Years ago, I worked with an older nurse who was the quintessential wonder woman that balanced all of her roles with beauty and grace.  We younger girls adored her.  She was our role model and mentor.  She was creative, gracious, and had a lovely home and family.  And she taught several of us to quilt. We would often hear her remark, “I will have to ponder that.”  What a lovely word, ponder.  It speaks of reflection, deep thinking, and mulling things over in our brains.  It allows ideas to simmer until an answer emerges.  It is wisdom. 

And so it is with every new year.  I ponder my life.  I review the highs and lows of the previous year and then I ponder how I want to shape the upcoming year ahead.  How do I want to show up at this point in my life?  I reflect on what I want less of and what I want more of in the next twelve months.  I find that I am constantly seeking balance.  My wonderful, busy DIL chose “balance” for her WOTY.  She is in those crazy busy years of balancing a career with a family and home.  I remember those years well.  When I look back on my journals, I notice that the word balance keeps resurfacing.  (Yes, I was journaling long before journaling was cool.)

Since I have been seeking it most of my adult life, you would think I would have this balance thing down by now, but it is a moving target.  It changes with each phase of our lives.  Like my DIL, there were the years of trying to balance all my various roles while raising a family.  Now I am finding I don’t need to, and frankly I simply can’t, juggle as many balls. So, balance looks a little different now.  It is more about taking enough time to ponder.   I need to take time to “ponder” for my mental/emotional health.  It centers me.  However, pondering requires balance as well.  It can become a slippery slope. Too much of it evolves into overthinking or worrying.  Not enough and I feel clogged up.

I also find that I need to take more time for my physical health. We used to be able to ignore our bodies and still look and feel fine.   Now I notice immediately if I eat too much sugar, consume one too many cups of coffee or eat a whole bag of salty popcorn at the movies.  I need physical exercise just to keep my joints limber, my balance intact, and not run out of breath going upstairs.  I am finding that I need to carve out more time for myself.  I probably should have done that all along, but like most working moms, I put everyone and everything else first.  You can get away with that for years but now I am finding I can’t do that anymore.  Fortunately, I no longer need to either.  So, this year I am committing to caring for myself more: physically, mentally and emotionally. 

“As you get older, it takes twice as long to look and feel half as good.”

The Retired Alchemist

Looking back, it has been a super busy year.  Sometimes I just need time to stop and process it all.  I need time to reflect and appreciate the blessings, wonders and gifts of 2023 and forgive myself for failures.  And I need time to consider how I want to move forward into 2024.  So, now that things have quieted down around here and we are semi-snowed in, I am pondering the year ahead, just like women have been doing for centuries.   And I continue to seek that elusive balance.   

Taking a snowy day to ponder.

“But Mary treasured up these things and pondered them in her heart.”

Luke 2:19

On the home front

Like much of the country, we experienced extremely cold temperatures and a huge snowstorm last week.  Mr. U spent a lot of time worrying about checking and rechecking heat lamps, making sure faucets were dripping all night, supervising that the garage door remained closed, and keeping wood on the fire.  One great thing about retirement is that you don’t have to brave the cold and snowy roads to go to work in this weather.  Instead, we choose when/if we want to go out. When we have been inside too long and need to be aired out, we can bundle up to go play outside and then come inside to hunker down by the fire.

We always have a late second Christmas with our immediate family in January when son #4 and his lovely wife can come visit.  Even though it was extremely cold and snowy, we had a wonderful time playing games, exchanging gifts, working on a puzzle, watching football, and eating way too much food.  Last year we started doing the Saran Wrap Ball Game. I make the ball ahead of time. You start with a good prize in the middle (I did money) and then you wrap small gifts around it as you continue to roll the Saran Wrap around to create a ball. Be sure to cut and restart the Saran Wrap frequently so it is more challenging. I used candy, small Slim Jim’s, fun socks, cash, gum, mints, movie tickets, scratch off tickets, etc. It is about the size of a basketball when you are done. When you are ready to play, you sit in a circle and the first person tries to unwrap the ball with oven mitts on while the person on their left tries to roll doubles with two dice. Once they hit doubles, the ball is passed grabbed by the next person to try. You keep the gifts that you unwrap during your turns. It is a great game for a group. Catch Phrase is another fun, humorous game that works well for a large group. Monopoly Deal is a good game if you have a smaller group of 5 or 6 people. It is a much quicker version of Monopoly but played with cards.

My “boys” do not like posing for pictures.  So much that, a couple years ago, they all shaved their facial hair in ugly odd shapes so that I would not want to take photos of them.  (See last year’s crazy facial hair pic here.) I knew it was going to happen again this year when they all started growing out their facial hair about a month ago.

This is what happens when you have a family full of boys!

Fortunately, they were willing to shave their faces for a family photo.  I tried desperately to get a good picture, but with nine adults, three grandkids and two rambunctious dogs, it was nearly impossible.  I threatened to get a professional photographer to do it next time, which resulted in one photo where at least everyone is looking forward. Well, except the dogs.

Take #179.

 Precious family time.  My mother heart is full. And exhausted. And now it is time to go ponder…

A Handmade Christmas

There is just something about the Christmas season that brings out the urge to hunker down and create something by hand.  The holidays make me want to heat up the oven, pull out the sewing machine and fire up the knitting needles. Maybe it is from reading too many Laura Ingalls Wilder books when I was a kid. Or maybe it takes me back to my roots when my mom instilled in me an appreciation for gifts made with loving hands. Or perhaps it stems from the earlier years when we had very little extra income and we handcrafted gifts to save money.  But whatever the reason, my heart or my muse, I want to spend the Christmas season creating profuse. (A very poor and loosely translated quote from Dr. Suess’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”) Despite my very pathetic rhyme, the gift of a homemade item definitely feels cozier and more thoughtful than store bought.  It speaks of thought, time, effort and love.

The problem is that I typically get this urge just a mere five or six weeks before Christmas. After all, it is difficult to get inspired to make Christmas gifts in July. This delayed inspiration does not leave a lot of time to complete projects prior to Christmas. Matter of fact, it usually puts me in a frantic tailspin to get it completed and wrapped in time and then I fail to enjoy the process or the season. For several years, I deliberately chose not to make any gifts because I wanted to avoid the last-minute rush and stress.

But about a month ago, I broke my resolve when my friend and I went to an evening Outdoor European Christmas Market. It is based on the traditional, festive open-air markets that spring up in Germany and Austria during the Advent season. There are pop up tents with sparkling white lights, gas fire pits, food trucks and vendors selling homemade candy, pastries and craft items. As we were strolling through the market, sipping hot spiced wine, she casually mentioned that she needed a Christmas tree skirt. This is the same friend that takes the time and effort to knit me a beautiful pair of wool socks every year. How could I NOT make her a tree skirt? Besides, I am retired and have the time now, right?

The vendor booths at the night market were decorated in the festive spirit.

Of course, no good deed goes unpunished, as the tree skirt ended up being a much more time-consuming project than I expected. It started out great, as I enthusiastically perused the bolts of Christmas fabric at the quilt store to find a little more material to compliment what I already had in my fabric stash. I spent some luxurious days in my office/craft room with a fir scented candle burning and Christmas music playing while I stitched the afternoon away. The snow was gently falling while I was tucked away inside sewing.

But then life got in the way, and my project was set aside. Honestly, I thought I would create more handmade items once I retired, but time seems to get taken up with other things.  I don’t know if any other retirees feel this way, but many of the things I thought I would do in retirement, I don’t seem to make time for after all.   But that is another post for another time. Meanwhile, the dust collected, the wash piled up and fast food became the norm, while I pushed to finish the project in time.

My friend and I share early December birthdays and we always spend a day together celebrating “us” and being healthy and alive for another year. I planned to give her gift to her when we got together on December 8th. The tree skirt would be part of her birthday/Christmas gift basket I was putting together. The time crunch was on. While creating by hand is enjoyable when you are not rushed, it becomes agony when you are on a short timeline and need to use every available minute to get it completed in time.

The morning of December 7th, I found myself stitching the binding on by hand and cussing every time I pricked my finger with the needle. Which is more often than not, when you are in a hurry. Not very holiday spiritish. But I got it finished that evening and safely tucked it into her gift basket to give her the next day. Nothing like rising to the occasion at the very last minute. It was well worth every stitch and finger prick when she opened it up and gently fingered it with eyes shining in appreciation. Some people just “get” what all goes into a homemade gift. BTW, I loved my hand knitted pair of comfy wool socks too.

Last year Mr. U and I made Christmas wreaths to hang on our front door and give as gifts to a few people. We prepared and started early so it was fun and relaxing to create them. In the next few weeks, I will be baking some cookies and making my traditional spiced pecans. The nuts are delicious, easy to do, and they make the house smell wonderful while they are baking. When you put them in decorative cellophane bags and tie with a colorful ribbon, they make great hostess gifts or stocking stuffers. But other than that, I will be doing a lot of sitting by the fire, soaking in the warmth of the season. I hope that you are taking the time to enjoy the Christmas season and not putting yourself under pressure to accomplish too much. Instead, let’s relax, enjoy our loved ones and celebrate the reason for the season!