Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Losing my checkbook on New Year's weekend

So a couple of days ago, I reached into my purse to get my checkbook. Not there. A mild state of panic ensued. Where could I have left it? I searched my apartment and used a flashlight to thoroughly search my car. My checkbook was not to be found. And yes, I even checked my purse again two or three times

I called my bank and reported the loss. The bank put a hold on my account, so no one who found my checkbook could forge a check from it. Nevertheless, my nervous system remained activated as I searched the most unlikely places for this record of my bank account information along with several blank checks. Thinking it may have fallen to the floor, I even looked behind my desk and behind the nightstand next to my bed as well. No luck.

This is no way to start a new year, I lamented to myself – my anxiety was rapidly including a lot of self pity. Still, I chose to handle the crisis alone rather than contact family or friends for moral support – why disturb them on a holiday weekend, I thought. It was New Year's Eve when I compulsively looked through my purse again – and there it was, concealed behind an envelope I'd picked up in my mail the other day – “Thank God!” I exclaimed aloud.

It was late evening when I sat down at my kitchen table and enjoyed a glass of wine to celebrate finding my checkbook and the fast approaching new year. And indeed I'm feeling relaxed and happy this morning at 9:36 a.m. on January 1, 2019.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

It's about time

alarm clock

I was unaware of the time change until I went online this morning and learned I'd best reset my clocks to fall back an hour – otherwise I'd be out of sync with the rest of my friends, neighbors, and business places, etc. I couldn't help recalling, though, how American Indians once reportedly described Daylight Savings Time as cutting off one end of the blanket and sewing it on to the other end.

That got me thinking about the ingenuity of our time system around the world. Don't expect me to know how it plays out across other time zones, though. I'm lucky to get nudged by my laptop to reset my clocks.

I was okay back in the day when my two children met the school bus each morning, Monday through Friday, in pursuit of their education. One explanation for the time change twice a year was that it made it safer for kids waiting for the bus, which would otherwise arrive before daylight. It was also suggested that depending on the season, it allowed farm kids to get home earlier to help with the chores. Those reasons for resetting our clocks twice a year seemed practical enough, and as we were not a farm family, I didn't question the rationale.

My only complaint regarding Daylight Savings Time is that my stomach has yet to get the message that now we're going to eat either an hour later or an hour before our usual meal time. And it takes my stomach and me at least several weeks to adjust to the change. It's a bigger problem when you're meeting friends for dinner at a nearby restaurant, and your appetite is on the previous schedule.

I failed to mention that DST also messes up our sleep schedules. If you're used to going to bed at 10 P.M. and getting up at 6 A.M., an hour earlier on either end can be disconcerting, to say the least. And your employer won't appreciate it, if on the other hand, you arrive at work an hour late.

The good news is that if you're single and retired – my status – you're free to eat and sleep according to your own dictates. That works for me.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

When a good friend moves away

Note: The names in this piece have been changed to preserve confidentiality among my friends and me.

On this final day of October here in Minnesota, it was pitch dark at 7 a.m. Minutes ago, however, the sun broke through, and our predicted high for today is in the fifties. We've had a few potentially nice days lately with sunshine and blue skies, but the wind nearly swept me away a couple of times when I succumbed to the impulse to go out and get some Vitamin D.

The good thing about Minnesota weather is that it can at least temporarily distract you from whatever else is going on in your life; for example, a good friend, Jacqueline, who has lived in my apartment building for a couple of years, up and moved away recently. A few days before her departure, she and I bumped into each other down in the garage, and we enjoyed chatting for a few minutes. I remarked, “We won't be able to enjoy these impromptu visits much longer.”

So it is with lingering sadness that I compose this piece to post on Katalusis today.

Jackie and I were visiting with my friend Meghan a few days ago, who reminded my departing friend and me that we could stay in touch via phone, email, and letters. Well, I know from experience how that goes. My friends Beth in Chicago and Marilyn in Florida do stay in touch once in a great while, but it's been years since I've seen either of them.

The thought crossed my mind this morning that my sadness for my long distance friends is cumulative. My family moved around a lot when I was a child, which meant leaving friends and classmates behind that I had sometimes only begun to get to know.

Still, I remind myself this morning, as I sit here at my laptop reminiscing about them, that even though I may seldom hear from old friends, who have moved away, I continue to be enriched by our time together however long ago it transpired. Each of my friends has contributed to my personal growth over the years in more ways that I can count; thus, they remain an important part of my life.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

A Close Encounter with an 18-Wheeler

(Note to readers: This piece was first published in the Woodbury Bulletin, several years ago.)

A recent traffic incident reminded me that politics isn't the only area in our lives where ordinary boundaries of civility are sometimes violated.

I was looking to merge onto I-94 West the other day when a big semi-trailer roared past me and veered toward the off ramp. Braking my mid-sized Mercury sedan to avoid slamming into the 18-wheeler as it made the turn, I wasn't exactly reciting the loving kindness prayer, familiar to those of us who practice mindfulness meditation.

But neither was I making an obscene hand gesture , which the driver, aloft in his cab, wouldn't have seen anyway. Safely within the flow of westbound traffic, I resumed normal breathing and relaxed my white knuckles on the way to St. Paul. Reflecting on my close encounter with the semi, it occurred to me that freeway driving and politics are somewhat analogous.

Since we can't control the behavior of others on either the campaign trail or the interstate, minding our own manners is frequently the best we can do. Elsewhere in our lives, though, we often have more power than we realize to assert boundaries - the emotional, mental, and physical limits on how we relate to one another.  Having effective boundaries means caring for ourselves at all times and under all circumstances.

We fail to honor our personal boundaries when we passively accept verbal attacks and other attempts to undermine or negate our efforts. We fail to honor the personal boundaries of others when we expose them to sarcasm or other expressions of hostility, such as distancing them emotionally.

Chronic complaining often suggests a need for boundaries. A key requirement for setting limits is learning to say "no" calmly and firmly. Standing up for ourselves without attacking the other person is likely one of the hardest lessons any of us ever has to learn.

It might be something as simple as asking a co-worker to use your given name instead of the nickname she has chosen for you.

It could mean refusing to do something you believe is ethically wrong even if you fear your job is at stake.

Sometimes it's best to just step back and not take personally the ranting of an obviously upset person, for example a client or customer. Whatever the conflict, examining the boundaries involved can clarify and help resolve the issues, although maybe not so readily on the campaign trail or the interstate.

Come to think of it, there are times when the loving kindness prayer mentioned earlier might be a traveler's best option. It goes something like this:

May I be filled with loving kindness;
May I be safe and protected from all internal and external harm;
May I be as healthy and whole as possible;
May I experience ease and well being.

Gurus of mindfulness meditation suggest substituting the names of others occasionally, for example, leaders of the opposition party and errant drivers of 18-wheelers.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

An Inspiring To Do List?

After I conclude my morning ritual, which usually includes reading a few pages of spiritual literature, writing in my journal, meditating for half an hour or so, and enjoying breakfast, I normally make a to do list for the rest of the day that covers household chores, necessary shopping, and occasionally helping out a friend or neighbor.

Mind you, my to do lists are not that inspiring, but as noted above, I do find time for daily prayer and meditation as well as practical items, e.g., helping a friend or neighbor, cleaning out the refrigerator, or gettng the car washed. Recently, I did, however, find an inspiring to do list over at TinyBuddha.com. It went something like this:

  1. Count my blessings;
  2. Let go of what I can't control;
  3. Practice kindness;
  4. Listen to my heart;
  5. Be productive, yet calm;
  6. Just breathe;
  7. Meditate.

Number 5: Be productive, yet calm, leapt out at me. When I have a major task to accomplish, for example, my income tax, I often have an anxiety attack before I'm finished – I do get back to it in time, mind you, but it's kind of frustrating to have to work through that emotional distress first.

I'm finding it helps to do Numbers 6 and 7 first: breathe and meditate. That way I kind of ease into the latest project without getting all worked up over it. And I get it done in good time. Besides, it's usually of better quality than work I've completed during one of those anxiety attacks.

I might add that in addition to breathing and meditating, I often take a walk to help me relax.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Let it snow, let it snow...

I was planning to go grocery shopping the other day when it started to snow; I watched the neighbor's rooftop turn white, and I decided to stay home. No way was I going out on a five-mile drive on a slippery freeway to my favorite store here in the Twin Cities metro area. In any case, I had enough coffee on hand to last a couple of days and a good supply of peanut butter and jelly and a loaf of English muffin bread.

The snow melted shortly after it fell on the still green grass, and I could have probably gone shopping without incident. However, those snow flurries triggered a memory from a couple of decades ago. Back then, my family and I lived in West Concord, a small town near Rochester, Minnesota. My two children were attending high school, and I was enjoying a long-deferred dream of going to college. A student at Rochester Community College, I planned to enroll in the nearest four-year college after earning my Associate of Arts degree at RCC. Keep in mind it was 30 miles one way to Rochester.

I was a dedicated college student and a few snow flakes that morning would not prevent me from going to my class. Not an experienced winter driver, I hit an icy spot on Highway 14 and the next thing I knew, our heavy Ford Torino careened down the incline into the median. Why me?! I shouted as the car rolled over. There were no seatbelts in those days, so I wound up lying on the inside of the car's roof. The engine was still running, and I reached out and turned off the keys. I then opened the driver's side door and crawled out. A truck driver had already stopped on the freeway above me and was setting out flares. I walked up the hill in time to greet the police who had been called to the scene. These were kind and thoughtful people. They contacted a nearby garage, and my car was soon towed back onto the freeway. The only damage the mechanic noted to the old Ford was that it's roof was caved in.

Just a little unnerved, I drove to Rochester Community College that day in time for my psychology class. I met with the professor before class and shared with her what I had been through in order to get there. She said, “You know, you're still pretty far out, don't you?” I don't think I replied.

When I drove home that day, word had already gotten back to West Concord. From then on, the guys at the local Mobile station called me Barney Oldfield, whose name, according to Wikipedia, was synonymous with speed during the first two decades of the 20th Century.

These days I'm pretty good at adjusting my speed to the road conditions, but as I noted earlier, if I don't have to – nothing wrong with peanut butter and jelly – I stay home when it's snowing.