Dear Grad

I had the opportunity this year to write cards congratulating two recent high school graduates and wishing them well on their coming college adventures. The following is a longer version of my messages to them.

Dear Grad,

Congratulations on your graduation. I almost added “from high school” but that feels inadequate. You closed the book on at least 14 years of mandatory, highly regulated schooling, much of which was in subjects you had little interest in and under people you may not have liked or respected. And you got through it. You completed your senior year while also making plans, leaping through flaming hoops, and establishing where you’ll be next. This is the part that begins to feel like adulthood, staying on top of what you’re doing while preparing to move somewhere else. Keeping your grades up and working. Working and getting a new job. Working and moving and making new friends. Working and planning a wedding and marriage. Working and raising a new puppy. You’ll have a lot of “working and” from now on. And you handled your first season of it successfully. Congratulations.

The person you’ll grow into in college and beyond will forever be changing. Sooner or later, you’ll challenge your own ideas of who you are and what you want. You might wake up one day and know in your core that your favorite color is no longer purple, that you love Brussel sprouts, that you’re brave or capable where you didn’t think so before. You’ll find all kinds of new activities you like and you’ll leave behind many others. One of the best parts of what’s to come is all the opportunities to just try things. Try that restaurant. Try that movie. Try that hobby. Try that trip. Try that sport. Your parents and the people who have known you practically from diapers aren’t telling you “that’s not you.” Don’t you dare do it to yourself. As long as it isn’t hurting you or anyone else (that’s my adulthood-required caveat), give new things a try.

When I was in the summer you’re in, planning for my college years and making lists and hiding my fears and enjoying every home cooked meal like I was moving to Mars instead of Georgia, I loved picking out things for my new room and my new life. I had choices where I never had before, like in my color of towels. I got to pick out whatever shower curtain I wanted. I chose decorations and colors that felt full of possibilities, that could hold all the new life I’d paint on them. You’ll need a lot of practical things, like spatulas and screwdrivers and a new pair of shoes. The gift I’m including can be for those things. Or it can be for something that feels frivolous but is also life-giving, like a succulent or a bird-shaped USB or a fuzzy pillow. I hope your choice, whatever it is, will feel full of possibilities. Why not have red kitchen utensils? Why not pick a lamp that looks like Medusa’s hair? Why not try a different color bedspread? Why not get a Game of Thrones cutting board or a tape dispenser that looks like a cat? Pick something that feels like you. 

You don’t have to have everything figured out. You don’t have to be accomplished or ambitious or successful in everything. You won’t be. That’ll feel really freeing in a few years, even if it’s making you sweat right now. There’s as much or more to gain from learning who you don’t want to be, what you don’t want to do, as there is in finding something that suits you. And even if it suits you, you don’t have to stick to it. No one is going to stand over your shoulder and glare or try to guilt you about it, thank goodness. 

Who you are now would be amazed at who you’ll be in a year. But college can be really lonely at first, especially if you don’t have friends going there with you, or when your friends are making other friends faster than you seem to be. Give it 3 months. In 3 months, you’ll have people to go to dinner with and plans for your weekends.

You’ll be okay. You’re building yourself into a whole new person in a whole new world, and you’ll be fine.

Congratulations,
Katie

A Day Off Is Saving My Life

“Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future. Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence. Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.”

—Maya Angelou

Last year, I wrote about how poetry was saving my life. I put the question that sparked that post to myself this week and discovered that having a day off last Saturday made the biggest difference in my life. Prior to Mother’s Day, I’d traveled 3 weeks in a row. I was so tired. I was trying to recover from a cold. I was worn out. And as I looked around, I saw dishes piling in the sink, baseboards needing dusting, a tub needing scrubbing, and a mounting pile of laundry. Getting those things done would make me feel better, but they’d also leave me as physically exhausted as ever.  

So, on the first Saturday I’d had at home in a month, I sat down with my toast and reread passages of Aurora Rising, a book I’d recently read and loved. I washed my hair, then lay on the sofa with Tyler and watched a couple of shows on the science channel. I met my former roommate for lunch and then we went to see The Hustle. I ran a couple errands afterwards in the rain, both necessary for Mother’s Day the next day, and arrived home with my arms laden with bags. I dumped them all on the floor and fixed myself a bowl of ice cream. I enlisted Tyler’s help to wrap the presents for the next day. I checked on my plants. I dozed. After a frozen pizza dinner, I watched two Hallmark movies, then went to bed. 

I sometimes talk about being socially exhausted as being “peopled out.” Saying this to my former roommate once, she quickly offered to leave me be, but I answered, “You don’t count.” Of course, she counts as a person, but she isn’t someone who tires me out, whose presence drains me of energy. This puts her in company with only a couple other people in the world. I can want nothing to do with all of humanity and still be happy to be in her company. She still holds that position, but now Tyler’s there too, along with my best friend and my brother. My ideal day involves a lot of quiet time to myself, or in the company of those few people who I can fully, completely rest around. 

On my ideal day, I don’t have to cook or clean. I don’t have leave the house at all. I nap. I eat something sweet. I read in the sunshine. I watch something funny. That Saturday was pretty close to perfect. But a perfect day off, a day of true rest, doesn’t happen on its own. It has to be planned for and it must be guarded. 

When I plan a day off, I make sure I have food for all my meals. I accomplish early or push back every possible chore, phone call, and obligation. Even if I have just one thing to do, it can feel like a burden until it’s over. At the very least, that one email or phone call distracts me from following my proverbial bliss. I let go of my expectations about the dishes and my hopes for the baseboards. I carefully choose who I’ll let into my day so I can spend my time recharging. I do simple, quiet things and let the simple quiet restore me. I set myself up for success by lowered my expectations for myself and focusing on my word for the year: enjoy. When I’m tired, I sleep. When I’m hungry, I eat. I’m kind to myself. I let myself heal.

I’m well aware that many people don’t have a whole day to set aside to do only the things they most want to do. For many people, keeping themselves alive for one day, doing the bare minimum, requires much more than my day requires. If nothing else, keeping another human or two alive, plus a couple of animals, requires effort I don’t have to put forth right now. And for many people, reaching that bar is all they’re capable of on a typical day. Our ideal days might very, very different be based on our season in life and who’s around us. 

What does your ideal day look like? And if that seems like too much to think about, what would you do if you had a morning or afternoon off to just rest? 

Spring Reading, 2019

Last week, I mentioned that I’ve read 54 books so far this year. Since today is Tuesday (release day among the Big Four publishers) and there is an especially high number of books I’m excited about coming out today, I thought I’d share some book love. 

Here’s a list of excellent books I’ve read this spring:

And here are books I’m excited about but haven’t read yet, including four* being release today and one^ being released next week:

A Plant Named Vera

Last year, I thought only as far as our engagement (March). Then I thought only as far as our wedding (October). Then as far as Christmas (December). There was too much to do to think beyond those milestones. So, once 2018 was over and the dust had begun to settle, I looked around at my life, which looked so different than it had the year before, and made some intentional choices. 

I’d been crafting, wildly and compulsively, because I’d gone so long with the driving need to be constantly productive, to get everything done in time for the wedding, then in time for Christmas. So in January, I chose to set aside my crocheting and ornament making, to give myself room to do other things, and to slow down. In some ways I’ve merely exchanged wedding planning and crafting with reading (I’ve finished 54 books so far this year), but I also let myself just lay on the sofa or sit by the window. Doing so last year made my insides vibrate until I leapt out of my skin to DO something. 

In late January, I noticed that one of my succulents, which a coworker had given me last summer and I had repotted in a Bulbasaur planter, was growing a stem. I took such joy in checking on it daily, propping up the stem when it grew longer than its structure could support, checking its soil for moisture, touching its pink blossoms, nimbly removing the shriveled blooms before they fell onto the carpet. Then my orchid at work put forth 18 gorgeous blooms for the second time in a year. My other succulent, codename Hedgy, also hit a growth spurt. I felt so accomplished. After such a chaotic, survival-focused year, here was proof that I was doing something right. I was nurturing life. 

So I decided to nurture a little more. I bought a pretty watering can and a packet of zinnia seeds. Tyler bought me a hanging window box last fall, and once the last cold snap was over in March, I planted my seeds in a new bag of potting soil just so I could watch them grow. I read and read about zinnias, their planting and care and watering and deadheading. I spent one breezy Saturday morning doing the initial work and watering. I tend my zinnias twice a day, fretting over the leaves holed by bugs, and sitting with them until I almost believe they’re growing before my eyes. 

While acquainting myself with Lowe’s garden section this spring, I discovered their succulents and bought two. I would have bought more, but on that particular day I already had an 10 lb. bag of potting soil perched on one shoulder, steadied by one hand, and my other hand could only hold two little pots at a time. When I got home, I added them to my window with Bulba and Hedgy. 

Inspired, I ordered a llama mug with a drainage hole drilled into the bottom from Etsy and was gifted a small purple succulent from the Etsy seller. I planted the cabbage-shaped succulent and bought a large, flowering version of Hedgy for the llama mug, which I gave to my future sister-in-law as an engagement present.

In total, at work I tend 2 thriving vine plants and a blossoming orchid. At home, I tend 5 succulents and 6 zinnias. And I love it. I love everything about organizing their watering schedule (and researching to make sure I’m not overwatering them), wondering if this one isn’t a bit taller than it was a few days ago, and noting the dew on the zinnia’s leaves in the early mornings. I want to name my 3 newest succulents and get a couple more. I have a few more empty pots, after all. But I also don’t want to overdo it. I want to know I’m properly caring for the increased volume of plants before I take on more. In short, I want to be a responsible plant owner. 

All this dirt on my fingers reminds me of my late grandmother. I loved her porch because she had little pots of flowers everywhere. Tons of African violets, as well as many other kinds. I grew African violets with my mother as a child, and sometimes my grandmother would send a leaf she’d rooted home with me when I’d visit.

One summer not long before she died, I went to her house for a visit, and she enlisted my help in adding some annuals to a planter in the yard that she could no longer stoop to reach. She handed me her trowel to dig out each hole and supervised me step-by-step as she sat beside me on the shady patio. I love that memory. I love how we shared 10 minutes of something we both enjoyed, something I hadn’t done in a long time and that she was enjoying for one of the last times. 

I think of her as I pick up my watering can, touch the zinnia and vine leaves, hum in the sunlight, think about plant names, make a deal with my aunt to exchange plants next time we have lunch. I miss her, and I grieve that I’m unable to call her and tell her about them and send her photos. But it’s okay to miss her while enjoying something she would have enjoyed. It’s okay to wish I could have had one afternoon watching a Braves game with her and my husband, who loves the Braves. One inning, if I could have my grandfather there, too. A single at bat to have my baby cousin on the couch beside me.

Maybe one day I’ll name a plant after my grandmother. Something beautiful and stubborn and funny and full of secrets and occasionally prone to cursing. Vera is a good name for a person or plant like that.