I wrote this a couple of weeks ago but didn't get it posted. Better late than never, I guess.
I realized this morning that I have now been on my summer retreat for a full month. During that time, the weather finally turned and it feels like summer. It’s been wonderful…not too hot, a few days of colder weather to break the monotony and some fierce thunderstorms to provide punctuation and water the lawn. The perennial garden is in full bloom and I get wonderful whiffs of lavender and lilies as I pass by. I hear the motor boats racing around the lake from dawn until past dusk mingled with the laughter and shouts of glee as voices travel for miles across the lake.
July sped by in a whirl of activity and it’s hard to even remember all that has happened. But, since I’m currently held hostage by the man who is aligning my car, I have a bit of time to reflect. All in all, it has been good. When I decided to retreat this summer, I felt both excited and anxious. I looked forward to simply giving myself a break…allowing myself to kick back, unwind and slow down. But at the same time, I had some anxiety because I wasn’t sure if I really could do it. Sometimes the scurrying around seemed like an end unto itself and the tasks I was completing weren’t as important as the fact that I was staying busy.
My mom had a good friend who would stop by for coffee every once in a while under the ruse that she needed a button sewn on. Mom was a seamstress and this lady, Dorothy often used her services. Mom swore that Dorothy would pull buttons off just so she would have the excuse to drop by for coffee. Dorothy loved our cat and would often stop to pet her. I remember my mother remarking one day, “I don’t know why you like that useless, lazy thing.” Dorothy snapped back, “Lois, unless everyone and everything sews or knits or does carpentry you think they’re useless.” That was pretty much the way I grew up. Unless you were busy (or at least looked busy) you were considered lazy and you’d better change your ways pretty quickly. When I had this summer retreat idea I really didn’t know if I could make myself sit down and read when the floors hadn’t been dust mopped or if I could sit in my garden without weeding it.
I know now that I can, but it takes a bit of work. I have to coach myself. I constantly remind myself that I am on summer retreat and sitting, sewing, leisurely gardening, cooking fun meals (or not cooking at all) and basically enjoying myself is my priority. Of course, I still get a bunch done, but I really do evaluate whether it is necessary. It’s amazing how much scurrying around I have the tendency to do just because I feel compelled to scurry around. I’ve come to a few conclusions along the way…not quite epiphanies, but important nonetheless.
For instance, I really do feel better without my lists. I thought that my continual list making was freeing. I thought that it allowed me to unload my mind once I wrote it down. But, instead of serving as memory aides, I think I began serving my to-do lists. Once I wrote down my plans I became overwhelmed and couldn’t rest until every single thing was scratched off. And if I chose not to work on the list items I felt guilty. I still make lists, but they’re short and sweet. I have kept my resolution to limit my lists to what will fit on a Post-It note. Amazingly, I don’t forget many things and I still manage to make it through my day. It’s funny how we let things of our own making rule our thoughts and actions.
I also have thoroughly enjoyed our recent company. Aubrey and the boys came up earlier this month and we had a grand time on a pirate adventure to one of the local islands.
We even dressed up like pirates and found hidden treasure after following a map that happened to fall out of one of the boys’ books.
And one morning Aubrey and I sat on the deck soaking our summer-worn feet in lovely warm water and then painted our toenails an outrageous pink. I had a great time just being with Aub and the boys. Honestly, I so often am worried about the next activity or the laundry that needs to be done that I can’t simply enjoy the important, yet simple moments with those I love. We also had an old friend visit last week. Kelly is one of my dearest friends whom I’ve known for almost twenty years. She and her husband, JR and their kids, Megan and Cody came for several days. They’d never been in this area before, so we got reminded of just how lucky we really are to live where we do. Seeing our sights through their eyes was energizing.
And having a twelve-year-old and a sixteen-year-old around also gave us a burst of energy. Whether we were all being pulled over choppy water on an inflatable behind the motorboat or sitting around the campfire, it felt like we were at summer camp. Their vacation became our vacation. And I am sure they are quite grateful for my detailed instructions on how to roast a marshmallow to perfection.
I’ve also enjoyed the time I’ve not spent watching the news or surfing the Internet. I guess I didn’t realize how much my mood was influenced by the information coming in on a continual basis. The other night I did watch an hour of news. It was all horrible and left me depressed all the next day. There’s something about inviting this all into my living room in living color that is too intense. If I read the same news in the paper I can stay informed without being inundated. And not spending so much time on the Internet…well, that has freed up a bunch of time for doing what I enjoy more. I was surprised when I told myself one evening, “I don’t have to check my e-mail today.” It has all become a chore to sort out the few e-mails I want to read from the barrage of unimportant ones. It’s the same as sorting out the junk mail at the post office. Such a waste.
But, I think the best surprise this month came from removing the rigid structure that forms the framework of my days. I do love my routine, but sometimes it becomes so unbending that I can’t be spontaneous. When my datebook is filled and I am staring at a list of tasks for the day or for the week, I have a hard time allowing time for the serendipitous events that pop up. Noel is great about the spontaneous adventure. He’ll suddenly announce, “Hey, let’s go to the play tonight.” I would often respond, “But, we haven’t got tickets. They’re probably sold out. And anyway, I planned to do paperwork. Why didn’t you mention this a couple of days ago?” I would often put the damper on anything that wasn’t planned in advance. But now, I don’t have a whole bunch of plans so his suggestions are welcome. In fact, I’ve come up with a few of my own. We linger after dinner longer to talk about our days. We snuggle on the couch while listening to our new Paul MacCartney CD. We work side by side doing the yard work, and this makes it feel less like work. Put more simply…I’ve been happier and had more fun this month.
I look forward to the continuation of my summer retreat. Perhaps it will be even easier to slow down during the dog days of August. Also, I have a whole month of experience under my belt. I do know that I’ll keep trying to decompress not only for myself but for those near and dear to me. No one has actually come out and said this, but I have a feeling that I’m a whole lot more fun to be around now. And what better time than to have fun than this time of year and this time in my life?