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…….

Reasonably Nice

It’s been very hot and humid here for the past few days, and I don’t seem to be coping with it very well.  Part of the problem is that I walk dogs at a local animal shelter, which means that I’m outside a lot, no matter what the weather.  (The fact that I’m no longer a “spring chicken” probably also has something to do with it, but I prefer not to think about that.)  The upshot is that by the time I was done with my walking shift yesterday morning, I was hot, tired, and and sore.   All I wanted to do was go home, take a cool shower, and lie down.

Then I discovered that there were some dogs in another part of the shelter still waiting to be walked, and that I was the only person still around to walk them.  I’d like to say that I accepted the situation and did my duty cheerfully, but I did not.  I was angry, because now I was faced with two unpleasant choices:  either stay and walk some more dogs, or go home, knowing those dogs wouldn’t get walked that morning.  And like most angry people, I immediately looked for someone to blame:  Why hadn’t someone else walked those dogs?  Why had they “saved them” for me to take care of?   Obviously, someone wasn’t doing their job, or so I told myself.

Luckily, I shared my frustrations with a staff person I trust, because venting sometimes helps.  She listened calmly to my rant, and then gently pointed out that sometimes there just aren’t enough people to get everything done, no matter how hard they try.  No one had “saved” any dogs for me to walk, they just hadn’t been able to get to them all.  Everyone, she reminded me, was just doing the best they could.

It took me a few minutes to stop feeling sorry for myself and to realize the truth in what she said.  It took a few more minutes to actually be grateful for her honesty, because it was something I needed to hear.  When times are hard, it’s only natural for us to react with disappointment and anger, and to look for someone to blame for all our troubles.  But doing so doesn’t help anyone or anything.

I think it’s especially good for us to remember that now, because in these crazy and turbulent times we’re all struggling, one way or another.  And the last thing struggling people need is someone lashing out at them in anger.  What struggling people need, which means what all of us need, is a little bit of patience, kindness, and acceptance, I think.

Or at least that’s what I needed yesterday when I complained to that staff person.  She could have taken my rant personally and reacted in anger, but she didn’t.  Her calm and reasoned response was a gift to me, because it helped me calm down and look at the situation much more rationally.  And you know what?  I did stay and walk those dogs, and while I was doing so, someone else came along to help.  I may have been even more tired by the time I finally got home, but I wasn’t angry anymore.  Instead, all I felt was gratitude……

Sensible Shoes

fullsizeoutput_6477It’s been three weeks since I broke my foot, and since the break was really just a “hair-line fracture” of only one bone, I am now allowed to walk around without my big bulky boot.  And while I’m absolutely thrilled that I’m no longer clomping around like the Frankenstein monster, there is a catch:  I have to wear supportive footwear for at least the next four weeks.  Apparently, it takes a long time for bones in our feet to completely heal, and until they do, they’re still fragile and at risk for a serious break that would require surgery.  And obviously, foot surgery is something I want to avoid.

The upshot is that I spent yesterday shopping for shoes and sandals (it’s too hot in July to wear shoes all day) that will adequately support my foot for the next month or so.  I quickly realized that footwear falls into two distinct categories:  shoes and sandals that are cute and offer no support at all, and shoes and sandals that are supportive, but were designed for maximum ugliness.  And I say this as someone who has never been particularly obsessed with shoes.  I don’t have a closet full of shoes, and the shoes and sandals I do own were selected more for their comfort level than for their style.  I don’t own anything with more than a one-inch heel.  So if I call a shoe ugly, you can bet that it truly is ugly and not simply unfashionable.

I finally found a pair of sandals that fit perfectly, support my feet completely and are pretty darned comfortable.  They also look like the something my ninety-year old mother would wear, and she buys her shoes custom-made via a prescription from her podiatrist.  (She has fallen arches, bunions, and hammer toes.)  I’m ashamed to say that I was actually feeling a little sorry for myself when I left the shoe store.  Partly because I had just spent a whole lot of money for a pair of sandals I didn’t even like, and partly because, despite my actual age, I still think of myself as far too young to be wearing “sensible shoes.”

But then, thank goodness, I finally began to get a bit of perspective.  I may have spent several hours searching for supportive footwear that actually looked good and come up empty-handed, but I did find a pair of sandals that would protect my foot while it’s healing.  And they not only look better than the boot I’ve been wearing for the past few weeks, they’re a whole lot more comfortable.  Plus, I don’t have to keep a big plastic bag stashed in my purse to cover my boot in case I get caught out in the rain, and I can drive without having to change my footwear.   Those are all good things.

As the old saying goes, “You can’t control what happens to you, but you can control how you react to it.”  Sometimes it takes me a little while to remember that, and to stop wasting quite so much time fretting about the things I can’t control (like breaking my foot) and to work a bit harder on how I cope with the things life throws my way.  So I’ve decided I’ll wear my new sandals without complaint, and when my foot is fully healed, I’ll store them away for use in my old age.   And if that day does come, I hope that I’ll remember to be grateful that I actually lived long enough need, and maybe even appreciate, sensible shoes.

Recharged

Sometimes we all just need to take a little break, and I have to admit that I was more than ready for mine.  My husband and I had planned a trip to Florida for early May before we knew that he would be having major surgery this past Spring.  For a little while we both believed that the trip would have to be cancelled, so you can imagine our relief when the surgeon gave his permission to go, pointing out that my husband could recover at a beachfront condo just as well as he could at home.

But when my husband’s hospital stay extended a week longer than it should have, we still thought that our much-anticipated vacation wasn’t going to happen.  I told myself that it didn’t matter, and that as soon as my husband was better we’d go on a trip somewhere fun, but deep down I was very disappointed.  It’s been a very tough year for my family, and I really wanted to spend a week relaxing at on my beloved Sanibel Island.  I actually felt foolish for looking forward to this trip so much, because the past few months had me almost conditioned to be afraid to look forward to much of anything at all.

I know adversity can make us stronger and more focused on what’s important in our lives, and that’s a very good thing. But sometimes, it can also train us to believe that not only is “the glass half empty,” but that it’s bone dry and will remain that way forever.  When disappointments and bad news come at us too quickly, or when difficult circumstances last for too long, it can become very hard to hang on to our optimistic attitudes and to allow ourselves to really believe that things will ever improve.  Or at least that’s been my experience.

But you know what?  Despite the need for a major surgery we thought he had avoided, and despite the complications that kept my husband in the hospital much longer than we had anticipated, we were able to go on our trip.  My daughter and her family joined us, and we had a wonderful family time just hanging out together, walking the beach, swimming, and (in my husband’s case) taking LOTS of much-needed naps.

I can honestly say that my husband made great strides in his recovery during our trip, which was a real blessing.  But he wasn’t the only one who benefited from our week away from it all.  With each passing day, I felt my spirits lifting just a little bit more.  My heart began to feel lighter, and I felt calmer and more at peace than I had in a long, long time.  The experience was healing for both of us, just in different ways.

ZWZqbuKtTFOCLFbCPIs2oAI know that I was very lucky to be able to go on vacation recently, and that many people are still living under restrictions that don’t allow any travel at all.  But my point is that all of us, no matter what our circumstances, would benefit from finding a way to take a break from our problems and spending even a little time doing whatever we can to recharge our bodies and refresh our souls.  Keeping hope alive and finding those moments of happiness isn’t always easy, but it is always worth the effort.

Back in the Saddle

I first learned to ride a bike when I was about six years old, and it wasn’t easy.  My father had bought me a blue Schwinn from the neighborhood bike store, and told me to ride it home while he jogged along beside me, keeping a firm grip on the back of the seat.  “Lean!” he kept telling me, “just lean!”  And I did….first to the left and then to the right, and I would have toppled right over he’d let go.  It never occurred to me that he meant I was supposed to lean forward, and apparently, it never occurred to him to clarify.  Eventually we made it the six blocks back to our house, both of us tired and frustrated.  But I finally did get the hang of riding a two-wheeler without training wheels, and all these years later, I still enjoy the occasional bike ride.  It’s true what they say about riding a bike:  once you learn how, you never really forget it.

I suppose that’s true about most of what we learn in life, but sometimes it doesn’t feel that way.  I love volunteering at my local animal shelter, and have been going down there at least twice a week for years.  But when I go on vacation for a week or two, I’m often hesitant to go back, as if I doubt my ability to handle the shelter dogs.  Once I actually do it, I’m just fine.  But still, that hesitation is always there.

It’s the same with writing my blog posts.  When I keep to my schedule, I have very little problem writing my weekly posts.  But if I take a break from blogging, writing that first post afterwards is always difficult.  Sometimes it seems that the longer I stay away from something, the harder it is to go back to it.  Even when it’s something that I really love to do.

I’m guessing this is why I’m feeling a little bit cranky and lost these days, because the past year has meant giving up a lot of the things I normally do and enjoy.  Of course Covid has played a big part in that, and I can’t tell you how happy I am to have finally received my second vaccine.  But it’s been a rough year for our family in many ways that have nothing to do with Covid.  The worst is finally behind us, but I find myself struggling to believe that could possibly be true.  It’s as if I’ve been trained to expect the worst and believe that feeling anything other than fear and dread is somehow not being realistic.  But living in fear and dread is not who I am, and it’s certainly not who I want to be.

So I believe that it’s way past time for me to “get back in the saddle” and get back to the business of living my life, as fully and as normally as I possibly can.  It took me a while to learn to ride that bike, all those years ago, and I fell off of it more than once.  But I always picked myself up, wiped off my bloody knees, and got right back on.  And it wasn’t long before I was leaning forward, pedaling hard, and loving the ride…..

Around the Bend

It would be nice if we could turn back the hands of time now and then, just for a little while.  I’d love the chance to sit at the table in my grandmother’s kitchen again, enjoying a meal she made especially for us, or gallop across a field just one more time on my beloved horse, Prince.  And I’d give just about anything for even a few more moments with any of the people I’ve loved and lost, with the chance to hear their voices and give them even one more hug.  By the time you’ve reached my age, the chances are you’ve got a ton of happy memories that you’d happily relive if you were only given the chance.

But life is not just a journey.  It’s a journey on a one-way street, often in a speeding car, without a u-turn ramp in sight.  The past is just a memory, the present is our reality, and our future is whatever lies just around the next bend.  And that can be a scary thing, because unlike the past or the present, the future is mostly unknown.

IMG_2553I don’t know about you, but there’s a whole lot going on in my life right now that I never saw coming.  Some of it is good and some of it is bad, but most of it was totally unexpected.  I still remember how I used to look at our calendar early last year and worry about how we were possibly going to keep up with such a busy schedule of travel and events.  Who knew the answer would be a virus that would force us to cancel them all?  And I remember the cold stab of fear I felt when I heard that my daughter-in-law was being prepped for an emergency delivery six weeks before her due date.  I had no way of knowing that the result would be a beautiful and perfectly healthy granddaughter who spent only two weeks in the hospital.

I’ve always been the sort of person who likes to plan ahead, so I’ll admit that sometimes I find the uncertainty of the future to be a little bit scary.  But I’ve learned through the years that the unknown is simply a part of life, and my only real choice is to accept that.  More importantly, I’ve learned that the unknown isn’t always a bad thing, and that some of the surprises the future has in store for us will most certainly be good.  I’m also realizing that worrying about what might happen is a waste of time and energy, because when bad things do happen, they are usually completely different from whatever I had anticipated.

So I’m thinking that maybe it’s time that I stop looking so much to the past when I’m less than thrilled with the present, and start looking a little more to the future and the changes that it will most certainly bring.  Sometimes all you can do in this life is buckle up and enjoy the ride, looking firmly forward as you wait to see just what’s around the next bend in the road ahead…..

This Christmas

ddVckuVpRGyx7hp7gz2TZwEven though I love Christmas, there’s always something about December that makes me feel a little sad.  The shorter days and longer nights we experience this time of year don’t help, but the biggest problem is probably the way I tend to build Christmas up in my head and the fact that the reality of Christmas rarely lives up to my expectations.  (I guess Chuck Griswold and I have something in common besides our love for over-the-top holiday lighting.)

I tend to anticipate the perfect Christmas with a huge assortment of delicious cookies and other fabulous food, a perfectly-decorated tree surrounded by a pile of presents that are “just right” for the person who is going to open them, and most of all, lots of fun and relaxing time with my friends and family.  And while the Christmas I get is always pretty darned good, there are also lots of little snags along the way:  burnt cookies, the arrival of my annual Christmas cold, trying to coordinate a schedule for our get-togethers that works for everyone, and discovering that the perfect present I wanted to buy for someone special is on back-order until Spring.

And that’s the reality of a normal Christmas.  This year, we’ll be celebrating a Covid Christmas, which means I won’t be able to attend my beloved Christmas Eve candlelight service, or host the usual big gatherings of my friends and family.  My in-person Christmas shopping has been minimal, and the delivery of the gifts I ordered online has been spotty, to say the least.  (We opened one box to find only the shredded packaging of the gift we had ordered.  Someone is going to be on Santa’s naughty list for that one!)  All of which is to say that this year, it’s been a little harder than usual to maintain my Christmas cheer.

And yet….Christmas is still my favorite holiday and I have no intention of giving it a miss this year.  Yes, we are still struggling with a pandemic that has dragged on far too long, and we are so very tired of it.  The days are short and cold, and Winter is just beginning.  Celebrating the holiday in many of my favorite ways is out of the question, sadly.  But none of that has managed to stop Christmas from coming, and whether or not I enjoy this Christmas is a decision that is mine alone to make.

IMG_7285So I’m choosing to enjoy it.  I’m choosing to give the people I love my imperfect gifts, and just have those gift receipts handy if they need to exchange them.  I’m choosing to spend my dark December evenings basking in the glow of my Christmas tree, or when it’s warm enough, sitting outside enjoying the colored lights we strung around our patio.  I’m baking extra cookies this year and plan to leave them on the porches of the neighbors and friends I can’t invite over.  I’ve discovered that a local church is having an outside (socially distanced and masked) Christmas Eve candlelight service that I might attend if I decide to brave the predicted cold temperatures.  And if not, there are plenty of services I can view online.

Merry Christmas to all those who celebrate it.  And to absolutely everyone:  wishing you much joy, peace and happiness, now and in the year ahead.

A Sure Thing

Predicting the future has never been an easy thing to do, but these days, it’s become completely impossible.  If 2020 has taught us nothing else, it’s that life is uncertain and plans are often nothing more than optimistic hopes.  And I have to say that I really, really, don’t like living this way.

One of my coping mechanisms for dealing with difficulties has always been to have something…anything…to look forward to.  Dreaming of our annual January vacation on the beach is what gets me through the cold and dark Winter days, and even something as small as knowing I have dinner reservations at my favorite restaurant can lift my spirits on a particularly stressful day. 

I’m never happy to see Summer end, but knowing that the holidays are coming has always made it easier to accept.  Yet who knows if I’ll be able to host a family Thanksgiving dinner this year, or if we’ll see extended family at Christmas?  These days, it sometimes seems that looking forward to something is a sure-fire way to make sure it doesn’t actually happen.

Which is why I very deliberately didn’t think much about the family weekend getaway we had planned for the end of September.  My husband and I had booked a house at a nearby lake community for three nights and invited our children and grandchildren to join us.  I knew it would be great fun if we managed to pull it off, but I waited until the very last minute to begin buying our supplies and packing our things, just in case.

fullsizeoutput_5ceeAnd miracle of miracles, it all worked out.  The house had a gorgeous view of the lake and plenty of room for everyone, and the weather was great. We found time to relax and unwind, while some of us golfed, fished, visited a nearby winery, made crafts, went horseback riding, played games, or went for walks in the woods.  The lake was warm enough to try the paddle boards and I even managed to go kayaking without falling into the water (another miracle).

All in all, we had a wonderful time and it’s a weekend I won’t soon forget.  Finally being able to “get away” for a while was great, and spending quality time with the people I love was even better.  But perhaps the greatest gift of all was realizing that, even in these crazy and uncertain times, sometimes the things we look forward to really do happen.  And knowing that gives me all the hope I need.

Accentuate the Positive

When my husband and I were first dating, we often went to the movies.  Our tastes were very different, but we both enjoyed a good comedy and there was almost always one worth seeing.  One evening he told me he’d really like to see the new movie, “Grease.”  I was a little surprised but went along with his choice.  After a quick stop at the snack bar, we settled into our seats and the movie began.

Less than five minutes into it, my husband turned to me with a look of horror on his face.  “I think this is a muscial!” he hissed.  I agreed that it was.  Scowling, he took another bite of popcorn and turned his attention back to the screen.   He watched in suspicious silence for a while longer before he began to look even more alarmed.  “And it’s a love story!”  Given half a chance, I’m sure he would have left the theater there and then.  But as far as I was concerned, we’d paid for the movie and hadn’t even made a dent in our soda and popcorn supplies, so we were going to ride it out.

When the movie was over, I asked him how how he liked it.  “It wasn’t too bad,” he admitted.  “Considering.”  I told him that’s exactly what I thought, too.  It certainly wasn’t one of my favorite movies, but it was good enough that I’m glad we didn’t walk out.

Fast forward more than forty years to a recent Saturday night when my husband and I decided to go out for dinner.  There was a slight chance of rain in the forecast so we considered ourselves lucky that the restaurant had a sidewalk table under a big awning, just in case.  We placed our orders and settled back to enjoy the live music coming from a restaurant across the street.  All was going well until it started to rain….very, very, hard.

ORyzU85tSfq3qtjHCpQWe quickly moved our table as far back from the street as it would go, thinking that would protect us.  And it did, for a while.  But soon the street in front of the restaurant was covered in water that was also lapping up against the curb.  Our waitress asked if we’d like to move inside, but we told her we were fine.  (We’re not eating inside restaurants right now.)   By the time she came back with our food, the water was beginning to cover the sidewalk as well.  Every once in a while a car would venture down the flooded street, creating waves that did reach our table, so we learned to lift our feet whenever we saw one coming.

I know this sounds like a miserable experience, but it really wasn’t.  A few other diners had also chosen to stay outside, the servers were all carrying umbrellas to stay dry, and the temperatures were quite comfortable.  The atmosphere was almost festive.  As I told my husband, “it’s like beach-side dining, without the sand.”

Sometimes in this life, things just don’t turn out the way we had expected.  What sounded like a good movie turns out to be a musical love story.  What we thought would be a good night for dining outside turns into a night of heavy rains.  But if we can just let go of our original plans and simply go with the flow, sometimes things turn out to be just fine.  As a wise person once said, “it’s all about attitude.”

Here and Now

There’s an old saying I’ve always liked that says, “Always remember:  wherever you go, there you are!”  When I first heard it, I appreciated the humor of a saying that doesn’t seem to have much of a message at all.  But the more I thought about it, I realized that wasn’t quite true.  Because let’s face it,  there are times in our lives when we find ourselves in a situation that we didn’t plan for or in a place where we never intended to be.  And worst of all, we have no idea of just exactly how we’re supposed to respond to it.

When I first heard about this pandemic, I naively thought that it would be a rather short-term thing, which made it so much easier to cope with.  But as time wore on, I found myself truly grieving for the life that I had before the nasty little virus showed up turned everything upside down.  I missed the little things, like going out to dinner with my husband after a long day, or browsing through my favorite antique shop.  I wanted to be able to buy groceries without needing a face mask, disinfecting cloths, hand sanitizer, and a whole lot of patience.

One by one, trips and events that I had been looking forward to were cancelled:  three weddings, a family reunion, and a week on the beaches of our beloved Sanibel Island.  Birthdays, Mother’s Day, Easter, and Father’s Day all had to be celebrated without our traditional family gatherings.  I hated explaining to my mother that the big 90th birthday party she had been looking forward to so much was going to have to be put off indefinitely.  Worst of all was being afraid to hold my newborn granddaughter because it might not be safe for her.

This isn’t at all where I wanted to be, and yet here I am.  And the only choice I have is how I’m going to react to it.

I’d love to lie and say that I’ve handled it with real maturity and grace.  (This is a social media, where we all put our best, and often false, face on for everyone to see.)  But the truth is that the constant stream of bad news and challenges can wear me out.  Sometimes I find myself just wanting to retreat from it all, effectively putting my life on hold until things are better.

Luckily, I know that’s not really the choice I want to make.  And I know that because whenever I push myself to “get back out there” and live my life just as fully as I safely can, I immediately feel better.  Grocery shopping these days can feel surreal, but when I discover they’ve finally restocked my favorite frozen pizza, the trip to the store seems so worth it.  While I can’t gather with my friends and family in large groups anymore, when we invite another couple over for drinks on our patio, I still have a good time.  And when I watch my son feed his new daughter, I feel nothing but happiness.

I’ve always had a nasty habit of waiting for my problems to go away so that I can begin to enjoy myself.  But the problems this pandemic has brought aren’t going away any time soon, nor are some very real personal issues my family is facing right now.  So I have to keep reminding myself that this is my life now, and that in spite of the challenges, there is still so very much to be treasured and enjoyed.  Because life is always for living, right here and right now.