Something New

IMG_1130When I was a child, Valentine’s Day meant school parties and special family dinners that featured heart-shaped gelatin molds and my very own box of chocolates.  When I hit the awkward teen-age years, the holiday was mostly a painful reminder of the boyfriend I didn’t have.  Then I found true love, and for the past forty-something years, Valentine’s Day was celebrated with flowers, chocolates and dinner at a nice restaurant, all of which I enjoyed very much.

But tastes change as we age, and in recent years both my husband and I began to tire of the crowds at the restaurants on February 14.  While the roses he brought me were beautiful, we couldn’t help feeling a bit scammed by the fact that their prices doubled (or even tripled) around Valentine’s Day.  And I have definitely reached the age where eating a huge box of chocolates is not a good idea, either in terms of health or being able to fit into my pants.

So this year, my husband and I decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day by babysitting our grandson so our daughter and son-in-law could enjoy an evening out.  Like all parents with full-time jobs and young children, they could use  more “couple time” and we love nothing more than being with our grandson.  Which why I spent this year’s Valentine’s evening snuggling with a two-year old while reading him bedtime stories.  And loving every minute of it.

I’ve come to believe that one of the secrets to living a happy life is the ability to let go of traditions, expectations, and even relationships that no longer work.  When our traditions stop giving us joy, it’s time to find new ones.  When familiar thought-patterns keep us nursing old grudges and reinforce negative self-images, it’s time to look for new perspectives.  And when people we were once close to make it clear that they are no longer interested in spending time with us or including us in their gatherings, then it’s time to accept that and focus our time and energy on those who do value our company.

It’s not a matter of turning our back on the past and all of the happy memories we have.  It simply means that we understand that all of us change, and that the things that once worked for us may not be such a good fit anymore.  More importantly, it means that we’re recognizing that there are new possibilities just waiting to be explored that just might make us every bit as happy as what we are leaving behind.  We just have to be brave enough to try them.

There was a time when I thought the best possible Valentine’s Day celebrations involved lots of flowers, cards, chocolates, and dinner at a fancy restaurant.  I couldn’t have imagined wanting to spend the evening eating store-bought macaroni and cheese, salad from a bag and reheated chicken nuggets, followed by bathing a toddler and then reading him the exact same book six times in a row before he finally fell asleep.  Yet that is exactly how I celebrated this year.  And you know what?  It was one of the nicest Valentine’s Days I’ve had in years.

If The Shoe Fits….

I was at a party over the weekend, chatting with a couple of friends, when one of them told me how much she had enjoyed my most recent blog post.  She turned to the other friend and asked, “Didn’t you think it was funny?”  The other friend looked embarrassed, and then said, “Actually, I don’t read her blog.”  A few days later, that friend called me an apologized, worried that she had offended me.  She told me that her life was very busy right now, and that she didn’t really have time to read anything, not even a friend’s blog.

I quickly reassured her that there was no need for her to apologize. And there wasn’t.  We’ve been friends for a very long time, and I know perfectly well that she’s not a big reader.  I also know that she is a kind and generous soul who would never deliberately do anything to hurt anyone’s feelings, including mine.  And I have learned over the years not to be offended when I discover that a friend or family member doesn’t read my posts.

I admit that when I first started my blog, I (naively) believed that I could count on all my friends and family to read it, and also figured that they would probably be my only readers.  But I soon discovered that people who didn’t particularly enjoy reading weren’t suddenly going to change their ways just because I had started a blog.  And that not supporting my blog didn’t mean they didn’t care about me, and that I couldn’t count on them in other, equally important, ways.

Our friends and family members are unique individuals, with their own particular strengths and weaknesses.  And if we’re wise, we remember exactly what those strengths and weaknesses are when we’re looking for support or help.  A friend who is chronically late is not the person to ask for a ride to the airport, at least not if you want to make sure you don’t miss your plane.  And if you know someone has a hard time being discreet, that’s not the person you go to when you want to confide a deep, dark secret.

I think the trick is to remember that no one can be “all things to all people,” and to remember that everyone who is close to us enriches our lives in their own, unique way.  Maybe the friend with the loose lips is the perfect person to call when you need a ride to the airport, or maybe the friend who is never on time happens to be excellent at keeping a secret.  It’s a matter of knowing someone well enough to have a pretty good idea of what they can, and cannot, do for us.  Then we don’t set ourselves up for disappointment by expecting something that they aren’t capable of giving. Personally, I really appreciate my friends who take the time to read my blog.  But I also value the ones who don’t.

We don’t do anyone, least of all ourselves, any favors when we don’t see our friends and family for who they really are, and that includes their strengths, their weaknesses, and even just their personal tastes.  And if we really care about them, we’re more than willing to love and accept them just exactly as they are.

Young At Heart

OWIWQyT%TPavPa0fLOvV7QThere’s nothing quite like a little get away to restore the soul, and my recent one did just that.  It was wonderful to escape the cold of Winter for a little while, and to have the chance to walk along a warm beach and enjoy colorful flowers in the middle of January.  The stresses of the past few months melted away a little more with each passing day, and best of all, the cold that I’d been fighting off and on since November finally went away.

But all good things must come to an end, and my vacation was no exception.  And since all the undone chores that were hanging over my head before I left were patiently waiting for me when I returned, I made a new “to do” list and started ticking them off, one by one.  Things were going along rather well until I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to apply for my new “Real ID” driver’s license.

I’d found a list of all the necessary documents online, but the wording was confusing.  All I could tell for sure was that laminating my social security card had been a huge mistake, and that it was going to take a whole lot of paperwork for me to prove to the state of Missouri that I was indeed who I claimed to be.  So I gathered all the documents I could find and trotted off to the DMV.

It turned out that I did have all the required  paperwork, and everything was great until the woman behind the counter took my photo for my new license and made the mistake of showing it to me.  “This okay?” she asked, raising her eyebrows skeptically as she held it up.  I can’t tell you how much I regretted not asking for a retake, but I was too stunned to answer.  The photo not only looked like a mug shot, it looked like a mug shot taken of a very old woman whose criminal past and misspent life has finally caught up with her.

I’m not a vain person.  Even in the bloom of youth, I was solidly “average” in the looks department.  So my problem wasn’t that the photo made me look decidedly unattractive. The problem was that the photo didn’t even remotely match the image of myself that I carry around in my head.   And it wasn’t just because I’d rushed off that morning without bothering to apply make up or fix my hair.  The photo showed a woman who looked much older than I than I secretly, but sincerely, believe myself to be.

I know that our looks change as we age, but I’m still surprised when I look in a mirror and see a face with droopy eyes and sagging chins looking back.  I struggle sometimes to identify with the “old” person I have become in the physical sense.  (It’s probably the reason why so many people choose to get a face-lift:  they just want to keep on looking like themselves.)

Personally, I think the time has come when I need to accept that my physical appearance has changed and is going to keep on changing.  (And not for the better.)  But that doesn’t mean I have to think of myself as an old person, and it certainly doesn’t mean that I have to behave like one.  Yes, my body is aging and it shows.  But in my heart, I’m still the same person I’ve always been, and I have no intention of giving up that particular identity any time soon….

A Good Man

l7PvQ+dETJOMWesRIhyYzQAs my regular readers know, I hate being sick.  So I was deeply unhappy when I realized that the sore throat and stuffy nose I came down with last Monday wasn’t, as I had hoped, an allergic reaction to spending Sunday afternoon taking down our Christmas tree.  It was a real cold.  The good news was that I felt a little bit better with each passing day…until last night, when I began to lose my voice.  I couldn’t talk at all by this morning, so I went to the local urgent care clinic for help.

It turned out to be inflamed vocal cords which should go away soon, and I’m already feeling much better.  Partly because they gave me a steroid shot for the inflammation, but mostly because the staff that I dealt with at the clinic were so professional and kind.  They listened to what I had to say, answered my questions, and explained exactly what my treatment would be.  In short, they were ordinary people who took the time to do their job well, and that helped enormously.

I’ve reached the age where I’ve known too many good people who have died, and even more people who are mourning the loss of their own loved ones.  So it shouldn’t have been a shock when my husband received a text from the wife of our handyman telling us that he had died of a sudden heart attack.  But it was.

We’ve known Mike for many years, and liked him very much.  He did high-quality work, and was friendly, dependable, and the sort of person who could fix or build just about anything.  Mike did a lot of projects for us, and also worked on our son’s house, our daughter’s house and my mother’s house.  You don’t spend that much time with someone and not get to know him fairly well, especially someone who likes to talk, as Mike did.  He told us about his wife, whom he loved dearly, and about his beloved granddaughter, whom he adored.  We knew he loved his dogs, and was an avid hunter and fisherman.

One way or another, my husband spent a lot of time talking to Mike, asking for his advice on various projects and often just “shooting the breeze.”  I think it’s safe to say that the relationship between the two of them moved beyond employer/employee to real friendship.  At least I know that’s the way my husband felt.

I’m not sharing this because I’m looking for sympathy for our loss, because that should be reserved for Mike’s family and close friends, who are in deep mourning.  I’m sharing this because I think it’s important for us all to remember just how much good ordinary people doing their jobs well can do, and how much of a positive impact they can make on the people around them.

The people who get most of the attention aren’t really the important ones, in my opinion.  It’s people like Mike and the staff I encountered at the urgent care clinic who really count.  It’s the ones who are kind and honest, and who do their jobs to the best of their ability,  and who are always ready to lend a hand when needed who are the people who truly make the world a better place.  And I believe that they are the ones whose example the rest of us would do well to follow….

Looking Forward

I know it sounds trite, but I honestly can’t believe that 2019 is already over.   I know I’ve  reached the age where time seems to go by at warp speed, but I’m still having a hard time accepting that we are now into a brand-new year.

IMG_5150Part of the problem is probably that this past year has been an especially busy one, in both good ways and bad.  It was a good year for travel, with a relaxing family vacation in Florida and several visits to out-of-town family and friends.  The highlight was a wonderful cruise on the Rhine River last May that enabled us to visit four different countries and sail along the famously scenic Rhine Gorge.  We also welcomed a new dog into our home, which is both a joy and an adjustment as we all learn each other’s ways.  (He’s taught us not to leave food unattended, and we’re trying to teach him that furniture is off-limits for dogs.)

The biggest challenge, by far, was my mother’s decision to move into a small apartment in a nearby retirement community.  It was absolutely the right decision, but it involved a tremendous amount of time and work to get her packed up and moved into her new home.  And then we had to go through all the stuff she and my father had accumulated during their lifetime and decide what to do with it all.  (Note to self:  get rid of all unnecessary possessions.  Immediately.  Don’t saddle our kids with this task.)  Getting the house ready for it’s new owners was the next step, which involved lots of cleaning, painting, updating, and dealing with a few unpleasant discoveries such as the impressive mold growth under the kitchen sink from an undetected leak.

All in all, the past few months have been such a whirlwind of activity that the holidays basically sneaked up on me this year, and by the time I got into the Christmas spirit, they were almost over.  Can it truly be time to take the Christmas tree down when it seems as if I just put it up yesterday?   Thank goodness for the traditions that we observe each year, because those provide the memories that make the holidays so special and real, even during the years that they rush by a little too quickly.

And thank goodness for the changes that each year brings, too.  It’s comforting to know that Mom is so happy in her new apartment, with a support system that she needs at this stage of her life.  It’s fun to see my daughter and son-in-law buying my mom’s old house and making it into their own family home.  Best of all was the special present we received from my son and daughter-in-law on Christmas morning:  the news that we’re going to be adding another grandchild to our family this coming June.

So while I might not have been quite ready to say good-by to 2019, I’m not really sorry that it’s over.  I’ll treasure the good memories and try hard to remember the lessons I learned from the challenges.  But mostly, I’ll look forward into 2020 and do my best to make it a very good year.  Happy New Year to you all!

A Dog’s Christmas

I already wrote a post about how much I loved Thanksgiving, but I have to tell you that I loved Christmas even more!  It began when Mom started baking Christmas cookies in early December, and I learned that if I sat and stared at her with big, pitiful eyes, she would usually let me have a little taste of one.  I also learned that Mom is a bit of klutz who often drops stuff on the floor when she’s cooking, and that if I move really fast, I can snatch it up and eat it before she stops me.  So one way or another, I got to sample every batch of cookies that came out of the kitchen.

M79Qb91dQvWsXuyBi9Lo%QEven better, I heard that if I was a really, really, good dog (and I am, because snarfing up cookies that are spilled on the floor doesn’t count as being bad), I could expect a gift or two from Santa Dog on Christmas morning.  I even got my very own stocking to hang on the mantle so that Santa Dog would be sure to remember me.

I also found out that Christmas isn’t celebrated on just one day.  My parents had lots of friends and family over all through December, and all of those visits meant delicious food was served.  The best part was that not all of the guests believed in my parents’ “no food for dogs at the table” rule,  so lots of them slipped me a little tidbit when they thought my parents weren’t looking.  And afterwards, I was always in the kitchen to lend a paw in cleaning up and dealing with the leftovers.

There was just one part of Christmas that I didn’t really care for.  About a week before Christmas day, Mom told me that I needed a bath because I smelled.  And she was right, I did have a distinct aroma…a blend of wet fur, all the things in the yard I found to roll in, and a general doggie odor.  In other words, I smelled great!  Why she thought I needed a bath, I’ll never know, but she hauled me to the nearest dog wash and plunked me right in the tub.   The less said about the actual bath, the better.  I’ve heard the mind has a way of blocking out traumatic experiences, and I’m hoping that is true.  Except for the part where Mom accidentally turned on the water when she had the nozzle pointed right at her face, because that was pretty funny.

The best part of Christmas, though, was the actual day.  I went to bed extra early the night before because I heard Santa Dog only comes if you’re asleep, and I didn’t even budge from my dog bed when Mom and Dad came home late from the Christmas Eve service. And it worked!  I had two toys under the tree and some dog biscuits in my stocking on Christmas morning.  We also had family over for opening presents and breakfast, which was delicious.   Later that afternoon, my two doggie cousins came over to play and we had a terrific time running all over the yard.

Getting together with friends and family, sharing delicious food and cookies, getting wonderful presents…..how could I possibly not love Christmas?  It’s my favorite holiday, and I can’t wait to do it all over again next year!!

Love, Finn

Let Your Light Shine

Many years ago, when I was in seventh or eighth grade, I remember buying a teen magazine that had an article in it about how to be more popular.  Like most kids that age, I definitely wanted to be more popular, and so I eagerly read the article.  I remember one paragraph in particular that went something like, “Forget all that advice about just ‘being yourself!’  What’s so special about being yourself?  If you want more people to like you, you need to figure out how to fit in with the crowd!”

I may have been a typical early teenager, struggling with raging hormones, self-doubt and all the other issues that go with that difficult phase of life, I was still horrified by what I read.  Even then, I knew that there was something very wrong with the advice to bury my true identity and simply copy the behavior I saw all around me in order to have more friends.  I’d like to say that from that moment on, I stopped worrying about what others thought about me and always spoke and acted according to my own conscience, but that would be a lie.  In my defense, I was very young and still unsure of so many things, including who I really was and what I really believed.

But now that I’m all grown up (and then some), I no longer have that excuse.  One of the benefits of aging is that we begin to understand exactly who we are and we tend to know exactly what we do and do not believe.  Yet there are still times when I struggle to live according to my own principles, and still hesitate to show my true self or share my true opinions, mostly out of fear of how others are going to react if I do.

Sadly, the times we live in encourages this sort of fear because we’re conditioned to only accept those people who are “just like us.”  And so we keep quiet about any aspect of our personality or any of our beliefs that we think might cause someone else to reject us. I don’t like to tell people I’m a political Independent, because I’ve found that as soon as someone discovers you don’t support their party, they automatically believe you really (if secretly) support the opposing party.  I often hesitate to tell people I’m a Christian, because there is such a variety of beliefs in Christianity that I’m afraid they’ll misunderstand what I actually believe.  I could go on, but you get the picture.

Still, I think the time has come for me to stop being so afraid of rejection (or conflict) that I hide some of who I really am and what I really think.  I guess I’ve reached the age where I’d like to have the courage to live according to my own values, and just accept the reaction that gets.  Plus, I try very hard to accept other people for who they really are, and pride myself on having close friends and family whose beliefs are very different from mine.  If I’m willing to accept other people’s true selves, then shouldn’t I give other people the chance to do the same for me?

I’ve always liked that saying, “just be yourself–everyone else is already taken!”  Words to live by……

Five Years Later

I’ve been blogging for five years now, and when you do something for five years, you’re bound to learn a thing or two.  To begin with, I learned that time really does fly when you’re having fun, because it just doesn’t seem as if five whole years have gone by since I started this blog.   I can still remember how I struggled to figure out how to create a blog, and how I felt both nervous and proud when I finally managed to publish my first blog post.

It wasn’t long before I realized that the blog stats I checked so obsessively really didn’t mean all that much, because they weren’t particularly accurate.  I have many regular readers who don’t follow my blog, and I have even more followers who never read a single post.  I also noticed that the posts I liked best weren’t always the ones that generated the most views.  Eventually, I figured out that what made writing a particular post most worthwhile was when one of my readers was kind enough to let me know that my writing spoke to them.  Because face it, if something we write touches even one person in a significant way, then that post was well worth the effort.

I sometimes have trouble embracing change, but blogging has taught me that change is not always a bad thing.  I think all bloggers enjoy having a core group of “blogging friends” who read and support each other’s blogs, and I was lucky enough to find such a group early on.  I’m not at all sure I would have stuck with my blog without their encouragement.  But most of the people in my initial core group have dropped out of Word Press, and been replaced by other new friends who have ventured into the blogging world.  The blogging community is constantly changing, and I’ve learned to accept that and be grateful for each new connection it brings me.

Blogging has also made me much less cynical, because it’s taught me that, despite what the news media would have us believe, most people are basically good.  When I first started blogging, I was very intimidated by the fact that readers would be able to comment directly on my posts.  I was quite sure I was going to have to deal with lots of spam and nasty responses.  But 99% of the comments I’ve received have been positive.  And they usually generate interesting discussions among people who seem to be both kind and intelligent, and willing to be share their experience and knowledge.  That’s the sort of thing that gives me hope for our world.

Finally, the most important thing my blog has taught me is to be willing to take a risk now and then, especially when it involves something I’ve always wanted to do.  If I hadn’t worked up the nerve to hit that “publish” button for the first time, I would have missed out on so much just because I was too afraid to try something new.   And the past five years wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun…..

Happy Holidays

1V5A5417From the very minute that I was adopted from the animal shelter, I had  a feeling I was going to really, really like living with my new family.  And I was right.  I’ve got my own bed, my own crate, a basket full of dog toys and a big yard to run around in.  I have two doggie cousins, Frankie and Roxy, who sometimes come over to play with me.   Plus, I’ve got my parents trained to be very generous with the dog biscuits…they even use them to “bribe” me to go outside for a potty break when it’s raining.  All in all, I’ve been pretty darned happy with my new family and thought that things couldn’t possibly get any better.  But they did!

I didn’t know much about holidays before I came to live here, so I had no idea what I was missing.  Turns out, there’s a holiday called Thanksgiving, and we celebrated it yesterday.  I knew something good was going to happen when Mom put a big turkey in the oven to bake, and then spent the next few hours in the kitchen, making even more food.  The house smelled so good that I could hardly stand it!

But things got even better when the rest of the family showed up.  Because get this:  every single one of them showed up with some sort of food!  From what I can tell, Thanksgiving is a holiday that is all about food and sharing it with friends and family.  How cool is that?  We started in the afternoon with lots of appetizers (I made sure I got my share), and then everyone sat down at the big table that was loaded with all the rest of the food, including that fabulous turkey.  I sat right beside the little guy in the high chair, because I knew I could count on him to drop some tasty tidbits my way.   Finally, when everyone crowded in the kitchen to clean up, I helped dispose of anything that was left on their plates.  I know it’s my job to help whenever I can, but it’s especially nice to be able to combine business with pleasure.

Frankly, I’d be a little sad right now that it’s all over if I hadn’t discovered that there’s another holiday coming up in a few weeks.  It’s called Christmas, and I’ve heard it also involves a lot of extra food, especially cookies.  Of course I’m all in favor of that!

In addition to the food, Christmas seems to require putting up lots of lights and decorations, which is fine with me.  But I really got excited when I saw the big tree that Dad put up in the living room.  I know exactly what that’s for, and I can hardly believe my good luck.  They’ve given me my very own indoor bathroom!  No more going out in the cold and rain when I need to pee….how thoughtful is that?  And that’s not all.  They’re going to put all these shiny balls all over it, and I love balls! I can hardly wait to take them off and play with them.

It’s too early to compare, but it just might be that I’m going to love Christmas even more than I loved Thanksgiving!

Love,  Finn