Memorable

My husband and I eat out more than we should, but we rarely visit a restaurant more than once or twice a month.  I honestly don’t think there’s anything about either one of us that is particularly memorable, as we’re just your average sixty-something couple who enjoys a good restaurant meal.  So I’m always a bit surprised when the staff recognizes us, because I’m not exactly sure just what it is that would make us stand out from the dozens, if not hundreds, of other people they serve every month.  I mean, it’s not as if we’re bringing along our pet aardvark or something else that would attract undue attention.

Yet time and time again, the wait staff will greet us warmly and sometimes even remember what we like to order.  The first time this happened, I was with some former college friends, having our own little reunion five years after graduation.  We walked into the college bar we’d frequented as students and the bartender greeted us with, “Welcome back, ladies!  Having the usual?”  (That did startle me a bit, but I put it down as the result of a misspent youth.)

Sometimes it’s been rather touching, such as the time my husband and I returned to a restaurant we hadn’t eaten in since the pandemic started.  My husband got us a table while I made a quick stop in the restroom.  When I joined him, our old waitress brought over the menus and greeted us warmly.  I was impressed she’d remembered us, but then she looked at me and added, “It’s so good to see you!  When your husband walked in alone, we actually got a little teary.”  My husband battled cancer during the pandemic, so he weighed about fifty pounds less than he had when the staff last saw him.  I guess between him looking so gaunt and my absence, they thought we’d both contracted Covid and only he had survived.

We’ve puzzled about this, and the only thing we can come up with is that maybe we’re just good customers, restaurant-wise.  We eat out regularly, we’re always polite and friendly with the wait staff, and we try to tip well.  We’re patient when they’re short-staffed, and understanding when things don’t go perfectly.  Waiting tables is hard work, so maybe those who do it appreciate, and remember, the customers who treat them well.

And if you think about it, the same is true for almost every area where we  interact with other people.  We know how important it is to treat our friends and family well, but I believe it’s just as important to treat everyone we come into contact with well, as far as we are able.  A bit of patience, a friendly word, or even an encouraging smile seem like such little things….but the truth is, people notice them.  And often, that’s also what they remember.

Travel Plans

I had such high hopes for this Summer.  Last year’s Summer was a bit of a dud, what with my husband spending most of it recovering from two surgeries.  The weather had been good and the Covid numbers down, but we simply couldn’t take advantage of it.  I’m not looking for sympathy, I’m just explaining why my expectations for this year were so high.  I wanted to truly enjoy this Summer, spending as much time as possible outside and taking several trips to exciting new destinations.  I wanted to make up for everything we missed out on last year, and then some.

But that isn’t what happened.  It’s not fun to be outside when the temperatures creep above 100 degrees, especially when that’s coupled with high humidity.  Sometimes it cools down enough that we can be outside later in the evening, but it’s often rather brutal during the day .  And while we did schedule a few trips, none of them are to places I haven’t already been.

At first I was a little put out when I realized that this wasn’t going to be the Summer I finally got to explore the Pacific Northwest, visit the Grand Canyon, or discover some charming New England coastal towns.  I really wanted to go to all those places, and more, but by the time we had scheduled our trips to Iowa, Kansas and Indianapolis, our schedule was full.  I’ll admit that I had a, “what the heck happened to my plans?” moment when I realized our travel calendar had filled up without including any new destinations.  But then I thought about it some more and realized that we had some very good reasons for our choices.

We were not going anywhere new or exciting, but our destinations were still important.  We went to Iowa to visit my husband’s family, and it have been over two years since we’d been there, what with Covid and health issues.  We spent time with almost all of our relatives there, and few things are more important than spending time with family.  Then we went to Kansas to visit dear friends and I was also able to reconnect with old classmates in the small town where I went to Middle School and High School.  After the challenges of the last two years, catching up with old friends and classmates just felt right.

I think it was ten years ago when my daughter gave me a mother/daughter trip to Indianapolis for my birthday gift, and while I was there, I realized my husband would enjoy the attractions of downtown Indianapolis very much.  I gave him a coupon for a couple’s weekend there several Christmases ago, but we never found the time for it.  So that’s where we’re going next month, because we’ve put it off long enough. It will be a new destination for him, and a relaxing weekend for both of us.

I still have a huge list of places I want to visit.  But sometimes, it’s more important to use our vacation days traveling to spend time with the people, both family and friends, who mean the most to us.  And it’s especially important after two years when getting together with those people has been almost impossible.  Of course I still want to visit all the fun destinations on my list, but I also know that when it comes right down to it, people are more important than places….and I know we made the right choice.

Vital Connections

DSC03900The last of my tomatoes is gone, and I didn’t get to eat any of them.  I absolutely love the taste of home-grown tomatoes, so over the past several years I’ve made several attempts to grow them myself.  Sadly, all that work and effort produced only one bumper crop of cherry tomatoes.  I was happy and proud, but it only happened once.  Some years I grew enormous tomato plants that didn’t actually produce tomatoes, other years my plants were infected with “white flies” which meant the tomatoes never ripened, and one year something ate my entire tomato plant.  All that was left was a sad little gnawed-off stump.

Hope springs eternal, so this Spring when I saw a healthy little plant that was labeled as an “early producer,” I thought I would give it a try.  I was heartened to see five tomatoes growing shortly after I planted it, and since there was no sign of the dreaded white flies, I thought this was going to be my year, tomato-wise.  But then the tomatoes began disappearing, one by one.  I asked my husband to surround the plant with a protective barrier.  That worked for three days, but this morning, all that was left of my tomato crop was a single tomato with a huge bite taken out of it.  I know when I’m beat, so I left it on the ground so some critter could finish its meal.

I think the time has come for me to admit that growing my own tomatoes is not in my skill set.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy home-grown tomatoes, it just means I have to eat tomatoes that other people have grown.  For now, I buy them at the local farmer’s market.  Later this Summer, my friends and family who can successfully grow tomatoes will most likely share their extras with me.  And I’ve decided that I’m okay with that.

The truth is, sometimes we have to rely on other people.  When the shower head in our main bathroom started dripping, my husband and I made several attempts to fix it ourselves, but finally gave up and called a plumber.  The plumber fixed it in less than an hour.  When my dog managed to snag my necklace and I heard a loud “twang,” I thought it was broken.  It wasn’t, but the chain was suddenly several inches longer.  I couldn’t figure out how a sterling silver chain suddenly lengthened, but a friend took one look at it and told me that the chain had “sprung,” which did indeed make it longer.  Sometimes other people know the answers that elude us.

I am, by nature, a somewhat independent person and I don’t apologize for that.  But I also know just how connected I am to other people, and how much we all rely on each other to get through our day-to-day lives.  And I hope I can always remember just how much I need others, even those people who don’t think, vote, believe, or look just like I do.  Because when I can remember how connected we all truly are, it’s a whole lot easier to treat others the way I want them to treat me.  And that results in a better world for everyone…..

Talk To Me

IMG_0237When I was a freshman in college, I became good friends with a young woman who was a Christian Scientist.  We would spend hours talking to each other about anything and everything, including religion.  She once told me that she had never felt so free to discuss her religious beliefs with anyone before, and I felt exactly the same way.  Which may seem a bit odd, because I’m not a Christian Scientist.

I think what made our discussions, and even our friendship, work was the way we talked to each other.  We expressed our own feelings and beliefs, honestly and openly, and then really listened to what the other person had to say.  She didn’t try to change my mind and I didn’t try to change hers.  But I learned a lot from those long talks with my friend, because they forced me to think about just why I agreed with her on some points and disagreed on others.  In other words, she challenged me to really examine just exactly what I believed, and why.

My friend transferred to another college after her freshman year, and we gradually lost touch with each other.  But the lesson I learned from her has stuck with me.  I think of it every time I watch a political debate, read about a religious war, or even just scroll through the news feed on my Facebook page and see all the petty sniping and bickering.  Because here’s the thing:  if you really want someone to listen to your point of view, you need to talk to them.  Not lecture them, or ridicule them, or attack them….just talk to them.  The way you would want someone to talk to you.

Somewhere along the way, it seems that many of us have forgotten how to do that.  We seem to think it’s our duty to point out other people’s faults, usually in a way that degrades them and allows us to feel superior.  While we can do that if we want, it’s not at all an effective way to get our point across.  And as a method for changing someone’s heart and mind, it’s a complete failure.

I know I’m lucky, because I still have a few friends I can talk to, openly and honestly, about anything at all…..even those “hot button” subjects like religion or politics.  We manage it the same way my old college friend and I did, by speaking from our hearts and  listening respectfully to what the other person has to say.  We always say “I disagree” rather than “you’re wrong.”

Sometimes I change my mind after one of our discussions, and sometimes I don’t, but that doesn’t matter.  What matters is that they give me some insight into a different perspective, and they leave me feeling that my voice has also been heard.  And that always reminds that good things can happen when people simply talk to each other.

Beyond Words

One of the first things I learned when I began volunteering at a local animal shelter was the importance of communicating without words.  Because dogs can’t talk, and a rescue dog who has lived its whole life without much human contact can’t understand what my words mean.  The dog can only “read” my body language and respond to the tone of my voice, which means I have to be intentional about the wordless messages I’m sending.  And really, that applies with my human interactions as well.

I was in a deli one day and the man who took my order made a little small talk while he was preparing my sandwich.  When he handed it over to me he paused, and then said, “I’m sorry if I offended you, ma’am.”  Surprised, I assured him that he hadn’t.  It wasn’t till much later that I realized that I was probably scowling at him the whole time he was talking, not because of what he was saying, but because I had a horrible sinus headache at the time.   If anything, I was the one who was being offensive.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been had my feelings hurt when I’m feeling down because it seemed as if my friends and family were avoiding me like the plague just when I needed them most.  It took me years to realize that was likely because when I’m feeling that way, I’m usually sending off a distinct “leave me alone” vibe.  I may have been thinking, “Please come cheer me up,” but the message people were getting was “Stay away from me!”

It’s not easy for me to pay attention to, much less control, all the non-verbal ways I communicate with others.  It’s hard not to scowl when my head is pounding, or to be friendly and engaging when I’m feeling worried or depressed.  Sadly, I have a face that others can “read like a book,” which means that if I’m thinking about something that is upsetting me, I’m going to look angry.  Even when I’m not the slightest bit angry at the person who happens to be standing right in front of me.

But if I can manage to control the “vibes” I’m sending off when I deal with the shelter dogs, surely I can figure out a way to do that with people, too.  Especially since most of the people I interact with do understand my words, and I don’t need to rely on body language and tone of voice to get my message across.  I need to remember to speak up and actually tell people what I’m feeling, which is so much better than, say, trying to smile when I’m feeling badly, either physically or emotionally.

IMG_0448It’s so easy to misunderstand each other, especially when we’re preoccupied or upset, and to be disappointed when others aren’t responding to us the way we want them to respond.  And those are the times when I’m grateful for the lessons that the shelter dogs have taught me, which is that I need to be very intentional about what kind of message I’m sending out, either with or without my words.  Because I’ve found that once others understand what I really mean, their response is often just exactly what I need.

A Helping Hand

I always hoped I’d be the sort of person who could greet any sort of hardship with a cheerful smile and a “can do” attitude, rolling up my sleeves to get to work on solving whatever problem I happen to be facing. I wanted to automatically count my blessings each morning when I woke up, no matter what the day had in store. I wanted to be the person who feels, deep down in her heart, that no matter how long a difficult situation lasts, I’m absolutely certain I last even longer.

And some days, I am exactly that sort of person. I’m genuinely thankful for what I have, and I absolutely feel strong enough to deal with whatever trouble comes my way. But the problem is that I also have other days, when I’m impatient, annoyed, discouraged, and above all, just plain crabby.

Living with the fear of Covid isn’t easy when you have seasonal allergies, especially since the list of possible Covid symptoms has expanded to include almost every symptom that my allergies cause. I used to get a sore throat and think, “Darn, the pollen counts are high again.” Now I think, “OMG, do I have Covid????” I worry that my husband’s cancer treatments will be derailed by either a positive Covid test or that hospitals will once again halt most surgeries and procedures that aren’t Covid-related. And sometimes, I just plain get tired of the difficulties in doing every day things, like grocery shopping, going to the dentist, or getting a leaking basement pipe repaired.

I miss going to church on Sunday mornings, and eating out with friends. I used to worry if I left the house without my cell phone, but now I panic if I reach in my purse and can’t find my trusty little bottle of hand sanitizer. I miss being able to drop in at my mother’s apartment to check that she’s really okay.

I know these are all minor complaints and that many people are in MUCH worse situations. Believe me, I get that. But as the weeks stretch into months and the months threaten to stretch into years, there are times when reminding myself that I’m better off than many others just doesn’t help much.

But the one thing that never fails to help is when another person reaches out in kindness and concern. Never have I appreciated what a gift that is more than I do now.

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On the day before my husband’s first chemo treatment, my daughter dropped off a “care basket” full of supplies to help him cope. Friends and family have called, sent cards, and just plain listened without judgement when I needed to vent. Neighbors have invited us over to sit on their patio for an evening of wine and good conversation. A family friend has reached out regularly to my mother, knowing that she needs extra contact to combat the loneliness the Covid restrictions have caused her and most other senior citizens.

The truth is, life is rather challenging for all of us these days, to various degrees and for a variety of reasons. But if we can all remember to reach out to someone else with an encouraging word, a sympathetic ear, or even just the gift of our (socially distanced) presence, life will be a bit easier for everyone. And if that isn’t worth the effort, then I don’t know what is.

Forty And Counting

fullsizeoutput_5b8dAs of today, my husband and I have been married for forty years.  Our wedding day set records for both heat (112 degrees) and humidity (think steam bath), which meant we had to ditch our plans to take outdoor photos in a nearby park.  It was a nice wedding even so, and my main memory is of being grateful for all the friends and family that came to help us celebrate.  Like most newlyweds, we were young, in love, and had absolutely no idea what the future had in store for us.

The ensuing forty years taught us many things, usually a mixture of both good and bad.    Our meager starting salaries meant we made all of our early purchases based solely on price, including our first house.  But it also taught us how to fix up houses ourselves, turning them not only into a home we actually wanted to live in, but one that we could eventually sell at a profit.  Later, we welcomed a son and a daughter into our family, and learned what it meant to be a responsible parent the same way most people do:  through trial and error, tempered with love.

We learned that some friendships fall by the wayside over the years while others endure, and that those long-term friendships are one of life’s greatest gifts.  When hard times came our way, it was always the support of friends and family that got us through them, and that’s as true today as it ever was.  One of the few things I know for sure in this world is the importance of human relationships and that they are worth every bit of the time and effort they require.

When you live with someone for forty years, you can’t help but notice each other’s odd little quirks, and you also figure out that you aren’t going to change them.  My husband knows that when I say “I’ll be ready in five minutes,” I’m not exactly lying, but I sure am being optimistic.  And I know that when his favorite team loses a game I’m going to hear a lengthy rant about poor coaches, inept officials and all the other unfair factors that can snatch victory from the jaws of the more deserving team.  But we’ve both learned that loving someone also means accepting them as they are, annoying habits and all.

I’m not going to lie, it feels very odd to me to be celebrating our 40th anniversary.  In many ways, it feels as if our wedding day was only yesterday.  And yet here we are, grey-haired (under the dye, in my case) and well past middle-age, with forty years of memories behind us.  We have lost people we loved dearly, but also made new friends and added new loved ones to our family, including two beautiful grandchildren.  No life is without challenge and tragedy, but overall, the years have been kind to us.

IMG_2998We’re definitely not young anymore, but we’re still in love and we still have absolutely no idea what the future holds in store for us.   And that’s okay.  The important thing is that we have each other, and I know that together, we’ll make the most of whatever comes our way.

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.

Let Your Light Shine

Many years ago, when I was in seventh or eighth grade, I remember buying a teen magazine that had an article in it about how to be more popular.  Like most kids that age, I definitely wanted to be more popular, and so I eagerly read the article.  I remember one paragraph in particular that went something like, “Forget all that advice about just ‘being yourself!’  What’s so special about being yourself?  If you want more people to like you, you need to figure out how to fit in with the crowd!”

I may have been a typical early teenager, struggling with raging hormones, self-doubt and all the other issues that go with that difficult phase of life, I was still horrified by what I read.  Even then, I knew that there was something very wrong with the advice to bury my true identity and simply copy the behavior I saw all around me in order to have more friends.  I’d like to say that from that moment on, I stopped worrying about what others thought about me and always spoke and acted according to my own conscience, but that would be a lie.  In my defense, I was very young and still unsure of so many things, including who I really was and what I really believed.

But now that I’m all grown up (and then some), I no longer have that excuse.  One of the benefits of aging is that we begin to understand exactly who we are and we tend to know exactly what we do and do not believe.  Yet there are still times when I struggle to live according to my own principles, and still hesitate to show my true self or share my true opinions, mostly out of fear of how others are going to react if I do.

Sadly, the times we live in encourages this sort of fear because we’re conditioned to only accept those people who are “just like us.”  And so we keep quiet about any aspect of our personality or any of our beliefs that we think might cause someone else to reject us. I don’t like to tell people I’m a political Independent, because I’ve found that as soon as someone discovers you don’t support their party, they automatically believe you really (if secretly) support the opposing party.  I often hesitate to tell people I’m a Christian, because there is such a variety of beliefs in Christianity that I’m afraid they’ll misunderstand what I actually believe.  I could go on, but you get the picture.

Still, I think the time has come for me to stop being so afraid of rejection (or conflict) that I hide some of who I really am and what I really think.  I guess I’ve reached the age where I’d like to have the courage to live according to my own values, and just accept the reaction that gets.  Plus, I try very hard to accept other people for who they really are, and pride myself on having close friends and family whose beliefs are very different from mine.  If I’m willing to accept other people’s true selves, then shouldn’t I give other people the chance to do the same for me?

I’ve always liked that saying, “just be yourself–everyone else is already taken!”  Words to live by……

Real Time

Sometimes it’s hard to really stay in touch with the people we love, even if we see them on a regular basis.  I know my husband and I are very fortunate to have our adult son and daughter (along with their spouses and our grandson) living in the same town as we do, close enough that we can easily visit each other’s homes.  But we all lead very busy lives, and so it can still be difficult to find the time to gather everyone together for a family meal, or even to have the kind of real conversations that allow us to keep up with each other’s true thoughts and feelings.

Like so many people, we often rely on the the convenience of text messaging to communicate with each other.  And while texts certainly have the advantage of being quick and easy, they aren’t at all the same thing as a face-to-face conversation.  Texts don’t allow us to hear someone’s tone of voice, or to read their expression and body language.  The truth is that we all need the chance to spend “quality time” now and then with the people who are most important to us.

Which is why I was so very grateful for the chance to spend a week in Florida recently, sharing a house with all seven members of my immediate family.  Living together for a week without the usual distractions and demands on our time gave us the opportunity to relax and enjoy each other’s company in exactly the way I had hoped.

u4gYQgJ8TEei69SASvgWe shared meals together, played games, swam in the pool, worked a puzzle, watched some beautiful sunsets, laughed, and just talked about whatever happened to be on our minds.  Living with my grandson for a week reminded me of just how much work, and just how much fun, caring for a toddler can be.  It was great to witness my daughter and son-in-law’s impressive parenting skills, and to watch my grandson grow even closer to my son and daughter-in-law.

There’s no such thing as a perfect vacation, and this one was no exception.  The temperatures and humidity were both too high to really enjoy being outside early in the week, and the house wasn’t as close to the beach as we had hoped.  I’ll also spare you the details of where we found the giant dead roach. (You’re welcome.)

fullsizeoutput_5564But those were just minor glitches that didn’t matter at all.  We still had a wonderful week together.  Our recent vacation gave us the perfect chance to grow just a little bit closer as a family, and to truly strengthen the bonds that hold us all together.  And in that sense, it was all I possibly could have asked for, and more.