A Fresh Start

When the pandemic first hit, I hated hearing people say, “things will never be normal again.”  It seemed to be such a pessimistic view, and predicted a future I didn’t want to face.  I didn’t want to live the rest of my life in fear of a virus, and honestly, I resented the suggestion that I would have to do just that.  It was almost as bad as people saying they didn’t mind the lock downs because they liked staying home.  I like to stay home too, but there’s a huge difference between choosing to stay home and having to stay home.

Now I realize I probably misunderstood what people were saying.   I think they really meant that our lives would never be exactly the same as before.  And that, of course, is true.  Many people lost loved ones, others lost their livelihoods, and everyone discovered just how quickly life can change for the worse.  I don’t know that I’ll ever feel truly comfortable in a crowded room again, or trust that I can find everything I need at the store.  The past three years have changed me.  But the good news is, not all of those changes are bad.

Before the pandemic, I left my house regularly to run errands, shop, go to work, etc., and never once thought, “Is this outing worth the risk?” If I wanted or needed to go somewhere, I simply went.  But after March 2020, I began to think carefully before venturing out of my house.  Suddenly, I knew exactly what my priorities were (caring for my grandson, helping shelter dogs, shopping for necessities) and what commitments and activities I was willing to give up.  Living through the pandemic helped me better distinguish between what I need and what I want.

And when gathering with my friends and relatives became potentially dangerous, I quickly learned which relationships I was willing to put on hold and which ones were too important to live without.  My immediately family became my “social bubble,” but I was very intentional about staying in touch with friends and extended family through phones calls, texts, and e-mails.  (I never did figure out how to work Zoom.)  I may not have been able to enter my Mom’s apartment, but I dropped off provisions and later, meet her outside for a socially-distanced visit.  Nothing emphasizes how much people mean to us more than the thought of having to live without them.

In this post-vaccination world, I’m back to doing many of the things I did before Covid hit.  But the truth is, I’m really not the same person I was three years ago.  I always wondered how I’d handle a crisis, and now I know. (My husband’s cancer diagnosis in June 2020 was a part of that lesson.)  I’m more willing to try new things.  I have a better sense of my true priorities, and I think I can see both my strengths and weaknesses more clearly.  And those are all good changes.  Sometimes, “not going back to normal” isn’t such a bad thing after all….

It’s Only Fair

I’ve always known that life isn’t fair.  I could give hundreds of examples, but I’ll stick to the one that bothers me the most: the rules for using household furniture.  Just because I’m a dog, I’m not allowed to use any of it. I’m supposed to stay on the floor at all times, and if I want to take a nap, I have to choose between my dog bed and my dog crate.  Both are quite comfortable, but the point is that our house is loaded with comfortable furniture and I’m forbidden to use any of it.

Yet the human members of my family can use whatever they want.  Mom loves to read in her favorite chair, and she sleeps in a bed upstairs that has plenty of room for me to join her and Dad if they’d let me.  (Which they do not.)  Dad falls asleep on the family room couch all the time, especially when he’s watching TV at night.  And both of them sit down to eat at a table, yet I have to stand in the kitchen, eating out of my supper dish on the floor.  There’s nothing fair about this at all!

Luckily, I’m a smart dog, and I know I actually can get up on the furniture as long as I only do it when my parents aren’t home.  I also know I’ve got it pretty good, despite the disparity in household privileges.  I have a home, after all, with parents and extended family who love me, a house, a yard, steady meals and regular walks.  And what’s most unfair of all is that so many animals don’t have what I do.

But before I was adopted, I lived in two different animal shelters, and that wasn’t an easy time. It was better than being a stray or living with people who neglected or abused me, but it still wasn’t easy.  Dogs who live in shelters spend most of their time alone in a cage, with little human interaction.  It’s very stressful, because it’s noisy during the day (stressed dogs tend to bark a lot) and we can also sense the fear of the dogs who have just arrived and aren’t yet sure they’re in a safe place.  Often people walk by our cages without even looking at us, no matter how much we try to get their attention.  Or they look at us and then simply move on, which is sort of soul-crushing.

To make matters worse, all across the country, animal shelters are both full of animals and short on the staff and volunteers needed to take care of them.  And that’s really sad, because trust me, those are the people who make living at a shelter bearable.  The staff who feed us, clean our cages and give us medical care; the volunteers who give us attention and walks, and the people who donate toys for us to play with are so important to the well being of shelter animals.  Of course, the most important people are the ones who actually adopt us.

So I’m making a simple plea for help for all the animals still living in a shelter.  If everyone just did something, whether adopting a homeless animal, volunteering at a shelter, donating money, or simply dropping off their old linens and newspapers, it would make a HUGE difference!  Life may not be fair, but by working together, we can make it better….

Love, Finn

Fresh and New

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, mostly because I can’t seem to keep them.  I used to resolve to lose a little weight, spend less time worrying about things I can’t control, take better care of myself, and eat a healthier diet.  Secretly, I’d also hope that the new year would be the one where my writing career finally took off, and I’d get a nice big contract for one of the children’s book manuscripts I was trying to get published. 

Sadly, none of those things actually happened, at least for very long.  I’d diet for week or so, and then go right back to my love affair with all things sugary or fried.  I’d still worry far too often about far too many things.  The only children’s book I ever managed to publish was sold to an educational publisher for a one-time payment of $2,100…..and the check came three months late.  (If you Google “rich and famous children’s book authors,” my name does not appear on your screen.)

Still, there is something about a new year that feels like a fresh start.  It’s not that the previous year was a bad one, because in my case, it wasn’t.  I was able to travel again, which meant visiting friends and family I haven’t seen since before the pandemic began. My husband’s scans and blood tests revealed the wonderful news that his cancer is still gone.  We finally got the floor in our back family room leveled, and my husband began his partial retirement just last month.  (Never mind the fact that so far, he seems to believe that being partially retired means working lots of overtime.)  

But whether the previous year was good, bad or a mixture of the two, starting a new year always seems like a good thing. I see my house with new eyes once the Christmas decorations are packed away, and I always recognize a few things I’d like to change.  And while I might not make major changes to my diet, once the holidays are over I do stop having Christmas cookies for dessert after every meal.  I no longer write children’s books, but I do write a blog (yes, the one you’re reading) and I’ve come to enjoy that very much.  I don’t get paid, but it is a creative outlet and it’s put me in touch with some wonderful people from all over the world.

So instead of resolutions, I’ve decided to start the new year by simply appreciating whatever gifts the previous year brought and being willing to make at least small adjustments that could result in a better year ahead.  It’s my way of trying to embrace the best of the old and carry it on into the new year, while letting go of the things that it’s time to leave behind.  Because a new year can represent a chance to look at things in a new way, without all the baggage we accumulate through the years.  I guess that’s what “seeing through the eyes of a child” means….  

Happy New Year, everyone!

The Little Things

I tripped over my slippers a couple of weeks ago and injured my big toe.  I wasn’t sure if it was broken or merely sprained, but since the treatment for both is basically the same, I didn’t go to urgent care to find out.  I figured it wasn’t worth spending an hour or two in a waiting room surrounded by Covid, RSV and flu germs just to be told to stay off my foot, elevate it and apply ice.  Honestly, I didn’t think injuring a toe was a big deal.

Turns out, I was wrong. Although the swelling was minimal, I couldn’t comfortably wear most of my shoes or even my slippers.  And not being able to put weight on my big toe meant I couldn’t walk normally, which caused my back and other parts of my foot to hurt if I walked too much.  That meant I couldn’t do my regular volunteer shifts walking dogs at the local shelter, had to choose my outfits based on my limited footwear, and in general plan my life around what my injured toe did and did not allow me to do.  I felt guilty, annoyed and frustrated, not to mention embarrassed when I begged off commitments because “I tripped over my slippers and hurt my toe.”  I considered wrapping my ankle and claiming I’d sprained it rescuing a small child from a burning house, but I’m not that good of a good liar.

The good news is my toe is finally starting to heal, and I’m no longer limping very much.  I’m back at the shelter, but sticking to walking small dogs that don’t pull, and the list of shoes I can wear without pain is growing steadily.  I believe it won’t be too much longer before I can resume my normal life, and that gives me some much-needed hope.

I learned many things from the past two years, but one of the most important lessons was the importance of hope.  Dealing with hard times for the short-term is one thing, but when you don’t see any “light at the end of the tunnel,” it’s very, very hard to keep your spirits up.  Believing that things will eventually improve, one way or another, really is essential to our emotional heath.

I think about that when I sit in church, enjoying a Christmas concert, or dine with good friends in our favorite restaurant.  There was a time when such things weren’t possible, and yet I’m doing them again.  In the past year, I’ve visited friends and family I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic started.  Covid and other viruses aren’t going away, but we are learning to control them with vaccines and better knowledge about how they spread.  That’s progress, and that gives me hope.

My beloved Sanibel Island is still severely damaged by the hurricane that hit three months ago, but it’s also beginning to recover.  Some stores and restaurants have reopened, and the island will be open to the public for day visits after the first of the year.  That’s a huge step forward, and it also gives me hope.

The truth is, there are signs of hope all around us, hidden among the world’s many problems.  We just have to be willing to look for them, and to recognize them when we spot them.  It’s true that those signs of hope may be small and easy to dismiss, but trust me, the little things really do count….even something so small as a toe that is finally beginning to heal.

Room for Improvement

One of the downsides of buying “fixer-upper” houses is that they require a lot of work.  Over the years my husband has become adept at hanging dry wall, replacing basic plumbing fixtures, doing light carpentry, etc.  My job is usually painting and assisting, although once I surprised him by widening a doorway with my trusty crowbar.  (Sadly, my husband wasn’t impressed.)   But some jobs require a professional, and that’s when things get a little tricky.

The problem is while I love home improvement projects once they are finished, I hate the process of actually having the work done.  It’s not fun having to live with the noise and dust of demolition, and I’m not a fan of having workers in my house, no matter how nice or professional they are.  It never fails that if I get up extra early to be showered and dressed before the crew arrives, they don’t show up until around ten in the morning.  But if I dare to venture down into the kitchen to get my early morning Diet Coke, three carpenters are sure to come in the back door, calling out a cheerful “hello” while pretending not to notice I’m still in my pajamas.  You get to know the people who work in your house, but we don’t need to know each other quite that well.

Our latest project was supposed to be tearing out the carpet in the small family room off our kitchen, leveling a small section of the floor and laying down a new laminate floor.  What it turned into was the complete demolition of the entire floor (you could see the slab the room sits on), redoing most of the joists and then laying a new sub floor, laminate floor, baseboards and thresholds.  They also repaired some hidden holes in the exterior walls (we were wondering how a chipmunk got in our house).

None of this was easy.  I know because I could hear the workers complaining as they struggled to remove wood that was rock hard and nailed in with what seemed to be a thousand nails per square foot.  And just to make things extra fun, the nails were so old that the heads often came off when they were trying to pry them out.  I thought the worst was over when they began laying the new floor, but soon discovered that involved using the loudest nail gun I’ve ever heard.  And of course the sound of it terrified our dog Finn, who promptly took refuge on our antique and recently-refinished dining room table.

The project is just about complete as I write this, and the new floor really does look good.  It’s nice to know that the chipmunk entrance is now blocked off and new insulation has been installed.  A few hours with a good vacuum and a few dozen dust cloths should clean up the last of the mess, and then we get the fun job of moving our heavy furniture back into the room and finally placing my Christmas decorations where they belong.

Right now I’m swearing we’ll never tackle another home-improvement project, but I know that isn’t true.  Time has a way of making bad memories fade away, and eventually we’ll add that dormer to our bedroom I’ve been wanting for years.  All I ask is when that day comes, please ignore my whining and complaining.  Because no one likes to be reminded they really should have known better….

Anticipation

One of my favorite Christmas memories is picking out each year’s Christmas tree with my father.  We would go to a local tree lot, where he would find several trees that he thought would do nicely.  I, on the other hand, was in search of the perfect tree, and I didn’t believe it was a decision that could be rushed.  I inspected dozens of trees, often asking the assistants to hold them so I could step back and see them from every angle.  Sometimes we visited more than one lot, because none of the trees in the first lot were quite good enough.  And I have a vivid memory of him standing in the freezing drizzle, his crew cut  spiking from ice, holding a tree and saying, “I really think this one is good enough, don’t you?”  There was something in his tone that made me realize disagreement wasn’t an option.

These days, my husband I put up two Christmas trees.  The artificial one goes up in our living room the day after Thanksgiving, and the real one goes in our basement family room in early December.  When we were first married, my poor husband was dragged along from tree lot to tree lot as I searched for a tree that was exactly right.  One year we actually returned a live tree because we didn’t like the way it looked in our living room when we got it home.  From the look on the face of the woman who ran the tree lot, I’m pretty sure we’re the first customers who ever did that.

I think the reason I tried so hard to find the perfect tree was simply that I really love the Christmas season.  I love the decorating, the shopping, the baking and the gatherings.  Because I loved the holiday so much, I wanted everything about it to be perfect, starting with the tree.  But the truth is, no matter how hard I tried, I never…not even once….celebrated a perfect Christmas.  I’ve had some very nice Christmases, but never a perfect one.

And all these years later, I’ve finally realized that’s okay.  I’ve figured out I can still enjoy the holiday season, even with a tree that’s too short or too skimpy, with cookies that don’t look a thing like the picture in the recipe book, and even when a holiday gathering I’d looked forward to is cancelled.  Christmas can be quite nice even if my allergies are acting up and the dog decides to eat the gingerbread house I spent two hours decorating.

My very favorite church service of the entire year is the Christmas Eve candlelight service, but in 2020, no church was open. But that year my sister sent me a link to an online “service” her church had created and I loved it.  Turns out, watching “Silent Night” sung by candlelight is almost as good as being there.  And the year my entire family came down with a cold on Christmas Day wasn’t the disappointment I thought it would be.  We slept in, then gathered around the tree to open presents.  It was a subdued celebration, and we went through an entire box of tissues that morning, but it was still special.

So yes, I’m looking forward to Christmas this year, but no, I’m not expecting it to be perfect.  I know gift receipts will be lost, someone in the family will get sick, schedules will have to be reshuffled, and tempers will frayed.  But through all the messiness of real life, the joy of Christmas will still be there…..and that’s good enough for me.

Ever Onward

They say “time flies,” and that’s the truth.  And maybe it’s just me, but it seems that not only is time speeding by at an alarming rate, but it has brought more change with it than I ever thought possible.  It’s been almost eight years since I started this blog, and the changes that have occurred in those eight years alone amaze me. And I’m not just talking about the changes I see when I look at my stat page.

On the family front, both my son and daughter got married and became parents, which means we’ve added three precious grandchildren to our family.  Realizing I was old enough to be a grandmother was a bit of a shock, but the first time I laid eyes on my newborn grandson, I happily accepted my new role.  (Even though my requests to have my grandchildren refer to me as “Wise One” or “Goddess of Youth and Beauty” were ignored.  I’ve learned to make do with “Gramma.”)  My husband was diagnosed with colon cancer, went through the treatments and now enjoys remission.  We lost our great-nephew, a wonderful and much-loved young man, suddenly and unexpectedly.  My mother moved into a retirement home, which required considerable downsizing of a lifetime’s accumulation.  We said goodbye to our beloved Lucy, the smartest dog I have ever known, and welcomed Finn into our home.  Anyway you look at it, that’s a lot of change in a short time.

The changes in my blogging world aren’t nearly so personal, but they are plentiful.  My blog grew in unexpected ways, as I branched out from writing just about middle age and connected with people all over the world.  Some blogging friends and regular readers have faded away, but new ones have taken their place.  I’ve learned, mostly, to keep up with the constant changes that Word Press makes, although I’m still managing to avoid using the “block editor.”  (I’ve taken many writing courses, and not one of them mentioned “blocks.”) And sometimes I let my dog, Finn, write a guest post on the subject of his choice.  So yes, my blog has changed a bit in the past eight years.

I know that the upcoming years are going to bring even more changes, probably at an even faster rate.  My husband will go into partial retirement at the end of this month, and my oldest grandchild will begin kindergarten next year.  After over twenty years of walking shelter dogs, I’m recognizing that my body is now forcing me to pick and choose which dogs I walk.  Although my mom is still in good health, she’s reached the stage of her life where her need for assistance is steadily growing.  I also know that the time is coming, sooner than I’d like to admit, when I’ll be the one in the retirement home…..

`So I’m responding to all this in the only way that makes sense:  I’m accepting it.  In some ways, I also embrace and welcome the changes that life has brought.  (Did I mention my adorable grandchildren?)  Other changes, like the growing arthritis in my thumbs, I’d gladly do without.  But I know that the future will bring plenty of joy to offset the challenges, and that the key to aging well is to simply live as well as you can, each and every day.  And that’s exactly what I intend to do.

The Color Purple

November has always been a tough month for me.  For one thing, I seem to be allergic to it, because I honestly can’t remember the last time I enjoyed good health during November.  At the very least, I get a runny nose and post-nasal drip, which causes a sore throat and general crankiness.  Some years I also get an ear and/or sinus infection but I’ve managed to avoid that this year…so far.

But my issues with November aren’t just physical.   I hate how it gets dark just a little bit earlier with each passing day, and how the bare the trees look once they shed their colorful leaves.  I don’t like having to rake up said leaves, especially since none of them are from trees in our yard.  And those of us with dogs know the leaves on our lawn can cover up all sorts of things that we’d rather not step in, and yet I do, almost every time I go outside.  I typically host our family’s Thanksgiving dinner, so I also stress over planning the menu and figuring out where I stored my big turkey-roasting pan.

But this November has been particularly hard, because it included an election day.  Few things shake my faith in basic human decency more than an election.  I don’t mind people putting up yard signs for the candidate they plan to vote for, although I don’t really see the point.  If I want to vote for “candidate A,” I’m going to do so, even if I’ve seen fifty signs for “candidate B.”  Still, yard signs are a nice way to show support for your favorite candidate, because they don’t hurt anybody.

The problem I have with the election process is the unbelievably vicious and negative tone of the campaigns, and I’m not just talking about the TV ads or the circulars that get stuffed in my mail box every day.  Those are horrible, and my personal response is that after I’ve seen a few, I don’t want to vote for any of the candidates.   Not because I believe the bad things they are saying about their opponents, but because I don’t want to vote for anyone who tries to win by smearing their opponent.  And these days, that’s basically everyone.

Social media is worse.  I only do Facebook, thank goodness, but even then I see way more hateful memes that I can tolerate.  And the really bad thing is, it makes me think just a little bit less of the person who is posting.  I know politics is the ultimate “them and us” situation, and it’s easy to think winning justifies any amount of fear-mongering and mud-slinging, but it still gives me pause.  And not in a good way.

The elections are over as I write this, although there are a few races still “too close to call.”  I don’t know what the outcome will be, other than that approximately half the nation will be happy with the results and the other half will be unhappy.  But whether happy or not, those of us who live in the US are all still Americans.  And it’s way past time we learned to live and work together peacefully despite our differences.  Because we’re not a “Blue” nation or a “Red” nation.  We’re a mixture of the two, which can make for a very nice color indeed….

Getting Better

As my 92-year old mother often tells me, it’s hard to be old.  I may be almost thirty years younger, but trust me, I know what she’s talking about.  I’ve never been a vain person (or had reason to be), but never before has looking in a mirror resulted in quite so much shock and dismay.  It’s been years since I could read a book without a pair of reading glasses, but now I also need the glasses when I go shopping, because otherwise I can’t read the price tags and expiration dates.  And when I first started walking shelter dogs over twenty years ago, I was happy to walk any dog that needed to go out, no matter how strong or rowdy.  These days I gravitate toward the dogs that are smaller and calmer, desperately hoping that someone else will get to the mastiffs and rottweilers before my walking shift is over.

There was a time when I took my pants to the tailor to have the waistline taken in, because my waist has always been one size smaller than my hips.  Nowadays, I take my pants to the tailor only if I need them hemmed…..and that’s not because my hips have gotten smaller.  I could go on, but the list is too depressing.  I know all these physical changes are a normal part of aging, but that doesn’t always make them easier to accept.

Still, the part of aging I find hardest isn’t the loss of my youthful vigor or looks, but the loss of the many people, both family and friends, that I have known and loved.  I know I’m lucky to have my mother still in my life, as many of my friends have become the oldest generation in their immediate family.   But I still miss my father and my grandparents, and all the other people who passed away before I was ready to let them go.  Loss of loved ones is a part of aging that can be very hard to accept.

Thankfully, there is an upside to growing older, and that is that once we’ve reached the point where we have more years behind us than we do ahead, we’ve also had the time to learn a few things.  We’ve figured out just what a precious gift good health is, even if we can’t read the small print anymore.  We treasure our friends and family even more because we know they won’t be with us forever, and we also know how much we’ll miss them when they’re gone.  If we’ve been paying attention at all, we finally realize just how precious and fragile life really is, and that so much of the stuff we spend our time worrying and fretting about doesn’t matter in the least.

The good thing about aging is we often become more honest with ourselves and with others, daring to share our true selves with the world and allowing those around us to do the same.  We know how important it is to support each other through hard times, and we learn the value of overlooking so many of the things we’ve allowed to divide us.  If we let it, aging can actually bring out our best selves, which is always a good thing.  Even if we can’t actually see it in the mirror……