when absolutely necessary.

The problem is that, while the antibiotics went to work on any bacterial infection in her system and her throat calmed down, her congestion just got worse. And worse. And then, we added in a pressurized airplane cabin and all the air pressure changes from going up and down and maintaining cruising altitude. It was horrible. There’s no easier way to say it. It was just horrible. Things started out okay, but once our Chicago flight reached cruising altitude, the pressure built up and up in my daughter’s sinuses and ears, until it felt like her head was going to explode. She was in so much pain. She was in tears because it hurt so badly. I haven’t seen her in this much pain on a flight since she was a little baby. It tore me up, especially since there was very little I could do. When we landed at Chicago, we had a 2-hour layover. We were able to eat and get her some decongestant, and she felt a lot better. I breathed a silent sigh of relief that, maybe, the worst was over.

It wasn’t. Because the same thing happened on the Chicago to Maui leg of the trip. Only this time, she was in unrelenting pain for 8 hours. The pain was so bad that she ended up throwing up, which has never happened for her on a plane before. We weren’t fast enough with the airsickness bag, and barf got all over her and me. Luckily, we didn’t get any on the seats or the floor around where we were sitting. There are few feelings that are worse, as a parent, than having to sit and watch your child suffer. She spent nearly the entire 8 hour flight leaning on my shoulder for comfort, although I felt completely inadequate to truly comfort her. I did my best, and maybe just being close and knowing someone loved her in that moment helped. A little.

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And this is when an amazing, beautiful thing happened. After she threw up, my daughter went into the bathroom at the front of the plane to try and clean herself up a little bit. I followed her up there to see what I needed to do to dispose of the “yuck” bag and to get some supplies so I could clean our area of the plane, to the extent it needed it. I explained to one of the flight attendants that my daughter was having a hard time with sinus pain and pressure, that it was so severe she was sick to her stomach and threw up, and that I needed some supplies to make sure our area was clear. And then I kind of hovered outside the bathroom door, waiting for my daughter.

As I was anxiously hovering and, I’m sure, looking as socially awkward as a person can possibly look, a lady sitting on the front row came up to me. She told me she had overheard what I told the flight attendant. She asked if my daughter had motion sickness. She said, if that was the case, her family had Dramamine and would be happy to give some to us. I told her it wasn’t normal motion sickness, but caused by too much sinus pain and pressure. I explained that my daughter was on antibiotics and had taken decongestant a couple of hours earlier, so I wasn’t sure about giving her additional medication. This lovely woman nodded and said, “Don’t worry. I have just the thing.”

She went back to her family and dug through her bag, coming up with a pair of Sea Bands. These were brand new, in their little plastic case. They had never been opened. She said they were traveling with her grandson for the first time, and they had bought these for him. But he was fine and didn’t need them. She said we could take them and use them, to see if this might help settle my daughter’s upset stomach.

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So, picture this: I am standing there next to the bathroom door, trying to be inconspicuous and out of the way and failing miserably. I am disheveled and grungy. My hair is in a quick and messy bun, but it is flying all around my face. I have on no makeup. I have been up since way before 3 AM because I wasn’t able to sleep the night before we left. There are dark circles under my eyes, and I am about a split second away from crying. And I have barf all over my shirt. And this lovely woman … this absolute stranger … is standing there, holding out a thing that gives me the hope I will be able to help my child. When I told her I was worried about giving the bands back to her, she pressed the little box into my hand and hugged me. “Don’t even think about it, Mama,” she said. “We’ve all been there.”

“Don’t even think about it, Mama. We’ve all been there.” Could any one person say anything wiser than that to another person? I mean, think about it. We are living in pretty crappy times. Sometimes, it seems like we all hate each other. Sometimes, it seems like we are all so caught up in being angry and miserable that we can’t even see the beauty of life around us. I swear there are a lot of times when I think people are just looking for a reason to be angry and hateful and miserable. But there are good people out there. There are beautiful, caring, and loving people out there. Even now. When you are bogged down in the accusations and the hate and the vitriol spewing forth from every direction, close your eyes and remember that there are people out there who are capable of loving you, even if they don’t know who you are.

And I think that is what this post is really about. Because the pain and dread and awfulness of that flight will fade in time. One day, probably in the not-so-distant future, the story of my daughter’s flight from hell will become one more family memory that we trot out during Christmas or when we are all comparing the war stories of life. But I will always remember the stunning kindness of that stranger on our flight. I will always remember her hugging me tight, telling me without words that I can do this … that I am strong, and that I can do what’s right for my child … that I am not alone. I don’t know her name. I don’t know where she is from. I don’t know anything about her. But I will always remember the kindness on her face and in her heart. She will always live in my own heart. And I hope that, one day, I can pass her heroic kindness along the way.

“Don’t worry, Mama. We’ve all been there.”

Living Life’s Moments: Things I Learn From My Dogs

I love dogs. This is no big secret. I like living with them. I enjoy being around them. I have loved a few dogs during the span of my life so far. Each time I lose a beloved dog, I swear it will be the last time. Because losing hurts too much. And yet, once a little time passes, I sign up for it all over again: all the laughter, all the love, and all the tears, too. I am one of those people who needs at least one pooch in their life at all times.

I love watching my dogs live their lives. It’s fun to try and figure out what they’re thinking at any given moment. With my current pups, I often believe they aren’t thinking anything in particular. This is okay. I’ve known “thinking” dogs, and I’ve known goofy dogs, too. My fuzzballs fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. They think about how to get extra treats and how to wriggle into their favorite spots on the sofa. But, overall, they are goofballs. They are happy dogs. This is the main thing. I love seeing a happy dog with a silly grin on its face.

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Both of my dogs love to bask. They have vastly different styles, but they both seem to get immeasurable joy out of sitting in the sun.

Fae has a favorite corner in our yard. Winter tends to be hard on our back yard. Between off and on freezing temperatures and the cycle of snow piling up and then melting, all of the grass in our tiny yard dies off every winter. It leaves behind a muddy, mucky mess. Once the weather turns nice and warms up a little bit, the grass starts to grow back in her “sun spot”. This is the moment Fae has been waiting for, all winter long.

She doesn’t camp out there right away. She spends some time scoping things out, first. After all, Fae is a cautious princess-dog. For a few days before true spring-like weather hits, she inspects her corner each time she heads outside for a potty break. She sniffs all around, as if checking to see how well her grass is growing and if all the muddy bits are covered up yet. Once the grass has come in nicely and we get our first string of balmy days, she is a maniac for her sunny corner. She whines every five minutes or so to go outside, and, when I check on her, she is always there: in her basking spot, stretched out with her eyes closed and her face turned toward the sun.

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Shiner likes to bask, too. I’ve thought about this, and I’ve come to realize that basking is not a simple thing when you are a black and white dog. Being mostly black on top — where the sun normally hits — Shiner has to be a bit more pragmatic about things. He enjoys running around in the yard, acting like a goofball and dodging the sun’s rays for a bit. After about ten minutes, he’s had enough of outdoors, and he wants to come in. He is bossy and usually wants Fae to come inside with him, but she is good at ignoring his subtle (and not-so-subtle) cues. Eventually, he gives up on her and heads inside on his own. There will be no outdoor sun worship for this boy.

Shiner has a basking spot in our kitchen. There is one place, near the pantry and next to our sliding glass doors, where the sun hits for a good part of the day. The floor is white linoleum, and the sun heats it nicely through the glass door. It is toasty warm and comfortable. But, even better, this spot has a floor vent for our air conditioner. Shiner likes to spread out here, half in the sun and half over the vent. He looks at me every time and sighs with contentment. Truly, he has found the best of both worlds!

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From watching my dogs, I’ve come to realize basking isn’t an active sort of thing. It’s more of a close-your-eyes-and-sit-back activity. There is something indulgent and hedonistic about it.

I love to watch both of my dogs worship the sun in their own, individual ways. They seem the very definition of “peace” and “contentment”. They are happy and comfortable and completely at ease with their place in the universe. They are living in and for that one moment in time. They are feeling every, single second of it in the best way possible. They aren’t worried about what might happen tomorrow — or even in the next ten minutes. They aren’t stressed about getting everything done, or about how they are going to keep from disappointing all the people in their lives who count on them. They aren’t wondering what’s for dinner or when dinner might be or, even, whether or not there will be dinner. It is enough, in that moment, just to sit in the sun.

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I watch them … and smile … and think to myself, “I want to live like that.”