#19 – Music!

It began when my parents would sing in the car, and we children would learn the songs and join in. It was a family tradition that I am sad to admit I didn’t carry into my children’s lives so much.

When we got to school ages, we joined various children’s choirs (some you had to audition for at tender ages like five and six). As we grew up, there were school chorus classes and still church choir opportunities – and always singing in the car.

Once I was an adult, singing times were more and more limited, and I can’t seem to hold those notes very well anymore. Damaged hearing has played some part in that loss of expression as well.

Some days I really wish I could sing like I used to; but I still thank God for the thrill of hearing music and letting it sing for me when I hear it. There are so many tears that can’t spill out of my heart or mind, until the right blend of sounds comes to help. There is also nothing sufficient enough to express the gladness of a heart that is overflowing like a song does. Let the music help your body to sway as well as your legs to jump! There is such a wealth of expression that I cannot live without – if there was no music for my soul.

Yes – music is Awesome!

“I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever!” Psalm 80:1

#18 – FLEXTIME!

I am SO thankful for FLEXTIME!

For most of my working life, I have had to be at work before the time I begin working, so that I could start working right on time; but not anymore, thanks to flextime.

I began my adult work in factories. They treat you like a “squishy machine” that needs to be protected from injury (hence the “squishy”), but otherwise just part of the production line. If you can’t be there when the line needs you there, then you are expendable and fired. Someone else will be given the chance to be a new cog in the process. There’s always someone waiting for your job, so you have to be careful not to let anything keep you from showing up every day, and always on time.

Production line duties are usually repetitive, often physically demanding, and mind numbing work. The only real hope was to have races with your rate time from yesterday; or to pay attention to whatever causes trouble for the parts you work with, and find a resolution for, so you can get a bonus or promotion. It was what I referred to as “drone work” that wore on your soul if you had a restless mind. I couldn’t work in those situations for very long unless there was some variety. The factory jobs I enjoyed the most were the ones that had me working with my hands (not just a machine) at my own pace, and using drawings to fill circuit boards. Sadly, automation got rid of most of those.

I was “between jobs” (aka unemployed and looking for work) when I was given the stunning opportunity to attend college at no cost to me. I was considered low income and had dependents, so I qualified for federal and state programs that were available in the 90’s. There I acquired new skills that got me out of the factory production areas and into the offices. This is when I began to find out about “flex time”.

Different places will have a different name, but the benefit is the same: you can arrive at any time (within 2 hours of start of business day), and leave at a different time than usual, as long as you put in your full week’s hours – because the workday is flexible (ergo: flextime). So if you wanted to arrive at 6 am, and leave at 2:30 (with 30 mins for unpaid lunch) – you could, as long as you supervisor approves and your work is completed before leaving. Or, if you wanted to arrive at 9 am and leave at 5:30 (same lunch), you could do that, too.

The only person who couldn’t do that was the one who had to answer the phones, since that is dependent on business hours as customers will call. Sometimes, that was my role and I couldn’t enjoy the benefit of flex time so much. The thing is, if I was 15 mins late for work at the factory, they deducted that from my pay, and I couldn’t make it up. It would also get me a write up that could lead to my termination/firing. In the office I can – and do – make up for lost time. I can even leave for a 1 hour appointment and then return to work! UNHEARD OF in my earlier life.

As long as you’re not meeting customers in a fixed schedule, or working in a process that has to rely on each person performing a task so the next person can do theirs, flextime is possible for even people not working on a salary. I’ve always been an hourly worker, or commission paid. I’ve mostly been the person answering the phone for a business for the first 15 years after graduation (1996), but this flex time has been impossible for me to experience until fairly recently. It’s still something I can’t take for granted when I get to invoke it.

When I’m running later than usual, I don’t get all tied up in knots like I used to do – I can just keep moving and know that I’ll get there and my work will wait for me. I just won’t be able to leave when everyone else is, and that’s no fun. I don’t hurry through traffic like I used to, because I don’t have to. When the weather is really bad, I’ll even call and tell my boss I’m waiting for the weather to slow down or the crazy drivers to find their ditches before I’m willing to venture out, and he’s ok with that. I’ll just stay later, and it’s ok.

On top of that — get this: I had to miss a day of work this week, because I was sick. I was able to make up the time by working longer hours the rest of the week, and make sure my paycheck will STILL have 40 hours on it. BOOYA! I haven’t had THAT benefit at other jobs, well, one of them allowed that, but it didn’t last long (temp job). I’d rather get sick pay, being honest. But if I can’t have that, I’m grateful that I can still work out a way to get a full 40 hour paycheck. [I now get sick paid days off, as of 3 years ago – yaaayyy!]

There are SO many differences in my life now that flex time is available to me, and I can’t shout my thanksgivings loud enough, now that God has given me a job with that benefit. I thank God SO much – for FLEXTIME.

Work life balance is achieved!

REPEAT#10 – AUTUMN!

Alla da FUN!

I felt like I didn’t say enough about this season. Anyone who’s known me for a few months knows that my love for autumn is no secret. I just love nearly everything about it. Some folks call it Fall, and I think that they just lack imagination and miss what is really going on during this season. Things aren’t just “falling” things are HAPPENING!

Early on, I think I loved autumn because of the new things that begin in autumn that brought me hope. New clothes for school, new classroom, new teachers, new books to read – all of it. As the scorching heat of summer left, the trees began to get colorful, and I loved seeing that happen, too. Summer was rarely a good season for me, and my birthday is in June!

As the leaves fell and turned brown, I LOVED shuffling through the places where they’d pile up. I get to watch my grandson enjoying the same sensation these days, and it blesses me like my cup is full. ‘Cause it is. When I was young, everyone burned their leaves after raking them. So there was a wonderful smoky tang in the air – an incense of the season. Though I understand it might make others very sick to deal with (including me, now), I still miss the way the air smelled on the walks home from school. When I get to drive through an area where they allow leaf burning, I hurry to open my car window so I can inhale some of that wonderful scent – though I have barely controlled asthma. I figure that’s what meds are for, right? Chuckle.

I really don’t enjoy all of the extreme heat during the summer, nor the sunburns I’d get when I tried to play outside. Add the itchy mosquitos at night, and nothing seemed right about summer. During the autumn, I could play to my heart’s content and even ride my bike further than usual, because I didn’t overheat so much. Jackets were neat to wear, or you could just tie them around your waist when it got too warm to wear it. Even an overcast autumn day is thrilling – with all of the colorful leaves swirling around and getting stuck to the windows – decorations! In my area of Northern Illinois, there were helicopter seeds from the colorful maples, and acorns and (if you were quicker than the squirrels), hickory nuts to enjoy.

Great foods like apples, pumpkin everything, spicy scented sauces, soups and stews with root veggies along with chili come to the tables during autumn, and decorative gourds would be on display almost everywhere. As a kid, my sisters and I would make elaborate plans on what we’d do if we could only get some help for Halloween. But even the lowliest costume got the same candy as the most elaborate costume – so trick or treating was always a thrill. We moved nearly every year, so there was always a new neighborhood to enjoy collecting candy in, as well as new friends to join us on our journey.

As I got too old for trick or treating, it was time for enjoying more bonfires and other cool night activities, now that it would get dark sooner. There are hayrides, corn mazes to tramp through, and wonderful trails to enjoy now that the mosquitos and ticks are hiding when the first freeze hits.

As a grown up, I still thrill with the farm harvests that begin around me where I live, and I have trees all around me turning delightful vibrant colors like crazy. The hot days are finally segueing into the cooler nights for sleeping and the warm sunshine for daytime activities of raking leaves into piles for children (and pets) to jump into. I still keep a wary eye peeled for smoke, so I can get some of that scent again – and relive great carefree days of my youth. There’s really no mystery to me that it’s the perfect season for giving Thanks, though it’s more than just the harvests we reap that bring me that wonderful feeling of God’s blessing in my life.

When I was dating a few years ago, I kept meeting these guys who would talk about moving to warmer climates like Arizona or Florida or some southern state like Missouri. Well, that was probably our last date, because I’m not interested in going to a place that gets triple digit heat! I’ll forever keep a home where there are four seasons, thank you – as long as autumn gets to happen without restraint, I can enjoy the other three that have to provide a stage for this grand season!

#17 – Orderliness

I am so thankful for ORDER and cleanliness, which should accompany it.

I am not a germaphobe or perfectionist, nor anything like that; but I really appreciate coming into orderly places, no matter where I am.

Part of my enjoyment of a neat and orderly home or office/desk, is because I want to keep from getting soiled or coming in contact with vermin, sure. But the biggest reason is just that I get mind flooded (google that) when I encounter a lot of clutter. Even when I enter a cluttered store, I can’t stay in it for long, or I will have to linger in sections of order, so I can keep going through the store in bits. It just overwhelms me and that’s not a nice feeling, though there are worse ones to get from badly run stores.

It’s one of the reasons I don’t do well all by myself when I have to make order out of disorder at work or at home. I can work well alongside of someone else while we make order from disorder; but not on my own unless it’s a repetitive pattern, like cleaning up the kids toys when they are toddlers. At that point, it’s following an order of repetition – see?

The best part of having something orderly is that I can find things when I want to use them. An orderly office or home invites me to start working on something or begin some kind of activity there – unless the area is so bare it’s sterile. That’s just uncomfortable.

I have two things I didn’t like about being a “homemaker” cooking, and cleaning. Cooking makes a mess, though I enjoy eating and serving other people meals. Nothing makes me smile wider than to hear someone compliment something I make. I just really hate the mess of cooking: all of those pans, bowls and implements. So if I can use a pan to accomplish more than one action, I’m happier than you’d believe. Truth. I blame my birthmother’s bad habit of soiling the kitchen and leaving the debris for her children to clean up.

I dislike housekeeping because I really don’t enjoy the work of it – but I love the results. So, cleanliness and order are a joy for me, more than clutter or disorder, though I certainly had a home that was often cluttered or disorganized. Especially the closets (chuckle). Sometimes, when life is busy with onetime events, you have to let the stuff build up until you have a less active moment to get it under control. That’s just the nature of any life well lived.

So don’t you begin worrying that I ever come to visit you at home and I’ll be critical. I’m usually thinking, “How in the world do they manage to keep their home better than I could when I was in their life situation (wee children, working, going through a draining illness, etc)?” Trust me, folks. I usually admire someone’s home, and its distinctive contents, if I notice it at all. I usually come to visit YOU – not your home (Love and hearts).

But one of the best moments in life is after having a party. Why? Because once the debris is all removed – the house is cleaner than it has been for months, and that’s a blessing when I sit back with my feet up and a nice cuppa coffee in my hand. I really love the residue of memories after a really good gather, too.

#16 – Kindness

I want to thank God for KINDNESS.

Kindness is the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. Somehow that trait was diminished in my family of origin, and even overruled in some ways. It was diminished so well, that when I saw it being acted out in television shows I perceived it as phony and unreal. When I saw it practiced around me by others, I either thought of it as “someone trying to manipulate someone else” (because that’s how it was used in my young life), or something only weak people do.

Thankfully, God helped me find out that kindness wasn’t a myth, and that it was as real as the pain of stubbing a toe (that REALLY smarts and is utterly undeniable).

Learning to be kind to others was hard, until I learned that it really and truly had to begin with being kind to myself. I honestly didn’t really grasp that very quickly, having learned that the only way for people (myself included) would make enduring uncomfortable and foreign changes is when they are browbeaten (punished) into making them. So if I made a mistake or even just a bad choice, I’d beat myself up about it – harshly and without kindness. I thought that would make me better. I was wrong. Once I was able to be more kind to myself, it got easier and easier to be kind to everyone else I wanted to be kind with.

The real surprise was that I actually make more consistent changes within myself and my life walk when I am kind to myself. It has been a lovely gentle surprise in my life’s journey to find that to be a real thing.

How can kindness live while really bad things going on around you? I can only say that as we engage with kindness toward ourselves, it gets easier to see where kindness makes us feel better in bad situations, and punishing others becomes less important and certainly less rewarding. See how I did that? I showed how learning kindness helped me learn what forgiveness was: my ability to give up my right to punish someone else for something they did wrong to me. I don’t need an apology to forgive someone, now. I only need to be kinder to myself, and the world, by giving up my right to require punishment for them. Does that mean I have to let them repeat the injury? O HECK no! Forgiveness does not require that I lay down and be anyone’s rug, chuckle. Boundaries are healthy things for good relationships that last, after all.

This lifelong journey for the lessons of kindness drew me to a poem that I had as a bookplate when I was only 20 years old, and newly married. It’s a poem written by Stephen Grellet (1773-1855), and it still resonates with me. I use it as my illustration today. I hope it inspires you as well.

Finally, I want to thank God for being patient and tenacious (a kind word for stubborn) in teaching me that kindness is the better way to go, in spite of what I wasn’t given in life. Didja know Kindness is a fruit of the spirit? Means the more I practice it, the more God’s spirit can flow into and through me. A very good thing.

He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

My life’s goal

#14 – The Reading Skills

When I was four years old, I was made to stand in the corner for a time-out. While I was bored and waiting for my release, I noticed my mother making a bunch of squiggles on some paper in neat lines.

“Why are you doing that?” Because when I scribbled on paper, I would get scolded.

“Because when I “write” something Grandma knows what I’m saying,” Mom answered firmly.

I thought she meant that Grandma would get that information “real time” by some kind of telepathy aided by the squiggles. My first thoughts were: “Uh oh! She’s telling Grandma I’m being naughty.”

My very next thoughts were: “Magic! I want to learn how to do that!”

Since then, I have learned so many things thanks to being a voracious reader. Being that kind of reader taught me how to be discriminating on what the author is saying, and whether they took the time to learn before spouting, too.

Yes, dear Peeps, reading is AWESOME! Even if it isn’t REALLY magical – it still seems like it is, y’know?

You’re never alone if you can read or write!

#13 – Extraordinary Gifts

I really enjoy giving unexpected gifts that are perfect for THAT person. Don’t you?

WELL – my younger sister (next in the birth order with both parents) who is a really good quilter found some material that featured art that reminded her of me.

I have had the “handle” of Churchmouse since my teen years because I have never grown to five foot of height. I was also very poor during my teen years, and there is a saying “poor as a churchmouse” that reminded my friend of my situation. As time went by, I used it as an identifier on Citizen Band radio through the 1970’s as well as on my blogs through later years.

I found some cute “meeces” that looked cute and were drawn to mischief, so I used their pictures for my profile picture on Facebook most of the time. When Di saw this material, she knew she had to get it and make a quilt for me with it. It’s a throw quilt, so I use it for my couch during the summer, or just on the end of my bed sometimes. I LOVE this quilt for the way it was given to me on a hum drum Saturday, for no particular reason other than she really wanted to give it to me and see my reaction.

My grandson enjoys using it as well when he comes over for visits. This is a quilt that always LOOKS like a hug to me.

So, I am really and truly thankful for all the ways something/someone says, “I love you.” Without saying those words. I want to find fun ways to do it, too.

Have you ever had some kind of extraordinary gift? Let me know!

Aging With Some Grace

I’ve been reading a fantasy series called The Adventures of Maggie Parker (4 books) by Martha Carr and Michael Anderle and it’s been very entertaining. I’ll say no more than this: it’s a free read if you are a Kindle Unlimited member. If not, the books are reasonably priced in either paperback or Kindle versions.

I’ve read the first three: The Magic Compass, The Gnome’s Magic, The Elemental’s Magic, and am reading the author’s notes at the end of the third book. Martha Carr is in her early 60’s and as a person who is at the right age to be her older sibling (67 in four more days), I like what she’s been saying about her lessons in life’s journey in her author notes.

“I have a team who help me out these days. At some point, it’s a necessity. Plus, I wanted to change my old belief of ‘if I can do it, I should be doing it’ to something saner,” she wrote.

I have been learning that same lesson in the past few years. I get help to do big projects in home cleaning or organization. Sometimes, I get help decorating for the holidays, too. Lately, I’ve even gotten groceries delivered (Thank you Walmart+), instead of going there for a pickup order and bringing it all into my home by myself. Now that the pandemic is almost over, and masks are being left home by most shoppers in my area, I have been feeling a bit guilty about continuing to use the Pickup grocery service. That inner guilt trip that she spoke of, “if I can do it, I should be doing it.”

My quality of life is better when I don’t do it just because I can, though. I have more time for making a well-balanced meal, or to get a much delayed haircut. Am I lazy? I don’t think so. I still take care of the household chores, the laundry (that I can do myself with the machines in my new apartment, thank God!), and work a full time job with the administrative chores for an engineering team – from my home, thanks to the pandemic showing us that I can work from home in a reliable and responsible fashion. So I am not going to be compelled to return to the office, not even as a hybrid employee. Since work is more than an hour away, I’m grateful. I moved closer to family as a happy result. But – I digress.

I have long felt pressured to do what I can, and if I don’t, then I will lose some kind of badge of honor. Sometimes I have pushed so hard, I made myself sick or fell down on the work, and had to get help to recover. That’s not very wise, for sure. So, now I just schedule some help before I’m in trouble, and ignore the hissing of that voice in the back of my head. The only thing I want to win is a high quality life. Getting appropriate help, and offering a reward to that help is the right way to go. Sometimes I’ll barter a service, sometimes I’ll offer something else like a gift card or money that can help someone who has very little.

I always try to ask God for the right help to be available, or help me to know about a service that is available. While I might pay for services in my situation, I know that my birthmother was able to get someone to help her 20 hours a week, and it was paid for via Department of Aging, which is a Federal program. So if you find you need help but can’t afford to pay for it (and you live in the US), find out about the Department of Aging services in your area. See what they can do to help you. It helped my family not to have to be my birth mother’s servants when we went to her place for a visit. Instead, we could just visit!

When the caseworker is asking you questions about ‘what you can do when…’, my advice to you is what I told my mother after she lost her help for several weeks thanks to her answers to their questions. She told them about her best days when they asked what she could do. I told her that she needed to tell them about her worst days, in order to get the help she needed to live those better days, though. No lies necessary. Just tell the truth about your worst days, and you’ll get the help you should get.

Tell yourself the truth about your worst days, and be honest about needing help, too. Then, you can live out some of your best days more often.

#7 – Hail to the Crockpots!

I really want to thank God for my CROCKPOTS.

It’s a bit of tease that I should own more than one, but there are solid reasons for needing each of them.  The first reason for the second one is that it’s perfect for taking to a pot luck or just to a friend’s home when we’re each providing a part of the meal.   That crockpot is decorative and the top can be secured so that it doesn’t leak even soup broth, so it gets to be on display on top of the cupboards.  The second one is my standard for everything else.  It has a simple timer, so I can set it to cook a pork roast in the morning for 8 hours of low, and then it will automatically shift to “warm” for about another 2 hours. It’s bigger than the other one, too.

I work from home now, but when I had to go to the office to work, a crockpot made a day that had me beat and tired turn into a wonderful night. Since it took me an hour to get to work, and an hour to return, the 10 hours I was gone could be very tiring, especially if the weather was bad for driving or I had a stressful workday.  Coming home and smelling a meal that’s ready to eat is like having a hired cook!  I could change into comfy clothes (or get out of winter wear) and make the side stuff in a matter of 10 mins or less, and have a hot meal within 30 mins of arriving home.  Wow! 

By the time I’d eaten and had some time to check Facebook and some relaxing coffee, I’m ready to put the rest of the meal into portions with some going into the freezer and at least one (maybe two) into the fridge for work and tomorrow’s meal. Nice!

I can make nearly anything in a crockpot, from baked chicken (stuffed!), to casseroles and desserts. I favor the meals that I can make while I’m gone (8 hours or more) over the ones that are done in 4 hours or less.  Those I might save for the weekend, or when it’s a holiday to stay home. Now that I am working from home, I might try some of those more often, but I’ve usually just chosen to use my oven since it’s right there and browns things up nicely. But I still enjoy making a meal in the crockpot and getting the whiffs of deliciousness it as it gets close to being done. Yum! I like to use it when serving family some food, too. We have more time to visit and the food is certain to be hot and satisfying for our dining pleasure.

I eat healthier when I have a crockpot resulting meal, even if it’s leftovers.  As a single person, I really need some help getting good meals going, and the crockpot does that!  So for today – it’s “Hail to the crockpot!”  Hurrah!

Final Note: I know some of my family folks really love their Instapots and the other brands that mimic them. My son with a child especially likes being able to make a roasted meat meal while his son does homework or takes a bath, and then having it to serve and save for another meal later.

If I had a family, I’d probably buy one, but it’s just me here, and I like to keep life simple. I’ll probably never learn how to use one or buy one at this point in my life. I certainly enjoy the meals I can look forward to when someone else uses them, though!

I Have Some Explaining to Do

Last year, I decided to post 100 things I am grateful for, and I even had the list from a previous effort on Facebook. I’ve been seeing the “Memories” when I get to Facebook these days, and I feel badly about only posting six things so far in 2020.

Found on internet

I’m sure there’s gracious understanding for the many changes in life that the pandemic has wrought, and I appreciate that understanding very much. I also was working with my doctor (mostly before the pandemic) to fix my out of control asthma and depression. I have suffered from cyclic depression since – forever. I was first introduced to the reality when I tried to kill myself at 24.

Not having any thoughts of ditching life, or even missing social responses of joy for interactions made me miss what I was missing this time. I finally figured it out from a question list of symptoms and have been happily surprised by the restoration of feelings. Like my hearing, I didn’t really know how much I was missing until I got it fixed. When my hearing aids were turned on, and I heard sound all around me, it had me weeping like so many of the videos we see of others who have had their hearing enhanced. It’s not normal sound, but it’s so much more than it was!

The same happened when I began my antidepressants. One day I finished a day of chores, and instead of feeling worn out and tired (and dreading the reality of recovering for a day or so from the work demands), I felt tired but happy about the difference my efforts had made. More than that – I loved looking at my sparkling home! I felt happiness and joy – and they were foreign for far too long in my life.

I was thrilled and grateful to get the approval to work from home. This meant I no longer had to drive 58 miles to work, put in a full 8 hour day, and then drive home 58 miles to arrive tired and beyond hungry (since I ate at noon and it was now 5-6 hours later). I happily bought a better laptop with the first stimulus payout, and set up a new desk in my tiny 1 bedroom apartment of 580 sq ft. It’s cute, and a great place to work with the nice chair and two monitors.

I now had time to make good meals, rest and relax after work, and even visit with some of the neighbors with social distancing being observed. I also had time (and the funds that I didn’t spend on gas, now) to organize my home and make it a better place to be.

My son needed a caregiver for his son on Sundays due to his workplace situation, so I was happy to offer to have the young man come over the night before, and spend the night. Then Dad could come over from work to enjoy a Sunday meal and a visit if desired when he picked up his son. I got to see the young boy lose his first tooth, and then the other three that followed by Christmas. I watched him go from preschooler to Kindergartener, and watch him go from Minecraft to Among Us in his YouTube joys. We’ve enjoyed books and so many other life changes – it helps me when I would otherwise be isolated.

There were no travels to places as planned. No municipal events to participate in, as each was cancelled due to the dangers of SARS-CoV aka Covid-19. I live in a resort town, and a favorite weekend visit for many people in our area. These cancellations have caused a lot of havoc in my area, and there’s a mourning process going on.

For myself, my doctor calls me “one of her fragile patients”. She assured me that if I caught the virus I might do fine in recovering. But the likelihood is that I would survive with some change that might damage my quality of life, too. So I wear my mask everywhere, observe social distancing, and get my weekly groceries via grocery pickup after ordering online. If I go to the store, I try to make it during times most people aren’t in the store, but that shelves should be stocked. This sounds simple and easy, and it honestly is as far as effort is concerned. But I am a social being and I miss going to restaurants, breakfasts with coffee and chatter, evenings in the park watching fireworks and going to carnivals and outdoor concerts this summer.

I keep reminding myself that this is not going to last forever, and thank God for a vaccine to bring us some hope for better. I still have all kinds of sanitizer in my coat pockets, purse, and on my shopping bags. I’m careful, so I’ll see that day arrive when we can all be less endangered by this virus.

It’s been hitting me hard, and I get worn out from the mental stress. I don’t have much creativity left after all of that.

However, I’ve decided to challenge myself in 2021, to live life more fully, and take the time to be grateful again. Seeing all of the posts I did in 2017 has shown me what an encouragement it was to me and some others, and that it’s worth the work.

So, I will resume my list, and begin with #7 later on.