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.

A Picture of my Life

I just spent a happy morning at my computer, putting the finishing touches on a photo book of my daughter’s wedding.  Of course I have lots of pictures of the wedding, which are  either framed and displayed around my house or tucked into a huge photo album I bought especially for the occasion, and I’ll be getting a copy of the official wedding album from the professional photographer.  But I wanted to make a photo book using only the photos I selected, and doing it on-line means that I can easily shrink or enlarge the photos, and rearrange them until I am happy with the result.  Plus, photo books are much smaller and lighter than regular photo albums.  They’re so easy to take along when I’m visiting friends or relatives whom I’m sure would like nothing more than to look at at the photos of my daughter’s wedding one more time.

I know lots of mothers are a bit overly-enthusiastic about their daughter’s wedding pictures, but my enthusiasm (aka obsession) isn’t limited to the wedding photos.  I have thirty-one albums filled with photos, seven scrapbooks with pictures pasted in, and I keep my extra photos neatly labeled and organized in eight separate photo boxes.  I always keep some empty photo albums, just waiting to be filled, including the large one bought for my son’s upcoming wedding.  And just in case my print photos should be damaged in some kind of natural disaster or a house fire, I also have full photo cards in my safety deposit box, and keep copies of the pictures on CDs and stored on my computer.

Oddly, I’m not a skilled photographer and have never owned anything more complicated than a simple point-and-shoot camera.  I love photographs, but I don’t have the same passion for actually taking the pictures.  I think what I love about photos is that they remind me (a person with an absolutely rotten memory) of all that I have done in my life, all the places I have been, and all the people that I have known.  I’ve never gotten the hang of keeping a daily journal, but in a way, my photo albums are my journals.  The pictures in them are arranged in chronological order (of course), so if I’m having trouble remembering something from my past, all I have to do is get out the photo album from that year and look it up.  And it’s amazing how many memories come rushing back when I take the time to look through my old pictures.

Bernard and Martha_0013 (2)

I suppose what I’m really doing with my photos is documenting my life.  The old family pictures of relatives who died before I was even born remind me of where I came from,  and that I am a product of families that have been around for a long, long time.  All the photos taken after I was born chart the path of my life, both the good times and the bad.  (Note to self: home permanents are a really, really bad idea.)  Prominent people, of course, don’t have to document their lives, as others are happy to do it for them.  But for the rest of us, those who just muddle along doing ordinary things in ordinary ways, photographs work just fine.

Renovation Blues

At first, it always sounds like a good idea.  We’ll replace the old bathroom floor, which was installed so poorly that the tiles were starting to pop up, with a new one that we actually like.  We’ll fix the mantel on the fireplace in our living room, and while we’re at it, let’s fix the broken water spigot on the side of the house that leaks every time we turn the hose on and replace that broken closet door in the basement, too.  We’ll just call our handyman, and he’ll take care of everything!  Nothing could be easier.

Then comes the morning when the handyman shows up with his tools and equipment and gets to work.  Soon every flat surface in the house is covered with a fine layer of grey dust, and my front bedroom has been converted a storage room for the toilet and vanity, as well as a shop vac and various other equipment I don’t even recognize.  Stacks of new tiles and bags of grout are piled in the back bedroom, and our garage is converted into a temporary workshop, complete with a wet saw and sawhorses for working on the doors.

I’m used to having the house mostly to myself during the day, but renovations mean sharing my house with someone who spends his days smashing tiles, cutting copper pipes and ripping mantels out of the wall, as noisily as possible.  He gives me frequent updates of his progress, usually when I’m trying to write a blog post or rushing out the door because I’m late for an appointment.  And at the end of each day, I spend at least an hour cleaning up the dust and dirt that were created from that day’s work.

I find myself beginning to think that we should have just done the work ourselves, until I remember all those times before we could afford to hire someone and we actually did the work ourselves.  I remember how much fun it was to help my husband carry 22 sheets of drywall from the backyard to the basement because a storm was coming.  I remember the time I wallpapered my son’s bedroom, only to have all the wallpaper fall off the next day.  Mostly, I remember the time I helped my husband take down a dying tree in our back yard.  He tied a rope around the upper trunk of the tree, gave it to me and told me to pull hard when he told me to.  Then he went to work on the base of the tree with a chainsaw.  After a few minutes, he yelled “pull,” so I did.  And looked up to see that the tree was falling straight at me.  I did the only sensible thing:  dropped the rope and ran.  Later I checked with our insurance agent just to make sure my husband hadn’t taken out an extra life insurance policy on me.

IMG_1331Eventually, the work is done, and our handyman packs up all his tools and leaves.  He’s actually a very nice man, and very good at his job, but I’m still glad that he won’t be back next week.  I love our new fireplace mantel, and the bathroom floor looks even better than I thought it would.  We have new closet doors in the basement that open and close easily, and I can now turn on the hose without getting sprayed by a jet of water  from the spigot handle.  And sadly, I know it won’t be very long until I find myself thinking, maybe we could ask our handyman to get rid of that popcorn ceiling in the upstairs office, and maybe it’s time to finally put that dormer window in the master bedroom….

Birthday Wishes

IMG_1116Recently, my son sent me a text asking what I would like for my birthday this year.  I wasted no time in sending the answer:  a beachfront condo on Sanibel Island, a wrinkle-free neck, skinny thighs and good eyesight.  Even though I graciously told him he could select which of the gifts he would prefer to give me, I didn’t get a reply.  Perhaps he was too busy comparing the costs and labor involved in each of my selections before settling on his final choice.

I remember very well how easily I used to come up with a list of things I wanted for my birthday.  Like most children raised on lots of television, I always had a ready list of new toys and games I had seen advertised and that I was dying to have.  Later, as a teenager and young adult, I yearned for a wardrobe full of expensive and beautiful clothes that would allow me to have whatever look was trendy at the time.  Still later, as a not-so-young adult, there were always books, jewelry, a few clothes and other various household items that I would be pleased to receive, so even then the question of “what do you want for your birthday?” wasn’t hard to answer.

I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but somewhere in my journey through middle age, I just stopped wanting quite so many things.  Maybe I don’t long for beautiful clothes any more because I know that those clothes probably aren’t going to look all that great on my middle-aged body.  (And I’m actually okay with that:  one of the benefits of aging is that I no longer feel the pressure to strive for the “perfect” appearance.)  I don’t mind wearing the same few necklaces and bracelets each time I go out, and as for household items, my house is already as full as I want it to be.

I still love books, but years of diligently collecting the works of my favorite authors means that my bookshelves are basically full.  I don’t want to end up like my father, who had more than sixty boxes of books that he insisted on bringing with him on each of our family’s many moves.  (A family friend once commented, “By the time your dad finally gets all his books unpacked and on his shelves, it’s basically time to start packing them up again for the next move.”)  I go through my books every so often, getting rid of the ones that I no longer read so that I have room for any new books I add to my collection.  So far, my system is working, because I haven’t bought a new bookshelf in years.

So now, at the age of almost fifty-eight, I have a hard time coming up with a birthday wish list of things that anyone who isn’t fabulously wealthy (beachfront condos don’t come cheap) could actually buy for me.  And that’s a good thing, because it means I have reached the point where I have figured out that the things that I want the most, and the things that are the most important to me, have absolutely nothing to do with money.

A Life Well Lived

It’s been many years since my grandfather died, but today is his birthday, so I suppose it’s only natural that I should find myself thinking about him.  He was a small man with a gentle, unassuming manner, and unlike the rest of my family, he wasn’t much of a talker.  He lived, worked, and raised his family in the same neighborhood he was born in, practicing dentistry for forty-eight years in an office that was across the street from the house he lived in as a child.

image23-1_0077At family gatherings he could usually be found in the kitchen, seated at the table with the grandkids, drawing, playing games, or showing us how to make rows of little soldiers with his manual typewriter.  He was infinitely patient with us, and always encouraging.  If I couldn’t think of something to draw, he would simply look at my blank, white piece of paper and tell me that I had made a fine picture of a polar bear in a snow storm.  He was a natural with children, and always ready to accept an invitation to a make-believe tea party.

Shortly after marrying my grandmother, he moved into a two-bedroom brick bungalow on an unpaved street on what was then the outer edge of the city, where he lived for over fifty years.  Those who knew him then swore they had seen him sitting quietly in the back yard, holding out breadcrumbs for the wild birds, which would actually eat them out of his hand.  By the time I came along, the neighborhood around my grandfather’s house had become very urban, but he still put out bread crumbs each morning for the sparrows who gathered on his back porch, chirping in anticipation.

My grandfather had a very strong, if somewhat old-fashioned, sense of what was proper, and he stuck to it religiously.  He wore a suit every day, even after he retired from his dental practice.  His idea of casual attire was to remove his jacket and roll up his shirt sleeves.  Once, I saw him putting on his hat and suit jacket as he was heading out the back door, and asked him where he was going. He answered,  “I’m going to take out the trash.”  He didn’t understand, or care to understand, the more casual culture that surrounded him in his senior years, and continued to refer to almost everyone as a lady or a gentleman long after those terms had gone out of style.

Dentist officeHis dental practice was very busy, but not exactly profitable, as my grandfather rarely raised his rates.  He knew that most of his patients could not afford to pay very much for their dental care, and he charged them accordingly.  “Doc Jones” was well known and liked in his neighborhood, and for good reason.  I don’t think he ever felt that he was making a personal sacrifice by keeping his rates low, as he lived very modestly by choice.  His life consisted of his dental practice, his family, his friends, and his church, and he seemed quite content.

Sometimes, when my life seems to be a bit too complicated or I am unhappy because I think I need to have more of this or that, I try to think of my grandfather and the simple way that he lived his life, and to use it as an example for my own.  Because I can’t really think of a better role model…..