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Spillover

Spillover

My bees have figured out that even though it is cold at night, my rosemary is blooming. As soon as the morning temperatures rise to a bee-friendly level, they are out flying from one tiny blue flower to another gathering pollen and nectar. When the rest of the plant world is fruiting, rosemary blooms.

I wanted to post a picture of a bee on the flowers for you, but I was not patient enough. The bees were blurry or gone by the time I snapped the photo. You will have to imagine them there. One of my rosemary bushes has gotten to the size of a baby rhinoceros. The other is about half that size. Google informs me that baby rhinos are pretty small. Maybe my rosemary is bigger.

Anyway I planted the rosemary thinking it would be nice to have fresh herbs for cooking. I now have enough to share with everyone I know without making a dent in it. What I never imagined was that my rosemary would be food for my bees, not just for me.

When I do nice things for myself, there seems to be some spillover of goodness to creatures I care about. I’m not sure it works in all cases, but this weekend at a local festival I tested out this idea. I bought a small container of shea butter hand cream from a man and his two little girls who made the product in their kitchen. They were out of the mint and eucalyptus scent I liked, so I paid him, and he said he will make some more and send it to me.

Getting this special lotion was the nice thing I did for myself. It felt good to support a real person instead of a marketing label. I don’t know what goodness will spill over from this, but I will keep you posted.

Experiment with me. Amid all your pressing chores, take an opportunity to do something extra good for yourself today. Flossing your teeth does not count. Keep track of whatever goodness spills from your kindness to yourself. If you cannot carve out the time, at least share what you will do when you have the time. You are worthy of all good things,

Pretend

Pretend

Such cute pictures you sent of your dog’s Halloween costume! I heartily approve of how you are having fun and using your considerable creative talents. I am certain if you take your dog out on Halloween she will get more treats than her tiny body can manage.

In rural Texas we don’t get trick or treaters. If kids were to actually walk from door to door, they would have to walk three miles to get six houses, the only calorie burning trick-or-treat experience available. Kids in town and in the suburbs go door to door.

Saturday we went to a costume party. I decided the rubber crown that came with my queen costume was too rubbery and the large plastic jewels were, you guessed it, too plastic. I made a floral crown from silk flowers, which converted the whole outfit into the look of an innocent damsel. A friend dubbed me Guinevere, the lady of Sir Lancelot. I went with it, even though my actual Lancelot was dressed in a cowboy hat and boots. As you know, that’s the usual, not a costume.

It can be fun and freeing to be in costume. You don’t have to be yourself. Instead you can pretend to be someone else. I pretended to be more brave and confident than I actually am. Your small dog will pretend to be an underfed mongrel, so she will have fun too.

Pretending helps us try on new personas. If we envision being different, pretending is a first step in making an adjustment to who we are or how we carry ourself in the world. I thought it would be fun to be a benevolent queen, stately and confident. I didn’t exactly pull that off, but envisioning a costume helped me uncover some ways in which I wanted to grow.

Imagine a costume for yourself. What attracts you to it? Does that envisioning reveal anything about the directions you would like to grow? Share characters you would like to try on, if you’d like.

Worries

Worries

You have earned another kitten picture. This is the same little lady featured a while back, who scrambled up the pecan tree to escape the scary dogs. She eventually climbed down from the highest perch in the tree to this more comfortable spot, peeking out from the crotch in the branches. She snuggled in for several hours, high enough off the ground to feel safe, especially with the thick pecan branches as protection.

As a caregiver you get chased by all kinds of scary things. Many of the things that chase you are worries. Will she flush her pants down the toilet again? Will he throw away everything in the drawers again? Will we have another bathroom accident on the way to the store? Where are the keys? What if he gets on the bus? What is that stuff on my shoe? What if she swallows a whole week’s worth of medicine? The list of worries is a bottomless pit.

Worry compounds your actual tasks, which are also daunting. Parse out the medicine. Schedule the next appointment. Pay the bills. Function at work. Check out the weird smell coming from the oven. Stop by the grocery store. Fix dinner. Listen. Have that same conversation again. And again. And again.

For today focus on the tasks, and do something different with the worries. I got this idea from the wonderful book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Choose a goddess jar. Mine is a clay teapot. When you have a worry, write the worry on a slip of paper and drop it in the jar. Remember the minor goddess in charge of small miracles for caregivers? You are turning over your worries to her.

Share an unproductive worry that you would like to let go.

Lovable

Lovable

I got the gorgeous silver oak leaf and redwood needle ornaments you sent in the mail. I love the dangling acorn and pine cone, giving the ornaments some motion. Somehow, amid all the demands of your busy life, you manage to pay attention to the fact that I am collecting natural leaf ornaments plated in metals. The ones I have so far also hang from green ribbon, so yours will fit right in.

In Canada a few years back I picked up maple leaf ornaments. Later I found other leaves, the details of which I forget from year to year, remembering them anew when I open the Christmas box. I will tuck yours into the box too, and in a month when I bring it up from the cellar I will see them again and be reminded of your thoughtfulness.

I am writing with the first fire of the season in the wood stove. Temperatures are getting colder, and we may dip below freezing tonight. I have duct taped my beehive window shut to help the bees stay warm. The window warped so the latch doesn’t close tight, and bees need all the help they can get when the temperatures get cold.

Before we get to winter, though, we have Halloween. Our mother made a beautiful Queen Elizabeth for her costumed luncheon today. She wore the pink dress she got for your wedding and her veiled hat from the 1950s, complete with a pink silk peony and pearl hatpin. It is no wonder I made alterations to my costume including making a floral wreath for my hair this morning. Our family has learned something. Fun is for everyone, not just for children.

I keep my eyes open for oriental dragon ornaments for your dragon tree. Thank you for my leaves. You are lovable. Will you write that in the comments? Write “I am lovable,” more than once, if you wish.

Support

Support

As the days get shorter, I love how the light filters through the trees, dusting the flowers below. These are my blue plumbago, subtly elegant in their beauty instead of being all up in your face with cloying sweetness. Despite their beauty they’re tough as nails through flood and drought, heat and cold. Despite their resilience if we get a hard freeze in the ground, they’re toast.

People are like that too. If we were going to keel over at the first whiff of trouble, we’d have died a long time ago. We can withstand a lot of pressure, heartache, and pain. Sometimes we get the idea we can withstand anything, but we can’t.

As a caregiver you have weathered plenty of hard circumstances, and as more difficulties arise you bravely rise to meet the new challenges. You see this pattern emerging, and it seems like you can be on this escalator forever. In your plans you will never get more difficulty than you can bear, and your capacity to deal with things will be infinitely expandable.

Actually, though, when that escalator reaches the next floor, you cannot keep going up. You have to get off. You can take more and more and more until you can’t take any more. How that limit is set for each one of us is a mystery, but that limit exists.

You don’t know exactly where that limit is until you get close to it, and by then you may not have much time left to make adjustments. If you hit the limit of your capacity you will be in crisis, not a place from which the best decisions are made. In light of that reality it is incumbent on you as a caregiver to put a safety net in place for yourself. You have a safety net for your loved one, but where will you go when you are feeling stretched, exhausted, or frustrated?

Make a list of people and resources you can call upon for practical help and emotional support. Do you have enough? Share what has worked best for you in putting a support system in place.

Goats

Goats

When I was walking the dogs on our small country road last week, we came upon the neighbor’s goat herd. People don’t tend to walk dogs on the road in our rural area because the ranches are big, and dogs have large areas where they can run free. The goats were curious, perhaps hoping we came to feed them, so they walked right up to us and turned to watch the rest of the goats coming.

If you were with us at the Bossy Spa, you would have brought your little dog on the walk. She would have diligently guarded you from the goats, announcing with her most ferocious bark, “This is my mom! Best mom in the whole world! Back off you goats!”

Your dog is a caregiver too, and she is a pretty good one. She cares for her sick dad by coping with his diminishing capacity and increasing frustrations. She cares for you by serving as your emotional mirror. Whether she is calm or wigged out, chances are good she is reflecting your inner mood. Sometimes it really helps to have a furry barometer. It brings your feelings up from where you stuff them to where you can deal with them.

She makes extra work, but I am so glad you have a furry friend watching over you during this hard time of life. She is a little emissary of the Bossy Spa telling you what she thinks you need to know and loving you with her whole heart (except for the special place reserved for treats).

How does having a pet make caregiving easier or harder?

Play

Play

I am typing this with only one good hand. The other hand got caught in a tussle between the dogs and an orange neighbor cat. I scooped up the scared cat and handed him to his owner across the fence, resulting in nine puncture wounds, fortunately just in my left hand. You wished for kittens, and they are turning up everywhere. I am watching for infection and hoping the injury will not get in the way of dancing. Meanwhile, I am just lowering my standards for what needs to get done.

Lowering my standards is one of the most powerful coping skills I know. How clean is clean enough? You guessed it. It is clean enough already. Lots of problems can be solved this way. How can I bathe and wash my hair with deep puncture wounds in my hands? Bathing is so yesterday. Voila!

After the injury I oddly decided to play the piano, which I don’t do very often. I wanted to gently move my fingers to keep them supple, so they wouldn’t stiffen up and swell. I can’t say that it worked very well, but it was fun to play for a while.

I have not only been playing piano. I have been playing period. Yesterday I played with fabric and dye. You know what I have decided about play? Play is productive. When I play a lot I am much more effective and creative in other areas of my life. Plus I am happier.

Do you have time for play? If not, let me know and I will send you my musical thumb gourd. You can play a song after ploinking on the gourd for about five minutes. If you play it every day for a week, you will achieve full mastery. It is mildly out of tune, but can be adjusted to be mildly out of tune in new ways.

What will you do for play that will impress me sufficiently that I won’t put the thumb gourd in the mail to you?

Cringe

Cringe

My mascagnia vine is carelessly throwing around its yellow-flowered beauty with no regard for propriety. It is also called butterfly vine because the seed pods open like fluttering butterfly wings. It has taken over an arbor, two fences, and several large shrubs.

There was a time when I worried the vine would not make it. Shortly after I put it in to twine around the arbor, a yard man cut the vine to the ground with a weed whacker. I was so mad I called and complained. The lawn care company offered to replace it, but I said no. I thought it might come back.

Under the circumstances it is hard to exactly summon up why I was so mad, and calling undoubtedly got me noted in the yard company’s book as That Woman. Fast forward several years to today when I have the world’s most lovely vine, completely recovered. My reputation with the yard company has not recovered so fully. They prefer to deal with me by text.

I don’t want to be the awful woman who gets all uptight about a service provider’s minor mistake. People who do manual work have it hard enough without the customers being picky. But I love my plants, and love is irrational, so I was irrationally upset when it got whacked back. It is not possible to always get everything just right.

To be clear, my aspiration is to be kind and understanding and gentle at all times with people and plants and creatures, but I don’t live up to my ideal. Neither can you. We are just not ever going to have to decide whether to throw our hat in the ring for sainthood. I am telling you this so you will forgive yourself when you are grouchy. You have no trouble forgiving me.

Your life is pretty demanding. If you respond in a way that later makes you cringe, you are not alone. Let it go instead of browbeating yourself. If you wish, share a cringeworthy memory to comfort other caregivers who hold themselves to impossible standards.