Still Thankful

Fall photoI’ve always had mixed feelings about Fall.  On the one hand, I love the fabulous colors, the cooler temperatures, and all the pumpkins.  On the other hand, Fall means the end of Summer (which always makes me sad) and it reminds me that Winter is just around the corner.  And while Winter does bring beautiful snowfalls, having said that, I’ve basically covered all of Winter’s positive points.

Yet this Fall is different.  This year I’ve been doing everything I can think of to embrace the season.  I replaced my dying Summer flowers with mums and pansies. I’ve decorated the yard with tons of pumpkins, we’ve strung lights across our patio and we’re finally using gas fire pit I bought my husband for Christmas several years ago.  When the only safe way to entertain friends and family is outdoors, it’s amazing how much effort you can put into a patio.

Luckily, Mother Nature has blessed us with unseasonably warm temperatures, allowing us to enjoy the outdoors much longer than usual.  Those of us who live in the States are looking toward Thanksgiving next week, which will also be different this year.  Large gatherings are out, and people are trying to find alternatives that are safe and still include those who live alone.

I’m not going to lie:  there’s a part of me that is very sad about not being able to celebrate the holidays in our usual way.  But if this year has taught us anything, it’s taught us the need to adapt to our surroundings, so I’ve decided that it’s time to let go of what I had hoped for and simply accept what I actually have.  And I find that when I focus on the gifts that are still available, it’s easier to forget about the things that aren’t.

So this Thanksgiving, I’m going to be grateful that my husband figured out how to get the gas fire pit going again without anyone having to dial 911 (his track record on such things is spotty, to say the least).  I’m grateful for all the ways that friends and family have reached out to support us as we dealt with some personal challenges in our family this past year.  I’m grateful for our dog Finn’s full recovery from heart worms last summer, especially when I seen him running happily around the back yard.

I’m grateful that my mother is accepting the semi-isolation of living in a retirement center during pandemic restrictions with grace, thereby taking a whole lot of worry and stress off of my shoulders.  I’m grateful that my son and daughter live nearby with their families, so that I can still see them in a time when travel can be both difficult and dangerous.  I’m very grateful for the vaccines that are finally on the horizon, as that gives me hope for the future.  And hope is something I simply can’t live without.

So yes, Fall and Thanksgiving are different this year, and so is the way I’m reacting to them.  There is a bit of sadness and anxiety for sure, but there is also a whole lot of gratitude and many things that still bring me joy.  And when I think about it, that’s not really so bad at all….

Hard Times

I don’t know about you, but I really thought this pandemic would be mostly over by now.  Back in March, I thought that this virus would simply run its course over time and then fade quietly out of the headlines.  Sadly, it’s proven to have staying power, and although we have made great advances in testing, treatment and even vaccine development, Covid 19 is still basically ruling our lives.  And I don’t like it one bit.

I’d like to say that I always handle the situation well, but that would be a lie.  The truth is that sometimes I’m fine and sometimes I’m not.  And I can bounce back and forth between those moods with lightning speed, despite my best efforts to maintain a positive attitude.  I suspect that most people feel that way, even if they aren’t comfortable admitting it.  We live in a society that has become very judgemental, and being honest about how hard this is can be seen as a weakness, or worse, being in denial about the seriousness of the situation.

Personally, I think life during a pandemic is very challenging.  We worry about getting the virus, we worry about those have gotten it, we worry about how the restrictions are effecting the mental and emotional health of the most vulnerable among us, and we worry about those who are suffering (and those who are going to suffer) from the trashed economy.  None of that is easy, no matter how much we try to pretend otherwise.

I wish I could offer some sure-fire advice for fixing it, but I can’t.  All I know is that when times are hard, the worst thing we can do is be hard on each other or hard on ourselves.  I know how easy it is to take our frustrations and fears out on each other, but I also know that when we do that, it only makes a bad situation even worse.

Now is the time to be gentle with ourselves, I think.  It’s the time to let ourselves feel whatever emotion happens to show up, without seeing it as a sign of weakness.  We need to do whatever we can to take care of ourselves, indulging in the little things that make us happy and lift our spirits.  When this is over (and it will be over one day) no one is going to grade us on the great things we accomplished during the pandemic lock downs, I promise you.

And we also need to be gentle with each other, because the chances are that every single person you encounter these days is struggling.  Their struggles might not be the same as ours, but they are just as real.  Which means this is not the time to engage in petty arguments, take pot shots at our “enemies,” or behave in any way that makes someone else’s life even harder than it already is.

As I said, I don’t like this pandemic and I hate the negative way it has changed our world.  But I refuse to let it also change who I am and what kind of person I try to be.  Because hard times don’t have to result in hard people.

Like a Dog

fullsizeoutput_5988Mom’s been kind of busy lately, so I thought it was time for me to write another blog post for her.  Because that’s the kind of dog I am:  always willing to lend a helping paw when it’s needed. Even though my specialty is disposing of left-over food, I’m more than happy to write a post for Mom if that takes something off of her “to-do list.” I also believe that there are times when the people can learn a thing or two from dogs, and from what I’ve heard, this is one of those times.

I know that many people are stressing about something Mom refers to as “that stupid pandemic,” and that it’s causing lots of trouble all over the world.  Apparently, it’s spread mostly through the air, from one person’s face to another person’s face.  And this is a perfect example of how people can learn from dogs, because people insist on greeting each other face-to-face.  But dogs greet each other by sniffing, and faces aren’t what we sniff, if you know what I mean.  So, all people have to do is greet each other like dogs do and the problem is solved.  You’re welcome.

I’ve heard that those who live in the United States are also worried about something they call an election, which has lots of people upset and calling each other bad names.  And once again, this is an area where people could learn from dogs.  Because dogs come in all breeds, colors and sizes, but we still remember that we’re all dogs and we mostly get along anyway.  We know life is too short to waste being angry or hateful, so we focus on the important stuff, like the source of that fabulous smell coming from the kitchen….

Plus, dogs are forgiving.  We may get into the occasional fight, but they are over quickly and no one holds a grudge afterwards.  We even forgive people.  Take yesterday, for instance, when the old battle-axe….I mean Mom…decided I needed a bath.  Never mind that it’s November, she plunked me in the wading pool and doused me with shampoo before I even realized what was happening.  But did I stay mad at her for her crazy and completely unjustified actions?   I did not, or I wouldn’t be writing this post for her.

Now I’ve always been taught that it’s wrong to brag about ourselves, so I hope no one thinks I’m trying to say dogs are better than people.  I’m just saying that sometimes, people might benefit if they acted just a little bit more like dogs.   For one thing, being all up in each other’s faces just isn’t a good thing during a pandemic.  But more importantly, I know for a fact that if people would be as patient, loving,  forgiving, and as willing to live in the moment as dogs are, then the world would be a better place for all of us.

Love,  Finn

Enough

fullsizeoutput_5d20It’s finally feeling like Autumn, with cooler temperatures, gorgeous foliage and pumpkins galore.  There’s something about Autumn that makes me want to “hunker” down” in my warm house, cooking substantial meals and making sure my cupboards are well-stocked with supplies.  But this year, I have to admit my urge to stock up has gotten just a teeny bit out of hand.

I’ve never understood what motivates hoarders. My theory has always been, “why have two of something when one will do?” But then the pandemic hit, and in the early stages that sometimes meant empty grocery shelves, making it hard to find basic necessities. And although I can almost always find what I need these days, those memories seem to have stuck with me. Because now I find myself wanting to stock up supplies like a frantic squirrel storing nuts in anticipation of a really, really, bad Winter.

My usual minimalist tendencies have disappeared. Now I wander the aisles of the grocery store, tossing things into my cart whether I need them or not. My kitchen cupboards are full, and so is the cabinet in the basement I use to store extra groceries and paper goods. I have a small bin full of cleaning supplies, disinfectants and face masks. And yet sometimes I still wonder, “do I have enough?”

The problem with always wanting more is that nothing ever seems to be enough, and that’s a horrible way to live. I know that my desire to keep adding to my stash is a reaction to the uncertainty of the times we’re living in, but I hate feeling that I’m somehow dropping the ball if I don’t have enough supplies in my house to see me through at least 2022. It’s time for me to stop the madness.

It’s true that no one knows when, or how, this pandemic will end. It’s also true that there may still be shortages, and I can’t always count on running to the grocery store to pick up something I need. But I think I’ve gotten to the point where I’d rather risk doing without something for a little while, because that’s preferable to constantly worrying about whether I have “enough.” And I think I’d rather trust that friends and family would step forward to share what they have if necessary, just as I would gladly share my supplies with anyone who needed them. And I know this is true, because they have shared, and so have I.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of choosing how I want to live. Do I want to live in an “everyone for himself” world, or do I want to keep a little faith in the people around me? Do I want to be a person who compulsively buys things out of fear of the future, or do I want to once again be happy with a reasonable amount of supplies in my house?

This pandemic has changed many things in my life, and in many cases there’s just not much I can do about it. But I’ve decided that it is a not going to turn me into a hoarder, and that’s something I can control.

Talk To Me

IMG_0237When I was a freshman in college, I became good friends with a young woman who was a Christian Scientist.  We would spend hours talking to each other about anything and everything, including religion.  She once told me that she had never felt so free to discuss her religious beliefs with anyone before, and I felt exactly the same way.  Which may seem a bit odd, because I’m not a Christian Scientist.

I think what made our discussions, and even our friendship, work was the way we talked to each other.  We expressed our own feelings and beliefs, honestly and openly, and then really listened to what the other person had to say.  She didn’t try to change my mind and I didn’t try to change hers.  But I learned a lot from those long talks with my friend, because they forced me to think about just why I agreed with her on some points and disagreed on others.  In other words, she challenged me to really examine just exactly what I believed, and why.

My friend transferred to another college after her freshman year, and we gradually lost touch with each other.  But the lesson I learned from her has stuck with me.  I think of it every time I watch a political debate, read about a religious war, or even just scroll through the news feed on my Facebook page and see all the petty sniping and bickering.  Because here’s the thing:  if you really want someone to listen to your point of view, you need to talk to them.  Not lecture them, or ridicule them, or attack them….just talk to them.  The way you would want someone to talk to you.

Somewhere along the way, it seems that many of us have forgotten how to do that.  We seem to think it’s our duty to point out other people’s faults, usually in a way that degrades them and allows us to feel superior.  While we can do that if we want, it’s not at all an effective way to get our point across.  And as a method for changing someone’s heart and mind, it’s a complete failure.

I know I’m lucky, because I still have a few friends I can talk to, openly and honestly, about anything at all…..even those “hot button” subjects like religion or politics.  We manage it the same way my old college friend and I did, by speaking from our hearts and  listening respectfully to what the other person has to say.  We always say “I disagree” rather than “you’re wrong.”

Sometimes I change my mind after one of our discussions, and sometimes I don’t, but that doesn’t matter.  What matters is that they give me some insight into a different perspective, and they leave me feeling that my voice has also been heard.  And that always reminds that good things can happen when people simply talk to each other.

Beyond Words

One of the first things I learned when I began volunteering at a local animal shelter was the importance of communicating without words.  Because dogs can’t talk, and a rescue dog who has lived its whole life without much human contact can’t understand what my words mean.  The dog can only “read” my body language and respond to the tone of my voice, which means I have to be intentional about the wordless messages I’m sending.  And really, that applies with my human interactions as well.

I was in a deli one day and the man who took my order made a little small talk while he was preparing my sandwich.  When he handed it over to me he paused, and then said, “I’m sorry if I offended you, ma’am.”  Surprised, I assured him that he hadn’t.  It wasn’t till much later that I realized that I was probably scowling at him the whole time he was talking, not because of what he was saying, but because I had a horrible sinus headache at the time.   If anything, I was the one who was being offensive.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been had my feelings hurt when I’m feeling down because it seemed as if my friends and family were avoiding me like the plague just when I needed them most.  It took me years to realize that was likely because when I’m feeling that way, I’m usually sending off a distinct “leave me alone” vibe.  I may have been thinking, “Please come cheer me up,” but the message people were getting was “Stay away from me!”

It’s not easy for me to pay attention to, much less control, all the non-verbal ways I communicate with others.  It’s hard not to scowl when my head is pounding, or to be friendly and engaging when I’m feeling worried or depressed.  Sadly, I have a face that others can “read like a book,” which means that if I’m thinking about something that is upsetting me, I’m going to look angry.  Even when I’m not the slightest bit angry at the person who happens to be standing right in front of me.

But if I can manage to control the “vibes” I’m sending off when I deal with the shelter dogs, surely I can figure out a way to do that with people, too.  Especially since most of the people I interact with do understand my words, and I don’t need to rely on body language and tone of voice to get my message across.  I need to remember to speak up and actually tell people what I’m feeling, which is so much better than, say, trying to smile when I’m feeling badly, either physically or emotionally.

IMG_0448It’s so easy to misunderstand each other, especially when we’re preoccupied or upset, and to be disappointed when others aren’t responding to us the way we want them to respond.  And those are the times when I’m grateful for the lessons that the shelter dogs have taught me, which is that I need to be very intentional about what kind of message I’m sending out, either with or without my words.  Because I’ve found that once others understand what I really mean, their response is often just exactly what I need.

Worth a Try

When I first started this blog, I used to write a new post every four days. As time went by, posting that often became difficult, so I gradually extended the time between posts to a full week. And that’s where I’ve stayed for the past few years, more or less.

Even though it’s much easier to keep up with weekly posts, I have run into a problem. I tend to get what I think is a GREAT idea for my next blog post a few days before I’m actually due to write it. I’ll plan the basic outline and even think of a title. But by the time I actually sit down to write my weekly post, I can’t remember a single thing about the post I intended to write other than I thought it was a really terrific idea.

One of my favorite authors, Andrew Taylor, believes that writers should never write down their story ideas. He believes that if an idea is strong enough, you’ll remember it, whether you want to or not. Maybe he is right, and that great idea I had last Thursday wasn’t really so great after all, since it managed to completely slip my mind by today. Or maybe I just have a truly terrible memory, and therefore am capable of forgetting absolutely everything, regardless of its importance. (Most people who know me would vote for the second theory.) But whatever the reason, I’ve realized that if I’m going to come up with a new post every week, I have to figure out a way to remember the things I actually want to write about.

I tend to resist change, but there comes a time when we have to be willing to set aside the things that don’t work for us, and trying to remember the ideas I get for posts days before I actually want to write them doesn’t work for me. So it’s time for me to admit that, and move on to something that does work. Like, say, writing down my ideas as soon as they come and putting them in a file marked “ideas for blog posts.”

And this is a lesson that goes far beyond blogging. It’s hard to let go of our old ways, even when common sense tells us it’s past time to do so. Sometimes the only way to move forward in life is to shed the habits and beliefs that no longer work for us and be willing to at least try something new. Because often there is a better way, if we can just find the courage to look for it.

I don’t know if my new system of blogging will work or not, because I haven’t tried it yet. (Face it, I could easily forget where I put my idea file.) But I do know that my old way was definitely not working, and that it’s time to try something new. And I also know that if I can keep an open mind and persevere, I’ll find something better eventually.

A Sure Thing

Predicting the future has never been an easy thing to do, but these days, it’s become completely impossible.  If 2020 has taught us nothing else, it’s that life is uncertain and plans are often nothing more than optimistic hopes.  And I have to say that I really, really, don’t like living this way.

One of my coping mechanisms for dealing with difficulties has always been to have something…anything…to look forward to.  Dreaming of our annual January vacation on the beach is what gets me through the cold and dark Winter days, and even something as small as knowing I have dinner reservations at my favorite restaurant can lift my spirits on a particularly stressful day. 

I’m never happy to see Summer end, but knowing that the holidays are coming has always made it easier to accept.  Yet who knows if I’ll be able to host a family Thanksgiving dinner this year, or if we’ll see extended family at Christmas?  These days, it sometimes seems that looking forward to something is a sure-fire way to make sure it doesn’t actually happen.

Which is why I very deliberately didn’t think much about the family weekend getaway we had planned for the end of September.  My husband and I had booked a house at a nearby lake community for three nights and invited our children and grandchildren to join us.  I knew it would be great fun if we managed to pull it off, but I waited until the very last minute to begin buying our supplies and packing our things, just in case.

fullsizeoutput_5ceeAnd miracle of miracles, it all worked out.  The house had a gorgeous view of the lake and plenty of room for everyone, and the weather was great. We found time to relax and unwind, while some of us golfed, fished, visited a nearby winery, made crafts, went horseback riding, played games, or went for walks in the woods.  The lake was warm enough to try the paddle boards and I even managed to go kayaking without falling into the water (another miracle).

All in all, we had a wonderful time and it’s a weekend I won’t soon forget.  Finally being able to “get away” for a while was great, and spending quality time with the people I love was even better.  But perhaps the greatest gift of all was realizing that, even in these crazy and uncertain times, sometimes the things we look forward to really do happen.  And knowing that gives me all the hope I need.

Wishful Thinking

Ann's bday 2I’ve never wasted much time on making wishes.  Even at my childhood birthday parties, when it was time to make a wish before blowing out the candles on my cake, I usually couldn’t think of anything to wish for.  (Especially after the year I wished for my very own pony and discovered that what you wish for and what you get are often two very different things.)  But maybe it’s because I’ve gotten older, or maybe it’s the strange and often unpleasant times we’re living in, but these days, I actually do have things I wish for.  A whole list of them, as a matter of fact.

Every time I see a political ad on TV or a political meme on social media, I wish that politicians and their followers would remember that simple rule, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  I want to hear what good a candidate hopes to accomplish rather than what a horrible person his or her opponent is.  The constant attacks and counter-attacks that pass for campaigning these days just make me want to go live somewhere more peaceful…..like a deserted island or distant planet.

I wish that I hadn’t tried to save money, all those years ago, by getting a landline without caller ID because the constant calls I get from telemarketers, etc., have made me forget some of my basic phone manners.  I not only hang up on the telemarketers who call constantly, but I’ve grown deeply suspicious of anyone who doesn’t immediately identify themselves when they call.  Which is how I’ve also hung up on my doctor, my husband’s old college roommate, and a dozen or so assorted relatives and friends.  I know I’m going to have to simply get rid of the landline one of these days, but it’s on so many of our records and accounts that I dread the difficulties that’s going to cause.  I can’t even work up the nerve to call the phone company and try to get caller ID installed, because my previous dealings with them have not been of a positive nature.

I wish I had the ability to remember people’s names as well as I do their faces.  It’s embarrassing when someone I recognize calls me by name, and I have to try to hide the fact that I have no idea what their name is.  And I still haven’t lived down the time I kept referring to a fellow volunteer as “Eldon” and no one could figure out who I was talking about.  It turned out that was because his real name was “Dalton.”

There is so much else I wish for, but I do like to keep my posts at around 500 words.  Sadly, these days I’m guessing what 500 words is, because my blogging format no longer tells me.  (So if anyone actually counts and discovers I failed my word count goal, I apologize in advance.)  I know wishing isn’t the same as doing, but I’ve also lived long enough to know that sometimes, life surprises us in a good way.  So who knows?  Maybe some of my wishes really will come true.  And if I’m really lucky, I might even finally get that pony……

A Helping Hand

I always hoped I’d be the sort of person who could greet any sort of hardship with a cheerful smile and a “can do” attitude, rolling up my sleeves to get to work on solving whatever problem I happen to be facing. I wanted to automatically count my blessings each morning when I woke up, no matter what the day had in store. I wanted to be the person who feels, deep down in her heart, that no matter how long a difficult situation lasts, I’m absolutely certain I last even longer.

And some days, I am exactly that sort of person. I’m genuinely thankful for what I have, and I absolutely feel strong enough to deal with whatever trouble comes my way. But the problem is that I also have other days, when I’m impatient, annoyed, discouraged, and above all, just plain crabby.

Living with the fear of Covid isn’t easy when you have seasonal allergies, especially since the list of possible Covid symptoms has expanded to include almost every symptom that my allergies cause. I used to get a sore throat and think, “Darn, the pollen counts are high again.” Now I think, “OMG, do I have Covid????” I worry that my husband’s cancer treatments will be derailed by either a positive Covid test or that hospitals will once again halt most surgeries and procedures that aren’t Covid-related. And sometimes, I just plain get tired of the difficulties in doing every day things, like grocery shopping, going to the dentist, or getting a leaking basement pipe repaired.

I miss going to church on Sunday mornings, and eating out with friends. I used to worry if I left the house without my cell phone, but now I panic if I reach in my purse and can’t find my trusty little bottle of hand sanitizer. I miss being able to drop in at my mother’s apartment to check that she’s really okay.

I know these are all minor complaints and that many people are in MUCH worse situations. Believe me, I get that. But as the weeks stretch into months and the months threaten to stretch into years, there are times when reminding myself that I’m better off than many others just doesn’t help much.

But the one thing that never fails to help is when another person reaches out in kindness and concern. Never have I appreciated what a gift that is more than I do now.

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On the day before my husband’s first chemo treatment, my daughter dropped off a “care basket” full of supplies to help him cope. Friends and family have called, sent cards, and just plain listened without judgement when I needed to vent. Neighbors have invited us over to sit on their patio for an evening of wine and good conversation. A family friend has reached out regularly to my mother, knowing that she needs extra contact to combat the loneliness the Covid restrictions have caused her and most other senior citizens.

The truth is, life is rather challenging for all of us these days, to various degrees and for a variety of reasons. But if we can all remember to reach out to someone else with an encouraging word, a sympathetic ear, or even just the gift of our (socially distanced) presence, life will be a bit easier for everyone. And if that isn’t worth the effort, then I don’t know what is.