All Good Things

It seemed to me that this past Winter was especially hard.  My home town was spared the horrible blizzards that devastated other parts of the Midwest, but our Winter was still made up of months of very cold temperatures and too much snow and ice.  I don’t know if it’s my age or that my volunteer job of walking dogs at the local animal shelter means I’m outside for long periods of time, but whatever the reason, I don’t tolerate the cold very well.  The blood drains out of my fingers, leaving them bleached white and painful, my nose runs continuously, and my eyes tear so much that everyone thinks I’m crying.

So you can see why I was really, really, ready for Winter to be over, even as the frigid temperatures hung on and the promise of Spring seemed so very far away.  I often found myself wondering just how big of a beach-front Florida condo we could buy if we sold our house and drained our savings accounts.  Sometimes I thought about just staying in my nice warm bed all day, reading books and eating hot soup.  I even toyed with the idea of having all the supplies I needed delivered to me so that I didn’t have to venture out into the cold.

But I didn’t act on any of those crazy impulses.  Instead, I just kept to my regular routine, knowing that sooner or later, Winter would give up and leave, making room for the Spring that I was longing for.  And sure enough, Spring finally showed up.

fullsizeoutput_5070The past couple of weeks have been (mostly) wonderfully warm, with just enough rain to wash away the nasty tree pollen that triggers my allergies.  The flowers are blooming, the trees are budding, and the birds are singing outside my window every morning.  The days are getting longer, and it now stays light well into the dinner hour, which means we can both cook and eat outside on our patio.

I believe Winter comes to all of us in many ways.  Some times it’s the literal Winter of cold, nasty weather and long, dark nights.  Other times, it’s the hardships and losses that that we suffer through and that can make life feel so very difficult, both physically and emotionally.  There are times when it seems as if our personal Winter will never end.

fullsizeoutput_507dThat’s when it helps me to remember that at the end of every seasonal Winter, no matter how hard and how long it has been, comes Spring.  The sun gets a little stronger, the temperatures a little warmer and the days last a little longer with each passing week.  And that reminds me that the dark days in our personal lives don’t last forever either.  It may take a long time, but eventually our burdens will feel just a little bit lighter, our hearts will feel just a little bit warmer, and our spirits will celebrate the arrival of our very own Spring.

Clean It Up

IMG_1203Spring has finally arrived, which means it’s time to do my annual Spring cleaning.  This week I’ll pack up the last of my winter clothes and replace them with outfits more appropriate for warmer weather.  I’ll touch up the paint on the walls and baseboards, wash the windows, vacuum the curtains and even toss my pillows in the washing machine.  I’ll also clean out the junk drawer and sort through the many boxes of stuff we have stored in our basement in an effort to get rid of anything we no longer use or love.  I am not what you would call a “saver,” but for some reason Spring is the time when I am especially motivated to get rid of excess stuff.

And this year I’ve been thinking that maybe it’s time I took my Spring cleaning one step further.  If I’m willing to get rid of the things in my house that are no longer useful to me, then maybe I should be willing to get rid of some of the things in my life that are no longer useful to me as well.  I am nothing if not a creature of habit, but that doesn’t mean that all of my habits are worthy of keeping.  In fact, I’m quite sure that some of them aren’t good for me at all.

Do I really need to start each day by turning on the morning news, knowing that all it usually does it make me me feel depressed, annoyed, or even angry?  Can’t all that negativity at least wait until after breakfast?  And do I really need to sit down at my computer several times a day, checking my emails and Facebook page?  Wouldn’t that time be better spent doing something that’s actually useful, or even relaxing?

Is the Diet Coke that I drink each time I’m walking dogs at the local animal shelter really the best way to quench my thirst, particularly on a hot and humid day?  Is it time to make the switch to water, as so many of the other volunteers do, even though I’ve always bought myself a Diet Coke as a treat when I’m walking dogs?  I could go on, but if I listed all of my habits that aren’t exactly enhancing my life, I’d end up with a blog post that was at least 5,000 words.  Which would be way too long, and way too embarrassing to share.  The point is that my house isn’t the only thing that could use a bit of “cleaning out” this Spring.

They say old habits die hard, and that’s quite true.   But I can still choose to leave some of my old habits behind, especially those that are no longer serving me and that may actually be getting in the way of the kind of life I actually want to lead.  And if I can manage to get rid of even a few of those habits this year, then that will be the best Spring cleaning I’ve ever done.

No Waiting

IMG_3233I’m not sure why I look forward to Spring so much every year, but I do.  I may love the beauty of a new snowfall, but by the time March winds down, I really don’t want to actually see a new snowfall anymore.  This time of year, all I want to see are lots of flowers, buds on trees, and the sun filtering through the bedroom blinds when I wake up in the morning.  I want the temperatures to warm up enough that I can pack away my heavy coats and bulky sweaters, and allow me to wear shoes that don’t necessarily require socks.  I want to be outside without the cold making my nose run and turning my finger tips white.

This year is no exception:  I am ready for Spring.  The problem is, I’m still waiting.  Because even though the calendar says Spring has arrived a while ago, the Winter weather is still hanging on.  Easter Sunday was yesterday, and even though the sun did shine briefly in the morning, the day ended with sleet and snow.  Which is still on the ground.  It’s beginning to feel as if the warm temperatures and pretty flowers I’m waiting for are never going to arrive.

I don’t know about you, but when something isn’t going my way, I tend to get impatient and anxious, and maybe just a teeny bit obsessive.  I begin to focus on whatever it is that’s bothering me, and worse, I begin to believe that as soon as that particular problem is solved, everything will be just fine.  At the moment, I’m blaming my cranky mood on the fact that it’s April 2 and there’s snow and ice on the ground, and that I still have to wear my ugly knee socks in order to keep warm.  I have almost convinced myself that if the weather would just warm up, I’d be a happy camper.

Which is, of course, just plain silly.  The weather will eventually warm up and that will be a very good thing.  But I know that even when it does, I’ll have something else I’ll be fretting about, because my life (just like everyone’s) will always have its share of stress and worry.  So what exactly is the point in my waiting for these cold and gloomy days to go away before I find a way to cheer up?

The older I get, the more I realize that my happiness has much more to do with my attitude than with my environment.   I think it’s time that I become more intentional about choosing to be happy, and looking for the things that can make me happy, right here and right now.  I know that a positive attitude can work wonders for people dealing with serious problems, so why can’t it work for someone who is just plain sick of Winter?

I think it’s time I put on my prettiest sweater and my warmest coat and went for a walk on this too-cold Spring day, just because I can.  And if I look for them, I bet I’ll even see some of those hardy Spring flowers blooming in the snow.

Timing is Everything

IMG_1185Usually, I can’t wait for the arrival of Spring.  By the time March rolls around, I want nothing more than to be finished with Winter.  I hate Winter’s short, cold days and its long, even colder nights.  I hate the dry air in my house that creates chapped skin and generates shocks from static electricity despite the best efforts of my humidifier.  And although I love walking shelter dogs three times a week, I hate doing it in freezing temperatures.  My eyes water from the cold wind, my fingers turn white, and my nose hair freezes.  So ordinarily, the first sign of Spring fills me with joy and a hope for better things.

But this year, Spring came too early, even for me.  Although we had some truly cold days in December and a few frosty days in January, February brought an early warmth that fooled the local foliage into thinking that it was time to bloom.  Before the month was over, daffodils and crocuses were out, and the magnolias, pear trees, forsythia and many other bushes and trees I can’t name were in full flower.  And through it all, I just kept thinking, “But it’s too early for this!  It’s not even March yet!”

The timing of it all just struck me as off, and even a little bit creepy.  I felt out of sorts on many days, and even something as simple as getting dressed became complicated.    Should I go downstairs and root through my bins of warm-weather clothes to find something to wear, or put on one of the  winter sweaters I usually wear in February and hope that wherever I was going had air-conditioning?  As odd as it sounds, I yearned for at least one more snowfall, and temperatures that still required a coat.

And then March finally arrived, and I began to think that perhaps it wasn’t too early for the balmy weather and glorious colors of Spring after all.  Sure, it was still a few weeks ahead of schedule, but warm weather in March isn’t that unusual where I live.  So I finally decided that Spring had indeed sprung, and started in with my usual spring routines.  I packed away my heavy sweaters, began my Spring house-cleaning and even thought about putting out a few Easter decorations.  And whenever I was outside, I found myself not only noticing, but truly appreciating the cheerful colors on all the flowering trees and bushes.

Which meant, of course, that Winter has decided to make a comeback.  In a couple of days the temperatures are supposed to plummet, and we are expected to receive a “wintry mix” that will probably include accumulating snow.  The colorful blooms I’ve been admiring will wither and turn brown, while other plants that have just begun to bud out may not bloom at all.  I may even have to figure out where I stashed the snow shovel.

But I’m not worried.  I know that all I have to do to send Winter packing (at least until next year) is to pretend that I’m truly enjoying the cold weather this weekend.  I’m going to light a fire in the fireplace, put on my favorite winter sweater, make hot chocolate, and if there’s enough snow, I’m even going to build a snowman.  Because believe me, that’s all it will take to make Spring come roaring right back.

Spring Cleaning

I’m what you might call a “neat freak.”  I admit, I prefer my house when it’s sparkling clean and everything is exactly where it should be.  I like my wooden floors to shine; I like my kitchen counters free of clutter; I keep the spices on my spice rack alphabetized, and when I walk into my bathroom, all I want to smell is the air freshener.  Clutter annoys me, and I have basically declared unending war on household dirt and grime.  I have a dog in my house, which means that I use my vacuum cleaner about as often as I use my hair dryer.  So it is only natural that I spend a good deal of time each March doing my annual spring cleaning.

IMG_1203Spring cleaning means that windows must be washed, wooden furniture must be polished, and dust bunnies must be hunted down and destroyed.  My winter clothes are packed up in plastic bins, and my spring clothes are unpacked and stored neatly (sorted according to style, color and sleeve length) in my dresser or closet.  Daffodils are cut from my garden and arranged carefully in a vase on the mantel.  I fill several bags with donations for Good Will, and hit the local malls in hope of finding a couple of new spring outfits that both fit and flatter.  I’m rarely successful, but I still try.

For me, spring cleaning isn’t just about cleaning my house (I pretty much do that all year round), it’s also about getting rid of the stuff I don’t need anymore, and trying to replace it with things that I actually do need but don’t have.  It’s about streamlining my life, and trying to surround myself only with things that matter, meaning only things that are either necessary or that I love.  And it’s not just limited to my house.

There’s something about spring that makes me want to examine my life, and identify the areas that are going well and the areas that could stand a little (or a lot) of improvement.  Am I treating the people I love as well as they deserve to be treated?  Or am I nursing grudges, or using the busyness  of my life as an excuse not to spend time with them?  Am I seeing them clearly, for who they now are, or am I clinging to the image of the person I once knew, because that’s so much easier for me?

Am I taking risks and trying new things, or just staying in my familiar ruts and doing things “the way I’ve always done them?”  Do I have the will power to get rid of life-long habits that no longer serve any useful purpose, and too often get in the way of my health and happiness?  Do I have the courage to reach out to people who annoy me, anger me, or even frighten me and try to find some common ground?  Or am I content to just keep dividing the world into “them” and “us?”

Personal spring cleaning is so much harder than simply cleaning my house, but it’s also so much more necessary.  If I want to start living more fully, and if I want to realize my full potential (modest though it may be), I have to be willing to let go of the resentments, complacency, prejudice, and all those other bad habits that are cluttering up my life.  I have to make room for new relationships, healthy habits and all the beautiful things that can enrich my life if finally make them a priority.

I know that personal spring cleaning, just like conventional spring cleaning, is a process that takes both time and commitment.  But it seems to me that if I can manage to keep a clean house, I ought to at least be willing to try to live a clean life as well.

My Very Own March Madness

IMG_4757If I was forced to spend and entire weekend watching sports, I would choose to watch basketball, since it’s one of the more fast-moving sports and I mostly understand the rules.  Luckily, no one is forcing me to do any such thing, so I am largely ignoring the televised March Madness basketball on TV (unlike my husband, who is glued to the set) and having my own personal version of March Madness instead.

My version has nothing to do with basketball, and everything to do with the arrival of spring.  By mid-March, I am so ready for spring that I can hardly stand it.  I love seeing the daffodils finally blooming in my back yard, and the first little buds beginning to appear on trees and bushes.  And when we get the very first truly warm day, I am convinced that the cold weather is finally over and that summer is just around the corner.  And that’s where the “madness” comes in.

Because I never learn.  Each year, I get hopeful all over again.  I think our yard will always look as nice as it does in early spring, before the weeds/drought/grubworms, of summer have had a chance to do their dirty work.  I believe this will be the year that my allergy medication will finally work and the tree pollen won’t give me a sore throat, runny nose and itchy eyes.  I’m sure that the mosquitos and all the other nasty bugs won’t be so bad this year, and that this will be the year the whiteflies don’t attack my tomato plants.  Worst of all, I dare to hope  that this is the year I’ll both fit into and look good in my summer shorts.  Even though I never do.

I’ve heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.  If that’s true, then the term March Madness really does apply to my yearly reaction to the beginning of spring.  I tend to have the exact same hopes each year, even though they always prove to be far too optimistic.  The frantic housecleaning (because of course my house won’t just get dirty all over again), the optimistic plans to eat all meals this summer on our patio (because it never gets hot, humid and buggy in St. Louis in the summer, right?) and the careful unpacking of summer clothes that haven’t fit properly in years are all part of my annual spring tradition, and probably always will be.

It’s just my own personal March Madness.  And I’m pretty sure I’d be better off watching the basketball tournaments.