Cuddle Bug

We tried for a long time to teach Lucy that furniture is for people, but lost the battle. I’m now one of those dog owners who accommodates my pet by draping blankets, sheets, towels or old comforters over the furniture in an effort to protect it from excessive fur and damage from claws.

And often, when one of us wants to get comfy in a chair or on the love seat, Lucy insists on climbing up and sharing the space. Even Dacotah isn’t allowed to enjoy a chair all by herself when she comes to visit.

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I don’t mind, really, when Lucy wants to cuddle. Sometimes, she’s really welcome. Like yesterday. As soon as I arrived at work, a thought crept into my head that I might want to go back home. I had caught the winter bug that’s been making the rounds at the office and have since been coughing to the point that my lungs felt on fire. The more I thought about going home yesterday, the less I felt like fighting off the feeling. I made it through one meeting and took care of one routine task before I called it quits for the day.

At home, I stole Kacey’s fleece blanket from her bedroom and settled in for an afternoon of Netflix movies and M*A*S*H episodes. I had the chills, so I was happy when Lucy climbed up and snuggled in on top of me. She can be so sweet sometimes, when she’s not acting like a wild dingo! It’s hard to want to teach her that furniture is off-limits when she’s being such a love!

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Lucy and I dozed away the afternoon and hopefully all that rest gave me a jump-start on kicking this cold!

Old Pictures, New Pictures, Glimpses of Our Lives

In our foyer, above the front door, there’s a decorative collage frame full of photos. Surrounding the photo frames are words like live, laugh, love and family. And until just now, it held a couple of photos that were long overdue for replacing, considering events of last year and people who have stepped out of our lives. While those people might always have a little spot in my heart, they no longer hold a place our family’s photo frame about love and family.

Luckily, this particular piece of decor is so familiar to those of us who live here that we rarely notice it or give the photos much thought any longer. Occasionally, I’ll glance above the door and really see those pictures. I wonder if the fact that they haven’t been replaced means that deep down, I’m having trouble letting go. A little wave of sadness sweeps over me sometimes when I look at them and I ask myself what I’m waiting for. And every once in a while, someone will ask if I’m planning to swap out two particular pictures anytime soon. I guess it’s just one of those things that I keep meaning to do, but never quite get around to. Changing them requires just enough effort that the task keeps falling to the wayside.

Brad came home for a visit this weekend. On Friday night, he casually mentioned that he’d taken a girl out for drinks recently… and that he planned to ask her out again. While my heart did cartwheels of happiness  at the realization that he’s picked himself up and is most surely moving on from a broken relationship, I tried to act casual and not ask too many questions. But the conversation reminded me once again that there were pictures that didn’t belong on our walls.

Technology is a beautiful thing sometimes. While Mark and Brad were off running a couple of errands yesterday, I opened my laptop and browsed through picture folders, picking out the ones I wanted to frame. I uploaded them to the Target photo website and received confirmation before my boys were even back home again that my prints were ready for pick-up at my local store around the corner.

I had taken the opportunity to find and print recent pictures, ones that will remind my kids of happier moments than the photos that were being replaced. There were some of Brad from recent fishing trips, looking like a champ holding trophy-worthy catches.

And there was a great picture of Kacey with her cousin and my mom. I don’t have enough recent pictures of my mom looking as happy as she does in the picture from this past Christmas. And the smile on my daughter’s face tells me that she is just fine, right here at this place in her life today. A particular door closed for her last year too, but her face shows the certainty that her life’s road holds good things ahead.

002And as long as I was printing pictures to display around the house, I took the chance to print a few oldies too. After my father-in-law’s funeral in December, one of Mark’s siblings scanned all of the photos that had been collected and displayed at his wake. A CD of the scans was burned for each sibling to keep. What an amazing gift! I’d never seen most of these pictures because, as I’d long ago learned, most of my in-laws’ old family photos were on slides. There were never any on display around their home. I’d never seen the slides, so the photos that surfaced when Bob passed provided a window to a past to which I’d never before been privy. The story of Bob’s life came alive through the pictures displayed in memory of him. And I was fascinated to learn another side of this man, one that I’d never known before.

Mark’s parents’ wedding photo, showing a young, beautiful, hopeful couple is now displayed alongside those of my own parents and grandparents in our living room. And there are some military photos of my father-in-law from when he served in France during the Korean War. One was a formal portrait of Bob in full uniform. Another was more casual, but so handsome. Bob didn’t trust the internet, but I think he would forgive me for displaying just one old photo of him here. Everyone who saw this picture at the wake agreed he looked rather “Hollywood” in it. I can’t resist sharing.

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And then there was that one snapshot of Brad and his grandpa, taken when Brad was just a baby. I’m not sure who took the picture or contributed it to the collection for the wake. I don’t recall it being in any of my photo albums. It’s one of those poorly framed shots with a messy background, the kind that until just recently, I may have dismissed and tossed in a storage box, deeming it unworthy of framing. But when Brad saw it, he decided he had to have a copy of it. My father-in-law wasn’t much for posing and smiling in photos. Many of the pictures we found were taken spontaneously, where someone was lucky to catch a glimpse of Bob laughing or smiling. This particular picture caught him in a rare moment of playfulness with my son, with Mark driving the riding mower, and Bob riding with Brad in the trailer behind it. It’s one of those moments we probably thought little of at the time, but now seems so precious. I printed it for Brad and picked up a frame so he could display it in his own home.

scan0081 with BradI’m relieved and happy to have finally refreshed the photos in the house. The sad memories will be tucked away.  They’ve been replaced with happier visions of the past and present, showing where we come from, and what’s really important. And the common thread, we’ll be reminded, is love.

Reasons to Smile

I stumbled across a bargain last Sunday while out shopping – a winter jacket, marked half off the original price, and another fifty dollars off if I text-messaged the word coats to a designated number. I’ve been keeping my eye open for a new jacket since last year and couldn’t pass this up. It was a really warm one, and simple in style and color. Perfect for me. When I brought it to the register along with a couple of other items, the cashier who rung up my purchases offered some of the worst customer service I’ve ever received. She didn’t greet me or respond when I attempted to be friendly. She scowled as she worked, and when finished, silently handed over my receipt without even looking at me. Clearly, this was a woman unhappy in her work. If I hadn’t been so eager to purchase my things at such bargain prices, I might have just walked out without buying any of it.

On Tuesday, I stopped by my parents’ place to drop off a meal to put in their fridge for another day, and to get a shopping list from my mom so I could pick up a few of their necessities. Mom complimented my new jacket and mentioned she really could use a new one. I told her what a bargain it had been and offered to take her to the store where I’d bought it so she could pick out one for herself. She said she really wasn’t feeling up to leaving the house, much less walking around a department store, but asked if I would just go pick one out for her.

Knowing that winter clothing starts disappearing quickly from the store racks this time of year, I decided to go straight there in the hopes of still finding something for Mom. I was lucky to find one jacket still available in her size, but I didn’t see the sign that was there on Sunday for the text-message discount. When I went to pay, I thought I’d just ask if the offer was still available. The cashier very kindly apologized and said it was not, but let me see what other offers might be available.

I was pleasantly surprised at her attempt to go the extra mile, especially after my experience on Sunday. This very friendly woman asked if I wanted to open up a store credit card that would earn me something like forty-five percent off my purchase. I politely declined, not wanting to take a hit on my credit score for a one-time discount.  That’s okay, I said. I’m still going to buy this. The price was still a good deal and within the amount Mom was willing to spend.

Well, let me just check something else, the cashier offered. Here, she exclaimed, pulling a clipped coupon from her register. Here’s a coupon for twenty-five percent off. She was holding it up to show me. Do you want to use this? We both knew darn well that hadn’t come in with that coupon, but she was offering it to me, simply because I had asked about another discount.

Um, sure! I said. I was a bit astounded at how hard she was working for me, especially knowing I was willing to pay the higher price. I thanked her, explaining that I was purchasing the jacket as a favor to my mom and that Mom would be thrilled and grateful for the lower price.

She smiled and proceeded to ring up the jacket. Thank you so much for doing this! I said to her.

You’re so very welcome, she offered back with a huge smile. Have a good night!

I like that store, and my experience with the crabby cashier on Sunday wasn’t typical, nor likely to keep me from shopping there again. But my experience with the much friendlier employee that Tuesday evening sure made me feel great, and I found myself letting go of any frustration I still felt when I thought back to my prior visit. I regretted not taking note of her name so I could let the company know how well she represented them.

I left with a big smile on my face and then headed off to go buy the things on my parents’ necessities list. As I wandered through another store’s aisles, finding each item, I looked down at the cart I was pushing and had to roll my eyes slightly at the things my seventy-four year-old parents consider necessities.

Candy

Between what shopping my parents manage on their own, and the errands my sister and I do for them, I know they don’t stand a chance of the candy dish running dry before one of us ends up at the store again. They absolutely didn’t need this much at one time. But they love to keep a variety of treats on hand so that every one of their kids and grandkids can find something they enjoy when visiting. Besides, I know they buy the kind in the yellow bag especially because it’s my favorite.

The rest of the week had its ups and downs. I had both work-related challenges and successes. While immersed in a project one early afternoon, I heard my phone vibrate with a new text message. I picked it up to take a look and following is what ensued.

Mark Text

I was totally surprised and wondering what he really wanted, but it seems he just wanted to connect with me. That is absolutely not typical of Mark and me. I know he loves me. He knows I love him. But we never just randomly stop to send messages like this one. This past week, he had been working second shift, so he was sleeping when I’d leave for work in the mornings and gone when I’d come home. By the time he’d get back home, I’d be sleeping. Guess he just decided to let me know he missed spending time together.

The weather early this week was warm, but gloomy. We had fog one day and gray skies several days in a row. Late in the week, the temperatures dropped and I was able to put my new jacket to good use. The cold weather brought a slight break in the clouds, just enough to  provide some relief from that dreary feeling. It’s funny how different the same sky can look depending on where you see it. Here was the view just a few blocks from home while I waited at a red light.

Sunlight

And only a half hour later, as seen from the office parking lot.

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Underglow

As easy as it is to be connected with so many people these days, through text messaging and social media, I’m hyper-aware that many others are struggling daily with real difficulties in their lives. Some just seem to face one tragedy after the next. By the day, I see messages asking us to pray for successful job interviews, for healing of physical ailments, or to keep loved ones from the grip of death. We may sometimes be guilty of being too connected, but this same connectedness often gives me the opportunity to be grateful for all that I have and each new day I’m graced with. It reminds me to smile whenever the chance comes along, no matter how brilliant or trivial the opportunity seems.

Prize Winning Fisherman

I don’t care how old he gets, Brad will always be my “boy.” And my boy loves the outdoors. He has since he was old enough to don a life vest and hold a fishing pole. The minute he was old enough to dress in camouflage and tag along with his dad and uncles on their fall hunting trips, he was there. As soon as he reached the age when he could take a gun safety course so he could become a real hunter, he was in class.

The weather doesn’t matter to him. There’s very little that can keep him home when a hunting or fishing trip is on the horizon. So this time of year, Brad can be found out on the frozen lakes, with a fishing line dangling through a hole in the ice.

This past weekend, he entered an ice fishing tournament with a bunch of his college buddies. He called home early Saturday afternoon and said, Hey, Mom. Can you and Dad spot me the sales tax on a brand new pick-up truck?

Whaaaaaa…..? I asked, confused.

I won a truck in the fishing tournament, he explained.

You DID? I squealed.

Nah, but I am in third place at the moment, he admitted. I’ll probably win something.

It strikes me as ironic that there are tournaments like this, that offer prizes for doing the very thing my boy would do in a heartbeat, without any incentive. He just loves to fish. When all was said and done, he ended up in fifth place. He didn’t win a pick-up truck, and just missed out on a one week vacation at an up-north lake resort. But he won a very nice auger, which is now for sale. As any serious ice fisherman would, he already has one!
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Dude, where’re my earbuds?

I went to the gym this morning to run. Since the snow and cold settled in, I haven’t done a whole lot of running. So for the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to work it back into my schedule by using the treadmills at the gym.

One of the first days I was going to the gym to run, I realized I had no idea where my earbuds were. Which is odd, because if they’re not plugged into my phone, I put them back in their little black zipper case. I had the case. But no earbuds.

It’s not like me to lose something like this. Oh, I can lose things as easily as the next person, but not something like my earbuds, which are always in one of two places. Not to mention, they were really nice Bose earbuds. Mark bought them for me for Valentine’s Day four years or so ago. Their sound was better than any other earbuds I’ve ever had. And they fit comfortably in my ears, unlike almost everything else I’d tried.

I’ve got a plethora of other earbuds floating around here. Some of them came with the various iPhones owned by the family over the years. Some I bought in my quest to find earbuds that would stay in my ears while running. Once the Bose earbuds entered my life, all of the rest of them began collecting dust. But I’ve resurrected a few pairs over the last couple of weeks. And I was quickly reminded how much I miss my Bose earbuds.

I’ve continued to search, without success for my favorite earbuds. And I’ve done my share of whining over the fact that I still can’t find them. This morning, I woke up Mark while rummaging around my nightstand drawer in the dark.

What are you doing? He mumbled.

Sorry! I whispered. Looking for some earbuds.

I found another old pair. Mark rolled over and went back to sleep while I headed off to the gym. I claimed my treadmill, plugged the earbuds in my ears and began to listen to music while I ran. And then I thought I felt a little sting in one ear. And then the other. Those earbuds were zapping my ears! Guess that pair had a short in the wires or something. I yanked ‘em out in frustration and resolved to do my run to the sounds of the gym and whatever music was being piped through the speaker system.

I was a little thrown off by all of the distraction, but I kept at it. I realized that, for me at least, being able to run continuously is mainly a matter of telling myself I can! The minute I start thinking I might need to slow down and walk for a bit, that’s my downfall. I’ll do exactly that. So I have to keep mentally encouraging myself.

A gentleman came along and claimed the treadmill next to mine around the time I was hitting the first mile. I kind of prefer if I can run without anyone directly next to me, but that’s a rare luxury at the gym. My treadmill neighbor started to run too, and then I became grateful he was there. Because another recent realization is that running with another person is highly motivating. Whether he knew it or not, he was my motivator, and the run felt easier for the next mile because I was keeping up with him.

But then? He slowed down and stopped. Oh, no! And I still wanted to go another mile. So I had to motivate myself. I said to myself, I said,  Dude, just one more mile. Keep going! (I don’t know why I referred to myself as Dude. I don’t really fit the bill of your typical dude, but the encouragement seemed to do the trick. I kept running.)

I got my few miles in and then called it quits. I’d had a hard time waking up an hour earlier, but I was glad I’d dragged myself out of bed and done some exercise to jump-start my day. I always feel a million times more energetic when I do some kind of workout.

And when it was all said and done, it was quite a day, bringing up the end of a particularly long week. A real brain-drainer. I spent way too much time just sitting, staring at my computer screen and typing. I really should get up and move around more often. I hate to imagine what all of that sitting is doing to my heart. So especially after days and weeks like this, I’m glad when I start my days with something physical.

I came home from work to an empty house, save for Lucy, who greeted me with a level of excitement that would imply I’d been gone for weeks rather than hours. As I made my way up the steps from the foyer to the living room, being careful not to trip over the dog who was still dancing around my feet, something caught my eye.

It was a box on the end table, next to my stack of books. There was no question it was for me and no doubt in my mind it had been left there by my hubby.

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This is definitely one of the most thoughtful things he’s ever done for me! And it’s not even Valentine’s Day!

Former Skeptic Finds Peace and Hope

I didn’t come into 2015 with a well planned list of resolutions, only that I mostly intended to focus on maintaining a positive outlook. I’ve mentioned a few times this mental and spiritual shift I’ve felt inside over the last half a year, and positivity seems to be a recurring theme as I try to nurture this change.

As I continue to write, I keep coming back to this thing that I’m feeling. And I suppose that’s because inside, to me, it feels monumental, even though I know that to the outside world it might be almost imperceptible. My circumstances and physical surroundings remain largely unchanged while mentally I’m seeing things from an entirely different and hopeful perspective. Someone commented that, (at least from my writing,) I’ve always seemed to be a pretty upbeat kind of person. I can see where that would seem true. There are things I’m willing to write and those I choose to hold back.

It’s not that I’ve been unhappy my whole life. It’s more like there was this vague but constant sense that I was missing something. And I couldn’t figure out if it was a legitimate feeling, or if I was just a spoiled brat who couldn’t be content with all the comforts and privileges I’d been blessed with all these years. Whether you could see it or not, I had a good sense of skepticism and sarcasm.

And then seemingly out of the blue, it was like, “Oh! It all makes sense now!” Challenges, people, events and circumstances, both those that are discouraging, and the type I willingly embrace, they all make more sense. These days I feel more able to rise to the occasion. I understand hope. Nothing has changed, yet everything has changed. It’s enormous, yet it’s simple.

Faith. It makes more sense now. The old me kept trying to find it in the ways and places I was taught are the only right ways and places. I had to finally let myself step out of that mindset to understand that God is happy to have me find Him wherever I do. And if that’s not inside the walls of a church, that’s okay. I still feel like my not “having” a church may only be a temporary thing anyway. Maybe, maybe not. But I had to get past the idea that I was going to disappoint others by not doing things the “right” way. Once I finally got past that roadblock, so much fell into place.

It wasn’t really out of the blue. I believe that now, though it seemed at the time like a combination of life’s circumstances, the right people, and well-timed coincidences that brought me to this changed awareness.

Okay, I can’t help but think I sound like a hippie sometimes. I don’t care. I feel great!

It could just be this is something that comes with age or maybe I’m just a slow learner. Either way, I don’t care because I love this mental and spiritual place that I’m in these days. I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Nothing on the outside has changed, but I’m significantly happier and more peaceful than I’ve ever been. And I don’t want to go back to the uptight person who used to be all too familiar to me. Every day now, I seek to feed this state of mind and spiritual awareness. I’ve found things to read (daily devotions, the Bible, websites dedicated to positivity and enlightenment) that keep me grounded in a better place and help me look beyond where I’m at today. And what I really love is that this all seems to draw like-minded people to me. Or me to them. However it works, it’s happening. And the crazier thing is, most of them are people I’ve known for years. I just never knew this side of them. My relationships with a few people are growing deeper day by day, even though I thought we’d come to know everything there was to know about each other.

When I look back on all the years when I remained in such a stagnant place, I feel a little bit regretful. I’ve always been aware that I was fortunate to have the life I’ve had. But that didn’t stop me from feeling my share of distrust, bitterness and self-pity, or that I didn’t have enough things or the right experiences. Sometimes I look back and regret all the things I could have done, but didn’t do so much better, as a wife, parent, daughter, sibling, friend, employee or whatever. Don’t get me wrong. All things considered, things have turned out pretty well. I just often wonder what might be different had I worked harder at some things – like finished college, been a more patient parent, a more forgiving wife, or forgiven myself for all the things I saw merely as my shortcomings instead of as stepping-stones!

I have to keep reminding myself that I’m here now and that’s what matters. The past can’t be changed. All I can do is live better now, in each moment, as it comes.

I was at the gym Thursday morning with my friend, Erin and we were chatting about goals and resolutions. Hers are better defined than mine, but we’re both seriously working to really ingrain a positive mindset within ourselves. I mentioned that in addition to that, I want to work on being more intentional. When she asked what I meant, I said that I’ve spent my entire life always looking ahead, to the point that I often miss what’s right in front of me. She agreed that was a good goal.

I’ve had our conversation in mind since Thursday morning and have been mulling over how to be more intentional. I often trip myself up in my good intentions by becoming so immersed in the daily grind that forget all else. I was thinking about this as I stepped out of my car into the office parking lot yesterday morning. As much as I love my job, I find it hardest change my old ways there. I was trying to remind myself not to get so lost in work that I neglect to face daily challenges from this more positive mindset. I hate when I fall back into my old and negative ways!

hawk on branch_resizedAs I began to walk across the parking lot, I saw a hawk sitting in the bare branches of a tall tree on the edge of the nearby pond. And whether it’s because a hawk isn’t something I see very often, or because his appearance was so regal, or because I’m more likely to look for signs in my surroundings these days, I stood and stared for a moment before he spread his wings and soared away. He was on my mind all day, to the point that I decided to dig deeper.

I loved what I found when I googled the hawk; the idea that animals can possess a spiritual essence. Spirit Animals. Interesting concept! If you’re a believer in such things, here is what my encounter with the hawk is said to mean.

Hawk often represents the ability to see meaning in ordinary experiences if you choose to become more observant.

Many of the messages Hawk brings you are about freeing yourself of thoughts and beliefs that are limiting your ability to soar above your life and gain a greater perspective. It is this ability to soar high above to catch a glimpse of the bigger picture that will allow you to survive and flourish.

I’m going to choose to take this as encouragement that I am moving in the right direction!

Spirit animals, huh? Do I even want to know what all those squirrels in the back yard are trying to tell us? ;-)

Watch Me

On cold winter mornings such as we’ve had lately, I sometimes wake up and have to talk myself into a positive mood. Sometimes it’s just hard having to extract myself from under the piles of blankets where it’s warm and cozy, and step out into the cold air, knowing that the thermometer outside is not going to climb above zero.

But not today. Today I awoke hoping that the weather man was correct when he said that cold snap would begin to break. I awoke feeling motivated and energetic, (which was really helpful during the exercise portion of my morning.) And this lofty mood carried right on into the rest of my day.

As I was driving to work, I was thinking about all the stuff that I have going on at work, how the to-do list keeps growing, and how one particular project seems to keep spinning its wheels. And in spite of those thoughts, I had some ideas brewing which, if I chose to speak up about them, would create more work for myself. I realized I could just keep my mouth shut about those ideas and just keep working toward getting everything else under control. But I didn’t want to. And eventually, when I mentioned it, I was told to run with it. Which got me to thinking how lucky I am to have a job I really enjoy, a job that provides challenges and opportunities to experiment and grow and learn.

I was in full love-my-job mode. I’d had four meetings throughout the course of the morning and worked through my lunch in order to get a few things done before the afternoon meetings began. After my first afternoon meeting, I walked two rows over from my cubicle to bring a colleague up to speed on a particular topic.

There are advantages to being tall. As I was talking with my co-worker at her cubicle,  I glanced out over the tops of all of those gray walls. Tall people can see other tall people over the tops of the cubes. I could see the corner where my cubicle is located and I noticed a head sticking up from behind my wall. Since I wasn’t there, I knew it wasn’t my head. I quickly realized it was Bob’s head.

I know Bob pretty well, and his office is located in the near vicinity, but we don’t work together and I could think of no reason he would be in my cubicle while I was not there unless I had a dish of candy out in the open. Which I did not.

Then another head appeared, and I recognized it as Brian’s, our vice president. Brian and Bob together equals shenanigans, so I quickly walked back to my own neighborhood where I soon saw another head belonging to my boss, Lisa come around the corner. (Lisa is short. She can’t be seen from behind a cubicle wall.)

Bob and Brian and Lisa together equals big shenanigans. Before I could ask what was up and why they were all milling around my desk, the three of them sidled up together and began to sing the Flintstone’s anniversary song.

“It’s not my … ” I began, but then realized it was my work anniversary. Or it recently was. On the fifth of this month I’d been employed with my company for ten years. When they finished singing, complete with Brian dancing a little jig, I was laughing and thinking how lucky I am we can have fun in our office. Lisa handed me an envelope and a box.

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Recognition

I was being recognized for my years of service with a pretty nice watch (with only a subtle company logo on the face of it.) I haven’t worn a wrist watch in years, since my last one stopped working and continued to stop working way too frequently after replacing the battery several times. But this token of recognition seems like a pretty good excuse to start wearing a watch again. And how synchronous that I received it on the same day that my work  mojo was in full force.

Now if I can just figure out how to work the clasp!