Time Well Spent

Sadly, time is no longer on my side.  Even though I still think of myself as middle aged, I am actually well past the mid-point of my life and fast approaching the “golden years.”  Which means I am always startled (and not in a good way) by what I see in the mirror every morning, and that I have learned to accept that all the hair dye, concealer, push-up bras and cosmetic procedures in the world aren’t ever going to make me look young again.  And I’ve gotten used to that, I really have.  Because at this point in my life, I’m much more concerned with making sure that I don’t waste any of the precious time I actually have left.

A healthy perspective is one of the few gifts of aging, but I think it is a very valuable one.  I no longer believe I can put off the important stuff, counting on a tomorrow that may never come.  If something is important, it deserves to be done now, or at least as soon as possible.  Procrastination is a luxury reserved for the young.

Beyond that, I have a much better sense of what is truly  important.  I used to waste far too much time trying to push myself into situations that didn’t work for me, just because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do.  I wasted even more time trying to get the approval of almost everyone in my life, even from people who made it clear time and time again that I wasn’t living up to their expectations.  Now I know that life is too short to waste on people who don’t enrich my life, who aren’t willing to accept me as I am, or who seem intent on trying to shape me into whoever they happen to think I ought to be.

Last weekend, I visited the small town in Kansas where I lived during my preteen and teenage years.  I got together with dear friends I have stayed close to for over forty years, and also got the chance to reconnect with old friends I haven’t seen in far too long.  It was a wonderful weekend full of laughter and memories, and we had a terrific time acting (almost) as silly as we did when we actually were young. And when the weekend drew to a close, we all agreed that we needed to get together again, sooner rather than later.  Because we aren’t getting any younger, and we’re no longer willing to wait quite so long to hang out with people whose company we enjoy so much.

When I was young, I honestly believed that I had all the time in the world to do the things I wanted to do, to spend time with the people I loved, and to chase after each and every one of my dreams.  Now I know better, which could be rather depressing.  But I choose not to look at it that way.  Instead, I have  come to see my aging as a gift that forces me to realize that time is an incredibly valuable commodity, and that I need to spend it wisely.  I just wish I hadn’t waited quite so long to figure that one out.

Can You Remember?

Coleman Application_page 3 1In most ways, I take after my father much more than my mother.  I inherited his sense of humor, his passion for reading, his deep love of animals, and (unfortunately) his sagging neck line and tendency to be a bit wide in the middle.  My mother and I look nothing alike, and I have none of her teaching, sewing, or decorating skills.  But there is one trait that my mother and I do share: we both have astonishingly bad memories.  And that’s beginning to worry me a little.

When I was young and my mom wanted my attention, she always called the names of my sisters first, and that was when she was looking straight at me.  Sometimes she even worked in the name of one of our dogs before she got to, “I mean….Ann!”  I never doubted that she actually knew who I was, it just took her a while to come up with the right name.  And honestly, I understood that, because I operate the exact same way.

I once stuck a glass bottle of Coca Cola in the freezer in order to get it cold enough to drink, and then forgot all about it until that evening, when someone opened our freezer door and discovered that it had exploded in there.  As a young mother, I walked out of my house without remembering my keys so many times that my son would not only ask me if I had the keys before he would follow me out the door, he also insisted I show them to him.  He was only five at the time,  but I guess he’d had a little too much experience at being locked out.

I have a long history of forgetting appointments, and I shed my belongings the way a dog sheds hair as I go about my day.  I’ve left purses behind in restaurants,  walked out of supermarkets without the groceries I just paid for, and left lawn sprinklers on overnight.  (Thankfully, we don’t live in an area that is prone to drought.)  I never buy expensive sun glasses or umbrellas because I lose track of them so often.  And I’m just as bad at remembering names as my mother ever was.

The problem is that I’m starting to get a bit up there in age, which means that I’m getting to the point where people are going to be getting just a tad judgmental about my lack of memory skills.  Like my mother, I have had a bad memory all my life, and forgetting stuff is just normal for me.  But forgetfulness is also something that becomes concerning as people hit their twilight years (and rightfully so), but how can you notice that someone’s memory is slipping away when it’s barely been there to begin with?

IMG_0576 2My mother is at the age where I often accompany her to important visits, and I see the looks that she sometimes gets when she has problems remembering stuff.  And I know the time is coming when I’m going to be getting those looks as well.  Which probably explains why I can get a little defensive about my mother’s memory (or lack thereof), because I not only know it’s just who she is, but I realize it’s also who I am.

I know my mom well enough to know that she’s still quite sharp mentally, even if her counter is strewn with the notes to help her remember all the stuff she needs to remember.  And I’m there to speak up for her if need be.  But that leaves the question of who is going to speak up for me when I’m her age and waltzing out of the grocery store without my groceries.  I guess I just have to hope that my kids inherited their father’s memory so they’ll recall all those times when they were little and I forgot my house keys.  And know that it’s just me being me.

Just Say It

478While I was on vacation a few weeks ago, I wandered into a clothing store and had just begun to look through the racks when my cell phone rang.  Not wanting to be rude, I stepped just outside to take the call, standing with my back to the store.  As I was talking, I heard a loud click behind me, but I didn’t realize what it meant until I finished the call and tried to go back inside.  The door was now locked.  I could see the clerk through the glass door, doing her best to look busy over by the register and deliberately not looking in my direction.  I was only on the phone for a minute, but apparently that was all the time she needed to and lock me out.

Fuming, I checked the hours posted next to the door, and realized that the store was scheduled to close in ten minutes.  I’m guessing the clerk was afraid I was going to take an armful of clothes into the dressing room and force her to stay open while I tried them on, which is why she grabbed the chance to lock me out.  But it would have been so much better if she had just told me the store would be closing soon when I first walked in.  That, I would have understood.  And I wouldn’t have been standing on the sidewalk in front of her store, thinking distinctly unkind thoughts about sneaky little sales clerks, and vowing never to shop there again.

Believe me, I struggle with speaking up just as much as everyone else, particularly when I’m not sure how what I have to say is going to be received.  I have wimped out and kept my mouth shut more times than I can count.  But in almost every case where I’ve done that, I’ve ended up being sorry in the end.  Either my silence has led to an awkward misunderstanding, or I have ended up feeling rather bitter and angry because someone else doesn’t understand what I haven’t bothered to tell them.  But when I find the nerve to say the stuff that’s hard to say, I’m at least opening the door for a chance at real communication and understanding.

It helps to remember how much I appreciate it when someone is brave enough to speak up to me.  The other night, my husband and I were driving home from dinner at our favorite restaurant when the manager called.  He wanted to know if everything was alright with our meal, or if our waiter (who was new) had done anything to offend us.  My husband assured him that everything was great, and asked why he wanted to know.  It turns out, we had accidentally left the waiter a one-dollar tip.  We were so glad that the manager knew us well enough to know we would never do that on purpose, and was willing to call and let us know.  We drove right back to the restaurant and gave the waiter his proper tip, even though the manager said we could just take care of it next time we were in.

I know that these examples are small and personal, but I believe that the practice of speaking honestly and tactfully as much as possible is best in most situations.  I think we owe it to ourselves and to others to find the courage to say what needs to be said.  I’ve heard the old saying, “Silence is Golden,” and there are times when it is.  Hateful, petty and spiteful words are much better left unsaid.  But for everything else, real communication is priceless.

Moving On

Scan 1When I was seven, my father decided to enroll in seminary to become a minister,  which meant that our family moved from a four-plus bedroom house to a five-room campus apartment.  The apartment was tiny, and had an odd layout because it had been pieced together from single-student dorm rooms.  Our bathroom was dormitory style, complete with a toilet stall, and our kitchen had no sink.  We lived there four years, and for that whole time, my deepest desire was to move back to my old house.  Even now,  I still have fond memories of living in that house, and feel a twinge of longing whenever I’m in my old neighborhood and drive by it.

So when I heard that my old house was going for sale, my first thought was that I could actually buy it now (if I could talk my husband into it) and move right back in.  For a while, it was exciting to realize that I was finally in a position to make one of my strongest childhood dreams come true.  But it wasn’t long before I realized that I didn’t really want to move back there anymore.

It’s still a wonderful house, with bright and spacious rooms, hardwood floors and lots of original woodwork, and it’s going to make somebody a fabulous new home.  But I’m no longer the kid living in a cramped apartment and longing to return to her former home.  I’m all grown up now (and then some), and am quite happy in the house I’ve been living in for the past twenty years.  And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that moving out of that house wasn’t quite the tragedy I remembered.

It was tough to downsize as drastically as we did, to have to give our beloved dog to family friends, and leave my familiar neighborhood behind. But moving to seminary housing meant I had a huge campus to roam, and a constant stream of new friends (sometimes from other countries) as the families of new students moved in.  And after my dad graduated, we moved to rural Kansas were I learned first-hand what small-town life is like.  That was a hard adjustment at first, but it was also where I finally got the horse I’d always been wanting and where I made strong friendships that have continued to this day.

I have moved many times in my life, sometimes through choice and sometimes from necessity.  And there was a time when I thought my life would have been so much better if I had just stayed in one place, and been spared the pain of leaving friends, family, and familiar surroundings behind.  But I have come to realize that there was something good that came from each move, and that each and every place I have lived has helped shape me into who I am today.

Life is often referred to as a journey, and I believe that is a good description.  Sometimes my path has been smooth, and sometimes it’s been rocky, but either way, it has led me to exactly where I am now.  From the hard times, I learned that I was much stronger and more resilient than I had ever realized.  From the good times, I gained beautiful memories that will always be with me as I forge ahead.  All of it had a hand in shaping the person I have become, even if I didn’t appreciate it at the time.

ScanThrough a series of happy circumstances, I was invited to visit my old house the other day, and got to walk through all the rooms I remembered so well.  It was a wonderful, if slightly surreal, experience.  I still love that house, and I think I always will.  But I won’t try to go back to it.  It’s someone else’s turn to live there now…..

True Colors

It’s been a week since I banged my eye socket into the corner of my nightstand, and the resulting black eye is still going strong.  I wake up every morning hoping that my “shiner” has finally begun to fade, but one look in the mirror tells me that it’s actually looking worse with each passing day.  (Or as my husband so eloquently put it when he checked out my eye this morning, “Oh, my God!”)  It’s not nearly as sore, and the area immediately underneath my eyebrow is fading to a sickly yellow, but the eyelid itself is still a stunning reddish-purple, with bruises at each corner.  And the dark purple color is steadily spreading underneath my eye, giving me the mother of all eye bags.

Right after the accident, I could hide the worst of the damage with carefully applied make up, but that’s not working anymore.  Unless I’m wearing oversized sunglasses, my black eye is on display for everyone to see.  Some people ask what happened, others maintain a tactful silence, but everyone who sees me can’t help but notice it.

At first, I was very self-conscious about my black eye, and hesitated to go out in public.  But I soon realized that I had only two options:  stay home and hide until the colors faded away, or just go on and live my life, even if I did have an ugly, swollen eye.  I choose to go about my normal life, and learned a few things in the process.

I have always tried hard to look my best.  I dye my hair, put on make up, and try to wear clothes that are at least somewhat flattering.   And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with any of that.  But having a black eye made me realize that no amount of effort was going to make me actually look good.  And I was surprised to realize that I didn’t really care about that nearly as much as I thought I would.  Once I got used to the idea, I really had no problem just heading out into the world, scary-looking eye and all.

It was actually rather liberating.  I stopped worrying about my outfits when I was getting ready to go out, and stopped getting annoyed when my hair insisted on choosing it’s own style, as it so often does.  I still applied make up, but if I messed it up a little, I didn’t take it off and start again.  For the first time in a long time, I felt very comfortable in my own skin, with no need to hide the flaws.  And I think that is a very good thing.

The irony is that I have always been most attracted to people who are genuine, and who are just as willing to acknowledge their flaws as they are their strengths.  And I have worked hard at trying to live my own life as honestly as I possibly can, putting my real self out there, emotionally and intellectually.  But it took getting a black eye to make me realize that it’s perfectly okay to let people see my physical flaws as well.

So this past week has actually been good for me.  It reminded me that I don’t always have to put my best foot (or face) forward, and that my appearance is such a small part of who I really am.  I’m not saying I’m glad I got the black eye, but I really believe the lesson it taught me was worth it.

A Temporary Fix

Even though I could certainly use it, I honestly don’t think I’ll ever have any serous plastic surgery done.

It’s not that I’m morally opposed to plastic surgery, or don’t understand wanting to reduce the signs of aging.  We live in a society that values youth, and those of us who are in our late fifties (or sixties and seventies) are living much more active lives than our parents and grandparents did at that age.  So it only makes sense that we would like to look as young as we feel, which means that a quick “nip and tuck” starts looking very attractive.   Even someone someone like me, who is very nervous of medical procedures and used to faint at the mere sight of blood, can feel tempted to head to the nearest plastic surgeon’s office and ask for “the works.”

But the truth is, even the best of plastic surgery would be wasted on me.  And I know this because I have had a couple of minor procedures done (for health reasons) in the past couple of years, and I’ve already managed to ruin them.

For years I suffered from sagging eyelids, which combined with my chronic dry-eye, meant that I almost always had a sore on the outer corner of my eye where the tears would get trapped in the fold of skin.  I tried wiping the area regularly with tissues and even applying ointments, but nothing helped.  So I finally went to a doctor, who told me the best results would come from making an incision in the top of my eye lid and cutting away the excess skin.  As if.  I quickly asked for other options, and he said I could also do a simple eyebrow lift.  I figured I could handle that, and so I had it done.

And you know what I did last night?  While trying to pick up the TV remote in the dark, I managed to smack my head right into the corner of my night stand, just above the eye.  So now I have a hugely swollen eye socket and a purple eyelid, and, you guessed it, tears caught in the fold of the eyelid.  All that work undone in one moment of klutziness, and my life is nothing if not one long string of klutzy moments.

I have had problems with the veins in my legs for the past fifteen years or so, which finally morphed into full-blown varicose veins.  Which I had treated, repeatedly and somewhat painfully, armed with the knowledge that when I was done, I would finally have legs that didn’t look some kid had colored on them with red and purple markers.  After the initial spider vein treatments, my legs did look vein free….for a few weeks.  But it wasn’t long before I began bumping into things (steps, the open dishwasher door, whatever)  which would cause a bruise, which would turn into yet another cluster of spider veins.  I’m thinking I’ll probably get to enjoy the results of my recent varicose vein treatment for a little bit longer, like say, maybe six months.

So you see why I remain unimpressed by the best that plastic surgery has to offer.  But if the medical field ever comes up with a procedure to cure klutziness, I’d sign up for that so fast……

Life is like…

IMG_2531With all due respect to Forrest Gump, I don’t believe that life is really like a box of chocolates.  Personally, I believe that everyday life is actually far more like doing laundry.  Because no matter how many loads I wash, I know there’s always going to be more that needs to be done.  I never get to the point where I can say, “That’s it!  I washed, dried, folded, and put away all those clothes, and now I’ll never have to do laundry again!”  Doing the laundry is an ongoing process, which makes it very much like so much of the rest of my life.

For instance, when it comes to home and yard maintenance, we no sooner complete one project than we are faced with another.  We repaired out driveway last week, which means it’s time to replace our garage door and dig up three dead bushes.  And at the Animal Shelter where I volunteer, no matter how many dogs I walk and am thrilled to see get adopted into their forever home, there are always more dogs coming in that need to be walked and cared for until it’s their turn to be adopted.  Just like the laundry, it’s a never-ending cycle.

Even when I think something is coming to an end, I often find out that it isn’t.  I went to the doctor yesterday for what I thought was the final check up on the varicose vein treatment on my right leg, so I was surprised when he strolled into the examining room bearing a tray of syringes.  Apparently, I needed another treatment for minor veins, so here I sit in my support hose for another week.  (They look so fashionable when worn with summer shorts and dresses.)  When I was leaving, he asked if I wanted to do the next treatment in six weeks or wait until Fall, when he’s going to laser the varicose vein in my left leg.  And so the fun continues….

Just like laundry, life presents us with both loads that are light and loads that are heavy, and we have no choice but to handle them all.  And just like when we do laundry, sometimes we are successful (“I got the stain out!”) and sometimes we fail (“That stain is permanent!”).  Occasionally, we do something stupid (such as running a new wool sweater through both the washing machine and the dryer), and all we can do is forgive ourselves and move on, hoping we manage to handle things better the next time.

I honestly believe that few things in life are a matter of “one and done,” and that a big part of success stems from our willingness to just keep plugging away to the best of our abilities.  And it helps to remember that it’s not just the bad stuff, or even the everyday mundane stuff, that keeps on coming, but the good stuff as well.  We will always have something to celebrate and be grateful for, if we are willing to look for it

I could say more, but I think I’ve made my point.  Also, I’ve got to go throw another load of laundry in.

Moving Forward

I have what is referred to as a “pear-shaped” body, which is a kind way of saying that my upper thighs are a size bigger than the rest of me.  I complained about this for years before I finally lost the fifteen pounds that I was sure would give me the body shape I wanted.  It didn’t.  I still had the same body shape, just two sizes smaller.  Which meant that I still had an awful time finding pants that fit me, and I complained bitterly about that until a friend (who I’m sure was tired of listening to me whine about the same old thing) suggested I try having my pants altered to fit me.  So now I buy my pants on sale so that I can afford to take them to a tailor, who takes them in at the waist.  And just like that, my long-term wardrobe problem was solved.

I’m not going to lie:  I’m good at complaining.  Complaining comes as naturally to me as worrying, probably because they are closely related and tend to feed off each other.  It’s just who I am, and I’ve learned to accept that.  But what I have also learned is that the trick is to remember to move beyond complaining to actively trying to address the problem I happen to be complaining about.

It’s okay to recognize my worries and express my concerns as long as I realize that complaining isn’t going to solve a thing.  Complaining simply names the problem, but if I actually want to fix the problem, then that’s going to require some sort of action on my part.  Sometimes that’s as simple as finding a good tailor, while other times, of course, the problems are much more serious and complicated.

IMG_1157But even when the problems are huge and completely beyond my personal control, I can still do my part to try to make things better.  I can join groups that are working to change public policy, and I can volunteer with agencies that address the issues I care about.  For instance, I may not be able to single-handedly save all the homeless dogs, but I most certainly can spend my time at the local animal shelter, doing everything in my power to make the lives of the dogs there just a little bit easier.

It’s easy, I think, to fall into the pattern of simply pointing out the many problems we see around us and to believe that is as far as we need to go, or as far as we can go.  But I’ve discovered that when I do that, I end up feeling helpless, overwhelmed, and depressed.  Far better to see problems as something that need fixing, and to recognize that there is often something we can do to help solve them.  Not only does that make the world a better place, but it empowers us to discover that we really are capable of making a positive impact.

Moving from merely complaining to active problem solving is just as good for us as it is for the ones we are trying to help.  And in my case, it means that I finally have pants that fit.

Acting My Age

I may be getting old, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I am always mature.   Physically, I know I’m not young.  I am reminded of this every time I look in the mirror, or try to read anything without my reading glasses on, or worse, attempt to do something that requires the strength and flexibility I no longer have.  Believe me, my years of lifting anything over fifty pounds, turning cartwheels, or even mounting a tall horse without assistance are over.  But when it comes to maturity, there are times when I still fall short.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were sitting in a restaurant at a tall table near the bar, eating dinner and listening to some excellent music.  Some people came in and settled at the bar stools on our right, which was fine.  Unfortunately, they were quickly joined by even more people, mostly male and mostly drunk, who crowded into the space between the bar and our table.  They seemed to have no idea that they were regularly jostling our table, talking so loudly that we couldn’t carry on our own conversation, and that the man nearest to me was practically sitting on my lap.

The mature thing to do would have been to call the manager over and ask to be moved to a quieter table.  But I was annoyed.  We were there first, and they had invaded our space.  I had no wish for either my husband or I to confront people who were clearly under the influence, but that didn’t mean I was going to back down.  Instead, I leaned into the table and shifted my weight slightly to the right, moving the table just a few inches towards the crowd at the bar.  Then I would wait a few minutes and do it again.  It wasn’t long before the extra people standing between our table and the bar were, subtly but effectively, squeezed out.  And I admit that I felt a small thrill of victory as I watched them wander off, looking vaguely confused and annoyed.

It wasn’t my finest hour.  The people may have been rude, but they weren’t deliberately trying to ruin our dinner.  The simple fact was that I felt wronged, and felt the need to strike back, and did so.  If just one of them had noticed that I was deliberately moving my table in their direction, there could have been an ugly confrontation.  That’s what happens when I forget to be a grown up and let my inner child out, who still lives by the rules of the elementary school playground.

The sad truth is there is a difference between growing older and becoming mature.  The first one happens naturally, with no effort on our part, whether we like it or not.  But becoming mature requires an intentional effort to grow in understanding, patience, wisdom, and tolerance.  It means considering the consequences of our words before we speak and the consequences of our actions before we do something, and knowing when a cause is important enough to stand our ground and when it makes more sense to simply walk away.

I like to think that I’ve matured as I’ve grown older, and I know that in many ways I have.  Yet there is obviously still plenty of room for improvement and growth, even at this stage of my life.  I may wish I was just a little less old, but what I’d really like is to be a lot more mature.