Just Before Dawn

IMG_0830My husband and I had really been looking forward to our vacation.   Last Fall had been particularly busy and stressful, followed by a hectic Holiday schedule.  By mid-January, we were both more than ready for a week of relaxation in the Florida sun and counting down the days until our departure.

But then we noticed that snow and ice were predicted on the morning that we were scheduled to leave.  Unwilling to risk losing even one day of our precious vacation, we decided to leave a day early, even though we’d have to fly into Ft. Lauderdale, spend the night there and then drive across the state to Ft. Myers the next morning.  We booked a hotel that was supposed to be right by the airport, rented a car, and figured we were all set.

It wasn’t until we were leaving the Ft. Lauderdale airport that we  realized we’d left all of our hotel booking information at home.  All we could remember was the name of the hotel, so we asked for directions as we were leaving the rental car lot.  I’ll never know if the attendant didn’t hear us correctly or if she just had a sadistic streak, but the directions she gave took us no where near our hotel.  If you’ve ever been lost in a strange city at night, you’ll have some idea of the mood in our car as we searched in vain for a Courtyard Hotel near the airport.  It wasn’t our finest hour, relationship-wise.   I’ll spare you the details of who said what, but suffice it to say that we arrived at our hotel almost two hours later, tired, hungry and in desperate need of a drink (or two)….only to discover that the hotel’s bar/restaurant had already closed for the night.

We awoke the next morning to a beautiful sunny day, so we were in good spirits as we drove across Florida to the Ft. Myers area.  The room in our new hotel was spacious and clean and everything was going quite well until that evening, when it was time to head to a nearby restaurant to meet friends for dinner.  That’s when we realized that the deadbolt on our door had broken and we were locked in our hotel room.

First we panicked, then we called the front desk and asked for help.  The assistant manager came quickly, but he couldn’t get the door to open either.  The good news was that there was a door to an adjoining room, so he was able to go into that room and then unlock the connecting door and enter our room.  The bad news was that the connecting door slammed shut behind him and automatically locked, so then all three of us were locked in our hotel room.

We repeated our panicking/call the front desk routine, and they sent someone down to unlock the connecting door. We couldn’t get out of there fast enough, and all through dinner I kept wondering what we were going to do if they couldn’t find a locksmith to fix our door because I knew the hotel was full.  At that point I was beginning to wonder if the Florida vacation we had dreamed of was ever going to materialize.

But from then on, our vacation was basically everything we had hoped it would be:  a time to relax and unwind, walk along a sandy beach and just “recharge our batteries.”  I guess I forgot that sometimes we have to wait awhile for the things we want, and sometimes we have to overcome a few obstacles before we get where we want to be.  That’s just the way life is, and it’s something that I need to remember when I’m struggling through some hard times:  that the darkest hour really is just before dawn.  And all we have to do is hang in there….

Young At Heart

OWIWQyT%TPavPa0fLOvV7QThere’s nothing quite like a little get away to restore the soul, and my recent one did just that.  It was wonderful to escape the cold of Winter for a little while, and to have the chance to walk along a warm beach and enjoy colorful flowers in the middle of January.  The stresses of the past few months melted away a little more with each passing day, and best of all, the cold that I’d been fighting off and on since November finally went away.

But all good things must come to an end, and my vacation was no exception.  And since all the undone chores that were hanging over my head before I left were patiently waiting for me when I returned, I made a new “to do” list and started ticking them off, one by one.  Things were going along rather well until I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to apply for my new “Real ID” driver’s license.

I’d found a list of all the necessary documents online, but the wording was confusing.  All I could tell for sure was that laminating my social security card had been a huge mistake, and that it was going to take a whole lot of paperwork for me to prove to the state of Missouri that I was indeed who I claimed to be.  So I gathered all the documents I could find and trotted off to the DMV.

It turned out that I did have all the required  paperwork, and everything was great until the woman behind the counter took my photo for my new license and made the mistake of showing it to me.  “This okay?” she asked, raising her eyebrows skeptically as she held it up.  I can’t tell you how much I regretted not asking for a retake, but I was too stunned to answer.  The photo not only looked like a mug shot, it looked like a mug shot taken of a very old woman whose criminal past and misspent life has finally caught up with her.

I’m not a vain person.  Even in the bloom of youth, I was solidly “average” in the looks department.  So my problem wasn’t that the photo made me look decidedly unattractive. The problem was that the photo didn’t even remotely match the image of myself that I carry around in my head.   And it wasn’t just because I’d rushed off that morning without bothering to apply make up or fix my hair.  The photo showed a woman who looked much older than I than I secretly, but sincerely, believe myself to be.

I know that our looks change as we age, but I’m still surprised when I look in a mirror and see a face with droopy eyes and sagging chins looking back.  I struggle sometimes to identify with the “old” person I have become in the physical sense.  (It’s probably the reason why so many people choose to get a face-lift:  they just want to keep on looking like themselves.)

Personally, I think the time has come when I need to accept that my physical appearance has changed and is going to keep on changing.  (And not for the better.)  But that doesn’t mean I have to think of myself as an old person, and it certainly doesn’t mean that I have to behave like one.  Yes, my body is aging and it shows.  But in my heart, I’m still the same person I’ve always been, and I have no intention of giving up that particular identity any time soon….

Dangerous Thoughts

I’m the sort of person who likes to be prepared.  It’s second nature for me to plan ahead and try to consider every possible outcome of almost every situation, especially the negative ones.  I buy travel insurance for our big trips, have an emergency kit both in my house and in the trunk of my car, keep a stash of any medications I may need in my purse, etc.  I always have a “plan B” in mind when I’m making any kind of decision, no matter how big or small, because I’m well aware that things might not work out as I had hoped.

So I really don’t need anyone or anything constantly warning me of possible danger, or pointing out all the things that should be causing me worry and angst.  Believe me, I’ve got that covered.  Which is why I get so annoyed with all the warnings and alerts that I’m bombarded with every day of my life.

The news media is bad enough, with it’s constant stream of negativity and dire warnings about, well….everything.  Yes, we are facing some very serious issues in our country and in the world, but I don’t think that daily newscasts with the essential message of  “be afraid, be very afraid!” are going to help us solve them.  Nor do I appreciate it when my cell phones sends me emergency news alerts about things that are definitely not emergencies.  If my phone is going to interrupt my day with an alert, it had better be about something serious, like an approaching tornado or an invasion of Martians.

But the worst offender is my car.  It has several built-in warning systems which I’m sure were intended for safety, and that’s a good thing.  Unfortunately, I’ve come to believe that my car was programed by someone who’s rather paranoid, because it warns me about everything, all the time.  If I pull into the garage and get within two feet of the trash cans, my car not only beeps at me, but warning lights flash and sometimes it even hits the automatic brakes.  Yes, getting within two feet of another car on the highway would be a problem.  But I’m parking my car.  In my garage.  And it’s not a huge garage, so I have to get “dangerously” close to the trash cans to do so.

Last week my car got really upset because I had parked in the street, and someone else pulled up behind me a bit closer than my car deemed appropriate.  They had actually left plenty of room for me to pull away from the curb, but the minute I started my car, it flashed and beeped and generally had a panic attack as I manuvered out of the spot.  I swear, if my car was a person, it would say nothing but “Danger!  Watch out!  Oh my gosh, oh my gosh…OH MY GOSH!!!!”

As I said, I don’t need this in my life.  I’m well aware of the dangers that surround me, and I take them seriously.  If I’m going to be bombarded with unsolicited messages, I’d much rather hear something encouraging, such as, “You can do it!”  Building confidence is almost always more effective than instilling fear, even when facing the big problems, in my opinion.  Now all I have to do is figure out a way to get others, especially my car, on board with that….

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….

Refreshment Time

Sometimes I think the best part of any vacation is simply the chance to take a break from our usual routines and obligations, and to leave behind the stress and worry that normally takes up far to much of our attention and energy.  Especially if we have the good sense to actually disconnect from our regular lives by not keeping up with our emails, texts and whatever other form of social media we are in the habit of using.

Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes I have a hard time even remembering all the stuff I’m supposed to be worried about, never mind trying to actually deal with all those problems.  Add in the usual busy schedule, caring for the family and friends who need it, and the constant onslaught of negative news, and it’s no wonder that my tiny mind really does struggle to keep up with it all.  And believe me, I know there are many, many others whose lives are far more complicated than mine.

Which is why taking a break from it all every now and then is so very important.  It’s amazing what a little time spent “off the grid” can do to restore our souls and remind us that life is so much more than a check list of duties and goals that needs to be completed.

IMG_5250Vacations allow us to leave all those worries, schedules and obligations behind, for a least a little while.  More importantly, they give us the time to reconnect with our true selves, and if we’re lucky, with the people in our lives who matter the most.  And it doesn’t matter if our vacation is long and expensive or short and cheap, as long as we disconnect from our usual routines and spend the time doing something that truly makes us happy.  Even taking a long walk in a park or sitting in the sun in our own back yard, happily reading a favorite book can count as a vacation if we need it to.  “Stop and smell the roses” is more than just a cliche.

I believe that all of us need a little time off now and then, so we can have the opportunity to listen to our hearts and be reminded of who we really are.  It’s far too easy to get so caught up in the frantic pace of our daily lives that we put our minds “in neutral” and spend our days doing little more than completing whatever task is in front of us and then quickly moving on to the next one.  But that’s not what life is supposed to be, at least not all the time.

One of my favorite literary characters is fond of saying, “Life is for the living.”  And I couldn’t agree more…..

Yes I Can

Back when I was writing children’s books, I had a pretty simple formula I used to create my stories.  I would create a main character and place him or her in a situation that they desperately wanted to change, which would give me the main plot of my story.  If I were writing a longer book for older children, I would then plan out a chapter-by-chapter timeline to help me keep track of everything as I wrote.  (Details have never been my strong point.)  Finally, I would begin writing the actual manuscript….and that was usually the point where my creative confidence began to drain away and the paralyzing self-doubt crept in.

The problem was that no matter how passionately I believed in the story I was trying to write, a part of me was always thinking, “Will an editor like this?  Is my main character interesting enough?  Is my plot believable?” and so on and so on.  And those are valid concerns.  As all writers who hope to get their work accepted by a publisher know, finding an editor who wants to buy our manuscript is an absolute necessity.  But the constant presence of the critical editor in my mind basically squashed my creativity and made it impossible to write from my heart.  And the result was often a competent, but flat, manuscript that lacked a unique and creative spark.

Sadly, that internal critic isn’t limited to my writing.  I can look back on my life and see many times when I allowed that little voice that says “you can’t, you shouldn’t, you’re not good enough,” to dictate my choices and my behavior.  There were too many times when I turned my back on an opportunity, didn’t want to take a risk, or stayed silent when I should have spoken up. There were too many times that I held back when I should have stepped boldly forward.

The simple truth is, when our internal dialogue turns too negative, we aren’t really able to live our lives to their fullest potential.  And that’s a tragedy that none of us should allow.

I believe most of us get better at self-acceptance as we get older, and I’m no exception.  As the years go by, I find myself learning to tune out that negative “internal committee” and to replace it with one that is so much more compassionate and encouraging.  I find myself being willing to risk simply being myself by following my dreams, voicing my true opinions and in general, doing what feels right to me.  It’s a journey, but I am moving slowly and steadily forward.

If I had the chance to go back in time and speak to my younger self, I would have so much advice I would want to share.  But if I was limited to just one thing, it would be, “Believe in yourself and follow your heart.”  Because if we can learn to do that, everything else will surely work out.

The Bright Side

I have often wished I was just a tad more optimistic.  I wish I had a natural inclination to look at the bright side of life, to see the “glass as half full,”and to assume that things will almost always work out just fine in the end.  That sounds like a wonderful perspective to have, and I really wish it was mine.  But it’s not.

I’m not exactly “Little Miss Doom and Gloom,” but I have always been the kind of person who isn’t surprised when problems show up, even the big ones.  When something bad happens in my life, the thought “but I never thought this would happen to me” doesn’t cross my mind.  I’m much more likely to think, “of course this happened to me!  Why wouldn’t it?”  It’s not something I’m proud of, believe me…..it’s just who I am.

But the good news is that attitudes can be changed, and I’m working hard to change mine.

Which is why, after living with our new dog Finn for over a week, I’m finally accepting him at face value and realizing that he is indeed a very nice little dog.  I liked him from the start, but I also found myself “waiting for the other shoe to fall,” meaning that he would exhibit some awful behavior that would make me regret bringing him home.  (In my defense, I’ve had a little experience along those lines.)   But happily, we haven’t seen a single serious behavior issue at all.

IMG_4558He’s actually sort of a lovable goof.  I don’t think he was first in line when brains were given out, but he seems to have made up for that with an extra helping of nice, and that’s a trade that will serve him well.  He has an adorable habit of leaping into the air for joy every third or fourth step when he’s running across the yard.  He’s shown nothing but friendly interest in our toddler grandson and is very housebroken.  In short, all my fears and worries about adopting him were for nothing.

Adopting Finn has helped me realize that there really is nothing to be gained by focusing quite so much on all the things that can go wrong in my life, and by focusing a whole lot more on all the things that can go right.  “Count your blessings” may sound hopelessly cheesy, but it’s actually a very helpful way to remind ourselves of all the good things we already have.  When I truly recognize the many, many, good things that have happened to me already, I can’t help but feel appreciative.  And more importantly, I have to acknowledge that it just stands to reason that other good things will come my way as well.  Of course bad stuff happens to us all, but it’s high time I stopped actively expecting it to show up on a regular basis.

I’ve come to believe that dogs can teach us many things if we’re willing to learn, and Finn is busy teaching me that sometimes, things work out exactly as we had hoped…and all we can do is be grateful.

Soon Enough

fullsizeoutput_aaWe’ve had lovely weather for the past few days, comfortably warm in the daytime and cool at night.  It’s the kind of weather that makes it a joy to be outside. You’d think I’d be enjoying this break from Summer’s usual heat and humidity, and I am.  Sort of.  But the problem is, all the forecasts say this beautiful weather is going to be over far too soon.  By the end of the week, we’re supposed to have temperatures in the high nineties, heat indexes over one-hundred degrees, and very high humidity levels.  Which means that while I’m trying to enjoy the cool temperatures we’re experiencing now, I’m mostly dreading the horrible weather that’s coming.

I know that sounds silly, but it’s not just me.  Everywhere I go, I hear people talking about the weather and they’re all saying the same thing.  “Isn’t this great?  But it’s not going to last.  It’s supposed to be one hundred degrees by Thursday!”  The logical thing to do when we have a lovely, Spring-like day in late June would be to simply enjoy it.  But for some of us, that’s a hard thing to do.

These days, there seems to be many things that can cause us to worry and fret.  In my more cynical moments, I almost believe that the real goal of the news media is to keep us in a constant state of outrage and fear.  And that’s just what’s going on in the world around me.  I always have a few personal worries as well, such as the mild but persistent pain in the right side of my face.  I want to believe it’s nothing more than my usual jaw and sinus problems, but I also worry that I’ve got another bad tooth that’s going to need treatment.

I don’t know why it’s so hard to simply enjoy ourselves when something good comes along, and why it is so easy to worry about the bad things that we think might be coming our way.  Being prepared is one thing, but endlessly worrying about something that may or may not even happen is nothing more than a waste of time and energy.  And I don’t know of a single situation where worrying about something has made it easier to deal with when it actually happens.  (Often, it’s the reverse.  When I worry too much about upcoming dental work, I end up walking into the dentist’s office so tense and fearful that it’s all I can do not to run for the nearest exit.)

But this is not how I want to live my life.  If I’m eating dinner with my family on a Sunday evening, I want to simply enjoy the experience rather than worrying about whether or not we’re going to have enough volunteers the next morning to get all the shelter dogs walked.  When I feel pain somewhere, I want to just make an appointment to get it checked out, rather than fret about all the possible causes and what it will take to get it fixed.  Even better, I’d like to remember to be thankful that I have access to medical and dental care at all.

I know the only thing I can truly predict about the future is that it will always bring me a few things that I’d much rather avoid.  But that doesn’t mean I have to dwell on those things, worrying about what could happen or even what I know will happen.  I want to learn to deal with tomorrow’s problems…..tomorrow.   That way, I can actually enjoy and appreciate whatever good stuff is happening today.

No Thanks

If there’s one thing I ought to be used to by now, it’s rejection.  For years I worked as a free-lance writer, placing some articles in magazines and newspapers, and even selling a children’s book.  But for every acceptance, I received at least twenty rejections. Eventually I acquired a whole file drawer just bursting with rejection letters.  A few of them were personal (which I counted as a small victory), but the majority were simply the form letters that publishers sent out to every writer who sent them a manuscript or proposal that they didn’t want.

And the rejections weren’t limited to my writing career.  When I was fresh out of college with an English degree, I applied to any job that was even remotely related to writing.  In return, I got a few interviews, a ton of rejection letters and zero job offers.  Eventually, I was so desperate that I ended up working as a secretary for a small seminary.  There’s nothing wrong with being a secretary….it’s an important job….but it wasn’t at all what I wanted to be doing.

One way or another, rejection and I are very well acquainted.  So it surprises me how much rejection can still hurt, all these years later.  You’d think I would have developed an immunity to it somewhere along the line, but I haven’t.  It still stings, especially when it feels personal.  Which tells me that I am still putting far too much value on what other people think of me, and not nearly enough on what I think of myself.

I know it’s only natural to feel hurt by rejection.  It’s hard when an old friend gradually becomes too busy to get together, or when someone I’ve just met at a party immediately looks over my shoulder for someone more interesting.  I once went to a church dinner by myself, and I put my plate of food down at a table where four other people were sitting and then went to get a drink.  When I returned with my glass of water, all four of them had moved to a different table.  I’d be lying if I said that didn’t sting.

The trick, I think, is to remember that I have no control over how other people are going to react to me, and to remember that often their reaction has nothing to do with me at all.  Maybe my old friend really was much busier than usual.  And maybe the person looking over my shoulder at a party is searching for someone she’s supposed to be meeting.  And as rude as their behavior was, maybe the people I sat down with at the church dinner were trying to save seats for the rest of their family and just didn’t know how to tell me that when I approached their table.

But even when someone is actually rejecting me, I need to remember that their opinion of me is just that:  their opinion.  And that while it feels good to have others appreciate and validate us, what ultimately matters is that we recognize our own self-worth and not wait for others to acknowledge it for us.

As a writer, I survived all those rejection letters by reminding myself of the simple truth that just because a publisher didn’t want my manuscript didn’t actually mean that my manuscript had no value.  It just meant that particular publisher didn’t think it could make a profit selling my book.  So I kept writing, and I kept sending out my manuscripts and queries, and I did make some sales.  I was very intentional about believing in the value of what I had written.  And sometimes I need to work just as hard at believing in the value of me.

Raining Down

I had been hoping for rain.  We had planted some bushes and put down some sod in our backyard, and I knew that a couple of good rains would help them take root.  But even more, I wanted the rain to wash away the nasty green tree pollen that has been covering every outside surface for the past couple of weeks.  I’m allergic to that stuff, and I was tired of going through my days with a scratchy throat, headache, itchy eyes and non-stop sneezing fits.  So when I heard the forecast for this past weekend’s rain, I was actually happy.

IMG_2434I should have paid just a little more attention to the details.  The prediction wasn’t just for rain, it was for tons of rain, falling for three days and two nights, often quite heavily.  The empty flower pots I have lined up next to garage, waiting to be filled with spring flowers, are now completely full of water instead.  My house and neighborhood is on high ground, but hundreds of people in my area are faced with flash floods, rising rivers, and water in their basements.  All I wanted was enough rain to water my plants and wash away the pollen.  But what I got was enough to make me think it might be time to start work on an ark.

It turns out that rainfall, like many things in life, is good only when it comes in moderation. Because as of today, I am officially sick of rain and more than ready for it to leave.  I am tired of constantly checking our basement to make sure no water is leaking in, or backing up through the sewer drain.  (We had that happen once and it is not an experience I wish to repeat.)  I am sick of feeling like a jerk when I make our old dog to go outside to do her business in the heavy rain, but not at all willing to risk her having an accident in my house.  I am well aware that the “drowned rat” look is not flattering on me, and so I would rather not walk around all weekend looking like one.

I’m not sure if the lesson here is “be careful of what you wish for,” or simply that “moderation is the key.”  Both adages have truth in them.  But at the end of a long, wet weekend, I think the real lesson for me is to simply learn to be more flexible and willing to deal with whatever the day happens to bring.  I might not have appreciated the rain, but being forced to spend the weekend inside did mean I finally got around to some household chores that had been hanging over my head for a while.  And since we couldn’t work outside, my husband and I decided to go to a movie at the local mall, followed by a nice dinner afterward.  It may not have been the weekend we had in mind, but it turned out to be a pretty good one.

There’s an old saying that states, “Into every life, some rain must fall.”  And I count myself lucky that all I had to deal with this weekend was actual rain, and that I was even spared the worst effects of that.  And when I think about it that way, I realize I really don’t have anything to complain about at all.