Hidden Treasure

I can’t say that I was looking forward to helping my mom prepare for her upcoming move into a retirement community.  I knew that my mom doesn’t make decisions easily, and would therefore need help in deciding exactly what she wanted to take with her into her new apartment.  And I also knew that Mom has a ton of stuff in her house to be sorted through, and that we’re going to have to figure out exactly what to do with all the things that she no longer wants.  Moving from a three-bedroom house to a one-bedroom apartment requires some serious downsizing and a whole lot of time and work.

But while it hasn’t exactly been fun to spend hours on end at Mom’s house emptying out closets, sorting through her kitchen cabinets and opening all the boxes stored in her basement, there’s been an unexpected upside to this whole procedure.  Because while some of those boxes, drawers and closets are full of the stuff that probably should have been donated or thrown away years (if not decades) ago, we’ve also discovered some family things that have made all the effort worthwhile.

I found a scrapbook that my mom made for the 10th anniversary celebration of my dad’s ordination.  Sounds boring, I know, but that scrapbook was filled with photos of our family and articles about us that I hadn’t ever seen because I wasn’t living at home when Mom made the scrapbook.  Or when she decided to put it in a box and leave it in that unopened box during three subsequent moves.  (Now you see why I insist on opening all the boxes for this move.)

dS0lwqSCSwKbwC1WqL+ExwWe also found an invitation to wedding of my great-grandfather to my great-grandmother, which I plan to frame.  And it was great fun looking through the folder my parents had made when we were planning my wedding, especially when we looked at the prices that were being considered.  My dad had written, “I told them to forget it!” next to the name of one venue, so I guess it’s safe to assume that they were a bit more expensive than the $11.95 per person we eventually paid for my reception.

Going through Mom’s stuff has brought back so many memories.  I loved discovering letters written by relatives who died years ago, because it was almost as if I were hearing their voices again.  And finding the copy of my grandfather’s high school report card covered with B’s and C’s was a bit of a surprise, since I had always known him as a smart and successful dentist.  Discovering that he had struggled a little in high school made me realize how hard he must have worked for the success he achieved later in life, when he actually taught at dental school.

Some of the documents I found were sad, like the guest books for both of my great-grandparent’s funerals.  Even sadder were the telegrams to out-of-town relatives, informing them that my oldest sister died shortly after her premature birth, and asking them to reach out to my mother.  But all of it is a record of my family’s past, and therefore also a part of my past.

I am, and always will be, a strict minimalist who firmly believes in the old adage “less is more.”  But when it comes to the photos, documents, letters, etc. that record family history, I have come to believe that there is no such thing as too much.  It may not have a monetary value, but trust me me….it’s true treasure.

Try a Little Kindness

Late last Friday afternoon, almost all of St. Louis was under a severe thunderstorm warning, with a chance for tornadoes to develop.  I was worried that my daughter and son-in-law wouldn’t make it to the daycare center in time to get my grandson, so I offered to pick him up.  We all met at my house just before the storm broke.  Thankfully, we didn’t get any tornadoes, but we got a lot of rain in a very short amount of time.

fullsizeoutput_54c2At first it was sort of fun to stand on our front porch and watch the rain come down, once we were sure it was safe to do so.  But then we noticed that the water was steadily rising, and that some of the neighbor’s recycling bins were floating down the street.  Soon the water was up to the hubcap’s of my daughter’s car, which was parked in front of our house.  Our drive-way looked like a river, and we watched, fascinated, as several plastic drainage pipes floated down our driveway, followed by small branches and what looked like an Amazon Prime package.  As my one-year old grandson so eloquently put it, “Oh, no!”

We’ve lived in our house for over twenty-five years and this is only the second time I’ve seen this type of flooding.  When the rain finally let up and the water began to recede,  my husband went around back to see if our garage had been flooded.

The good news was that the inside of our garage was dry.  The bad news was that the mother of our new neighbor behind us was out in her daughter’s yard, inspecting the damage.  And she was, to put it mildly, a little out of sorts.  She didn’t understand how so much water ended up in her daughter’s back yard.  She shared her opinion that the three skinny bushes we had planted between our yards must have caused all that water to back up onto her daughter’s property, and wanted to know what kind of idiot would plant bushes there.  The situation was, she kept repeating, “unacceptable.”

My husband is normally a patient man.  He listened to her complaints, then pointed out that our houses sit at the bottom of our street and that the water from the top of our street flows downhill towards us.  And that the three scraggly bushes did nothing to prevent the thousands of gallons of water from pouring down our driveway, so they’d hardly cause a flood in her daughter’s yard.  But eventually he’d had enough, and came back inside, shaking his head at her behavior.  My guess is that this woman has never been nominated for neighbor of the year.

The thing is, I understood why she was upset.  Her daughter had recently moved into the house, and I’m sure it was very concerning for her to see the kind of flooding we experienced last Friday.  But what I can’t excuse is how determined she was to find someone to blame, and how she took her anger out on my husband.  That, in my opinion, is what’s truly “unacceptable.” We don’t always get to control our emotions, but we most certainly can control how we express them.  And from a purely practical standpoint, it’s never a good idea to alienate the people who live next to you.

Luckily, the young woman who actually lives in the house is very nice, and doesn’t seem to be angry at all.  Which means that I think she will be a nice neighbor, and who knows?  We might even be able to work together to figure out a way to redirect at least some of the water from heavy rains.

But meanwhile, I have to say that I’m hoping that her mother doesn’t visit very often……

Time Flies

If that old saying “time flies when you’re having fun” is true, then all I can say is, I must be having the time of my life.  Because time is flying by so quickly these days that I can barely keep up.  According to the calendar, Summer is drawing to a close.  But I swear it was just yesterday that I was busy replacing all the Winter clothes in my closet with light-weight Summer tops and capris.  How can it possibly be time to start thinking about Fall?

And it’s not just the seasons that are flying by.  The nieces and nephews that I watched grow up now have kids of their own, and some of those kids have already graduated from high school.  Logically, I know that means a whole lot of years have passed since my nieces and nephews were born.  But emotionally, I tend to believe that they all must have found some sort of time machine that turned them into mature adults in the blink of an eye.  And I can only assume that my own kids must have used the same machine, because how else could my youngest one be thirty?

I’ve always known that time is a relative thing, because I remember the days of my own childhood when I would sit in classroom, sneaking peeks at the wall clock while I waited impatiently for recess.  The minutes simply dragged by until that long-awaited recess bell finally rang and we all rushed outside to play.  And yet those fifteen minutes of recess just flew by, because it seemed as if I had barely started to have fun before the bell rang again and we all had to line up and go back in the school building.

But what I didn’t realize was the fact that the older I became, the faster time would speed by.  I didn’t know that I was going to reach a stage in my life when I really, really wanted time to slow down, and not just when I was having fun.  I had no idea that with age comes the understanding that our time in this world is limited, and meant to be savored and enjoyed as much as we possibly can.

It almost seems unfair that this is a lesson that we don’t seem to learn until we have lived long enough that we’ve become far too familiar with grief and loss, and stopped assuming that the people we care for the most will always be with us.  At age sixty-one, I’m also accepting that I no longer have a long lifetime ahead of me to pursue unfulfilled dreams or repair broken relationships.  So I suppose it’s only natural that I feel that time is passing by far too quickly now, and why I really wish there was a way to slow things down a bit.

Unfortunately, I have absolutely no control of the great cosmic clock, which will tick on at the same speed it always has, whether I like it or not.  The only thing I can do, and the only thing any of us can do, is to spend the time we have left wisely.  For me, that means letting go of petty jealousy and anger, and actually doing the things that I love rather than thinking that I’ll get around to it someday.  And most importantly, making sure I spend as much time with the people I love right now, while I still can.

For What It’s Worth

For my last birthday, my son and daughter-in-law gave me a gift certificate good for a “behind the scenes encounter” our local zoo.  There were lots of different options to choose from (some easily ruled out, as I have no desire to get up close and personal with large reptiles.)   I chose the Penguin Encounter, and last Tuesday, my husband and I joined a small group of people who toured of the zoo’s penguin facilities.  We learned how the penguins are cared for at the zoo as well as how they live in the wild.  We also learned about the zoo’s efforts to preserve the natural habitat of penguins, and finally, we were actually able to “meet” a couple penguins.

IMG_0697We were instructed to sit quietly on the floor in a large circle.  Then the keeper led in two penguins, explaining that these two were well socialized and accustomed to walking around in the building.  We were allowed to gently touch their back or chest with one hand if they came close enough that we could touch them without leaning forward or extending our arm.  Sure enough, one of them waddled right up to me, and now I can honestly say that I have “petted a penguin.”

I really appreciated this gift, and not just because it was so fun to interact with a real penguin.  It also served as a timely reminder that what I value most in life has nothing to do with material objects and everything to do with how I get to spend my time.  Hanging out with my grandson, going on a trip to somewhere I’ve never been before, having dinner with good friends, even helping someone in need: these are the experiences that make life so interesting and that create memories that stay with us forever.

Like most people, I have a tendency to acquire far more things than I actually need, and even a bit more than I truly want.  I think it’s partly a result of human nature, and partly a result of the consumer-driven society I happen to live in.  It’s so easy for us to believe we want or need something, especially if we happen to notice that lots of other people really want it too.  (Remember Beanie Babies?)   Sometimes it seems as if unreasonable greed lives just below the surface in most of us, just waiting for something to trigger it.

But the truth of the matter is I have almost everything I need or want, and there really is very little reason to bring even more stuff into my modestly-sized house.  Which is something I’ll need to remember as I help my mom sort through all the things she’s accumulated but has no room for as she downsizes into her new apartment next month.  There’s going to be a whole lot of stuff that needs a new home, and I want to make sure that very little of it finds its way over to my house.

Because when you come right down to it, stuff is just that:  stuff.  And accumulating too much of it just makes our houses too crowded and our lives too complicated.  Far better to spend our time and energies doing the things that make us happy.  And who knows?  Sometimes that might even mean petting a penguin…..

The Best-Laid Plans

When I was a teenager, I learned to drive by practicing on my family’s Volkswagen Beetle, which had a stick shift.  As anyone who has driven a car with a stick shift knows, when you don’t shift properly, the car only moves forward in a jerky series of starts and stops, and sometimes just stalls out.  It was hard to get the knack of releasing the clutch and stepping on the gas in just the right way so that the car shifted smoothly into the next gear.  I figured it out eventually, but are times in my life when I feel as if I’m still in that little car, struggling to shift gears in a way that doesn’t jerk me all over the road.  This is one of those times.

A few weeks ago, we put my mother on a waiting list for a retirement community.   It was time for her to have a smaller living space to manage and more opportunities for socialization and activities, while still remaining independent.  The community she chose will provide all that, and once the decision had been made, we were eager to move ahead.  Unfortunately, we were told it could be a year before an apartment actually became available, so I reluctantly “shifted gears” and resigned myself to a long wait.  I even decided that the waiting was a good thing, since it would give Mom plenty of time to figure out what she wanted to take with her and to distribute the stuff she no longer needed.

Last week, I was organizing my paperwork when I noticed that I hadn’t put my cell phone number on the retirement community’s contact sheet.  I called the housing director to let her know, and after listening to me ramble a while, she said, “So I’m guessing you didn’t get my message yesterday?  The one that said the apartment you looked at is available now?”

C1bn%xHURyKz0aRtXD8CmQI was stunned.  The apartment we looked at was bright and airy, had an extra closet, and a balcony that overlooked the garden.  We all loved it, but were told that balcony apartments could take as much as two years to get, so Mom knew that the apartment she was going to get most likely wouldn’t have the balcony or extra closet.   And yet that exact apartment was now available immediately.  Mom was thrilled, and so were we, but it meant “changing gears” again as we prepare for a move in the very near future.

The last post I wrote about my mom’s upcoming move to a retirement home was all about patience, which is an area where I come up just a tad short.  And patience truly is a virtue that I’m working hard to acquire.  But sometimes life calls for other strengths, such as the ability to “go with the flow,” to move quickly when needed, and to seize an opportunity when it comes our way.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever learn to “shift gears” to adapt to the changes in my life nearly as well as I learned to shift gears in an actual car, but that’s okay.  I may be moving forward in a series of starts and stops, but I still get where I need to be.  And that’s all that really matters anyway…..

I Meant to Say

I may talk a lot (some would say I talk too much), but clear and effective communication isn’t my strong point.  There are many reasons for this, including the fact that when I get nervous I tend to babble on and on about nothing in particular, and completely skip whatever point I actually wanted to make.  Also, I don’t like conflict, so when I need to say something that might give offense, I tend to circle around the topic so widely that the person I’m talking to has no idea what I really mean.

But perhaps the biggest problem is simply that there is often a big difference between what I think I’m saying and what the person I’m talking to actually hears.  Because all of us have “personal filters” that can unintentionally distort the meaning of what is being said to us, and sometimes words can have different meanings to different people.  And as it turns out, the communication issues aren’t just limited to my dealings with other human beings.

One of the many advantages to having a dog live in the house is that dogs usually serve as an excellent alarm system.  If someone comes to your door, walks across your property, or even just innocently jogs down the street in front of your house, most dogs will let you know about it.  Loudly.  And that can be a good thing, especially if you happen to be home alone.

So when we brought our new dog, Finn, home a few months ago, I told him that one of his duties (aside from keeping the floor free of food and ridding the yard of vermin) was to serve as a watch dog.  And he took me at my word, quite literally.  One night I heard strange sounds coming from outside our front door and went downstairs to investigate.  Finn was already there, sitting nearby and watching intently as a stranger repeatedly tried to unlock the door and open it.  Luckily, it turned out to be a harmless young woman who was simply at the wrong house, but I still would have appreciated a woof or two out of Finn.  Clearly, I should have asked him to be an “alarm dog” rather than a “watch dog.”  (Although he is very good at watching.  Trust me on this.)

I suppose the lesson in all of this is that I need to remember that effective communication isn’t something I can ever take for granted.  Finn’s interpretation of being a watch dog is a great example of how easily our words and meanings can be misunderstood by others, and how we really do need to be a bit more forgiving when others don’t respond the way we would wish.  Actions and words that we are so quick to take offense at are often the result of nothing more than a simple miscommunication, I think.

fullsizeoutput_53ddSo I will try harder to make myself as clear as I possibly can, whether I’m talking to someone who walks on two legs or four.  Which means I might just have a shot at getting Finn to finally understand that the wading pool in the back yard is actually for my grandson….

Good Things Come

Patience may be a virtue, but it’s not one of mine.  I’m the sort who skips dessert and then steps on the scale to see how many pounds I’ve lost.  I wanted my new dog, Finn, to drop all of his annoying habits right away, even though he’s only one-year old.  (You’d think the fact that I’m sixty-one years old and still have almost all of my annoying habits would mean I’d be a little more patient with him.  But you’d be wrong.)  And when I planted this year’s tomato seedling, I immediately started planning the recipes I was going to make with this year’s bumper crop of tomatoes.

So now that my mom has made the decision to move into a retirement home, I’m ready to pack her up and move her in there as soon as possible….next week at the very latest.  And of course that’s not going to happen.

Never mind the fact that she’s going to be moving from a three-bedroom house (with a full basement and a garage) to a one-bedroom condo, which is going to require major down-sizing.  It’s going to be a huge task simply to decide which of her possessions she wants to take with her, never mind what to do with all the stuff she doesn’t want to take.  And then there’s all the chores that go with any move:  the change of address cards, shutting off utilities in the old house, hiring a mover, etc.  All of it takes time.

But the biggest problem is that the retirement community she’s selected has a waiting list, and we’ve been warned that it could be as long as a year before a unit opens up for her.  Which means that I’ve got too much time to spend worrying and fretting as I wait for this move to actually happen.

What if she has a major health issue in the next few months and no longer meets the “independent living” requirements?  What if we get rid of all her extra stuff and then she changes her mind about moving?  What if everyone who currently lives in the retirement home actually stays there for the next ten years, and a condo never becomes available?  There are so many things that could go wrong that my mind just reels…

But this, like so much in life, is something that I really can’t control.  Yes, I want to see my mother safe and happy in her new home, and I do think she’s made the right decision to move.  But the process isn’t going to go any faster if I fret and worry than it will if I manage to step back, take a deep breath, and let things work out however they happen to work out.

IMG_5532 2Because sometimes, I think, we just have to trust that once we’ve done everything we can to make something happen that it often does….if we can just wait a little while.  Finn may still annoy us now and then, but his behavior has improved enormously since he first moved in.  We kept my son’s dogs last week, and the three of them got along just great with no issues at all.  That’s progress.  And I may not have a bumper crop of tomatoes just yet, but I do have enough to make a tasty addition to the salad I’m serving with dinner tonight.

So maybe, just maybe, it’s time for me to admit that there’s some truth to that old saying, “good things come to those who wait.”  And then learn to do it with patience and trust….

This Too Shall Pass

Accepting change has never been my strong point.  I have a strong tendency to stick with  familiar things, and to cling to my long-established routines.  People usually seemed surprised (and a little impressed) when they ask me how long I’ve been volunteering at the local animal shelter and I answer, “almost seventeen years.”  A big part of the reason I’ve stayed so long is that I’m passionate about helping shelter dogs.  But if I’m being entirely honest, I have to admit that walking shelter dogs three days a week has also become a habit, and I don’t break habits easily.

But the problem with being resistant to change is that far too many things in my life are changing, and not always for the better.  In my darker moments, I strongly suspect that most of the things I enjoy and a most of the ways I prefer to do things are fast becoming obsolete.

For instance, I love taking photos, which is easier than ever now, thanks to digital cameras and smart phones.  But I also like to print them off and display them in photo albums, and it’s getting harder and harder to find any place that makes good-quality prints, much less actually sells photo albums to store them in.  I’ve been using the website of a local camera shop, but they recently replaced their edit feature with one that isn’t compatible with my computer, which is not a change for the better.

My husband and I are also apparently among the few people who prefer not to bank online, and actually pay our bills the old-fashioned way, by mailing checks.  Yet we know we are living on borrowed time, as our bank keeps making it harder to order checks, and also sends fewer checks with each order.  (Even though the fee for ordering checks keeps getting higher.)  I suspect they’re trying to see just how much they can charge their customers per check before we give up and switch to on-line banking.  Which, of course, makes it so much easier for hackers to access our accounts, so you can see what an improvement that’s going to be.

I love to read books, and by that I mean actual books…the kind that are kept on a book shelf.  But book stores are closing all over the country and some new “books” are being published only on-line.  I know that saves paper, but I also know that staring at screens for hours on end isn’t good for our eyes.  Plus, all those devices that we read from operate on batteries and/or electricity, which isn’t exactly good for the environment.  But mostly, I just love books and truly hate the thought of a world without them.

Sometimes I’m afraid the time is approaching when even writing, which is one of my greatest joys, will be obsolete.  Who needs to actually know how to write when we can have all our needs met by simply talking to our computers, virtual assistants and assorted other gizmos?

Still, I know that change has always been a part of life, and that since we’re living in what can only be described as a “technological revolution,” it’s simply coming at us a little faster than I’d prefer.  And I like to think that just as our ancestors lived through eras of great change (such as the industrial revolution), I will get through this as well.

Perhaps the time has simply come for me to worry a bit less about the changes around me and have a little more faith in my ability to adapt and cope.  And to remember that not all change is bad, and that some change is actually very, very good.  All I can say is that I’ll try.

Meanwhile, I’m going to keep walking the shelter dogs, and possibly start stockpiling photo albums for future use.  Because some change is simply unacceptable…..

The Good Fight

TvlA4iu0QPinzH73TPpYigI don’t usually pay much attention to Facebook memes, but I saw one a few years ago that really spoke to me.  It was a quote from Mary Anne Radmacher that read, “Courage does not always roar.  Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.'”  I think I remembered that quote because I found a lot of wisdom in her words, and some much-needed encouragement as well.

We live in a world where it is almost impossible to escape from the constant roar of angry voices around us.  It comes at us from all angles:  social media, the daily news, even conversations with friends and acquaintances.  And of course there is much in this world to provoke our anger, and many injustices that need to be corrected and many problems that need to be solved.  There never has been, or probably never will be, any shortage of things to be angry about, in either our personal lives or in the society we live in.  But the problem is, simply expressing our anger isn’t actually going to fix a thing.

It’s easy to point out injustices and issues, and speak out against them, loudly and frequently.  Nothing could be simpler than to point the finger of blame and to ridicule and demonize those who look at things a bit differently.  And few things are more comfortable than surrounding ourselves in a cloak of self-righteous, moral superiority.  Which is exactly why we all behave that way once in a while, and why some of us seem to get stuck in that mode.  Sadly, venting can become a habit and anger tends to breed even more anger.

But actually correcting injustices and solving problems requires so much more than simply speaking out.  It also requires a whole lot of hard work and sustained effort.  It often means we have to make some personal sacrifices, and it usually means that we have to be in dialogue with, and sometimes even work with, the very people who made us angry in the first place.  But mostly, fixing long-term and complex problems requires a whole lot of patience and persistence.

Like most people, I prefer quick and easy to solutions to the problems I face, both in my personal life and in the world around me.  But real life rarely works that way.  Which means that sometimes I’m going to feel so frustrated and discouraged that I just want to either lash out in anger or simply throw up my hands and walk away in despair.  Yet that is exactly the time when I need to dig down deep in myself and find the strength to carry on, moving forward with patience, an open mind, and the quiet resolve to make things better.

In other words, I have to find the courage to “try again tomorrow.”

The Ties That Bind

I promised myself that I wouldn’t be an obnoxious grandmother.  I vowed that I wouldn’t be one of those women who acts as if her grandchild is the most fascinating person in the world and who just naturally assumes that everyone else wants to hear all about him.  All the time.  I had no intention of carrying around a few hundred snapshots of my grandson in my purse just so I could whip them out and show them to my friends, neighbors, and the poor waiter who’s trying to take my dinner order.  (And just for the record, I don’t carry around snapshots of my grandson……because I don’t have to.  I have tons of photos of him stored on my phone, where I can not only show them to people, I can also send them to all my acquaintances.)  But one way or the other, I’ve basically failed in the “not being an obnoxious grandmother” department.

All I can say is that I meant well.  But I didn’t realize how difficult it was going to be to maintain any kind of objectivity when it comes to my grandson.  I didn’t know that I was going to fall so completely in love with him the very first time I saw him, just as I did with my own two kids.  I had no idea that I would be perfectly happy to just sit on the sofa with him when he’s sick, holding him while he sleeps because I’m afraid that if I try to put him in his crib, he’ll wake up.  And sick babies need their sleep.

IMG_5340I didn’t realize that I was going to find just about everything he does both fascinating and endearing, and have far more patience with him than I ever had when his mother was a toddler.  Even when he’s having a tantrum, like the time he got mad and threw his pacifier at me, I had to turn my head away so he wouldn’t see the smile that would only encourage bad behavior.  I guarantee you I didn’t have to hide my smile when my own kids acted that way.

I don’t pretend to know why we become so obsessed with our grandchildren, but I’m beginning to think it might have something to do with both our age and the way our families change over time.  Our parents have grown old or passed away, and our children have become adults and moved out of our homes to create their own lives.  That’s only natural, but it does mean that our familiar family units have changed, sometimes leaving a hole in our hearts that grandchildren seem to fill perfectly.  Or at least that’s my theory for now.

All I know is that despite all my good intentions, I’ve become the poster child for obnoxious grandmothers, and I may as well just own it.  Because I sure as heck am enjoying it……