Category Archives: Christmas

Snowman Cookies and Holiday Shopping

This week I traded shifts with a coworker, so that I could have a much needed day off today. He was supposed to work last night, and I was supposed to work all day today. I figured that working 6 hours at Caribou yesterday morning, and then 6 hours at the Fruit Stand last night, would be a good trade off for a day completely off of work.

I slept in and woke up at 10 o’clock, then I went for a short, slow, “recovery” run. I’ve been using the Nike+ Running Club app with my new Watch, and so far I am pleased with the workout rotation. Their workouts seem to escalate at a good pace, and they are varied enough that I am not getting bored. Tomorrow I have 400 repeat workout, which I am unsure how to accomplish without a track, but I am sure I’ll figure it out. The one thing I don’t really care for with the watch and the Nike+ app is that I can’t start a specific run for my plan from the watch. I’ve been using the coaching feature to train for a 10-mile run I’m doing in March, but I have to start it on my phone in order to have it follow the plan. I hope in future revisions of the app, the developers allow the plan to show up on the watch, because it will encourage people like me to use the app more regularly. The plus side is that there is a way built in to the plan to credit any runs you do toward your plan.

I spent a bit of time this morning playing with my dogs, and I’m reminded that Lily and Sydney aren’t getting any younger. Sydney shivers almost nonstop, because he is very skinny and his kidneys don’t work well, but he still plays and runs, herding the other two dogs around the yard like a champ. Lily’s face is almost entirely white, and her back legs sometimes give out when she goes up and down the stairs, but she plays like a puppy and still likes to whoowhoo her blanket to procrastinate going for the morning walk.

When I play with them, I am reminded that all good things will end, but that each day is what you make of it. They are both 13 years old, but they are joyful and loving. At the risk of being one more person who says it, at the risk of being a total cliché, I learn something from my dogs every single day. How to forgive. How to have unbridled joy. How to play. How to give love, so much love. Man, I’m going to miss those two goofy pups when they’re gone.

Last night around 1:30 or so, I decided I should do my holiday shopping today, so after playing with my dogs, I headed to Woodbury to the Barnes & Noble. Surprise, everyone, I bought literature for Christmas! I just think books are never a bad idea. I bought some magazines for some folks, some books for others, and some Mo Willems Pigeon books for some small folks in my life (I’m looking at you Dubs and T-Bean).

Don't let the pigeon play Santa.

Don’t let the pigeon play Santa.

After I finished getting books and magazines for people I love, I stopped at the Starbucks across the parking lot to have a Holiday Spice Flat White and a Snowman Cookie. Or two.

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I knew I wanted to write today, so this was the perfect place to do it. I’m using this space here, this blog, to write for now. I know I need to work on some side projects that aren’t published here, and I know I need to start working on some serious pieces to send out to try and get published in legitimate literary journals. I know.

Now my time for myself is up for today, and I have to head home to shovel the driveway. Being outside in the quiet snow is a huge relief from the chaos at either of my jobs. The dogs will bark at me through the fence, and the kids will be playing in the snow at the park, but those are welcome, happy sounds.

I’ve started this post a million times…

or so it seems. I usually know with a certain level of accuracy how to express what I am feeling, but this week I am at a loss for words. I’m unsure what to say, and I’m unsure what to think, and I’m unsure what to do.

I’ve heard people say that the election resonated with them in the same way that the Pulse shooting resonated with them, but that’s not quite it for me. I’ve heard people say that they feel like a homeless person, because their home has been taken from them by force, but I can’t say that because I’ve never been homeless.

There are countless other ways people have described their disappointment, including a customer who came in, in tears, because she fears for her autistic son’s well-being and the loss of Arctic animals because of climate change. I, too, am scared—no terrified—for my GLBT+, non-white, non-“Christian” friends and the earth. I’m pissed that we are in a war in Standing Rock, North Dakota with indigenous people who are trying to protect the tiny bit of land that they were given by our government. This article by Code Switch is an excellent article about what’s going on there.

I feel like I am inside some bad trip, where nothing makes sense, and someone is trying to help me down, but I can’t come down. I’m just stuck, here, in an alternate world where nothing makes sense and nothing adds up. People, who I previously considered friends, intelligent friends, say things that make no sense, things that don’t follow any kind of consistent ethic, and that don’t align with their previously stated morality.

I keep seeing these things posted on Facebook walls of people who voted for Donald Trump, and I can’t wrap my head around how people can reconcile this bit of Scripture with the running platform of our President Elect:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart. Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Everyone around me is angry or sad, and those who aren’t angry or sad are elated and willing to tell me so. Over and over again. People I don’t know post hateful things on my Facebook timeline.  I spent fifteen minutes yesterday with a customer who told me all about how the next four years are going to be the best of his life. When I said, okay, he said, your products are going to be made in the US again. I said, okay, and he just kept talking about how P.E. Trump is trying so hard to establish himself as a good president. I said, okay.

I’m tired. I’m taking a break.

*

About four months ago, on my 42nd birthday, I set some goals. The older I get, the easier it is for me to just ignore my goals, to not care about meeting those goals, or to just be lackadaisical about accomplishing them.

On this coming Sunday, Advent begins, so I think I might try to accomplish my goal of going to church. I think I need it. I think you need for me to go. I say this because I have not been my best self for the majority of November. Maybe a baby Jewish refugee in a wooden cow trough, who was birthed to an unwed teenage mother and father, who was brought gifts by “foreigners,” who was worshipped by the working class, and who was later saved from infanticide at the hands of the ruling class will be just the miracle to bring me around.

Anyway, I set a couple of other goals, too: running, compassion, pay it forward, social media and creativity, and finances.

I am working on running, while also playing soccer and nursing my plantar fascia on my right foot. I won’t be running a full marathon again next summer, but I am going to run a 25K trail race at Afton; 15 miles is a more accomplishable goal for me this year.

Compassion, which includes going to church, seems to be going the best right now, since I am trying so hard to understand what makes people do what they do. I’m also trying to work at allowing myself to be in someone else’s shoes; I’m hoping that maybe I will somehow be able to better understand my fellow humans. I’ve also been a bit of a slacker when it comes to meditation, so I need to refocus on this aspect of my life as well. I can really tell when I practice mindfulness and when I don’t. I’m not so mindful right now. I’ve been vegetarian, but not vegan, which is something I will fix at the new year.

I still haven’t worked on paying it forward, and I’d love to find somewhere to volunteer every week, even though my schedule is a bit wacky, I could just RTO time each week for volunteering.

The social media and creativity goal is the one that I should’ve kept working on with diligence. More than any of the goals. I find that being on social media is really damaging to my psyche. People are mean. I should’ve been drawing or printmaking, instead of spending all those hours on Facebook, getting angrier.

Finally, my finances are slowly improving. I’m paying more on all of my credit cards each month, and I have a separate savings account, where I deposit all of my wages from Caribou, for vacation spending. We went to New York and I paid for all but the dog boarding with cash, but I quickly paid off the dog boarding upon our return.

So, while I’m not making major headway, I feel like I am making some. I’m also taking a break. Until after the holidays. Peace. Grace. Joy. Love. Hope.

Oatmeal Pancakes. Social Media. Kindle.

Today I didn’t wake up until 8AM, and I decided that I was going to take this day off as easy as possible, until I go to the gym later this afternoon.My workout today will not be an easy one, so I needed all the rest I could get. I’m basically doing everything there is to do at the gym, which I know is not the best course of action, but I am doing it anyway, because I have the day off, so I can spend as long as I want there working out. I’m swimming, biking, running, and lifting. Dumb? Yes. Oh, well. It’s not like I do that every day, but I’m sure I’ll be sore tomorrow.

EDIT: Just in the course of writing this and eating my breakfast, I’ve decided to go run outside on a paved trail I’ve been meaning to try out. I’ll take advantage of the unseasonable warmth. Then I’ll just go lift and probably swim. I’ll save biking for tomorrow. Or, maybe even, I’ll go run around the island at Fort Snelling. Such choices.

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One of my favorite meals is breakfast, but I have no money to go out for a big lavish feast, so I decided to make myself some pancakes. Not just any pancake would suffice, of course, because I always need special pancakes. I used a basic pancake recipe, but made it gluten-free. Oh, and I added everything I love: bananas, oats, coconut, nutmeg, cinnamon, and maple syrup. I was going to add some protein powder, too, but the only flavors I have are chocolate and strawberry, which I didn’t think would taste very good with everything else. Maybe the chocolate, but then all I’d taste is chocolate, and I want to taste the bananas, oats, and coconut.

I also brewed up some of our special holiday gift coffee from Caribou Coffee. The name of this particular blend/roast is ¡Ay Caramba!, and it’s a Mexican coffee with subtle cocoa hints. Delicious with pancakes no doubt.

I just flipped the first batch of four little pancakes, and they were slightly darker than I’d like them to be, but the batter is pretty thick, so there weren’t any little bubbles forming. Thick batter is the problem with hearty pancakes. Thick batter is also the pleasure of hearty pancakes.

As I anticipated, these pancakes were amazing and they paired well with the coffee. One thing I do have to say about Caribou is that our roastmasters are pretty fantastic, even though they are obsessed with light roasting things. I seriously can’t wait for the Ethiopian coffee that’s coming out in February. Ethiopian coffees are my favorites, and I am confident that our roastmasters won’t fuck it up when it comes to getting the best taste out of them. It’s really nice to work for a company where people pay attention to details like that. And, I’m happy to know that all of our beans are Rainforest Alliance Certified.

*

I have a new love. Her name is Kindle Fire. Seriously, when my parents bought them for my brother and me for Christmas, I was a little taken aback. I love books. I love their pages. I love their ink. I love their smell. I love their feel. I would certainly never let anything come between me and my books, let alone this electronic thing.

Love is fickle. Love is so very fickle. And I’ve fallen for my Kindle.

Now I love the ability to read a book anywhere, anytime, on my phone, or on my Kindle. I am no longer that geeky girl who carries a book everywhere with her (or am I?). When I was younger, I stuffed books everywhere, sometimes even carrying them outright and bold, standing in line at the theater with my family reading a book, walking through the grocery store shopping with my mom and my brother reading a book, lying next to the pool reading a book, basically doing anything anytime reading a book. Needless to say, I was so popular. I was never ashamed of my love of reading. In fact, I sore of wore my oddities as a badge, but I always knew I was slightly out of step with the other kids around me.

The beauty of the Kindle is I can be reading anytime and it just looks like I am any one of any other mindless drones on my phone. Only while others play games or use social media, I’m secretly reading literature! I finally fit in (not so much)!

Seriously, though, I do love this thing. I have already read two books on the Kindle, and I’ve only been using it for a week. I love the Kindle Unlimited possibility, that for $10 a month I can read unlimited books. Are they books I’d normally read? Mostly no, but there are some really good ones, maybe just older ones, like Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, in the unlimited library. And any book is a good book, I suppose, with the exception of the Twilight Series and Fifty Shades of Grey. I’ve found that there are very few books that are bad enough for me to stop reading.

I’ve also learned that in the realm of the literary, at least, I can have more than one lover. I can love my Kindle Fire, and I can love my print books. I will tell you that there will be no Toni Morrison, Louise Erdrich, or Margaret Atwood on the Kindle, unless, of course, I also own them in print. Those three women deserve real pages to be turned, real ink to be seen, and a real cover to be caressed. And, dare I say, simple realness to be savored with every sense.

And that’s that.

 

Advent, Food and Exercise, Writing, and Stress

Most people who know me would not be able to believe that my two favorite liturgical seasons are Lent and Advent, in that order. I love spiritual waiting, because I know at the end of the wait there will be Jesus. I love the anticipation of Jesus, who is in all ways God, coming to earth in all ways human during Advent. I reluctantly wait for his inevitable death with the promise of resurrection during Lent. There is nothing quite like spiritual anticipation to make a person realize how blessed we are on this earth, how much the God of the universe cares for us and gives us grace. I agree with Nadia Bolz-Weber when she insists that our spiritual and theological lives consists of hundreds, if not thousands, of little deaths, resurrections, and rebirths (paraphrase). So it is every day for me. Anticipation of these spiritual events keeps me keeping on. Anticipation gives me hope.

Contrarily, I do not love earthly waiting. Instead I am like the cliché kid in the candy shop, wanting to take as little time as possible to make things happen in this world. I want things and I want them now. Maybe that’s why I put so much stock in Advent and Lent; it makes feel as if I have some otherworldly waiting ability. Anyway, I’m in a period of waiting now, on this earth, for the next steps. I’m leaving teaching at the end of May, at least for a while, until I can figure out what I want to do with myself. I’m hoping to be a bartender, or a barista, or something that involves the outdoors for a bit. I need to regroup and rethink and refocus. So, I am waiting to see what comes next. And it feels like an eternity. And it feels like so many things to figure out. And it feels overwhelming.

*

Well, I tried a Whole 30, but again didn’t succeed. It takes a lot of work for me to be that strict with my food. Food is love and grace for me, and I still want to share in happy hour with my friends. Maybe I’m a weak person, maybe I have no self-control (see above, I want it, now), maybe I need a legitimate starting point like New Year’s to make things stick, maybe I’m just destined to be a fat kid. Who knows? What I do know is that from my lowest weight last year until now, I’ve gained almost 30 pounds. I chalk it up to stress, since I eat my feelings. I chalk it up to the mild depression I feel every fall/winter, since I sometimes don’t even want to get out of bed.

I am nowhere near my fattest, but I am not happy with this weight gain, because I can’t run, bike, or swim as fast. That being said, I’m cruising through the holidays, and then I’ll try to make some changes. It’s too much to try to be festive and self-policing at the same time.

I have also fallen short of my yearly goal this year to move my body 5 miles each day. I don’t think there’s any way for me to accomplish this goal, since my body doesn’t seem to want to cooperate with my grand plan of completing a mini-triathlon each day. I did four days worth, but then my body sort of said, “Fuck you, fatty, this is too much exercise.” And now my foot hurts, and I don’t think I can do it. But I’m going to try again starting tomorrow.

*

I’ve been trying to write with my students this semester, but all I’ve gotten out of it is a load of crap and some really bad starts to several nonsensical stories. I am taking a teaching creative writing class this spring semester, so I can make something out of my classes for my PhD that I won’t be using for an actual PhD, since I quit. I hope the muse comes back to me before I have to start working on my creative project for the Master’s degree I’ll be trying to get. It’ll be in creative writing, and I have to write a new creative nonfiction piece that is publishable. This may be a bit tricky. Anyway, my whole point is I need a muse.

*

I have never felt so much stress at any point in my life up to this date. I can’t imagine being a person who is this stressed all the time, nor can I fathom how some people function while carrying around such a huge load of anger, suspicion, and doubt as I see people carrying. I have found myself wondering how people keep from simply collapsing under the weight of the burdens they bear, because I sometimes feel like I could cave to the small amount of things I shoulder.

During this Advent, my heart hurts for people who experience stress, despair, anger, suspicion, doubt, hate, a painful past, or illness, and I pray and hope for healing, peace, love, and grace to visit them through me. I anticipate that the risen Christ will show through me and my actions as I love people this Advent. I anticipate being grace.

Winter Break Retreat and Dissertation Work

I’m spending my winter break at home by myself. Well, more accurately I am spending it at home with five cats, three dogs, a fish, and some outside birds. More importantly, however, I am spending it in a quiet house. I decided to use the time I’d be home alone to give myself a spiritual retreat of meditation/prayer, silence, and reading/writing. Of course, this retreat isn’t as focused on spiritual matters as I would like it to be, because it has to be equally focused on school matters as I work to finish this dissertation re-proposal. I’m enjoying the fact that my typical day is looking somewhat contemplative at least.

For the past several days, since the day after Christmas (so when my mini-retreat concludes with Bec’s return on Sunday evening it will be a five day fast from normality) my day has looked like this:

  • Instead of using the alarm clock, I’ve been getting up whenever I feel like waking up. Most mornings it’s been between seven and eight in the morning.
  • After getting dressed, the first thing I do is put a pot of water to boil on the stove, set on low, so I can make a French press of coffee when I get back from walking the dogs.
  • I take a nice, slow walk with my dogs and give them lots of extra love once we return home. I take care of the cats, feed the birds and the fish.
  • I make coffee, eat breakfast, and have a bit of prayer/contemplation time with the help from Common Prayer and some fragrant incense. I light my St. Jude candle and pray for assistance with this dissertation, because it seems like something I should ask for help from the patron saint of the impossible.
  • Once I’m finished with morning prayer time, I read whatever text it is for the day for my dissertation and I take notes on the text.
  • I stop to make lunch/dinner, and I spend time doing some physical activity (riding my bike trainer, walking, shoveling snow) to make my thoughts congeal. Then I write a bit about the text I read that day.
  • Finally, I have allowed myself only an hour and a half to use Facebook, talk on the phone, text, email, or meet with friends. The rest of my day, from whenever I wake up until 9PM is spent in contemplative silence. At 9PM, I watch a bit of TV while trying to fall asleep.

I’ve noticed that during this week my thoughts have become clearer, my energy has gone back up, my spiritual life has turned for the better, and I don’t really miss talking or watching TV. I’d love to take a week long silent retreat at a convent or monastery some time, where I can’t even have a computer and can only use the land line telephone to make calls.

I’ve made some interesting discoveries about myself this week, too. The first is that I need an intense amount of what my friend Amy calls “self-care.” Here is what I wrote to another friend of mine about the dark night I went through this November; it was the worst one I’ve experienced to date. “I’m also not being preachy (okay just a little bit) when I say that even Jesus had to take a time out once in a while to feed his soul. Families complicate that, and so do friends sometimes, and it’s hard to strike a healthy balance between the two. I find that sometime the ‘should’ rules bind me in to the point where I can’t have fun or enjoy life even when I don’t have something I ‘should’ be doing. That’s the point I was at in November (the very bottom of the barrel), and, yes, I’ve always (since I can remember) struggled not with the notion of killing myself, but of sometimes feeling that I’d be better off in another place or that my life is too overwhelming to keep living. I have only been in a really bad spot like that a couple of times in my life and I had a really hard time getting out of it this time. It made me realize that sometimes for me the ‘should’ is taking care of myself, even if it means doing things at the expense of spending time with others. You know I love a good conversation and some good quality time, but I had to take a weekend to ‘go to a conference’ to get my perspective back. Thank God for my friend Amy, who is a hospice chaplain. She didn’t realize that she was going to have work in her off hours. Since then, I’ve tried really hard to make at least half an hour for myself before anyone else is up. I get up at 4AM most mornings to get time to run, pray, worship, and feed my soul. I am super tired sometimes because I am so not a morning person, but I find the trade-off to be worth it.” I owe my sanity to my friends Sarah and Daniel as well. I am not sure any of them really knew how fragile I was that weekend, but I had a hard time even enjoying anything, let alone learning anything at that conference.

Sometimes—I’ve learned about myself—I am really high maintenance in the emotional department. I can be dark and brooding, and I am sure it is difficult to be my friend. However, I am so thankful for those people who stick by me and who keep me laughing (or at least smiling) when I really question why I am here at all. I’m not saying this to be melodramatic or to draw attention to myself, but I am saying it because I know there are others out there who feel the same way. I wonder probably too frequently what is the point of my existence, and before you think it, yes, I do love the existentialist writers, particularly Dostoevsky. I do know, somewhere deep down inside of me at all times: there is hope, there is help, and there is healing. I’ve experienced it again and again through my friends and through my faith. There is a purpose to all of this, but for me it’s difficult to understand.

I’ve learned that when my faith suffers, I suffer. When I get in a place like I was in November, that dark and scary place, I can’t feel God or connect with God in any meaningful way. Do I keep searching? Yes, but it feels as if I just keep finding nothing at the bottom of dark, dark hole. There aren’t many people who I know in my life who would admit to this feeling, but I am sure we all have it at least fleetingly. I think too much, I rationalize too much, and I don’t just “let go and let God,” as the cheesy saying goes. Well, I can’t do that. And I do think it’s cheesy. I prefer my theology with a dose of reason and my faith with a dose of doubt. Though I am in a much better place now than I was in November, I still wouldn’t say I’m a bucket of sunshine and rainbows. Full of hope, but realistic about it.

One of the books I read over break, which had nothing to do with my dissertation, but which helped me to think about my faith in new ways was An Unquenchable Thirst by Mary Johnson. The book is basically about her long struggle as she lived as a Missionary of Charity for twenty years of her life. Many of her theological struggles are mine, many of her relational struggles are mine, and many of her solutions are mine as well. The place where the book challenged me the most was near the end. Johnson leaves the Church: “I don’t tell Father Bob about the still, small voice I heard within. Look inside yourself, the voice said. God is like the best parts of you. From there it was a short step to God is the best parts of you. [. . .] I tell him that the freer I become, the more beautiful I grow” (522). I am not sure that I can follow her to the point of leaving the Church, but I can certainly respect her ideas and would love to bring them into the Church. From her story, I can only imagine her being able to relate to God in such a manner (one without the presence of hierarchical church structure). In many respects the Church has made God out to be the best parts of it, so why as individuals can’t we believe that God is the best parts of us? The peaceful, loving, grace-filled, compassionate parts of us. Near the end of the book Johnson writes about the way most people remember Mother Teresa as being filled with joy, almost nonhuman in her joyfulness: “I feel odd to prefer the human to the perfect; maybe that’s why I don’t fit anymore. I want earth, not heaven” (523). I think I must be super selfish, because I want both.

I find that when I keep a balanced perspective about theology, when I realize that some of my understanding of heaven comes from Scripture, and that much more comes from experiencing God’s love (and human maliciousness) here on earth, I can relate to God much more clearly. Just this morning, after four days of “retreat,” I was finally able to pray again (it’s been a long time coming), to feel as if God heard my thoughts, heard my prayers. I felt as if I was literally in the presence of God. As I prayed for others, I felt their names, their faces, their difficulties come rushing forward to meet my lips. This experience wasn’t from me, but was it from God? Do I owe this to some divine breakthrough or is it more the fact that I am just relaxed? Have I just given myself enough self-care to be open enough to be in the presence of God? Have I tricked myself with contemplation and incense? Have I tried harder this week and somehow tricked myself into feeling God’s presence? Is it the beauty of the snow? Is it having time? Is it the lack of stress? Is it an emotional spoke in my menstrual cycle? These are the questions I ask myself when I start to feel to deeply and can no longer rationally explain my theological ecstasy. I want both the rational and the completely irrational, the earth and the heavens, the justice and the grace. I want to enjoy the mystery. God, I want.