Simple Pleasures

When I was a child, one of my favorite outings was a trip to the local zoo.  Sometimes we went as a family, but most often we went with neighborhood friends, all piled into my mother’s car.  The adults would sit in the front seat,  with the other moms holding their babies on their laps, and the rest of us kids would squeeze into the back seat.  If we couldn’t all fit, we’d make the smaller ones sit on the floor.  (This was in the days before seat belts and car seats.)   Once we arrived at the zoo, we’d have a marvelous time running around and seeing all the exotic animals, riding the zoo train, and when our moms weren’t looking, fishing coins out of the fountains to be used at the nearby concession stands.

Later, when I had my own kids, I loved taking them to the zoo as well.  It was fun to watch them enjoy the same things I had loved so much as a child, and to take them for a ride on the very same zoo train.  The zoo has changed and improved in many ways over the years, and thankfully provides a much more natural habitat for its animals these days, but a visit there is still a little trip down memory lane.

Now that my children are grown, I was looking forward to taking my two-year old grandson to the zoo this summer.    Sadly, the zoo had to close temporarily when the pandemic struck and when it did open back up, there were many new restrictions in place.  Reservations were required, masks must be worn, and many attractions remained closed.  I wasn’t sure it was worth the bother, and decided my plans to take my grandson to the zoo were yet another casualty of the Covid virus.

But when my daughter told me she’d made reservations for us to take my grandson to the zoo, I agreed to go.  We came prepared with our masks, a wagon to pull my grandson around in when he was tired of walking, and plenty of cold drinks to keep us hydrated.  While we didn’t have a typical zoo experience,  I can honestly say it was still an enjoyable one.

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We saw plenty of animals, (my grandson liked the elephants the best) and, of course, rode the zoo train just as I had all those years ago.  It was fun to see a two-year old get so excited when he saw his favorite animals and enjoy the train ride so much.  When it was over, I thanked my daughter for taking the initiative to plan the outing, knowing that if she hadn’t, I would have missed out on a very special experience.

And the next time I think that trying to do something I normally enjoy is just too much trouble these days, I’m going to remember that trip to the zoo.  Just because I can’t do many things as I normally would, doesn’t mean I can’t do them at all.  I can still invite friends over, we just sit outside and keep our distance.  I can still enjoy food from my favorite restaurants, I just eat it on their patio or get carry-out.  I may not be able to browse the library, but I can order the books I want and pick them up curbside.

Life is certainly different now, and sometimes it’s hard not to be discouraged.  But I think if we’re willing to be flexible and a little determined, we’ll find that there are still plenty of simple pleasures just waiting to be enjoyed.

Risk It

I have always been a very cautious person.  When deciding whether or not to try something new, I tend to carefully analyze the situation, weigh all the potential risks, envision every single thing that could possibly go wrong, and then, more often than not, I chicken out.  I usually decide that the risk just isn’t worth it, and decide to stick with the safety of my familiar routine. Luckily for me, I have found the courage to step outside of my comfort zone a few times in my life, and I am so glad that I did.

DSC03708While I was still in college, I volunteered at a nearby humane society, and although I learned a lot, I also found the experience so stressful that I developed the beginnings of an ulcer.  It took me years to decide to try it again, but I finally did shortly after we adopted our beloved dog Sandy from the local humane society.  That was thirteen years ago, and although volunteering at a large, open-admission animal shelter can sometimes be very hard, (both physically and emotionally) I’ve stuck with it.  I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned about dogs, how good it feels to see a dog I’ve worked with get adopted, or how much I’ve grown as a person just from my volunteer experience down there.  Although I signed up only because I wanted to help the shelter dogs, I’ve also had the added benefit of becoming close friends with many of the other volunteers.  I’m talking about real friends, the kind who stick by you no matter what, who know what you’re thinking before you even say it, and the kind who will let you cry or curse when you need to, and then do their best to cheer you up afterwards. There’s a lot to be said for people who have seen you at your worst but still like you anyway.

I thought about starting this blog for at least two years before I actually did it.  I wasn’t afraid of the actual writing, but I was very afraid of sending my writing out into cyberspace where anyone could read it, and even worse, comment on it.  As far as I was concerned, no possible good could come from talking to strangers on the internet.  I had watched enough true crime shows to know that was an absolute fact.

But a little over a year ago, I did finally start my blog.  And thanks to WordPress, I know that it has been read by people in 52 different countries, had almost 5,000 visitors and over 10,000 views.  Yes, there is spam, but my spam filter catches most of it and I delete the rest.  But I have formed online “friendships” with so many interesting, kind, smart and talented bloggers that now I really regret how long it took me to find the courage to start this blog.  I had no idea how much support and encouragement I would encounter from people who only knew me through reading my blog.  I don’t care what anyone says, I now believe that there are many, many nice people in this world.

I know I will always be a bit cautious.  It’s just part of my personality, and I don’t think I can do anything about that.  But I also know that with each step I take out of my comfort zone, taking a risk becomes just a little bit easier.  With each risk I take, I expand my horizons a bit more, grow a bit more, and live life just a little bit more fully.  And that makes the risk so very worth it.

 

True Victory

There are many times when I wish life was more like the movies, where there’s almost always a happy ending.  I wish that I could know for sure that no matter how bleak things look, if I just keep on trying hard enough and don’t give up, that I will triumph in the end.  That I will have that moment of victory, usually accompanied by lots of applause and inspiring music.  Sadly, real life seldom works that way.

The truth is, sometimes my best just isn’t good enough.  I tried for years to become a commercially successful children’s book writer, but it never happened.  Instead of a shelf full of my published books, I have a file cabinet stuffed full of rejection letters.  I have taken aerobics classes, yoga classes, pilate classes, and spent hours on my exercise bike and walking around the neighborhood, but my chubby upper thighs are still with me.  (I strongly suspect that even if I starved to death, they would still be there.  They are that resilient.)

IMG_0411I head down to the local humane society three times a week to walk the shelter dogs, but no matter how many I walk, no matter how many frightened dogs I comfort, or how many rowdy dogs I work with to teach the most basic of manners, there are always more dogs that I don’t have time to help.  My husband and I work hard to take care of our house and my mother’s house, but no matter how much time and money we spend on them, there is always something else that needs to be done.

Real life rarely comes with a sense of closure, never mind triumph.  The older I get, the less I believe in the whole concept of winning.  I think I am one of the few people who approves of coaches giving the young children on their team a trophy at at the end of the season, just for being on the team.  Those trophies aren’t rewards for winning, but they do acknowledge the perseverance of showing up for every practice and game and always giving your best effort, even when you don’t win.  Which, if you think about it, is probably a better preparation for real life than playing on a team that wins every game.

The only thing I can ever offer is my best effort.  I don’t know whether or not my best effort is going to fix a situation or guarantee that I reach my goal, because the truth is that sometimes it will, and other times it won’t.  But I think the important thing is that I don’t get discouraged and quit trying, because that will guarantee that I never accomplish a thing, and I don’t want to live like that.  I want the courage to keep trying, the wisdom to change strategies when necessary, and the perseverance to never stop trying to make the little bit of the world that I touch a better place.

So I’ll keep writing, because I love to write and I’m not a happy person when I’m not writing.  I’ll get back on that exercise bike and head off to my yoga class because I’m a healthier person when I exercise, even if my chubby thighs insist on staying with me.  And I’ll keep heading down to the humane society to help shelter dogs, even with the terrible knowledge that I won’t be able to save them all.  Because I’m finally realizing that the real victory is not giving up.