Small victories

It’s the first day of spring. The sky is a clear blanket of blue. I’m wearing a long turquoise pleated skirt that wafts gently in the wind. This morning was for poetry and inky words.

In her poem called “Improvment”, Danusha Laméris writes:

“The optometrist says my eyes

Are getting better each year.

Soon he’ll have to lower my prescription 

What’s next? The light step I had at six?

All the gray hairs back to brown?

Skin taut as a drum?

My improved eyes and I 

Walked around the town and celebrated.

We took in the letters 

Of the marquee the individual leaves

Filling out the branches of the sycamore,

And early moon.

So much goes downhill: joints

Wearing out with every mile, 

The delicate fold of the eardrum

Exhausted from years of listening.

I’m grateful for small victories.

The way the heart still beats time

In the cathedral of the ribs.

And the mind, watching its parade

Of thoughts, enter and leave, begins to see them for what they are:

Jugglers, fire swallowers, acrobats,

Tossing their batons into the air.”

From our bodies to the tulips springing up from the ground, small victories are worth celebrating everywhere. For every painful moment that holds hands with a small victory, there is gratefulness. I am grateful that I am alive and that I am a human who makes mistakes. I am grateful to learning through uncomfortable growth.

What are your victories, the large ones down to the small, seemingly insignificant ones?

Here are a few of mine:

I made it through the first winter where I lived on my own. I made it through the high electric bills, the long dark nights where I had to shut the curtains at 4:55, the snowstorms, chapped hands, and navigating hard choices amid colds and runny noses.

I followed my gut and left an old job, even though it has resulted in a lower number in my bank account for the short term. Listening to my gut instincts instead of turning to others’ options has left me stronger.

The dirty dishes and crumbs are cleaned up after a couple longs weeks of a dirty kitchen.

Like Danusha, my eyesight has gotten better instead of worse over the past three years of odd, unruly inflammation. 

I’m trying new things simultaneously as the tree branches that are beginning to show their red blossoms. 

Noticing the full moon’s reflection in the dark evening river — present to the here and now for a moment, instead of being caught up in my own messy thoughts.

Although the life around me is painful and uncomfortable in so many areas, there are small victories that are worth celebrating — the victories that make life a little more tolerable. There are blue sky spring days at the end of every winter. 

The comforts of bread

Is herbed oil and bread a meal? According to the wisdom of Tamar Adler, it can be.

“Bread can be the thing you’re eating, not a prelude to the meal, or an afterthought. It is not bad for you. Whether as piles of toast, generously buttered, or thick slices rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil, eating bread with intention is a good dietary strategy.

I can think of no better way to get good, healthy vegetables, lush, ripe, and in season, to the middle of your plate than to let them balance on freshly toasted bread. Instead of worrying about lots of ingredients with which to trot around, buy a loaf of bread with a hard crust. Pick it based on how enticing it looks, and on how good it smells. Pick something that is round and fat or, if it is oval, that still had good girth at it send, so you can get a lot of big, healthy pieces out of it. Make it a loaf that will require slow, deliberate chewing.”

She goes on about bread for the rest of the chapters, and it’s a scrumptious few pages to read… but I’ll get back to my lunch now. On this February Monday afternoon, I’m letting myself divulge in some bread and oil with Rosa Maria seasoning and not letting myself feel guilty about it. I also made some kale chips, which I may say that I never thought I’d like, but my palate has come around to. While I scarf down this delectable yet simple meal, the family pup sits beside me, opening her big eyes and begging for a bit of herself. (I give her a few nibbles.)

Bread is often a symbol for food, eating, and life: “Breaking bread” means to eat. “Our daily bread” refers to food. “It is also called the staff of life, which I like: bread there, all life leaning against it,” says Adler.

I’m eating bread in my mom’s kitchen today. I have a long to-do list yet a strong desire to go for a walk in the balmy, late-winter, 60-degree weather outside and ignore all my responsibilities.

I’m starting a new job soon. It makes me simultaneously nervous and excited. It will be nice having the stability of a 9-5, a steady paycheck, and insurance. Yet I’m nervous. I often question myself — Is the job meant for me? Will I have the work/life balance I crave, or will I be up late on weeknights finishing up work? I’m really good at what I do? Will I disappoint my new co-workers? Will they second guess if they made the right decision in hiring me? Can I learn everything I need to in the first 90 days and show competence? Can I do this?

Thus far, I’ve changed jobs more than I expected too. My career hasn’t really gone in the way I expected. But do careers really go the way as expected anyway? No. They surely don’t most of the time. Which is why I’m here, with a new job.

At the end of 2021, I stepped away from my job. (My company was being acquired, and I chose to not continue with them.) It was a risk, I know. I decided to start this new year with a blank slate. I took the jump into the unknown and said “no thank you” to a salary with benefits. But in saying no, I got to keep my intellectual property. I chose to have ownership over my work outside of the 9-5 workweek.

I did not expect this to happen in my career. Once I found a full-time job, I thought I’d have time to get really good at it and settle into the rhythm for the next five to six years before moving onto a company of my own creation. Instead, I was back working part-time at the beginning of the year, but with the right to own anything I create.

Since making that decision, I’ve realized if I’m going to make anything of my own, I better start now. But when starting now, my biggest question has been the same that I’ve found throughout my entire career: am I really good at what I do? Can I be good at writing regularly? Do I live a life worth writing about? Are my thoughts and viewpoints on life interesting enough for people to follow along?

Within the next week, I’ll be starting a new full-time job soon. I’m genuinely looking forward to it, but I also want to make room for my own projects in my own time. And I’m here, in this intersection of opportunity and potential, and I’m questioning myself if I can do it all. Do I have what it takes to be good at a new job and be a writer? Am I good enough? Am I strong enough? The questions can feel like heavy bricks on my chest.

I realize that these are all these questions that pivot on self-doubt — and no one can reassure me more than myself. I also know I’m just ranting about my worries and endless internal dialogue at this point. But these are the constant questions that plague me into never getting any work done. Instead, they fester and leave me staring at a blanket screen while precious time passes along.

My fears of not being good enough or worthy enough for any of my hopes and dreams can feel crushing. Maybe if I give these questions and insecurities time on the page, they will leave me alone long enough to actually write something worth reading. Nevertheless, I will eat the bread beside me for lunch. I will let all my impending questions on life and doubt lean on its hard crust and soft, gluten center. I’m going to let this bread fill my belly. At the same time, I muddle around in the process of creativity — finding what I am meant for, what my doubt can say about me, and ultimately reaching for those words that, in my heart, I know I need to say.

A Week in Meals – seven warm dishes in winter

The temperatures have dipped down into the single digits and I have been spending most of my days in either two place – wrapped up in a blanket while typing away at my computer or in my kitchen cooking warm and hearty dishes to keep away the shivers.

These are a few dishes I have cooked (or order from a cafe) recently that have kept me warm and cozy on these bitter January days.

What have you been cooking?

An ending note: during my social media break this month, I read seven books! I plan on writing a post on the titles that kept me company over these last few weeks, but until then, I’ll leave you with the cover of the gorgeous book: Five Tuesdays in Winter (the inspiration for the title of this post).

Finding my way home

Today, I took the long way home. After leaving my mom’s house, I drove south. The city and the suburbs open up to vast country — to empty fields and hazy mid-winter sky. Though the weather is below 35 degrees, the heat is on in my car, and I’m driving fast towards the place I now call home, growing my wings and finding what suites me. The song playing on the radio is my jam, and I turn up the volume. The Sunday slowly rolls off my shoulders and into the following week. I am ready for cold mornings, for work, for volunteering, for whatever this week brings.

I’ve come to love winters in the midwest. The cold that nips at your nose, figure tips, and toes. This winter has been exceptionally beautiful. While we’ve seen a lot of hazy blue-gray sky days, my heart has felt more at peace and at home than it has in a long time.

I often feel hugely out of place. I often feel like an imposter, like I’m not good enough. But lately, I’ve found peace and calmness in doing my thing well in quiet and without much glamour or fuss. I’ve been enjoying slow evenings at home, maybe a candle lit with some soft music in the background. I have books littering my coffee table. Dishes linger in the sink from many good meals cooked. I like the process these evenings bring, the inviting warmth. Maybe I’m not supposed to be chasing a moment in the spotlight; I think my nerves would definitely testify that I freeze up and become accident prone when there are a ton of eyes on me. Maybe I just need a quiet corner to do my work well.

That is what this winter has been teaching me. While the outside world beckons us during spring and summer, it’s okay to draw into the warm, quiet, and gentle peace that occupies the winter.

I’ve taken time off of Instagram this month. I’m trying to read through as many books as possible while taking this time off from online socialization. Ideally, I’m trying to read through the entire stack of books on my bedside table before officially downloading the app again. Although I love the window Instagram and other social media gives into other’s perspectives and pieces of lives people are willing to share, I found myself addicted to the scrolling, the watching, the disconnecting it led to in my own life. Since stepping away, I’ve noticed that I have more time to read words in books, write my own words, or just sit quietly while waiting for my coffee while in line at Starbucks or in the mornings when I’m sipping coffee. I’ve noticed that I can hear my own thoughts rather than constantly listen to others’. While I fully love hearing others’ revelations and ideas, sometimes it would seem like they knew me better than I knew myself. I needed this time for my thoughts to surface, to know myself better and my feelings deeper. I need this quiet time to think and to breathe.

Regardless though, I love sharing photos, and I miss sharing the small beautiful moments I find myself in — like swing dancing on a Friday night and being downtown late at night, as the coffee shop closes and I’m in the corner with my Love sipping on warm drinks. Or like the other day, when I found myself in the middle of the country, my man is driving, and I’m in the passenger’s seat looking out at the horizon. The earth getting darker and darker, the sun sunk below twenty minutes ago and the clouds are tucking into bed the northern part of the world.

Here are a few moments I found myself in these past 16 days. The beautiful and the messy. I lay them out here for the sake of sharing stories and documenting this small, beautiful life I find myself in. The life I’m starting to pay more attention to, this winter, where I’m starting to feel more alive and more at home.

January 7, 2022

I woke up to the coldest morning of the winter thus far. The freeze started last night. I came home late while it was snowing — a beautiful image of white glitter gracefully falling under an amber streetlight. All was quiet. It felt as though all the comosion and chattiness of the world was put on hold and all that mattered was that moment, the stars and clouds blanketing the earth and lulling it to sleep.

This morning the flakes cling to the windows of the cars and frost freezes to the tips of the grass. It’s in the single digits but the sky is clear blue. The tree limbs bare. Everything is frozen in place. Inside my tiny apartment, the air has a tinge of coldness to it even though I have the heat on. I make pour over coffee and peel a clementine. The quiet from the night before still lingers as the world stretches and wakes. My feet are cold against the kitchen tile, sleepy eyes and dreams reside. I’m ready to start the day.