Call me cheap, but on my recent trip to Ireland, I simply turned my phone off rather than risk paying enormous roaming charges while I was out of the country.  Like many people, I’ve grown very dependent on my cell phone, using it for phone calls, emails, texts and even taking and sharing photos.  I was a little nervous about going without my phone for so long  (what if there was an emergency and my family or the dog-sitter needed to reach me?), but my husband did have a phone that he could use to his check emails, and even make a (very expensive) emergency call if necessary.  So, as soon as we boarded the plane for Dublin, I turned off my phone, stuck it in the bottom of my purse, and vowed to just forget about it until I was back home.

I’d like to say that my phone stayed in the bottom of my purse for the entire time I was in Ireland, and that I always gave my full attention to that beautiful and interesting country.  But that wasn’t what happened.  I found myself reaching for it again and again, purely from habit, whenever I had a spare minute or two.  We’d board a train to travel to a new city, and as soon as we had settled into our seats, I’d reach in my purse and pull out my phone.  Then I’d remember that it was off and couldn’t be turned on, and quickly shove it back in my purse, hoping that nobody had noticed what I’d done.  I’d do the same thing when we were seated at a restaurant or pub, waiting for our food to come, and when we returned to our hotel room for a short break from sightseeing.  It was kind of embarrassing.

Eventually, as the week wore on, the fact that I was without a functioning cell phone finally sunk in.  I found myself not reaching for it anymore, or at least not as often.  And gradually, I not only got used to not having my phone turned off, I actually began to enjoy it.  True, my husband and I did exchange a few emails with our son and daughter on his phone (some connections are just too precious to break entirely) but otherwise, I was well and truly out of touch with my normal life connections. And I liked it.

IMG_0292I rediscovered how to just sit still and either think my own thoughts, or pay real attention to what was around me.  I spent the train rides staring out the window at passing countryside, admiring the stone fences, the quaint farmhouses and the little towns we passed through.  When we were stopping back at our hotel to change and rest, I’d actually close my eyes and rest for a few minutes, which did wonders for restoring my energy level.  And while waiting for our food at pubs and restaurants, I listened to the music, if there was any.  If there wasn’t, I spent the time actually talking to my husband, who was sitting so conveniently right across the table. I found myself both living in the moment and truly connecting with my environment, to an extent that I haven’t enjoyed in a long, long time.

Now that I’m back in the states, I have my phone turned back on. My time in Ireland didn’t entirely wean me off my cell phone habit, but it did make me see that I was letting my phone intrude into my personal life far too much.  So I’ve made the promise to myself to leave my phone in my purse, where it belongs, while I’m in the company of people I care about.  And I’ve vowed not to reach for it first thing in the morning, or when I’m just a little bored, or even when I feel conspicuous sitting among a group of people who are all staring at their phones.  Because truly, sometimes it’s better to be disconnected.

Why Are We So Angry?

376As anyone who knows me is well aware, I get confused very easily.  So the other afternoon when I was using the drive-up ATM near my favorite grocery store, I somehow managed to make a wrong turn, thereby exiting the parking lot through an entrance lane.  Before I could drive off, a woman in a large SUV pulled up in front of me and blocked my exit. She stayed there for a couple of minutes, glaring and saying angry words I couldn’t hear (and probably didn’t want to hear) before shaking her fist at me and then driving on past the entrance. Part of me was tempted to follow her and explain that it was an accident, but I knew that wasn’t a good idea.  What I didn’t get was why she didn’t simply let me make the turn out of the parking lot, which would have immediately cleared the way for her to enter.  I didn’t understand why it was so important to her to let me know just how wrong I was and how angry she was.  Whatever happened to days of just shaking our head and muttering “idiot” when we saw another driver doing something that was stupid, but not dangerous?

And it’s not as if the anger is limited to our driving time.  Recently, a post popped up on my Facebook feed in which a mother was complaining about how a boy on her daughter’s school bus was relentlessly teasing her daughter about her new glasses, which had her daughter coming home in tears.  Like any mother, I understood how painful it is to see your child’s feelings hurt, but I was still shocked at some of the responses to the post.  While most of them, sensibly, advised talking to the bus driver or school principal, several of them took it much further, calling the boy all sorts of nasty names and suggesting various types of revenge.  One person even advised that the girl “punch the boy in the face and kick him hard in the crotch.”  Seriously?  Adults advising one child to physically attack another child?

It seems that almost everywhere I look these days, I see frustration, anger and even outright aggression, and it’s more than a little depressing.  Road rage, parents screaming at umpires during Little League games, news accounts of violent protests and riots, etc. have almost become the norm.  The internet is full of “keyboard warriors” who happily attack anyone who dares to disagree with them, or who does something that they don’t approve of.  “Name and shame” has become a battle cry for those who feel the need to teach others a lesson, mostly for behaving in a way that they feel is not acceptable.  Sadly, there seems to be no shame in publicly attacking other people, and the irony of reacting to hatred with even more hatred is lost on far too many of us.

I don’t pretent to know why so many people are so angry.  And I don’t pretend that I don’t have angry moments myself.  But I do know that anger is rarely the answer to any problem, large or small.  And I know that while we may not be able to choose when we become angry, we most certainly can choose whether or not we act on that anger.  We can choose to express our anger, without any thought or consideration to the harm that it does, or we can choose to let our anger be the trigger that causes us to address an injustice in the kind of rational manner that might actually bring about change for the better.  Controlling our tempers is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of maturity and the willingness to work through our problems toward a productive result.

Sometimes, when we are upset, it really is better just to keep it to ourselves.  Because the world doesn’t need our anger, as it has more than enough anger already.  What the world needs is our patience, our understanding, our courage, and most important of all, our kindness.

Irish Travels

It always takes me a little while to “shift gears” when I return home even from a short trip, so it’s no surprise that I’ve been feeling a bit muddled since returning yesterday from my trip to Ireland.  I suspect I’ll be feeling the effects of jet lag for at least a couple more days, but I don’t mind.  The trip was more than worth it.

This was the first international trip my husband and I have been on that wasn’t organized by someone else, and we were a bit nervous about how everything would go.  (Even for domestic flights, we print multiple copies of our boarding passes and tend to show them to every airline staffer we see “just to make sure everything is okay.”  One of these days, someone is probably going to lose patience with us and reassign us to permanent seats in the lavatories.)  For our Ireland trip, we not only had a long international flight, but we were also traveling around the country by train and had made our own hotel reservations on-line.  That’s a huge step for a couple of “nervous travelers” (paranoid travelers) such as my husband and me.

IMG_0302Amazingly, everything went off without a hitch.  We visited Kilkenny, Dublin (where we stayed with a good friend who is temporarily living there) and Galway.  We used the Irish Rail system to get to each town, and since we stayed in the city centers of Kilkenny and Galway, we were able to walk to almost everything we wanted to see.  While in Galway, we booked a day trip to the Connemara area on one of those huge tour busses.  How the driver managed to maneuver it down the narrow country lanes, I’ll never know, but he did it expertly, stopping every now and then to let a sheep or two get safely across the road.

Almost everyone we ran in to was both pleasant and helpful, directing us when we made a wrong turn or answering our questions cheerfully.  The food in both the pubs and restaurants was delicious, although I was a little taken back when I first saw the baked beans on the breakfast buffet.  And after a long day of enjoying the sights, it was fun to sit  in a real Irish pub, sipping wine (I know, but I just don’t like beer, ale or lagers) and listening to music. The authentic Irish music was very good, but my favorite performer was the young man with a terrific voice who sang a huge variety of songs. Trust me, you haven’t really heard Johnny Cash’s “Walk the Line” until you’ve heard it sung in an Irish accent, with many of the locals singing along.

IMG_0223This trip was a first in many ways.  It was my first (but hopefully, not my last) trip to Ireland.  It was the first time I have depended on a train to travel from one city to another. It was the first time I saw sheep sporting big dabs of neon paint, used to distinguish which sheep belong to which farm.  It was the first time I rode a horse English style, which is something I have always wanted to do.  I don’t think I was particularly good at it, but the guide was helpful and the horse was patient, so it all worked out.  We even trotted through a rather busy roundabout on our way to the park, which was a definite first for me.

It may sound odd, but both my husband and I are feeling a bit proud of ourselves right now, having stepped out of our comfort zone and still managing to achieve a certain level of success.  And who knows?  Maybe the next time we fly somewhere, we’ll be daring and head to the airport with only one copy of our boarding passes.


A Short Break

I’ll be “off the grid” for the next twelve days, so I won’t be posting anything new, and I also won’t be able to read other blogs or comment on them.

While I am looking forward to a little time away from being constantly connected, I am also already looking forward to when I can get back to blogging again.  I have enjoyed writing my blog more than I ever thought I would, probably because it has reminded me of just how satisfying it can be to write just for fun, without worrying about earning a good grade or making a sale.  Writing my blog has also introduced me to all kinds of terrific people who are writing wonderful blogs, and I’m really going to miss reading those and interacting with my “blog friends.”

I appreciate your patience while I am unconnected, and look forward to reconnecting soon!

A New Perspective

When I was eighteen years old, I graduated from a small high school in Kansas and headed off to college in Iowa, and at the same time, my parents moved to a new home in Illinois.  I never moved back in with them, and for the next forty years, my parents and I lived in different states, usually several hours away from each other.  But when my father passed away nine years ago, we all agreed that it would be best for my mother to move to St. Louis to be nearer to two of her daughters, and seven years ago, she moved to a house that is about a fifteen minute drive from me.

It seemed so different to suddenly have my mom close by again.  The first few weeks after her move, I was at her house almost every day, helping her unpack and settle into her new home, and helping her find all the necessary connections (a new doctor, the closest grocery store, a new bank, etc.) that moving to a new state entails.  These days, I’m not at her house as often, but we talk several times a week on the phone, eat dinner together often, and I drop by her house regularly to see if she needs anything or just to visit.  We both like to watch HGTV and sometimes I help her with a jigsaw puzzle, but other times we just sit and talk.

MomThe mother-daughter relationship is always a complicated one, and I suspect that each mother-daughter relationship is also unique.  When I was very young, our household was busy and my mother had her hands full with raising her own three kids, plus a niece and a nephew.  Later, she added to her work load by going back to school to get her masters degree in Education so she could support my father when he quit his job to go to Seminary.     My mother was there when I needed her, but we didn’t spend a lot of time together, and we weren’t especially close.  And of course, once I became a teenager, I was far too cool to listen to anything my mother had to say anyway.

So now it seems that in many ways, I have been given a wonderful gift of being able to spend time with her, as two adults, and get to know her more as an individual, rather than simply as my mother.  She tells me stories of her family and her early life (sometimes the same story several times, but repeating stories is a privilege of the aged).  I always knew my mother was a hard worker, but I am still in awe of how active she is in her church, and how willing she is to take on new responsibilities.  I see how much time she makes for the friends in her life, always reaching out to them when she knows they are dealing with something hard.

DSC01665My mother will be turning eighty-six this summer, so I know that our time together is not unlimited.  I know that she will become more dependent on my help as she ages, and that is nothing more than the natural order of life.  But whatever the future brings, what I know most of all is that I am so very grateful that I have her close by now, and that I will always have the memories of these past few years together.


Not Too Easy

I have always been the sort of person who prefers the easy route.  I remember when my high school English class was studying the works of the Romantic poets, and our teacher asked us each to write a poem that incorporated nature, human suffering, and religion as our homework assignment.  While others in the class complained about having to write a poem, I whipped out my pen and paper and immediately wrote mine:

  Looking out my window,

I see the rain has gone;

In the sky, there’s a rainbow,

And it’s time to mow the lawn!

I often wonder as I mow,

straining over the sod,

“why don’t we just let it grow?”

It was put there, you know, by God!


I don’t remember the rest of it, but it went on along those lines for at least another two stanzas.  I thought it was funny, and even read it out loud to the rest of the class.  So I was shocked when one of my friends in the class after mine told me that the teacher had said that if I turned that poem in, I would receive a “D.”  Not about to let the teacher get the best of me, I went home and spent a couple of hours writing a poem about a drug addict dying of an overdose in a weed-strewn alley.  I got an “A” on that poem, and that same friend reported that the teacher actually read it to their class, even crying a little at the end. (Served her right, I thought.)

I’m still not sure that my first poem deserved a “D”  (hadn’t the teacher ever heard of satire?), or that my second poem deserved an “A” (it was deliberately melodramatic).  But I do know that I put a lot more effort into the second one, and that I wouldn’t have bothered to write it if my friend hadn’t told me the teacher hated my first one.  Which is a pattern that I have repeated throughout my life.

I may prefer it when my life is easy, when things are going along just fine with minimal effort on my part,  but those are rarely the times when I accomplish anything worth doing.     It’s almost always during the hard times in my life when I discover just exactly what I am capable of doing, and that’s often a lot more than I thought.

I spent most of my life fainting at the sight of blood, and thought that meant I would always be useless in any kind of medical emergency.  But the first time my daughter  fell off her bike and came running to me, dripping blood, I managed to wipe away her tears and clean and bandage her wounds without getting the slightest bit dizzy.  I tend to be impatient and a little claustrophobic, but the time our plane sat on the runway for six hours waiting for permission to take off taught me that I really do have the ability to sit patiently in tight quarters for as long as I need to.  And the succession of “fixer-uppers” that my husband and I have bought and lived in has taught me that I can work harder and longer than I had ever thought possible.  If we had been able to afford a “move-in ready” house, I would probably still believe I could never acquire any rehabbing skills.

So while I will probably always prefer the easy life, I think it is also a good thing that the easy life is not always the life I lead.  Life’s hardships, both big and small, push me to test my limits and discover strengths that I never knew I had.  And in the end, that makes the hard times worth it.

Birthday Wishes

IMG_1116Recently, my son sent me a text asking what I would like for my birthday this year.  I wasted no time in sending the answer:  a beachfront condo on Sanibel Island, a wrinkle-free neck, skinny thighs and good eyesight.  Even though I graciously told him he could select which of the gifts he would prefer to give me, I didn’t get a reply.  Perhaps he was too busy comparing the costs and labor involved in each of my selections before settling on his final choice.

I remember very well how easily I used to come up with a list of things I wanted for my birthday.  Like most children raised on lots of television, I always had a ready list of new toys and games I had seen advertised and that I was dying to have.  Later, as a teenager and young adult, I yearned for a wardrobe full of expensive and beautiful clothes that would allow me to have whatever look was trendy at the time.  Still later, as a not-so-young adult, there were always books, jewelry, a few clothes and other various household items that I would be pleased to receive, so even then the question of “what do you want for your birthday?” wasn’t hard to answer.

I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but somewhere in my journey through middle age, I just stopped wanting quite so many things.  Maybe I don’t long for beautiful clothes any more because I know that those clothes probably aren’t going to look all that great on my middle-aged body.  (And I’m actually okay with that:  one of the benefits of aging is that I no longer feel the pressure to strive for the “perfect” appearance.)  I don’t mind wearing the same few necklaces and bracelets each time I go out, and as for household items, my house is already as full as I want it to be.

I still love books, but years of diligently collecting the works of my favorite authors means that my bookshelves are basically full.  I don’t want to end up like my father, who had more than sixty boxes of books that he insisted on bringing with him on each of our family’s many moves.  (A family friend once commented, “By the time your dad finally gets all his books unpacked and on his shelves, it’s basically time to start packing them up again for the next move.”)  I go through my books every so often, getting rid of the ones that I no longer read so that I have room for any new books I add to my collection.  So far, my system is working, because I haven’t bought a new bookshelf in years.

So now, at the age of almost fifty-eight, I have a hard time coming up with a birthday wish list of things that anyone who isn’t fabulously wealthy (beachfront condos don’t come cheap) could actually buy for me.  And that’s a good thing, because it means I have reached the point where I have figured out that the things that I want the most, and the things that are the most important to me, have absolutely nothing to do with money.