Summer of Just Enough

In a recent yoga class, the teacher suggested a meditation on the idea of enough. Not scrimping but having what you need. The opposite of greedy excess. Just enough. I’ve been thinking about that often in this odd summer of highs and lows.

In June, much of what I’d longed for during the long, oppressive COVID winter seemed within reach. 

Summer’s simple pleasures beckoned. Sunup at 5:30, sunset after 9:00. Walking early. Flowers everywhere. I’d plant my vegetable garden, visit the farmers market, and go to the beach.

Even better, I could be with family and friends easily, outdoors. Take a modest driving vacation.

I could contemplate more ambitious plans like visiting my siblings and extended family in Ohio and Wisconsin after two years apart because of COVID.

We had the joy of our younger son’s June wedding and the afterglow of our older son’s May wedding.

So many good things!

As June turned to July, those big helpings of happiness were tempered by sobering swallows of reality. High temperatures and humidity smothered the Twin Cities for weeks on end. Walking and gardening became chores I scheduled for early morning or close to sunset when the air was cooler and the breeze picked up a little. 

Cosmos and zinnias are hanging in there despite drought.

The beach, farmers market, and outdoor gatherings with family, book group, and my writers’ groups remained carefree and fun despite the weather.

July’s high heat and drought shrank Minnehaha Creek and crisped lawns. Hazy smoky air from western and northern wildfires shrouded the Twin Cities. What have we done to the climate? Why aren’t we doing something about it??

Less visible but equally scary was the delta variant’s arrival. “Maybe we’ll need to wear masks again,” became “Damn. We have to mask up.” With that realization came the sludge of past fears and present worries about risk. Ugh. 

While driving to see family in Wisconsin and Ohio, I’ve been masked and careful. Hugging them and talking naturally—in person, like pre-COVID—has felt so good. I’m so grateful we’re all still here.

Wisconsin prairie

As August swings into September, the weather has moderated a bit, but distant wildfires are still burning and the delta variant is more widespread. My worries about climate and health persist and I consider: have the summer’s highs outweighed the lows? Have they been enough? For me, yes. It’s hard to argue with the joy of happily married sons, the addition of wonderful daughters-in-law, or the pleasure of sharing a good meal with the family I’ve missed. All’s not right with the world, but my portion of well-being is enough.

Ohio porch

Farewell to Masks?

I don’t enjoy wearing a mask. The elastic turns my ears elfish. Wearing my glasses cocked to hold down the mask alters my vision. And whoa, somebody’s breath sure stinks inside this mask! You’d think I’d be ecstatic that the CDC has said that in many settings, vaccinated people like me no longer have to wear a mask or distance. 

Instead, I’m discombobulated. Not quite ready. I understand the rationale behind this policy change, but am struggling to process it.

COVID has been a harsh teacher. The randomness of who got deathly ill or who experienced long term debilitating effects kept me careful. My sister, who is a respiratory therapist, told me stories of her grueling ICU shifts. Awareness that COVID was real and deadly became a form of low-level anxiety. Unwinding that daily concern will take time. 

When a friend I rarely see said she’d be in town and asked if we could go out to dinner, my immediate reaction wasn’t yippee! It was, I’m not sure. Am I ready to eat inside a busy restaurant? Could we do patio dining instead?

I do love hanging out unmasked with vaccinated family and friends. Masked, you learn to look at people’s eyes to see if they’re smiling or preoccupied. Now the full range of our expressions is visible. 

Nevertheless, I’m not throwing out my masks. After 14 months of caution, I recognize the risk is reduced but not gone. Besides, although the state of Minnesota rescinded the mask mandate, Minneapolis and St. Paul have maintained it for a while longer.

Yet I remind myself that the point of living through a pandemic is to be alive. Fully. Masking narrowed my vision and limited my sense of possibility. After more than a year of looking inward, turning outward again will be good. 

This IS Your Real Life

Since the pandemic began I’ve told myself the quarantine restrictions were “for now.” That my real life would begin again later. 

Surprisingly, I was fairly patient with this odd limbo. Although I had bad days sometimes, I accepted that living with restrictions was necessary. I could handle this. My life was not all I wished for, but I could be content within the new parameters.

And seriously, I have nothing to complain of. 

Despite my acceptance I felt a level of distraction, a channel of disruption or low-key anxiety running in the background, keeping me from being wholly engaged in my days. 

Perhaps I was sparing myself from comprehending the limits and freaking out about them. But I was also banking my fires, saving my fully present self for later. As if this wasn’t my real life. 

After nearly 10 months, I understand I can’t keep holding back. This IS my real life. The days, weeks, months are ticking by. I won’t get them back. There’s no psychic bank account where the losses are preserved, waiting for me to claim them, and restore them to my life. 

My days are different from what I imagined they would be right now, but I remind myself that I’m already doing a lot of what I like to do. I’m still writing. Reading. Volunteering. Finding other creative outlets. I’m not as connected with friends and family as I’d like to be, but I call or video chat with them.

I haven’t completely figured out how to be immersed in this life, but I know that’s the answer.

When Will I Do It?

My friend Maery did it after fracturing her shoulder at a company outing.

My cousin Eugene did it when he ran out of staples for his office stapler.

My sister Karen did it when COVID-19 closed the dental office where she worked.

What did they do?

They retired.

But unlike me, they all had employers to retire from. They also all had a key moment when they knew it was time to do just that.

But as a freelance writer who works for dozens of clients, there’s no one employer to retire from and since I haven’t yet had a “now’s the right time” moment, I’m still saying yes to most client work that comes my way. Thankfully, I enjoy the work…and the people I work for.

That said, I am beginning to think more seriously about retirement and what it might look like for me.

Despite the fact that I’ve been dreaming about (and saving for it) since I was 22, I don’t have a very clear picture. That’s one reason why, when I turned 60 three years ago, rather than celebrating with a big party, a piece of jewelry or an exotic trip, I took a one-year sabbatical.

Though I missed having work as a way of structuring my days, I really enjoyed the downtime and the chance to unplug both personally and professionally. I also enjoyed the chance to travel for months at a time.

Although I’ve since returned to freelancing, I now say yes only to projects I can do from anywhere at any time. That way, I still have plenty of flexibility and free time, a lot of which I just putter away. Most days that feels like exactly the right thing to do.

Other days, I’m more engaged. I’ve also started journaling again and gotten reacquainted with art supplies I haven’t touched in years. I’m cooking some and reading more. I’m writing letters and calling friends. I’m even enjoying routine household chores, plus getting estimates for several home improvement projects.

Increasingly, it’s these things—not my client work—that’s giving structure to my days…and no doubt moving me closer to retirement. What sign will tell me that it’s finally time? I don’t yet know, but I do look forward to finding out.

Affection for Collection

“Madeline Kripke, Doyenne of Dictionaries, Is Dead at 76”

That was the headline on a New York Times obituary that got me thinking about what it means to be a collector.

Like Kripke, I have a collection of dictionaries. But unlike her collection, which took up her entire apartment and three warehouses, my collection—now that I’ve given away my two-volume Oxford English Dictionary and the magnifying glass it came with—consists only of a handful of paperbacks: The Pocket Oxford Dictionary, The Official Scrabble® Players Dictionary, Dorland’s Pocket Medical Dictionary, Cassell’s Compact Latin Dictionary and Drugs From A to Z: A Dictionary.

As a writer, I refer to these and other dictionaries often. So normally I’d continue to hold on to them.

But instead, I’m Marie Kondo-ing and letting go of what no longer sparks joy for me. In addition to the dictionaries and dozens of other books, I’m emptying shelves, drawers and closets that were once jam-packed with memory-provoking treasures—everything from journals and jewelry to purses, postcards and paintings.

That said, I have several collections I’m not yet ready to part with: sea glass from my favorite beach, postcards from places I’ve traveled, prayer cards from funerals I’ve attended and just about every handwritten letter I’ve ever received. For now, I’ll be hanging on to them, in large part because I still value the memories they evoke.

Taking inventory of my collections also has me thinking about my family and friends and what they collect.

My sister Karen, for instance, collects ceramic chickens for her kitchen, while my sister Diane collects nativity sets from places she travels. My cousin Mary Ann, a quilter, collects fabric.

Writer Cathy Madison, inspired by the pleasant memory of a green polka-dot clothed clown she used to carry as a child, collects clowns. And while fellow Word Sister Ellen Shriner doesn’t consider herself a serious collector, she does have half a dozen perfume bottles she thinks are pretty.

My friends Diane and Alan, on the other hand, get a kick out of a bathroom basket of “weird things” they’ve collected from the sea, including broken exoskeletons and some mystery items they can’t even identify. The items bring back fond memories of past vacations and spark debates over who dove down to collect what.

My friend Susan uses her journals to collect nametags from the events she attends, while my colleague John has spread his collection of vintage radios, which range from hip transistors from the 60s to large wooden consoles, throughout his house.

Regardless of what we collect, our collections put us in touch with our past selves and sometimes with our hopes and dreams for the future. They also offer an ever-ready way to experiment with arranging, organizing and visually presenting ourselves and our experiences to ourselves, as well as to family and close friends.

While I have valued and enjoyed my collections, many of which I began in my early 20s, some now feel more like clutter. I’ve even occasionally wondered if instead of being a thoughtful collector, I’ve crossed the line and become a haphazard hoarder. One reason is because I’ve moved some of my collections—once neatly organized and creatively displayed—willy-nilly to storage closets in my basement.

Plus, I’m feeling weighed down by my possessions. I’m traveling more and beginning to think about downsizing, so I’ll likely set several more of my collections free in the weeks and months ahead. One reason is because isolating at home due to the coronavirus makes it easier to sift and sort, reflect and reassess.

Do you have something special you collect?

If so, what is it and why did you start collecting in the first place? How does your collection make you feel? Are you still adding new items, or have you, like me, begun sifting through your collection with an eye toward curating or even curtailing it? Please share.