December Reflections, Day 26 – Real Life

Contrast is an interesting thing. Many people, when asked to share their primary goal in life, would likely say that it is to be happy. However, I think this is an oversimplified articulation of the truth. The truth is that you cannot appreciate happiness without sadness. So, perhaps a better way to state this goal is to say that we want to have a life of feeling. Of course no one really wants to experience sadness, loss, anger, frustration…but without them, how would you distinguish joy?

This fantasy of perpetual happiness is just that, fantasy. It is no more possible than it is interesting, and it wouldn’t be very interesting. It is contrast that makes real life, real. Our experiences, in all their great variance, add depth to our character and give our lives the richness of feeling. For me, this is the ultimate goal. I want to be happy, of course. But more than that, I want to be able to appreciate my own happiness.

Back when I was pregnant with Clara, I signed up for an expectant mother’s mailing list. Coupons, samples and the like. Unfortunately, there is no way to un-sign up. You get where this is going… Tonight, we came home from holiday festivities to a package on the porch. After so many days of joy and delight, family and fun, we arrived home to a reminder of the little girl who is not coming home.

Contrast.

I will donate these samples to someone who will make use of them, along with any other samples and coupons we receive. And I will remember that even the saddest reminders provide the contrast to make joy shine.

December Reflections, Day 25 – Love is…

Love is when you get each other fancy drinking vessels without having any clue what the other was buying.

Back to the beautiful chaos, friends.

Merry Christmas.

December Reflections, Day 24 – One Year Ago

I took this photo on Christmas Eve, 2014 and my kitchen does not look much different as I write this. I am currently putting the finishing touches on the 2nd thing I’ve made for the day, with the 3rd dish waiting to go into the oven, and ingredients for the 4th dish are waiting in the wings. No matter the year, my house looks much the same on December 24th, and yet in my heart, there has been so much change.

I am a creature of habit. I thrive within routine, and find comfort in the “sameness” that is the very lifeblood of tradition. After a year such as the one we have had, with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, there has been great comfort in the sameness of today. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been flustered more than once during the cooking frenzy. There have been swear words. One child has acted out and cried, the other has been camped out in his room all day, like the almost-teenager that he is. My husband has been trying to keep us all in balance, a job he always does with the dexterity of a tight rope walker. No, comfort does not always mean that things are perfect. It means that they are what we know.

I appreciate that, any given Christmas Eve, it is almost certain (because nothing is completely so), that you will find me in the kitchen, making a mess, swearing, possibly drinking. My kids will be doing exactly what they do, my husband will be helping me when he can, and building train tracks for someone small in between. It may not be pretty, but it’s what we know, and I will always find a wealth of joy in that.

Merry Christmas, friends.

December Reflections, Day 23 – Delicious

Just popping in quickly, because I am busy making up for lost egg nogs and enjoying my family today. We have been out taking in some lights and the incredible 60 degree weather that we are getting here in the Midwest. We spent a night soaking in deliciousness for all the senses and I am very pleased with the way we have kicked off this holiday break. Capping the night off with a delicious sleep seems like just the ticket.

Peace and love to you all, and Merry Christmas to all who are celebrating it.

December Reflections, Day 22 – Numbers

3 – The number of days until Christmas.

– The number that best represents how excited I am about that. (Infinitely excited, guys.)

0 – The number of egg nogs I have had this season. SERIOUSLY?  What is wrong with me?  I will be making a run to the store tonight, to fix this problem.

*No Comment* – The number of Brandy Alexanders I have had this season. Making up for lost egg nogs here, y’all.

5 – The number of hand knitted objects that I am giving as gifts this Christmas. This is actually a rather small number for me, but I spent the last several months making quite a few things for myself instead. Sorry, not sorry. This number does not include the socks that I am making for my husband… because they won’t be ready in time for Christmas. Sorry, honey. Hope to have them on your feet before Spring time, though!

1 – The number of Scandinavian cooking shows that my husband and I are currently obsessed with. Seriously, you guys, New Scandinavian Cooking is mesmerizing and I highly recommend it for foodies, travel/nature buffs and history nerds alike. And if you, like me, fit into all three of those categories, I absolutely insist that you check it out. INSIST.

– The number of female reindeer that pull Santa’s sleigh. That’s right, pretty much all folkloric depictions of Santa’s prancing posse show antlered, adult reindeer. Since male reindeer drop their antlers after mating season ends (around the beginning of December), the only adult reindeer that would still be sporting prongs on Christmas are – the ladies! In addition to that, male reindeer lose a large portion of their body fat gettin’ biz-ay during the previously mentioned mating season, while female reindeer enter the winter months with as much as 50% body fat. All that cushion means they’re more equipped to handle the chill and work of a round-the-world journey. Note- this number does not include Rudolph, who was a 20th century inclusion and is not mentioned in traditional folklore. Sorry, Rudy, looks like I’m leaving you out, too.

2– The number of times that I got emotional at work today because a co-worker gave me an incredibly thoughtful gift to honor Clara (pictured). So floored. So lucky. So grateful for the kindness of others.

8 (again) – The number of Christmases that my husband and I have been together. I think there may have been one Christmas early on, where we did not spend it together, but we are nearing a decade of Christmases, and that is a pretty cool thing.

4 – The number of Christmases that my youngest son will have celebrated after this year.

13 – The number of Christmases that my oldest son will have celebrated after this year (excuse me, I need to sit down…)

1.5 – The number of inches left to grow, until my oldest son is the same height as me. (!)

6 – The number of inches that I think my youngest son may have grown in his sleep last night. (HE LOOKS LIKE A TINY MAN ALL OF A SUDDEN!)

35 – The number of posts that I have made on this blog since I started blogging in October.

709 – The number of unique visitors who have been to this site, as of today (according to my WordPress stats). Neat.

1 Million+ – The number of good wishes that I send your way, as we approach the holiday and the beginning of a new year. I wish you peace, joy and comfort today, and for all your tomorrows.

Peace and love to you all.

December Reflections, Day 21 – Solstice Sunset

I am switching today and tomorrow’s prompts. Today was supposed to be “Numbers” and tomorrow “Solstice Sunset”, BUT since I am in the U.S., solstice is technically happening today, on the 21st. So, I’ll be back tomorrow with the “Numbers” prompt. It was a bit difficult to get a snap of today’s sunset, since today is a bit dreary. However, I was thinking about it and decided that it actually seems quite fitting to have a dark sunset on the Winter Solstice, no?

With that, let’s learn about the December Solstice, shall we?

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, December Solstice marks the longest night of the year and the first day of Winter. This astronomical phenomenon occurs annually, when the North Pole is tilted to it’s furthest degree from the sun, about 23.5 degrees off the vertical axis. This marks the Summer Solstice for our friends in the Southern Hemisphere, where Winter Solstice actually occurs in June. December Solstice happens most frequently on December 21st, but it can happen anywhere between the 20th-23rd. It happens at the same moment for the entire planet. This year, it is happening on December 22nd at 04:49am GMT, which is December 21st at 10:49pm CST (hence the need to switch my prompts)

You will often hear Stonehenge mentioned in conversations about the December Solstice. This is because Stonehenge is mysteriously aligned precisely on the solstice sunset sight line (say that 5 times fast). It is believed that the monument, built somewhere from 3000 BCE to 2000 BCE, was a burial ground and, considering the careful alignment of the stones, that the Winter Solstice must have had some religious significance to the people responsible for its construction.

Solstice is celebrated around the world by many different groups of people, with a wide variety of folklore and beliefs around the event. No matter your cultural ties or religious affiliation, Winter Solstice is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the coming season and the lengthening days.

So, today, I wish you a very happy Solstice, friends. I hope that as the days to follow lengthen, so too does your capacity for joy and peace expand.

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!

December Reflections, Day 20 -Warmth

Today started with a warm cup of coffee, before anyone else was awake in the house.

It moved into a warm breakfast, as I cooked french toast, bacon and eggs for the people I love most on this planet.

Early afternoon you could find me baking sprinkle cookies with my youngest son. Sitting in the warmed winter kitchen and rolling balls of dough through sprinkles, while he giggled in delight.

After lunch, I drove to pick up one of my dearest friends, who was joining us for the afternoon and for dinner. He arrived with gifts for the boys, and we spent a fun afternoon playing games, chatting and eating dinner.

In a final “warm” act of the day, I just pulled a loaf of banana bread out of the oven, which we will enjoy for breakfast tomorrow.

Quite simply, today was lovely, and it most certainly was filled with warmth.

December Reflections, Day 19 – I Said Goodbye to…

Clara. It should be no surprise that I would choose her for today’s prompt. Today’s picture is an excerpt from a letter that I wrote to her, a couple of weeks after we said goodbye. However, in saying goodbye to Clara, I ended up saying hello to a lot of things too.

I said hello to a new perspective on abortion and pregnancy loss, a perspective which has empowered me to be a stronger woman. A fire has been lit within me, driving me to search for ways that I can be of support to other women, to other moms, who may be struggling with grief from a loss, or with postpartum mood disorders.

I said hello to a new chapter in my marriage. The experience of losing Clara could have ruined a marriage. I really believe that to be true. It is the kind of thing that, were there any cracks to begin with, could split a marriage right open. Thankfully, this experience has only drawn my husband and I closer. We’ve leveled up, so to say (uh oh, gamer nerd core has been exposed!). We have been able to lean on each other throughout this experience. We have taken extra care to listen and hear each other, and I am grateful every day for this amazing man that I get to spend the rest of my life with.

I said hello to a new level of gratitude. Gratitude is something my mother was really good at teaching me. For almost as long as I can remember, my mother taught me to be grateful. As such, “attitude of gratitude” is a phrase that can often be heard around my home. It is an important quality that I hope to instill in my own children. Grateful as I was to begin with, there is nothing like loss to deepen your appreciation for what you already have. Saying goodbye to Clara has opened a new well of thankfulness within me. It sounds strange to say, but in some ways, I am thankful for this experience, as terrible as it has been. I recognize the personal growth and spiritual development that I have undergone as a result of going through it. But it isn’t just me, my husband, my parents, my in-laws, my children, and many more people, have been affected and have grown from this terrible loss.

In just 22 weeks of gestation, Clara taught some very important lessons to a great deal of people. So, we said goodbye to Clara in 2015, but because of her, we said hello to a lot of wonderful things, too. Plus, it’s not really goodbye, only see you later.

Thank you, sweet girl. Mommy loves you so, so much.

December Reflections, Day 18 – Circles

One of the most aggravating parts of anxiety is knowing you have anxiety. I spend an excruciating amount of time internally debating whether or not my fears and intrusive thoughts have merit, knowing that 99.9% of the time, they do not. I do this because I am aware of my anxiety. Were I ignorant to it, I would probably just react to all of my fears, believing them to be rational and viable. That certainly wouldn’t be better, since I’d basically be a doomsday prepper. Still, knowing that you are anxious, and yet unable to stop being anxious, is exhausting.

I struggle, profoundly, with the magical thinking aspect of anxiety. For those of you unfamiliar, this basically boils down to the sneaking suspicion that my fears are somehow premonitory. Before you judge me, I know that my fears are not divine knowledge. However, my anxious brain isn’t fully convinced that I am not some kind of wizard, and so when I experience an irrational fear or intrusive thought, as I do often (every day, many times a day) I always have a flicker where it feels like I know that my fear will come to pass. Again, I do not believe myself to be the next Miss Cleo or Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. This is just one of the many tricks anxiety likes to play on your brain, and it’s rather common, from what I understand.

What ends up happening is that I get stuck in a fear circle, like the one depicted above.

However, something great happened earlier this week, something that breaks the fear circle. My therapist said something that resonated so well with me that I’m surprised a choir didn’t burst into song the moment she finished her thought. It’s going to sound overly simple, but if it helps one more person struggling with a similar problem, then it’s worth all the judgement this post might be earning me. I will try to explain it as best as I can…

Your brain is always looking for patterns. Always. That’s why, when you buy a new red car, you start seeing so many red cars. There aren’t actually any more red cars on the road than there were before, your brain is just noticing them now. Why is it noticing them more? Because it is looking for them, because you are looking for them, and you don’t even realize it. Your brain is just quietly working in the background, doing what it’s programmed to do. Similarly, your brain categorizes your thoughts as you think them. Things I need to remember to do, things I need to be wary for, things I wish to happen, etc. You get the idea. As you are thinking, your brain is sorting. For some anxious people, your brain gets hung up on intrusive thoughts. The scary, often detailed, freakishly specific thoughts that pop into your head uninvited as you go about your day confuse your brain. It doesn’t know where to file them. They are fears, sure, but it isn’t one that came with warning, basis or foundation, so your brain isn’t quite sure what to do with it. So, for some people (me included) your brain files this thought into a file marked “Um, Maybe You Can See The Future?”. You know that you can’t, in fact, see the future, but your brain keeps trying to cram files into this ridiculous category, nonetheless. My therapist said something along these lines earlier this week and I must have looked like a deer in headlights. I was so shocked by how much this resonated with me that I had to repeat it a few times, just to let it sink in. I totally get this and knowing this about my brain and how it organizes or gets hung up on thoughts makes me so much less afraid of my random intrusive thoughts or lingering irrational fears. I now understand that the odd feeling I get is simply because my brain does not know where to file the thought, and not because I am somehow privy to what will happen in the future. It breaks the fear circle, so that it ends up looking more like this:

Irrational Fear/Intrusive Thought —>
Is this logical/probable/controllable? —->
Well, I have anxiety, so probably not… —>
But, maybe? I mean, why else would something so specific pop into my head?—>
Because you have anxiety, intrusive thoughts are normal for anxious people, and it feels premonitory because your pattern-obsessed mind doesn’t know what to do with such an out-there thought, so it’s trying to convince you that you must know something. You don’t though, so you don’t need to worry about it.—>
Oh, okay, cool! Moving on!

So, to anyone else out there struggling with anxiety, intrusive thoughts and magical thinking in particular, you are not alone. And you are most certainly not a future-seeing wizard.

P.S.A. – I am not, in any way, qualified to offer help or advice in matters of mental illness. This post was simply intended to share something that helped me, in hopes that it may resonate with others. If you believe that you are suffering from a mental illness, I urge you to seek the help of a qualified professional. Talk to your regular doctor for a referral, obtain a list from your insurance provider, or simply search online. If you are a mom, and suspect that you may have a postpartum mood disorder, I also strongly urge you to seek help. You can speak with your regular doctor, seek a list from your insurance provider, or start where I did- Postpartum Progress. Therapy has given me my life back. It can help you, too.

 

December Reflections, Day 17 – My Smile

A short list of things that make me smile (in no particular order) and why I can’t use them for a photo today:

My family- Without a doubt, my family makes me smile the most. However, I decided when I started this blog that I would keep my children’s faces off of it, and that still feels like the right decision.

My garden- Early this past spring, my husband and I built two 8’x 4′ raised beds for our backyard. We bought lumber, y’all! I felt like such an adult. We then hauled an obscene number of cubic yards of soil and compost from a pile in our driveway to the backyard ,which, by the way, is an uphill task. Literally, you have to go up a hill. The dirt moving alone took 6 hours, two wheelbarrows, and so much elbow grease. But at the end of it all, we had a long wished for vegetable garden! We grew beets, radishes, carrots, lettuce, three different kinds of tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, jalapeno peppers, cilantro, basil, and rosemary. For a first time garden, I am thrilled with the way it turned out and I can’t wait to do it again next year. Unfortunately, it’s December in the Midwest and there isn’t much to look at in the garden right now.

Knitting- Knitting always makes me smile. Well, except when I am too lazy to use point protectors on my needles and a bunch of stitches slip off the needles for the first sock in a pair that I am currently knitting for my husband and I have to painstakingly try to pick them all back up while sitting on a commuter train at 6am, still rubbing sleep from my eyes in the pre-dawn darkness… So, I didn’t take a picture of knitting today because sometimes knitting is an asshole.

You- You make me smile!  The fact that you’re here, existing in this community that we’re building together makes me smile until my face hurts!  However, I can’t post a picture of you, because I don’t have a picture of you, a fact that you’re probably pretty happy about because it’d be super weird if I did.

There’s so much else that makes me smile, but unfortunately I can’t go around all day taking pictures of everything that makes me happy (but wouldn’t it be awesome if I could?!), so instead I will just share this one. This is the view from my office, in the morning twilight. I love the work that I do, the people that I work with and the city that I work in. I love being here extra early and having a couple of moments to look outside and watch the sunrise while the city begins to bustle down below. I’m smiling because I’m so very fortunate. I’m fortunate that I have a job to go to, even better that it’s one which I happen to adore. I’m fortunate that I get to live in such a wonderful place, where my family and I get to explore a variety of cultures and cuisines, art, music and nature. All within a reasonable distance to our home. I’m fortunate to have time to enjoy the twilight, and the good health and peace of heart to be conscious of all this beauty. I’m fortunate to have my family, and even though I left the house this morning before anyone else was awake, I peeked in on each of them while they slept, just to silently wish them a lovely day and take a moment to be grateful that they are here.

So smile, my friends, because there is much to smile about.