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.

All Good Things

It seemed to me that this past Winter was especially hard.  My home town was spared the horrible blizzards that devastated other parts of the Midwest, but our Winter was still made up of months of very cold temperatures and too much snow and ice.  I don’t know if it’s my age or that my volunteer job of walking dogs at the local animal shelter means I’m outside for long periods of time, but whatever the reason, I don’t tolerate the cold very well.  The blood drains out of my fingers, leaving them bleached white and painful, my nose runs continuously, and my eyes tear so much that everyone thinks I’m crying.

So you can see why I was really, really, ready for Winter to be over, even as the frigid temperatures hung on and the promise of Spring seemed so very far away.  I often found myself wondering just how big of a beach-front Florida condo we could buy if we sold our house and drained our savings accounts.  Sometimes I thought about just staying in my nice warm bed all day, reading books and eating hot soup.  I even toyed with the idea of having all the supplies I needed delivered to me so that I didn’t have to venture out into the cold.

But I didn’t act on any of those crazy impulses.  Instead, I just kept to my regular routine, knowing that sooner or later, Winter would give up and leave, making room for the Spring that I was longing for.  And sure enough, Spring finally showed up.

fullsizeoutput_5070The past couple of weeks have been (mostly) wonderfully warm, with just enough rain to wash away the nasty tree pollen that triggers my allergies.  The flowers are blooming, the trees are budding, and the birds are singing outside my window every morning.  The days are getting longer, and it now stays light well into the dinner hour, which means we can both cook and eat outside on our patio.

I believe Winter comes to all of us in many ways.  Some times it’s the literal Winter of cold, nasty weather and long, dark nights.  Other times, it’s the hardships and losses that that we suffer through and that can make life feel so very difficult, both physically and emotionally.  There are times when it seems as if our personal Winter will never end.

fullsizeoutput_507dThat’s when it helps me to remember that at the end of every seasonal Winter, no matter how hard and how long it has been, comes Spring.  The sun gets a little stronger, the temperatures a little warmer and the days last a little longer with each passing week.  And that reminds me that the dark days in our personal lives don’t last forever either.  It may take a long time, but eventually our burdens will feel just a little bit lighter, our hearts will feel just a little bit warmer, and our spirits will celebrate the arrival of our very own Spring.

Plan B

Things don’t always work out the way we had planned.  Sometimes in simple ways, such as when I recently brought home a lovely wooden bookshelf that I had carefully selected to store my ever-growing collection of photo albums.  The shelf seemed perfect:  it was the right color to go with my living-room furniture, and the shelves were tall enough for my photo albums.  Or at least that’s what I thought when I measured them in the store.  But when I got the bookshelf home, I discovered the shelves were actually a half-inch too short for my photo albums.

My immediate reaction was not my finest hour.  I stomped around the house, said a few ugly words, and felt very sorry for myself because I had wasted an entire Saturday morning scouring second-hand shops for this shelf, then hauling it home and cleaning it up before I discovered that it wasn’t going to work after all.  I thought about calling my kids to see if either of them wanted the shelf, but then I realized that would mean I still had no place to store my extra photo albums.  And I really did like the bookshelf.  So I decided there had to be a way to make it work.

IMG_4733I measured an another bookshelf I already had and discovered that if I adjusted the shelves a little bit, my photo albums would fit.  That meant moving the books that were already on it, but I did have that brand-new shelf that the books would fit on nicely.  I spent the next hour moving books and photo albums around, but in the end, I found I did indeed have room for all the albums and the books that I wanted to keep and that the new bookshelf looks just fine in my office.  (I even found several books I want to give away, which means I now have room for more books!)

Sometimes our plans that don’t work out are much bigger, and much more important.  I spent years trying to break into the world of children’s publishing, because I was convinced that being a writer of children’s books was the perfect career for me.  But after a tremendous amount of time and effort, I only managed to publish one single book.  Eventually,  I had to admit that this particular dream just wasn’t panning out, and for a brief while, I gave up writing altogether.  Then a friend convinced me to give blogging a try, and I became an active writer once again.  I may not be writing and publishing children’s books, but I honestly enjoy blogging and feel a true sense of accomplishment when I get a post “just right.”

I think it’s important that we all have plans, goals and dreams, and that we do our best to attain them.  But I also think it’s important to realize that just because something doesn’t work out exactly as we had planned or hoped doesn’t mean we’ve failed.  It just means that we need to be flexible enough to try a different option or to explore an area we hadn’t considered before.  Because success can be found in many different ways, particularly when we’re willing to try “plan B.”

Ageless

No doubt about it, there are certain advantages to aging.  And I’m not talking about just the wisdom and self-acceptance that most of us achieve as we grow older.  I’m talking about the fact that old people can get away with stuff that younger people can’t.  For example, when I take 88-year old mother out to eat, she has no problem letting the waiter know the very second she’s ready to order, even if that means calling across the room to attract his attention.  I have yet to see a waiter take offense.  Instead, all she gets is a tolerant smile and sometimes even a friendly pat on the shoulder.  Somehow, I don’t think that would be the response if my mother wasn’t a textbook example of a “cute little old lady.”

Even at age 60, I have found that my age can be an advantage.  I have heard of people who have a “resting bitch face,” but personally, I have always had what can only be called a “resting stupid face.”  Meaning that when I don’t have a specific expression on my face, I tend to look as if I’m just a few bricks short of a load.  And that has served me well, particularly when I pair it with the words, “But I don’t understand.”  I can’t tell you how many people have done what I’ve wanted just because they couldn’t be bothered to explain the rules to someone they believed wasn’t bright enough to understand them.

But now that I have reached a certain age, I’ve found that the only thing better than having a “resting stupid face” is having an old resting stupid face.  If I’m having a disagreement with someone, (particularly someone younger) I have found that my most effective response is to simply stand there and look at them in a perplexed sort of way.  Sooner or later, they tend to give in, even if they do sigh loudly and roll their eyes at the same time.

Still, I’m only human, and there are times when I don’t really want to feel quite so old.  I miss the vitality of my younger days, would give anything to have the perfect eyesight, firm skin and boundless energy I once took for granted.  Luckily, I’ve discovered a fool-proof way to make me feel young again, and it doesn’t require any expensive or painful surgical procedures.  When I want to feel young, all I have to do is spend time with some of my treasured, life-long friends.  Seriously.

Maybe it’s because they knew me “way back when,” or maybe it’s because when I look at them I still see the young person they once were.  But for whatever reason, when I’m with my old friends, the years just melt away and I truly feel young again.  And it isn’t long before I’m also acting as if I was young:  laughing hysterically at our silly jokes, staying up late because no one wants the evening to end, and most of all, feeling that as long as I have my friends by my side, there’s nothing I can’t handle.

Aging does have it’s advantages, but every once in a while, I need my “old” friends to remind me of what it was like to be young…..

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Priceless

I tend to be a little cranky when I’m sick, especially when I have a cold.  I know that the common cold is a very minor illness, especially when compared to some of the health issues that other people deal with, but I still hate having one.  I hate the sore throat, the sneezing and coughing, the constant nose-blowing and being so congested that I can barely breathe.  When I have a cold, I tend to walk around with a box of tissue in one hand and a jar of ointment in the other (to soothe my sore nose), feeling tremendously sorry for myself and scowling at the world in general.  As I said, I don’t do colds well.

So you can imagine how irritated I am that I am currently suffering from at least my fifth cold this year.  I seem to be on a schedule of being sick for a week, feeling better for about three days, and then getting sick again.  I’ve sought medical advice, which was basically “take some decongestants, drink lots of fluids and get plenty of rest.”  I don’t think the doctor understood that what I was actually looking for was a miracle cure that would make all my symptoms disappear forever.  Sometimes even the smartest people can miss the obvious….

The sad thing is, I know where these colds are coming from.  Before I became a grandmother, I usually suffered from only one or two colds in an entire year.  But as soon as my little grandson started daycare, I’ve been catching colds with alarming regularity.  The cycle goes something like this:  my grandson goes to daycare, where he comes into contact with lots of other little kids, and at least one of them is always suffering from a cold.  He catches the cold, and then passes it on to me the next time I see him.  (He may be only one, but he’s already very good at sharing.)

Which means that the only way I can reasonably hope to stay healthy in the upcoming months is to avoid all contact with my grandson.  And that’s not going to happen.  Because as much as I hate having a cold (and trust me, I really hate it), I love my grandson more.

IMG_4458I only have one grandchild and I want to spend as much time with him as I possibly can.  I love watching him grow and learn new things, and my heart melts just a little each he gives me a hug.  I know those hugs usually come with a few cold germs attached (let’s face it, he’s basically a petri dish in a diaper), but I’ll still happily take each and every hug he offers.

Sometimes we have to pay a high price for the things we want, and I know that suffering from a never-ending series of colds is the price I have to pay for spending time with my grandson. But that’s okay, because I also know he’s worth it.

Getting To Know You

All relationships have to go through a period of adjustment.  Sort of like the first year of my marriage, when I discovered that my husband not only snored in his sleep, but also had a habit of sleepwalking around the apartment in the middle of the night.  (I woke up to find him fast asleep under the dining room table more than once.)  Or when he realized that the number of meals I actually knew how to cook was rather limited, and had to tell me that even though he loved my beef stroganoff, he’d rather not have it for dinner three nights a week.  Learning to live with someone new always brings a few surprises.

fullsizeoutput_4ff5So it’s probably only natural that I’m still learning a few things about our new dog, Finn.  He’s a Patterdale Terrier mix, and like most terriers, he’s very loving, energetic and determined.  But I’m still waiting to see some sign of the usual terrier intelligence.  He’s not stupid, but if he was human, he’d be a solid “C” student, even with his very best effort.

I have a mental image of my little dog sitting at a school desk,  muttering to himself while working on his math assignment:  “Two plus two?  Okay, that must be four.  Yeah, four.  Now for two plus three.  That’s got to be six.  But what about two plus four?  What could that be?  This is so hard!  Is it time for recess yet?”

Luckily, Finn is a sweet guy who seems to want nothing more than to be with us.  We can usually hear him barking madly when we leave the house, but by the time we return, he’s always curled up in his crate, fast asleep.  He loves to chase the squirrels and rabbits in our back yard, and plays endlessly with his squeaky toys when he’s inside.  He’s slowly (very slowly) learning the ways of our household, and seems quite pleased with himself whenever he earns our praise.

fullsizeoutput_4ff3Finn adores our grandson and is very patient with him, even though our grandson is a toddler who is still learning how to be gentle with dogs.  It probably helps that our grandson is still learning to feed himself and about half of his food ends up on the floor around his high chair.  Finn has figured out that toddlers are an excellent source of extra food, and makes it a point to be nearby whenever the little guy is eating at our house.

I’m still in the process of discovering exactly who Finn is, and what he needs from me.  Sometimes I have to remind myself to be patient when he makes mistakes, such as the other morning when I came downstairs to find him sitting on the kitchen table, calmly looking out the window.  I have to remind myself of how long it took our other dogs to settle into our household routines and learn our household rules, and remember to cut Finn a little slack.

And I’m still keeping an open mind when it comes to Finn’s intelligence.  He does know “sit” and how to come when called, and he never potties inside.  He’s learned that good things come to those who sit underneath high chairs.  But most important of all, he’s figured out how to make us love him and forgive his occasional misdeeds.  Which probably means that he’s just as smart as he needs to be.

Be Still

I’m an introvert, but that doesn’t mean I’m actually a quiet person.  The fact that I’m an introvert simply means that I need a certain amount of time by myself each day, and that I can get a little cranky when I don’t get that alone time.  But stick me in a group of people, and my mouth tends to go into overdrive.  It doesn’t even matter if I don’t have something that I especially want to say, I’ll still chatter away until the people around me are beginning to think that they might like a little alone time themselves.

Part of the problem is that when I get nervous, I tend to start rambling on about anything that pops into my head.  But the biggest reason I sometimes talk too much is my long-standing, but misguided, belief that I am somehow responsible for making sure that everyone around me is okay, and that it’s my job to fix their problems if they aren’t.  That’s the reason that I sometimes jump into conversations that aren’t really any of my business, and offer solutions that no one asked for.  It’s annoying, I know, and I’m working hard to stop it.

Breaking old habits isn’t easy, but I am making progress.  Slowly but surely, I’m learning that there are many, many times when the best thing I can do is keep my big mouth shut and just listen.  Listen as someone else talks about their life, their problems, their grief, or whatever they happen to be dealing with at the moment, because that’s their time to talk and not mine.  They aren’t expecting me to fix their problems or take away their grief, they just need a sympathetic ear as they work through their own thoughts and emotions.

Don’t get me wrong, wanting to help other people is a good thing.  And when I’m busy telling people what they ought to do or how they should deal with a particular problem, my heart really is in the right place.  The problem is, I’m not actually helping.  Unless someone has specifically asked for my advice, I need to assume that they don’t really want or need it.  Sometimes the help we want to give and the help that other people need to receive are two different things.

There are words that we can offer that will always be welcomed, and when in doubt, it’s best to stick with those.  Words of compassion and encouragement, such as “I’m so sorry this happened” or “I’ll be here for you” are good.  Once when I was fretting about an upcoming oral surgery, I had a friend look me in the eye and simply say, “You’ve got this.”  Just knowing she had confidence in my ability to cope helped enormously.

IMG_4496So I will continue to work on reining in my tendency to talk when it would be far better to remain silent, and to choose my words carefully when I do speak up.  Because sometimes the best thing to be is simply…..quiet.

This Fleeting Moment

I don’t pretend to know why bad things happen to good people.  I only know that they do, far more often than they should.  And that sadly, there really isn’t anything we can do to prevent it.

What we can do is accept it, and let that knowledge guide the way that we live our lives.  I’m not suggesting that we stay in a constant state of fear of something really bad happening to us or someone we love, because that would be a truly awful way to live.  I tend to be a bit of a pessimist already, so the last thing I need is any encouragement in that department.  But what I am suggesting is that we recognize that every good thing we have:  our health, our money,  and especially our relationships with the people we love, is something that we need to truly value and appreciate, because none of it is guaranteed to last.

Each day that we wake up in our own beds, healthy enough to face that day’s demands and chores is a gift.  Having enough money to provide for our basic needs is a gift, even if that money is the result of hard work and past sacrifices.  Every single minute spent with the people we love is not only a gift, but the most precious gift of them all.   But all too often, I find myself taking those gifts for granted.  Or worse, making the mistake of thinking that I am far too busy to actually enjoy them.

I think one of the hardest parts of aging is that we know too many people who are struggling and suffering, and that the longer we live, the more we have struggled and suffered ourselves.  I know that could be an excuse to harden our hearts and turn inward in an effort to protect ourselves from further pain.  But it can also be a reason to be much more intentional about how we spend our time and establish our priorities.

I believe that when we really recognize how fleeting life is, and how few things in life can be guaranteed, it makes it so much easier to make good choices about how we do spend our time and energy.  When I stop taking my health for granted, I’m so much more likely to eat foods that are good for me and to make sure I’m getting at least a little bit of exercise each day.  When I don’t assume that I will always be able to pay my bills, I find it so much easier to say “no” to purchases I don’t really need.  But most of all, when I don’t take my most precious relationships for granted, I find that I am always able to find a way to spend time with the people I love.  Because I know that I may not have that choice tomorrow.

Nothing is forever, no matter how much we wish otherwise.  So treasure your gifts now, whatever and whoever they are, while you still can.  Because in the end, that’s all that really matters.

Swiftly Fly The Years

It’s no secret that I’m not exactly young anymore.  I’m sixty years old, and could easily pass for a few years older than that (sagging chins and wrinkly skin runs in my family.)  I know I don’t have the strength and stamina I used to have; I never go anywhere without a pair of reading glasses, and I avoid mirrors whenever possible.  So you can see that I really do understand that I’ve become, shall we say, “a woman of a certain age.”

Which is why I can’t quite explain how shocked I was when I realized that my son, (the youngest of my two “children,”) had the audacity to turn thirty this past weekend.  I don’t remember being quite this surprised a couple of years ago, when my daughter turned thirty, although maybe that was because at that time I could take comfort in the thought that at least one of my offspring was still in his twenties.  But my son is my youngest, and now he’s thirty.  How in the world did that happen?  When did my baby boy become a thirty-year old man?

fullsizeoutput_4ee1I know it’s sounds beyond cliche, but it really does seem like just yesterday when he was just a little guy, full of energy, fun and endless curiosity.  I remember how he struggled to pronounce the letter “r” which always made him sound as if he was speaking with a southern drawl.  He could be stubborn when it suited him, but that wasn’t always a bad thing.  If he was interested in something, he threw himself into it with his whole heart.  Once when I was picking him up from preschool, the teacher handed me a large paper bag to take home, filled with that day’s art project.   Apparently, the children had been asked to paint a picture on a coffee can lid.  All the other children painted one.  My son painted nineteen of them.

But now my son and daughter are all grown up and their childhoods are mere memories.  Now we’re all adults.  Sometimes I struggle with just how much advice I’m allowed to give at this stage of our lives, and exactly where the line is between being helpful and being intrusive.  As a mother, I think I’ll always worry and want them to take good care of themselves and make wise decisions.  But our role as a parent changes and evolves as our children grow up and become independent adults.  All I can say is that I try my best to say and do the right thing.  And I’m beyond grateful that I raised two forgiving souls who are willing to overlook the times I get it just a little bit wrong.

So yes, now I am definitely an “older” woman,  but the more I think about it, the more I realize that is perfectly okay.  This stage of life allows me to focus more on myself and to follow my own interests.   And when I look at the fine young man my son has become, I find that I really don’t mind so much that he just happens to be thirty years old…..