Vintage Coffee Break

Lunch is over and it’s time to get back to work. It is a day of office tasks, morning and afternoon divided by a lunch date with a friend.

I walk to the kitchenette in my studio and turn the tea kettle on to boil. Desiring a treat, I reach for the small blue tin of Maxwell House International French Vanilla flavored cafe, recently purchased for an event.

Pulling the rubber lid back releases deep emotion from somewhere inside, and I am transported to college days. I feel young, and tears well in the corner of my eyes. Something in this simple action of self-care reminds me of another time and place.

I am eighteen and away from home for the first time. Coffee is one of my comforts, and in addition to a small French press I also bring tins of General Foods International Coffee. This feels rich and indulgent. The chocolaty warmth of Suisse Mocha offers late-night or early-morning soothing to my weary, anxious heart.

Recently I went looking for those red tins, held forever in time in my mind’s eye, only to find the blue Maxwell House brand instead. That is how I find myself opening this tin of flavored coffee beverage with tears in my eyes, curious and feeling very vintage.

Who else enjoyed these flavored coffees in the 80s?

I spoon powder into the bottom of a music mug and lift the whistling tea kettle from a hot cooktop. I pour boiling water and stir rapidly, giving the steamy beverage a foamy top. Lifting it from the counter, I carry it to my work space and settle in to write.

Poolside Soak

Poolside

I do not yet know I will get stuck in the cute strapless dress that I wear over my swimsuit as a cover-up. Thankfully, I realize this bind early on in the nudging it down process before things get awkward.

Settling back in my lounge chair ~ sans sunglasses, which remain on a window ledge in my studio in Virginia ~ I pull the long skirt of my dress up to my thighs, exposing legs to sunlight. I appreciate that the promotional swag collected by my husband during his morning work session includes sunscreen.

I choose a seat in the beach sand section. It is mostly empty, and I sit at the end of a row. A large group appears and begins settling in place, claiming chairs around me. Though I have my new earbuds in, I can hear the chatter.

Conversation grows loud. The gist of it is that there are not enough seats for everyone in this group. There are now towels stacked on the chairs around me. I begin to feel crowded and claustrophobic. Uninvested in my spot, stuck in my cover-up dress, I sit up and slide on my sandals.

This happens in the time it takes to listen to one song.

Are you all together? I ask.

Yes. We are all cottage owners. But you don’t have to leave. Seriously. The response is matter-of-fact tinged with kind.

I don’t mind. I’m not invested in this spot. Is this section reserved?

I ask because of the speed at which people are appearing and the intensity of the seat-claiming. I feel as if there is something I missed.

No. No. No. Are you a cottage owner?

No.

Really. You don’t have to leave. There’s just a big group of us cottage owners . . . The voice trails off distractedly looking around, assessing the current seating status.

Knowing that I want to straighten out my cover~up situation in the bathroom, I graciously excuse myself. Also, I am not sure if I want to be in the sand, after all, or surrounded by a crowd. A teenager in the group addresses me kindly, attempting a conversation.

Are you here with family?

I’m with my husband on a work trip.

Winding up the wires to my earbuds and zipping them into their case, I rise.

You don’t have to go.

Thank you. I know.

Smiling, I leave for the restroom, seeking the privacy of a stall where I can extract myself from the dress covering my body. I begin the wrestling which borders on panic as I try to remove a garment that refuses to budge down over my hips or up past my bustline.

Years ago this was a breeze. Same dress. Same swimsuit. It is another reminder of my midlife body’s changing shape.

Must. Get. This. Off, Now.

Sparing further imagery, I get it off, but not without much agony. I walk to the opposite pool, the one surrounded by concrete, not sand. I choose a safe-looking chair away from others and sit down. I take out earbuds, once again, to listen to Audrey Assaad’s latest work, Peace.

My body is changing. On my yoga mat I set the intention to tend it with steady care.

Looking at it.

Blessing it.

Inhabiting it.

Things have changed, and continue to change, for me. I lean back, look up, and accept the offer of a frozen margarita from my favorite friend who has come to say hi, as I rest and soak up the sun.

Steady On

I want to write not just when I’m wiped out and done with everything. I am so tired tonight and have several things weighing on me. I would actually *LOVE* a snow day tomorrow . . . I think this is one of the first times I have felt that way. I would love the permission to have a little extra space. Today’s client cancellation was kind, because it gave me time to take down Christmas decor in the studio. I would love to do the same here at home.

Will there be snow? The only way to find out is to go to bed.

These words and more spilled into my journal at the end of a long Monday. Most curious to me was my hope for a snow day. That was a first.

I woke the following morning to school cancellations and bare ground. Glad for a slow start to the day and for the ability to work from home, I made a scheduled 8:00 phone call and then fixed waffles.

By 10:00 snow was steadily falling, creating a winter wonderland. I braved the elements to visit a friend. By the time I returned, a blanket of white covered everything, including the ornaments hanging from the tree in the front yard, a new place for them this year.

Usually they hang on the porch from the plant hangers. This year I thought they would look fun in the tree of friendship. I was right! Several neighbors commented on how festive it looked as they walked past our house.

My children thought otherwise. One commented that they were going to find a light blue blanket to wrap around the base of the tree next year. Another thought it was something only a Baab would do or like. Both correct.

Today I took them down. The same week that brought snow and two and a half days off of school for my kids brought seventy degree weather and sunshine for the weekend. Hauling the storage box from the basement, I walked to the front yard and removed the colorful orbs.

The tree now stands empty, unlike my planner for the upcoming week. 2020 has burst onto the scene with no sign of slowing. As I ponder how to remain steady throughout, I realize it takes living moment by moment. That is what I practice as I sit here writing.

I cannot plan for snow days or predict when a child will need me. I cannot know when a client will cancel or forget an appointment, or when I will get an unexpected, much-welcomed last-minute appointment call. I can only do the things in front of me and wait for what surprises may come.

Steady on, Friends! Enjoy your week, surprises and all.

Accepting All of Myself

My husband invites me to accompany him to the wellness center while he exercises. He suggests I use a guest pass to enjoy the hot tub while he swims laps. Having not donned my swimsuit since summer, this idea sounds like a good trial run for our upcoming weekend at an Orlando resort.

I accept.

I know my suit will fit differently since summer. Much about my body is different since summer. I wear the same size, but things are shifting. Places I do not care to accentuate now have their turn on center stage.

Do you wear your swimsuit there or change upon arrival?

I change there.

Packing my sandals and suit into a string bag, I follow him into the dark winter evening.

The women’s locker room is almost empty, but I am still nervous about figuring out the locker and lock. I scope out the best place to change into my bathing suit. I know people change right out in the open by the lockers. I am not ready.

I push the swinging door to the toilet stalls open and carry my string bag with me there. This room is empty. I feel awkward and clumsy hustling into a swimsuit, trying to be quick about it before anyone comes in to use the restroom. How old am I? Fourteen? I feel fourteen.

Exiting nonchalantly, now wearing a swimsuit, I put my things in a locker. I snap the lock shut, fit its elastic key around my wrist, and head to the showers. It is the final grueling step before entering the pool area.

I realize I never picked up a towel from the towel stack only after I am soaked. I walk over to collect one, leaving a trail of water. I see a lone folded towel on the shelf and snatch it up. Everything about me feels clumsy.

Families and children fill the warm pool. The hot tub is full, as well. Eight pairs of male eyes, in various ages and stages of life, look out from it at me. This is way beyond my comfort zone. I continue past, deciding in that moment to take a lane in the lap pool.

I know everyone is not watching me, I do. I am a 48-year-old woman. It feels that way, though. I feel embarrassed and clumsy when I try to swim.

I swim anyway.

I also walk laps back-and-forth in the swim lane and discover that I really like backstroke. It feels as if I am in a sensory deprivation tank. I swim three backstroke laps before I am exhausted and decide to get out.

I do not know the protocol for exiting the far lane of the pool, and I have to know the protocol at all times. I try boosting myself up onto the ledge and then ease up onto the pool deck. Now seated, I realize I am not going to be able to stand gracefully, so I slip back into the pool casually and swim a few more laps.

My second exit attempt is a success. I use the ladder that is midway along the side of my lane. The hot tub Is much less crowded now. I walk over to it and climb in, sliding my lower back to one of the jets. The rhythmic pounding on aching muscles feels good.

Steve joins me for a few minutes before we exit to our separate dressing rooms. It is time to reverse the process and leave.

I realize there’s no way my clothes will stay dry if I decide to get them from my locker and bring them over to put on in the shower area. I make a choice to face my fear, removing my swimsuit completely. I shower, wash my hair, and wrap in a scant towel that covers my body ~ barely.

I feel conspicuous as I walk to the swimsuit spinner and drop my suit into it. One hand holds the towel tightly around me, the other presses down on the top of the spinner to begin the cycle. A woman stands behind me waiting her turn. I act as if I am a pro at this.

I kind of am at the spinning part, just not at the standing naked wrapped in a towel part. I have spun out a lot of swimsuits and am thankful I know how the machine works.

Extracting my swimsuit from the canister, I walk towards the lockers and find a fellow band mom sitting on the bench in front of mine. She slides over so I can open it. Her daughter finishes dressing. We laugh and make small talk.

I feel more anxious than I care to admit and act as if I am always half naked in the locker room with people I know in various stages of undress. I slide and twist my underclothes on and, as quickly as possible, pull my sweater over my head.

I find it curious that my stomach is the body part I am most eager to cover up. I make a mental note of that as I step into my jeans and shoes. I long to be kinder to and more at peace with my body. It is a process.

I step out into a hallway. Positive body-image and self-care quotes line the wall. Too many to take in at once, I glance over them and continue walking to the kind man who invited me to this experience, grateful for a partner who accepts all of me on this journey when I have difficulty accepting all of myself.

Word of the Year 2020

My word came to me in October. offering two months to ponder and confirm that it was, indeed, the one.

firmly fixed, supported or balanced, not shaking or moving

regular, even, and continuous in development, frequency or intensity

Art journaling feelings around what I desire for 2020 confirmed my choice. I created two practice pages before designing the official page.

The first was arranged at the Intention Day Retreat. It holds the themes but not the word.

This page inspires me as I prepare for 2020!

The second I assembled while processing on my own.

I love the dog on this page.

2019 was my favorite year, yet. Flourish was the exact word I needed to get moving and take steps towards growth. So many good things happened, including the start of my business, Heart Path Story Coaching.

I love that in 2019 my friend, Angela, and I shared the same word! Here is her post about it! I look forward to reading about her choice for this year. We each flourished in our own way, proving that a word can be both general for many and specific to each person.

I recently took an online quiz that offered to choose a word for me based on my answers to questions. It came up with stand.

Looking at my art journal pages, I see how that fits in with the word I chose. There are a lot of standing images, including the dog!

I shared my untitled page during the final art journaling session of 2019. I loved the observations participants made for me. This is the beauty of the process. You choose and arrange images subconsciously that make sense when you and others name what is seen.

I love the polar bear. He is my favorite.

Comments such as This doesn’t seem like you. The seating feels structured and the gears appear rigid, not like the free-flowing Julie I know. But when I look closer at the pattern on the floor, I know that whoever is sitting in those seats is going to receive goodness.

The polar bear was noted. I knew he had to be on the page. Something about his presence and posture evoked the feeling of my word. Another participant said, That’s Steve!

Last year felt playful and open-ended as I set an intention to Flourish. From where I stood at the beginning, I knew that any movement would be forward. I truly felt like a plant that was emerging from the earth, poking its head out of the soil and into the sunshine before twisting and sprawling and blooming in a season of rapid growth.

2020 is calling me to be steady. To continue on a path of steady flourishing. To stand firm in what I have started and work on making progress towards specific goals. It is time to settle into more of an intentional routine.

The structured seating and clock-like gears are my reminders to stay steady and focused as is the runner on the path. Tho people stand on paddle boards, balancing, moving steadily forward. And the snail is playfully obvious.

This is a year to be steady in 2020, a phrase which only came to me after I chose the word.

Now it’s your turn to share. Please do in the comments. Happy New Year!

Christmas Letter 2019

Dear Reader,

Christmas 2019 has come and gone, and no Christmas cards were sent. Plenty were received, and if you are one who generously kept me on your Christmas card list, thank you. It was noticed and appreciated.

This year I needed permission to not send cards. A time of much transition, it was kinder to remove the pressure and expectation. Thank you for understanding!

There were no major family events this year. No weddings, graduations, or career changes.

I say this and then realize that, in fact, yes there was something.

I started my own business!

Heart Path Story Coaching was born this year.

Like any newborn, it took time and energy away from other things, namely, writing on the blog. For those who continued to read faithfully and also noticed this, thank you.

The question of whether I have been writing is asked of me in private, and truth is, I have. I have been doing a lot of writing. Each time I respond to an email or send a letter, it’s writing. Each story I work on for personal therapy is writing. Each blog post I write for business is writing. Each story I post in my private writing group is writing.

It just has been quieter here.

I hope to be more consistent in this space in 2020. When I show up here, I love it. I love all of you who read and spur me on to keep writing. I love what Composting the Heart has been for me and hope to share more on it in 2020.

First will be my word of the year on January 1, so stay tuned!

As an added bonus for reading this far, here is a picture of Christmas Dinner festivities. We are wearing the crowns from our poppers! This is real life in our home. I am grateful!

May you finish 2019 well and find much love and peace in 2020!

Blessings to you all!

Julie

Static Christmas Tree

The tree stands in the living room, glowing with white and colored lights. Four ornament boxes brought up from the basement, one for each child still living at home, wait to be unpacked by their owners.

Each person puts their ornaments on as the spirit leads. There is no rhyme or reason and certainly no ceremony surrounding the process. In a few days I will carry the empty boxes back to the basement.

Checking in with my youngest, I ask about her decorating status.

Have you hung your ornaments on the tree, yet?

Yes! All except the stuffed animal ones. I am not hanging those up this year.

She has quite an assortment of Beanie Baby mini ornaments and other holiday stuffed animals that she hangs on the tree each year. I am surprised by this news.

What? But you always hang your stuffed ornaments on the tree! You play with them in the Christmas tree.

Not anymore.

And just like that, Friends, is the end of yet another era. There is no more playing in the Christmas tree.

But the Hello Kitty ornaments made the cut and still hang in their row.

Time marches on, Mamas! One day those ornaments will stay put and the tree will no longer be a working document. It will remain static for the season. That day came for me today.

Hope in the Darkness

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. We light the hope candle. I look at it now, recycled from last year. I do not have new candles. There is one missing. It is either packed away in a different box or burned down so low that I threw it away last year. I need to make a trip to the store to find another purple candle or two.

In the hall is a lighted display of candles surrounding the usual sheep that live there. I pull out the sparkly house, a gift given years ago by a friend, containing Bath and Body Works items. I think of her each year that I get it out while lighting a tea light inside of it.

Light in the darkness.

There are candles around in various places. My husband strings colored lights on the tree, layering over the white lights, because I like both. That is me. Both a white and colored lights girl.

Hope is a memory of the future.

Dan Allender

I sit in darkness remembering the future. Waiting with hope. I believe in what is next while waiting with endurance. With patience. It is a vulnerable place, waiting in the now, hoping for the not yet.

Milestone in the Mail

The pile of mail on the front entryway table grows daily. Periodically, I shuffle through making mental note of the contents. It would be better to sort it out and write things down. I resist better ways.

It’s the holiday season with advertising in full swing. Coupons and circulars and free offers intersperse with bank statements and bills and the occasional letter. Fantasy me thinks of all of the deals I could score, while reality me counts the actual cost and discards some of the unnecessary.

Rifling through slick, thick papers, coupons, and lustrous catalogs, I stop suddenly. What is this?

For the first year ever, the American Girl catalog is lost in the growing stack. It is not being pored over and circled through and dreamed about. It is left alone, untouched, abandoned.

This is it. The year.

I have known it was coming and saw it foreshadowed here. There have been small clues along the way. The last catalog that arrived close to birthday time (those sneaky marketers!) still held interest with the gaming accessories circled. It was still looked through and desirable.

By Christmas, no more.

The final daughter has left elementary school behind and stepped up to middle school. Still in love with Rainbow Bear and some of her other precious childhood toys, she no longer lugs out bins and boxes of accessories to set up doll play circles.

This year I won’t set an alarm to wake with excitement at midnight on Cyber Monday to scope out great American Girl online deals and try to score some. I won’t use Christmas money from relatives to buy a doll or outfit or some other desired accessory.

It’s bittersweet, like every other final milestone.

In the past there was always another. Another baby, another toddler, another preschooler, another elementary age, another, another.

But this is it. The last little girl.

Memory lane takes me back to a hug from heaven and to Christmases gone by where doll beds were set up around the tree on Christmas Eve, dolls tucked inside, waiting for their humans’ discovery. I allow myself space and time to remember, following the Christmas trail on the blog.

Such goodness. Such grief. All the feels spurred on by a glossy catalog, the milestone in the mail.

Watercolor Beauty

The invitation to paint with watercolors came from my friend while we were away for our annual fall respite weekend. She had the paper, paints, brushes, and YouTube tutorial prepared. All I had to do was accept.

It took courage to say yes; to step out of my comfort zone and try something new.

We sat side-by-side following the tutorial.

I love how our painting reflects our individual styles. We used the same materials and followed the same instructions, but our results were as different as we are!

Can you guess which painting is mine?

It is the one on the left!

I loved the opportunity to look up at a watercolor tutorial and try something new with my friend.

How will you step out of your comfort zone today? What might you say yes to? You are invited to consider. . .