Let It Go

About a month ago, we learned that the big, old oak tree in our back yard was diseased and dying.  We’d been worried about its health for a while.  We also knew that if the tree fell down of its own accord it would fall either directly on our garage or the neighbor’s garage, and probably also hit one of our houses.  Safety comes first, so we called a local tree company and arranged to have the tree taken down.

Last week the removal crew showed up, positioned a big crane in our driveway and went to work.  The job took about five hours, and I was impressed with the way they worked until the the foreman announced that they were done for the day, casually adding, “You’re going to have some wood in your yard for a while.”  He explained that they could only remove the limbs small enough to fit in their chipper and that another crew would be along later to collect the trunk and bigger limbs.   When I inquired as to exactly what he meant by “later” he assured me that it was usually only a couple of days, but added that he couldn’t guarantee that timeline.

61CAD860-FB5D-463A-A574-94E3070DD4B9_1_201_aA quick survey of the yard revealed a stack of logs in the grass between our house and driveway, more stacks in the back yard, some of which were laying across the sidewalk, and finally, the huge trunk of the tree spanning the area behind the garage to the middle of the yard.  I asked him how long it usually took logs left on a lawn to kill the grass underneath them, and he said about seven days.

Five days later, the logs were still there and my husband and I were not happy.  We’re not the sort of people who pride ourselves on a perfect lawn, but we’re also not the sort who enjoy paying to have their lawn re-sodded just because a tree company left big logs strewn about.  We called and complained to the manager, and were assured that they should get to it within “a couple of days.”  That was when I made the transition from unhappy to frustrated and angry.

I fretted and stewed about it for most of the morning, which meant that I was in an awful mood as I went about my daily chores.  It’s not fun to tackle even the simplest tasks when you’re all worked up in righteous indignation, and walking shelter dogs while being TERRIBLY ANNOYED is also not pleasant.  But there really wasn’t anything else we could do about the situation, and eventually I realized that being so upset was doing nothing but making a bad situation worse.

And so I decided to let my anger and frustration go.  I knew that they would eventually show up and move the logs, and that we would deal with the damage to our yard then.  Meanwhile, I didn’t want to waste any more energy fretting about something that I couldn’t fix, especially since the more I thought about, the more I realized that a damaged lawn and a blocked sidewalk weren’t the worst thing in the world.

I know I’ll never be happy when problems arise, especially problems that I believe could have been prevented.  (How about not taking down the tree until  the clean-up crew is available?)  But I’m finally learning that there’s nothing to be gained by getting all worked up about situations that I can’t control.  Sometimes, if only for my peace of mind, I just need to let things go…….

Unexpected Gifts

When I first began this blog, I kept to a strict schedule of publishing a new post at least every four days.  I worried that I wasn’t posting often enough, because I’d read that all successful blogs posted something new every single day, but I also knew that daily posting would be too much for me.  Eventually, I settled on my current blogging schedule of posting once a week or so, and that usually seems to work out just fine.

Usually, but not always. Because when it came time to write my most recent post, I found myself coming up with one excuse after another for not actually sitting down at my computer and writing.  I’m not exactly sure what my problem was, although life has been particularly hectic lately and I am easily distracted.  Still, I knew writing requires self discipline and I finally told myself, very firmly, that I was going to write a post on Thursday, come hell or high water.  I had made my plan, and I was going to stick to it, no excuses accepted.

But that didn’t happen.  Thursday flew by with visits from multiple repairmen and delivery services, all of which required some major rearranging of our house and furniture, and a couple of quick trips to the store.  And the evening was even more interesting, when we were hit with an unexpected storm that brought 70-miles per hour winds and heavy rains.  We lost both our power and our internet service, but counted ourselves lucky not to sustain any major property damage. 

By Friday morning our power had come back on but our internet was still out, so writing a blog post wasn’t an option.  But I wouldn’t have had time to write one anyway, because my son’s house and my granddaughter’s daycare center were still without power, and so I spent the day helping care for my granddaughter while my son and his wife worked from our home. 

I’m embarrassed to say that I actually felt guilty, just for a little while, for neglecting my blog after I had been so determined to write that overdo post.  (I’ve always been a little slow on the uptake, but this was a stretch, even for me.)  But finally I came to my senses and realized:  I wasn’t neglecting my blog at all.  I was simply taking care of things that needed my attention a bit more urgently and that were a lot more important.  Storms happen.  Grandchildren require care.  Washing machines break and need to be replaced as soon as possible. 

BWa7CwnUQ2aoDvsK6Di43QYes, my blog is important to me and I love the creative outlet (and self-discipline) it helps provide.  But there are going to be times when it takes a back seat to the other demands on my time and that’s perfectly okay.  Sometimes our normal routines are interrupted, but we get back to them eventually.   And in this case, the interruption meant I got to spend the day with one of my very favorite people in the world…..so I’m not about to complain.

 

What It Is

No one ever promised us that life would always be easy.  Or if someone did, they lied.  Because sometimes, no matter what we do, life is just plain hard.  And the older I get, the more I believe that the wisest thing to do is to simply accept that fact.

I read recently (I’d quote the source, but of course I can’t remember it) that one of the main sources of our frustration is the difference between what we expected and what we actually get.  That really resonated with me, because I’ve found that almost every time I’m frustrated and upset, it’s because the situation I find myself in is not the situation I was hoping for or expecting.  And it’s the gap between what I had anticipated and the reality of what actually occurred that often makes me feel so upset.  In other words, the more I think about “what should have been,” the more disappointed and bitter I become.

One way to ward off that frustration would be to simply stop planning or hoping for good things in our lives, because then we wouldn’t be disappointed when those good things didn’t actually materialize.  That philosophy might guarantee we’re never going to be disappointed again, (if you don’t ever plan that dream vacation, you never have to worry about it getting cancelled) but who wants to live like that?  I sure don’t.

I think, perhaps, that the key is to simply remember that nothing in this world is ever guaranteed, and that sometimes even our best-laid plans are going to veer wildly off course.  Challenges we never saw coming are going to pop up when we least expect them, and often when we’re least prepared to cope with them.  And when that happens, it’s natural to be upset and disappointed, at least for a while.  But eventually, we have to let go of our frustration and focus on dealing with the situation at hand.

My husband and I didn’t plan on spending our anniversary at the Emergency Room a mere five days after what was supposed to be a simple surgery, but we did.  And I didn’t plan on sitting at his bedside in the hospital for nine days after that either.  At first, I was bitter because this was not “how things were supposed to be.”  But eventually, I managed to let go of my frustration and simply accept what was.  My husband was in a good hospital, getting good medical care, and he was slowly but surely improving.  I was allowed to be with him, which wasn’t the case for hospital patients when the pandemic first hit.  I was even allowed to bring him food, which tasted a lot better than what the hospital cafeteria sent up.  In other words, I had reasons to be grateful, once I was willing to let go of my expectations and actually see them.

5oNQQuOjR1SkDZ6qfXaozAAnd the fact that life can be unexpectedly hard isn’t the only thing I accept.  I also accept, and even plan on, the fact that life can also be quite good.  Which is why I have every intention of making a dinner reservation at a very nice restaurant when next year’s anniversary rolls around, and I might even look into booking a weekend getaway as well.  That celebration may not actually happen, but I’m hoping it will, and that hope is enough for me.

Opting Out

I’ve hit the wall, and I’m done.  I know we’ve all been through a lot in the past year and a half, and that most of our nerves are truly shot.  I know it’s human nature to want to divide the world into “them and us,” and that isn’t going to change.  I know the easiest way to feel better about ourselves is to look down on someone else, and how tempting it is to do that.  Most of all, I know I’ve been guilty of all of this myself, far too often.  But it seems to me that the ugliness has reached new heights these days, and I have gotten to the point where I just can’t take it anymore. 

I don’t want to live my life in fear and anger, or even in a state of “justified” outrage.  I don’t want to believe that people who are different from me are necessarily bad people.  I don’t want to spend precious time ridiculing those whose behavior and choices I don’t understand, and I most definitely don’t want to indulge in pointless online arguments with those who dare to express an opinion I don’t happen to agree with. 

Life can be tough, and it’s normal to want to find someone, or a group of people, to single out as the cause of all our problems.  But a quick look at history shows us that bad things happen, to all of us, when we begin to believe that our aggression towards someone else is justified and deserved.  (Because isn’t that what every single abuser says about his or her victim?  That they “deserved” it?)  So I have made the conscious choice to back away from that kind of thinking, and instead to look very hard for the common ground that binds all of us together.  Because I truly believe that it’s so much more productive to look for what unites us than to concentrate quite so much on what divides us.

I realize that my choices go against the grain in a world where we are constantly being pitted against each other, and where we seem to dream up new divisions each day.  We’ve always been conditioned to divide ourselves along political, national, and religious lines, and sadly, most of us do just that.  But now we’re also dividing along the lines of vaccinated verses unvaccinated, rural verses urban, vegans verses omnivores, and even battling over our choices about education, gender definitions and about everything else you can possibly imagine.  If we keep going at this rate, I’ll only be allowed to like people who are exactly like me.  Which would mean I’ll only like…. me.

So the time has come for me to say “enough is enough” and I don’t want to do this anymore.  We all get to make choices in how we spend the precious time we have on this earth, and I’ve made mine.  I want to be done with the fighting, the squabbling, the superior outrage and all the rest of it, and I’m going to do my very best to turn my back on it, both literally and figuratively.  Sometimes, if only for the sake of our sanity, we need to choose to simply “opt out.”

 

Lessons Learned

Roughly one year ago, Covid 19 managed to turn the world as I knew it upside down.  I remember picking up my grandson at his daycare, which like almost everything else in my area, was temporarily closing.  “See you in two weeks,” his teacher told us as she waved goodbye.  And I’m embarrassed to say that I mostly believed her.   I had no idea just how badly this virus and its restrictions would impact us, or for how long.

It’s been a long twelve months, and in many ways I’m not the same person I was a year ago.  Never again will I just assume that I can buy what I need, when I need it, or take being able to spend time with my friends and family for granted.  I think I’ll always be a little uncomfortable in a crowded room, wondering just what sort of germs I’m being exposed to, and I will probably keep my trusty little bottle of hand sanitizer stashed in my purse from now on.  As for toilet paper, my new mantra is “you can’t have too much of a good thing.”

7GPiXSO+Rmj7a9KhzqQBut I think the changes go deeper than that.  Living through such a traumatic year (my family also faced some difficulties that had nothing to do with Covid) has taught me a lot about myself, and I think growing in self-awareness is always a good thing.  I learned that I had the ability to be patient, even when I yearned for quick answers and even quicker action.  And while I’ve never been what could be called the “outdoorsy type,” I learned that the more time I spend outside, the calmer and happier I become.  Nature truly is a great healer, for both the body and the soul.  I also figured out that one way to cope with uncertain times is to get busy working on the things I do have control over, even something as mundane as painting the guest bedroom.

I may be a natural introvert who craves some alone time each and every day, but now I also know how desperately I need to stay connected to other people.  Talking with friends and family reminds me that I don’t have to face problems alone, and there is both strength and comfort in that.  That old saying, “a problem shared is a problem halved” is absolutely correct, and a reminder of just how important it is to support each other in our times of need.  And in the face of so much negativity, conflicting “facts” and general fear-mongering, I’ve learned the importance of thinking for myself, doing research when necessary, and trusting in good old-fashioned common sense as much as possible.

So no, I’m not exactly the same person I was twelve months ago, but that’s okay.  In fact, it’s more than okay, because the lessons I’ve learned from the past year have left me better equipped to face the future with hope and confidence.  And for that, I’ll always be grateful.

Let It Begin With Me

I am, by nature, a neat and tidy person.  I may not have coined the expression, “A place for everything and everything in its place,” but I live by it.  I am happiest when my house is clean and organized, and have found that too much dirt and clutter actually makes me vaguely uneasy.  As long as I’m being totally honest, I’ll also admit that when I’m anxious and unhappy, I sometimes find that cleaning my house actually makes me feel better.

I read somewhere that people who like to clean are attempting to impose order on a messy and unpredictable world, and I think that might be true.  (It would certainly explain why I find housecleaning to be  therapeutic.)  But the problem is that the world we live in is often messy, chaotic and sometimes downright dangerous, and there’s not a thing I can do to “clean it up,” at least on any significant scale.

I may be one of the few people who responds to troubles with a vacuum in one hand and dust cloth in the other, but I do think that trying to impose some kind of order on the world is common.  Many do it with social media posts, pointing out the error of other people’s ways in a vain attempt to convince them to think and behave in a way they find acceptable.  And let’s face it, politics is all about trying to elect someone who shares our values, in the hopes that the candidate will be elected and then impose our values on everyone else.  One way or another, we’re all trying to “clean up” the world, and often with the best of intentions.

But the truth is that the only person we can truly control is ourselves.   Yes, we can do our part to make the world a better place by speaking our truth, standing up to oppression, helping those who need it, and most of all, being kind and compassionate to everyone who crosses our path.  But we don’t really get to choose what other people think, say, or do.    And since none of us is perfect, that’s probably a good thing.

So the conclusion I’ve come to is this:  I need to learn to discern between the things I can control and the things I can’t, and I need to pay a whole lot more attention to the things I can.  I may not be able to make the world a peaceful place, but I can make sure I embrace peace in my own life by being as tolerant, honest, and forgiving as I can possibly be.  I can’t force others to own up to their mistakes and bad choices, but I can certainly own up to mine.  In short, all I can do is try, in my limited and flawed way, to live up to the values I really do believe in…..and then let go of all the angst, worry and stress that comes when I focus too much on the things that I can’t control.

buWO0NdZQV2vtwLyj31MrgIt’s a process for sure, and I doubt that I’ll be giving my vacuum cleaner a rest anytime soon.  But if I really want 2021 to be a better year, the very best way I can start is by cleaning up my own act.

Enough

fullsizeoutput_5d20It’s finally feeling like Autumn, with cooler temperatures, gorgeous foliage and pumpkins galore.  There’s something about Autumn that makes me want to “hunker” down” in my warm house, cooking substantial meals and making sure my cupboards are well-stocked with supplies.  But this year, I have to admit my urge to stock up has gotten just a teeny bit out of hand.

I’ve never understood what motivates hoarders. My theory has always been, “why have two of something when one will do?” But then the pandemic hit, and in the early stages that sometimes meant empty grocery shelves, making it hard to find basic necessities. And although I can almost always find what I need these days, those memories seem to have stuck with me. Because now I find myself wanting to stock up supplies like a frantic squirrel storing nuts in anticipation of a really, really, bad Winter.

My usual minimalist tendencies have disappeared. Now I wander the aisles of the grocery store, tossing things into my cart whether I need them or not. My kitchen cupboards are full, and so is the cabinet in the basement I use to store extra groceries and paper goods. I have a small bin full of cleaning supplies, disinfectants and face masks. And yet sometimes I still wonder, “do I have enough?”

The problem with always wanting more is that nothing ever seems to be enough, and that’s a horrible way to live. I know that my desire to keep adding to my stash is a reaction to the uncertainty of the times we’re living in, but I hate feeling that I’m somehow dropping the ball if I don’t have enough supplies in my house to see me through at least 2022. It’s time for me to stop the madness.

It’s true that no one knows when, or how, this pandemic will end. It’s also true that there may still be shortages, and I can’t always count on running to the grocery store to pick up something I need. But I think I’ve gotten to the point where I’d rather risk doing without something for a little while, because that’s preferable to constantly worrying about whether I have “enough.” And I think I’d rather trust that friends and family would step forward to share what they have if necessary, just as I would gladly share my supplies with anyone who needed them. And I know this is true, because they have shared, and so have I.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of choosing how I want to live. Do I want to live in an “everyone for himself” world, or do I want to keep a little faith in the people around me? Do I want to be a person who compulsively buys things out of fear of the future, or do I want to once again be happy with a reasonable amount of supplies in my house?

This pandemic has changed many things in my life, and in many cases there’s just not much I can do about it. But I’ve decided that it is a not going to turn me into a hoarder, and that’s something I can control.

All Grown Up

Ann's photoWhen I was a child, I truly believed that all adults were mature people who knew what was what in the world.  I may have liked and trusted some grownups more than others, but I still believed that being an adult meant no longer behaving like a child.  I thought that the petty jealousies, the playground competitions and “me first attitudes” I often saw in my peers were things that we would all someday just naturally grow out of.   And then I grew up, and realized that many adults, including me, never truly grow out of some of our childish ways.

I may be a “woman of a certain age,” but there are times when my inner child emerges, and I don’t mean that in a good way.  (Because obviously, children have many, many, good qualities.)  I’m talking about how quickly I can become upset about something trivial, or how easily I can feel slighted, or how quickly I feel cheated when things don’t work out the way I had hoped.  As an adult, I know we’re not guaranteed anything in this world, but my inner child can still become enraged at the thought of not getting “my fair share.”

But those are reactions that I can clearly recognize as being inappropriate, and usually talk myself out of rather easily.  My real struggles come more in the area of wanting someone, anyone, to reassure me when things are going so very wrong.  Like a child, I sometimes want someone to tell me that “everything will be alright” during troubling times.  The problem is, there are times when no one can honestly say that.  Sometimes the only way to deal with trouble is to face it squarely and courageously.

I think that is one of the reasons I’ve been feeling a little down lately.  We’re dealing with so many unknowns right now, and although lots of people have opinions on how things are going to turn out, no one really knows for sure.  There isn’t anyone who can promise just when or how this will all get better.  Heck, we can’t even agree on what “all better” even means these days.  Like children, most of us are looking at things solely from our own point of view and waiting, some more patiently than others, for the rest of the world to adapt to our expectations.

There are times in life when we simply have no choice but to stand on our own two feet, listen to our own heart and make our own choices, knowing full well they might not be the right ones.  And I have come to realize that this is one of those times.  Now is not the time for me to indulge my inner child, looking for someone else to fix things or make sense of an upside down world.  Now is the time to embrace adulthood, with all the freedom and responsibility that comes with it.  And maybe, just maybe, I’ll finally become the grownup my inner child was expecting.

A Sound Investment

GfmVigVWRjm+IR38uLJhMgEver since his daycare closed, I’ve been spending four days a week caring for my two-year old grandson.  It’s been a rewarding experience in many ways, and also an exhausting one.  I’ve learned a lot in the past seven weeks, including the fact that I’m not as young as I used to be.  I used to complain that I look so much older than I actually feel, but no more.  Nowadays I look in the mirror and see the wrinkles and sags and think, “Yep.  That’s about right.”

I’ve learned to limit the amount of time my grandson spends in front of the television set, and not just because every child expert warns against too much screen time for toddlers.  Honestly, there are just so many shows I can watch before I overdose on cute little characters with enormous eyes and amazing gadgets, busy going on missions and singing about whatever lesson they learned in this episode.   Limiting screen time may be good for his development, but it’s absolutely necessary for my sanity.

The most helpful thing babysitting my grandson has taught me is how to deal with annoying people.  Whenever I  won’t let him do something he wants to do (like playing catch with my crystal candy dish), he tells me, “Walk away, Grandma!”  I was taken aback the first time he said it, but then I realized what a handy saying it actually is.  Whenever someone is bothering me, I can just tell them, “Walk away!”  Who knew it was that simple?

But the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that all the time and effort that goes into raising a child is absolutely worth it.  Because eventually, those children grow up to become adults and those adult sons and daughters can enrich your life in more ways than you can ever imagine.  The child you once taught how to eat with a fork and spoon can become the same person who teaches you how to fix a problem with your computer.  The child whose “boo-boos” you kissed and bandaged can someday be the person who soothes your pain and calms your fears.

This morning I was a little overwhelmed with all the craziness that is going on in the world, and a bit depressed by how many people seem to be using this disaster as a chance to further their own agendas and lash out at the people they never liked in the first place.  My fears and frustrations came out in texts to my daughter, and then I immediately felt guilty for “dumping” on her.  I’m the mom, after all.  So I’m supposed to be the strong one, right?

But not this time.  This time, my daughter was the strong and encouraging one, pointing out the need to limit my exposure to the negativity and to pay attention to the positive things these changes have brought about.  And it helped, enormously.  Just as it helps when I talk to my son, who has such a clear-headed and confident way of looking at things that I sometimes wonder if we’re actually related, because he certainly didn’t get that from me.

So yeah, I’m pretty tired these days and no longer believe that I’m particularly young, but I’m okay with that.  Like all children everywhere, my grandson is absolutely worth all the time and effort that we can give him.  And someday, when he grows up to become an adult with his own unique gifts, I can only hope I’ll be around to share in them.

If The Shoe Fits….

I was at a party over the weekend, chatting with a couple of friends, when one of them told me how much she had enjoyed my most recent blog post.  She turned to the other friend and asked, “Didn’t you think it was funny?”  The other friend looked embarrassed, and then said, “Actually, I don’t read her blog.”  A few days later, that friend called me an apologized, worried that she had offended me.  She told me that her life was very busy right now, and that she didn’t really have time to read anything, not even a friend’s blog.

I quickly reassured her that there was no need for her to apologize. And there wasn’t.  We’ve been friends for a very long time, and I know perfectly well that she’s not a big reader.  I also know that she is a kind and generous soul who would never deliberately do anything to hurt anyone’s feelings, including mine.  And I have learned over the years not to be offended when I discover that a friend or family member doesn’t read my posts.

I admit that when I first started my blog, I (naively) believed that I could count on all my friends and family to read it, and also figured that they would probably be my only readers.  But I soon discovered that people who didn’t particularly enjoy reading weren’t suddenly going to change their ways just because I had started a blog.  And that not supporting my blog didn’t mean they didn’t care about me, and that I couldn’t count on them in other, equally important, ways.

Our friends and family members are unique individuals, with their own particular strengths and weaknesses.  And if we’re wise, we remember exactly what those strengths and weaknesses are when we’re looking for support or help.  A friend who is chronically late is not the person to ask for a ride to the airport, at least not if you want to make sure you don’t miss your plane.  And if you know someone has a hard time being discreet, that’s not the person you go to when you want to confide a deep, dark secret.

I think the trick is to remember that no one can be “all things to all people,” and to remember that everyone who is close to us enriches our lives in their own, unique way.  Maybe the friend with the loose lips is the perfect person to call when you need a ride to the airport, or maybe the friend who is never on time happens to be excellent at keeping a secret.  It’s a matter of knowing someone well enough to have a pretty good idea of what they can, and cannot, do for us.  Then we don’t set ourselves up for disappointment by expecting something that they aren’t capable of giving. Personally, I really appreciate my friends who take the time to read my blog.  But I also value the ones who don’t.

We don’t do anyone, least of all ourselves, any favors when we don’t see our friends and family for who they really are, and that includes their strengths, their weaknesses, and even just their personal tastes.  And if we really care about them, we’re more than willing to love and accept them just exactly as they are.