Just Do It

I’ve loved writing for as long as I can remember.  It was my favorite class in elementary school, and  by the time I reached college I just had to major in English, never mind the fact that jobs for English majors were few and far between.  I remember sitting at my father’s desk as a child, happily typing my stories even though I knew no one but me was ever going to read them.  The joy was in creating the story, and readers were just the icing on the cake.

To this day, I find it much easier to express myself in the written word than by actually speaking.  In fact, when I do have to talk, I often find myself a bit tongue-tied and nervous, searching desperately for the right words.  The result is not pretty, and I rarely manage to get my point across in any meaningful way.  Hours later, when I replay the scene in my head, I think, “I should have said this.  Or I wish I had said that.”  But in the heat of the moment, the words I wanted so desperately just didn’t appear.

So on those rare occasions when I find it difficult to write, I don’t quite know how to handle it.  When it’s time for another blog post, I sit at the computer and try to concentrate on just exactly what I want to say.  Usually, it takes no more than five minutes for me to come up with a topic, and get started.  Admittedly, these days it takes an additional ten minutes or so to remember how to work Word Press’ new Block Editor so that I can actually type my post, but that’s a minor inconvenience that I’ve managed to solve……so far.  Still, once I get going, the writing flows and I usually feel satisfied with the result by the time I hit the “publish” button.

But then there are the days when that doesn’t happen.  The days when I know it’s time for another blog post, but no topic comes to mind that I think anyone could possibly find interesting.   There are times when I honestly feel that I have nothing of value to share, no new insights to offer, and no spiffy phrases that will entertain.  Those are the times when I type a first sentence, read it, and delete it over and over again, and when I begin to think that maybe six years is a long enough run for my blog, and maybe it’s time to call it a day and do something more useful with my time….you know, like learning Latin or reorganizing my junk drawer.

But the thing is, once I give myself permission to step back a bit, and maybe not write if I really don’t feel like it, my attitude begins to change.  Just subtly at first, as I type out a few rough drafts whose quality makes me eternally grateful for the “delete” button.  Yet I persevere, because I know that if I just go through the motions enough times, I’ll find my groove again.  And I’ll rediscover the joy of writing, of communicating my thoughts and feelings in a way that I hope others will relate to and find helpful, and that I’ll once again find the courage to not only string together a whole bunch of words in a way that finally feels right, but that I’ll manage to hit that “publish” button when I’m done.  Because when all is said and done, what writers do is write.  And half the battle is just doing it.

Good Riddance

Generally speaking, I like living in a climate with four distinct seasons.  I like the beautiful flowers of Spring, the fact that it’s warm enough in Summer to go swimming and walk out of my house without bothering to put on shoes, and I always enjoy the brilliant foliage of Fall.  Winter begins just before Christmas, which is my absolute favorite holiday, and also provides snowfalls that are both beautiful and peaceful.  The changing seasons give each year a pattern that is both predictable and comforting.

Of course, each season also has a downside.  Spring’s pollen makes me miserable for weeks, Summer always has a stretch of unbearably high humidity, and Fall means shorter days and ragweed.  And while Winter certainly has its own beauty, it also brings dangerously cold temperatures, icy roads and sidewalks, and air so dry it seems to suck the moisture out of every living thing.  But as far as I’m concerned, the absolute worst part of Winter is that it never knows when to leave.

fullsizeoutput_5fb1If seasons were people, Winter is the distant aunt who shows up on your doorstep bearing cookies and a great big suitcase, and who is still installed in your guest room long after you’re ready for her to go.  It’s the friend who sticks around for hours after the party is ended and doesn’t seem to notice your yawns and pointed glances at the front door.  It’s the time-share salesman who lures you into his office with tons of freebies before launching into a never-ending sales pitch.  Winter looks good when it first arrives, what with its sparkling landscapes and blankets of snow, but no other season manages to overstay its welcome quite like Winter.

Which is probably why I am now writing my annual, “I’m sick of Winter” blog post.  I’ve managed to cover most of the details over the years:  the static electricity, the frozen nose hair, the aching muscles from shoveling snow, constantly cleaning the floors because the salt on the outside steps keeps getting tracked in, and the need to put on several layers of clothes simply to take the trash out.  And I’ve mentioned a certain dog who persists in believing the frozen treats he finds (and tries to eat) in the back yard are chocolate popsicles, and often refuses to go outside altogether if he thinks it’s too cold.  But this year brought yet another annoying revelation:  if you drop your white face mask in the snow, chances are that you aren’t going to find it until the Spring thaw.

fullsizeoutput_5fb2So even though I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again:  it’s time for Winter to be over.  It’s time for the arctic blast that has gripped our country to go away, and let us begin to thaw out in peace.  We want to retire our snow shovels, put away the rock salt, and pack away our heavy coats until next year.  We’re not asking for any miracles, we just want it to warm up enough that we can once again get together with friends and family in our backyards, and even cook the occasional burger on our grills.  Not to mention quit worrying about frozen pipes and electricity outages.

In other words, “Winter, winter go away!  Come again another day!”  (And please make that day far, far, into the future……)

The Last Straw

It’s been really cold this week, and it’s supposed to get even colder by this weekend.  I’ve been preparing by stocking up on essentials, breaking out a jigsaw puzzle and this morning, I decided to fill up my gas tank before the truly frigid weather set in.  I pulled into a station I don’t normally use, and was amazed to see that there was a little screen on the gas pump, right next to the slot for my credit card.  Not the usual screen that provides instructions on operating the pump, but an actual little television screen, airing real commercials.   I was dumbfounded, to say the least.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t generally make decisions regarding my bedding when I’m filling my car with gasoline, so why anyone thought I’d want to see a mattress commercial just then is beyond me.  By the time I was done and replacing the pump, it had progressed to an ad for insurance, which made a bit more sense.  But I still found the whole thing terribly annoying.  The sound was turned up loud, and I actually had to wait for the commercial to end before I could print my receipt.

I’ve been feeling a little out of touch with the world for a long-time now,  but this might well be the “straw that broke the camel’s back.”  Because I think I’m done.  I’ve tried my best to keep up with our ever-changing world:  adapting to the endless new technologies, trying to keep up with the latest trends, and accepting things that I don’t even begin to understand.  Isn’t that what we’re told we’re supposed to do, if we want to stay young?  Be willing to learn new things, embrace change, pay attention to the latest fashions, and invest a small fortune in skin care products?  Because otherwise we’re nothing but a bunch of useless old fogies with one foot in the grave, right?

But I no longer care.  I’m done pretending that I don’t sometimes struggle with technologies that weren’t invented until decades after I was born.  I’m willing to admit that I think a whole lot of our current trends are just plain silly, and that they’ll go the way of the naval contemplation of the Sixties and the green shag carpeting of the Seventies.  I believe that it’s okay for houses to have walls and that body hair isn’t always something to be afraid of.  I admit to preferring printed receipts, real books, and brick and mortar stores.  Most of all, I believe that time spent by myself, off-line and unplugged, is both valuable and necessary for my basic sanity.

When you’ve lived as long as I have, you’ve seen too many things come and go to be terribly impressed with whatever the “latest and best” happens to be.  And you realize that although the world is always changing, basic human nature mostly remains the same.  You’ve figured out what’s important and what’s not, and you try very hard to embrace only the changes that are actually for the good.

So I’m okay with admitting that I have no use for gas pumps that try to sell me a mattress, or anything else other than gasoline.  From now on, I’m not only accepting my inner old fogy, I’m embracing her……

Unspoken

ScanWhen I was a young child, I loved going for a pony ride.  In those days, even big cities had “pony tracks” where kids could ride a pony a few laps around an oval track, and my parents took us to one on a regular basis.  The ponies would line up at the rail at the end of the track, and we would go stand next to the pony we wanted to ride until the track manager lifted us up into the saddle.  When everyone was ready, he would signal to the ponies and they’d all walk or trot around the track while he stood in the center, directing them.  It was usually the highlight of my week.

My favorite pony was a sweet brown one named “Cricket,” and I always headed straight for him.  But one day I was shocked to find myself being scooped up and plunked down on the pony next to Cricket.  Before I knew what was happening, I was riding around the pony track on a strange pony while poor Cricket was still standing at the rail, riderless.  It wasn’t long before I started crying, for myself because I wasn’t on my favorite pony, and for Cricket, because I was sure his feelings were terribly hurt by being left behind.

The man in the center ring asked why I was crying, but I didn’t answer him.  Worried that the ponies were going too fast, he had them go slower and slower, but I just kept crying.  I could tell he was getting frustrated with me, yet I just couldn’t manage to tell him what was wrong.  I cried for the entire ride, and for most of the car ride home as well, but I never told anyone that I was upset simply because they had put me on the wrong pony.

That was a long time ago, but there have been many times in my life when I just couldn’t find the words to tell people what was bothering me, no matter how much I wanted to.  Sometimes I didn’t even understand exactly why I was sad or upset, and other times I was embarrassed or worried that I’d hurt someone’s feelings.  And I think this is a problem that most of us have now and then.  How many times have you noticed someone who is obviously unhappy, but when you ask what’s wrong, they tell you they’re just fine?

The truth is that everyone faces challenges from time to time, and everyone is struggling with something almost all of the time.  We can usually talk about those things with our friends and loved ones, but there are times when that struggle is something that we face alone, at least for a little while.  But even when people don’t talk about what’s bothering them, their behavior almost always reflects it.  Which is something we need to bear in mind when we’re dealing with people who act in ways we find baffling or annoying.

It’s so easy to get frustrated when people say and do things that make no sense to us, and it’s even easier to lash out at them with ridicule and condemnation.  But I think we need to remember that at one time or another, we were all that little kid crying on a pony for reasons she couldn’t begin to explain.  And all that kid really needs is a little patience and compassion…….

Be The Light

yDorA4p2SaOYhlQ0x1KkqAI’m never in a hurry to take my Christmas tree down.  I just love sitting in my living room on a cold Winter’s night, basking in the warm glow of the soft, colored lights.  The world seems to be a just a little more cheerful when I’m in the presence of a well-lit Christmas tree, and after the crazy year we’ve just endured, I’ve especially appreciated the comfortable coziness that it offers.  But it’s been up for almost two months now, so I’ve finally hauled my ornament boxes out of the basement so I can pack everything  away for next year.  I can’t say I’m especially happy about it, but it’s time.

Thankfully, my Christmas tree isn’t the only thing in my life that provides comfort and cheer.  Little things, such as reading a favorite book or sharing a delicious meal, always lift my spirits too.  And then there are those special people who have the ability to light up even the darkest of times with their generosity, compassion, humor, and just plain goodness.  They are the ones I turn to when I need help or advice, or even just a sympathetic ear.  They seem to know just what to say to make an overwhelming situation manageable, and can make us laugh when we need it most.  In short, they’re willing to shine their light into even the darkest corners of our lives, letting us see that maybe things aren’t quite so bad as we thought.

There was a time in my life when I thought that success was measured mainly in material things, like having a big house, a comfortable savings account and an impressive career.  But I’m older now, and I’ve come to realize that “successful” living really isn’t about any of that.  It’s about being the kind of person who makes a positive difference to others, and who manages to leave the world an even slightly better place than she found it.  Or at least those are the people I admire the most these days.

The fact is we are only on this earth for a short period of time, and many of the people we love the most leave us far too soon.  When we’re gone, we’re not really going to be remembered for how many awards we won or how much wealth we managed to accumulate.  And we’re certainly not going to be remembered fondly for all the times we indulged in one-upmanship or petty bickering about religion or politics.  It’s the times we helped someone who needed it, offered a friend a shoulder to cry on without judgement or shame, or just plain figured out a way to lighten someone’s load that will be our true legacy.

I have spent countless hours enjoying looking at my Christmas tree, but I couldn’t begin to tell you how many ornaments it has and I wouldn’t dream of comparing it’s beauty to any other tree.  When it’s been taken down and no longer graces my living room, it’s the warm light of the tree that I miss and remember so fondly.  Because ultimately, all that ever really matters is the light we shine on others.

Let It Begin With Me

I am, by nature, a neat and tidy person.  I may not have coined the expression, “A place for everything and everything in its place,” but I live by it.  I am happiest when my house is clean and organized, and have found that too much dirt and clutter actually makes me vaguely uneasy.  As long as I’m being totally honest, I’ll also admit that when I’m anxious and unhappy, I sometimes find that cleaning my house actually makes me feel better.

I read somewhere that people who like to clean are attempting to impose order on a messy and unpredictable world, and I think that might be true.  (It would certainly explain why I find housecleaning to be  therapeutic.)  But the problem is that the world we live in is often messy, chaotic and sometimes downright dangerous, and there’s not a thing I can do to “clean it up,” at least on any significant scale.

I may be one of the few people who responds to troubles with a vacuum in one hand and dust cloth in the other, but I do think that trying to impose some kind of order on the world is common.  Many do it with social media posts, pointing out the error of other people’s ways in a vain attempt to convince them to think and behave in a way they find acceptable.  And let’s face it, politics is all about trying to elect someone who shares our values, in the hopes that the candidate will be elected and then impose our values on everyone else.  One way or another, we’re all trying to “clean up” the world, and often with the best of intentions.

But the truth is that the only person we can truly control is ourselves.   Yes, we can do our part to make the world a better place by speaking our truth, standing up to oppression, helping those who need it, and most of all, being kind and compassionate to everyone who crosses our path.  But we don’t really get to choose what other people think, say, or do.    And since none of us is perfect, that’s probably a good thing.

So the conclusion I’ve come to is this:  I need to learn to discern between the things I can control and the things I can’t, and I need to pay a whole lot more attention to the things I can.  I may not be able to make the world a peaceful place, but I can make sure I embrace peace in my own life by being as tolerant, honest, and forgiving as I can possibly be.  I can’t force others to own up to their mistakes and bad choices, but I can certainly own up to mine.  In short, all I can do is try, in my limited and flawed way, to live up to the values I really do believe in…..and then let go of all the angst, worry and stress that comes when I focus too much on the things that I can’t control.

buWO0NdZQV2vtwLyj31MrgIt’s a process for sure, and I doubt that I’ll be giving my vacuum cleaner a rest anytime soon.  But if I really want 2021 to be a better year, the very best way I can start is by cleaning up my own act.

Silver Linings

My usual New Year’s post would include a list of all that has happened in the year before, both the good and the bad.  But I’m thinking that no one wants to read a list of all that went wrong in 2020, because let’s face it:  living through 2020 has been depressing enough and there’s no need to dwell on it.  And while the silver linings of this past year were rare, they were also very real, and I’d much prefer to talk about those.

Hard times teach us so much about ourselves and the society in which we live.  And while I saw far too many people (including politicians in both political parties) using this pandemic as an excuse to advance their own agendas, I also saw so many people go out of their way to help others in need.  I was in awe of the many ways people found to reach out to others in a time of unprecedented restrictions on human interaction, and know that personally, I am so very grateful for all those who took the time to show they cared just when I needed their support the most.  If nothing else, 2020 taught us that the human spirit is far stronger than any virus, and that nothing can stifle love, kindness, and compassion.

ncc8I2OwR%2G1yDUq6wYXgAs much as I hate all the devastation that this pandemic has wrought, I have to admit that it has taught me some valuable lessons.  There was a time when I seriously believed I was too old to take care of a young child anymore, and even struggled with understanding my role as a grandparent.  But then my grandson’s daycare closed for eleven weeks and I nervously stepped to the plate to offer my services as primary care-giver.  And it was wonderful!  I was more tired than I had been in years, but I also became much closer to my grandson than I ever would have been under normal circumstances.

Not being able to eat out as much as we had before reminded me that I like to cook, and that some meals really do taste best when they come out of my own kitchen.  The effort that it takes to be able to see loved ones forced me to realize that close relationships really are worth the effort, and should never be taken for granted.  Even the empty grocery shelves that I found so troubling early in this pandemic had a lesson to offer, as I will never again just assume that I will be able to buy what I need, exactly when I need it.  Sometimes we don’t recognize all the gifts in our lives until they are taken away, even temporarily.

IMG_0204While I would have preferred that 2020 had gone differently, for me and for everyone else in the world, it wasn’t entirely a wash-out of a year, and not just because this was the year I gained a precious granddaughter.  I learned a lot in the past twelve months, and I truly believe that some of those lessons will help me be a better person in the years to come.  I’ve learned to have more faith in myself and in the people around me, to remember that the best way to deal with adversity is with compassion and patience, and most of all, to never lose hope for a better future.  Happy New Year, everyone!

This Christmas

ddVckuVpRGyx7hp7gz2TZwEven though I love Christmas, there’s always something about December that makes me feel a little sad.  The shorter days and longer nights we experience this time of year don’t help, but the biggest problem is probably the way I tend to build Christmas up in my head and the fact that the reality of Christmas rarely lives up to my expectations.  (I guess Chuck Griswold and I have something in common besides our love for over-the-top holiday lighting.)

I tend to anticipate the perfect Christmas with a huge assortment of delicious cookies and other fabulous food, a perfectly-decorated tree surrounded by a pile of presents that are “just right” for the person who is going to open them, and most of all, lots of fun and relaxing time with my friends and family.  And while the Christmas I get is always pretty darned good, there are also lots of little snags along the way:  burnt cookies, the arrival of my annual Christmas cold, trying to coordinate a schedule for our get-togethers that works for everyone, and discovering that the perfect present I wanted to buy for someone special is on back-order until Spring.

And that’s the reality of a normal Christmas.  This year, we’ll be celebrating a Covid Christmas, which means I won’t be able to attend my beloved Christmas Eve candlelight service, or host the usual big gatherings of my friends and family.  My in-person Christmas shopping has been minimal, and the delivery of the gifts I ordered online has been spotty, to say the least.  (We opened one box to find only the shredded packaging of the gift we had ordered.  Someone is going to be on Santa’s naughty list for that one!)  All of which is to say that this year, it’s been a little harder than usual to maintain my Christmas cheer.

And yet….Christmas is still my favorite holiday and I have no intention of giving it a miss this year.  Yes, we are still struggling with a pandemic that has dragged on far too long, and we are so very tired of it.  The days are short and cold, and Winter is just beginning.  Celebrating the holiday in many of my favorite ways is out of the question, sadly.  But none of that has managed to stop Christmas from coming, and whether or not I enjoy this Christmas is a decision that is mine alone to make.

IMG_7285So I’m choosing to enjoy it.  I’m choosing to give the people I love my imperfect gifts, and just have those gift receipts handy if they need to exchange them.  I’m choosing to spend my dark December evenings basking in the glow of my Christmas tree, or when it’s warm enough, sitting outside enjoying the colored lights we strung around our patio.  I’m baking extra cookies this year and plan to leave them on the porches of the neighbors and friends I can’t invite over.  I’ve discovered that a local church is having an outside (socially distanced and masked) Christmas Eve candlelight service that I might attend if I decide to brave the predicted cold temperatures.  And if not, there are plenty of services I can view online.

Merry Christmas to all those who celebrate it.  And to absolutely everyone:  wishing you much joy, peace and happiness, now and in the year ahead.

It’s Personal

Sometimes I worry about my grandchildren.  Not because there’s anything wrong with them, because there isn’t.  In my eyes, they’re both perfect and I seriously doubt if anything is going to change my opinion about that. (If grandmothers can’t provide unconditional love and acceptance, then what’s the point in having them?)  It’s just that every now and then, like most parents and grandparents, I find myself worrying about exactly what kind of world they’re going to be living in when they grow up.

There are always plenty of big issues to worry about, and goodness knows we have enough of them these days, but I’m talking more about the little things.  Because the world is changing so quickly, and sometimes I wonder if that means that the next generation is going to miss out on so much that I grew up believing was important.  I realize that cursive writing, the ability to read a map, make change, and do basic research any way other than looking it up on Google or asking Alexa are all fading away, and I can live with that.  (Although I think that relying too much on one source for all your information is never a good thing.)  But I was also raised with the belief that I had a right to personal privacy, and I do worry that privacy is a concept that is fast becoming extinct.

It’s not just that all our internet activity is being monitored, stored and sold to the highest bidder.  Or even that most households now have a virtual assistant (like Alexa) which has to be listening all the time in order to know when to respond to us.  (Remember when almost every spy movie involved finding the “bug” that the enemy had planted in the hero’s house?  Now we plant them ourselves, and pay for it.)  But I can’t help thinking that children who have grown up having so much of their personal life being played out on-line aren’t going to have the faintest concept of what privacy even is.

I’ve heard the argument that people who have nothing to hide shouldn’t worry about a lack of privacy, but I don’t buy it.  Privacy isn’t about hiding our faults and sins.  It’s about being in control of what parts of our lives we choose to share with others, and what parts we choose not to share.  And I don’t like the idea of that choice being taken away.

This is a public blog, and I make every effort to be completely honest when I’m writing it.  I’m very open about my thoughts and feeling on the topics I write about in each post.  But there are aspects of my life that I choose not to write about, and that’s usually because I’m either respecting someone else’s privacy or protecting my own.  Not every single thing we do, think, or say needs to be for public consumption and the inevitable judgement that comes with it.

Of course a certain amount of sharing ourselves with others is a good thing, and all healthy relationships are based on that.  But I believe that what we share, and who we share it with, should always be our own personal choice.