Many Hands

As you may know, St. Louis was hit with a doozie of a snowstorm this weekend.  We had sleet and a little freezing rain, followed by about a foot of snow, topped off with more sleet and freezing drizzle.  The result was super-slippery roads, resulting in many accidents, highway and street closures, and general misery for all those who were simply trying to get home at the end of a long week.

img_4454On Saturday morning, we awakened to what looked like a winter wonderland.  Snow was everywhere, at least a foot deep.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t the dry, powdery snow that skiers love.  It was the heavy, soggy snow that can damage roofs and bushes, and even cause trees to drop branches on power lines.  When we saw that the tall bushes that line our property were bowing low under the weight of the snow, we quickly bundled up and headed outside to do some heavy-duty snow removal.

If you ever want proof that you aren’t young anymore, I can recommend trying to shovel two porches, two sidewalks and a driveway that holds seven cars….after you’ve already spent twenty minutes knocking snow off a few dozen bushes.  I started at the end of the driveway, where the snowplow had helpfully piled up the huge mountain of snow it had removed from the street.  My husband and I worked hard, but we both needed a break before we had shoveled even a fourth of the driveway.  I cooked breakfast, and while I was cleaning up, my husband headed back outside to tackle the driveway again.

I’ll go ahead and admit that I didn’t exactly hurry my way through the breakfast dishes.  I was still tired and sore (that snow pile at the end of the driveway was partially ice, and that stuff was heavy) and I figured it didn’t hurt to take a little longer break before I went back out.  I knew it was going to take hours to get everything shoveled, so there was no reason to hurry.

So you can imagine my surprise when I finally finished the dishes and looked outside to see that our driveway was almost completely cleared.  Especially since the man I saw shoveling the last bit of snow was not my husband.  In fact, there were actually three people out there helping my husband finish the driveway and I didn’t know recognize any of them.  I wondered, briefly, if they were some sort of service group who were out shoveling for the elderly.  But surely we’re not that old….

Turns out, they were neighbors who lived down the block and they told my husband that they had come to help simply because we had “the longest driveway in the neighborhood.” My husband thanked them profusely, but even so, I doubt they had any idea how much we appreciated their help.  It would have taken us hours to get everything shoveled and we would have been sore for days afterwards.

Lots of people are willing to help others as long as they are noticed and admired for their good work.  But far fewer people are willing to pitch in and help with no expectation of recognition or thanks, especially when the work required is truly hard.  Yet those people are a gift and a reminder to the rest of us that, wherever and whenever possible, we need to step forward and lend a helping hand.

One of my mother-in-law’s favorite sayings was, “Many hands make light work.”  And she was absolutely right.  Because when we work together, it’s amazing what can be accomplished.

A New One Just Begun

img_2834Taking down the decorations is my least favorite part of Christmas.  When I was a child, we always took down our tree on New Year’s Day mostly because it was always a real tree and beginning to dry out by then.  When I grew up and began decorating my own Christmas trees, I left them up a little bit longer, especially once we made the shift to putting an artificial Christmas tree in our living room.  These days I don’t take my decorations down until after Epiphany (January 6), and sometimes not even then.  The truth is, I’m never really ready to “undecorate” the house.

But eventually even I have to admit that it’s time to take everything down, and so I drag my boxes and cartons out of the basement and begin the long and tedious process of packing all my ornaments and decorations away for another year.  Somewhere along the line, I quit feeling sorry for myself and focus much more on making sure everything is properly wrapped, in the correct box, and clearly labeled.  (My obsessive need for neatness comes in handy sometimes.)

Even though our house always looks just a little bit naked those first few days without holiday decorations scattered so liberally about, there is always a part of me that likes what I see.  The undecorated house reminds me of a blank canvas, and I start to think about different colored throw pillows, or perhaps a new set of shelves to store my ever-growing collection of photo albums.  New things seem possible now that the clutter of Christmas has been cleared away, and I find it much easier to envision some positive changes for my home.

And once my Christmas decorations are put away, I know that the holiday season is officially over and that it is time to look forward into the new year.  I’m not a person who easily embraces change, but I never want to be a person who fears it.  The new year helps remind me that sometimes change is both necessary and good.  The new year can be a symbol of a “clean slate” that allows me to leave behind the clutter in my life that isn’t doing me or anyone else any good, and gives me a chance to make some of the changes that will move me toward a life that is happier and more full of purpose.

And of course, it helps to remember that in only eleven short months I’ll be able to decorate my house for Christmas all over again….

Another Year Over

I have never gotten into the habit of writing regularly in my journal, but I do make it a point to take lots of photographs, print them out and label them, and then place them in a photo album.  Those albums come in handy when I’m trying to remember which year we went on a particular vacation, or who was present at one of our family gatherings.  All I have to do is leaf through my photo albums until I find the right photo, and voila!  I have my answer.

And as 2018 draws to a close, I find myself thinking back over the year and all that happened in it, both the good and the bad.  I don’t really need my photo albums to recall the moments that were most significant to me personally, as my mental pictures are still very clear.

IMG_4149I remember the first time I saw my grandson, just moments after his birth, and how perfect he looked and  how I fell in love with him so instantly and completely.  I remember the hot summer night we spent in the swimming pool at my son’s new house, enjoying a pre-4th of July family dinner and swim party.  I remember sharing my 60th birthday dinner with friends I have known for almost every one of those sixty years.  I remember answering the door on Halloween night and being greeted by a tiny little penguin who promptly took my hands and waddled his way into our living room with a huge smile on his face.

I also remember gently stroking our beloved dog, Lucy, as she took her last breath.  I remember hearing the sad news of the deaths of my sister-in-law’s mother and the mother of a good friend on the same weekend, and how bad I felt that the funerals were hundreds of miles away so that I couldn’t attend both services.  I remember how my heart broke when I heard the horrible and tragic news that a dear friend’s beautiful daughter died suddenly and unexpectedly.  2018 was not a year without tragedy and profound sorrow.

Some of my memories are rather bittersweet.  I remember the how scared I felt when my grandson had to be hospitalized for RSV when he was only ten months old.  But I’ll never forget the sight of my son-in-law singing to his sick little son during a particularly unpleasant procedure, because he knew how much the little guy likes music.  Love is expressed in so many ways, and truly is what gets us all through the hard times.

2018 will soon be history, and I know that eventually my memories of most of the year won’t be nearly so vivid.  (Good thing I have those photo albums.) But the changes and the events of the past year have definitely left their mark.  And all I can hope is that I am just a little bit wiser, a little bit stronger, and most of all, a little kinder than I was twelve short months ago.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Silver and Gold

I may be sixty-years old, but I love Christmas just as much as I did when I was a child.  Even though it’s a such a busy time of the year and I sometimes feel tired and stressed,  I still enjoy the shopping, the wrapping, the baking and the decorating.  I look forward to singing “Silent Night” by candlelight at the Christmas Eve service and to opening gifts with my family on Christmas morning.  Despite all the extra demands it brings on my time and energy, Christmas has always been my favorite holiday, and I think it always will be.

IMG_4289Part of the attraction is probably nostalgia.  I am fortunate to have many happy memories of Christmas celebrations when I was a child, which probably explains why I decorate my house and my tree with the glass ornaments, ceramic Santas and other knick-knacks that were so popular when I was growing up.  I think on some level, I’m actually trying to recreate the best of Christmas past.

But life is about nothing if not change, and even at Christmastime, change can be a good thing.  This will be the first year we get to celebrate Christmas with our grandson, and I’m looking forward to it very much.  He’s not quite a year old yet, so he’ll probably be more interested in the empty boxes than in the actual presents he receives, but there’s still something so special about having a little one in the house at Christmas time.

It reminds me of how much my husband and I looked forward to our first Christmas with our first child, and how that year marked the time when our focus shifted from what we wanted for Christmas to how we could provide meaningful celebrations for our own children.  It was so fun to buy gifts for them, and to let them help with the cookies and the decorating.  They even participated in our Christmas giving by choosing some of their own toys to donate to children who weren’t as fortunate.

fullsizeoutput_4d70Later, when they grew up, married and moved into their own houses, we found new traditions to enjoy with our family.  We toured Christmas light displays together and even quaffed a few drinks at a “pop-up Christmas bar.” Now that our family includes a baby,  we skipped the Christmas bar but did take him to a light display at the local zoo and he did just fine.  My son-in-law said that was because the little guy was so bundled up that he couldn’t move and was probably blinking an SOS with his eyelids.   But for whatever reason, he behaved beautifully.

This year, just like every other year, Christmas will be a blend of old and new.  We’ll honor the most treasured of our old traditions, and remember the loved ones who are no longer with us.  And we will also find new ways to celebrate the season, hoping that we’re starting new traditions that will be meaningful for many more years to come.  This Christmas, like every Christmas, will be unique.  And that’s as it should be.

Wait For It

IMG_4280Last Thursday, I made what I hoped would be a quick trip to a local store to finish up my Christmas shopping.  I usually enjoy shopping for Christmas presents, but this particular expedition wasn’t going well.  I needed to buy a stocking for my grandson and was pleased to see that the store had a large selection of them.  I was less pleased to see that for some reason, they had placed several large pallets stacked high with cartons of soda pop directly in front of the stocking display.  While I could see the stockings I was interested in buying, I couldn’t actually reach them.

I looked around for someone to help, but the only other people around were harried shoppers trying to push their enormous carts through the aisles that were partially blocked by the pallets.  Undaunted, I grabbed a roll of wrapping paper and used it to reach over the pallets and snag some stockings.  I made my selection and was just considering what to do with the stockings I didn’t want when man came up and wheeled away one of the pallets.  Which was a good thing, because it saved me from having to decide whether to use my wrapping paper roll to try to replace the stockings on the shelf, or to simply toss them over the pallets and hope they landed in the right spot.

Next I needed a board game, so I went to the toy department.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the game on my list but I was pleased to see two staff persons chatting in the next aisle who should be able to help.  I approached them and waited patiently for them to finish talking so that I could ask about my game.  And waited.  And then waited some more.  Finally, I gave up and stomped off, but not before muttering, “No wonder so many people shop online!” just loud enough for them to hear.

I know that the trend toward online shopping has made it very difficult for real “brick and mortar stores” to survive.  And while I do enjoy the convenience of online shopping, I also feel there is a real need for actual stores that provide real jobs and give me a chance to physically examine (and sometimes try on) something before I buy it.  Besides, I really don’t want to live in a world where we all shop, learn, conduct our social life, etc. while sitting in front of a computer in our underwear.  Real stores allow us to get out into the real world and engage with one another in person, and there’s a certain value in that.

But I was beginning to have very dark thoughts about real stores that morning as I went back to the toy section to look one more time for the game.  I had just given up (and was thinking that I might never shop in that store again) when a staff person walked up and asked if she could help me.  Surprised, I told her what I was looking for, and she told me she thought they had a few of them in stock.  “Stay right here,” she instructed me, “and I’ll get it for you.”  Sure enough, she came back a few minutes later with the game, and asked if there was anything else she could help me with.  She couldn’t possibly have been nicer, and I have to say that our interaction changed my mood completely.  I think I was even humming along with the Christmas background music as I made my way to the check out line.

The whole incident reminded me how often I am too quick to judge a situation, especially in a negative way.  Sometimes first impressions aren’t everything.  Who hasn’t had a day that started out very badly but ended up with something really good happening?  Or met someone they didn’t like very much until they took the time to get to know them better?  Sometimes we just need to let things play out a little before we react.  And sometimes good things happen when we’re willing to just give it a little time.

A Happy Anniversary

It wasn’t until  sat down to write this week’s post that I realized this month is my blog’s four-year anniversary.  (I’m embarrassed to admit that I actually thought it was my blog’s fifth anniversary until I did the math one more time.  Some of us just weren’t cut out for working with numbers….)  Anyway, I’m happy to say that the blog I started with much hope and trepidation four years ago is still going strong and that the experience has turned out to be a very good one.

It’s impossible to do something for four years straight and not learn a few things along the way.  Prior to starting my blog, I had harbored a deep distrust of the internet, and couldn’t even buy something on line without panicking at the thought of actually putting my credit card number out there in cyberspace.  The thought of putting my writing on the internet for all the world to see (and comment on) was the biggest hurdle I had to overcome before I could summon up the nerve to publish my first post.  One of the first things my blog taught me is that the using the internet isn’t quite as dangerous as I had believed.

Yes, there are hackers galore, and there are also lots of folks out there who spend their days making nasty online comments to perfect strangers just because they can.  But there are far more good people who are willing to offer encouragement, advice and kindness to the people they meet online.  One of the best things about writing a blog post is getting comments on it that expand and improve on the point I was trying to make, and that happens a lot.  I feel very lucky to have readers who are both smart and generous with their knowledge.

I’ve also learned that we humans have much more in common than I ever realized.  My intended audience was middle-aged women, mostly because that’s who I was (yes, I know at sixty I’m stretching the definition of middle age a bit) and I figured those were the people who would relate to what I had to say.  But I have regular readers who are male, and regular readers who are either younger or older than I am.  It turns out, most of the issues I struggle with aren’t restricted to middle-aged woman at all.  They’re human issues that most of us can relate to just fine, no matter what our age, sex, belief system, or nationality happens to be.  The blogging community can represent diversity at its best.

Finally, I’ve learned how important it is not to let my fears, both the reasonable and the not-so-reasonable ones, stop me from doing the things I really want to do.  I love writing and I love writing this blog, yet if I hadn’t managed to overcome my fears of “putting myself out there” on the internet, I would not have spent the past four years writing this particular blog.  And that would have been a real shame, because I would missed out on all the gifts this blog has given me:  the chance to grow as a writer, to connect with terrific people from all over the world, and the hope that (with a little luck and a lot of work) I may make it to my actual five year blogging anniversary.

Only The Best

I was at a restaurant the other night when I noticed a young couple being seated at a nearby table.  As soon as they sat down, the man placed his laptop computer on the table in front of him and began typing.  The woman immediately pulled out her phone and gave it her full attention.  The looked up from their devices just long enough to place their orders, but I don’t think they said more than three words to each other before their food arrived.

DSC03670 2Once the food came, the man pushed his computer aside and began to eat, but the woman kept her phone out and used it to take some photos of her dinner.  And apparently the lighting over their table wasn’t very good, because she picked up her plate and carried it to an empty table, where she put it down and took another photo.  I guess that photo wasn’t satisfactory either, because she repeated the process at several other tables before she finally carried her food back to her own table and began to eat.

I’ll never know exactly why the woman was so concerned with getting a high-quality photo of her dinner, but I assume she intended to share it on social media.  We certainly live in a time where it’s common to share almost every detail of our lives and almost every thought that crosses our minds, and the internet makes it so very easy for us to do so.  But it seems to me that all too often, we have lost sight of the difference between the things we should share and the things that we should be keeping to ourselves.

Honestly, sharing all the mundane details of our lives only annoys other people.  (I know I could live happily without ever seeing a photo of someone else’s meal.)   But far worse is the kind of sharing that is downright hurtful. When someone we care for voices an opinion that we think is just plain silly, we don’t need to actually tell them that.  I’ve never yet met a pregnant woman who appreciated being told about someone’s incredibly long and painful labor.  And people who have made difficult decisions don’t benefit from having someone second-guess their choice afterwards.  A good rule of thumb is that if sharing our thoughts will cause unnecessary stress or hurt feelings, then those thoughts shouldn’t be shared at all.

Sharing is a good thing, as long as we do it wisely.  We can do an incredible amount of good when we share our resources with those who are in desperate need, and sharing words of encouragement and hope can make a huge difference in the life of someone who is struggling.  The trick is to make sure that what we are sharing is something that is actually wanted and/or needed by the person we intended to share with.

I still think about that couple at the restaurant.  Maybe they really didn’t have anything they wanted to say to each other.  But I believe that their dinner would have been so much better if, rather than focusing on taking a good photo of their food to share online, they’d chosen to give their time and attention to each other instead.  That, in my opinion, would have been something actually worth sharing.  Because good things happen when we choose to share only the very best we have to offer…..

No Guarantees

I just got back from a follow-up visit with the endodontist who did a minor surgical procedure on one of my upper molars.   I’d been dreading the visit, because with the way my luck has been running lately, I figured the news wasn’t going to be good.  I fully expected her to say something along the lines of,  “The surgery didn’t work, so that tooth needs to be pulled.  Plus you need two more root canals, five new crowns and possibly another oral surgery just to be safe.  This is going to be expensive, so we’re going to need your debit card and PIN number so we can just access your bank account directly.”

Luckily, she didn’t say anything of the kind.  Instead, she told me that the tooth seems to be healing nicely, and that occasional discomfort I feel around it is most likely caused by scar tissue and the pressure from my sinuses. (Which makes sense, since I’ve just gotten over a particularly nasty cold.)  Her verdict may not have been what I was expecting, but it did make me very happy and relieved.

Sometimes I wish I lived in a world where things were more predictable.  I wish that I could guarantee that my life would go well if I just did all the right things:  working hard, obeying the rules, being kind to other people, etc.  I honestly think that I could even handle the bad stuff so much better if I could just see it coming and brace myself for it, just a little bit.

But the world doesn’t work that way.  No matter what we do, only a portion of our lives will ever be predictable.  Life is a journey full of unexpected twists and turns, with many surprises along the way.  And not all of them are good.

A couple of weeks ago, I agreed to foster one of the dogs from the animal shelter where I volunteer.  Stanley was suffering from kennel cough, and my plan was to adopt him as soon as he was healed and the shelter made him available for adoption.  He lived with us for over a week, gradually recovering his health and his spirits.  My husband and I began to think of him as “our” dog and we were sure it was just a matter of time before we would be able to officially adopt him.

But we were wrong.  Stanley began displaying some serious resource guarding, which can be a dangerous behavior in any home, but it’s especially a problem in a home that has small children in it.  We have a ten-month old grandson who is just beginning to be mobile, and he’s a fast little guy.  He’s also years away from being old enough to understand that when a dog growls, it’s time to back away slowly.  As much as we wanted to keep Stanley, we absolutely weren’t willing to put our grandson at risk.  And so we made the very hard decision to take Stanley back to the shelter.

Sometimes things don’t go the way we planned at all, and sometimes that hurts.  A lot.  All we can do is move forward, confident in the knowledge that not all of the surprises in store for us will be bad ones, and remembering that sometimes things turn out much better than we had dared to hope.  Life is unpredictable, but that’s not always a bad thing.

Silver Linings

Sometimes life throws us a curve ball, and sometimes life throws us several curve balls all at once.  When that happens, all we can do is try our best to cope with the situation and trust that things will eventually get better.

Last Thursday, I went to the animal shelter where I volunteer and signed the papers to foster Stanley, a Beagle-mix that was sick with kennel cough.  He’s a sweet dog, and I knew he would get better much faster at our house.  I was also hoping that if everything went well, I’d be able to adopt him once he was healthy.  So I loaded Stanley in my car and headed for home.  Halfway there, I realized he was peeing all over the car seat (thank goodness I’d thought to cover it with pee-pads).  I told him to stop, which he did.  Unfortunately, he promptly threw up instead.  And not just on the pee-pads.

These things happen, so I was annoyed, but not too upset.  I put him in the back yard, pulled on some rubber gloves and cleaned up the mess.  It took awhile since the vomit managed to seep into almost every nook and cranny in the car (I had to use a toothpick to scrape it away from the gear shift), but by the time I was finished, no one would ever know a dog had used the front seat of my car as his personal toilet.

My grandson had been sick with RSV since Wednesday, and I was planning to babysit for him on Friday.  But his symptoms worsened dramatically, so we ended up taking him the emergency room on Friday morning where they promptly admitted him to the hospital.  The next two days were a blur of very little sleep, trying to help my daughter and son-in-law without being intrusive, and a whole lot of worry.  There is just something so wrong about a baby in a hospital gown.

And just to make things even more interesting, our furnace decided to quit working Friday night, on the eve of what promised to be the coldest day of the year.  The good news was a service man was able to come to our house first thing Saturday morning.  The bad news was that we needed a part that cost $1,300 and wasn’t going to be available until Monday, or possibly Tuesday.  All I can say is that I’m very grateful for space heaters.

So, one way or another, it’s been a rough weekend and a very long week.  But life is nothing but a series of ups and downs, and things are finally on the upswing.  Our grandson got to come home last Sunday afternoon, and a few days later was back to his normal happy, healthy self.  Our furnace is working again.  The foster dog has settled in nicely and appears to be housebroken.  Even the nasty cold that I managed to catch mid-week is starting to fade, making me hope that I might actually get to enjoy the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

If I’d had my way, most of the events of the past week would never have happened.  But they did, and the good thing is, we got through them.  In the process, we were reminded that we’re stronger and more resilient than we thought, and that we have many people we can count on for support when we need them.  And that gives me hope for the next time life throws a curve ball our way…..