On Cutting the Grass One Final Time

On Black Friday I didn't go shopping, although I originally had thoughts that I might.  The day simply didn't work out that way.  Instead, I worked in my yard.  It sorely needed it.  There were leaves to rake, plants to cut back, sections of the garden to turn under, and grass to be mowed.

I've written before how I always feel better after cutting the grass, and I've shared that my yard is one of my favorite places.  The older I get the more I realize that working and walking in my own back yard, no matter the season, brings a peculiar calmness and clarity to my thoughts.  Some special alchemy is at work -- as I work to bring order to the landscape around me, raking here or pruning there, order settles in the landscape within me.  I think.  I pray.  I solve problems by not even thinking about them.  I become more aware of the air I'm breathing.  I feel more rooted, more connected, daresay, more happy.

So, on Friday, as people were scoring fabulous deals on appliances, getting shiny new TV's, and battling crowds to save 50% on their entire Old Navy purchases (all wonderful things, perhaps with the exception of the crowds), I was cutting my grass, one strip at a time, enjoying the lines I was leaving in my wake.

I was raking over the cherry tomatoes that had fallen off the vines when I yanked the plants out earlier this month, remembering how deliciously they paired with fresh basil, balsamic vinaigrette, and mozzarella all summer long.  I was wondering if I'd plant more zucchini plants next spring, or whether we should try yellow squash, too, or if one cilantro plant would be enough.

I was wiping my nose on my sleeve because I forgot to tuck Kleenex in my hoodie pocket, and I was thankful for my leather work gloves because my hands would have taken a beating without them.  I was burning brush in our fire pit, and dragging leaves on a tarp to the front curb for the magical leaf-sucking-truck that occasionally visits our street, and noticing that hydrangea blooms, even when browned and brittle, still look elegant.

I was feeling productive in that easy cadence of relaxed outside work -- seeing a distinct difference between where I'd been and where I was headed, but feeling feeling no rush because the leaves that didn't get raked would still be there tomorrow, if need be.  

Every once in while I thought about shopping: what if my hands were manicured, not dirty?  What if I were wearing cute clothes, not my old boots and work jeans?  What if I were sipping Starbucks?  What if something great was out there, wherever "there" was, and I wasn't doing it, seeing it, or experiencing it?

But then I'd look at my surroundings and realize that, really, I had all that I needed.  I wasn't missing out.  There wasn't some better, more glamorous day that I should be living.  I was right where I ought to be, right where I wanted to be.

I was right in my own back yard.


Yet Another Baking Success

So, my daughters found these adorable Wide-Eyed Turkey Cupcakes and decided that we must try them for Thanksgiving this year.

So we did.  And, as usual, we nailed it.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!


When You Focus on What You Have

My family faced several challenges this week: my husband had a run-in with a deer that damaged our car, our water heater broke, and we've been sick with bronchitis and head colds.  I could be dwelling on these things -- they've been inconvenient and costly, after all.

But, I'd rather focus on better things, like the fact that the gentleman behind me at the grocery store this afternoon handed me a $5 coupon and said, "This only works on orders over $40, and I'm not spending that much today. Here, this coupon is for you."

I could focus on the teacher who sent a kind email about our daughter's good attitude and work ethic.  I could remember that I have health insurance so my inhaler and antibiotic only cost a fraction of their original cost.  (And I have access to reliable health care!)

Joel wasn't hurt when the deer collided into our car!  We have a vehicle, even if it's older and dented!  We have clean water every day of our lives, even if that water was temporarily cold!

So much changes when you focus on what you have, not on what you don't.


This Season's Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

There's been a little buzz in our community lately.  You see, an 80-year-old Norway Spruce located in our town was selected as this year's Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.  Thursday morning the tree was cut down and began its commute to New York City.  People young and old stood in clusters along the street to watch the undertaking.  I felt surprisingly privileged to pass exactly when I did on my morning commute -- right when traffic was backed up long enough for me to capture my own picture as the tree was lowered onto a flatbed truck.

The tree was located blocks from my house, which means that I've passed it thousands of times.  The funny thing is that I've never noticed it.  Not once.

But, clearly, someone did.  Someone saw its beauty and potential, and singled the tree out as being worthy of prominence.  Who knew?

It makes me wonder about my surroundings in the happiest way.  What other wonderful things are hidden in plain sight around me?  And if I look more intently, can I be the one to find the potential?


What Are You Looking Forward to?

The other night as I sat surrounded by papers at my dining room table, I looked up at my husband as he walked through the room.  "I don't have anything that I'm looking forward to," I said.

Of course, I was looking forward to finish grading the stack of essays that I was working on, just like I had been looking forward to finish grading the stack of speeches I had been working on before that.  But these aren't real things you legitimately look forward to.  They're simply tasks that must get completed, so you can move onto the next tasks that must get completed.
Because I'm rationale like this, the next thing I said to my husband was, "I think I need Skittles."  (Because, clearly, when you're having an existential crisis about purpose and work-life balance, Skittles always help.  They really do.)

Joel got me Skittles, and I continued to plow through my grading.  But, in the recesses of my thoughts, I dwelt on the fact that I wasn't looking forward to anything.  I hadn't meant to blurt out that sentence, but I did.  It made me pause.  It's healthy to look forward the future.  When you're looking forward to something, you're invigorated and energized.  You have more accurate scope and perspective.

So, I made a point to document several measurable things that I can look forward to.  They're small items, like planning what I'll do the afternoon before Thanksgiving break when my kids will still be in school, but I'll be free to leave campus early.  (I'm going to have an afternoon to myself!  I can spend those hours however I want!  See?  The anticipation is already building.  It feels so healthy.)

Today, I asked my students what they're most looking forward to over their own Thanksgiving breaks.  One by one they offered responses: seeing family, reuniting with a beloved pet, eating their mom's stuffing, sleeping in their own bed, going shopping on Black Friday with a friend, or showering without having to wear flip flops in a communal dorm bathroom.

With each response, more smiles, nods, and laughter emerged from around the room.  (My students are in tunnel vision, too, after all.  This little conversation helped us all.)

Sometimes, we simply need to step back and change our view.  I can't change the fact that my work load is intense at this point in the semester; it's par for the course in academia.  But I can choose how I adjust my vision.

Look up.  Look ahead.  There's much to look forward to.   

Image compliments of ThomThom.net

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