Get Ready, Here Comes 2021

2020 worst year ever

It’s okay, don’t let that title scare you. You’re reading this, so you’ve already made it through one of the toughest years the human species has had to face for decades. Take a moment to acknowledge that, if you can. Breathe in, breathe out. I’ve learned how immensely important it is to get serious about mindful gratitude these days, because life can be turned on its head in an instant.

It’s easy to get so wrapped up in the day-to-day details of life that we forget to appreciate the good parts. And it’s far too easy to find things to complain about this year, so let’s not do that today. I want to mention some things that I’ve been especially grateful for recently, in the hope that this will encourage you to do the same.

Friendships

My gosh, where to start? For a couple decades of my life I lived a relatively unsocial lifestyle with few meaningful friendships. After making the scary decision to leave my former life six years ago and start over, I have felt like a new person. The change wasn’t instantaneous and it wasn’t easy, but I pushed myself to adopt new habits and new ways of interacting with the world. I dug deep and kept trying after each setback. And before I knew it, I’d built a life full of wonderful friends and meaningful relationships with colleagues in my nonprofit volunteer work. I sometimes couldn’t believe I’d been able to do it after having been trapped in the old patterns for so long. I finally felt needed and respected, and had as much social life as I could handle. Life was great.

Then the pandemic hit. After all the work I’d put in to build my new life, and when I’d realized that I really did need people, all of that important social interaction was taken from me virtually overnight. I wanted to pound my fists and scream, “No fair!” But, alas, life is what happens when you’re making other plans, right?

Wingspan game day at my house…in 2019…sigh.

Of course the friendships remain, but we can’t spend time together now.  No more game nights at my house with a kitchen full of laughter. No more meeting a friend for coffee or lunch. No more community theatre dates with my theatre buddy. I do meet a couple friends for walks occasionally, but it’s getting too cold for that to be fun anymore. I didn’t realize it was possible to feel this lonely. I’m normally so grateful that I can live alone, but some days I would give anything to have someone in my household “pandemic pod” so I could get a hug. I know things will eventually return to some kind of new normal in which we can be together again, but this forced separation has made me realize how important these people are to my life.  Some friends teach me new things, others make me laugh, and yet others share those deep conversations about life that I love to engage in. I cannot wait for the day that it’s safe to grab every one of my friends in a huge bear hug — I may never want to let go again!

Time

I’m very lucky that I don’t have to deal with a job and kids during the pandemic.  So lucky that I feel guilty about it. I try to make up for that by donating to causes that help the people who are suffering more than me with more immediate physical or financial needs. Most days I have to myself now, with very few appointments or even reasons to leave the house except for groceries or a walk in the park. Despite the loneliness, I’m incredibly grateful for the mental space I’ve been able to reclaim with all this solitude. I see the benefits I’m reaping from being able to use my time to read and write.

A few of my favorite inspirational books

The other day I finally took some time to remove all the books from my messy shelves and re-organize them. That process gave me the chance to rediscover some of them, and I’ve developed the new habit of just pulling a book from the shelf and reading a chapter at random. I’m focusing on my large collection of books about writing, mostly. I’ve long had a fascination with the processes of other writers: how they get ideas, how they organize their notes, and how they tell stories. I feel some momentum building toward my dream of writing my own book. I’m getting more confident that I have something to say that other people will be interested in reading. It’s scary, but I’ve always believed that doing the scary things is important in order to move yourself forward.

My Pets

After my cat Mickey’s traumatic death during my divorce, I was determined not to have pets again because it hurt too much to lose them. And I managed not to look at any cute kittens for more than a year…until a colleague wore me down with her constant urgings for me to get a cat. I begged her to stop telling me about stray cats she’d found or people giving them up for adoption, but she persisted relentlessly. Eventually she wore me down, and I adopted two five-year-old cats from someone who was getting married to a guy with severe cat allergies. 

That was five years ago. I’ve sometimes regretted that I allowed myself to be pushed into adopting them, especially when I had to deal with expensive pet sitting rates and when I found out that one of the cats is very demanding of my attention. But…and this is a major but…since the pandemic and the ensuing isolation, these cats have saved my sanity. I love them both and adore their little quirks. Sophie is my little brown and black tabby girl with the softest fur and loudest purr you’ve ever heard. Her legs are so short she has to try several times to get up on the bed. And the big orange one, Sam, sleeps curled up against my chest with his paw across my neck. It’s hard…really hard…to be alone in this time of such uncertainty about the future. And if I didn’t have these cats to keep me company, well, I just don’t want to imagine how much harder it would be.

And before I finish with this subject, I’ll mention the pets of my friends too. Two of my friends have graciously shared their dogs with me — isn’t it strange that dog walking is something new for me? I realized that I had never walked a dog in my life before the pandemic. And I discovered that I love it! When you can’t hug a friend, the next best thing is to hang out with their dogs. I’ve helped one friend train his rescued dogs to get socialized in the park, and the other friend has allowed her dogs to smother me with kisses and an occasional tackle.

So those are some of the things I’m especially grateful for these days. What are yours?

(Yes, I need a haircut!)

So now we move ahead into a new year. Sure, it’s just a number on a calendar, but we give it a great deal of symbolic significance. There are hopeful signs that life may get better soon: Vaccines are beginning to be administered, and the leadership of our government will be much more sane in just a few short weeks. I’m generally a cynic about New Year’s resolutions, but not this year. I resolve to hold on just a while longer. I’m so tired of wearing masks, but I’ll keep doing it a while longer. I miss my friends and family so much, but I can endure this separation just a while longer.

Show us what you’ve got, 2021. We’re ready.

Puzzled by Nature

A micro puzzle that comes in a plastic test tube…fun!

That title is an apt description of my addled mind these days, as a long pandemic winter settles down on us in northwest Ohio. Brain fog has become a familiar companion in the absence of any human contact and little structure to my days. I long for a return to my active life full of time in nature with my friends. But until that’s possible again, I’ve had to become resourceful about finding new ways to occupy myself during seemingly endless hours of solitude.

Of course I still have virtual meetings and virtual game days, but that’s the extent of my interaction with other humans these days. I do a lot of reading…and writing…and some drawing too. But I’m beginning to feel the walls closing in on me lately, and felt the need for something new in my life. So, naturally, I’ve joined the legions of devoted dissectologists, otherwise known as people who enjoy jigsaw puzzles.

The pandemic has stimulated a huge demand for puzzles reminiscent of the one that took place during the Great Depression. (Here’s a brief history of jigsaw puzzles that will clue you in to the origin of the term dissectologist.) I’ve found working jigsaw puzzles to be a rather meditative activity that helps keep my mind focused away from unproductive thoughts and worries.

Caterpillar puzzle from The Caterpillar Lab — 11″ x 14″

There’s an incredible diversity of puzzles available these days, and I discovered that I’m quite picky about the subject matter of my puzzles. It won’t surprise anyone that my favorites are nature-themed puzzles featuring insects, birds, and other animals. I’ve spent hours browsing websites, turning my nose up at puzzles with city scenes, reproductions of famous paintings, and images of colorful donuts. I also like book-themed puzzles, like the ones that have images of bookshelves overflowing with interesting titles. The photos in this post are some of my favorites from the nature puzzles I’ve done recently.

Article about the demand for puzzles

I’m particularly fond of the huge dragonfly puzzle below. Full disclosure about that dragonfly though: I didn’t finish it. I did the entire border and the dragonfly in the center, but only finished the lower half of the interior because it just felt tedious by that point. The design is exactly the same all around, and that just isn’t fun for me. I guess I’m picky about the subject matter and the level of difficulty. I’m a Goldilocks puzzler, looking for just the right amount of what I want…not too easy, not too hard.

I’ve loaned the dragonfly puzzle to a friend and I may have another go at it when she’s finished with it. I love the colors on that puzzle and may even consider framing it to hang on the wall. One day it’ll be a reminder of pandemic life, I suppose. Might as well find some beauty in these bizarre times, right?

The “Ecosystems of the World” puzzle (below) was a lot of fun because it made me curious about some of the ecosystems as I was studying the images. If a puzzle is visually pleasing, keeps my mind and hands busy, and teaches me something along the way, then it’s done its job well.

Ecosystems of the World — a very fun puzzle
Detail from “Charley Harper Tree of Life” puzzle
Detail from a puzzle of fruit label art

I often listen to podcasts and music as I work on a puzzle, taking breaks to dance with Sam whenever Fleetwood Mac pops up on my Spotify playlist. He just loves to be held on my shoulder so he can nuzzle my chin while I dance to “Second Hand News.” Seriously, he seems to have a real interest in that particular song…it’s so weird. He doesn’t seem to mind that I only know the lyrics to two lines. And yes, I know what you’re thinking — it’s possible that I’ll turn into the stereotypical cat lady spinster by the time this is all over. But come on, I can’t be the only one falling into some odd behaviors at this point, right?

Sam likes the beetle puzzle as much as I do

I realized the other day that even once it’s my turn to get the vaccine (hopefully by late spring), I still won’t know how long it protects me, so how can my life change at that point? I can’t imagine that we’ll be able to safely abandon the face masks and social distancing for quite some time. The uncertainty is so frustrating, and there’s no telling how long it will be before we can start to put the pieces of our lives back together. But it will happen at some point, for sure. In the meantime, you’ll find me in the jigsaw aisle….