Sometimes We Need to Stop and Feel the Feelings

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Overlooking a small bay in Maine

Sunshine rides on space and poetry on sunshine.
Poetry gives birth to sunshine, and sunshine to poetry.

                                                           Thich Nhat Hanh

I just love the sun rays working their way through the clouds above. For some reason they give me a sense of peace, of calm. They are in direct contrast of something we all have and often struggle with, that being something called, “monkey mind”. I first heard that term during a guided meditation I was doing. It is also something that I notice I struggle with a lot lately. Some times more so than others. Monkey mind is when your mind is all over the place. When I sit still and try to be calm and mindful, which I find myself trying to do a lot lately, I realize that this monkey mind is filled with thoughts of fears, anxieties, doubts, regrets. Not a pleasant place to be for any of us. But yet it’s so common for us humans. Being the intelligent humans we are we can summon ways to overcome this monkey mind.

Buddha defined it best when he said; “Just as a monkey swinging through the trees grabs one branch and lets it go only to seize another, so too, that which is called thought, mind or consciousness arises and disappears continually both day and night.” Huh.

Why this now and so much more lately? Time is one. Having time, for the first time in 40 years, to actually stop. Stop and think. Some of you are way more enlightened than I am and have figured positive ways to address this typical human thinking state. Mindfulness, yoga, meditation, forest bathing are a few methods. I’ve dabbled in them all but to be honest haven’t mastered any of them.

Work is an overwhelming undertaking. We are subject to this state of work/mind in order to put dinner on our family’s table and provide a warm, safe roof over their head. Taking time for ourselves often seems unattainable, maybe even frivolous. Now that I have time and see the immediate effects, I ask myself why I denied this need for so long. I am coming to a conclusion that it isn’t frivolous or unattainable. It’s necessary. A must. A can’t live healthy without. Even 10 minutes each morning or evening is immensely powerful, providing immediate relief and sense of much sought after calm. We can all do that. Well, that’s easy for me to say now that I’m not working 50+ hours a week at school and another 50+ raising a family. But we can and we must.

So let me say this….just do it. Find the time. You are worth it. Your family is worth it. While all my monkey thinking and mixed up emotions are far from tamed, these few minutes a day helps…a lot. The other thing that helps a lot is walking outside especially in the woods.

I find myself wondering if these thoughts that seem to be hounding me lately are because I have stopped running on that carousel of work and that I actually have time to think of all the things I’ve been to busy to think about. This can be a godsend or a curse or a combination of both. But one thing is for sure; it certainly is a wake up call. Life is short. We’ve been sadly reminded of this lately.

So stop. Just stop. Take that personal day (And don’t tell what the reason is! It’s personal!). Do something you love to do or need to do. With someone you love or by yourself. You are worth it. You deserve it. And for the sake of our Earth community we all need to begin doing this more often.

Much peace,

Mary

 

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When School Starts and You Don’t

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A warm, right out of the oven, Maine wild blueberry popover presented to me for breakfast. A loving surprise that reminds me that everything will be OK.

Several things have converged this summer to make it one in which I struggle to maintain graceful composure. As much as I try to poo poo the effects of retirement, it has become crystal clear that it is taking as large a toll on my feelings as the other things going on.

I recently got an email from a fellow teacher telling me that her beginning of the year dreams have begun. Surprisingly, mine have too. Even though I know I am not returning to the classroom, the shorter days, cooler nights, and sounds of chirping crickets have set into motion the annual “back to school” thoughts and sensations. I remember my very first back to school dream. Starting school the next day teaching kindergarten, I dreamed that I fell asleep at a table during nap time and woke to find all the kids around me wide awake. I awoke in a full sweat. Twenty plus years later,the week before school starts I’m still dreaming of every inconceivable thing that can go wrong. Go figure.

I also notice something else happening. My body is experiencing these feelings as well. Stress, almost fear, anxiety for back to school is what my body is saying even though I’m not going back to school. So the sights, sounds, smells have triggered these annual sensations without any need.

Add the uncomfortable feelings of waking up without a given routine or destination and the beginning of the day leaves me feeling a bit lost. Slowly I’m realizing this is the time of day that needs the most attention. Telling a young friend about this she tuned me onto, Instant Timer, a free meditation app. Of course! Why didn’t that occur to me? I tried the introductory lesson that was ten minutes long and was hooked. Now if I wake up feeling disoriented I sit and plug in. I usually choose the short guided meditations. They calm me. They center me. They feel good, really good.

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Thinking about my friends returning back to school is surprisingly a lonely feeling. It’s easy to get caught up in the nostalgia of wanting to go back to school. But then I remember all it entails and my body clearly tells me no, I need a year to take care of myself and get my health back on track. I want a year to be “still” with Ger, just taking it a day at a time and enjoying the company of my best friend. We all know that raising kids together is incredibly difficult. It can and usually does put an incredible strain on even the healthiest of relationships. But like a roller coaster, if you just hold on tight and scream when you’re ready to dive, you’ll make it intact. Well, here we are, almost 40 years later, a little disheveled from it all, but still holding on.

Have a great year my friends. Whether you’re a parent, a volunteer, or a teacher… I hope this year fills you with hope, exciting experiences, and the laughter of children. I’ll miss being by your side.

Mary

 

 

Cows, Human Kids, and Sleep

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“It might sound eccentric to suggest that the reason an animal is bad-tempered is because it is short of sleep but as sleeping is vital, deprivation will obviously do harm.” The Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young

Often we try to figure out what may be causing a child to be cranky, irritable, or even struggle with learning. Sometimes the answer is simply a lack of sleep. The woman who wisely gave me the above book for my retirement knows that cows are pretty special. Or she at least knows that I think cows are pretty special so when I read the above line I was happily surprised. Surprised that this little gem of a book discusses the importance of sleep for cows. Well cows are mammals and humans are mammals so maybe the knowledge that calves and children both need sleep shouldn’t be a surprise. Gi, the woman who gave me the book, and I have talked about our kids need for sleep and how important it is to their ability to learn.

Did you know that toddlers need 11-14 hours of sleep every day!? Preschoolers need 10-13 hours. Elementary age children need 9-11 hours of sleep every single night and teenagers and adults need 8-10 hours of sleep a night.

A recent study from Harvard stated that sleep deprivation in young children is “tied to cognitive and behavioral problems”. Young children who experience sleep deprivation are also said to have more issues with “attention, emotional control, and peer relationships in mid-childhood”. Well doesn’t that sound like many of our kids!?  Link for full article:   https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/03/study-flags-later-risks-for-sleep-deprived-kids/

Once again cows teach us something important; that the proper amount of sleep is vital for the health and well being of our children. So put the devises down, ban them from bedrooms (and dinner tables), and be sure the kids are getting enough sleep! Of course this goes along with our knowledge that healthy, locally grown, organic food is critical for the nutritional needs of all our children, even during school hours. And that play outside every single day is just as important to our children’s health, well being, and educational success.

So before summer ends go pet a cow, enjoy some local yogurt or cheese, and support a local organic dairy farmer near you!

Mary

The Remembrance of Love Through an Afghan

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When you are the receiver of the last afghan a person shares you realize the deep spiritual meaning of the gift. Our school community lost a friend and teacher last week. She, Laurie, was the maker of the above afghan. Laurie loved to crochet and I don’t think there was a pattern she couldn’t do.  Laurie made this afghan for me in honor of my retirement. I just love it. And now I honor it.

I remember seeing this pattern on the internet back in January and showing it to Laurie, telling her how beautiful I thought it was. “Would you choose different colors?” she asked. I told her no, that I loved the soft tones of the pattern just as it was.  She obviously took note. Because that is what Laurie did, she listened.

I have waited for the news of Laurie’s death to reach social media before I wrote this post. You see Laurie was a private person. And she left this world as she lived it, very privately. All who love her know, understand, and respecte that privacy. So I waited. When news slowly spread shock and grief were what people felt. Of course they did. She was a matriarch at our school. We thought she was healthy and cancer free. But some cancers can have a nasty way of sneaking up on us.

I think about what Laurie would say to us if she could. “Live life to the fullest. Be kind. Make beautiful things with your hands and then give them away to the people you love. Everything will be ok.” So today I sit and reflect on the years of kind words that Laurie has shared with me during my most difficult times. When others didn’t have words, Laurie would pop into my room before others arrived to school and say the perfect words. They were perfect because she had the courage and kindness to just say something.

When the above blanket was presented to me at my retirement party I was sad Laurie wasn’t there to give it to me herself. I missed her presence. I figured it was because she was eating lobster at the coast with visiting family or something we teachers do during summer. I had no idea it was because she was so sick. So now I sit by my pool, with her blanket over my lap, and reflect on my friend. She will be missed. She is missed. There will be times during the next school year that will be difficult for the teachers and staff at school because her presence will be so sorely missed. But Laurie would want us to be strong. To do good work. To keep going and be kind. So to all my friends who worked with Laurie and loved her so, I will pass those sentiments onto you. “Be strong. Be kind. Do good work. Work together. Speak up for the children. It will be OK.” Do it for Laurie.

Safe travels Laurie. You will always be in our hearts.

Mary

Love

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When a dear friend greets you with the above mug full of your favorite margarita and a gorgeous lake in the background, you know it’s going to be a special evening.

Retirement is a funny thing. First comes the exhaustion that precedes the decision to do it. Then comes the relief. Then the disbelief, followed by anxiety, and finally acceptance. Not too different from grief. Which makes sense. Leaving behind a lifetime of work and dedication is not something to take lightly. Yet here I am.

A month ago I was suppose to have a traditional retirement celebration at school. But life happened and I spent the end of the school year in Miami. In my mind and heart the opportunity for such a celebration had passed. But when I arrived home I was told about the offer to have a celebration by a lake, with drinks. That sounded pretty good to me.

What I received was so much more.

Upon arrival I was given the above mug. It was fun, funny, and the contents tasted delicious. The thoughtful wish behind it touched my heart. One by one my friends arrived. All bearing large smiles, some bearing small gifts and/or dinner dishes, others bearing their gift of presence. I was deeply moved. It’s been a warm and humid few days (but I’m not complaining!!) and the cool lake breeze was noticed and enjoyed by all who attended.

We stood by the water enjoying the fresh air, camaraderie, and drinks. We had a delicious dinner that was prepared by many who attended and we had a sharing of gifts. One particular moment that moved me deeply was the sharing of feelings by a friend. Thank you Cathy. I know the time it takes to organize and write our thoughts when they come from our heart. I appreciated your gift immensely.

Then came the rock sharing (or maybe it was the other way around. Margaritas can do that to your memory!) Rock sharing goes way back with Cathy and I. We give them to our kids the first day of every school year. And every year I’m surprised by how much the kids love choosing the “just right” rock for their desk. To have rocks passed to my friends, each wrapped with a quote from my blog (and one from a real school experience:) was the icing on the cake of the sweetest evening I’ve had in a quite some time. “I’m stalking your blog,” she said. I laughed inside. Then each friend read the short quote that was attached to their special rock. Hearing my written words read aloud gave them new meaning. I remembered writing each and every one and the feelings I was processing as I wrote them. But hearing them read aloud gave them a power I never felt I was able to truly give them. I forgot about that power. The power of reading aloud your written words. Cathy, may you continue to give that power to your students. But I know you already do and that is one reason they love you so.

When I came home I climbed into bed like a kid on Christmas morning. Opening each card and gift a second time. Smiling at the silly ones, wiping tears due to ones that spoke of deep friendship. Then I opened the last bag, the bag of rocks. After collecting and sharing rocks every August for the past 9 years this was truly special to me. Now I have my special rocks. While I won’t put them on my desk, they will find a spot in my happy place, my gardens.

I am not good at doing such celebrations. I tend to poo poo them. I don’t know why but I do. Yet here I was, at a home cherishing the love that was shown because a woman felt strongly enough to hold this event for her friend. I will never poo poo such events again. I have now felt the meaning, love, and power behind them. Thank you Jane.

And thank you to all the wonderful women and men I have worked with over the years. Working with the youth of our communities is one of the most important jobs we can do. It is also one of the most rewarding.

Continue your good work my friends. You do good. You mean much. You touch lives. Carry on!

Mary

 

The Peace of Perez

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The Perez Art Museum in Miami

Today was the first day we took off to see the city. With the day being another seasonably hot one we planned the majority of our trip to be indoors where we knew there would be air conditioning. Our job here, caring for Erin, is coming to an end and so we decided to take the day and explore. We started the day with breakfast in Miami Beach and because it was a lovely morning, overcast, below 80 degrees, and a light breeze we walked to a marina and the Bass Art Museum. But the highlight of the day was the Perez Art Museum. The grounds were beautiful. At one point, when I was sitting outside looking up at the calm on a sculpture of a beautiful face I realized it captured the peace I found myself feeling as we plan our return home. Certainly we are so glad to be here with Erin. Glad to help her with Mort. Glad to stay long enough to get her back on her feet. And now glad to begin planning our return home.

Yea!

Mary

PS – Much of the Perez Art Museum was all about futbol. There were many installations following the futbol theme. This one, set up on a table, was fun:

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The Humbling of a Couch

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From a Couch – Sunrise over Miami Beach

It’s been a long time since I’ve spent a month on a couch. It’s been 40 years to be exact. It was because of a new teaching job, my first one, that brought me to a couch back then. It was the beginning of a job in a land I had never been to before. I lived on the couch of a fellow teacher. That’s how desperate they were for a teacher. They offered a couch until I could find my own.

Fast forward 40 years and here I am, finding myself once again on a couch. In the past month that I’ve been on this couch, a school year ended, a teaching career ended, four weeks of caring for a daughter while she recovered from life threatening surgery has come and almost gone by, I met and took care of a puppy, experienced intense heat like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, and now, finally, I realize that I have retired. I am not going back to a job. That relief is just beginning to come. The realization of all this came while I spent many a night on a couch overlooking the Miami skyline.

It’s funny how far away this whole experience in Miami is from the life I lead. Yet I find unlikely similarities to the life Erin grew up in. Yesterday she pulled me to her view. “Look at the light,” she said. “Look at how we can see the rain coming. Look at the colors of the clouds and how different they are.” A vivid memory of when she was young was before me. She grew up watching rain approach, clouds change color and move across the sky, and embracing colors of a sky full of sunrise and sunset in clear view. While she may not want to admit this similarity, it’s there. She spent her early years living on top of a hill with a view that went clear across Maine to the White Mountains in NH. Many of us often think that we shed the early life we led. Sometimes very intentionally. Yet here she is, again high up in the sky looking across the land below and seeing a landscape that goes for miles.

Views from a couch can alter the world we see and how we observe that world. Beds are usually comfortable, providing a safe respite at the end of each day. But views from a couch are often due to transitional events. Events that may leave us feeling unsettled, unsure. But this view from an unexpected couch also provides an unexpected opportunity to see life through a different lens. There’s something to be said about putting ourselves in situations that leave us feeling a bit off guard, open, vulnerable. Couches often do that. So during what is only my second real couch experience I find that this vulnerability leaves me reflecting and evaluating where I am in my life. A month ago, with the comfort of my home bed, I was feeling a variety of uneasy feelings regarding the notion of not working and being retired. Let me tell you that those feelings have slowly slipped away into the pillows of the couch I sleep on and the view I close my eyes to.

As we prepare our return back north I find a sense of calm relief and anticipation to start this new life of retirement. I also find myself wishing a person didn’t have to work their ass off for 40 years to experience this. Our society’s work to life ratio is all wrong and I hope that the generation coming of age today can see that more clearly than we and our ancestors did and that they can change that. Because our young families need that. They need their time together so they can develop a more healthy community rather than a more stressed one. I believe the mental health of our future society will depend on this.

May you have the opportunity to slow down, look up at the sky, and enjoy the beauty it has to share.

Buen Dia,

Mary