Here is how it works in my house:
There is October, and the lead-up to Halloween, the pumpkin-carving and fall decorating and whatnot. And then, there is ThanksgivingChristmasNewYearsValentine'sDay.
And then, there is now. Mid February. Hello.
By now, I've stopped trying to unravel how exactly this five-month time tunnel happens. It's not like I go whole hog on any holiday. I don't. I really don't. Okay, Christmas. I'll give you half-hog on that one. But beyond that? Simple simple. And this year was simple-simpler than most.
But there's a swirly vortex to it all, just the same. A momentum. I can't explain it. Probably, it's just my monkey brain, in any case, I've come to expect it, the sudden shock of emerging, again, on the other side.
Invariably, a few days after Valentine's Day, I tend to look around all blinky and off and easily startled. I squint and scan the (glitter-coated) horizon and try to figure out which way's up. And where I store the laundry soap. And what were my plans for this year, anyway?
It's not unlike that other little vortex, commonly known as life. The one where you go into it, starting kindergarten, and emerge, some sixty years later, squinty and disoriented and in deeply unfashionable jeans, suddenly aware you have a Silver Sneakers card and creaky knees.
Don't get me wrong. The other side, it's a remarkable place. But it still takes a while to acclimatize.
As soon as the doilies and hearts are archived, I sort of sigh, shift gears, settle in. The living room furniture finally gets a proper going over and the floors are swept. Mornings are spent with coffee, journals and yoga, and all points in between. Afternoons are, incredibly, still given over to everyday, snow and rain playing tag. me? I'm bulldozing through that list I set aside for when "I have a minute." Apparently, there have been no minutes since September 30.
I love mid February.
Well, I don't love all of it. I don't love that all our produce is coming from far-flung places, for now.
But I so cherish the slow un-urgent pace of weekend afternoons. And I dig the way limited outdoor activities lead to neglected indoor activities. And naps.
So far in 2017, if there is one word to describe my life it is this: Behind. No matter how many times I listen to my Headspace meditation app, no matter how much I try to prioritize and tell myself that this is just part of having a busy life, I still feel anxiously behind in a way that I haven’t ever felt before. I keep lists going, and it doesn’t seem like anything ever gets crossed off. There are things I want to do, there isn’t time, so I’m behind. I’m in need of an ophthalmologist appointment as ageing constantly changes my eyes. I’m desperately in need of a haircut. I need to go to the dentist. I have a long list of things that I need a dermatologist to do to my face since it is falling apart. I’m not talking major work; I just want the weird new bumps and red spots to eff off and stop multiplying.
I see Huffington Post articles and blog posts about gratitude, acceptance, and feeling blessed. YES, I am grateful for many things, and NO I don’t have to fetch water from a communal well everyday or anything, but I’ll feel a lot more gratitude when I feel like I’m not so far behind all the time! Aren’t retired people supposed to be relaxed?
I've done the normal amount of thinking about the new year in recent weeks. Like clockwork, I've decided to redecorate my house, give away all of my unused/unnecessary junk, buy new make-up and wrinkle cream, try a capsule wardrobe, reduce my sugar intake, and spend more time moving and/or reading. One or the other. Depends on the day.
I've gone so far as to push all the living room furniture in the center of the room with no after-plan in place.
I crave blank surfaces and white space and I decide the best way to achieve both is by redesigning my heart and soul. It works on paper but less so in practice. All I'm really doing is transforming physical clutter into mental and emotional static. Wouldn't I be happier if my house was more organized? Wouldn't it be inspiring to revamp...something?
And at the end of the day, I already know the truth. Inspiration is only meaningful if it's enduring. Happiness can really only be felt in the presence of a bucket or two of sadness and longing. Without the contrast, happiness becomes one more layer of white noise. Its very own shade of gray.
I spoke with my besties for several hour recently. We kicked the can back and forth. I think they've grown used to my wild ideas and the neurotic way I insist on sharing all of them, even and especially when they're still misshapen and scattered. They're spring-loaded snakes in a can, and just knowing they're in there makes me anxious to tear off the lid. Let's get this over with. Go ahead and scream.
Conversation was light and laced with enough honesty to keep me trusting and engaged. Toward the end, my voice cracked just shy of actual blubbering. "No matter what I do next, I just want it to be necessary. Not to everyone, but to someone."
This has come to matter deeply to me, particularly over the past few years.
But "necessary" takes different shapes, because I take different shapes.
It feels less and less necessary to boss you or myself around, (though I guess I still reserve the right and am not making promises.) I'm equally less and more sure about the stuff that keeps me up at night. I've almost cleanly lost the ability to believe I have any power over change here at all. At the the same time, I'm more committed than ever to risk being wrong.
I'm not as inclined to detail the lives burning bright around me. More often, as you know, I end up talking about the way my heart has blistered from my nearness. It's all sort of normal now, this low and beautiful place where I have slowly settled in. But I wonder, do I say enough about the good stuff happening? Do I see it clearly enough? Am I still letting it change me by the day?
Along the way I've come up with a few other things I'd like to tweak.
I can't help myself.
* I'm not buying more books until I shorten the stack growing precariously on my night stand. It's a safety hazard at this point, and there's plenty of good stuff waiting. I won't buy more. I won't buy more. (Unless it's an emergency.)
* Last spring I recognized my tendency to do certain things just so I could say I did them. I was keeping score with myself, sweating blood trying to win an invisible game where I was my only opponent. This is nothing new. Nor is it a surprise to me that I reacted by swinging wide in the opposite direction.
* I'm going analog whenever possible, and this includes, of course, cooking from my beloved, cumbersome recipe binders whenever possible.
*I'm making (another) concerted effort to not speak sarcastically to people. THIS IS VERY HARD. Here's why. Me: "Mom, you have a doctor's appointment at 2:00 today." Mom: (directly in ear-shot) "Sweetie, do I have a doctor's appointment today?" I can't. I CAN'T. I field this line of questioning no less than 38 times a day. and bear in mind that my mom is still pretty sharp. She know things, but pretends she doesn't. She cannot wrap her pliable brain around the idea of commenting on something rather than pretending she is in the dark. But where I usually get extra irritable and say something like, "What did I just say, Mom?" I'm trying to simply say, "Yes." In the scheme of things, along with being much nicer and a better person/daughter, it's actually easier.
Meanwhile, I'm still just me, currently obsessed with a morning cup of coffee and a slice of sourdough bread, toasted, lightly buttered, and with a skimming of raspberry jam.
I would still pick a sad movie over one that makes me laugh. (hello a Dog's Purpose).
I still prefer mornings to late nights.
I still spend too much time in my head.
But maybe I'll be just a bit softer, just a bit more present, just a bit more at peace. I pray I'm the one running toward communion and community, and I also hope I manage to straighten up my messy closet and get to bed earlier.
Endive, Oranges and Beets + Hazelnut-Sesame Smash (Sunshine for One)
with thanks to Amy Thielen, The New Midwestern Table, for the dreamy beet/hazlenut/sesame combo
This is a tidy salad, set to serve one. That said, I make the hazelnut-sesame smash in larger quantities, per below, and fling it on everything from sliced hard-boiled eggs (!!!), roasted vegetables (mmmm, cauliflower...), whole yogurt + maple syrup (dreamy). Simply scale up the salad, to feed more mouths.
I have a jar of 1:1 vinaigrette on my counter at all times, equal parts vinegar (sherry, white whine, cider, whatever's on tap) and olive oil, plus a good hit of kosher salt + fresh pepper. You'll only need a tablespoon here, but shake up a bottle, and you're set for the week.
1 head endive, coarsely chopped
1 medium beet, roasted*, cut into wedges
1 large orange, sectioned
handful feta, crumbled
2 Tbs. hazelnut-sesame smash (see below)
oil + vinegar
kosher salt + pepper
Arrange endive, oranges, and beets on a plate (or platter). Dress lightly with vinaigrette, then scatter feta and hazelnut-sesame smash generously, over all. Eat immediately, while dreaming of seed catalogs or drinking up the overcast, as appropriate.
1/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted
2 Tbs. sesame seeds, toasted
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Toast hazelnuts in a 350° oven until fragrant, 10-12 minutes. Let cool completely. Toast sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring steadily, until palest beige, shiny, and fragrant, 4-5 minutes. Allow to cool. When nuts and seeds are cool, chop hazelnuts roughly, then place in a small bowl. Add sesame seeds, and salt, and stir well to combine. Use with abandon.
*To Roast Beets: Fill a pie plate with 1/2" of water, add beets, and cover tightly with foil. Bake for 45-90 minutes, at any temperature between 350° and 450°, until the largest beet is easily pierced with a knife. Beets bake happily alongisde whatever else you are cooking: roast chicken, bread, cookies, casseroles. Just slip them in on another rack, and test them occasionally for doneness.