Tending To One’s Frozen Garden

sausage surprise

I haven’t written a lot of new things lately. I still post, short food memories and reposts of old recipes, but I’ve been feeling a bit frosted over these last few weeks – I go to work, I get Christmas presents bought and wrapped, and I try to join friends for cheerful gatherings, but all the other time, the long dark times of the winter, have me wrapped up in blankets with a book or a computer screen. I’m hibernating a little.

I also feel coiled to spring. We have a blow-up Santa Claus in our front yard, and every few days he gets so encumbered with ice and snow that the blower motor cannot puff him up. I kick the snow and ice off of him and eventually, like he was just waiting to be unleashed, he puffs right back up, his pillowy plastic hand waving to passersby. I’m encumbered by the ice too, made to walk very slowly and deliberately, made to relish sleep and revel in hot liquids. But I’m poised, ready to make 2017 wonderful.

I cannot tell if I’m in a rut or simply haven’t finished a big project lately, but whatever it is, I know that this coming year is going to bring big things. I want to teach better than before, do the administrative part of my work with clarity and organization, and work hard on writing. I want to be a great wife and a passionate community member. I have a lot of things I hope to be, and I’m mulling over what the practical steps are to do these things. It’s a good time, winter, for making plans. Some of the plans will just be idle daydreams while the winter makes the streets too slick to go anywhere, but some of them will show up in our spring awakenings.

That being said, I’ll be around. I don’t stop eating and thinking and trying to connect to friends and family just because it’s winter; I’m just moving a little slower, trying to be a little more deliberate.

When it’s too much, do something else.

I used to babysit for my friend S’s six-month-old child. The baby was a generally pleasant little guy, but when tired or if startled, he could get into cycles of sadness. Like so many of us, he immediately focused on the negative and was inconsolable sometimes. What I realized, especially with a small one who couldn’t use words to work his way out of his problems, was that sometimes distractions are life-giving. If I could get a sad baby to engage with a new toy, to listen to me sing, or to touch the textured wood on the bench outside, I had a chance of making him happier. Focusing on something else was enough to bring solace.

Lately, I’ve been spending time with other people who, as adults, having this problem: and I’ll confess, it’s sometimes me too. Focusing on one negative thing leads to another, and then to another. In that spiral, my brain stubbornly tells itself, “you must solve these problems in order to feel better. You must be miserable till then.” The tough part, of course, is that suffering, and loss, and emotional damage aren’t things that are solved: they are managed. What I’m learning is that, sometimes, the right thing to when negativity has you trapped is to do something else.

When sad, bake bread.

When heartbroken, tend your garden.

When furious, do some dishes. They make a lot of noise, so that’s nice.

It’s not that the thing or the emotion is solved by the action. It’s that distracting yourself from the negativity introduces another spiral, an upward one. It gives you one rung of a positivity ladder that can take you up. Obviously, the problems are still there; they will erupt from time to time and demand your attention. But living with all your attention on that isn’t as good as doing something else, something else good or something else that needs to be done. It’s a life-giving kind of distraction.