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……

Keep It Simple

My husband and I recently returned from a wonderful vacation.  We were lucky enough to spend a week with our daughter, son-in-law and grandsons in a rented house just a few blocks from the beach, stores, and restaurants.  Spending time with the people we love is a good thing, and spending time with them in a vacation setting is even better.  Overall, it was a very good week.

Very good, but not perfect.  And yes, few things are perfect, and the key to a good vacation is to overlook the things that don’t go quite right.  We did that.  When it rained, we read and did jigsaw puzzles.  When it was too windy to walk the beach, we swam in our pool instead.  But the problem that we couldn’t quite conquer was the house itself.

It was a very nice house, but it also equipped with “state of the art” technology.  I know that sounds like a good thing, and in some houses, it probably is.  But in this particular house, it meant we spent way too much time just trying to figure out how to turn out the lights at night.

Every room had several switch plates that operated the various lights and window shades, and every switch plate had several buttons and finger-operated “slides.”  The trick was to push the right button and use the right slide in the right sequence, which apparently varied from day to day.  What worked to turn off the porch lights on Monday night did not work on Tuesday night.  Other lights turned on by themselves a few minutes after we turned them off.

And the problem wasn’t just the lights.  The front door refused to lock from the outside, so we had to lock it from the inside and then exit via the garage.  The ultra-sophisticated dryer started to make strange, loud noises instead of actually drying the clothes.  We decided we could air dry our clothes as long as the washing machine worked, so of course the washing machine promptly broke down, mid-cycle, with our clothes inside and the door still on “lock.”

But the worst was the stove top.  It was equipped with a control pad and six invisible burners that were supposed to light up when you placed a pan on them.  So I put my pan on, adjusted the temp and waited for my pan to heat so I could scramble some eggs.  The burner stayed cold, and the control pad informed me the “pan is not detected.”   I muttered words I didn’t want my grandsons to hear and pushed the setting button on the control pad, which produced a recipe for New England Clam chowder, complete with photos.  Eventually we discovered that the stove top only works with certain pans.

I’m not against state of the art technology, per se.  But I am against making things so very complicated that people who are trying to have a peaceful vacation have to waste time trying to figure out how to turn off a light or scramble some eggs.  I can do those things at my house, I swear.  My stove lets me use whatever pan I want, and I can dim our lights with a simple dimmer switch.

Sometimes complicated doesn’t mean better.  It just means more things that can go wrong.  The KISS (keep it simple, stupid) motto may not be nice, but it’s not wrong either……

Home to Stay

I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty smart dog, so it’s hard for me to admit that I’ve been fooled.  And to make it even worse, I’ve been fooled by the people I love most in this world:  my mom and dad!

I know how lucky I was to be adopted into a human family.  I spent time in two shelters, and I can tell you that no matter how well a shelter is run, living alone in a cage is VERY hard on us dogs.  (And the situation is even worse now, because most shelters are both full and short-staffed.)  So on the whole, I count myself lucky.

But like most dogs, I believe that my parents’ number one priority is taking care of me.  I want them to stay home, all the time, with me.  Dogs are social creatures, and we like having our loved ones around us.  Always.  So you can imagine my dismay when I realized that Mom and Dad think nothing of leaving me at home alone, sometimes for hours, and sometimes even for days when they go off somewhere they call “vacation.”  (Sure, they hire a dog sitter to come over a few times a day, but the rest of the time, they’re off having fun on a beach and yours truly is sitting at home alone.)

And I’ve made my feelings known.  I give Dad my best sad face when he leaves in the morning, but he just pats me and says, “I’ve got to go to work now, Finn.”  Mom does the same thing when she leaves to go to the shelter, or the grocery store, or any of the other places she finds it necessary to waltz off to without me.   I can whine all I want, or do my best to slip out the door with them, but it always ends the same way:  they leave me.

But here’s the worst part:  I’ve discovered my parents weren’t being honest when they said they had to leave sometimes.  These days, people can work from home, and have everything they need, including groceries, delivered directly to their house.  They can use the internet for all their entertainment, and even “go to church” while sitting at home in their underwear, staring at the screen.  They don’t need to leave the house to see their family and friends, because they can use “FaceTime” on their phones.  The truth is, there is absolutely no reason, with the possible exception of an occasional emergency, for my parents to ever set foot off their property again.

Now all I have to do is figure out a way to teach my parents about this basic truth.  I know they’ll resist giving up their vacations, but seriously, every day spent with me is just like a vacation, right?  And they do love holding their grandchildren, particularly the baby, but I’m not against having the little ones come to our house.  I rather like them, honestly, and not just because they leave trails of food in their wake that I can snarf up.

It won’t be easy to convince my parents never to leave home again, but I bet I’ll be successful.  Because when you come right down to it, I really am a pretty smart dog!

Love,  Finn

Sanibel Strong

Sanibel Island is my happy place.  I fell in love with the island the first time my husband and I visited in 1986.  I was pregnant with my daughter at the time, and appreciated the laid-back feeling of the island, which had no stop lights, no fast-food restaurants (unless you count the Dairy Queen) and no buildings over four-stories high.  The beach was natural, and full of shells.  There were just enough stores and restaurants for convenience and a huge nature preserve where we could spot all sorts of birds and even an alligator or two.  Sanibel provided exactly the relaxing and rejuvenating vacation we needed.

When our children were grade school, we began taking our family vacations on the island.  We booked only a four-night stay on our first trip down, because we worried the kids would get bored with the lack of theme parks and other kids’ activities.  But they loved it as much as we did.  My son became interested in photography and took tons of great photos, including one of an alligator on the beach. (We saw that only once, and it was safely returned to the Sanibel River.)  We’ve had many great vacations with our children, but my fondest memories are the times we spent together on Sanibel Island.

Our son and daughter are grown with families of their own, so now its usually just my husband and I when we visit the island.  There’s still the feeling of peace when we cross the causeway that connects Sanibel to the mainland, and catch that first sight of the island.  We have many favorite restaurants, and I always reserve at least two hours to browse through Gene’s Bookstore, which is one of the best bookstores I’ve ever visited.  We don’t own any property on Sanibel, but both of us think of the island as our second home.

As anyone with access to the news knows, Florida was recently devastated by Hurricane Ian, and Sanibel Island took a direct hit.  It was completely engulfed with water as well as battered by category-4 winds.  Many buildings are just plain gone, and the ones that are still standing have severe damage.  The causeway, which is the only access to the island, collapsed in at least four places.  There is no power, which means deadly mold will grow in the water-logged buildings.  People had to be air-lifted off the island, and most home-owners have lost everything. There are at least two confirmed deaths.

It’s hard for me, from the safety of my home in the MidWest, to wrap my mind around this tragedy that happened in Sanibel and across much of Southwest Florida.  I see the photos from drones and try hard to identify familiar landmarks.  I can only imagine the pain of those who lived and worked on the island, and the desperation they must feel as they wonder, “what now?”  I heard that the city of Sanibel is setting up an official fund for donations, and I hope that people who are able give generously.  I know I will.

I also know that eventually, the island will come back.  People will rebuild as best they can, and the time will come when the island will be open for visitors again.  It won’t look the same, because hurricanes change the actual landscape of islands.  The “old Florida” hotels with their little framed houses won’t be rebuilt that way, because they are far too vulnerable to strong hurricanes.  Many things that made Sanibel so charming are gone forever.  But I also know that when Sanibel finally recovers, it will still be a very special place.  The people who live there, work there, and visit regularly will make sure of that, because we know that the spirit of Sanibel is too strong to be destroyed.  And that’s why we love it so much….

Opting Out

Sometime it’s hard not to be discouraged.  I think that two-plus years of dealing with Covid-19 has left most of us a bit drained, and often operating on our last nerve.  It doesn’t take much these days to provoke an angry reaction, and patience is often in short supply.  While things have certainly improved from the pre-vaccine days, we haven’t managed to return to the normal life we long for.

I still feel nervous when I walk into a crowded room, have a love/hate relationship with face masks, and worry every time I have a sore throat that I’m coming down with Covid.  (I have seasonal allergies, so a sore throat and a runny nose are normal for me at least four months of the year.)  I hate going to my doctor, because he still refuses to see any patient that has Covid symptoms, and almost all symptoms could be Covid.  And, as petty as it sounds, I’m tired of watching my favorite restaurants close down because they can’t get enough staff and/or supplies.

All of which is to say that these days, I’m not always my usual, mostly-cheerful self.  I’m much more thin-skinned, and quick to feel offended or hurt.  I still have good days, but there are too many times when I can best be described as crabby.  And I’ve decided that I really, really, don’t want crabby to become my new normal.

It’s easy to be cheerful when things are going well, and easy to be touchy and rude when they aren’t.  It’s easy to respond to rudeness with anger, and to lash out when someone directs a snide remark my way.  It’s tempting to engage in an on-line argument when someone posts a particularly obnoxious or inaccurate meme, in the hopes of “setting them straight.”  In other words, the opportunities to be nasty to other people are almost limitless.

But, as I said, that’s not the person I want to be.  And so I’m making the deliberate decision to “opt out” of the whole mess, as much as possible.  Because I really don’t need to respond to someone looking for an argument, or react when someone says or writes something that hurts my feelings.  I know there will be times when I’m tempted to give “tit for tat,” as the saying goes, but I hope that I’ll be strong enough to know that by doing so I’m only making a bad situation worse.  Sometimes, silence really is golden.

I’ll try to remember the the person whose words or actions bother me is probably also operating on his or her last nerve, and may not even mean to cause offense.  I’ll try to act the way I want someone to respond when I inadvertently offend them, by giving the benefit of the doubt.  Mostly, I’ll try to remember that, while I can’t control other people’s words and actions, I most certainly can control my own.  And that these days, it’s more important than ever to try to be my very best self.

Something New

When some friends invited my husband and I to join them on their trip to Las Vegas, we happily accepted.  My husband had only been there on business trips, spending his time in meetings on the outskirts of the city, and I hadn’t been there at all.  Las Vegas wasn’t a place we had a special interest in visiting, but getting out of town with friends seemed like a great idea, so we decided to give it a try.  And we ended up having a wonderful time.

One advantage of traveling with friends is that they encourage us to try new things.  Not only did we spend a few days in Vegas, but my husband (who is very uncomfortable with heights) actually joined us on the giant, 550-foot tall, ferris wheel on the strip.  The first time we saw it, my husband said there was no way he was getting on that thing.  But our friends assured us that each “pod” is huge and completely enclosed, and said the wheel moved so slowly that you don’t even feel it or realize how high up you are.  To my surprise, my husband agreed to try it.  It could have been peer pressure…even at our age, that’s a thing…or it could have been the glass of wine he drank at dinner.  But for whatever reason, we all boarded the “High Roller,”  and it turned out that they were right.  It wasn’t scary at all, and offered a fabulous view of the city.

Talking about it later, my husband and I agreed we probably wouldn’t have visited Las Vegas at all if our friends hadn’t invited us.  And I know for a fact that if the two of us had made that trip alone, there is no way we would have ridden that ferris wheel.  I’m not as uncomfortable with heights as my husband is, but I tend to avoid them just the same.  At age 64, I’ve reached a point in my life where I believe I already know what I like and what I don’t like, which is okay.  But what is not okay is that sometimes I allow that knowledge to stop me from trying something new.

And that’s where friends and family come in.  They can invite us to try something for the first time, or to venture somewhere we’ve never even considered going.  I like to think of myself as a creature of habit, because that sounds so much nicer than “stuck in a rut.”  Left to my own devices, I rarely wander out of my comfort zone.  But when someone I know and trust suggests something brand new, that opens a door for me to expand my horizons, to experience somewhere brand new, and to realize that I can do more than I ever thought possible.

I guess sometimes peer pressure, from the right people and for the right reasons, can be a very good thing indeed….