Gap Year Has Begun

adult background beach blue

Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

It’s Day 2 of my Gap Year.  48 hours ago, my husband and I dropped our daughter off at her college dorm room.  The nest is officially empty, and so it’s time for me to fly.

I’ve spent the past 9 months enjoying mom life to its fullest, setting personal plans aside to soak up the remaining time with my daughter at home, never questioning whether I was being unproductive, even though she didn’t need me much of the time.  I just savored being there, and watching her become independent in so many small ways.  I knew I’d have the rest of my life to be me, so for now I am giving thanks that I slowed down long enough to savor that time with her, and to reflect on how much I love her.

During the big dorm move-in, so many friends and family reached out to wish her luck, but also to check on how we were feeling, gauging our emotional barometer.  I’m happy to report that the overall mood of the day was joy.  Joy in anticipation, joy in uncertainty, and joy in simplifying life down to her half of a dorm room.  I set her free with a few fairy lights and storage bins, knowing her life was about to be focused outside of those four walls, and her wealth was going to be measured in relationships and experiences for the next four years.

And so it goes for mom on her Gap Year.  Can I spread my wings, too?  Can I measure my life in relationships?  Will I have the courage to reach out to new experiences?  Am I bold enough to ask questions, fail, and learn?  Will I take risks?

I never felt sad saying goodbye to her.  How can there be sadness in growth and change?  Minimalism has taught me that the present is our most precious day, and that we have everything we need in this moment.  And so, even with her far from home, I know we are both right where we need to be.

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Gap Year

Yesterday, my daughter hit ‘submit’ on her online college application, which means graduation is on the horizon for my oldest child and with it, choices about how to begin life as a young adult.  This past year, we tackled the infamous, “Where do you want to go to college?” question, and discussion of a contemporary trend, the Gap Year.

The Gap Year is the period of time between high school graduation and freshman year at a university of choice.  It is an opportunity for young adults to take a sanctioned break from the academic system to explore, work, learn, grow, and get to know themselves.  The reasoning is that life experience, self-discovery, and a broader perspective on the world will benefit them as they enter the higher education system.

In my opinion, Mom & Dad are the ones deserving of the Gap Year.  I mean, by your forties (or later), you have a pretty good idea what gaps exist in your life.  It’s time to start rekindling that sense of adventure you lost the minute you graduated from college and set foot in your first cubicle.  In my case, immediately after fleeing said cubicle, I chose to start a family, which led into an 18 year blur of exhaustion, culminating in my daughter’s current college application process.

During that time my children grew up, a few dreams and travel plans were deferred.  A few friendships fell by the wayside, as we were all too busy with travel soccer practice to prioritize our own social lives.  A few business ideas sparked, but have not yet had time to ignite, as my changing worldview slowly shifts my focus from income potential to social good.  And one more thing, I need rest and relaxation like I need air and water.

Most of all, I crave uncertainty.  Not recklessness, but rather the potential and opportunity of being less defined.  Now I am older, and more financially secure, but I remember how it felt to feel so ungrounded at age 22.  My 20s were financially tight, but I was secure in my relationships.  How fluidly I moved with less burden, and how invigorating it was to be experimenting with my life’s path.

I have big decisions ahead of me, as does my daughter.  Of course, there is a standard path in front of me.  Continue paying the mortgage, build the nest egg, live safely and comfortably, but feel stagnant.  But there is another way.  Make changes, shake things up, take some risks, but feel fear.  My daughter plans to start college next fall, but Mom has her eye on the Gap Year.

Moving Meditation

Leafy trail

Life is in constant motion.  From the rotation of the Earth, to the falling leaves, to the blood coursing through our veins, to be alive is to move.  The same can be said for our bodies and minds.  Achieving complete stillness is impossible, so instead, stillness is more of a balancing act, or at least an alternating practice.  When I move my body through running, I am able to reach a point where my mind becomes quiet.  When I stop moving my body, my mind races.

I think for this very reason, I struggled with beginning a traditional meditation practice.  I lack the capacity to quiet my mind.  The moment I sit in stillness, I cannot not stop the flow of thoughts through my head.  Stillness feels sluggish and stagnant, and mind chatter feels draining.  I struggle with yoga, and sitting, and anything less intense than long runs that leave me sweaty and depleted, but blissfully still and content.

Perhaps you are one of these people, like me, who thrive on and tolerate vigorous activity.  Perhaps sitting isn’t what you need at this moment in your life.  If so, I say embrace the run.  Let your morning workout be your meditation for now.  Let stillness come to you on the trail, amongst the trees, with the breeze and sunlight embracing you.

This is no less of a meditation than the one of your expectations, and it achieves a different, but wonderful kind of flow.  For some of us, life force, energy, and breath require movement.  Let’s embrace our nature and align with our instinct to move.  Moving meditation can be a starting point to other mindful practices.  So, if you are struggling to meditate, maybe your first step can be a 5 minute jog instead.

The Squirrel Incident

I look forward to the change of seasons each year, and there is certainly much to anticipate in the early days of autumn.  Cool air, cozy sweaters, crackling fires, and the beauty of the changing leaves.  Unfortunately, sometimes we anticipate the change of seasons through advertisements and holiday fantasies.  Starbucks will be soon be encouraging us to restart our Pumpkin Spice Latte habit.  Pottery Barn will send us yet another catalog, and in it, images of perfectly curated fall décor, along with beautifully adorned doorways welcoming trick-or-treating perfection.

I bought into this magazine lifestyle fantasy myself, until The Squirrel Incident.  Last September, my family was just finishing up a screened porch renovation.  Our 16 year old house was starting to show its age, and I thought we needed to get started on the ever growing home maintenance to-do list.  One item on that list included remodeling the screened porch.

Our home backs up to woods, and for years, squirrels have decided it would be more cozy to nest under the roof of our back porch than in the trees.  Over time, they ripped multiple holes in the screens and repeatedly tried to build nests, despite our efforts to wage all-out squirrel warfare as humanely and non-harmfully as possible.

We decided to repair the porch once and for all, replacing or repairing the floorboards, rails, roof, and screens.  The project was completed in early autumn, right as Pottery Barn was putting their summer outdoor furniture on clearance to make way for their new fall décor.  It occurred to me that we should own one of those beautiful outdoor sofas and chairs.  It would help us enjoy the new porch, I reasoned.  I wanted the magazine photo to be my reality.

Two weeks after the furniture was delivered, I innocently let the dog out onto our porch one morning, not realizing that a squirrel had torn through the new screen overnight, and was quietly perched on the back of our outdoor sofa.  The ensuing chase was chaotic, worthy of the squirrel scene in the movie ‘Christmas Vacation’.  Picture a squirrel running for its life, over every horizontal and vertical surface of the porch, my dog leaping after it over the new furniture, crazed in her single-minded pursuit.

Finally, I was able to separate the two animals.  The squirrel lived, my sofa did not.  The squirrel had dug its claws into the couch cushions as it ran, shredding the fabric, and leaving a trail of muddy footprints and urine (like I said, it was scared) across the pristine white Sunbrella fabric.  I checked the Pottery Barn catalog, and there were no squirrel disclaimers to be found, nor any tips on removing squirrel urine.

Turns out, life is not a glossy magazine photo.  Life is messy and imperfect and unpredictable.  I never imagined I’d be learning life lessons from a squirrel, but Mother Nature has a way of revealing her infinite wisdom in not so subtle ways.  I did not replace the sofa.  This fall, I will be sipping my (homemade) Pumpkin Spice Latte on the same ripped cushion I’ve been sitting on for a year now.  That’s life.  Messy, but good.

Affluenza Recovery

This post scares me.  Why?  Because it’s an admission of truth.  Uncomfortable truth.  The truth is that I’m not very good at affluence.  By chance, luck, or circumstance, it was unavailable to me as a child, but was given to me as an adult.  I guess I’ve seen both sides of the coin.  Maybe affluence isn’t the problem, so much as selfishness, greed, and envy.  I’ve tried all of those out, but each felt inauthentic and shallow.  In fact, affluence made me feel a little ill, but thankfully, I am now in the process of affluenza recovery.

This realization about affluence hit me over the head a few years ago, actually.  I sat counting the number of chairs in my house(s), along with the number of Facebook friends I actually considered my true friends, and the chairs happened to significantly outnumber the meaningful people in my life.  The rest of the people I didn’t really interact with, but I was definitely spending money on chairs trying to impress them.  Not many of those people ever did come over to sit in my chairs.

That is the essence of affluenza.  Not feeling secure in yourself or your relationships, and trying to find security in owning more things.  After all, chairs don’t judge you, and if you need support, chairs are always there for you.  Friends on the other hand, are more difficult to obtain, require regular upkeep, and therefore, feel a little more risky.  Sure, friends can also be bought, but not the quality ones.

So, I made a decision.  I started getting rid of the clutter on my chairs, followed by the chairs themselves.  At first, my life felt a little empty and I felt weak, but I’m now feeling stronger through life experiences and relationships.  Soon I’ll be moving on to downsizing the rooms and houses that hold the remaining chairs.  If affluence sticks around during that process, then perhaps I’ll now have the skills in place to use it for good.  Perhaps I’m building up an immunity to affluenza.  I suspect I’ll always own at least one chair, but until my friends outnumber my furniture, I have more work to do.

Enjoy Your Mornings

There are a lot of morning routine articles on the internet these days, so it’s obviously a popular topic.  I think we can all agree:  We want to start the day off right and feel happy.  I have to admit, I am morning routine Jedi, remaining remarkably consistent on this front.  However, every time a read a list of morning routine suggestions, I start to cringe.

Wake up early, take a deep breath, stretch, meditate, journal 3 pages, brew artisanal coffee, exercise, then allow yourself to take care of your family (who is just now waking up at a reasonable hour), get them off to school, then work productively for 3 hours at your stand up desk, at which point you are allowed to check email and Facebook.  In the real world, it would now be lunchtime, and I would be stressed and exhausted, and probably reaching for something sugary to eat.

The one thing I can tell you I don’t want in the morning is to get slammed in the face with someone else’s to do list for a proper morning.  I want my morning to make ME happy.  Which is why I suggest that it’s ok to take it down a notch, keep things simple, and focus on doing a few things you like.

How I Enjoy My Mornings:

Wake up without an alarm – Pretty doable if I get to bed a decent hour and make sure natural morning light can penetrate my bedroom fortress.  If not, I have a backup alarm, but it’s set to happy nature sounds.

Put away the clean dishes (on a good day) – This practice is related to my compulsive need to eliminate food and cooking chaos through a perpetually clean sink.  I don’t always feel like doing it, but I feel satisfied having it done.  Perhaps I’ll blog about the joy of a clean sink one day, or recover from my compulsiveness.

Make a cup of tea – Warmth and joy.  Even more joy than the sink.

Read a book (or a blog) –  Reading is my thing.  I’m not a social media gal, as I like to avoid FOMO.

Make a second cup of tea – This gives me permission to procrastinate exercise within reason.  If I take too long, the tea gets cold and yucky, so I tend to get moving.

Exercise & Make a smoothie –  Smoothie comes first if I’m low on energy, Exercise comes first if I’m feeling like Wonder Woman.  Exercise can be a long run or a short yoga session.  I don’t judge, I just do it.

Walk the dog – My mandatory outdoor time, weather excuses are not permitted.

Start the rest of my day – This is actually the first point in my day when I’m most likely to feel stress, because the rest of my day is less predictable and therefore requires more mental effort.  Maybe I should title this part of the day ‘Acknowledge Stress’.  Not become stressed, just acknowledge it and face the day.

I’m guessing no one else in the universe has a clean sink on their morning routine list besides me, and that’s ok.  Mornings are uniquely adaptable to your taste.  Morning routines are allowed to be easy.  The point is to enjoy your mornings.  All you need is a little routine to help you start off right, whatever right feels like for you.

 

Vegan Ambition

Plant love has seeped into my lifestyle, and green juice is flowing through my veins these days.  I scour the internet trying to find vegan shoe options that align with my distaste for plastic’s existence in this universe.  I lovingly munch on rice and beans lettuce wraps, pondering what more I can do to promote a vegan lifestyle to others besides eat and shop.  I’ll continue to vote with my dollars as vegan consumer, but I also wish to put out more positive action into the world.  What else could I create and do?

First of all, I quietly persist.  I used to underestimate the social influence of small consistent action.  As I eat my lettuce, and admit to sometimes craving ice cream, people observe.  They see that becoming vegan can be a challenge for me as it likely would be initially for them.  They see that sometimes I struggle to convert a recipe, and that this struggle produces in me an extreme amount of joy and pride, like a difficult workout that leads to long term fitness goals.  Good struggle.  Satisfaction.  Work.

Secondly, I share.  I gift my knowledge and experience to anyone who asks to hear my story.  I do not force my vegan baggage upon people who are not ready to embrace it or are too overwhelmed to carry it.  Instead, I wear my green T-shirt, and wait for them to find the space to notice and ask.  And when they do, I try to welcome them warmly from where they are now.  I show them that the vegan side of the street is a pretty cool place to live.  Why did the chicken cross the road?  He knew his neighbor was vegan, too.  (I just made that up.)

One day, my vegan ambition is to convert more people to this community.  Could I expand my food skills by preparing meals or giving vegan cooking lessons to some hungry souls?  Perhaps I could speak to some food bank volunteers, to see if vegan options might be most affordable and healthy for those in need.  I’ll sneak a vegan cookbook into the little free library just down the street from my house.  I’ll go bigger and figure out how to present a viable business plan that influences dairy farmers to convert their facilities to profitable vegan based agriculture.  Maybe one day I’ll write my own business plan, and finally build that little barn that only serves vegan ice cream, yoga classes, and happiness, while rescued farm animals lounge in style in their own luxury accommodations across my property.  One day, I’ll find a pair of vegan shoes that are super cool and non-synthetic, and I won’t have to think about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch while I walk.

I have a lot of ambition, but for now, I quietly persist.