The mesquite trees are bare for the winter. When we walk in the morning, the lack of winter vegetation allows me to see the dogs better than in the other seasons, where the foliage and understory are thick. I let them run off leash, trotting down the trail and veering off it to inspect the burrows of small creatures.
Small creatures aren’t out much during the day this time of year. There is not enough cover for them to hide. So they pop up in the garden after dark when the daytime predators don’t see as well.
As a result it is safe to let the dogs run without too much fear they will chase rabbits or armadillos or possums or skunks or porcupines, all of which keep burrows on the property. Ginger is insatiably curious about skunks, not one of her most alluring qualities.
The dogs run ahead on the trail, sniffing the smells and feeling the ground under their feet. They investigate holes and stumps and logs. Their delight is evident in the way they move, tails swishing joyfully as the trot along.
Curiosity is a generally wonderful quality, if you leave off skunks and are only modestly curious about porcupines. If we were not curious we would trudge through the day doing the basics we need to survive and then what? Iron your t-shirts? Life would be insufferably boring.
Instead, you see a lovely beaded necklace on the neck of someone at the grocery store, and you come home and take out your beads and thread them, working out how the artist got the sparkling beads to do that scalloped lacy thing around the cabuchon center fire opal. Art is born from curiosity.
Or you have an innocuous exchange with a friend that for some reason makes you want to slap her. Curiosity makes you dig into your ire, to write a poem about how and why you got so mad. Suddenly you have a new insight into yourself and what makes you tick (and ticked). Maybe you find compassion for your friend or maybe you realize you want a new friend.
When you are consumed with the daily tasks of giving care, you don’t have as much capacity to nurture and develop your curiosity, but keep the spark alive. Smell the smells. Watch for movement in shrubbery. Turn over a log to see what’s under there. When you have a few moments, bound along a trail in the crisp morning air.
I have been working on getting a picture of the neighbor’s calves. Their fuzzy black winter coats make it hard to photograph them, especially because they like to hang out in the deep shade under an oak tree. All those dark colors make for a modern art picture of black on black. Perhaps I should submit one of my pictures for display at the Guggenheim.
The calves are scared of me when I first come up to the fence, and they run away, but one is very brave. She runs too, but then looks back and stops. She slowly approaches me. The other calves follow a few steps behind. When I took this picture she came as close as she ever has, and was even kind enough to lead the others to a sunny spot, instead of under the tree.
Calves manage to be cute and fuzzy even though they weigh about 500 pounds, which should give hope to all of us about how cute it is possible to be. Do you have to lose 300+ pounds to be cute? I think not. Perhaps you could just stop shaving and be fuzzier. You notice we rarely give glamour advice at the Bossy Spa, since few caregivers are focused on that, but this is a tip you might actually use.
When you next bring your dog to the Bossy Spa, we will walk together to visit these neighbor calves, who live about a mile away. Your dog will bark madly to protect you from them, but they will be unperturbed. It is you they will find more scary, but you are kind and good, and they will sense that and eventually follow the bravest calf up to the fence to see you.
Whatever you are doing throughout your day, remember these adorable, shy, fuzzy calves. Your life may not be serving up the recommended daily allowance of cute fuzziness, but don’t worry, these calves will be here all day.
Our dogs Annie and Ginger love to walk on the road because it means we get to see new things and smell new smells, instead of the same old sites and smells of the ranch. We go about a mile and a half, then turn around at a low spot, where a creek runs under the road. The dogs drink from a small pool with sycamore trees bending over it. When they first dip their heads to drink, tiny frogs leap into the safety of the water.
In the summer heat three miles makes for a long walk, but now that the weather is cooler, the walk is a breeze. I could actually extend the walk to get more exercise, but I think it is more important to be consistent than to keep raising the bar. Plus I like turning around in this charming spot in the shade with fresh water for the dogs.
This charming spot by the side of the road reminds me to turn around while I still have plenty of energy and refreshment for the return trip. If I run myself into the ground on the way out, it can be hard to make my way home.
You can do this during your day too. If you routinely run yourself to exhaustion, try stopping sooner. You may think you just can’t, but when you are totally depleted you simply have to stop. So why not stop before that point?
Imagine you were to suddenly keel over dead. I know this is awkward, but play with me, ok? The people close to you would grieve, but mostly the world would just keep carrying on. Someday, you know, the world will have to carry on without you. Help the planets get used to revolving around the sun without your supervision by checking out for a bit. Have a glass of wine. Read a frivolous book. Take a nap. Choose something you enjoy.
There is nothing better about waiting till you’re dehydrated to stop for a drink. If you give the world a chance to get along for a while without you today, you will be more refreshed for the second shift. You will be more patient and resilient and all the things you wish you were more often.
Share how you took care of yourself without waiting till you absolutely had to.
We’re going to make an exception to our rule about moths over butterflies. This lovely guy must have just emerged from his chrysalis and walked out onto the road to dry his wings. He was slowly stretching and flexing them, as if he was getting used to them. If he was doing this at the gym while watching his reflection in a mirror, I would not have invited him to visit us at the Bossy Spa, but I think his wings were just brand new, and I worried he might get run over.
Texas is home to more than 400 species of butterflies, so it’s hard to identify them all. I tried to look up what kind this one is, but the site was organized by the butterfly’s scientific name. I don’t know the name. That is why I am looking it up, but I think this is the Gulf Fritillary butterfly.
When I bent to take his picture, he started ambling toward the edge of the road. Since our country neighborhood is pretty quiet, his chances of making it safely to the side were pretty good. Later in the day I looked for him and he had not been flattened, so take note. Sometimes lovely creatures don’t get flattened.
When the big picture looks dismal, sometimes it helps to focus on something small like the fuzzy brown body, delicate antennae, and beautiful brown and orange markings on our butterfly. Maybe your mother with Alzheimer’s is sitting on the front porch with her overcoat over her pajamas, wearing pink flip flops, holding a purse full of gumdrops and paperclips, and asking you every five minutes when you are taking her to work. The big picture for someone with dementia can be pretty draining to deal with every day.
Ask yourself if there is something small and lovely that can get you through the day today. Maybe there is, but if there is not, if you are just at the end of your rope, and no small lovely thing can make a hill of beans worth of difference, it is time for a change, maybe a big one.
Caregiving progresses in stages, just like your patient’s disease. When you are just fed up and this feeling persists more than a couple of days, you may be ready for another stage. Is it time to hire outside help? Is it time to move him out of your shared room? Is it time to go off the medications? Is it time to move her into residential care? I cannot answer these questions, but I can tell you with certainty that no one is served by continuing with no changes if you are at the end of your rope.
You think if only you were nicer you could keep going. Quit this silly line of thinking. You are not any nicer than you are, and you cannot keep going at a rate that will land you in burnout or depression or compromised health.
Consider today what you will change to make your life easier. It may be time to do that next thing. Move your delicate, lovely, beautiful self over to the side of the road. Get out of harm’s way to keep yourself from getting flattened. You are precious, you know.
Please share what is the next step for you.
Robert Louis Stevenson famously said, “Our business in life is not to succeed, but to continue to fail in good spirits.” That seems like a stretch goal for a caregiver, but it embodies the right sentiment.
On a recent walk with Annie and Ginger, the furry personal trainers at the Bossy Spa, I kept spying this lovely lavender daisy-ish flower, waving in the breeze on its delicate stem. It made for a beautiful sight, but a terrible photo, with everything all blurry and smeared.
After myriad unsuccessful attempts to get a clear picture for you, Glenda, the minor goddess in charge of good things for caregivers, graced me with a vivid photo of none other than the Bossy Spa’s signature creature, the lowly moth, gathering nectar from the flower. You can even see her delicate legs and antennae. Never mind all the rumpled grassy bits behind it; I am designating this as a small miracle.
In native American cultures people would choose a totem animal as a spirit guide. That is all I know about the practice, but you have figured out already that Bossy Spa has an unorthodox spiritual mythology. The moth is hereby declared our totem animal to watch over us in times of trouble.
The appearance of our totem moth today is an auspicious sign. She arrives right when you are struggling with something that you just can’t get to work. She graces you with something better than what you were reaching for.
You are having a hard week. Possible new troubles are popping up, as if you need anything else on top of caregiving. It is difficult to keep from rushing into worry. Our cousin taught me the word catastrophizing. I knew right away what she meant, and not from reading about it in books.
Remember when your man was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s? That was scary, and you imagined all the horrible things that were going to happen. It was so overwhelming. Then you told me you had figured out that you did not have to live all the horrors all at once. You could deal with them a little at a time.
I hope you can take what you learned about his health and apply it more generally in your life. I think that will make things more bearable while you figure things out.
While out hiking a few weeks ago, I came upon a stone, hollowed out like a bowl. Recent rain had filled it with water, creating a small watering hole for tiny creatures. They could stop by and have a drink in the middle of the trail.
I wish for today to unfold like that for you. You have been trudging along uphill for a long while. Suddenly the path has gotten steeper. I wish for you to find something unexpectedly refreshing on your path. I wish for you to not have to labor to get it, but for the Universe to just serve it up to you, so you can be refreshed.
No writing homework today. Just breathe.