Can I learn to like winter?

Ten inches of wet, heavy snow fell over the weekend, and the forecast predicts more on the way, along with strong winds and frigid temperatures. After being thoroughly spoiled by mild weather for a week or two, we’re back to January in central Illinois. Looks like we won’t sit on our deck grilling brats anytime soon.

I’m definitely a spring and fall person. Spring offers promise – those first green shoots poking up out of the ground, a backyard in bloom, and the vow that this year, I really will stay on top of the weeding. What’s not to love about fall – especially if I ignore the fact that winter follows. Few sights are more gorgeous than a sunset forming the backdrop for rioting brown-orange-yellow-crimson leaves. 

But winter? It gets dark in the afternoon. Utility bills go up. Add in cold and flu season. Last year, Pete and I were continuously sick from Thanksgiving to Easter except for a week of respite in late January when my family finally got together for Christmas. After Pete wound up in the hospital with pneumonia, we seriously considered becoming “snowbirds” and moving to Arizona this winter, but the mere thought of the hassle changed our minds.

Why is it that spring rushes by faster than a fire truck with its lights flashing, while the coldest days of January poke along like that driver ahead of us on a 2-lane highway who thinks the speed limit is 35 m.p.h.? Why can’t spring last as long as winter? I know. Technically, winter has 90 days this year, and spring has 92. But regardless of what the calendar says, winter came quite early – with record snowfall before November was half over. 

On the other hand, Psalm 118:24 reminds us, “Today is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” I’m pretty darned sure this includes winter days. And since I turned 60, life has begun feeling much too short to wish whole months away.  Therefore, I’ve decided I either need to move to a place with a more temperate climate or find some way to stop hating winter.

I haven’t always disliked winter.  When I was a small child, my reaction to snow was, “Oh boy! Let’s go sledding! Make snow angels! Build snow forts! Make a snowman! Have a snowball fight!” Making snow angels lost its luster once I reached junior high school age and got vain about how my hair looked, but I still appreciated the “no school” announcement. 

Could I possibly learn to like winter again? 

Snow is pretty – especially when seen through the picture window in our living room. In early November, snow covering the still-colorful fall leaves created an interesting – and gorgeous – effect.

Bare trees project a certain majesty. Photo of the magnificent tree below was taken at the North Carolina home of cousins Anne and John.

Of course I can better appreciate the beauty of ice-coated branches when the ice stays off sidewalks and doesn’t trigger a power outage. 

Snow even adds beauty to dead weeds. 

Our Christmas cactus in the sun room only blooms once a year, and that’s in the winter.

Christmas is the one time of year when I can usually count on seeing most of my family. Pete and I have also started a tradition of inviting friends to our house for greens and hoppin’ john (a dish made of black-eyed peas and rice) to help us ring in the New Year. The hoppin’ john and greens are pictured below, right.

I’ve come to think of cold weather as God’s gift to people who need to be inside getting some work done. With 10 inches of snow on the ground and wind chill temperatures below zero, I can clean closets or work on a deadline project without feeling deprived by spending the whole day inside.

Winter weather reminds me of several other things I should be grateful for as well. Not being homeless. Not having a job such as postal carrier that requires me to work outside in sub-zero temperatures. Having a house with a garage, so I don’t need to dig our cars out of a foot of snow. Sixty-degree days in January. Snowdrops and crocuses that start poking their heads up in late February, just as I’m beginning to crawl out of my skin with cabin fever. Bird (and squirrel) watching.

I’m especially grateful for cardinals this time of year. In the middle of all the black-and-white dreariness appear those tiny splashes of brilliant red.

I’ve found it helps to think of winter as hibernation season. Bears do it, so why not me? Time to bundle up under a half-dozen quilts and read an 800-page book. Work on a deadline project and not feel guilty about staying indoors all day. Experiment with soup recipes.

I’ve also started leaving my Christmas decor up long past the time when the holidays are over. The twinkling lights make the room feel warmer and brighter in the mornings, and the winter weather outside doesn’t seem so harsh. They add such cheer to the darkness. This year, I’m keeping the Christmas tree and lights up till Lent. 

This morning I had a cat curled up in my lap and a cup of coffee at my side while I did my morning meditation. (I can see why having a warm cuddly pet is good for reducing blood pressure.) Christmas lights blinked cheerfully while I sat in the recliner in front of the fireplace bundled up in a flannel nightgown, yoga pants, hoodie, two pairs of socks and bedroom slippers. (This get-up will not get me featured in a Victoria’s Secret catalog, but it sure is comfy.) 

The forecast for this coming weekend predicts a real MESS — a mixture of snow and ice, strong winds and plunging temperatures. But we’ve stocked up on groceries. I’m preparing a casserole dish and some soup to get us through the pair of storms headed our way. And the lights that frame my windows are battery-operated, which means I’ll have a well-lit living room even if the power goes off. 

Here’s to staying warm!

Carpe diem!

  “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” – Psalm 118:24

Our church’s adult Faith Formation class this fall assigned us to choose our favorite Bible verse/passage and explain why we find it meaningful.

I like Psalm 118:24 so much I have it stenciled above the door in our sunroom so I can see it when I go out to my backyard in the morning to feed the birds and squirrels. It reminds me that each day is a gift from God, full of promise and new opportunities.

Notice the verse says “this is THE day the Lord has made,” not “this is day.” Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. Today is all we have. Yet, how many times have I said, “I’ll be glad when this day is over!” How many times have I fantasized that a future time exists when everything will fall into place and I will be able to start living my life in earnest?

Psalm 118:24 encourages me to practice mindfulness – to pay attention to each moment rather than operating on autopilot. When my days feel reduced to crossing items off the To-Do list I jokingly call “my conscience,” this verse inspires me to take a break from my often distracted, multitasking, overly-stressed schedule so I can be awake and alive instead of sleepwalking through life.

The verse also prompts me to set boundaries with my computer. Stop the mindless Internet surfing, resist “click bait” and avoid getting sucked into Facebook flame wars. How many articles do I need to read about our elected officials calling each other names? What do I gain by arguing about politics with total strangers on Facebook except for a bushel basket full of new resentments? Perhaps, the verse tells me, I should take a walk instead.

And while I’m out walking, the verse reminds me to let go of those joy-stealing resentments. I remember taking a twilight walk one beautiful October day surrounded by the most gorgeous sunset I’d seen in a while. Then I realized that, while God was putting on this amazing display, I had been staring at the sidewalk, my mind flitting from one surly thought to another. I even managed to reserve rent-free space in my head for the mean girls who made my life miserable in high school, the latter rumination triggered by an invitation to my 40th class reunion.

Finally, Psalm 118:24 teaches me to practice gratitude. I’m too often guilty of taking for granted common events in my life that should be cause for rejoicing: my marriage, my family, my kitties, my health, my home, good friends past and present, my church and other supportive people, the gifts and talents that helped me earn a living and will allow me to contribute something worthwhile during my retirement years.

So instead of groaning when the alarm clock goes off, I’d like to get in the habit of saying, “Carpe diem!” Time to wake up and seize the day …

 

Thoughts on turning 62

Unlike many people “of a certain age,” I still get excited about birthdays. I have always considered my birthday to be a personal holiday. My husband will play Happy Birthday to me on his dulcimer. My mother will come for a visit and take us out to my favorite restaurant. And I will meditate on what I’ve learned about life. So here are some thoughts as I embark on a bright, shiny new year:

Time is limited. Of course I’ve always known – intellectually, at least – that we’re not immortal. But in recent years, this has started to register on a deep-down level with the loss of Dad and a best friend my own age. Bottom line: Nothing’s guaranteed. I need to let family and friends know how important they are to me and how they’ve impacted my life. I need to do this now.

I survived adolescence once already, thank-you. These days, I swear I’m experiencing more bodily changes than I did as a teenager. My husband and I have acquired a new pastime – looking up medical problems on the Internet after the doctor sends us for tests based on the latest unnerving symptoms. We’re fond of joking that aging lends a whole new meaning to the term “drug salad.”

Perfection is an illusion. All my life I’ve struggled with perfectionism in areas ranging from my diet and my housekeeping to my career ambitions. But I probably need to face the fact that our home will always look like real people live here, no matter how much time I spend cleaning. There will never be a time when my house is in perfect order inside and out, including the closets, the garage and the basement.

So is eternal youth. Is 60 really the new 40, as Baby Boomers proclaim? Some say my generation is redefining old age. But truth be known, I have wrinkles. I have gray hair. There are some things I can’t do anymore – like burn the figurative candle at both ends and get away with it. Actually I wasn’t getting away with it when I was younger either. I just thought I was.

Perhaps I should say I’ve survived adolescence twice. I did have one of those midlife crises the shrinks talk about – that second adolescence complete with acne at age 45, identity struggles and acting out behaviors (red car, drastic career change). As I prepare to enter this new territory called Senior Citizenhood, I’m thinking maybe it’s time for my flaming midlife crisis to be over already! On the other hand, a friend sent me a Facebook meme that advised, “If you haven’t grown up by the time you’re 60, you don’t have to bother.” Whew! Maybe I’m off that hook.

I do not spend all my time wishing I were younger. Yes, there are days when I wish I had my 20-year-old body – especially when my arthritis flares. But only if I could keep my 62-year-old mind and all the experience and wisdom about life that I’ve accumulated. Older women tell me the 60s can be really good years. I’m old enough to know what’s important and young enough to act on it. Besides, when I am 80, I will most likely wish I still had my 62-year-old body, so I might as well appreciate it now.

 “Respect your elders!” never sounded so good. I can tell I’m getting older whenever I’m tempted to direct that admonition to 25- and 30-year-old kids. Oops! I mean colleagues and service people. On a serious note, it’s gotten more scary to encounter young adults who see their elders as people who either need to move out of the way or be thrown away rather than people to learn from and respect.

It’s time to let go of regrets. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t have picked up that first cigarette. I would have spent fewer of my prime years striving and competing for that brass ring that didn’t seem so shiny once I succeeded in grabbing it. Alas, I can’t change what happened decades ago. What I can do is make better decisions in this 24 hours. When my father turned 75, he said, “I honestly wouldn’t change a thing.” I hope I can say that when I’m 75!

I have set some boundaries with the fashion world: 1. Clothes must be easy to care for. If they need dry-cleaning, forget it. 2. They must be comfortable – nothing that binds or scratches. 3. They must look good on a 60-something woman who’s never been a size 0 and never will be. 4. Since I don’t have time to constantly shop, my wardrobe must stay in fashion for longer than a month. If clothes don’t fit all these criteria, I leave them on the rack, no matter how many cute young things are wearing them! 

I’m much less materialistic than I used to be. If there’s one thing I don’t need, it’s more THINGS!!! If I need to be reminded of this fact, I can go to my basement and gaze upon the 64 boxes marked “miscellaneous” that make me scream when I think about sorting whatever is in them.

But there are some things I continue to want. I want to spend more time on what’s important – traveling with my husband, entertaining family and friends – and less time mindlessly surfing the Internet. I want the courage to stand up for my values and let the chips fall where they may. I want to stop worrying about what my peer group thinks. I want to stop fighting with my own body.

Yes, I still have dreams. I have never been in a better position to achieve dreams like writing a book or making a constructive contribution to our society. The time to do these things is now, not some future date when everything will have settled down and fallen into place so I can start living my life in earnest. (See “Time is Limited” above.)

I’m entering the Age of Wisdom. Or so I’m told. When I was in my 20s, I had the world figured out. But the older I got, the smarter my parents got, just as Mark Twain predicted. Now I’m convinced only God has all the answers, and it’s my job to keep asking the questions.

I have a LOT to be grateful for. I have a terrific 32-year marriage to the best man on the planet (I’m only slightly biased here). I have wonderful enduring friendships. I have a beautiful home and – for the first time in my life – some real financial stability. I’ve had a successful writing career, followed by a challenging career in human services, followed by fulfilling volunteer work. Despite minor ailments, I’m relatively healthy. And I’m thankful God has given me another year.