Decisions, Decisions….

I never thought aging would be easy, but I also never realized it would be quite so confusing.  It’s hard enough to help my almost 89-year old mother figure out whether she wants to continue to stay alone in the spacious house she loves and has lived in for the past ten years, or move to a retirement community.  Moving would require downsizing to a one-bedroom apartment, but staying means that sometimes she is lonely and we would have to scramble for help if she fell or became seriously ill.  It’s not an easy choice to make, but it’s one she has to make for herself.

I may be only 61, but I’ve still reached the age where I’m confronted with far too many choices.  My husband and I live in a modest house with a big yard, with the master bedroom and bathroom upstairs.  We’ve lived here over twenty years and are very attached to our house.  But is it time to move somewhere that will work better for us as we age?  Somewhere with a first-floor master suite, a smaller yard and a driveway that isn’t long enough to park seven cars?  Sometimes I think living in a condo within walking distance to stores and restaurants would be great.  Other times, I think I’d rather just stay here until one of our kids signs us into a nursing home.

And those are the just the choices about living arrangements.  Because face it, the days when women reached a certain age and started dressing like “little old ladies” are basically over.  Stores that cater to women my age and up don’t exactly feature the house-dresses and sensible shoes my grandmother wore.  But there are still times when I look at an item of clothing and think, “is this too young for me?”  I still want to look nice, but I sure don’t want to be like the seventy-something woman I saw last week wearing a micro-mini skirt.  (Yes, she had long legs.  But no, it wasn’t a good look for her.)

Sometimes I think that medical science has advanced just a little too far, at least in the cosmetic surgery department.  Almost everything on our face and body can be plumped here and taken in there, which means we have to decide just exactly what kind of adjustments we’re willing to make in order to cling to our youthful looks.  And while I know that each of us gets to make our own choice, I sometimes find myself almost apologizing for my wrinkly neck and ever-growing under-eye bags because I know they can be fixed.  I’m just too chicken to actually do it.

No doubt about it, the choices we’re faced with as we age are as difficult as they are plentiful, and there is no “one size fits all” answer.  All we can do is establish our own priorities and pursue our own goals, and respect the fact that other people might make choices that are different from ours.  We each get to choose what is most important to us, and we each live in different circumstances.

But the one thing we have in common is the fact that we’ve lived long enough to even address the issues of aging.  Because even though growing older can be a pain some times, our life is still a gift, no matter what our age happens to be.

New Car Blues

I bought a new car a couple of weeks ago, which should be a good thing.  And in many ways, it is.  The car handles well, gets very good gas mileage and is new enough that everything is still shiny and in good working order.  I bought the exact same model as my old car because I believed it would make the adjustment to my new car smooth and easy.  Sadly, that belief turned out to be completely naive.

True, my new car looks an awful lot like my old one.  It’s not very big, it’s light grey, and  has a sun roof, just like my old car.  But there have been some big changes in the way they make cars in the past decade or so.  The new vehicles may look like cars, but they function more like a cross between a computer and a helicopter parent.

My old car had a small screen tucked away on the dashboard that displayed the radio stations and doubled as a rear view monitor when I backed up.  My new car has a much bigger screen that looms over the dashboard and is constantly demanding my attention, sending messages, displaying maps and even a little picture of whoever happens to be singing on the radio.  Why anyone thought that having a driver looking at a screen on the dashboard when they’re supposed to be keeping their eyes on the road is an improvement, don’t ask me.

I try to ignore my screen as much as possible, but it’s as persistent as a whiny child.  When I first started the car, a notice popped up saying that the my car was capable of sending information about my activities to the automaker, for use in their research and development department, and also informed me that there may be a small fee for this service.  I was given the choice to accept or decline, and since I saw no reason why I should pay for the privilege of being spied on, I declined.  That must have made it mad, because now every time I start the car, I get a notice reminding me that I declined and promising dire consequences due to my poor choice.

My new car also talks to me.  Frequently and repetitively.  At first I thought I was imagining the soft voice that I heard sometimes over the music from the radio.  But the voice got louder, and also figured out how to make the music stop while it was speaking. So now when I’m driving along, minding my own business, I’ll suddenly be informed that I’m approaching a highway that has partial lane closures due to construction.  (Which makes me wonder just exactly how my car knew I was planning to get on the highway.)

I’m not sure exactly where all this will end.  Yesterday, while I was driving a half-mile to the grocery store, I got three different alerts about a flash flood warning thirty-two miles away.  Who knows what other kinds of warnings my car is going to give me?  If I’m pulling into the drive through of the local Dairy Queen, am I going to hear “Ice cream has a lot of calories and your jeans are getting a bit tight?”  Or if I’m headed to the mall will my car tell me, “It’s been three days since you’ve visited your mother.  Forget the mall and drive to her house instead?”

I’m not usually one to long for the “good old days,” but I have admit that I really miss the time when the most we expected out of a new car was safe and reliable transportation.   I mean, who really wants a car whose main purpose seems to be proving that it’s smarter than it’s driver?

Come Together

First of all, I have to admit that I’m not really a hockey fan.  I may live in a city that has it’s very own NHL hockey team, but I’ve been to exactly one hockey game in my life and that was only because somebody gave my husband a couple of free tickets.   So it took me a while to realize that the St. Louis Blues were doing well enough to make it to the playoffs.  And that they did well enough in the playoffs to get a chance to play for the Stanley Cup.  That’s when I began to pay attention, and I’m really glad I did.

Banners proclaiming “Let’s Go Blues” sprang up all over the city, draped across buildings, hanging from highway overpasses, and proudly displayed on front lawns.  One radio station pledged to keep playing “Gloria” (this season’s theme song) non-stop until the Blues won the Stanley cup.  Statues of historic figures sported Blues jerseys and huge “watch parties” were organized so that Blues fans could gather to watch not only the games that were played in Boston, but the sold-out St. Louis games as well.

It was hard not to get caught up in the excitement, so my husband and put on blue shirts and headed out to watch the final games in the series.  We watched game five in a German restaurant that was televising the game on a huge screen in it’s bar, and helped the crowd cheer the Blues as they won.  We went to a sports bar for game six with high hopes, but they lost that game.  Being slightly superstitious, we went back to the German restaurant to watch game seven, figuring we were doing our small part to ensure a victory.  (We even sat at the same table and ordered the same food.)

It was a really fun night.  The bar area wasn’t too crowded when we first arrived, but by the time the game started, it was packed.  The crowd was a mixture of old and young, men and women, some in Blues attire and some not.  Late-comers were brought up to date on the action by those already seated at tables.  We all clapped and cheered for the good plays, and when the Blues scored a goal, everyone was up, hugging, cheering, and high-fiving people they hadn’t even met before.

IMG_5296When the Blues were ahead by three points with just over a minute left in the game, a young man sitting near the TV stood up and shouted, “Everyone on their feet for the final minute!”  And we all stood up, even the elderly woman with the walker.  The joy when the final buzzer went off was off-the-chart.

I’m incredibly happy that the Blues won that night.  Not just because this is their first Stanley Cup, although that’s an impressive achievement.  What I liked best was seeing my city drawing together to support their hockey team, and how we could see, at least for a little while, what it feels like to unite as a community toward a common goal.   In the days leading up to the final game, it was so easy to ignore all the things that usually divide us and to simply be fans of the St. Louis Blues, rooting for a historic victory for our city’s team.

I know it was just a game, and that soon enough, we’ll go back to the usual fussing and bickering about all the issues that we allow to divide us.  But I hope we’ll remember just how good it feels when we manage to stand together…..

A Word From Finn

IMG_4873Mom and Dad recently came home from a long trip, and they’re still busy trying  catch up on all little chores that piled up in their absence.  That means I get another chance to write a post for Mom’s blog, and bring everyone up to date on how I’m settling into my new home.

I want to say up front that I love my new home and I love my new parents.  But that doesn’t mean they don’t have some funny ideas that I still don’t understand.  For instance, they are very big on something they call “house rules,” and they have a ton of them.  No climbing on the furniture, no chewing on shoes, no begging for food at the table, no jumping on visitors, and so on and so on.  I do my best, but sometimes I just can’t remember them all.  Especially since some of them seem so silly!  I mean, if they don’t want me to chew on shoes, why do they leave them unattended on the floor, where they are so darned tempting?  Because let’s face it, leather shoes are the best chew toys ever!

They even have rules for the yard.  I’m not supposed to bark at the big chocolate lab that lives behind us, even though she barks at me all the time.  And Dad is always telling me to “Get rid of those *#*# chipmunks and voles,” but I still get in trouble whenever I  go after them, just because it involves digging some rather large holes.  But chipmunks and voles live underground for goodness sake, so how am I supposed to catch them if I can’t dig?  Sometimes Mom and Dad just don’t think things through…..

I’m also learning that even though I was adopted from the animal shelter to be a part of the family, I don’t automatically get included in family vacations.  They may go gallivanting off to fun places, but I get shipped off to the nearest boarding kennel.  Still, it was a nice kennel, and Mom packed my favorite blanket and toys.  She also signed me up for a few hours of group play time each day, which meant I got to run around in a big yard and play with all kinds of other dogs.

That went really well, until the very last day when a new dog came into the yard and said some really mean things to me.  (I won’t repeat it word for word, because I’m way too classy to say such things.)  Still, I’m not the sort of dog to take an insult lying down, so I let that dog know he had better not mess with me.  Which explains why they told Mom that I’m still welcome to board at that kennel, but I don’t get to go to group play time anymore.  But Mom told me that’s okay, not all dogs do well in big groups and that I’m a good dog even so.  My parents may be awfully strict, but sometimes they say just the right things.

I’ve lived at two different animal shelters, so I know I’m lucky to have found a real home with people who love me.  And I love them too, so I’ll keep trying to follow the rules (at least the ones I can remember), because that makes them happy.  I’ve heard them brag about how well I’m doing adjusting to my new home, and that makes me very proud.  Because we’re a family now and nothing is more important than that.

Love,  Finn

Refreshment Time

Sometimes I think the best part of any vacation is simply the chance to take a break from our usual routines and obligations, and to leave behind the stress and worry that normally takes up far to much of our attention and energy.  Especially if we have the good sense to actually disconnect from our regular lives by not keeping up with our emails, texts and whatever other form of social media we are in the habit of using.

Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes I have a hard time even remembering all the stuff I’m supposed to be worried about, never mind trying to actually deal with all those problems.  Add in the usual busy schedule, caring for the family and friends who need it, and the constant onslaught of negative news, and it’s no wonder that my tiny mind really does struggle to keep up with it all.  And believe me, I know there are many, many others whose lives are far more complicated than mine.

Which is why taking a break from it all every now and then is so very important.  It’s amazing what a little time spent “off the grid” can do to restore our souls and remind us that life is so much more than a check list of duties and goals that needs to be completed.

IMG_5250Vacations allow us to leave all those worries, schedules and obligations behind, for a least a little while.  More importantly, they give us the time to reconnect with our true selves, and if we’re lucky, with the people in our lives who matter the most.  And it doesn’t matter if our vacation is long and expensive or short and cheap, as long as we disconnect from our usual routines and spend the time doing something that truly makes us happy.  Even taking a long walk in a park or sitting in the sun in our own back yard, happily reading a favorite book can count as a vacation if we need it to.  “Stop and smell the roses” is more than just a cliche.

I believe that all of us need a little time off now and then, so we can have the opportunity to listen to our hearts and be reminded of who we really are.  It’s far too easy to get so caught up in the frantic pace of our daily lives that we put our minds “in neutral” and spend our days doing little more than completing whatever task is in front of us and then quickly moving on to the next one.  But that’s not what life is supposed to be, at least not all the time.

One of my favorite literary characters is fond of saying, “Life is for the living.”  And I couldn’t agree more…..

The Time Is Now

Nine years ago, my husband and I celebrated our thirtieth anniversary by going on a river cruise in France.  It was our first trip to Europe, and between the excitement and the overnight flight to London, we were dead tired by the time we boarded the plane for the short flight that would take us to Nice. My husband promptly fell asleep, but I stayed awake, fascinated by the view of France below me.  I could see the Eiffel Tower as we flew over Paris, then vineyards, rivers, rolling hills, tiny towns, and even snow-capped mountains to the East.  It was a struggle to keep my eyes open, but I knew this might be the only time I could get a “bird’s eye” view of France, and I wasn’t about to miss it.

IMG_5619We were spending the night in Nice before heading off to our river boat the following day.  We checked into our hotel late that afternoon and I wanted nothing more than to eat and go straight to bed.  But my husband had his heart set on the tour company’s optional dinner excursion to Monaco, and I reluctantly agreed to go.  The views on the ride over were fabulous, the dinner was great, and we even got to gamble a little in one of the very expensive and very exclusive casinos that kept a side room open for ordinary people like us.  (If you want to see one of the very formal employees of a ritzy Monaco casino almost smile, go up to the counter and proudly present him with your winnings ticket for a whopping four euros.)

I’m glad I went, even though I was so tired that I promptly fell asleep on the bus ride back to the hotel. My husband told me that I snored loudly the whole way no matter how many times he nudged me with his elbow.  And my fellow passengers were the very same people who were going to be on the river boat with us for the entire week.  Luckily, the bus was so dark there was a chance no one knew it was me.

We spent the next few days sailing up the Rhone river, and then rode a bus up to Paris, where our trip ended.  We spent two nights there, which meant we had one day to explore that famous city.  It wasn’t nearly enough time, but we made the best of it by taking a sight-seeing tour in the morning in order to see as much of Paris as possible.  Notre Dame wasn’t open for visitors on the day we were there, but the tour did take us close enough that we could get a good look at it.  And I will be forever grateful for that.  The first thing I thought when I was the news footage of the tragic fire was, “I’m glad I at least got to see the outside in person.”

The point is, sometimes opportunities present themselves to us at very inconvenient times, and it’s all too easy to say “no.”  We’re too tired, we’re too busy, we just can’t possibly…..  Until we go ahead and try, and realize that we not only could, but that we are so very happy we did.

Numbers Game

fullsizeoutput_5119Many years ago, I was in charge of the summer reading program at my church.  The idea was to encourage children to read during their summer vacation, so I would create a display to keep track of how many books the kids read and give them a reward when they had completed the program.  The program usually had a lot of kids, but one year only five signed up.  I wasn’t at all sure I wanted to go to so much time and trouble for only five children, so I called the church secretary to let her know I was going to cancel the program this year.  There was a brief pause, and then she asked, “But don’t you think those five kids deserve a reading program?”  And, of course, she was right.

Sometimes I think we live in a world where we put far too much value on popularity.  Social media encourages that, since success there depends on attracting huge numbers of followers and likes, and  we all know that a post “going viral” is considered the ultimate goal.

When I tune into the local news in the morning, I’m encouraged to join the thousands of others who follow that particular station.  They actually put that request across the bottom of the screen, right between the international news and the daily traffic report.  Things aren’t any better for those who get their news from the internet.  There, the stories seem specifically designed to get a reaction from the readers, because the goal is to get as many “clicks” and comments as possible. (I’m assuming in the hopes of attracting more advertising money.)  And the more outrageous the story, the more popular it is.  But that doesn’t mean it’s the news we actually need to know.

I refuse to name names, but I’m sure we can all think of several celebrities whose chief talent seems to be being a celebrity.  How they achieved that status, I don’t know, but it might have something to do with their ability to create viral posts, or say really outrageous things.

I remember when I told a friend I had just started a blog, and she immediately asked me how many followers I had.  I answered, with equal parts honesty and shame, “twelve,” and she changed the subject rather quickly.  That was over four years ago, and now I would have a very different answer to that question, and one that might not cause her to worry that she had asked an embarrassing question.  But you know what?  I’m not putting any more effort into my blogs posts these days.  I did the best I could then, and I’m doing the best I can now .  My blog may be a little more popular now, but I honestly don’t believe it’s any better.

I’m proud to say that I paid attention to the lesson that church secretary taught me, all those years ago.  I did go ahead with the reading program for those five children, and I put just as much effort into making it a good one as I did when lots of kids signed up.  Because when it comes to true quality, the numbers don’t count.

Finn Speaks

fullsizeoutput_50fcMom’s been a little tired lately, so I thought I’d help out by writing this week’s blog post for her.  I’ve never written a blog post before (it’s kind of hard to type with paws), but I’m going give it my best shot.  Because that’s the sort of dog I am:  a helper.

I’ve been told that I’m really cute, and I suppose that’s true, since I have wiry black fur, long legs, perky ears and a big white patch on my chest.  People also say that I am very sweet, very energetic and really, really, persistent….I prefer to think of myself as focused and determined, but those aren’t the words that other people use.  Still, I know my main purpose in life is to help others.  And I’m really good at it, if I do say so myself.

I spend my days constantly looking for ways that I can help my family.  When Mom is preparing a meal, I’m always in the kitchen, laying right by her feet so I can keep an eye on what she’s doing and lend a helping paw if necessary.  Plus, I want to be able to immediately clean up any food that she happens to drop on the floor.  (Which she does almost every time she trips over me.) Mom likes to keep her house clean, and believe me, there will NEVER be any food on her floors when I’m around.

I also help Mom and Dad tie their shoes, especially if they’re in a hurry.  I shove my face right in, grabbing the laces to hold them in place since they seem to be having such a hard time performing this simple task.  Sometimes they get so flustered that they actually try to push me away!  Some dogs might get their feelings hurt by that sort of thing, but I know Mom and Dad are just embarrassed that it’s taking them so long to tie their shoes.  So I get right back in there and “help” until the job is done, no matter how long it takes.

Mom and Dad also spend a lot of time complaining about how out of shape they are, so I try to help by getting them to play tag with me.  When we are outside together, I’ll race around the yard, inviting them chase me.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked so far.  They just watch me run, and say things like, “I wish I had half his energy!”  But they just stand there, or sometimes even sit at the patio table, snacking and sipping wine.  I love my parents, but they can be a little slow on the uptake.  Still, I’ll keep on running and hope that some day they’ll figure it out and join me for a few laps around the yard.

There are lots of other ways that I help out, but I know that Mom tries to keep her blog posts kind of short, so I’ll do the same.  Besides, I’ll probably get the chance to write another guest post some day, when Mom’s too tired or too busy to do it herself and needs my assistance.  Because I’m a helper, and I’m REALLY good at it!

Love, Finn

Yes I Can

Back when I was writing children’s books, I had a pretty simple formula I used to create my stories.  I would create a main character and place him or her in a situation that they desperately wanted to change, which would give me the main plot of my story.  If I were writing a longer book for older children, I would then plan out a chapter-by-chapter timeline to help me keep track of everything as I wrote.  (Details have never been my strong point.)  Finally, I would begin writing the actual manuscript….and that was usually the point where my creative confidence began to drain away and the paralyzing self-doubt crept in.

The problem was that no matter how passionately I believed in the story I was trying to write, a part of me was always thinking, “Will an editor like this?  Is my main character interesting enough?  Is my plot believable?” and so on and so on.  And those are valid concerns.  As all writers who hope to get their work accepted by a publisher know, finding an editor who wants to buy our manuscript is an absolute necessity.  But the constant presence of the critical editor in my mind basically squashed my creativity and made it impossible to write from my heart.  And the result was often a competent, but flat, manuscript that lacked a unique and creative spark.

Sadly, that internal critic isn’t limited to my writing.  I can look back on my life and see many times when I allowed that little voice that says “you can’t, you shouldn’t, you’re not good enough,” to dictate my choices and my behavior.  There were too many times when I turned my back on an opportunity, didn’t want to take a risk, or stayed silent when I should have spoken up. There were too many times that I held back when I should have stepped boldly forward.

The simple truth is, when our internal dialogue turns too negative, we aren’t really able to live our lives to their fullest potential.  And that’s a tragedy that none of us should allow.

I believe most of us get better at self-acceptance as we get older, and I’m no exception.  As the years go by, I find myself learning to tune out that negative “internal committee” and to replace it with one that is so much more compassionate and encouraging.  I find myself being willing to risk simply being myself by following my dreams, voicing my true opinions and in general, doing what feels right to me.  It’s a journey, but I am moving slowly and steadily forward.

If I had the chance to go back in time and speak to my younger self, I would have so much advice I would want to share.  But if I was limited to just one thing, it would be, “Believe in yourself and follow your heart.”  Because if we can learn to do that, everything else will surely work out.