Reflections on Life's Journeys & Joys, Books & Other Blessings

Monday, January 19, 2015

Beating Those Gray Winter Days

I don’t know about you, but these gray gloomy days of winter are really kicking my butt.  Sun, please come out!

I, like as many as 20% of Americans, have Seasonal Affective Disorder, with the apt acronym SAD.  It’s winter depression caused by the shorter days and lack of sunlight, and according to the American Academy of Family Physicians affects women four times as often as men.  It can cause fatigue, low energy, weight gain, and other symptoms including not wanting to go out as much as usual. 

So what to do besides power through the inevitable yearly darkening?  I beat back my SAD with light therapy.  There are a number of companies selling special full spectrum bright light boxes, everything from standing ones to table ones, from ones that look like iPads to visors you wear on your head. We are lucky to have the original light box company, Sun Box (, right here in our area, in Gaithersburg, Md.  I’ve got two of their boxes, one a kind of utilitarian tubular thing I use at home when I’m eating breakfast, another a clever one that looks like a regular gooseneck desk lamp for the office. You only have to use a light box for a half hour a day. I know light therapy works because of the difference in the way I feel in September if I forget and haven’t started using the light by then. 

My light boxes met their match when I lived in Tianjin, China more than a decade ago.  It was one of the top three most polluted cities in the world at the time, so even when the sun was out, the days were gray and you couldn’t get any sunlight.  My SAD became entrenched and year-round and ultimately it was part of the reason I came home early from our Tianjin stint.  I know I could never live in a part of the US with more gray days than where I live now in the mid-Atlantic.  (I’d probably do well in the southern states, but I like my four-season climate.) 

Now my Sun Boxes keep my energy level up and my spirits, too, in winter, though I won’t lie to you, it’s still not my favorite season. I also toss back some extra vitamin D in the winter.  If you think you suffer from SAD don’t blow it off or just tough it out; you can get help.  You should see your doctor, and definitely consider light therapy. It can make a significant difference.    

Friday, January 2, 2015


I went to see a movie at a theater for the first time in about a year over the holidays.  Wild is based on a book by Cheryl Strayed that was launched to fame by attention from Oprah Winfrey.  The movie, pretty faithful to the book, starred Reese Witherspoon as Strayed, a woman walking the Pacific Crest Trail for three months as a road to redemption from some hard living following the death of her mother.

I liked the movie well enough; it was just ok—the same way I felt about the book.  I have to give Strayed credit for her unflinching exposure of some very bad behavior that among other things led to the dissolution of her marriage.  But, well, I didn’t really get what all the fuss was about with the book’s and now the movie’s popularity.

Until, that is, the middle of the night as I tossed and turned myself to sleep, which is when I do some of my best thinking.  The reason Wild resonates with women is that it’s the classic hero’s journey à la  Joseph Campbell.  Though books and tales with men at the center are many, there are really not all that many books about women’s adventuring in the wild or unknown, facing down various foes and adversity, contemplating their lives, and returning home better for the journey.  This is why Eat, Pray, Love was such a hit, again an Oprah phenom. Now I get it, and can appreciate both books more on that level. (Thanks, Oprah, for keeping an eye out for women’s heroic outward and inward journeys for us.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Doggie Desire

I had a dream last night about a dog—just a nice vignette of me playing with what in the dream was my pet dog—except when she turned into a chicken, though I treasured her even then. 

Transmogrification aside, I’ve been thinking a lot about dogs recently.  I want one very much, but currently am living in an apartment whose landlord forbids pets.  I’ve reached out to try and change his mind but there’s been no response. 

My last dog, Gavin, was a sweet mutt—perhaps part Cataloula leopard dog and part Corgyi--I had for a year or so before having to give him back to the rescue league where I got him.  He was just too much for me, a working dog, which I didn’t know when I rescued him, and in insatiable need of attention and especially activity.  Five hundred dollars of training didn’t do the trick, nor did the vigorous extra walking he got from kind neighbors who loved him as much as I did but ultimately didn’t think they could take him on full time, either.  He was a love, whose nightly habit was to get in bed and walk all over me on the comforter kissing me before bouncing back off the bed to sleep on the floor at my side.  Yes, I know this could be interpreted as his thinking he was the alpha, but I had done my best to prove otherwise, honestly I had.

Before Gavin, there was the best, sweetest dog in the world, Molly, a Yellow Lab who my son and I had for eight wonderful years. She was eight years old when we got her from a close friend of mine who was going to live overseas.  Giving us both much joy and unlike her successor causing no damage to our home, she was my constant companion as I worked from home all day and she nursed my son through his parents’ divorce.  Molly passed at 16 in my arms with my friend (who I jokingly refer to as her birth mom) and my mother at my side as I read a Navajo poem over her in the sunny front hall of my home as the vet put her to sleep, my son having come home from school at lunchtime to say goodbye to his beloved pet.

Since Gavin, for a long time I was afraid to get another dog, afraid I might have another adoption failure.  But I love dogs and have had one since I was a child, so inevitably the desire to rescue again grew and grew.  There was also that embarrassing word we don’t like to talk about in public—loneliness. A dog is a pretty terrific cure for lack of companionship in one’s home and there is nothing like their unconditional love.  I moved a few years ago to an apartment building where no neighbors happen to have dogs, either, so I can’t get my doggie love outside my door as I used to be able to in my old townhouse by the lake. 

I bared my soul in an email to my landlord about my loneliness and how a dog would greatly improve my quality of life.  I promised I wouldn’t get a puppy (thus reducing the likelihood of youthful exuberance leading to damage) but rather at least a three- or four-year old, and that I’d get a small dog and was willing to pay a pet deposit.   I’m pretty surprised I haven’t gotten some kind of a response yet, even after reaching out again.  So I wait with unfulfilled doggie desire, for a wet nose to nuzzle me, for soulful eyes to watch my every move, for slurpy doggie kisses and a canine to pet and walk and feed to share my love back.  Dogs really are a girl’s best friend and I hope I can have one again soon.  

Sunday, September 28, 2014


“As I get older I try to love the uncertainties more than I do the certainties.” 

(Sue Monk Kidd) 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Adventures in Online Dating: A Rant

I’ve recently reentered the world of online dating (after about a 10 year absence), and having not made it past the initial message stage, am again skeptical this will work for me.  Am I too fussy? Maybe.  Ten years ago I wasn’t getting any messages, now I’m getting lots but they’re not “quality” ones. 

First of all, many of the guys don’t even bother to write a profile of themselves but just put “send a message” in that space.  Who am I sending a message to and why would I do so just on the basis of a photo (if indeed they’ve included that)? Besides the missing profile, all the info you get is a half dozen questions (do you like to cook? read? go to theater?), only maybe answered, which while interesting do not constitute a way to learn about someone’s character or personality. 

Most of the messages I’ve gotten from remotely interesting men are just that—remote.  Iowa, California, Michigan, Indiana. My profile says I specifically am looking for someone in my area. They often urge me not to be put off by the long distance, that they’ll move for love, but I just can’t see putting the effort in on these. I have a friend who found a true love online, but he’s several states away so they’ve decided to keep an open relationship, and she’s still dating online to find more geographically desirable partners. 

She, some 10 years younger than I, is having a whole different experience online dating than I am, by the way.  Her latest message came from a 19-year old who complimented her on not looking as old as she is.  She’s getting guys with professions like exotic dancer and librarian (the latter’s the one I was jealous of, though she sure enjoyed the former, too), while I’m getting, well, guys with professions like dump truck driver.  Fortunately said driver was also out of state so I could rationalize I wasn’t engaging with him because of that.  One dating site also thought I’d be a good match for a cross dresser; but I got no message from him, sparing me thinking of a response.   

Based on my non-online dating experience in the years since I’ve divorced, I’m also looking for a man who doesn’t have young children, especially if they live with him. Don’t get me wrong, I love kids.  But children should be the number one priority of a single dad and if they’re not, I can’t respect him.  And if they are, he doesn’t have enough time and space in his life for me or is looking for a second mommy for them, and I’m done with that period in my life.  So bring on the men with 20+ year olds making their way in the world, or older kids who’ve made them a grandparent, but I’m gun shy on dads with younger children.

I’m also not interested in guys whose profiles are full of spelling and grammar errors. (E.g., they “do not take things for granite”…)  I’m looking for someone who’s my intellectual equal, and his being articulate is a turn-on.  Plus I think half of those butchered entries aren’t because the guys can’t really spell or write but because they’re too lazy to do anything but throw down a stream of consciousness rant without going back and, oh, I don’t know, putting the apostrophes in contractions.

To be fair, if I were a certain kind of woman I’d be a better match for some guys the site has offered up as matches.  “Outdoorsy” is the key word, and the tell tale signs are photos hiking cross country, white water rafting, rock climbing, and other nature-based pursuits.  Sorry, but my idea of camping is staying at a nice motel and while I enjoy walking, it’s not with a backpack across rocky terrain.  Guys seem to be able to tell this from my profile so none have sent me messages yet asking me to go paragliding. 

What does this leave me with?  I want a compassionate, intelligent, articulate man with a good sense of humor, and good chemistry.  I’m not asking too much, am I?  This online dating may still not be for me, but I’ll keep trying for at least a while.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Today's Gem of Grace in the Gray Areas

“Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.”

             David Whyte (from the poem Sweet Darkness)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Good Enough

There’s a great big old gray area between knowing it to be true that right here, right now, right as you are, you are enough, and the inner yearning to be better, to be more content, to connect more with others, to give more, to connect more with the divine. 

There is being enough vs. being more.  Yearning to get to that place in our hearts where our interior and exterior lives align.  Yearning to be a better person.  Yearning to find your right work.  Yearning to find a partner in life, a soul mate.  Yearning to receive more love and give more love.

I am in my heart someone who knows I am good enough.  If you are very lucky, you have family, a very good friend, a mate, a coach, a therapist who has taught you that you are good enough. You don’t have to wait to be enough ‘til you are thinner, ‘til you volunteer more, ‘til you spend more quality time with children or spouse or friends, ‘til you lose all your fear.  You don’t have to wait to be enough to have a better job, to have a boyfriend, to have a bigger apartment.

Does this mean that we shouldn’t want more or better?  Well, no.  We have to live in that gray area.  We have to prioritize what’s really important. At either end of the spectrum we are enough, and while we sort out how to navigate the gray area of want and betterment in the middle we are enough, too.  This flies in the face of Buddhist teachings that any striving (with the possible exception of being a better meditator) is inherently wrong or foolish, but this is a case of a black and white approach I just don’t buy into. 

I think it flies in the face of human nature to be 100% content all the time; there’s just too much going on out there in the world, too much change, always room for improvement, particularly in our relationships with our fellow human beings, whether close or strangers.  And that’s fine, as long as we don’t let that gap between who we are now and what we might be better at define us, and remember that with or without being better, we are worthwhile human beings, parents, children—we are enough.  We need to love ourselves now, not later.