What Makes Home?

The other day, I was settling down for an afternoon nap. My dog Quagmire was curled up beside me, and I could hear my husband doing something or other on the opposite side of the house. The sounds of home. How lucky am I?

I do feel at home in my home, thank goodness, and with my husband and my dogs, and at work… but to be honest, I still don’t feel at home in the Pacific Northwest, even though I’ve been here nearly 5 years. People confuse me out here. I don’t understand them. And the weather is strange. And I still don’t know my way around. When people talk about small towns in another part of the state, I don’t know where they are. All these things make me feel like an outcast.

So the question is, what makes home? What follows are my stream of consciousness thoughts on the subject. (Special thanks to Cris, Ray, and Martin for ideas.) It’s a dense topic. And, spoiler alert, I don’t think I’ve managed to fully define it, but here goes…

Home is familiarity. It’s knowing where everything is, and also knowing alternate routes to that place. I think GPS has punked me in this regard. I no longer have a full map in my head. I don’t know where places are in relationship to other places anymore.

To help me with this, my husband has hung a local map in the garage for me. It has made a difference. But I really need to stop being lazy by relying on a mechanical voice to get me to my destination. I need to get some sense of context.

Home is also being able to make your way around in the dark without stubbing your toe.

But it’s not just familiarity, because I knew my way around Jacksonville, Florida, and there was a sense of relief there, a sense of predictability, but I don’t miss it, and if I never go back again it wouldn’t upset me overmuch. I miss my friends, I miss the fried chicken, I miss bodies of water that are warm enough to swim in, and I miss a few other places, but I don’t miss the city at all.

Home is what you’re used to. I’m used to flat land and straight roads that are on a grid pattern. If that’s what I need to feel at home, I’ll never feel that way in the curvy, hilly, mountainous state of Washington.

Home is knowing what neighborhoods you can walk through after dark. Back to familiarity again. But maybe there’s a feeling of safety wrapped up in it.

It’s recognizing the priorities, the politics, and the culture of the place where you are. Is it where everyone shares your politics? If so, we’re all screwed these days. But I must say I feel a lot more politically at ease in Seattle than I ever did in Florida.

Home is knowing the history of your location. I’m working on that.

Home is what makes you feel normal. It’s what you expect. I’m definitely not there yet. But I’m not sure that I’ve ever felt completely normal.

What is so un-homelike about where one is living that so many people are willing to leave everything they’ve ever known and relocate to another part of the planet? What’s missing? Why do they think they’ll find it elsewhere?

Do nomads ever feel at home? Is home where your yurt is? Does home reside in the people you love? I’m loved out here. And I’m at home in my house. But then I drive away from it, and I’m back to feeling like I’m in a foreign country again.

Is it a sense of belonging? Is it being made to feel welcome? Is it having a restaurant where you can say, “I’ll have the regular,” and they know what you mean? Is it being worthy of the gossip of your neighbors? (God, I hope not.)

I always felt at home in Western North Carolina. Even the very first time I stepped foot in the area when I was 17. Whenever I am there, it feels like I can exhale. Like I can breathe. The mountains embrace me. I can sleep, knowing the crickets and fire flies mean me no harm. But why? Why that place?

If all you ever knew was prison, would you consider that home? Is home where you’re resigned to your fate?

How can one person’s home be someone else’s hell?

Home is a feeling, more than a place. Because you can feel at home in more than one place.

Is it an emotion? It’s not happiness. Because you can be sad at home. Is it contentment? Contentment is fleeting for me, albeit highly appreciated when it comes around.

And I think home takes time. I never feel at home at first. I can’t even sleep the first night in a hotel room. But jeez, how much time does it take?

The craziest thing about home is that everyone will have a different definition of what that is.

I know it’s more than the house you live in. It’s your community, your region, your environment, your loved ones. It’s the place where you’re accepted as you are. It the place you can find your way back to.

Home is your comfort zone. But what causes you to feel like you’re in that zone?

I love to travel, but I can never 100 percent relax while I’m doing it, and after a few weeks, I want to go home. Home is where you can rest. I can’t completely rest here. And I want to be able to. So I need to figure out what makes home for me.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject, dear reader.

Home

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Pillows

Recently I wrote that I got to go to see the storytellers of Snap Judgment Live. One of them discussed his experiences with being homeless, and how it makes you do things you wouldn’t normally do, such as apply for demoralizing jobs. Amen, buddy. Been there.

But one of the aspects of homelessness that he brought up was something I had never even considered. You never have a pillow. You can’t get comfortable. Which means you can’t rest. Ever.

Wow. Even when I lived in a tent, I always had a pillow. I can’t imagine life without one. Pillows help you sleep, yes, but they also give you something to hug when you’re all alone, and something to cry into when you’re sad. They are comfort in material form. They are also the only acceptable things to punch when you’re frustrated. Unfortunately, like humans, they need a clean, stable environment in order to thrive, so they wouldn’t handle homelessness well.

Even in your darkest times, may you always have a pillow, dear reader.

pillow

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The Starfish Position

There are going to be days, dear reader, when all the Häagen-Dazs in the world cannot make you feel better. Days when bad hair sounds like a step up. Days when your very soul feels like one giant stubbed toe. Complete with fungus.

Sometimes the shit hits you full in the face before it even gets to the fan. And more often than not, it’s someone else’s shit. (Ewww.)

When everything feels out of control, when you’re headed straight for that iceberg, when you can’t see any way to avoid complete and utter destruction, it’s okay to say, “I give up.” At least for a little while.

Sometimes there’s nothing for it but to lie on your bed in the starfish position and just let the world take care of itself. Rest. Recharge. Lean into that feeling of being overwhelmed, and give yourself a break until you’re feeling “whelmed” again.

You don’t always have to be on point. You might be surprised to see that the world continues to spin without your input. There’s nothing wrong with gluing yourself to its surface and letting it do the work for a change.

Embrace your inner starfish. Breathe. It’ll be okay.

(And a shout out to Lee for inspiring this post when I was feeling pretty overwhelmed!)

Royal Starfish

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Mental Health Days

Raise your hand if you’ve NEVER, not even once, called in sick to work or school when you’re weren’t technically sick. Anyone? Anyone? (I didn’t think so.)

Back before I was a bridgetender, I pretty much hated every job I had. And I called in sick a lot. Of course, I was younger then, and believed I could get another job quickly and easily, even if I pushed my luck. It also never occurred to me that catastrophic health problems could ever be in my future, and that it might be a good idea to hoard my sick days.

But every once in a while, you just need a break. You know? (Of course you do.)

I think the need for mental health days has increased over time. The world is just too crowded and there’s too much information flying at us from every direction. The pressure is building. It becomes increasingly impossible to keep up, emotionally, financially, politically, and culturally.

Sometimes you just need to push the reset button. Sneak out and see a movie. Or sleep in and hug your dog. Or take a walk in the woods. Or read a good book.

And that’s okay. If you checking out for just one day means the world will stop spinning, then you seriously need to learn how to delegate. Just sayin’.

slow down, relax, take it easy

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My Late Night Symphony

Have you ever been so tired that it felt like your mattress was hugging you? You sink into it’s soft embrace and feel a sweet relief like no other. It makes you wonder why you ever resisted bedtime as a child.

This night was one of those nights. It had been a long day at work. The annual Seafair in Seattle always brings out a lot of boats, which translates to a lot of drawbridge openings for me to perform. That, and it was brutally hot. The control tower is poorly insulated, and the window AC was not keeping up. It was so hot, in fact, that we had to hose down the bridge because the metal had expanded so much that we couldn’t raise it without risk of damage. And to add to the drama, it was septic tank pump day. So I had a lot of comings and goings, openings and closings. And poop smells.

And, also due to Seafair, my commute home was even worse than the usual nightmare. Nothing says Seattle like being able to put your car in park on the interstate on 5 separate occasions on your way home. I had mixed emotions about coming home, already sweaty, to my hot house and my hungry dog, but I knew one thing for sure: I wanted my bed. Desperately.

After throwing open every window and turning on every fan, and then feeding Quagmire (who always acts like he’s starving), I made myself a sandwich so I wouldn’t have to turn on the oven. Then I took a cool shower.

When I finally climbed into my beloved bed, I lay there, flat on my back, feeling like a bag of wet cement. I stared at the ceiling. I doubt I could have saved myself if the house caught fire.

Have you ever been too tired to sleep? Yeah. Like that. I was in a stupor for a good couple hours, I think, based on the number of times Quagmire came to check on me. I just lay there waiting for the sun to stop torturing my time zone.

Finally, around 9:45, I managed to reach over and turn off the light, and roll over onto my stomach, which is my preferred starting position for the journey at hand. Quagmire curled up by my hip, which, I have to say, is the most comforting feeling on earth. Sweet, sweet rest.

Oh, how to describe what happened next. Actually, I was at a loss, so I Googled “the sound a jackhammer makes”, just for you. Apparently the official spelling is:

GRRRAKKA KKAKKAKKAKKAKKAKKAKK AKKAKKAKKAKK …

I’d say that’s pretty accurate. I speak with a certain amount of authority because it was happening less than half a block from my bedroom window. At 10 pm.

Please tell me. For the love of all things holy, who runs a FREAKING jackhammer in a residential neighborhood at 10 pm? Who?

Surely this wouldn’t last long, I thought. No one could possibly have the NERVE to keep this up for any length of time at this hour.

Wrong. It lasted all night long. All. Night. Long.

Interspersed with that sound was the distinctive sound of heavy equipment backing up.

Beep Beep Beep Beep…

And for some reason two trucks were signaling each other by horn.

Toot. (Pause.) Toot toot.

Apparently the double toot was a signal to back up, because no one, of course, could be bothered to used a two way radio. Oh, no. Of course not. So what I got was:

GRRRAKKA KKAKKAKKAKKAKKAKKAKK AKKAKKAKKAKK …
Toot. (Pause.) Toot toot. Beep Beep Beep Beep…

All. Night. Long.

And I wasn’t the only one suffering. At one point I heard my neighbor shouting at them. For all the good it did. And another neighbor went outside and started blaring HIS horn. I’m not sure about his thought process, but I definitely related to his frustration. I think if any of us owned pitchforks or torches, it would have been mayhem.

Meanwhile, I was in a fog, desperately rummaging through my unpacked boxes in search of ear plugs. I never found them. I tried putting a pillow over my head. I closed all the windows, despite the heat. Even Quaggie started to get desperate and began to bark and moan. I may have even shed a few tears. I can’t remember. If I got a total of two hours of sleep, in fits and starts, it’s a miracle.

When I left for work, they were still at it. And they didn’t look even halfway done. I fantasized about crushing the jackhammer beneath the wheels of my car. They are completely repaving a road that, in my opinion, was already in excellent shape.

I’m buying ear plugs on the way home tonight. And maybe a pitchfork. If this goes on for two nights in a row, no court in the land could possibly hold me responsible for my actions.

torches

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Napsodizing

You heard it here first. I just coined a term that means rhapsodizing about naps. And, oh, but I can. I genuinely can think of nothing as luxurious as being able to sleep in the middle of one’s day. It’s delightful.

People who have to work hard cannot nap. People whose living situations are precarious or noisy can’t do so, either. Parents of small children consider themselves lucky if they even get a full night’s sleep.

I have planned my entire life around the ability to nap whenever possible. My work schedule is off-kilter, and I impose as few deadlines upon myself as I possibly can. I live alone, so I have no one to answer to but myself.

Most people aren’t that lucky. I’m well aware of this. So when I nestle in my comfy bed at high noon, it feels as though I’m giving myself a great gift.

I also happen to have a dog who loves to nap as much as I do. We will spoon and snore together, and before you know it, hours will have passed. It’s my free version of conspicuous consumption.

Some people will tell you that when you sleep you are wasting time that you should be spending elsewhere. You should be out there living life. To them I say poppycock. Real life exists in those moments of routine, of drudgery, of habit, of killing time, and yes, of napping. I have a rich dream world which I love to explore. I think it’s much more beneficial than watching television or dealing with cobwebs. Naps also help you heal and process your experiences.

I could go on and on about this, my favorite subject. But I feel a nap coming on.

Nap

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I Don’t Feel Like Adulting Today

Just for today, I’m going to leave my dirty dishes sitting in the sink. I’m going to eat things without worrying if they’re healthy. I’m not going to run my errands. I’d say I’m not going to exercise, but who am I kidding? I never do anyway. And yes, my laundry will remain in a big jumbled pile on the chair.

I plan to sit in the sun, if there is any, and read a book. Or take a nap. Or take a bath. Or watch Star Trek reruns on Hulu. Or all of the above.

I’m not going to watch the news. I’m not going to answer my phone. I’m not going to reach out. I’m not going to ask questions. I’m going to let the world take care of itself.

No doubt it will all be there, waiting patiently for me, in the morning.

adult

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21 Sleep Tricks

I worked the graveyard shift for 13 years. I don’t recommend it. Your whole life begins to revolve around the desperate pursuit of sleep, and you turn into one of those people who curse your neighbors for mowing the lawn. It’s not a good look.

When I think about how I used to cry as a child when I was told it was bedtime, it makes me laugh. Now I’m more apt to cry when I can’t sleep. I’d rather sleep than just about anything else these days. It doesn’t cost a thing, and you feel great afterwards. There are very few things in life that you can say those things about.

That being said, I’ve picked up quite a few sleeping tricks over the years. Some of them involve taking supplements or the like. Please know that I’m not a doctor, and I strongly urge you to consult one before adopting any of these methods. Everyone’s physiology is slightly different, and as the saying goes, your results may vary.

So, in no particular order, here are 21 tricks to help you sleep.

Exercise. Often I can’t sleep because I’m full of nervous energy. But I have noticed that I always sleep better on days when I’ve exercised. Even if all you do is take a 20 minute walk, you’ll reap many benefits, including a better night’s sleep.

Yoga. I’ve discovered that a simple gentle yoga routine makes me sleep like a baby.

Raise your legs. I have a friend who swears by this. She says it has something to do with the fact that your blood is pooling in the area around your stomach. Worth a try.

Meditation. Quiet your mind and your body will soon follow. At least that’s been my experience.

Relaxing sounds. You can find all sorts of free recordings on Youtube that are 8 to 12 hours long, and designed specifically to help you relax and/or sleep. Here’s my favorite at the moment: Tibetan Healing Sounds #1.

Sex. This seems to work wonders for men in particular. (Ladies, you know exactly what I’m talking about.) But as a woman, I’ve also found that I have a much easier time falling to sleep if I’m smiling and feeling loved. Something to think about.

Get a Chillow. Sometimes I can’t sleep because it’s just too darned hot. After hearing me grumbling about this, a friend recommended that I get a Chillow, and since I trust her implicitly, I did. And these things work wonders! If your head is cool, the rest of you feels cool as well. They also are great for people who suffer from hot flashes. My friend recommends the Mini-Chillow, and urges you to get the name brand, not the cheap knock-offs, because they last longer, and you don’t really need a large one.

Breathe through your left nostril. This is a yoga trick. If you lie on your left side and hold your right nostril closed, it is amazingly relaxing. You have to try it to believe it.

The 4-7-8 breathing trick. While researching this blog entry, I kept coming across this trick. It seems that a lot of people swear by it. It’s a little too complicated to go into here, but click on the link. I’m going to try this next time I have trouble sleeping. I’m all for a non-medicinal method!

First sleep, second sleep. I’m lucky enough to have a relatively flexible sleep schedule, so of all the methods I mention, this one works best for me. I also happen to find it fascinating. A few years ago I came across several articles such as this one. It seems that historians kept encountering mentions of first sleep and second sleep as recently as the 1700’s. They came to realize that cramming all your sleep into a single 8 hour period is an artificial construct that came about with electric lighting. Once we were able to illuminate more of the day, we started stuffing more activities into it, and giving ourselves ever-shortening windows of opportunity to sleep. Before that, people naturally slept for a period of time, say 4 to six hours, then got up when their bodies told them to, and talked or made love or did light activities for an hour or so. Then they went back to sleep for a couple hours. Ever since I’ve started doing this, I’ve felt a lot more rested in the morning. It’s tragic that the lives most of us currently live do not allow for this adjustment.

Lavender. I don’t know what it is about this smell, but it knocks me out. You can get it in many forms. You can have it in a pillow, or shampoo your hair with it, use it as a lotion or a body spray… whatever works best for you.

Hot Bath. If I’m feeling agitated, a hot bath often calms me down. Sending the message to your body that you deserve pampering never hurts. And if you get some Epsom salts that are infused with lavender, well, that is like a one-two punch.

Warm Milk. Oddly, this has never worked well for me, but I know people who have had great success with it.

Audio Books. When I told a friend of mine that I was writing this blog entry, she told me a trick that she uses. She often can’t sleep because she can’t stop thinking, so recently she decided she needed to distract herself. She began listening to audio books at bedtime. She says it also works when she wakes in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep. Currently she recommends Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise by Oscar Hihuelos.

Stare at a fixed point. Keep staring at it. Don’t let yourself look at anything else. This is a form of self-hypnosis. If you can do this for any length of time and NOT fall asleep, you are a robot.

Write stuff down. Often, I can’t sleep because my brain keeps going over things I’m upset about, or things I’m afraid I’ll forget. When that happens I’ve found that if I write those things down and then tell myself I’ll revisit them in the morning, I sort of give myself permission to “clock out” for the night.

Tryptophan. It’s not just in turkey, and not just for Thanksgiving. Your body requires it, and it’s found in a wide variety of food, including many nuts (and peanut butter), poultry, cheese, red meats, and on and on. And you can also get it in pill form, although I’ve never tried it.

Melatonin. You can get this in the vitamin section of your pharmacy. I use it as a last resort because while it does put me to sleep, it also gives me really strange dreams, and I wake up feeling kind of groggy.

Vitamin D. Now that I’m in the cloudy Pacific Northwest, my doctor discovered that I was not getting sufficient Vitamin D, so she had me start taking a supplement. She recommended that I take it at bedtime, though, because it can make you sleepy. I’m all for killing two birds with one stone.

Marijuana. Okay, first of all, I’m only recommending this in places where it’s legal. Second, it should only be done in moderation, because it can impact your life and your job prospects and your brain chemistry in unpredictable ways. Personally, pot practically sends me into a coma. But it also throws me into a deep dark depression, so it’s not something I want in my life. But if I could get to sleep no other way, I might resort to this now and again.

Yarrow Root. Again, I’ve never tried this, but I have a friend who swears by it.

So there you have it, the results of my years of pursuing the elusive Sandman. May you have sweet dreams and restful nights. And if you have any other tricks, please share them in the comment section!

time-to-sleep

Sleepy in Seattle

In Florida, my whole life revolved around the desperate pursuit of sleep, and I was lucky if I got 5 hours of it a day. I was in a perpetual mental fog, and it was affecting my health, both mental and physical. Granted, this probably was caused by my 13 years of working on the graveyard shift, coupled with my stress and anxiety about my financial situation and a general ennui, as it were, about my very existence.

Now that I’m on the opposite side of the country, I seem to have the opposite problem. Here in Seattle it’s like I’ve been sneezed on by Rip Van Winkle. If I didn’t have pesky responsibilities like dogs that require feeding and a job that for some reason insists on my attendance in exchange for a paycheck, I think I could easily sleep for 15 hours a day. If I hadn’t started typing this blog entry I could succumb to the Sandman right now. Mind you, it’s only 7 pm.

It’s not that I feel constantly exhausted here. Far from it. If I have something I want or need to do, once I shake off the heavy sodden blanket of slumber I can feel quite refreshed and infinitely perky. And yet place me in a horizontal position and I’m back in the Land of Nod almost instantly. I honestly don’t know what’s come over me. I do have a few theories, though.

  • At this point on the calendar, at this latitude, the sun sets around 5 pm and doesn’t rise again until around 7am. And when I say it sets, I mean, by God, it sets. It’s pitch black before you can glance, all mystified, at the clock. I generally assume it’s much later than it turns out to be. This level of confusion can be draining.
  • I’ve always loved to sleep in the rain, and find the sound of it comforting and hypnotic. Er… did I mention I’m in Seattle? ‘Nuff said.
  • I’m at a higher altitude. Science buffs, help me out here. How much thinner is the air? How much impact would that have on me?
  • Maybe it’s something in the water. It sure tastes better here.
  • It’s much cooler here, so when I am awake, I’m a lot more active. No, I’m not training for marathons. I’m still me, after all. But I’d like to think I’m earning some of this sleep.
  • I’ve noticed that my hair and finger nails are growing at a much faster rate here. I have no idea why that would be, but that must require energy, right? You try and grow hair. Not so easy, is it?
  • I feel a lot safer here than I did in Florida. Which is strange, because the crime rate seems to be through the roof. Maybe it’s because the general environment, both political and spiritual, is much more compatible with my lifelong philosophies.
  • I don’t really know anyone and I can’t afford to do much until I get out from under this crippling relocation debt, so I may as well sleep.
  • In spite of that debt, for the first time in many years, I can see a light at the end of the financial tunnel. It’s far, far away, but it’s there. So I’m much more content, much more relaxed.
  • I’m trying to keep my thermostat relatively low, so it’s hard to get out of my nice warm bed with my snuggly dogs and put my feet on these cold hardwood floors.
  • And finally, finally, I think I’m actually happy. That’s new, so I’ll have to research it and get back to you. But somehow it’s easier to relinquish consciousness when you go down smiling.

I could probably write a lot more, but I feel a nap coming on.

sleep

[Image credit: integratinghealth.net]

Transitional Periods

The most dangerous times in life are the transitional periods. Like stepping from one slippery rock to another while crossing a rushing river, you have to be careful or you might slip and fall.

These times include changing jobs, moving, going off to college, traveling, preparing to break up with someone, mourning, divorce and experiencing drastic changes in your health. It’s never a good idea to make major decisions during these periods. You’re not in the right frame of mind.

During these stressful times, I try to be gentle with myself, treat myself like I’ve just gone through major surgery. I get very quiet. I rest as much as possible. I try to do things that make me relax. Yoga. Hot baths. Changes of this nature mean your life has basically exploded, so you may want to take time and let the dust settle a bit before making another move.

Baby steps.

transition