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I'm getting used to the new reality of my midwinter slog---one that now involves spending a bit more time trudging around outside in all kinds of harsh weather, tethered to a small dog who needs to be out there for at least an hour a day.

On the very coldest days, we break it up into little chunks: ten minutes here, ten minutes there, me shoveling and him baffled by the newfangled snowbanks that tower over him, shivering in the unaccustomed subzero wind chills.

On a "normal" Maine winter day, it's a brisk trot on cleared sidewalks, with the occasional detour through unplowed or unshoveled paths or fields, with lots of nose-blowing and windburn and huddling under blankets after. It's dark early, so after-work sojourns are limited. He doesn't love the coat I make him wear but he puts up with it anyway. I return the favor by not reminding him he's the reason why we're out there in the first place.

Now, during the fabled January Thaw, we have mud. Lots and lots and lots of mud. So very much mud. Giant snowbanks subjected to days of intermittent rain and above-freezing temperatures turn into slushy piles and soaked, swampy yards, and big patches of gravelly mud wherever sidewalk or driveway meets lawn. It's not Mud Season (yet), but it's sort of a sneak preview of what's to come.

I spend a lot of time trying to make sure the stuff doesn't end up tracked all over the place---no small feat, given the fact that my dog is bath-phobic, dislikes having his wet and muddy coat or sweater removed, isn't super fond of having his paws cleaned, and is wicked speedy when he wants to make a beeline for the couch to avoid any and all of the above. It's trial and error, but we've got a system now. Like many well-intentioned things, it works most of the time.

"We should learn from the past, but not be stuck in it. Sometimes life circumstances and personal setbacks can haunt and prevent us from seeing our true potential and recognizing new opportunities. What has already happened we cannot change, but what is yet to happen we can shape and influence.

At times the first step is simply to break from the past and declare that it is you, not your history, who’s in charge. Ask empowering questions such as “What matters to me now?” “How can I make a difference in this situation?” and “What’s the next step for my best interest and well-being?” ---Preston Ni, Psychology Today

Winter has long been a tough time for me. S.A.D. coupled with a painful anniversary usually tag-team me, leaving me feeling distracted, sad, overwhelmed, or otherwise off-kilter. The fact that I'm a little less so right now is probably due to me actively facing what's going on and trying to change how I react to it. Knowing how easy it is for me to get mired in the past, I'm deliberately looking ahead. Knowing how strong the urge to hibernate can get, I am consciously trying to make plans, keep moving, and do things instead of just thinking about doing them (or spending time figuring out ways to get out of doing them).

My decision to get a dog meant that I would have to go out and take care of his needs even when I didn't much feel like taking care of my own, and that extra time outside has made a difference in the amount of sunlight I experience (and consequently has improved my mood a lot). An unexpected but welcome side-effect. All the walking has also done good things for my tricky knee (which spent much of last winter in a brace); it's stronger and more stable, so that's a good thing.

I think of how I feel now---walking miles on the good days with my little dog trotting alongside, even though it's cold---and remember how I used to spend the depths of winter: hunched over a keyboard, staring at a screen, chain-smoking the long nights away, disconnected from the outside world, not even taking care of myself, never mind anyone else.

What I'm doing now is better in ways I can't even describe.

And it wasn't due to one choice, either. It's never that simple. It's a series of choices, made every day. Every day is a new chance to find a better path, even if you're ankle-deep in the mud right now.

pig n boots photo: pig n boots potd-piginboots.jpg

Every moment we’re alive we can make new choices that help us move on and step toward a better future. If we pay attention to only mud on the ground after a storm, we won’t notice that the sky above us has already cleared. Goethe reminds us: “Nothing is worth more than this day.” Don’t focus on the mud. Make better choices today and move on. ---Preston Ni, Psychology Today
                   
                     
                     
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