Trust Issues

Last week I was in the check-out lane at the grocery store, paying for my items in cash. The young man who was the cashier told me I owed $21.78, so I handed him a twenty and a five-dollar bill.  Normally the amount of change I would get back would come up on the computer screen for both of us to see, but he must have entered the wrong amount because according to the screen, I still owed him money.  Quite a lot of money, as a matter of fact.

“No problem.  I’ll figure out your change on this,” he said, whipping out his cell phone and pulling up his calculator app.  He tapped his phone’s screen a few times and then reached into his cash drawer and handed me $4.76.  I’m notoriously bad at math, but even I knew that $25.00 minus $21.78 doesn’t come to $4.76.

“I don’t think that’s right,” I told him.

“Sure it is,” he said.  And held out his phone to me as proof.  “See?”

And sure enough, it did say $4.76 on his screen.  But all that meant was that he had keyed in the wrong amount (again).  I was beginning to think that perhaps being a grocery store cashier was not the ideal job for this particular person.

But the more I thought about it, the more I believed that the real problem wasn’t his habit of hitting the wrong keys when typing in numbers.  The problem was that it never occurred to him to question the accuracy of the information provided by one of his devices. And that got me wondering about how often the rest of us accept whatever facts we get from our devices, instantly and without questions.

Like most people, if I want to find the answer to something quickly and easily, I just “Google it.”  And whatever answer Google comes up with, I believe.  Others, who are more up to date in their devices may also ask “Siri” or “Alexa.”  But honestly, how in the world do we know that Siri and Alexa know what they are talking about?

When home computers first became popular, we were often reminded that they are only as accurate as the information that is programmed into them.  And sometimes technology malfunctions, as anyone who has gotten hopelessly lost following incorrect GPS directions knows all too well.  I admit that I have no idea how Siri or Alexa actually work, or even how Google sifts through thousands of websites to decide which ones show up first on my screen.  But I think it’s a good idea to remember that no technology is infallible, “exhibit A” being Auto-correct and the way it can mangle the simplest of text messages.

Last month I was in Florida with a friend who wanted to hit the beach at low tide because that’s the prime time to find the best shells.  She Googled it, and found that low tide was going to be at 1:30 that afternoon.  At exactly 1:30 we arrived at the beach with our high hopes and empty shelling bags.  And found ourselves staring at a beach that was experiencing what is commonly known as a high tide.  We managed to find some decent shells, but I’m still thinking that someone needs to teach Google a thing or two about the Florida tide cycles.  Or next time, maybe I’ll play it safe and just ask one of the locals.

Look For It

IMG_1907One evening I was driving down the highway, my mind busy with its usual jumble of thoughts and concerns, when I came over the top of a hill and suddenly realized that I was driving straight into a spectacular sunset.  It was just gorgeous, complete with a fiery red sun that radiated streaks of color across the sky as it dipped slowly into the horizon.  I remember being surprised, because I have always associated beautiful sunsets with beach vacations, where the highlight of my day is often standing on a beach and watching the sun sink into the ocean.  I couldn’t quite remember the last time I’d noticed a sunset in my hometown of St. Louis, since my house sits too low to see either sunsets or sunrises.  And yet there it was:  a sunset just as spectacular as anything I’ve ever witnessed on a beach vacation, even without the ocean.

Simply put, the sunset surprised me because I wasn’t looking for it.  When I drive on the local highways, I’m watching for bad drivers, traffic jams and the upcoming exit I need.  I may even be keeping an eye out for an interesting billboard.  But I am most definitely not expecting to see a sunset….even though the sun does set in St. Louis every night, just as it does all over the world.

I believe that all too often, we tend to see just exactly what we are looking for, no more and no less.  Which means that if we are looking for signs that the world is a horrible place and becoming worse by the moment, we will see them.  If we are looking for rejection in our relationships, contempt from people who are different from us, and incompetence from coworkers, we will see it.  Because sometimes those things are there.  But if we look for acts of kindness and compassion, for creative solutions to long-term problems, for areas where the world around us is actually improving, we will see those things as well.  Because the good things are also there, but we have to be willing to see them.

I spend my days volunteering at an open-admission animal shelter which rescues unwanted, neglected and abused animals on a daily basis.  Sometimes I see and hear things that make me doubt in the basic goodness of the human race.  But if I choose to look for it, I also see things that warm my heart:  people who take the time to bring in the stray and lost dogs they see wandering the streets, people who donate supplies and give so freely of their time and money, or a once-neglected dog prancing happily out the door with his new adoptive family.  Usually, the mood I am in when I go home from the shelter depends entirely upon what I choose to focus on when I’m down there.

Just like my surprise urban sunset, there is beauty to be found in almost any situation, even during those times when it is least expected.  And I hope that I always remember to just look for it……

Too Much Information

Sometimes I think I’m a terrible friend.  Don’t get me wrong, I care about each and every friend I have, deeply and sincerely.  I know I’m lucky to have them in my life and what a gift those relationships are.  But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m nowhere near the kind of friend I want to be, and that bothers me.

Last weekend my husband and I went to dinner with a couple of very good friends we have known for more years that I care to count.  We had a great time, eating good food and catching up on what was going on in each other’s lives.  It was a fun evening and one I thought had gone very well, until after I was home and it hit me that I had not once asked my friend about how her sister was doing.  The sister who had been fighting a very serious cancer and who, the last time I actually remembered to ask, was still struggling to fully recover.

All too often, that’s exactly the kind of friend I am:  the one who doesn’t remember to ask the important questions.  The one who doesn’t always manage to keep track of what is going on in her friends’ lives, which means I’m also the one who sometimes doesn’t give the kind of support that her friends need and that I really, really want to give them.

I know what the problem is, and it’s not a lack of compassion.  The problem is that I  don’t seem to have the ability to keep track of large quantities of information, no matter how important that information happens to be.  Like almost everyone else these days, I’m constantly bombarded with information that needs to be acknowledged, processed and categorized so that it can be retrieved when needed.  But in my case, the information is usually misfiled somewhere in the depths of my tiny little brain.

I can remember what I want to ask someone about until that person is actually standing in front of me, or I’m talking to them on the phone.  That’s the exact moment that I can remember only that I need to schedule a vet appointment for my dog, get a flu shot, take our passports back to the safety deposit box, and drop some food off at my mother’s house.  Later, when I’m standing in my basement trying to remember what I went down there for, I’ll remember that I want to ask about a good friend how her recent job interview went.  (Not that I’ll actually ask her, since she’s not standing in my basement at that exact moment.)

I worry that my over-stretched memory means that my friends and family must think I am self-centered, and worse, that I don’t really care about what is going on in their lives and that they can’t count on me for support when they need it.  The truth is, I couldn’t possibly care more, and I am always ready to give any kind of help that they need.  But it’s also true that they might need to remind me that they need that support.

I suppose the fact that I actually have friends means that there are people in this world who, if they don’t always understand me, or at least willing to put up with me.  And for that I am deeply grateful.  I suppose the true test of any friendship is the ability to accept people for who they truly are, flaws and all.  And maybe it’s time I began to do that for myself as well.

The Perfect Vacation

My husband and I just returned from a fun week spent vacationing with some good friends.  We rented a home in Florida that was within walking distance to the beach.  The weather was warm and mostly sunny, and we had great time just relaxing and exploring the area with our friends.  It was the sort of vacation that my husband and I will be talking about for a long time, and I’m sure my friends will be talking about it as well.   But the thing is, I strongly suspect that we won’t be saying exactly the same things.

IMG_2990My husband and I will talking about how nice it was to walk to the beach, how much we enjoyed getting a break from what has been an extremely cold winter and how much more relaxed we feel after a week away from everything.  I’m sure our friends would agree with all that, but I still think their conversation about the past week would go something more like this:

Him:  “Did you notice that they vacuumed the floors four times?”

Her:  “They also did a load of laundry every single day.  Who vacuums and does laundry on vacation?”

Him:  “Apparently, they do.  The way they kept the kitchen so spotless should have warned us.  I barely finished my coffee before they whisked the cup away and stuck it in the dishwasher.”

And the thing is, all of it would be true.  I remember pulling into the driveway of a vacation house one year and seeing my husband up on a ladder, washing the living room windows.  When I asked him about it, he said he didn’t want to spend his vacation looking out dirty windows.  Later that week, we were sitting in a beach bar chatting with some of the locals, and I mentioned the window cleaning story.  After a brief and stunned silence, several of them offered us their business cards, telling us that they had wonderful vacation properties that they were quite sure we would love to rent.

The simple fact of the matter is that my husband are the ideal renters.  When we check out of any kind of vacation rental, the condo or house is usually much cleaner than it was when we checked in.  And if something was broken when we checked in, you can bet that it’s been fixed when we check out.  Sometimes I think that the property owners should be paying us to stay in their properties, but unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.  We’ve never even been offered a discount.  The world is still an unfair place in so many ways.

I know our habit of cleaning and tidying while on vacation is, to say the least, unusual.  (I’ve even been known to vacuum hotel rooms when I can talk the staff into lending me one.)  But vacationing is all about doing what makes us happy, and my husband and I are happiest when we are staying somewhere clean and tidy, even if that means we have to do a bit of that cleaning ourselves.  And if we happen to be vacationing with friends or family, it also gives them a vacation experience that they’ll be talking about for quite some time.

By Any Other Name

As my regular readers know, I recently became a grandmother.  I promised myself that I would not become one of those women who talked constantly about their new grandchild, pausing only long enough to thrust photos of the baby into the hands of everyone I met.  I absolutely wasn’t going to keep blathering on about my new grandson in my blog, because I’ve always tried to write about a variety of topics so my readers don’t get too bored.  I was going to exercise self-restraint and common sense as I stepped into this new role of mine and only mention the new addition to our family when he did something truly newsworthy, like winning a Nobel Prize or discovering a cure for cancer.

Yeah, right…..  I have always written about what happens to be on my mind at the time I’m creating a new blog post.  And these days, what is on my mind is my new grandson.  All my good intentions lasted for less than a day.

Which brings me (finally) to the point of this post.  Ever since news got around that I not only look old enough to be a grandmother but that I’ve actually become one, people have been asking me what I’m going to be called.  When I was a child, we all just called our grandmothers “grandma,”  but nowadays we get to choose how our grandchildren we refer to us.  I know people who have come decided to go by Mimi, Nana, Me-ma, etc.  Those are good names, but none of them sound quite right for me.   And as long as I get to pick a name, why not pick something that I’d really like to be called?

Maybe I could get my grandson to refer to me as the “Wise One,” since age is supposed to bring wisdom and I’m not exactly young anymore.   Or, as long as I’m picking names that have no grounding in reality, I could be called “Goddess of Beauty and Youth.”  That has a nice ring to it, I think.   Or I could just go for the gold and have him call me “Wonder Woman.”  That sort of covers everything I aspire to.

Sadly, I have a feeling that by the time my grandson is old enough to pronounce any of the names I’d really like to be called, he’s also going to be old enough to roll his eyes while he’s saying them.  So I think I’ll just stick with tradition and go with “Grandma.”  It’s short, easy to remember and pronounce, and face it:  it’s what I am now.  But mostly it’s a title that I’m more than happy to claim.

A New Chapter

Life is often called a journey, and I think that is true.  But I’m an avid reader and also a writer, which means that when I think of my life, I tend to picture it more as a book.  Just like life, books have definite beginnings and endings.  The interesting part is what happens in between and the story is usually divided into specific chapters.  My life’s “chapters” are the highlights of my story, such as graduation, marriage, my first job, the birth of my children, etc.  And now I am beginning yet another chapter, because two days ago my daughter gave birth to her first child and I became a grandparent.

04-RWAR-26Many of my friends already have grandchildren, and they did their best to tell me just how special it is.  And I believed them, I really did.  But I still totally unprepared for the absolute joy and wonder I felt when I first saw my brand-new grandson.  He seemed like nothing less than a tiny little miracle.  And just as I did with my own newborn babies all those years ago, I fell in love with him, immediately and absolutely.

He’s not even a week old yet, so the role of grandparent is still new to me and I don’t really quite know what to expect.  I hope he will always know how much I love him and that he can always count on me.  I want to be the sort of grandmother who enriches his life, and maybe gets the chance to spoil him, just a little bit.  I’ve heard that what grandparents are supposed to do.

I see so much of my daughter in him already, and when I look at my son-in-law, I have no doubt that my grandson is blessed with a wonderful father and role model.   I hope they both know I’m always ready to offer my support as they adjust to parenthood, with all of its joys and all of its demands.  I know they are going to be terrific parents.

I’m not exactly sure what this next chapter of my life will bring.  But I have to tell you, I can’t wait to find out….

Sands Through the Hour Glass

Did another year really just pass?  I know it sounds cliche, but it honestly seems as if it wasn’t that long ago that we were welcoming 2017 and yet now we are bidding it goodby.  When did time begin passing at warp speed?  And more importantly, how do I slow it down, at least a little bit?

It’s not that 2017 was a year that I particularly treasured.  Like most years, it had its good points and its bad points.  I could have lived without the two root canals and the three new crowns (those hurt both my mouth and my wallet), and the less said about the numerous varicose vein treatments I endured, the better.  I wasn’t a fan of the summer drought and the damage that wrought on the local environment.  And one way or another, I said good-bye to a few dear friends whom I miss very much.

IMG_3571But 2017 also had it’s good points.  I enjoyed a fun beach vacation with my family, reconnected with some old friends I hadn’t seen in far too long, and got to experience an (almost) total solar eclipse.  My blog was featured on WordPress “Discover” which put me in touch with interesting and talented writers from all over the world.  But best of all, I got the wonderful news that a grandson is on his way and, if all goes well, he should be arriving soon.

Aside from the chance to finally be a grandmother, I really don’t know what 2018 will bring.  I’m sure it will be a mix of highs and lows, the same as almost every other year.  I’m equally sure that it will pass by quickly, or at least that it will seem that way to me.  I had always heard that the older we get, the faster time flies, but I guess I had to actually experience it before I believed it.

I learned long ago to stop trying to make New Year’s resolutions because I rarely manage to keep them.  But I hope, now that I’ve reached the point in my life when time is passing far too quickly, that I will remember to treasure the good times and the good things that do come my way.  I’d like to stop hurrying through a life that is already moving along faster than it should.  I want to try savor the moments and to live in the present, especially now that I realize just how quickly the present becomes the past.

Time may be moving more quickly for me, but that’s okay.  I still have time enough left to enjoy the people and the things that I love, and that’s good enough for me.

One More Christmas

IMG_2153We were sure that last year would be our dog Lucy’s very last Christmas.  She was fifteen years old, and had survived a couple of serious health issues.  Signs of her aging were obvious: stiffness in her joints, hearing loss, and worst of all, a digestive system that obviously could no longer handle the variety of “food” she still found and insisted on eating.  Lucy had been part of our family for over fourteen years, so our Christmas morning was a little bittersweet as all photographed and video-taped what we thought would be the last time she would ever help us open presents.

Clearly, Lucy had other ideas.  Because Christmas is a week away, and she is still with us.

I’m not sure if it’s her competitive nature (her doggie sister lived to be sixteen and a half, and I think she has every intention of exceeding that goal), or just that she is still enjoys life.  She turned sixteen last October.  Lucy’s hearing is basically gone, her eyes are somewhat cloudy and she can no longer balance on three legs while I trim her nails.  But she still has a healthy appetite, still trots briskly after the occasional squirrel, and still plays with her dog toys now and then.  She can even still chase her tail a little bit when she gets really excited about something,  such as her dinner being served.

I know that eventually my family will be facing a Christmas, and a life, without Lucy.  She won’t be with us forever despite her best efforts.  Time moves on and those we love, both human and otherwise, grow old and die…often before we are ready to let them go. And since Christmas is a time when the influence of the past seems to be stronger than usual, acknowledging that loss can be hard.

My father has been gone for eight years now, and both my mother-in-law and father-in-law have been gone for six years.  And while my husband and I miss them all the time, we miss them especially during the Christmas season, when the memories of the holidays we celebrated together are especially strong.  We didn’t live in the same state so we had to be flexible about when we got together, but they were always a part of our Christmas celebrations.  And Christmas isn’t quite the same without them.

Yet Christmas is still a beautiful season.  It’s a time to treasure the family and friends we still have and to appreciate the new people who join our family and enrich our lives. My mother may be in her late eighties, but she is still with us, and so is her elderly Chihuahua.  My children and their spouses live close by and we are very much looking forward to the arrival of our first grandson in just a few weeks.  Some change is good indeed.

And the fact that Lucy will get at least one more chance to find the special present that Santa Dog left under the tree will just make this Christmas that much sweeter.

The Best-Laid Plans

My schedule has been very hectic lately, which is why I was really looking forward to Saturday.  Saturday was the first day in over a week when I actually had a big chunk of free time, and I was planning to use it to get caught up on some of the things I still needed to do for Christmas.  I thought I’d get up early, hit a few stores before the crowds came out, and then go home to make a few batches of Christmas cookies and stash them in the freezer.  Afterwards, I planned to go out somewhere casual with my husband for a pizza dinner.   I planned to make Saturday both relaxing and productive, since I could move along at my own pace without having to keep a set schedule.  But things don’t always go according to plan.

My day started early when my mother called to say she was feeling very sick:  extremely dizzy and weak.  I hurried over to her house and ended up taking her to an Urgent Care Center, where they discovered that her heart rate was alarmingly low.  The doctor recommended we go to the Emergency Room of a nearby hospital for further tests and evaluation, and said she would probably be admitted to the hospital.  It’s scary when your elderly mother needs to go to the hospital, but she was putting on a brave face and so I did the same.  I drove her to the ER, where they did a few quick tests before putting her in a wheelchair to wait for the next available doctor.

Luckily, her condition seemed to improve with each passing hour.  When she told me to wheel her over to the receptionist’s desk so she could ask why it was taking so long for her to see a doctor, I knew she was feeling much better.  When she finally did see a doctor and she passed all her tests with flying colors, I became very hopeful, especially when he said she could go home.  And when she started singing along to the radio on the drive home, I knew she was going to be just fine.

The “relaxing and productive” Saturday I had planned turned out to be neither relaxing or productive.  And that meant the already busy schedule I had on Sunday became even busier.  But you know what?  It doesn’t really matter.  Both my mother and I got through a difficult day just fine, and we learned a few lessons along the way.  The most practical lesson was that she needs to remember to keep her Medicare card in her purse, because she needs it to be treated at an Urgent Care or Emergency Room.  But there were other, more important, lessons to be learned as well.

IMG_4369I learned that planning is a good thing, as long as I bear in mind the possibility that things can happen that blow my plans right out of the water.  I learned that my mother can exhibit a great deal of grace under pressure, and that she knows how to be brave when confronted with the possibility of a serious health issue.  I hope that she learned she can count on her family to help her in those times, because that is exactly what family is supposed to do.

Finally, I learned that there is no need to worry about the unexpected problems that pop up in our life, because we can’t predict when the bad stuff will happen or what form it will take.  It’s enough to know that when the hard times come, we will find the strength to cope and to do what we need to do.  Because life doesn’t always go according to plan…