Year After Year

I’m a big fan of Christmas traditions.  This is the one time of the year when “doing things the way we’ve always done them” feels not only right, but almost mandatory.  I love trimming my tree with ornaments I’ve had for decades, and I do it while listening to Nat King Cole’s Christmas music, just the way my family did when I was a child.  I find it both meaningful and comforting to carry on old family Christmas traditions….most of the time.  But there are a few traditions that I would love to abandon, if only I could.

I could do without the nasty Christmas cold I manage to come down with every year, and just once I’d like the breakfast casserole I make for Christmas morning to turn out the way the recipe promised.  But it never does.  It’s either under-cooked and soggy, or over-cooked and dry, and it always sticks to the baking dish.  Still, my family chokes it down each year and assures me that it tastes just fine, because (of course) that casserole is a Christmas tradition.

IMG_2768But if I could abandon just one of my Christmas traditions, it would be the annual battle to put the lights on my Christmas tree.  I prefer the large, old-fashioned lights that throw out a warm, cozy glow on a dark night, just like the ones my family has always used.  You’d think that putting a few strands of them on the tree would be easy.  But each and every year year, something goes dreadfully wrong when we try to light up our tree.

Last year the Christmas lights I had been using finally wore out and refused to work, so I embarked on a frantic search for replacement lights.  Which every single store I went to seemed to be sold out of.  I even gave the LED lights a try, but after carefully putting them on the tree I realized that while they are indeed bright to look at, they don’t actually light up a room.  Eventually, after much time and effort, I did find some satisfactory lights and was able to spend my December evenings basking in their glow.

This year I had the lights and figured it would take twenty minutes, tops, to string them and then we could hang the ornaments.  I was wrong.  I put the lights on the tree, but then realized there weren’t nearly enough.  So I took them back off, found another strand in our basement and put them all back on again.  Then the strand in the middle of the tree stopped working, so I took those off while my husband went to the store to get some more.  By the time we finally got the tree lit and looking good, the entire afternoon was shot and we decided to go have pizza and hang the stupid ornaments the next day.

But at least the lights are on the tree, and soon I can add the ornaments.  My Nat King Cole CD is still working (I checked), so I think I’m all set.  By this time tomorrow my tree will be fully decorated and I can just relax and enjoy the rest of the season.  Until, of course, I catch my annual Christmas cold….

I Don’t Get It

I had always been told that age brings wisdom, and in some ways I suppose that’s true.  I like to think that I’ve gotten a bit smarter over the years, or at least just a little less clueless than when I was young.  But I’m almost sixty years old now and there are still far too many things  in this world that I simply do not understand.  And I’m beginning to think that I never will.

Much of what I fail to understand is fairly new, so my age might actually be working against me there.  For instance, I keep seeing ads where restaurants and grocery stores boast about providing “clean food.”  And I think, as opposed to what?  Dirty food?  Are they seriously bragging that they aren’t serving food that’s been dropped on the ground or retrieved from the garbage can?  Of course their food is clean.  If it wasn’t, the health department would shut them down.  That’s their job.  If a restaurant or store wants to impress me with the quality of their food, they need to focus more on words like “healthy” “fresh” and “tasty.”  Especially “tasty.”

I’m also bewildered by the growing popularity of  the “open concept” choice of home design.  As far as I can see, open concept is achieved by tearing down almost all of the existing walls in a home to create one giant living space.  Apparently, this is necessary so that there are sight-lines all over the house, meaning that those living in it can see everything all the time.  For some reason, that’s considered important and the days of enjoying a bit of privacy or some peace and quiet in your home are over.  I can’t help but wonder if even bathroom walls will eventually be removed just so people could be sure of  seeing everything, even when seated on the toilet.

But the things I don’t understand aren’t just limited to new trends.  I know that I’m a bit of a clean-freak and that means my house is probably cleaner than most.  But I’m still surprised by how many people feel free to comment on how “unnaturally clean” my house is.  I know they don’t mean anything negative by it.  But personally, I’d never dream of walking into someone’s messy house and saying, “Wow!  What a pig sty!”  I think people should be allowed to keep their houses as clean or messy as they want, within reason.  (If your house is so clean that you’re following your guests around with a dust cloth and vacuum cleaner, then it is too clean.  If your guests can’t find anywhere to sit down that isn’t sticky and are afraid to eat what comes out of your kitchen, then it’s too dirty.)  Everything in between is perfectly okay.

These are just a few of the things that I puzzle over, and believe me, there are many more.  I’m hoping I’ll get to live a good long life and that will give me the chance to solve more of life’s little mysteries.  But I think it’s far more likely that there will always be many things I won’t begin to understand, even if I life to be one hundred.  And I guess that’s just part of what makes life so interesting…

The Age of Technology

My days are filled with reminders that I am no longer young.  I wake up each morning with stiff and aching joints.  I can’t apply make-up without the help of a magnifying mirror, which is annoying because the magnifying mirror also does a terrific job of revealing every single wrinkle on my face.  (When I use a regular mirror I only notice my sagging chin and eye bags, but I found out the hard way that it’s not a good idea to apply mascara when you can’t actually see your eyelashes.)  I am reminded daily that I have nowhere near the strength or stamina I had even ten years ago.  One way or another, it is impossible for me to forget that I am getting old. And while I may not especially like it, I do accept it.

But accepting the fact that I am, shall we say, “a woman of a certain age” doesn’t mean that I enjoy being treated as if the fact that I am old also means I am incompetent and stupid.  Which is why I tend to get just a bit crabby when either my computer or my smart phone decides to act up and I am stuck with the daunting task of trying to get it fixed.

I’m not the sort of person who panics the minute something goes wrong.  I always try to identify the problem and look up ways to fix it before I finally (and reluctantly) ask for help.  And I put off asking for help because I know that as soon as I do, I will be told by someone half my age that the problem must be that I am doing something wrong.  Because if someone who looks like me (see above reference to sags, bags and wrinkles) is having a problem with her technology, the problem has to be that she isn’t bright enough to work it properly.  It can’t possibly be the fault of the computer, the smart phone, or the I-Pad, etc.

I once spent an hour with an employee at a cell-phone store who kept telling me that the problem I was explaining simply couldn’t exist.  Politely but persistently, I assured him it did.  (We old people can be stubborn.)  And even when, after exhausting all other possible explanations, he finally realized that I was telling the truth, he didn’t actually acknowledge I was right.  He just fiddled with my phone some more and handed it back to me, assuring me that it was now working just fine.  And then then went to “help” the next customer.

I know I’m not a whiz at technology, and that I was born back in the days when phones were rotary, televisions were black and white, and there was no such thing as a personal computer.  None of this comes naturally to me.  But I have learned how to operate a smart phone, publish a blog on the internet, and even send a decent text message as long as I remember to put on my reading glasses before I begin typing.  So I think I have earned the right to at least be given the benefit of the doubt when I say that something on my computer or phone isn’t working properly.

DSC01665There’s so much more I could say on this subject, but I don’t have the time.  My 87-year old mother is having problems opening her emails, and I have to go over to her house and figure out just what she is doing wrong…..

 

Quitting Time

Sometimes I just don’t know when to quit.  Maybe I read “The Little Engine That Could”  too many times as a child, or maybe it’s that I can be a teeny bit obsessive when it comes to completing what I’ve started, or maybe I’m just too darned stubborn for my own good.  But for whatever reason, every once in a while I find myself plugging away at a particular goal long after it has become obvious that my chances of success are less than zero, and the only sensible thing to do is give up.  That little train engine may have chanted, “I think I can! I think I can!” but sometimes it’s much more honest to say, “I thought I could, but I was wrong.  I thought I could, but I was wrong.”

Recently, fellow blogger Kate (who writes a wonderful blog called Aroused) invited me to do an interview for another blog she writes called “Meet the Bloggers Blog.”  I was flattered to be invited to do that, and quickly agreed.  She emailed me the questions, with the request that I send my answers back to her, including links to two of my blog posts.  It sounded easy enough, and I had no trouble answering the questions.  So far, so good.  But then I tried to include the links and that’s when everything came to a grinding halt.

My computer uses Word, so I wrote my answers in that, including what I thought were the working links she requested, and emailed it to her.  Now a smart person would have checked those links before she sent the email, but I didn’t.  Draw your own conclusions about that.  Once I realized my mistake, I emailed her again and let her know the links didn’t work, but I would try to fix it.  Two hours later, I had chatted on-line with a Word Press Help assistant, looked up several sites on how to attach a link to a Word document, filled Kate’s inbox with several more increasingly apologetic emails notifying her of each failure, and still haven’t figured out anything about how to add a link except that maybe my word-processing system and Word Press don’t play well together.

DSC03342 2My tendency to keep trying in the face of obvious failure isn’t just limited to technology, either.  I love homegrown tomatoes, and for the past several years have been trying to grow my own.  One year I even succeeded and harvested a few dozen.  But that’s just one year.  Mostly, I grew tomato plants that were massive in size, but were also infested with white flies that kept the tomatoes from ripening properly.  The looked bad and tasted worse.  This year, I have a beautiful, white-fly free, normal-sized tomato plant in my back yard that has at least twenty tomatoes on it.  All of them green, as they have been since early July, and will probably remain that way until the first frost kills them.

Sometimes the only thing to to is throw in the towel and admit defeat.  At best, we can try to salvage something from our efforts that we can put to practical use in another area.  The one good thing that came from my efforts to add a link to my favorite blog post was that I realized the post I liked best was written just a few months after I started this blog, meaning that very few people, other than my mother and my husband, have actually read it.  I’m thinking it could be a good idea to re-post it on my blog, as soon as I figure out how to do that.  Which most likely means that you can expect to see it on this blog sometime in 2020, if I’m not smart enough to give up before then.

Things I Learned the Hard Way

The older I get, the more I am convinced that many of life’s most important lessons can’t be taught in the classroom.  So many of the things I really need to know I learned from experience, and sometimes through multiple experiences because I have the unfortunate habit of not always paying attention to what life is trying to teach me.  In the hopes of sparing others unnecessary discomfort, embarrassment, and pain, I thought I’d share a few of those lessons.

  1. If at all possible, avoid having a root canal.  If you can’t avoid it, always accept the offer of anything that distracts you from the fact that someone is busy digging all the nerves out of your tooth.  Wearing earphones drowns out the sound of the drills, and keeps you from hearing if the dentist happens to say, “Ooopsie,” or “Dang, I totally didn’t mean to do that!”
  2. When making plans for travel, never prepay for anything that is not refundable, nor tell the relatives you are visiting that you will be there no matter what.  That is a sure-fire way to bring on a major blizzard, an attack of the flu, or a family or household emergency.  I will always remember the Thanksgiving Eve when I came home to discover the upstairs toilet was clogged, the downstairs toilet was in the hallway, and our refrigerator wasn’t working.  I had to call my out-of-town mother and tell her there was a tiny chance we might not be there for Thanksgiving dinner.
  3. If you get home with your new jeans only to discover that the store forgot to remove the little gizmo on them that is supposed to spray ink if not properly removed, go back to the store and ask them to remove it.  Don’t try to do it yourself.  They aren’t kidding about that ink spraying thing.
  4. Set your own limits.  Nobody knows what you are capable of doing or coping with nearly as well as you do, and you are not required to live up to anyone’s expectations except your own.  This includes, but is not limited to, firmly telling your doctor that you don’t want to see the cute but bloody little cyst he just removed from your body.  Standing your ground on these matters beats sitting in the waiting room with your head between your knees, sipping cold water and waiting for the feelings of dizziness and nausea to pass so you can go home.

IMG_1452I could go on, but I like to keep my blog posts short and at least somewhat to the point, so I’ll just close with one final, and yet very important, lesson.  Never, ever, feed your dog or let your dog find and consume something her digestive system can’t handle. (I won’t name names, but some of you may recognize the photo.)  It results in explosive diarrhea, and few things are worse than living with a house dog suffering from explosive diarrhea.  I’ll spare you the details.  You’re welcome.

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……

Timing is Everything

IMG_1185Usually, I can’t wait for the arrival of Spring.  By the time March rolls around, I want nothing more than to be finished with Winter.  I hate Winter’s short, cold days and its long, even colder nights.  I hate the dry air in my house that creates chapped skin and generates shocks from static electricity despite the best efforts of my humidifier.  And although I love walking shelter dogs three times a week, I hate doing it in freezing temperatures.  My eyes water from the cold wind, my fingers turn white, and my nose hair freezes.  So ordinarily, the first sign of Spring fills me with joy and a hope for better things.

But this year, Spring came too early, even for me.  Although we had some truly cold days in December and a few frosty days in January, February brought an early warmth that fooled the local foliage into thinking that it was time to bloom.  Before the month was over, daffodils and crocuses were out, and the magnolias, pear trees, forsythia and many other bushes and trees I can’t name were in full flower.  And through it all, I just kept thinking, “But it’s too early for this!  It’s not even March yet!”

The timing of it all just struck me as off, and even a little bit creepy.  I felt out of sorts on many days, and even something as simple as getting dressed became complicated.    Should I go downstairs and root through my bins of warm-weather clothes to find something to wear, or put on one of the  winter sweaters I usually wear in February and hope that wherever I was going had air-conditioning?  As odd as it sounds, I yearned for at least one more snowfall, and temperatures that still required a coat.

And then March finally arrived, and I began to think that perhaps it wasn’t too early for the balmy weather and glorious colors of Spring after all.  Sure, it was still a few weeks ahead of schedule, but warm weather in March isn’t that unusual where I live.  So I finally decided that Spring had indeed sprung, and started in with my usual spring routines.  I packed away my heavy sweaters, began my Spring house-cleaning and even thought about putting out a few Easter decorations.  And whenever I was outside, I found myself not only noticing, but truly appreciating the cheerful colors on all the flowering trees and bushes.

Which meant, of course, that Winter has decided to make a comeback.  In a couple of days the temperatures are supposed to plummet, and we are expected to receive a “wintry mix” that will probably include accumulating snow.  The colorful blooms I’ve been admiring will wither and turn brown, while other plants that have just begun to bud out may not bloom at all.  I may even have to figure out where I stashed the snow shovel.

But I’m not worried.  I know that all I have to do to send Winter packing (at least until next year) is to pretend that I’m truly enjoying the cold weather this weekend.  I’m going to light a fire in the fireplace, put on my favorite winter sweater, make hot chocolate, and if there’s enough snow, I’m even going to build a snowman.  Because believe me, that’s all it will take to make Spring come roaring right back.

Patiently Waiting

I’m sure you’ve seen those commercials for mattress stores, claiming that since we spend at least one quarter of our lives sleeping, we should make sure we are doing it on a proper mattress. There are lots of different mattresses to choose from, everything from foam memory, pillow top, and even a mattress that raises and lowers at the touch of a remote, just to make sure we get a good night’s sleep.  I’m not arguing the need for a decent mattress, but I am wondering why the same reasoning doesn’t apply to other areas of our lives.  And maybe it’s because I’ve just returned from a doctor’s appointment, but what I’d really like to know is, why can’t someone put a little bit of time and effort into designing a decent waiting room?

I have no idea exactly what percentage of our lives are spent in waiting rooms, but at the age of 58, I’m quite sure I’ve spent several hundred hours in them.  And I can honestly say I didn’t enjoy a single minute.

Waiting rooms are depressingly similar.  They’re usually painted some bland color, packed with uncomfortable chairs and finished off with a dark carpet in a pattern that was obviously selected to hide stains.  There may be a television attached to the wall, but if there is, it’s inevitably tuned to a 24-hour news channel and the sound is either muted or so loud you can’t hear when your name is finally called.   Stacks of magazines are often available, but they are usually either trade magazines or at least six months old, or both.  And if you’re in a doctor’s office, you definitely don’t want to know how many sick people have already touched that year-old issue of People you’re skimming through with their germ-ridden hands.  If you aren’t sick already, you soon will be.

Luckily, we live in an age where most people can pass the time in the waiting room by reading from their personal electronic device, or a cell phone.  But that has it’s downside too, because having a cell phone so handy means that the people who share your waiting room can, and will, talk on them.  Loudly and about nothing even remotely interesting.  I’ve always believed that if you’re going to force other people to listen to your personal phone conversations, at least make it worth their while.  Say, perhaps, by reciting your credit card number, including the expiration date and security code.

Whether you’re waiting for routine medical exam, to have your teeth filled at the dentist or even just the oil changed in your car, no one really wants to be in that waiting room.  Sitting elbow to elbow with complete strangers, some of whom have better personal hygiene habits that others, is no picnic, no matter how you look at it.  But I believe it doesn’t really have to be that way.

Just think what a difference it would make if waiting rooms were designed to be places that people actually enjoyed.  Why not have cheerful decor and big, comfy chairs, with plenty of space between them.   Maybe they’d even recline, for those who needed a nap. And each chair would have it’s own screen, and everyone would get their own set of earplugs, so they could watch what they wanted without disturbing others. Cell phones would be collected upon arrival, and returned when the appointment was over. In the corner, there would be a concession stand with drinks and light snacks.

I don’t know about you, but I’d happily trot off to my next appointment if I knew I’d have such a nice room to wait in.  I might even show up an hour early, and I certainly wouldn’t complain if the doctor was running a bit behind.  I know this sounds a bit far-fetched, but hey, look how far we have come with mattresses.  If a mattress can evolve from a husk-filled pallet to the individually adjustable, super-comfortable beds we have now, surely we can design a waiting room worth spending time in.  I’m just saying….

Character Judgement

aunt-mickeyI was watching a show on HGTV the other day, and the couple that was house-hunting described the house they were being shown as a “mid-century modern with good bones.”  They went on to lavish praise on the house’s classic lines, its solid foundation and minimalist charm.  Next they were shown an even older house, which they also liked.  They thought it had tons of potential, and it was described as an “aging beauty” whose creaky floors, cracked walls and and other flaws gave it a “timeless charm and character.”  They couldn’t wait to restore it to its former glory.

And that’s when it hit me.  I want people to judge me by the same standards they use to judge houses.

Think about it.  I was born in 1958, which means that I’m not really old, I’m just a “mid-century modern.”  And I’m sure I have good bones, even if they are covered up by drooping muscles and sagging skin.  My beauty is certainly minimalist, but if you think of me the way you think of a house, then that’s actually a good thing.  Even better, when I’m a bit older, I can look forward to being thought of as an “aging beauty,” whose wrinkles and creaky joints are simply considered charming.  I won’t be old, I’ll just be historic.  And possibly valuable.

If I were a house, people would think that the fact that my bottom half is significantly larger than my top half only meant that I have a “good foundation.”  My age would mean that I was “solidly built” and well put together.  When I approach the make-up counter at a department store, the clerk would be eager to bring out my hidden potential and restore my former beauty, rather than simply recommending a very strong anti-aging cream combined with a really good concealer.

The benefits of being judged by the same standards as a house are many, but if that’s not possible, I can also still think of other alternatives.  These days, trendy neighborhoods abound with vintage clothing stores, and they aren’t especially cheap.  If the same standards were applied to me, I’d be a “vintage” woman, not a middle-aged or old one.   Or I can be thought of as a fine wine, which we all know improves with age.  I like to think that I’m improving as I grow older, even if it doesn’t particularly show on the outside.

I know that judging others is something we all do occasionally, despite our best efforts to the contrary.  It seems to be part of human nature.  But since it’s so easy to see the value in older houses, wine and clothing, I can’t help but think how of nice it would be if we could see that same value in older people….

A Disturbing Pattern?

I have never been a particularly ambitious person.  I had no plans to run for public office, become a celebrity of any sort, or make enough money to live in a huge mansion.  Although I did hope to make a modest living writing children’s books, I never aspired to being on the New York Times Bestseller’s list.   My main goal in life has always been a very modest one:  to simply try to leave the world a slightly better place than I found it.  Seriously, that’s it.  But even so, I’m starting to think that maybe I set the bar just a little bit too high.

DSC01258If I were really the sort of person who brought in a ray of sunshine each time she entered the room, how do I explain all the times when my mere presence has had what can only be called a distinctly negative effect?  There’s the little things, like how whatever line I join at the checkout counter immediately becomes the slowest moving line, each and every time.  Sometimes the person in front of me hands the cashier a huge wad of coupons and argues endlessly when told that half of them are expired, while other times we all wait for a stock boy to do a price check on an item shelved on the other side of the store.  But one way or another, when I get in a line, it stops moving.

And yes, I know lots of people claim they have the same experience with check-out lines, but I have so many more examples.  I had to have my senior pictures retaken because the photographer discovered that his camera broke during my photo session.  Other people joke about having their face break a camera, but mine actually did it.

This past year alone, five of my favorite restaurants have gone out of business.  And even if a restaurant that I love does manage to stay open, they always discontinue whatever dish I like the best.  Remember Panera’s potato-cream cheese soup?  It was so delicious that it was worth every calorie, and it was my absolute favorite.  So of course they took it off the menu.

The last three times I joined a church, the minister resigned shortly afterwards.  When my husband and I decided to invest a little money with a broker, the stock market immediately dropped like a rock.  We have lived in the same house for the past twenty years, and like to think that we are good neighbors.  But then how do I explain that the house on our left has turned over six times since we moved in, and we have actually lost count of how many different families have lived in the house behind us?

But the biggest example is my writing career.  The only children’s book I ever published was sold through a book packager who expressed interest in seeing more of my work.  And then promptly went out of business.  A small public relations firm closed right after I completed my first assignment for them.  Several editors have lost their positions shortly after asking me for revisions with the goal of eventual publication, and three separate publishing houses that liked my work also went out of business before I could close a sale.  I’m sort of the “Typhoid Mary” of the publishing world.

I tell you, it’s enough to give a person a complex!  Sometimes I feel the exact opposite of the king in the story, “The Midas Touch.”  Remember that story?  Where everything the king touched turned to gold?  Only in my case, it often turns to–well, let’s just say not gold.  So, if you are one of the small group of people who reads my posts, I suggest you enjoy them while you can.  Because past experience suggests that it’s only a matter of time before WordPress pulls the plug.