The cold and snow may have arrived a little too soon, but

… if we look closely enough, we can find reasons to smile about it.

It was really cold all this past week. Colder than it should be for November. And we got some snow, though not nearly as much as some other places around the country! I wasn’t quite ready to stop taking my lunch-time walks around the pond behind the office. Word has it that the walking path, even if cleared of the snow gets too slippery to safely walk it, so I didn’t walk last week. But so far, I haven’t succumbed to the desire to stay burrowed under the blankets when the alarm goes off, so I don’t feel too bad about missing my mid-day walks. And I keep reminding myself that some morning exercise gives me a huge energy boost for the day. Plus Florida is only 84 days away. There’s motivation right there to keep that extra layer of winter fat from appearing.

So the furnace kicks in daily. We’re wearing winter jackets and gloves and I’m making good use of my new car’s remote starter and seat heaters. Oh man, I love those seat heaters! They work fast! I can totally deal with the time it takes for the car to really warm up, as long as my butt is hot while I’m waiting!

I’ve been working hard to keep my focus lately only on that which is right in front of me. I’m so done with that tight feeling in my chest that I now realize comes from worrying every moment about what’s next, and how difficult it might possibly be. It’s amazing – truly amazing – how much calm I now feel when I refuse to disaster-fantasize about events that might (or might not) happen, or about how to deal with certain people.  I’ve done this my whole life, and now that I’m starting to know better, I’m constantly wondering why it took me so long to figure it out. I guess I can appreciate that it took me all those years and experiences to be ready to understand this concept.

I think the winter will be a good test of this new mindset. I think it’s a matter of constantly finding reasons to smile. Like when Mark looked out the window and said, “Logan’s been over here.”

After spending so much time with Logan this summer and feeling really great about how comfortable he’d become with us, we worried about seeing our little toddler-friend over the winter. We wondered if we’d lose all that ground we’d gained with this once painfully shy little guy. I wondered how Mark knew Logan had been over when we weren’t around. “Look out the window and see,” he said.

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If not for the snow, we wouldn’t have known that Logan still plays out in the front yards, even when it’s this cold. I think maybe Logan and his dog, Gracie were here. And it did make me smile.

Reflections on Florida

Florida was wonderful! I’m so grateful that we had the chance to get away for a while and enjoy sunshine, warm temperatures and a much-needed break from our daily routines. It was amazing being able to wear shorts and flip-flops. It felt wonderful to shake the chill from my bones for a little while. I hardly gave work or the office a passing thought.

The house we rented was more than we could have hoped for. It was spacious and comfortable. Our bedroom was huge, with a door that led right out to the patio and pool. We could have held a party in our bathroom; the shower alone was as big as one of my entire bathrooms at home. The back of the house was full of big, glass doors, with a beautiful view looking out over one of the many canals. And the pool and spa were gorgeous. We spent every possible free moment in the water.

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There is so much I will remember about this trip, like the utter luxury of not having to abide by time. We went to bed whenever we were tired and didn’t feel rushed to get up in the morning. We ate breakfast if and when we felt like it and sipped on coffee by the pool while listening to the calls of the birds swimming in the canal. Lunches and dinners were so completely off-schedule that on any given day, we typically only had one or the other. And the food! The food we ate was so good! We enjoyed it all and without worrying about calories, fat or portion sizes. We just ate with abandon and it was wonderful.

There were the humorous aspects of our days – like how Mark became Ramone the Pool Boy after learning how to maintain the pool and spa temperatures. And how every time we passed a BB&T Bank, Paul required one of us to quickly come up with a string of words to fit the acronym, the naughtier and more nonsensical, the better. And how for some reason, it was hysterical to us, the number of Walgreen’s and CVS pharmacies that populated the area.

The people in Florida were so much friendlier than I’m used to. Grocery store employees were welcoming and helpful, and not in the forced kind of way that tells you it’s store policy for employees to offer assistance to customers. The owner of the pool supplies store where we bought floaties for our pool not only introduced himself by name, but asked our names, whether we lived in the area or were just visiting, and then proceeded to introduce us to another customer. Maybe this kind of friendliness is just the way it is in places where tourism is such a major part of life. Maybe the sun and warmth really do make people generally happier. But it was refreshing to interact with strangers in a way that left me smiling.

We had fun in Florida. We spent relaxing days floating in the pool and evenings soaking in the hot tub.

We watched the Minnesota Twins lose a spring training game against the Baltimore Orioles. The game was pretty uneventful, but the people-watching was fun.

We spent time on the beaches, first on Captiva Island, then later in the week, on Fort Myers beach. I loved the laid-back atmosphere and the idea that anyone can wear a bathing suit, no matter their shape or size. Sure made me lose any sense of self-consciousness about parading around in my swim suit!

I found time to take quiet walks in the morning around the neighborhood. My fellow early-rising exercisers were all quick with a smile and a good morning! I’d work up a good sweat, then go back to the house, slip into my swimsuit and go for a morning swim. I read most of a good book. Mark, Paul, Megan and I played cards and cribbage. Paul and Megan were so fun and easy to be with. We started talking about next year and whether we’d come back to Florida or go somewhere new and different.

It was an amazing week. This was the first time Mark and I have taken a vacation to a warmer climate since our honeymoon 26 years ago. I loved it, but have to admit that I felt a little bit guilty for leaving the kids behind. About halfway through the week, I was missing them as well as Lucy Pie. Still, it was hard to say goodbye to Florida when it was time to go. And maybe somewhere down the road, we’ll figure out how to get away again, all of us together.

As our plane traveled back north toward home, I realized how lucky we were to be able to take this break. Having a real vacation taught me how important it is to get off the merry-go-round now and then, and just celebrate life, even if we can’t go far or even leave home to do it. I tried new foods, saw new scenery, met new people and remembered how to let go. I don’t think I’ve really relaxed in a long, long time. Florida was good to us and good for us and I brought a little bit of it home with me. Which is good because even though we came home to a relative heat wave…

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I’ll need a little Florida to help me get through the weeks (or months?) until this snow is all gone!

Hell has frozen over… and I’m living in it

It started yesterday with rain. Then snow, snow and more snow overnight. Then wind.

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storm6If one more person says, “You’ve got to admit it’s pretty though … “

I don’t. And I won’t.

Really, I’m trying to maintain a positive outlook, but I’m quickly falling into the same camp as my friend, Alishea.

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Weathering the Winter

I’m starting out by commenting on the weather. AGAIN.

This winter just seems to drag on, an endless cycle of cold and more cold. It gets to me. I wish it weren’t so, but I seem to be one of the many who are seasonally affected. I made a promise to myself to do everything possible to fight off the doldrums this winter and I’m doing okay with it. I’ve given in to the allure of hibernation a morning or two. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t mopey and cranky now and then.  Old habits die hard, but I’m working hard to keep trying to change them.

breakfast cupsHaving a house full of family helps. Last weekend, all of the kids were here and we enjoyed the usual stuff – playing with the dogs, watching movies, eating food that’s so good, even if it wasn’t good for us! I tried out a new breakfast recipe while they were here and it was a hit! Eggs, sausage, cheese and hash browns – all in one. Yum!

Agg2There are lots of other ways to brighten the gray days, for instance, seeing a face I don’t often get to see in person. I had the pleasure of a visit from Agg last week! Agg’s work brings him to my vicinity now and then, so this is actually the second time we got to connect. Mark and I had a nice meal with him at a local place and we got to spend a couple of hours talking about work, football, kids, family, Agg’s travels and the winter Olympics. We had a great time!

And we booked a winter vacation to Florida. Mark and I have never taken a winter vacation in all the years we’ve been married. When the kids were younger, there was just never enough time or money. This year, we finally realized we were in a position to go somewhere warmer than here. Florida, here we come! It sure helps to have a change of temperature and scenery to look forward to.

It’s impossible though, to fill every day with big, exciting events to keep the blues at bay so I’m trying to remember to focus on the  little things that make a difference. Kacey signed us up for a color run in July, so I’ve got motivation to try to resurrect the runner in me, who was never a great runner to begin with. Maybe having a goal like the color run will help me improve.

I’m doing yoga a couple of times a week, as soon as I wake up. It makes both my body and mind feel good.

I have bowling with the girls every week and with other couples every other Saturday – always a fun time, even when my game isn’t up to par.

I’m also trying to remember to just live more. A friend posted an article on Facebook – 22 Habits of Unhappy People. I recognized a few of my own tendencies. One of them is not following through on the things I say I want to do or plan to do (using my camera, volunteering.) Another unhealthy habit was labeled loneliness. I don’t generally tend to feel overwhelmingly lonely, but because of the design of my life and my husband’s job, there are a lot of days, nights and weekends when I’m alone. I often appreciate the time I have to myself. It’s a good time to think, write, read or catch up on chores that need doing. But I also might sit alone in front of the television when I could instead connect with a friend or family member. I tend to find it easier to just stay home in the quiet rather than go to the effort of reaching out to a friend and planning something social. But when I go to the effort, I’m never sorry. I have to remember that interacting with others always lifts my spirits. And that lift seems to stick with me long after we’ve parted ways.

This weekend, I invited friends to come over and play cards after Mark came home from work Saturday evening. It wasn’t a late night, but we all had fun and lots of laughs. I’m cooking with real effort this weekend- an all day beef broth-making, soup-simmering affair. I’m rarely at a loss for words on this blog, but for some reason, tend to hang in the background when it comes to Facebook. I always appreciate those who post Facebook updates that are inspiring, funny or just invite conversation. I stepped outside my box this morning and posted something simple about myself and what I was doing today. I was rewarded with comments and conversation from girlfriends near and far. I need to do that more often! I’m going to go do some things for my parents today, take my dad shopping, and get out of the house for a while, even if it is still cold and more snow is on the way.

The winter days will pass, more quickly than it feels at the moment. Warmer days are coming. Life is good.

Teeny Tiny Little Speck of Light at the End of the Tunnel

Not much new here. It’s still cold.

But when I opened the garage door to leave for work today, I heard the craziest thing. I heard a bird singing. It was like twenty below this morning. (That’s my estimate, which may be slightly exaggerated in comparison to reality. But in reality, it was definitely less than zero degrees this morning.) And this bird was not just chirping and peeping. It was singing. You never stop to think how pretty a bird’s song can be until you’ve gone months without hearing it. Maybe there’s hope for an end to this winter.

But in the meantime, it is still cold. And just like everyone else, I am sick to death of being cold. Being cold has a negative affect on me.

I have to admit that I’ve snoozed the alarm a few times, skipping exercise in favor of sleeping and snuggling under the pile of blankets for an extra hour. Just can’t help myself sometimes.

I haven’t used my camera like I said I was going to. There is little of interest to photograph inside this house, and I have no interest in spending time outside if I don’t have to.

I wear big, heavy sweatshirts whenever possible. And slippers over socks when hanging around the house. And Under Armour underneath my work clothes. I’m sick of it.

I haven’t done anything special, really. I did read a really good book, though. And of course, we’re closely following the Olympic events! And I passed the time one evening registering Lucy for a doggy photo contest. She could win what amounts to a doggy spa package and portrait session. But really I’ve probably just registered myself for a bunch of junk email. Still, I’m pretty sure she’s a shoe-in to win. She’s totally the cutest dog in the contest. Lucy would appreciate your vote, if you’re so inclined.

Vote for Lucy Pie. She'll make all your dreams come true.

Vote for Lucy Pie. She’ll make all your dreams come true.

So as you can see, I’m killing time as best I can while waiting out the deep freeze. The singing bird from this morning makes me feel hopeful… and alternately makes me wonder if the extended cold is just messing with my head. What bird is out singing in the arctic cold? It’s probably a good thing we booked a vacation. I hope southern Florida hasn’t completely succumbed to this miserable winter because I am seriously in need of some rays!

The Best of Canine Friends

It’s not easy to capture moments like these. If Lucy notices that I’ve stepped outside, she tends to come running, thinking I’m only there to play or offer a treat. But this time, I was very, very quiet and I caught them in action.

These two pups have proven that friendship can blossom and grow in spite of certain barriers. A little fence can’t keep Lucy and Gracie from enjoying each other’s company. I just wonder how long before Gracie figures out how to climb or jump right over to our side!

The next-door neighbors are early risers too. When I let Lucy out for the first time each morning, Gracie is usually already out in her own yard. As soon as the sound of a patio door can be heard sliding open and shut, the dogs race toward the fence that divides their yards. They greet each other with pure joy, tails whipping side to side, and they race each other up and down the yards along the fence as if it’s been weeks since they’ve been together.

There is often a stick involved in the dogs’ playtime. Lucy finds them under the massive pine tree in our yard, where Mark left a pile of sticks and brush last fall. Gracie? She has to work a little harder to find sticks in her yard. Actually, they’re not so hard to find. There’s just a little work involved in getting one. She goes to the row of shrubs that borders her back yard and grabs a branch in her teeth, biting, twisting and wrenching until one breaks off! I’m not sure how much will be left of the corner shrub come this spring!

Once a stick has been found, the dogs chase again, up and down the yards along the fence. If you listen closely to the video, you can hear Gracie dragging her stick across the chain-link, making a clickety-clanging sound. Sometimes one of them will figure out how to maneuver their stick through the fence so they can play tug of war. Gracie seems to share a bit more easily, passing sticks to Lucy generously. Gracie never seems to remember that once Lucy has the stick, it probably won’t be coming back to her. Still, there never comes a time when she’s not willing to share what she has with her friend.

The layers of snow in our yards seem to grow deeper by the day. I was walking in the yard yesterday. In places where the snow was not disturbed before I came along, it was over my knees! Lucy and Gracie have worn paths along their play area on each side. After a particularly heavy snowfall, Kacey went outside with the shovel to clear Lucy’s way again. The dogs often dig the snow away from their fence, as if thinking they might dig deep enough to tunnel underneath and finally be able to run in the same yard. They dig furiously with their paws and bury their faces in the snow. Lucy often forgets how cold it can be until one of her paws suddenly aches with cold. Then she’ll favor the aching foot and come limping to the door to come inside. Gracie seems a little more immune to the cold and at times like these, she’ll sit on her side of the fence watching sadly as Lucy goes back inside the warmth of her own house.

We’ve often joked with the neighbors that we should just cut a doggy-door in that fence so our “girls” can play together whenever they like.

And the sun came out

The weatherman was saying last night that a big snowstorm was on its way. Yesterday, we enjoyed the one “warm-up” we were going to see in January and already, he was telling us that the weather was going back in the wrong direction. He pointed at a map of the state that was dotted with colors. The big, blue blob moving over our area signified snow; lots of it. He said this morning’s commute was going to be a mess. I only half believed him. The weather has been a presence lately, but you just never know when it will decide not to live up to the hype. Figured I’d get up at the usual time and if a snowstorm was in progress, I’d skip doing yoga and just go straight to the shower. If there was no snow, I’d exercise and go about my normal routine.

When the alarm went off, I shuffled to the family room to look out the big front window and see whether the weather guy had been right. I couldn’t quite decide. Under the glow of the street light, I could see it was definitely snowing. The flakes were tiny but the snowfall was dense and it was coming down fast. Looking across the front yard to the street though, there didn’t appear to be much accumulation. But I knew it wouldn’t take much to mess up the morning drive. So straight to the shower I went.

Within the hour, I had showered, fed the dog, prodded Jake to get up and  get a head start on his own commute. I unloaded the dishwasher, drank a cup of coffee, blow-dried my hair and applied some make up. The last thing I needed to do was make a lunch and while I was doing it, I kept an eye on the falling snow. It was obvious. The weatherman had been dead-on.

I was in my car and on my way a good forty minutes earlier than usual. The roads were covered with snow, the division of lanes indecipherable. Traffic on the freeway crawled. It took me over an hour to get to work and the sky remained dusky; no hint of the sun. My windshield wipers struggled to keep the window clear of melting snow and ice. The defroster blasted on high but couldn’t keep up with the crusts of slush and ice forming on the other side. Several times, I rolled down the side window and reached out to wipe off the snow that kept building upward where the lower portion of the driver’s side wiper was failing. (I have got to get some new wipers!) Clumps of snow flung backwards beneath the tires of the cars that surrounded me.

Driving in these conditions stresses me out. This winter, I’ve seen more stalled vehicles, spin-outs, crashes and rollovers than I can ever remember. Earlier this week, there was a car in the ditch, upside down. The scene moved along outside the passenger window in slow motion while a state trooper pulled over to help. That kind of thing freaks me out. And there are always a handful of drivers that think they’re invincible, driving faster than the flow of traffic, cutting off others, zipping from one lane to another with little regard for anyone else. I’m so tired of feeling like I’m putting my life on the line every day just to get to work.

I couldn’t breathe easy until I was safely parked in my company lot. I felt worn out before I’d even begun my work day. So when I walked in, before I took off my jacket, I decided I was not going to carry that weight around with me for the rest of my day. I poked my head into my coworker, Lori’s cube and with more enthusiasm than I really felt, I smiled big and said, “Isn’t this a beautiful day? Don’t you just love these Minnesota winters?”

Playing right along, Lori exclaimed, “Oh, yes! The snow is so pretty! What a lovely day this is!”

And then we laughed and rolled our eyes and went off to work. But honestly, I felt lighter and brighter than I had just a few moments earlier. The snow continued to fall outside while I immersed myself in my job. And when it was time to go home, the sun was shining fiercely, casting dramatic tree shadows over a new, crusty layer of snow. And it was cold again. Really cold. But the sun was shining. Not for much longer. But it was shining. Sometimes, that’s all you can ask.

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