Catnap

Napping-Image-2I must have started to write three different times this afternoon, but my brain felt sludgy and clogged, like a sewage drain. Nothing was really speaking to me, and the blessings that did come to mind were cliché: love, friendship, healing, serendipity, flowers. Although of course I am grateful for those things, without which the stresses of the last year would have squashed me like a bug on a windshield. Searching for inspiration, I pulled an affirmation card from a Nature deck I bought when I needed a muse: “Winter Solstice” – pause for reflection, review, rest, imagine, move forward. The illustration was wintry and cool, all icy blues and deep snow in a forest of naked birches, the popsicle of cards to have pulled on a day when the temperature tops 90 degrees. I reflected on the prompts for some time, the invitation to take a break, to rest, to honor the fallow moments of quiet, the waiting times, the deep freeze.

This is all a poetic way of telling you I took a snooze on the living room couch.

I slept for about twenty minutes, waking to a drizzle of drool on my bicep, and Cordelia looking at me curiously from the floor.  This is not my typical afternoon behavior.  Those twenty minutes were pure gold – not so much that I won’t sleep tonight, but enough to reboot my brain.

I’ve always loved to nap. When I was pregnant with Nate, I was a teacher at a high school about an hour from home. There was a big break between morning classes and my afternoon theater program, so I stashed a sleeping bag in my office and curled up under the desk every afternoon for a serious first-trimester snooze, more hibernation than catnap. A couple of my students—boys—found me once, my office was in the theater shop, off the beaten track for kids, so I thought I was safe. Their expressions when they saw me snoring on the floor were gobsmacked. “Mrs. K, are you ok?”  They probably thought I’d been drinking.

Up until they were three or so, my kids loved their naps.  They thudded like fallen trees down onto the crib mattress, waking with their hair curled against sweaty foreheads, clutching an over-loved scrap of blankie or stuffed bunny, eyes bright and ready for action.  When they began to fight off sleep, I thought “Nooooooo!”  I don’t know who needed their naps more, the overstimulated toddler, or the overtired mom.  Can you imagine resisting a nap?

When I first left my job six years ago, though, I did feel weird falling asleep during the day.  It confirmed my sense of interstitial otherness – no workplace, no kids to tend to, only dogs, dinner, errands, and whatever else I freelanced up. Studying neuroscience, I’ve since learned that naps are super-charged brainfood.  Any excuse….

Gratitude #9

Mixed Blessing

140930141530-02-laundry-mistakes-0930-horizontal-large-gallerySome mornings, I just feel rushed the moment I wake up. Such was the case today, when I shoveled my laundry into the bin and tossed my water bottle and phone on top to carry everything downstairs. The fitted sheet had pulled off the corners of our mattress, and the top sheet was nowhere to be seen, oddly. So making the bed took more time than it typically does. I was about ten minutes off my usual timing when I arrived downstairs, which in turn meant I only had a half an hour to get the laundry going, have a cup of coffee, make a power shake and check my email before I’d have to head out to my 8:25 class, twenty minutes from home.

Everything felt off kilter. I spilled protein powder all over the counter. The leggings I’d put on were too damn hot—after two cool days, the heat is back. John and I were edgy with each other over breakfast. Somehow the time got away from me. When I looked at my watch, it was almost 8:05.  I should have left ten minutes ago. I barked at John to move his car while I grabbed keys, water bottle, phone.

Wait:  Where the hell was my phone?  I keep the playlists for my classes on it, or I would have just bolted out the door sans ITunes. It was set to “Do Not Disturb”, so it would be no use calling it.  I raced up to our bedroom on the third floor, no phone.  Down to the kitchen again, maybe under the newspaper? Nope. Not in the bathroom or on the kitchen counters or the porch table.  Valuable minutes were ticking past. It was almost 8:10 when it came to me:  I had put the phone in the laundry bin. I had put the laundry in the washer. Oy vey.

You know where this is going.  My phone is now extremely clean. Non-functioning, but sparkling.  It’s sitting on the kitchen counter in a mug-full of rice, in the hopes it will dry out and the home button will start working again. Fifty-fifty chance of that.

So where is the mixed blessing here, you may be wondering?

I have to confess, I had a lovely day without the dang thing. My class was relaxing and playful (I used my laptop for the music.)  A few students were also running behind, so it didn’t matter than I came screeching in to teach five minutes late. I’m certainly a far less distracted driver without my device. Even though I have a hands-free interface, it’s tempting to take a peek. It was relaxing to go about my day secure in the knowledge that no one could reach me.  No one really needs to all that badly; I’m not a trauma surgeon. It felt good to reclaim my independence. Presumably, I’ll be back to my old bad habits in no time.

Then again: maybe not.

Gratitute #8

Faith

Screen Shot 2018-07-08 at 5.10.02 PMI’m so lucky I married someone who shares my faith. Let me assure you, we have our challenges, like any married couple (see my post “Floss Picks,” for example), but spiritual incompatibility isn’t one of them. I’m not talking about the doctrinaire kind of faith, as in adherence to a particular set of beliefs or a strict set of teachings.  I mean the quality of faithfulness, the desire to connect to a power or value greater than ourselves in the full expectation that whoever or whatever it is matters and cares, loves us all, and will respond. In spite of all the evidence to the contrary – corrupt, mean people, bad days, undeserved illnesses of our friends and families, great injustices all around, loss and heartache, car accidents and malware and all the other shit that happens to us, Love is our source. Fred Rogers (aka “Mr. Rogers”) says it so well (if you haven’t seen the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor, then I recommend you do so, STAT):  “Love is at the root of everything.  Love, or the lack of it.”

For me and John, we share an upbringing in the Episcopal church that has given us a shared vocabulary through the years, but I’m not talking about that. What I really appreciate about John, and our relationship, is that we can talk frankly about our spiritual lives, which often means about our doubts: Have we done right by the kids? Are we living up to our own expectations that we do some good in the world? Should we be spending so much money on landscaping every year? (There’s a one-percenter’s problem, if ever there was one…) It also means that when we have tough decisions or disagreements before us, we hold our fears and struggles up to God-as-we-each-understand-him/her/it in the expectation that this exercise will be illuminating – a new job, a difficult conversation, a worry about a family member, these are the sorts of concerns we meditate on together. And you know, it always helps, every time. Although not always in the way we expect, which I suppose is the point. He’s an unusually soulful man, my husband, and I love him for it. It’s made things easier, especially in the dry years, the periods of inattention or languor that are inevitable in a long marriage, that we “get” each other in something as squishy and otherworldly as a thirst for divinity and meaning. It’s not a quality the world prizes much, although I have yet to meet a person whose life hasn’t come up against the need for faithfulness.  And y’know, not to get too personal here, but it’s sexy.

On Sundays, we’ll often meditate together, using a reading as a jumping off point to ground us.  And then we talk or walk the dogs, and the layers of insight unfold naturally, like a flower in the sun.  Little blockages and thorns that we may be feeling around a certain issue ease up.  They don’t disappear, this isn’t magic, nor does it substitute for taking action. But a little daylight trickles in that helps us see something in a new light, and that’s all we needed.

Gratitude #7

 

Thunderstorm

prairiestormSummer storms are the best purgatives, aren’t they?  We had a whopper yesterday afternoon, after a moody morning of fitfull, humid gusts. Out on the trail with the dogs, the air pressed around my shoulders like a heavy cape, and leaves danced spastically above as the breeze accelerated, then died, then accerlerated again. When we came to
the high clearing where the trail branches down in several directions, the sky to the west was battleship gray, steely-blue and foreboding.  I’d planned to walk a slightly longer route in hopes of beating the weather; local radio announcers had been bleating about heavy rains and thunderstorms all morning, words like “perilous” and “torrential” peppered the weather reports. As we looked west towards the approaching front, Cordelia’s ears pricked up at a distant roll of thunder. She’s not a fan. I don’t know the circumstances of her Tennessee puppyhood, but she is cowed by sudden loud noises – cracking branches, distant fireworks, a car backfiring. Her bold little spirit is undone by thunderstorms. Her tail curls between her legs and her ears flatten against her skull.  She freezes, standing, as if to avoid notice of this booming threat. We once had another dog who hated thunderstorms, Hobbes. When he got older and sick, he would run away if he sensed a storm was coming, and the entire panicked family would fan out in the driving rain to find him. I didn’t think Cordelia would bolt, but rescue dogs have unexpected layers, so I leashed her up and we turned back, Westley, unperturbed, leading the way. The woods grew darker and the thunder followed us as we alternately jogged and race-walked the mile home.

The storm broke over the house about five minutes after we got inside. Those radio announcers weren’t kidding: Rain slashed down in vertical sheets, so heavy you couldn’t see more than twenty feet out the window. Thunder rolled cathartically over the roof and the wind whipped the treetops into a froth. Cordie followed me like a small child from room to room as I showered and got ready to meet a friend for lunch, her expression wary and submissive. Westley, on the other hand, is impervious to such energetic surges: he phlumpheddown onto his bed in the mudroom and fell asleep as the sky crackled and boomed overhead.  I’m neither afraid, nor inured. I love a good thunderstorm. It’s like fireworks, the boom in your chest, the explosion of sound and energy, the anticipation of waiting for the next crrr-ACK!, the suspense: when it will come? Thrilling.

By late yesterday afternoon, the system of turbulent weather had moved out to sea. A sweet, cool front skipped in on its heels, the humidity washed away, the sky scrubbed a deep blue. This morning, the air is crystalline, the light sparkles, the sky is bluer than a baby’s eyes. Such a morning fills your heart right up.

I try to remember, in these tumultuous times, that the bombast of a big storm so often leads to a cleaner, healthier day.

Gratitude #6

Floss picks

veneers_facebookMy life has been revolutionized by the humble floss pick.

It’s terrible for the environment, I admit. My unappealing habit of flossing in John’s car and leaving my used Placquers™ in the cup holders has caused at least one near-shouting match, and numerous other tense moments between us. The picks multiply like a pestilence, in the bottom of my purse, the floor of my car, the bedside table, the kitchen drawers.  I promise I try to remember to throw them out.  I shudder to think what harms my discarded floss picks may be doing to the bellies of right whales.  On the upside, perhaps local birds use them to build plastic-fortified nests. Another benefit: if your dog eats a strand of actual dental floss, the kind that unspools from the plastic box, it can be muy problemo for your pup, and mucho dinero for you. I know this because Westley once ate a box of floss. Apparently, it could have wrapped around his organs and cut off his blood supply. So using floss picks could save your dog’s life. Just sayin’.

Post-college, when I had little money and no dental insurance, I had a come-to-Jesus oral hygiene moment. I still felt scarred by a dentist I’d visited when I was in boarding school: Lecturing performatively to dental students over his shoulder as he introduced the drill into my mouth, he whacked a molar, sending a chip flying across the room. I was a twinge dentist-averse as a result. But a massive toothache eventually drove me to my knees, and thence, to a dentist. The hygienist gasped when I opened my mouth. “Somebody hasn’t been flossing,” she said sternly. Of course not. I was twenty-something. A dazzling smile and healthy teeth were my birth right.  These should not require any highly specialized maintenance beyond daily brushing, I felt. In brief: the lady was a bit of a masochist. She went at my teeth with a vengeance, using every scraper, sharp crevice poker, and other torture device in her arsenal. When the dentist rolled up on his little stool to examine me, my gums aching and bloodied, she pursed her lips disapprovingly and muttered behind him: “Not a flosser.” As if I forged checks, or tormented small animals with barbeque tongs. I couldn’t even breathe comfortably, let alone chew, for five days after her ministrations. But now, thanks to floss picks, I’m a dentist’s dream. At my semi-annual cleaning last week, my hygienist Maureen barely took fifteen minutes before peeling off her sterile gloves with a snap: “See you in six months.”

Today, I went out for lunch with my friend Robyn. We both ordered the restaurant’s signature salad of shredded kale and brussels sprouts – vegetable slivers weaponized to burrow straight into the gum line. But thanks to my trusty packet of CVS floss sticks, which reside in the center console of my car for just such eventualities, I was clean as whistle before the stoplight even turned green.  Floss-Picks-Market

Gratitude #5

Gazpacho

f9501cac-3699-418f-a71f-35059c8781c1What’s not to love? It’s summer in a bowl. Not Massachusetts summers, where corn-on-the-cob, clams and blueberry pies set the tone, but Spanish ones: spicy, flavorful, meeting the heat with a cooling sizzle.  I was in middle school when a bowl of the stuff was first placed before me at lunch with my grandmother. I looked over the rim with dread: I hadn’t yet embraced the concept that vegetables might be a source of gastronomic pleasure.  My grandmother waited for me to dip my spoon into the bowl of suspiciously vomit-like chunks.  She perpetually needled me to lose my “baby fat,” which was so aggravating. Such a pointedly healthy menu item was bound to raise my hackles. “It’s like liquid salad,” she said, unhelpfully.  Wait, it’s COLD?  I thought.  I had been silently working to convince myself that I liked ketchup, after all, and I liked Campbell’s cream of Tomato soup and spaghetti sauce, so maybe this tomato-y murk would turn out to be at least tolerable.

“Is there celery in it,” I asked, bile rising.  I have lifelong celery-related PTSD after my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Ebbets, withheld chocolate pudding from my classmates because we are all going to wait for our dessert until HOLLY finishes her tuna salad.  On my plate sat a mound of celery-studded, purplish, stinky, institutional grade tuna salad larger than a regulation softball. I was a gagger. Mrs. Ebbets didn’t care for my “theatrics.” Duly warned, she insisted I forge ahead with “personal fortitude.”  About five mouthfuls in, fortitude failed me. I turned to my left and disgorged undigested tuna into Gib Chapman’s lap, beginning a chain reaction. Perhaps Gib also suffers from celery-induced trauma.  I’m so sorry.

“No celery,” said my grandmother. “It’s healthy, dear, you should eat it.”  She fixed me with a steely, matriarchal eye. I’d better just get on with it. Thankfully, this story does not also end with me blowing chunks. Salad soup was surprisingly okay. Perhaps this bowl of gazpacho was the dawning of my adult palette.

My grandmother looked on with a self-satisfied air.  “If you ate more of that, you’d be thin as a rail,” she said, “like me.”  Ugh.

Still, I have to thank her for the introduction. I now take deep delight in a good-sized bowl of “liquid salad.”  For years, I’ve made my own gazpacho, experimenting with different recipes and textures, my kitchen strewn with tomato seeds and slivers of peeled tomato skin, smelling of August.  A food processor or blender is overkill;  it’s best when I work the ripe tomatoes through my fingers to get the consistency I like, crunchy-creamy.  It’s mainstream now, so I just buy it. The health food store in Concord makes a “green gazpacho” that’s loaded with garlic and herbs – your gut feels instantly cleansed one spoonful in. The local farm-stand has a nice, classic version: blended, peppery and refreshing. I had a bowl for lunch today, nourishing me as I write.  So good.

Gratitude #4

Swimming

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We’re visiting John’s family for the 4th of July in New Hampshire, and it is hot, hot, HOT up here.  His brother has a lovely place in Peterborough where we met up for dinner last night. We then moved on to spend the night with his sister, whose house in Jaffrey overlooks Thorndike Pond.  Both homes have beautiful distant views of different faces of Mount Monadnock.

When we arrived in Peterborough late yesterday afternoon, everyone quickly migrated from the sweltering kitchen to the swimming pool.  Across the pool, my 18 year-old niece lolled happily on a float, while her mom and I sat semi-submerged on a shelf in broad-brimmed sunhats, catching up on family news.  We both have perfected the middle-aged lady’s fine art of breast-stroking across the water without getting our hair or hats wet, although the ribbon on mine bobbed in the water behind me like a baby otter eager to catch up.

Today in Jaffrey, we worked up a sweat kayaking around the perimeter of Thorndike Pond, and then broiled on the dock a bit before our swim.  I was first in. The water slipping across my hot skin was soft and balmy, and I paddled happily, finding my way through cool columns and warm layers in the dark water. On the dock, John and his sister talked about this and that.  I listened idly from thirty feet out, treading water, as their voices rang out across the surface of the pond.

All told, I must have wallowed in the water for over an hour, something I haven’t done since I was a kid.  In childhood, I spent hours like this, swimming in our family’s pool, innocently enjoying the sensations of weightlessness, submersion, suspension. Underwater was another world, a dreamscape, a cool, silent space where my imagination could wander unchecked.  A springboard punctuated the deep end. My friends and I could pass an entire day bouncing on the end of the board, telling stories and playing games, then cannonballing in and swimming to the side ladder, sleek as seals. Mom would call out from the house that I was going to turn into a prune and had to come out and dry off. But I’d ignore her, her wraithlike voice drifting to me on the hot Long Island breezes seemed far less real than the watery world of our pool.  Who cared that my lips were turning blue, my fingers and toes wrinkly and pale?

I felt that seal-like quality in my body again today, slicing through the water in fat spirals, rolling in and out of cool patches, diving under to open my eyes in the murky depths. John and Roberta eventually dove in; John reclined on a neon colored floating toy, and Roberta swam purposefully along the shoreline. When it was time to head up to the house for lunch, we emerged from the pond, droplets sparkling on our arms and backs, bodies and spirits refreshed.

Gratitude #3