Opting Out

Sometime it’s hard not to be discouraged.  I think that two-plus years of dealing with Covid-19 has left most of us a bit drained, and often operating on our last nerve.  It doesn’t take much these days to provoke an angry reaction, and patience is often in short supply.  While things have certainly improved from the pre-vaccine days, we haven’t managed to return to the normal life we long for.

I still feel nervous when I walk into a crowded room, have a love/hate relationship with face masks, and worry every time I have a sore throat that I’m coming down with Covid.  (I have seasonal allergies, so a sore throat and a runny nose are normal for me at least four months of the year.)  I hate going to my doctor, because he still refuses to see any patient that has Covid symptoms, and almost all symptoms could be Covid.  And, as petty as it sounds, I’m tired of watching my favorite restaurants close down because they can’t get enough staff and/or supplies.

All of which is to say that these days, I’m not always my usual, mostly-cheerful self.  I’m much more thin-skinned, and quick to feel offended or hurt.  I still have good days, but there are too many times when I can best be described as crabby.  And I’ve decided that I really, really, don’t want crabby to become my new normal.

It’s easy to be cheerful when things are going well, and easy to be touchy and rude when they aren’t.  It’s easy to respond to rudeness with anger, and to lash out when someone directs a snide remark my way.  It’s tempting to engage in an on-line argument when someone posts a particularly obnoxious or inaccurate meme, in the hopes of “setting them straight.”  In other words, the opportunities to be nasty to other people are almost limitless.

But, as I said, that’s not the person I want to be.  And so I’m making the deliberate decision to “opt out” of the whole mess, as much as possible.  Because I really don’t need to respond to someone looking for an argument, or react when someone says or writes something that hurts my feelings.  I know there will be times when I’m tempted to give “tit for tat,” as the saying goes, but I hope that I’ll be strong enough to know that by doing so I’m only making a bad situation worse.  Sometimes, silence really is golden.

I’ll try to remember the the person whose words or actions bother me is probably also operating on his or her last nerve, and may not even mean to cause offense.  I’ll try to act the way I want someone to respond when I inadvertently offend them, by giving the benefit of the doubt.  Mostly, I’ll try to remember that, while I can’t control other people’s words and actions, I most certainly can control my own.  And that these days, it’s more important than ever to try to be my very best self.

Something New

When some friends invited my husband and I to join them on their trip to Las Vegas, we happily accepted.  My husband had only been there on business trips, spending his time in meetings on the outskirts of the city, and I hadn’t been there at all.  Las Vegas wasn’t a place we had a special interest in visiting, but getting out of town with friends seemed like a great idea, so we decided to give it a try.  And we ended up having a wonderful time.

One advantage of traveling with friends is that they encourage us to try new things.  Not only did we spend a few days in Vegas, but my husband (who is very uncomfortable with heights) actually joined us on the giant, 550-foot tall, ferris wheel on the strip.  The first time we saw it, my husband said there was no way he was getting on that thing.  But our friends assured us that each “pod” is huge and completely enclosed, and said the wheel moved so slowly that you don’t even feel it or realize how high up you are.  To my surprise, my husband agreed to try it.  It could have been peer pressure…even at our age, that’s a thing…or it could have been the glass of wine he drank at dinner.  But for whatever reason, we all boarded the “High Roller,”  and it turned out that they were right.  It wasn’t scary at all, and offered a fabulous view of the city.

Talking about it later, my husband and I agreed we probably wouldn’t have visited Las Vegas at all if our friends hadn’t invited us.  And I know for a fact that if the two of us had made that trip alone, there is no way we would have ridden that ferris wheel.  I’m not as uncomfortable with heights as my husband is, but I tend to avoid them just the same.  At age 64, I’ve reached a point in my life where I believe I already know what I like and what I don’t like, which is okay.  But what is not okay is that sometimes I allow that knowledge to stop me from trying something new.

And that’s where friends and family come in.  They can invite us to try something for the first time, or to venture somewhere we’ve never even considered going.  I like to think of myself as a creature of habit, because that sounds so much nicer than “stuck in a rut.”  Left to my own devices, I rarely wander out of my comfort zone.  But when someone I know and trust suggests something brand new, that opens a door for me to expand my horizons, to experience somewhere brand new, and to realize that I can do more than I ever thought possible.

I guess sometimes peer pressure, from the right people and for the right reasons, can be a very good thing indeed….

No Fear

I’ve always been a worrier.  I’ve tried hard not to be, but my success has been marginal, to say the least.  For some reason, I can easily imagine a myriad of things that can go wrong in just about any given situation, and I tend to think about those possible negative outcomes a bit more than I should.  I honestly think I was just born this way.  

The good news is the older I get, the more accepting I have become of my true nature. So instead of trying to worry less, I try to remember that just because I’m worried that something will go wrong doesn’t mean it actually will go wrong.  I think when we can’t actually change a part of our character, the best thing to do is simply adapt to it.  Yes, I worry.  But no, that doesn’t necessarily mean bad things are coming.  When I can remember that, I do so much better, because then I don’t let my habit of worrying about something morph into actual fear.

There are still times (thankfully rare) when I let my worry get out of control and cross the line into fearful thinking.  Recently, my husband had a follow up visit with his surgeon to discuss some lingering side effects from his cancer surgery.  There was no real reason for alarm, but in the days leading up to his appointment I found myself seriously afraid that we were going to get bad news.  I was living in dread and fear, unable to fully engage with others or simply enjoy myself.  I knew I was overreacting, but I couldn’t calm down or think rationally about the situation.  

Luckily, his visit with the surgeon showed that everything is, indeed, just fine and all my worry was for nothing.  I’m both grateful and relieved.  But when I look back over the past couple of weeks, I’m struck by just how much I missed out on by being so afraid.  The truth is, you can’t truly live your life when you’re afraid.  The best you can do is endure.

I think there is a lesson for all of us in this, because when I look around, I realize that I’m not the only one who’s struggling with excessive fear these days.  We’re afraid of escalating war, climate change, and increasing crime, etc.  In my country, both conservatives and liberals are afraid the other side is out to destroy our democracy and take away our basic freedoms.  Fear is all around us, encouraged by the news and politicians, and the results aren’t pretty.

Of course our country and our planet are facing some very real problems that require solutions.  But I believe solutions are never found when we’re living in fear.  Solutions require ingenuity, hope, compassion and most of all, working together with people we don’t always agree with.  I think it’s natural to worry about our problems and to seek answers.  The trick is to not let our worry morph into a paralyzing, and ultimately destructive, fear.  Because a life lived in fear isn’t good for anybody, ever.  Trust me on this……

 

 

Picture Perfect

I was at a photography shop yesterday, uploading my photos in order to make prints of them.   A woman was sitting at the at the kiosk next to me, being helped by a young man who worked at the store.  She was trying to make 5×7 inch prints of her photos, and it wasn’t going well.  The woman (who looked only slightly older than me) kept apologizing for her ignorance of the system, and for needing the employee to help her.  “Sorry I’m taking up so much of your time!  But this is hard for someone my age,” she said, “it was so much easier when all we had to do was bring in our photo card and insert it into the computer.”

The more I listened to their conversation, the more I was struck by the woman’s attitude.  Why did she keep apologizing?  Because she was right: it was so much easier to print our photos a few years ago.  We didn’t have to worry about uploads and file compatibility, retaining original resolution or any of the other stuff she was struggling to understand.  We just inserted our photo card into the kiosk, the pictures popped up on the screen, and we selected the number and size was wanted of each.  It was quick and easy.  

But in these past few years, printing photos has become a real struggle.  I can’t get my photos to upload properly to the online sites anymore (apparently, they’re not compatible), so I go to the shop and sync my phone with their device and upload them there.  Even that takes a very long time unless I use their Wi-Fi, which my phone informs me isn’t secure, and every once in a while the upload simply stops for reasons no one can explain.  These days, it takes real determination and lots of patience to make a print of a photo.  

I believe that woman had no need to apologize, and yet I understood why she did.  If you’re over fifty and struggling with any type of technology, often the immediate assumption is that you’re not quite smart enough to, say, actually print a photo.  The young man who was helping her was patient and kind, but not once did he agree with her that the new system is harder than the old.  Nor did he contradict her when she kept repeating that the problem was her age.  But the truth is, if a system has become complicated and doesn’t work properly, the problem might not be the age of the person trying to use it.  As radical as it sounds, the problem just could be that the system is flawed.

I know I’m one of the few people who still likes to print my photos, so I soldier on.  I’ve learned the difference between a “jpeg” and a “HEIC” photo file, and how to convert one to the other.  I schlepp to the photo shop to use their kiosk because if I try to use the shop’s website, it takes approximately five minutes for each photo to upload.  And when I’m really stymied, I’ll ask for help from the staff.  But no matter how difficult the process becomes, I have vowed that I will NOT utter the words,  “I’m sorry, but I’m just too old to understand……..”

 

Shine On

I lost a blogging friend last week.  It’s odd how the people we meet only through their blogs can seem like friends, but I guess that’s what happens when people write about their own lives, honestly and openly.  Those who read and comment on their posts really do feel as if they actually know the person who wrote them.  And few people wrote more openly and honestly than Martha, the late author of .https://whitehairgrace.com/

When I first started following her blog, Martha was writing about striving to live her remaining years as fully as possible.  I’m about 15 years younger, but her words still spoke to me.  We live in a society that values youth, and it can be a challenge to look for the blessings that come when we have more years behind us than we do ahead.  Then she was diagnosed with cancer, and that became the topic of most of her writing. Still, her spirit shone through in every post, despite the struggles with treatment, the brief remission and finally the acceptance of her upcoming death.  I won’t even try to explain how much I valued her blog, because I don’t have her eloquence.  I’ll only say her posts were a gift that I very much appreciated.

My regular readers know that I volunteer as a dog walker at our local shelter three times a week.  It’s very satisfying to help shelter dogs, but it can also be very draining, both physically and emotionally.  Those of us who spend a lot of time in shelters develop close friendships, probably because we support each other through the hard times.  One of the people I leaned on the most was an adoption counselor named Sherry.  She always listened to us, answered our questions, and offered comfort and encouragement when we needed it.  She was usually cheerful and upbeat, and known to break into an impromptu dance when she thought the occasion warranted it…and the occasion almost always did.

Sherry was in the middle of her own battle with cancer when my husband was diagnosed.  And even though she’d retired from the shelter and was undergoing very difficult treatments, she called me at least once a week to ask how my husband was doing.  They had the same kind of cancer, so her advice was on target and very helpful.  The many, many, people who knew her were devastated when Sherry passed away.   I was amazed at the sheer number of heartfelt tributes that appeared on social media, and I’m suer that was just a fraction of the people she’d helped in her life.

I honestly believe that people like Martha and Sherry are examples to us all.  They weren’t perfect, and didn’t pretend to be.  But they shared the best of themselves with others, each in her own way.  Whether it was  in the blogging world or the shelter world, they helped others with their openness, their wisdom and most of all their generous spirits.  They were the kind of people who light the way for others who are sometimes still stumbling in the dark.  May their light shine on forever…….

Memorable

My husband and I eat out more than we should, but we rarely visit a restaurant more than once or twice a month.  I honestly don’t think there’s anything about either one of us that is particularly memorable, as we’re just your average sixty-something couple who enjoys a good restaurant meal.  So I’m always a bit surprised when the staff recognizes us, because I’m not exactly sure just what it is that would make us stand out from the dozens, if not hundreds, of other people they serve every month.  I mean, it’s not as if we’re bringing along our pet aardvark or something else that would attract undue attention.

Yet time and time again, the wait staff will greet us warmly and sometimes even remember what we like to order.  The first time this happened, I was with some former college friends, having our own little reunion five years after graduation.  We walked into the college bar we’d frequented as students and the bartender greeted us with, “Welcome back, ladies!  Having the usual?”  (That did startle me a bit, but I put it down as the result of a misspent youth.)

Sometimes it’s been rather touching, such as the time my husband and I returned to a restaurant we hadn’t eaten in since the pandemic started.  My husband got us a table while I made a quick stop in the restroom.  When I joined him, our old waitress brought over the menus and greeted us warmly.  I was impressed she’d remembered us, but then she looked at me and added, “It’s so good to see you!  When your husband walked in alone, we actually got a little teary.”  My husband battled cancer during the pandemic, so he weighed about fifty pounds less than he had when the staff last saw him.  I guess between him looking so gaunt and my absence, they thought we’d both contracted Covid and only he had survived.

We’ve puzzled about this, and the only thing we can come up with is that maybe we’re just good customers, restaurant-wise.  We eat out regularly, we’re always polite and friendly with the wait staff, and we try to tip well.  We’re patient when they’re short-staffed, and understanding when things don’t go perfectly.  Waiting tables is hard work, so maybe those who do it appreciate, and remember, the customers who treat them well.

And if you think about it, the same is true for almost every area where we  interact with other people.  We know how important it is to treat our friends and family well, but I believe it’s just as important to treat everyone we come into contact with well, as far as we are able.  A bit of patience, a friendly word, or even an encouraging smile seem like such little things….but the truth is, people notice them.  And often, that’s also what they remember.

Vindication

I’ve been telling Mom and Dad for years that rain and storms are dangerous, but they wouldn’t believe me.  They think they know better, just because I’m a dog.  Whenever I felt the atmosphere begin to change (and like most dogs, I can sense that well before the first raindrop appears), I’d whine, shake and pace anxiously to warn them of the impending danger.  When that didn’t work, I’d jump up on the couch next to them, or even on the table if that’s where they were sitting, in an effort to get their attention.  All that got me was a sharp, “Get down!” while they pushed me off.

Even when the storms actually hit, they’d pretend everything was okay.  It could be pouring rain outside, with the sky lit up with lightening and deafening booms of thunder, and Mom and Dad would basically just go about their business, ignoring it all.  Even worse, they wanted ME to ignore it!  “You’ll be fine, Finn,” they’d say.  “It’s nothing but a little rain and thunder.”  Now I know that my parents are mostly smart people, but when it comes to bad weather, they have absolutely no clue.

So I have to admit that I feel just a little bit vindicated after the past week.  We had THREE bad storms in the past seven days, and all of them resulted in some rather serious flooding in our area.  Unlike many others, our house escaped damage, so we were lucky.  But our driveway turned into a raging river with several inches of rain pouring down it, and we even had white caps where it meets the street.  Trash cans floated by and disappeared behind a neighbor’s house, and all the while the water crept closer and closer to us.

Mom says we’re lucky that our house sits up high, but even that didn’t help last night, when fifty-mile an hour winds drove the rain right against our house and the upstairs bathroom window started leaking all over the floor.  Mom seemed very unhappy about that, but not nearly as unhappy as she was later, when Dad used her best towels to stuff into the window to keep more water from coming in.  And today there are many streets in our neighborhood that are still closed because of the flooding damage and the trees that blew down in the high winds.

“See?” I want to tell my parents. “I was right!  Storms are VERY dangerous!”  I’d like to believe that when the next storm comes, they’ll be a bit more sympathetic to my fear.  And then maybe they’ll join me when I take precautionary measures, like going to high ground in case of flooding.  (The dining room table is ideal for that, and there’s room for all three of us on it.)  I know perfectly well that being frightened out of your wits and trying to find a safe place is the only logical response to bad weather, and maybe, just maybe, Mom and Dad have figured that out now too.

But I guess only time will tell if they’ll react appropriately when the next storm hits.  And the one thing that all  of us agree on is that we don’t want the chance to find that out for a long, long time.

Love, Finn

Travel Plans

I had such high hopes for this Summer.  Last year’s Summer was a bit of a dud, what with my husband spending most of it recovering from two surgeries.  The weather had been good and the Covid numbers down, but we simply couldn’t take advantage of it.  I’m not looking for sympathy, I’m just explaining why my expectations for this year were so high.  I wanted to truly enjoy this Summer, spending as much time as possible outside and taking several trips to exciting new destinations.  I wanted to make up for everything we missed out on last year, and then some.

But that isn’t what happened.  It’s not fun to be outside when the temperatures creep above 100 degrees, especially when that’s coupled with high humidity.  Sometimes it cools down enough that we can be outside later in the evening, but it’s often rather brutal during the day .  And while we did schedule a few trips, none of them are to places I haven’t already been.

At first I was a little put out when I realized that this wasn’t going to be the Summer I finally got to explore the Pacific Northwest, visit the Grand Canyon, or discover some charming New England coastal towns.  I really wanted to go to all those places, and more, but by the time we had scheduled our trips to Iowa, Kansas and Indianapolis, our schedule was full.  I’ll admit that I had a, “what the heck happened to my plans?” moment when I realized our travel calendar had filled up without including any new destinations.  But then I thought about it some more and realized that we had some very good reasons for our choices.

We were not going anywhere new or exciting, but our destinations were still important.  We went to Iowa to visit my husband’s family, and it have been over two years since we’d been there, what with Covid and health issues.  We spent time with almost all of our relatives there, and few things are more important than spending time with family.  Then we went to Kansas to visit dear friends and I was also able to reconnect with old classmates in the small town where I went to Middle School and High School.  After the challenges of the last two years, catching up with old friends and classmates just felt right.

I think it was ten years ago when my daughter gave me a mother/daughter trip to Indianapolis for my birthday gift, and while I was there, I realized my husband would enjoy the attractions of downtown Indianapolis very much.  I gave him a coupon for a couple’s weekend there several Christmases ago, but we never found the time for it.  So that’s where we’re going next month, because we’ve put it off long enough. It will be a new destination for him, and a relaxing weekend for both of us.

I still have a huge list of places I want to visit.  But sometimes, it’s more important to use our vacation days traveling to spend time with the people, both family and friends, who mean the most to us.  And it’s especially important after two years when getting together with those people has been almost impossible.  Of course I still want to visit all the fun destinations on my list, but I also know that when it comes right down to it, people are more important than places….and I know we made the right choice.

Try Again…

My mother turned 90 two years ago, but we never did have the big party we’d planned to celebrate. We were going to invite all her family and friends, because we believed that reaching 90 years of age was a big deal, and should be celebrated in a big way.  But then Covid showed up, and Mom’s birthday celebration was added to the long list of things the pandemic ruined.  We thought we’d just wait a year and throw her a big 91st birthday party instead.  But that didn’t happen either, because my husband was in the hospital on her birthday, and for many days afterwards.

Sadly, Mom has now reached the point where the big celebration we had hoped to throw would just overwhelm her.  So last Sunday,  I was going to host a birthday party for immediate family and a few close friends.  But then a family member was exposed to Covid, and we knew that having the party as scheduled was not a good idea.  Mom settled for dinner with two of her daughters and son-in-laws, and she seemed fine with that.

Yesterday, I was planning to go to a metro book fair that I hadn’t been to in three years.  It’s an excellent source for good books at very reasonable prices.  But as I was pulling out of our driveway I noticed that our dog was outside in our yard.  At first I wasn’t worried, since my husband was home and I figured he’d let Finn back inside soon.  But it was 102 degrees outside, and our yard doesn’t have much shade.  The further I got from home, the more I worried, so I finally pulled over and called my husband, just to be sure he’d brought Finn in.  My husband didn’t answer, not that time or the five other times I called. I even called some neighbors, but no one was home.

I know my husband is very responsible, and I really wanted to go to this book fair.  But I was also worried about my dog.  By the time I got to the book fair, I knew I couldn’t stay, so I simply drove back home.  The dog, of course, was inside the house, sleeping peacefully.  I almost decided to just stay home and forget the whole thing, but I didn’t.  I drove all the way back to the fair, and spent a very pleasant afternoon browsing through the books.

It’s hard to plan things these days and, it can sometimes seem almost pointless to count on anything happening when we want it to.  It can be tempting to simply stop trying.  But that’s no way to live.  Sometimes we need to be both stubborn and flexible, willing to reschedule and be patient in order to get what we want.  Sometimes, persistence really is the key.

We have a new date set for Mom’s birthday party, but if we have to, we’ll reschedule again, until it happens.  And it took a lot of time and effort to get to the book fair this year, but it was worth it.  I had fun, and came home with a big bag of new books to read.  As the old saying goes, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again……”

Success!

Every once a in a while, something happens to restore my faith in human nature.  Usually, something rather simple, like an unexpected act of kindness.  Rarely does it have anything to do with the internet, which usually frustrates me, or social media, which far too many people use as an excuse to let their inner bully come out to play.  But much to my surprise, this time what gave me a much-needed burst of optimism was the combination of the internet and social media that is the WordPress community.

A couple of weeks ago, I began having trouble commenting on other blogger’s posts.  Then last weekend, I found I could no longer reply to comments on my own post without logging in again (complete with password) each time.  I exchanged tons of emails with the Word Press help staff as we tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to fix the problem.  When I discovered I could still write a post, I wrote two short posts just to let my readers know what was going on.  I did that partly because I wasn’t at all sure I could keep blogging and didn’t want to simply disappear without letting anyone know why.  But if I’m honest, I was also hoping that maybe one of my fellow bloggers had suffered from a similar problem and was willing to share the solution.  I thought it was a long shot, but worth the try.

The response was more than I could have possibly hoped for.  The tips and suggestions were plentiful and very helpful.  For the first time, I began to believe that my blog really would be fixed, which was a huge relief.  But what really lifted my spirits was seeing how many people I know only through my blog were willing to take the time to try to help me get my blog back on track.  Some offered repeated suggestions, even providing helpful links.  One woman (thank you, Margy!) even chatted with a Word Press tech on my behalf and reported back the answer.  I was amazed at how generously people gave  their time and knowledge to help, without expecting anything in return.

Sometimes blogging seems to demand too much of my time, and every once in a while, it feels like a chore.  But I’ve always stuck with it because I valued the creative outlet writing my blog provides, and I also valued the relationships I’ve developed with other bloggers from all over the world.  And now I know for sure that blogging is worth the effort, because it shows me, repeatedly, just how most good people really are.

The last email I received from the Word Press techs (aka “Happiness Engineers,” but it’s hard to say that with a straight face) provided the answer I needed to get my blog up and running properly again.  Thank you, Paulo.  It has something to do with enabling cross tracking, which I didn’t completely understand but my son did, and he explained it to me.  I’m sure that I’ll eventually encounter other problems, but that’s okay.  Because I’m part of the Word Press community, and we have each other’s backs.