Friday, December 18, 2015

Woman v Wild: Doubletime

Caesar weed--one of the invasives
After my wandering weekend, I had one more section of treeline that I really wanted to clear before Christmas. Our Christmas tree stands in the largest window onto our backyard and that window frames this particular section of forest. But this week before Christmas happens to be super busy (surprise!), so I resigned myself to not necessarily getting everything I wanted done. That's okay.

Well, my husband surprised me by using some of his time off to help me get it done. With his long reach, he cut down some high Brazilian pepper branches I could not have reached--branches loaded with Spanish moss. Seeing that cleared forest through the windows for the next few weeks will be a great gift to ourselves.

Big A. kept telling me that he had no idea we could do so much on our own. I told him that I think of myself as a termite. I take one little bite at a time and, before long, something that was there is no longer there. Just as I remind myself, I reminded him that this is a zen operation. Yes, we had a goal, but if we just do the task we feel like doing at the moment, sooner or later they'll all get done.

And in other amazing news, we finally found someone to start cutting the larger invasive pepper trunks down. It won't be the clean sweep that we hoped for, but we'll get rid of the one most entwined with the oak. One bite at a time, we're going to clear this forest of menacing non-native plants.


Check out the drooping palmetto branch in the left of each shot for a little help with the perspective.

And Yet Again Wonderful

I've written before about how much I love our Girl Scout troop's annual caroling night at our local hospice house.When I knew that S. had chosen to join the circus, literally, and would have no time for scouting this year, I admit I thought about how much I'd miss our caroling night.

Luckily, the troop invited us to come with them and, miraculously, it fell on a night when S. did not have practice. To my surprise--though, really, why should I be surprised?--when I asked the kids if they'd like to go caroling at hospice, they both said, "Yes!"

As worn out as they feel right now, the idea of caroling still generated the level of enthusiasm they usually reserve for ice cream. They really get it, I thought.

The sun always seems to set in splendor for us on these nights and this year was no exception. We just had to stop on the road in to take a picture. We drove the rest of the way, debating how many times we'd walked or run along the road at the 5k fundraiser just a few weeks before.

The troop has many younger girls this year, but the season and the reason worked their magic. With their fun Christmas hats and smiling faces, they walked quietly in. They spoke softly and sang sweetly, as always. For the first time this year, the staff ushered us down the hall to sing in one of the rooms. Two cheerful choruses of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" in the room wrapped up the caroling. Then the staff invited the girls back to the common room to have snacks, a thank-you treat they loved!

The children and parents chatted quietly with the staff until the wiggles and giggles began to break through, then the adults started the farewells and led the younger ones outside. Excitement bubbled over, but I know, especially for our family, a deep gratitude filled our hearts.

I'm a "just a mom" now, so the current leaders helped the girls. I hung back, happy to see them all interact. But I couldn't help wondering what story we had been invited into when the girls sang "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."

A little over a year ago, two summers ago, part of our family's story had played out in another hospice house, where other dedicated people cared for my husband's father during his last days. I couldn't help thinking how much he enjoyed simple, sweet moments during that time. With a full heart, I thought how much he would have loved hearing S. play Pachelbel's Canon so beautifully after the caroling.

Two years ago, I felt presumptuous writing about hospice. Now, having a more personal understanding of their work, I prayed with all my being that someone found that simple comfort in the children's voices.

Later, one of the leaders told me. She shared a bit of the story we'd become part of. The man who had asked the girls to sing had been living at hospice with his wife. She had passed away the day before, so he was packing to go home. He didn't want to go.

We can't know if the caroling eased his heart for a moment. I wish we could. I do know that it was an act of love. I know it marked an early lesson in sending light into the world for some little ones; it marked a return to the simple art of sharing light for some of us older ones. It was a living prayer, a powerful reminder that each moment offers us a chance to choose what we will share.

Let's help each other share light in the coming weeks.

Hospice published a sweet article about the troop this year. You can read it here if you would like.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Woman v Wild: Wandering

Gerber daisies
On my journey away from stress, I fully accept that my course will wander. I will not "stay on task." I'm happy about that.

I took a weekend--and maybe a few extra days--away from conquering the wild woods behind the house. Instead, I focused on the front of the house. It got a little tough because I do it so often. A task is a task; it seems like a chore is a task done over and over!

A critter den
So I gave myself permission to take my time, to do things in a different order than I usually do, to stop and savor the little victories. It felt nice. And the house looks fantastic every time I drive up.

Life is good.

Florida fall color

Monday, December 7, 2015

Woman v Wild: Satisfaction

Day 1 Before
Day 1 After

My thoughts wander when I work. So I had some deep thoughts as I unearthed our oak tree and the lovely volunteer schefflera from the deadfall, weeds, and Brazilian peppers.

Credit for my first train of thought goes to a friend who reminded me how much more satisfied we feel when we do work that tangibly improves our lives. I love camping for this very reason--you physically set up your shelter, cook your food, clean up a bit, and then? Then comes the magical time when your family's needs are all met and you can watch the sky roll by overhead. That's satisfaction.

Compare that to modern life. Way back when I first had this thought, we used paper, but you can substitute electrons for paper now. Most of us sit a desk and manage paper/electronic documents for at least part of our day, so we can receive a paper check/direct deposit that we put in the bank, which gives us more paper (money) to take to stores--or we can use the even less tangible credit on our cards.

Granted, there's some satisfaction to be had from bringing home the groceries, stocking the shelves, making a meal. I won't dispute that. But I did once, when S. first started looking around at the world, wonder what grocery shopping looked like through her eyes.

We leave our home box and get in a car box and go to a store box. Then she gets in a cart, which is sort of like a box, and we take boxes--and, yes, frequently recognizable food--off the shelves to put into the cart. Then we take the food boxes out of the cart box to put on the conveyor belt, where someone puts the food boxes in bags and then back into the cart box. Then we transfer everything back out of the store box, out of the cart box and into the car box, then into the house box, where it comes out of bags and goes onto shelves.

Trippy, huh?

After a few days of replacing my electron-pushing with manual labor in the yard, for anywhere from two to six hours, I'm feeling completely different. I'm sleeping better and even dreaming again. The knots in my neck and shoulders have relaxed. I had the biggest surprise today, though, when I drove down to the kids' school to drop something off. I had a fairly tight time window to get it there. As I drove, I kept nervously checking in with myself. What am I forgetting? 

Finally I identified the missing item: panic. I didn't feel panicked. I kept breathing normally, driving happily, singing along to my music. No panic required.

That's satisfying, too.

Day 2--Cleared from the palmetto on the right toward the left and took out some nasty Caesar weed. (They have "hitchhikers" or burrs.)

Bonus--taking the volunteer ferns back from the pool cage netted some to transfer behind the oak tree.

Satisfaction is a tidy pile of firewood--all nice, dry oak deadfall.
Another way to measure success--sheer volume of invasive species removed.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Woman v Wild: Warm-up Edition

I’m taking a sabbatical right now.

There, I said it. Wow. I feel incredibly guilty saying that.

Why is it so hard to say that my husband and I decided my health matters more than my income for six weeks this year? I don’t know, but it is! I am stepping out of the modern American energy sink that we call our lives and spending some time doing things that feed my soul. I’m resting a bit, too, and working REALLY HARD on calming down. That last bit’s sort of a joke. Sort of.

I’m incredibly lucky to be able to do this, so it’s hard to blog about it. Why do we feel better talking about the misfortunes in our lives than the good fortune? I don’t know, so I’m going to do it anyway.

My plan for my sabbatical includes rest, yes, and a relief from the constant stress of absolutely HAVING TO DO TWO THINGS AT ONCE, RIGHT THIS MINUTE, all day long. It also includes hanging with my family and enjoying the holidays. Most of all, though I’m attacking the wild woods. I have a plan to reduce the massive jungle of invasive plants in my backyard, one branch at a time.*

This time of year, being outside sounds wonderful. Florida in the winter actually feels the way I think summer should feel, so I’m excited to be out in the sun and away from the electronics. So that’s healthy, right?

I’m also highly motivated to restore the natural beauty of our backyard because we lost the fight for the cow field. For twelve years, I’ve walked the half mile out of our neighborhood to go see the cow field when I need nature. Those twenty acres of pastureland have been my touchstone, the place that persuades me that humanity is not a blight on the planet. Well, sometime next year, humanity will be putting a high density apartment complex surrounded by walls on those twenty acres of beauty. So…

I need a place to see the beauty of nature and restore my faith that humanity is not a blight on the planet.

I also have a strong symbolic motivation for improving the view from the back of our house. More than half of the windows in our house look out onto the backyard, including the ones in the great room and the master bedroom. Since I work at home, it is my view of the world most of the day. Some of you may remember that the endlessly growing wall of green invasive plants servedas a backdrop for my postpartum depression eleven years ago. Its summer growth reminds me of that time. Taking that down for good will feel good. Really good. Great, in fact.

So, next time I’ll post about my start on the great green wall of invasive plants. Today, I have pictures of my warm-up project—pressure washing our ancient driveway. No, it’s not perfect now, but I chiseled off a layer of dirt, fungus, and mold about as thick as a coat of paint. I accomplished something that tangibly made our lives better. I took care of something that has nagged at me for months.

It felt good. Really good.

*Our backyard merges into a preserve, which we truly appreciate. We have permission to remove the invasive plants from the preserve--for those of you who are interested in such things, they are mostly Brazilian peppers and Caesar weed.  

Before--doesn't look too bad in this shot...

After--doesn't look too great in this shot...

During--now the difference shows!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Writing in Water

I got my car washed today. I wanted to, but I didn't want to.

You see, on Sunday our whole family pitched in and worked. I mean, we Worked.

Little A. got a jump on all of us by waking up early and picking everything up off his floor. He told us that he set a goal to work until 7:00, but he got so interested that he didn't look at the clock until 7:15!

Then the kids helped me make breakfast--the little guy did sausages, his sister did scrambled eggs, I took care of the coffee and coffee cake. After breakfast, Big A. and S. cleaned all the windows and the porch screens while Little A. and I worked on the problem areas in his room. He stuck to it like a trooper. And the clean windows looked amazing!

While we ate, I couldn't say enough about how much the clean windows and screens changed my outlook. Remember that I work from home, so my view of the world comes almost entirely through those windows. I went from a dusty view that felt like prison to windows so clear that they didn't even seem there. I raved about it!

After lunch, S. did a homework project with a friend while Little A. worked outside with his dad. Our eight-year-old son, remembering how I raved about the windows, washed my car for me while his dad did other chores.

Now, my car started filthy. I've been meaning to wash it for a while. And Little A. tackled it with soap, water, and gusto. Of course, I thanked him profoundly--when his wet, wiggly, bathing-suited self came in to tell me and then again when, after dark, I pulled my car into the garage.

The full impact of the present hit me the next morning when I pulled out to take the kids to the bus stop. The still ridiculously bright Florida sun hit my windows and they were...white. Not solid white, of course, but streaks in places and water spots in others and one particularly lovely swirly spot. The best part was when Little A. came out of the house to get in the car. He took a look at the window on his car door and said, "Oh, shoot! I forgot to rinse this window!"

I said, "Don't worry. Maybe I can rinse it off later today." Meanwhile I slyly used the wipers and spray to clean the front windshield so I wouldn't hit anything on the way to the bus.

Little A. said, "Okay. But just this one window."

I waited until the following day to run the car through the car wash. I honestly don't think he noticed. I think I know why. In his vision, he made my car spotless. And it is. And that's the way it will remain in my heart, too.

So that's why I both really wanted to get my car washed and really didn't.

The best part of it all? The kids had been getting snippy and snarly after four days of vacation. After working with us all day Sunday, they turned completely around. I'm making a mental note to write about that someday--how kids are meant to work with and emulate and strive to be adults. But that's another blog for another day.