Day 15: Thai food and a beer, turkeys and mindfulness?

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This is sunrise in my front yard. I love the views so very much!

I am sitting at my computer having leftover Thai food for lunch, accompanied by a Shipyard Chamberlain Pale Ale, I love Maine and it’s pile of breweries, while ruminating on my morning and the past few days. While searching for words, I looked up and saw a doe with her fawn grazing under a tree in the back yard and I am reminded that I need to put up “No hunting” signs on the perimeter of our property.

Something I haven’t really mentioned much is that I see a therapist. I see her for anxiety and depression, and help with getting through the shit show that has been our private lives since September. The shit show is very private, and very personal, so I will not delve into the details of that, but it has made all of the mind gnomes I have even more active and malicious.

The entire episode has been heartbreaking to deal with, but the flip side of the coin is that through all the rage, pain, and defeat, we as a family have found strength, unity, and a better sense of self and center.  We have more family time, we hang out more, communicate better, and overall we seem to be on a good path forward.

The point of the above is that I have always been a fairly high-strung person, and it has only been in the past few years that I have been given a clinical diagnosis of what is going on, and anxiety is a major part of that diagnosis. You wouldn’t know it to look at me most days, but my brain is working overtime, and my muscles are in a wad. I am thinking 15 different things, two scenarios where my world comes to an end, and 25 conversations I have had or will be having, and what I should say, have said, or wished I said. I don’t sleep well, and I have cracked a tooth thanks to grinding my jaw.

A major source of my issues is that I can’t sit still, and even if I do, I am rarely calm. Because of this, my therapist wants me to try mindfulness meditation. She tried using Heartmath on me last week, and to say I was an outlier would be an understatement. When I was focused, or in a place where I should have been fully focused, calm, and mindful, I was at the opposite end of the scale from where I should be, and when I should have been revved up, excited, not mindful, I was in the area where I should have been if I were totally centered. We both got a snicker of that, so today she tried an actual app that forced me to relax.

Today’s exercise was with Headspace, and it did seem to work a bit. I was able to take full stock of my physical self, and see what my brain was doing, and by that I mean it was running amok. As usual. Know what happens when you have spent several years learning to bird by ear? Shutting out the sounds of birdsong becomes an exercise in frustration. I did feel that there was no muscle group in my body that wasn’t tense, and I wondered why all of my weight was shifted left. In other words: I have a long ways to go.

In other news: we have a flock of Wild Turkeys in our yard, and they come in every day for food. Some times it is the full flock of 11, most of the time it is nine or five of them. My favorite thing about them is how darned big they are, and the dinosaur footprints they leave all over the place in the snow. My last favorite thing is the piles of turkey poop all over the place, though I suppose the grass will appreciate it as spring comes along.

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Part of the flock of Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallapavo) that think the feeder table is for them.

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I do have Hobbit-sized hands, but these tracks remind me of what dinosaur tracks might look like!

Day 13: SPRING HAS SPRUNG! Er, under the foot of snow.

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Boothbay Harbor, Maine. March 18, 2017 – Snow on the beach?

Today marks the Spring Equinox, which means even more daylight every day, leading up to the Summer Solstice here in mid-Maine, where we will have around 16 hours of daylight. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to actual consistent warm, but as far as winters go? This one did not bother me nearly so much as any of the ones in Indiana, even with two blizzards, want to know why? In one, simple, glorious word? Sunshine.

In Indiana, the best descriptor for the months from November to April is a big, cold, gray ball of suck. The sun is a somewhat rare visitor, which makes the months even harder. Here in Maine? The sun will disappear for a day or two during a weather event, but then it will be back in full, glorious, radiant UV splendor. I have to admit that the usual wintertime blues were mostly absent this year, which was a great relief to the entire family.

Back to this being the spring equinox: some folks here don’t think it feels very much like spring at all, but I disagree. Yes, we might have piles of snow in excess of 10 feet in some parking lots, and drifts up to my hips in the yard in some spots, but those obvious signs of winter aside, it was 51 degrees here today, and I counted no less than five species of birds singing. For an ornithologist, singing is a great sign, it shows that yes, the photoperiod is getting longer, and it is time to really start thinking about the gardens, the bluebird trail I want to start, and watching the sun rise out of my bedroom window at 05:00. It’s not as awful as it sounds; life starts early and is lived in glorious color for hours!

Now, back to the picture above: this past weekend, Youngest Spawn had a two-day basketball tournament in Boothbay Harbor, which is a cute little tourist destination here in Maine during the summer months. In the off-season? It’s a little deserted, but it affords a great opportunity to wander and figure out what in on the menu for the warmer months.

My list, in short, for Boothbay Harbor this summer:

Basically, we have decided that we are settled into Maine now, so we are going to become a part of the state fun. Acadia, Downeast, Machias, kayaking, hiking, Birds on Tap, you name it. For a state with a small population, there is so much to do, and we are looking forward to doing a bunch!

A bit of fun for the weekend: we finally tried the famous Red Barn this weekend. This place is a one-stop place for great food, friendly people, and a huge helping of the best of Maine hospitality. The owner, Laura, has made it her mission in life to be a stellar and shining example of the best of humanity. Have a cause that is near and dear to your heart and needs funding? Laura will have a donation night. Hungry but out of money? Folks here pay it forward by buying extra meals and putting a note on a board, you don’t go away with a gnawing belly. Need an uplifting hug because your day has sucked? She has you covered. This place is where you go to know that humanity still exists, and will hold out a hand to anyone that needs it to get up.

Now that I have lit a spark of happy in you, I am off to tackle more data. I have gotten through more than 30 pages today, and missed volleyball to keep working because I am in that kind of mood. Have a great one, whomever you are, wherever you are, and know: you matter!

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Me, in a nutshell.

P.S… I also netted a life bird this weekend: Kind Eider in breeding plumage with three ladyfriends. Whoooo!

Day 11: I am still alive, and I have so much to say!

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The newest member of the Maineiac Family: Chester the Chinchilla (Chinchilla lanigera).

Know what happens when I leave the state, and my family, alone for five days? They get more than two feet of snow, have no school, and I wind up road tripping 560 miles home with a chinchilla.

It is times like this when you stop, take stock of your life and ask yourself: what choices have I made that have led me to this juncture? And the answer is, inevitably, really awesome ones!

Some backstory on the whole event:

My best friend in the whole world is hubs, and after that, I have a cadre of folks that I would trust both mine, and my children’s lives to. One of those that is at the top of that list is The Doctor. I met her when I was an undergrad and she was my TA, then I was lucky enough to be her SA for a semester, and we realized we really hit it off.  Lots in common, since we are both in the same academic field, and with the same basic background for our graduate degrees. Add in the fact that she is an awesome person, and you have a recipe for a great friend. This friendship has grown stronger over five years, and now, thousands of miles.

A few months back, she called to inform me that her most favorite band of all time was coming to her area, and that I had to come with her to see them. The band in question? The Red Hot Chili Peppers. *swoon* I have liked them since my boyfriend in freshman year of high school introduced me to their music, so this was a treat and a half! Add in time with The Doctor, and it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

I will go on a tangent here for a minute and note that it is darned near impossible to fly into or out of Maine in the wintertime, and that includes both Portland and Bangor. Something about our silly weather, and the Northeast not being a high demand winter vacation destination means it’s a good idea to have a backup plan with a backup plan to get where you are going from November to April.

Anyhow, keeping that in mind, I purchased a one-way ticket out of Bangor with three days lead time to get to where I needed to be for the concert. Good thing, too, because my initial flight was cancelled, then the next flight was cancelled, and I was finally rescheduled onto a flight the day after. I made in to my destination easy-peasy, but as I was taxiing out of Bangor (which resembled a frozen tundra), I realized I was not going to make my connection. Also unfortunately, The Doctor’s cell phone croaked. Somehow, through the wizardry of the internet, I managed to convey to her that I would be coming into a different airport, which was no big deal because it was the same distance as my original arrival airport, just in the opposite direction.

I made it in safe and sound, and an hour earlier than I would have had I gone on to my connecting flight, and the fun began. Great chats, I got to meet The Doctor’s new puppy, who is insanely adorable, get a pile of year birds, learn some new songs, and about some artists new to me.

I will come back later and do a day breakdown, including some thoughts I had along the way. This trip was good for me mentally, and physically. I think on a day to day basis, we forget the constant grist stone that rubs down our souls, and a break from the everyday to reconnect with someone that can help lighten the load in new ways is a must.

I think that was the overarching thought I had whilst away: as individuals, we are hard on ourselves, we beat ourselves up, we shoulder the weight of the world, and it becomes something we no longer realize we are doing until we aren’t doing it anymore and our shoulders relax, our blood pressure decreases, and we no longer have transient chest pains.

I will get to the road tripping chinchilla soon, I promise…

 

Day 9: Is it safe to come out yet?

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Sunset from the stern of the Disney Dream, August 2012

I am not going to lie, the past week plus has been one horrid story after another coming out of our government, hate, exclusion, outright lies, and there are many folks out there that are scared. Not a little concerned, downright scared for themselves, loved ones, friends, and communities. I am, though accident of birth and geography a member of the privileged class, and because of this, I feel it is my duty to shut my mouth, listen to these groups, and pitch in where they say I would be most helpful.

These feel like dark times, but in wave after wave, I see a whole host of my fellow Americans saying: “Bullshit! This is NOT our America!”, and it makes me proud. Proud in a way I haven’t been of my country in a long time. It seems that the masses are rising up, pointing to our founding documents, the motto we present to the world when it arrives on our Eastern shore, and saying: “This is what we were founded on, and this is how we want our country to run”! I am seeing the America so many believe in beginning to peep its head out from behind the clouds. Will it be easy? No. Will it happen overnight? No. I do believe that humanity will win over humiliation, though.

And that is as tall of a soapbox as I can stand on right now. There are those who are better able to explain, discuss, and enlighten; one of my favorites is Jim Wright, who writes over at Stonekettle Station: he’s retired USN, brilliant, eloquent, and when he’s not pissed off, he has tales that will make your stomach hurt from laughing.

Life goes on here in Maine, though I find I am careful to avoid politics, as are many folks here, it seems to get folks too fired up, and I avoid it like the plague since I am the new kid in town. No way do I want to alienate folks I just met, and would like to remain friends with for years to come.

We have had snow on the ground here for nearly a month straight, and the few inches down now are pretty much compacted down into ice, which makes it super easy to explore the woods behind the house, which is what I did this afternoon. No milkweed to trample, no wild berry vines to tangle, no excess of leaves obscuring the view. I got to the top of the ridge on our property, shut my eyes, tipped my head back, and just took deep breaths. The cold air, tinged with pine from the fallen branches, the scolding of the chickadees, the calm I brought into my mind, willfully.

There is something about this state that meshes with me. I wasn’t completely sure about small town living, but I really enjoy it here, where kids grow up together because their parents did, and everyone knows all the stories from years gone by. The clean air, the constant bright sunshine, water everywhere, and honestly, the smaller population.

Okay, so it doesn’t hurt that I checked on the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) nest across the street today, and there are “nestorations” going on, and I am pretty sure I will get to see eaglets this year!

Life for the family has been both busy and a little difficult, but because we have always had an open conversation policy, it is nowhere near as bad as it could be, which I am grateful for. Both kids do multiple sports, along with theater, which leads me to feeling like a chicken with its head cut off most days, running them around!

I have been more thoughtful lately, and by thoughtful I mean “more in my head”. I have been pondering more, thinking things through, trying to decide on many things. I think one of the biggest things I have decided on is that I am going to go get more life birds this year, and that I am choosing happy. Not every day is assured, not every tomorrow is promised, so for right here, right now, I will do the right thing, and let the universe handle the rest.

Sometimes that means dancing outside in a short-sleeved shirt in January, and realizing you are going to be okay.

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Day 6: a new beginning – mom, why is new years such a big deal?

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What most of us picture when we think of 2016 – source unknown

Last night was low key, just hubs, the kids, the dog, and I, warm and snug in the house, watching the snow fall, and more than 2 million people on television in New York’s Times Square. Hubs and I spent the early evening watching our new binge favorite, and are one episode away from being caught up on it: Penny Dreadful (spoiler: Rose Tyler is still excessively pissed off about being left on a beach in an alternate universe. If you get that joke, hello fellow Whovian!), and we had yummy snacks, champagne, and “kid wine”, as my youngest calls it. Welch’s sparkling grape juice, to be exact.

As we watched the frenzy build, and folks joyously count down from 10 to 0 and scream “Happy New Year!”, kiss, cry, toast, and generally be excited, happy, enthused, etc., my youngest turns to me and asks “Mom, why is new year’s such a big deal?”, which took me by surprise. I took a moment, thought about it and gave him my thought on why.

To me, New Year’s is a symbolic new beginning, the slate is wiped clean, with the turning of the page to a blank calendar, waiting for all of the events and appointments to be filled in as the days, weeks, and months roll by, I see possibilities. I see the chance to start a fresh chapter in my life, and fill the pages with the story I want to write.

Some folks may think that is a little deep for a 10 year old, to that, I say: you have never met my 10 year old. I secretly think he’s a 40 year old who got trapped into the body of a 10 year old during a freak storm (think Freaky Friday), but then he makes a fart joke, or can’t figure out how to take out the trash and I think he’s normal. He appreciated that explanation, and actually seemed satisfied with it, so that’s a great start.

Every year I read about, overhear, and discuss resolutions with people, and I will say this: I don’t make them. To me, resolutions are an absolute, a line in the sand, and once your toe goes over that metaphorical line, there is a mental “Eh, fuck it”, and that resolution gets binned. No thanks, I don’t need to start piling up the mental tally marks of failure from day one.

Which is why I make general goals, turn the rudder a bit to the right and start heading in the direction I want my life to go. I have that power, I have that ability, and though I know not every day is going to take me closer to where I want to be, I know that keeping that goal in sight will keep me moving in an overall forward motion.

This year, my goals are fairly simple, and I think attainable:

  • Be grateful. Look for the good, the positive, and find happiness in every day, no matter how tiny it may seem.
  • Look after my health. A walk around the property, a hike though the gorgeous scenery here in Maine.
  • Be more present for the family. Start doing my PT so oldest and I can jog together, start family game night, movie night, pile on the grass and talk night.
  • Bird more! I live in a state that gives me the opportunity to see a bunch of lifers, if I would just go get them.
  • Do more. Take the family out and explore!

If I start with number one, the rest will fall into place, so I have decided to set up a “Happy/thankful/smile” jar on the kitchen counter with a pile of small slips of colored paper. Everyone in the family is encouraged to participate! Had something make you smile today? Write it up, toss it in! You are thankful for something or someone today? Write it up, toss it in! The whole point of this is a visual exercise, the more we are happy for, the more slips of paper that go in, the more we will look for things to share. Anonymously, or not. The even bigger picture here is that if we are looking for things to put in the jar, we are actively choosing to seek happiness. I think that’s a worthwhile endeavor, don’t you?

I know many folks are dreading what 2017 has to bring, for very valid reasons. I am one of those people. I know there is only so much I can do with some of these situations, so I will take deep breaths, toss in my hands where I can, but make sure I spread happy where I can. Hubs and I have started telling the kids “It starts with me”, meaning: if everyone says “Not my problem”, nothing ever gets done. If you take two minutes of your time and pick up the trash on the side of the road, wash up the dishes you didn’t use, smile at a stranger, say hello and mean it, close the lid on the public bin someone left open… you start a small ripple in a big pond. No, it may not change anything, but if you lead by example, choose to do right, you can change your environment, and possibly teach other folks to do the same.

I hope that this bright, beautiful first day on the clean slate of 2017 brings you hope, happiness, humanity, humility, humor, whichever adjective you need to make it through and take one baby step towards steering the ship of your life in the direction you want and need it to go.

We’ve got this.

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Your negative argument is invalid. I am wearing a crown of flowers, and I am happy… and probably up to something.

 

Day 5: I think my tractor’s sexy!!!

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Me and Emily, our John Deere 1023E tractor. I love her, quite a lot.

Before I moved to Maine, if you had said not only would I own a tractor, but I would name it, and absolutely adore it, I would have told you a) no, I won’t own one b) if I did, why would I anthropomorphize it with a name and c) adore a tractor? Pretty sure I said the same thing about owning a minivan, but I digress.

Last night we experienced our first Nor’easter, which dropped a foot of very wet, very heavy, incredibly beautiful snow. We can’t tell there is a field in the back past the mowed grass area, and so the non-forested five acres we have looks huge, including the snow-bound 400′ driveway.

This year, after purchasing the house in Maine, we knew we were going to need a riding mower, at minimum, but with more than seven acres, including forest, we decided we would probably need more. Enter Emily. Emily was hubs’ choice, and we didn’t get her until about a month after the house, so by the time she arrived, the lawn was in serious need of mowing, and she needed a name, but nothing was right.

When the kids arrived from their holiday in Alabama, they got to meet the tractor, and in order to explain hydraulics, we used the monarch butterflies we used to captive rear as an example. Sounds weird, right? If you have ever seen a caterpillar eclose from its chrysalis, it is simply astonishing; the abdomen is huge and distended, the wings tiny and useless. As the butterfly dries, it pumps its abdomen, forcing the fluid into the wings, plumping and unfurling them. Like this. It’s a three minute video, but if you have never witnessed it before, it’s fascinating!

The point of the preceding paragraph was that my kids have seen this many, many times, and it was the perfect example to explain hydraulics, they grasped the concept, and because we had borrowed a book from the library when they were little, and it was about “Emily the butterfly”, oldest spawn immediately slapped the “Emily” moniker on the tractor, and it stuck, so Emily she is.

As a side note: we are weirdos, and have named all of our vehicles. My van is “Arthur Dent”, because my kids are ginormous smart-asses, and after I had gotten t-boned, the van had a huge dent in it, thus Arthur (thanks, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). When we purchased hubs’ car, we went with the deep blue color, which immediately earned it the name “The TARDIS”, a la Dr Who. Yes, we are a family of total geeks, why do you ask?

When we purchased Emily, we put half down in cash, so I like to joke with hubs and tell him that my half is the paid off one, but in reality, we both knew he would be using her 90% of the time. Well, as it turns out, I usually do the mowing, but we argue over who gets to do so, and same with the snow removal. It’s fun to be out and about on the tractor, because it’s fresh air, and really, we’re city slickers, so: TRACTOR!

We have a list of implements we want to purchase, including a snow blower, and a tiller, but man, the tractor itself was dear enough, start adding on those implements, and the whole enchilada costs twice as much as my van is worth. We use the front end bucket to shove snow around, and it does the trick for now, but I feel the snow blower coming *sigh*. Using just the bucket, I was able to go dig out the mailboxes, and help my neighbors knock down some huge snow piles left by their plow man, which impeded their line of sight to get out to the road. They rewarded me with a pineapple. I put the pineapple in Emily’s cup holder for the ride home, and I cackled the whole way: a pineapple in the tractor in December in Maine. It was an amusing visual.

To wind this down, it is gorgeous here, and I adore my John Deere.

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Day 4: 2016, the year that won’t die, even as it takes childhood icons to the stars.

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I haven’t posted in a few weeks, mainly because the past few weeks have been the equivalent of a nuclear bomb detonated in the middle of the living room here. Hubs and I are as good as ever, kids are safe, I will not go into details is it would violate the privacy of someone I would kill for.

Now that is an interesting concept: would you kill for someone? My mom has always had a saying: “I wouldn’t go to jail for anyone, no one is worth that”, and I finally realized she meant she would not sacrifice herself or her freedom to take the fall for someone else, and I can totally get behind that. However: you screw with my family, you hurt someone I love? I positively cannot be held responsible for the temporary insanity that coincides with your demise. Mind you, I don’t mean petty offenses, but lately, I have found out that the most stable, loving, involved family can have a horrible person sneak in through a window when all the doors are locked and wreak havoc.

That is metaphorical, and we have fortunately not suffered a home invasion. Of course, the euphemisms that describe something much more terrible aren’t as relaxed as we would like to think…

So, today is December 27, 2016, and we all received the awful news that Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia died today, after losing George Michael on Christmas Day, preceded by Alan Thicke, Prince, David Bowie, and Alan Rickman… add the election of Trumplethinskin, the Mango Mussolini, and as far as I am concerned, 2016 can die in a dumpster fire, because it has been a vicious year.

I am fully aware that a Georgian calendar is not sentient and as such gives no amount of fucks about us, or our puny existence on this tiny blue marble hurtling through space, but damn, it sure feels like the hits keep coming with malevolent intent. I swear on the nearest crow that if we lose Betty White before this colossal turd of a year is done having its way with us, I will maniacally say: “Eh, screw it, give tRump the codes, this planet is due for a reset button push”.. and I might even mean it when I utter the words.

And to add insult to injury? No new yard birds. No Evening Grosbeaks, no Pine Grosbeaks, no Common Redpolls, no Snowy Owls, though the latter was a longshot no matter what. At this point, I am just rooting for the Bald Eagles across the street to lay a few viable eggs in late January, and to see eaglets fledge in April.

Bah.

I will say this: my thesis is beginning to get more than a passing nod from me at this point, and I can’t wait to get back to Indiana to defend and finally be done, February will see me viewing the Chili Peppers with one of my best friends, plus a road trip up the eastern seaboard – wait, who does that in February??? Oldest spawn will be getting contacts, going to skills camp for her preferred sport, and I am already planning my gardens, plus a bluebird/chickadee trail around the grass area, and looking forward to the return of the breeding icterids.

In other words? I am going to make 2017 my bitch. 2016 brought some amazing new things in life, and I am going to make damned sure 2017 is even better.

Deep breaths, and really? Look for the good, acknowledge that sometimes seriously shitty things happen, but don’t let them define you. Enjoy a walk outdoors tonight and marvel at the stars. Understand that the internet has both made the world a tiny place and brought fantastic people to your side. Sip a cup of your favorite beverage and appreciate the fact that you can still do so.

In the words of the infamous Jerry Springer: “Be good to yourself, and each other.”

Even better, TC from the Bangor, Maine Police Department: “Keep your hands to yourself, leave other people’s things alone and be kind to one another.”

I believe I like that one just a wee bit more, and if you haven’t had a chance to enjoy the humor of a Northeastener, I highly recommend the Facebook page of said department.