I watch the sun rise almost every morning, lifting above the treeline and touching our pole barn with its golden fingers just about 10 minutes after the official sunrise time. This picture was the last sunrise of 2023.
My sleep patterns have gotten increasingly sporadic as I get older. I often find myself awake in the very early morning. when it first began, I would find myself stressing about begin awake and fretting about the next day. The anxiety overwhelmed any attempts to relax and breathe.
Through my meditation practice, I was presented with the idea of just embracing these moments. At the least, lying in bed in the dark is a good time to practice and I often do fall back to sleep. I also explored the medieval practice of two sleeps or biphasic sleep where people slept then got up during the middle of the night, a period of wakefulness called the Watch. It was used for chores and religion. They would then generally go back to sleep for some time before rising for the day.
Very early this morning, I knew I needed to just get up so I moved from bed to chair and picked up my book. I was just starting to get drowsy and considering a return to bed when the cat arrived with a tiny, very-much-alive mouse who immediately burrowed into a pile of dirty clothes. I was able to push it into my empty tea mug, pad downstairs, and deposit it outside, facing down the glares of my cat.
That activity was enough to convince me to just stay up. After all, I was downstairs at this point so I figured I would make coffee. While it brewed, I did the dishes, mopped the kitchen floor and folded laundry. I headed back to my chair and my book, steaming mug in my hand. Another perk of these early mornings is watching the sunrise over the woods that border the now barren fields.
It’s noon time now and I feel no worse for wear. I am attending the New Member Welcome class for Ali Manning’s Handmade Book Club and then planning an afternoon outside. I suspect it will be an early night; I usually sleep better the night after an insomnia night so there’s that to look forward to. Meanwhile, it was lovely to wander back into the kitchen for a second cup of coffee and find my clean dishes and floor.
We woke to the news that Jimmy Buffett had died. We were fortunate to hear him in concert. My husband introduced me to sailing, and we would listen to Buffett at some point during our excursions. I have read a couple of his fiction books and found them as upbeat as his music. “Pencil Thin Mustache” is one of my all time favorite songs, and I was able to find a live version.
I failed to mark the passing earlier this year of probably our favorite musician: Gordon Lightfoot. We heard him several times over the years and were never disappointed. I love many of his songs but my favorite is “Song for A Winter’s Night,” a quiet love ballad that he originally recorded in 1967.
In Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, about her family farm in southwest Virginia, she describes the extensive preparations they took to protect the garden from weeds and critters before going away for a week. I was away for two weeks at the height of the growing season with no time for preparation, and my gardens, both vegetable and flower, were busy both producing and returning to the wild when I returned. I was able to wrestle back some control from the weeds while also harvesting corn, green beans and tomatoes for consumption and preservation. My freezer is slowly filling up with bags of beans and plastic containers of corn and tomato sauce. It will be a delicious winter.
I have also been canning pear jam with the bounty from our six pear trees, all of which have produced amazing fruit this year. I am using this great recipe from Practical Self Reliance; it makes a beautiful, chunky but spreadable jam. My only hack is that I use my pressure cooker to cook down the pears as it requires less tending than the stove top.
The world of “real” work is calling, and in between gardening and cooking, I got started on a couple projects for the fall semester. I was worried that, after feeling very retired for the first months of 2023 and especially while I was hanging out with my parents and then digging into my part-time farmer life, I wouldn’t have the energy or motivation to deal with timelines and deadlines and other people. Fortunately, my skills at prioritizing and focusing kicked back in but with a better sense of balance. I was able to integrate work without it overwhelming the rest of my life the way it might have in the past. Plus, it has been a great time to learn new tech skills: I am incorporating AI into both my edtech courses and have been having fun learning about and experimenting with ChatGPT. More on that later.
For now, I’ve got pears to prep and tomatoes to pick, and I might even take a bike ride on a Monday morning.
I have put “write a blog post” on the to do list every day for the past three weeks but haven’t been able to bring myself to face the page as I try to process the life changes that have taken place in that short time.
On June 18, not long after I posted about my circuits workshop, our beloved, 12-year-old beagle Major died in our arms. It was a shock as, after struggling with some health issues through the spring, he had gotten much better and was back to his happy-go-lucky self. We took a long walk that morning, but late in the day, he suffered seizures and a stroke. My husband and I put him in his bed where he went quickly and peacefully.
Major was born on the farm and loved living there. Because of his diabetes that required twice daily insulin shots, our schedule, indeed our lives, really revolved around him, and I found myself at loose ends after his death. I’ve been working on new routines such as riding my bike in the mornings in place of our walks. But, even now some three weeks later, I still look at my watch thinking it is time for a walk, a meal or medicine. We have had five dogs over the past 28 years, and there is definitely a hole in our lives. I am not sure I want another dog. Our first dog was the only one we actively acquired. All the rest came to us through friends or the farm. Time will tell.
Last week, we escaped to southwest Virginia together where I did my workshop, and we explored the mountains that we both adore. It was good to see old friends and share my passion for tinkering with educators. Then we got the call from my older sister: my 88-year-old father had collapsed in a store and was taken to the hospital. He was alive and alert, but they were talking about gallbladder surgery. I did the workshop, we headed home early, and the next morning, I drove to Pennsylvania where I am spending the week with them. Dad doesn’t think he should drive, and Mom, also 88, hasn’t driven for years. Fortunately, they live at a retirement community that has services, and they have lots of friends as well. We’re meeting with doctors to plan the next steps, and I suspect I will spend more time here this summer. I am grateful to my husband for his support as he holds down the fort at the farm and also glad I made the decision to retire when I did so I can take this time to be with them.
What’s the bigger lesson here? Life changes. It is easy to get comfortably settled into daily life, those routines that structure our days and weeks and years. But, change will come, often as with Major and my father, without warning. My meditation practice has taught me that the only thing I can control in the midst of change is how I react. So, we grieved and continue to grieve both the loss of Major and the possibility that he was our last dog. We are still blessed with our cat, Circe, who is a constant companion. I have put aside the daily routines I had established to hang out with my parents: running errands, playing games, sharing memories. Tears come at odd moments as I think of both the past and what the future may hold, and that’s okay. But, I try to live in the present as much as possible, reminding myself myself to be grateful for all the good in my life. And, that is my advice to you, dear readers: look for the good, live in the moment, love with all your heart.
Here is a favorite picture of the whole crew: Major, Spot, and Circe.