Since leaving my job at DuPont 3 months ago, I’ve spent most of my time at home, preparing for my upcoming African adventure. Not being in a school, university or office environment on a daily basis has been a new experience for me, and I thought I’d share what I’ve learned about myself.

Reading and writing for pleasure is something very new to me. While I was gainfully employed, I just never made time for either. Outside of my working day, I found myself prioritizing household chores over making time for myself. About 9 years ago, we bought some comfy furniture, and just as it’s now starting to show its age, I realize that I’ve never really taken the time to enjoy the comfort it provides. Over the last 3 months, I’ve tried to make up for that, making a point of ‘taking a load off’ by leisurely reading (travel books, novels, magazines, recipes) and writing my blog posts.

I’ve never really thought of myself as a creative person, but I’ve found that this time has given me the space for my creativity to blossom. I’ve spent many hours organizing, editing and learning from the thousands of photos I’ve taken over the last few years. As I’ve built out the Midlife Funk website, I’ve worked on building web development, social media and writing skills. For someone who is highly visual, these projects have given me joy and provided me with inspiration. These new skills are very different from the ones that I honed over my years in science, legal and corporate business, and I can see that I desperately needed this time to get in touch with my artistic side.

I’ve learned to really savor and appreciate my morning cup of coffee. It used to be that I was always multi-tasking in a morning (watching the news, getting dressed, putting on make-up, etc.) and so I’d drink (or forget to drink) my tea or coffee without even noticing. Over the last 3 months, I’ve been able to enjoy my coffee as I watch the day unfold. Sometimes, I’ll stare out of the window, watching passers-by as they head to work. In the afternoon, I might see the same people walking in the opposite direction as they return home. I see the ones that like to take a midday run in the park, and those that religiously walk their dogs. I find myself following the patterns of their daily lives, trying to imagine the rest of their lives that I don’t see.

The old me usually didn’t find time to chat. I was always too busy going from A to B, or thinking about what the day would bring or wishing for the weekend to come. Nowadays, I find myself taking the time to talk to everyone. On bright, sunny mornings, I like to take a stroll around the neighborhood, stopping to sit a while in the park. During the day, there are a lot of people (young moms, retirees, park workers) whom I don’t often get to see. At our local coffee shop, I talk to the barista who tells me about their latest roast and teaches me how to make cold press coffee. Back home, I have a quick chat with our neighbor and exchange pleasantries with passers-by as I water the plants on our patio. I talk to our chatty mailman and the nice UPS guy. When we had a different mailman for a few days, I noticed and asked after him. It turned out that he’d been involved in a car accident. When he did return to work a few weeks later, I was happy to see him and we chatted about his accident. He was able to track down an important package that had been lost while he was off work. It turned out that it had been delivered to a neighbor by mistake.

This summer, I enjoyed tending to our garden and watching the vegetables, herbs and flowers grow. My husband and I made freshly squeezed vegetable juice almost every day and enjoyed many delicious meals from the bounty of kale, collard, sorrel, parsley and basil. Our flowers gave a particularly beautiful display this year, attracting lots of different types of butterflies all summer long. Frequently, neighbors and passers-by would take the time to compliment me on the display.

I cooked a lot, using complicated recipes that I’d wanted to try for so long, but never seemed to find the time. I recreated many of the dishes that we’ve enjoyed during our travels. My husband absolutely adored the Moroccan chicken pastille and tangier dishes that I made, and the French tarragon chicken that I made using the tarragon from our garden. I also got to experiment on some classic Filipino dishes that I’ve long wanted to try. I find cooking to be a pleasurable and therapeutic activity from which I derive great joy.

Finally, I was able to watch the season transition from summer to fall and the maple trees outside our house turn into a glowing, fiery red. Being at home, I realized that the beautiful fall colors could be viewed from every room in our house, transforming our windows into living paintings. I also watched the leaves die and fall to the ground as the season progressed, leaving the trees bare.

And there you have it.

By simply being home and taking the time to read, write, engage in creative pursuits, watch movies with my husband, catch up with friends, drink many cups of coffee and tea, cook, tend to my plants, talk to my neighbors and watch the season unfold, I now feel more engaged with life. The comfort and serenity of home has given me a sense of calmness and steadiness, and provided me with refuge.

After 3 months, I feel refreshed, recharged and revitalized. This period of solitude and self-reflection has been so valuable, so worthwhile.

I am now ready to step out once again to take my journey.