Let It Go

IMG_1848I think all of us have times when we feel as if we’re on a treadmill, and someone keeps turning the speed up higher and higher.  Those times when there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to get through even half of our “to do” list, and we fall into bed each night exhausted and already fretting about all the things we have to accomplish tomorrow.  For some reason, Fall always seems to be one of those times for me, and this year is no exception.

I’m sure part of the problem is that the days are growing steadily shorter and that there is so much to do in order to get our yard ready for Winter and our house ready for the upcoming holidays.  My husband and I are also spending a lot of time getting my mother’s old house ready for its new owners and dealing with all the little glitches that always arise at times like these.  (It took us two months to realize that some of the utility bills for her house have gone AWOL.)   Add these extras to our usual day-to-day responsibilities, and I suppose it’s no wonder we’re feeling a bit overwhelmed.

But I know all those things are just part of the problem.  And the rest of the problem rests squarely on my shoulders.  Because I have a long-standing and very unhealthy habit of taking on too much and hanging on to too much.  My intentions are good….I want to be a supportive friend, a good neighbor, a dependable family member, and basically just the sort of person that others know they can count on for help, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Within reason, of course.  But the problem is, sometimes I forget to be reasonable.

I tend to forget that there are limits to how much responsibility I can take on and still retain a sense of well-being.  I seem to need constant reminders that when I try to “be there” for everyone, I usually end up satisfying no one, least of all myself.  I need to learn that there’s no such thing as a perfect friend or relative, and that as long as I am doing my best, those who truly care about me will be okay with that.

I suspect that self-care and setting healthy boundaries will always be a process for me, and that’s okay.  I’d rather be too generous with my time and resources than too selfish.  But I also want to respect my limits, and learn to say “no” to obligations and needs that I truly can’t meet without stretching myself too thin.  I need to let go of my natural inclination to rush in and try to fix things, all the time.  Because let’s face it, it’s both arrogant and short-sighted of me to believe that I’m the only one who can step up when help is required.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll get to the point where next Fall is just a little bit more relaxed, and therefore more enjoyable for me and also for the people who would rather not have to deal with me when I’m stressed and crabby.  That certainly strikes me as a worthy goal….

Time Flies

If that old saying “time flies when you’re having fun” is true, then all I can say is, I must be having the time of my life.  Because time is flying by so quickly these days that I can barely keep up.  According to the calendar, Summer is drawing to a close.  But I swear it was just yesterday that I was busy replacing all the Winter clothes in my closet with light-weight Summer tops and capris.  How can it possibly be time to start thinking about Fall?

And it’s not just the seasons that are flying by.  The nieces and nephews that I watched grow up now have kids of their own, and some of those kids have already graduated from high school.  Logically, I know that means a whole lot of years have passed since my nieces and nephews were born.  But emotionally, I tend to believe that they all must have found some sort of time machine that turned them into mature adults in the blink of an eye.  And I can only assume that my own kids must have used the same machine, because how else could my youngest one be thirty?

I’ve always known that time is a relative thing, because I remember the days of my own childhood when I would sit in classroom, sneaking peeks at the wall clock while I waited impatiently for recess.  The minutes simply dragged by until that long-awaited recess bell finally rang and we all rushed outside to play.  And yet those fifteen minutes of recess just flew by, because it seemed as if I had barely started to have fun before the bell rang again and we all had to line up and go back in the school building.

But what I didn’t realize was the fact that the older I became, the faster time would speed by.  I didn’t know that I was going to reach a stage in my life when I really, really wanted time to slow down, and not just when I was having fun.  I had no idea that with age comes the understanding that our time in this world is limited, and meant to be savored and enjoyed as much as we possibly can.

It almost seems unfair that this is a lesson that we don’t seem to learn until we have lived long enough that we’ve become far too familiar with grief and loss, and stopped assuming that the people we care for the most will always be with us.  At age sixty-one, I’m also accepting that I no longer have a long lifetime ahead of me to pursue unfulfilled dreams or repair broken relationships.  So I suppose it’s only natural that I feel that time is passing by far too quickly now, and why I really wish there was a way to slow things down a bit.

Unfortunately, I have absolutely no control of the great cosmic clock, which will tick on at the same speed it always has, whether I like it or not.  The only thing I can do, and the only thing any of us can do, is to spend the time we have left wisely.  For me, that means letting go of petty jealousy and anger, and actually doing the things that I love rather than thinking that I’ll get around to it someday.  And most importantly, making sure I spend as much time with the people I love right now, while I still can.

Better All The Time

I hate it when history repeats itself.  Last summer, my teeth decided to go on strike, which meant I had to get two root canals and three crowns.  Then my son’s dog decided the mouth piece I have to wear at night to prevent teeth-grinding would make an excellent chew toy.  I didn’t realize Frankie had stolen it from the night stand until I heard ominous crunching sounds from underneath my bed, and by then my poor night guard was missing a few pieces.  Sadly, that meant several more trips to the dentist in order to get a new one made and properly fitted.

All of which explains why I was really hoping that this summer would be free of any kind of dental procedures other than perhaps a quick and painless cleaning.  And yet it was not to be.  It turns out that one of those root canals didn’t quite get the job done, and I still have a small infection near the root of that tooth.  The endodontist recommended oral surgery,  which is tentatively scheduled for the end of next week.

I’ve been worried by the sensitivity in that tooth for quite some time, even though dental x-rays didn’t show anything wrong with it.  So in a way, it’s nice to know what is going on and have a plan for treatment.  One the other hand, I hate medical procedures in general and dental procedures in particular, so the thought of having to undergo another one….. and possibly even an extraction and implant if this surgery doesn’t work….is casting a bit of a shadow over what I had hoped would be a fun and carefree last few weeks of summer.

Still, I am determined not to let my dental woes ruin what is left of the season by wasting time and emotional energy dreading the upcoming surgery.  Obviously, I’m not looking forward to having someone cut open my gums and mess with the roots of my teeth, but I’ll be numb during the procedure.  (If I happen to feel anything at all, I’ll be out of that chair and fleeing that office so fast they won’t see me for the dust.)  Afterwards, I’ll have pain killers and the perfect excuse to make my husband bring me soft food and tasty drinks while I park it on the couch and watch my favorite movies.

I admit that don’t have a history of being brave about medical/dental procedures.  There was a time when even knowing I had to have a cavity filled or blood drawn made me anxious for days before.  But in the past few years, I’ve had several dental procedures, two varicose vein treatments that involved the internal use of lasers, and even out-patient eyelid surgery.  And I did it all without screaming, cursing, or causing serious bodily harm to a single medical professional.  If that isn’t personal growth, I don’t know what is.

So I guess in a rather important way, history isn’t repeating itself at all.  Yes it’s summer (again) and I’m spending far too much time in the dentist chair (again), but I’m determined not to waste the next two weeks worrying about my upcoming procedure.  Instead, I’m going to do my best to enjoy what is left of my summer, to live in the moment and to comfort myself with the knowledge that I can, and will, get through this just fine.  Which just goes to show that we’re never too old for a little self-improvement….

 

Freedom

IMG_1463In just a few short days, those of us who live in the United States will be celebrating our Independence Day, also known as the Fourth of July.  Traditionally, the holiday is observed with parades, bar-b-ques and fireworks, and I’m sure this year will be no exception.  Despite the many serious issues that our country is facing, I think it’s a good thing for us to acknowledge and celebrate the “birth” of our nation and try to remember that, like it or not, we’re all in this together.  My personal opinion is that we would do well to start concentrating far more on what unites us and far less on what divides us, but I know that is wishful thinking.

Still, when I think of Independence Day, it reminds me to be thankful for the freedoms I do have, and I’m not just talking about those that are guaranteed in our Constitution.

I may live in a world where there is far too much hatred and intolerance being spewed from all sides, but I am free to choose just exactly how I respond to it.  I can join in the argument, trying to shout down those who disagree, or silence them with fear and intimidation.  But I can also choose to express my own views confidently and politely, and to do my best to truly listen to those who see things differently.  In other words, I have the freedom to decide if I want to add to the problem, or if I want to try to be one of the much-needed voices of tolerance and reconciliation.

I’ve never been particularly good at saying “no,” even when my schedule is already over-crowded with commitments.  I know I have been blessed with a relatively good life, and I believe that I have a moral obligation to help others whenever I can.  But I also need to remember that I have the freedom to create my own boundaries, and to protect myself from the overwhelming stress that comes from trying to take care of everyone else’s needs while ignoring my own.  Freedom comes with responsibility, not only to others, but also to myself.

I’m not exactly sure how I’ll be celebrating this Independence Day, although I do hope I get the chance to see some nice fireworks and eat some good food.  But I’m hoping that whatever I do, I’ll also remember to be thankful for my own personal freedoms to choose the way I want to live and the kind of person I want to be.  And I hope that I’ll have the strength and wisdom to choose wisely, and live a life that is as free and independent of hate, guilt, intolerance and ignorance as I possibly can.  Because I believe that’s the kind of independence that is truly worth celebrating.

Clean It Up

IMG_1203Spring has finally arrived, which means it’s time to do my annual Spring cleaning.  This week I’ll pack up the last of my winter clothes and replace them with outfits more appropriate for warmer weather.  I’ll touch up the paint on the walls and baseboards, wash the windows, vacuum the curtains and even toss my pillows in the washing machine.  I’ll also clean out the junk drawer and sort through the many boxes of stuff we have stored in our basement in an effort to get rid of anything we no longer use or love.  I am not what you would call a “saver,” but for some reason Spring is the time when I am especially motivated to get rid of excess stuff.

And this year I’ve been thinking that maybe it’s time I took my Spring cleaning one step further.  If I’m willing to get rid of the things in my house that are no longer useful to me, then maybe I should be willing to get rid of some of the things in my life that are no longer useful to me as well.  I am nothing if not a creature of habit, but that doesn’t mean that all of my habits are worthy of keeping.  In fact, I’m quite sure that some of them aren’t good for me at all.

Do I really need to start each day by turning on the morning news, knowing that all it usually does it make me me feel depressed, annoyed, or even angry?  Can’t all that negativity at least wait until after breakfast?  And do I really need to sit down at my computer several times a day, checking my emails and Facebook page?  Wouldn’t that time be better spent doing something that’s actually useful, or even relaxing?

Is the Diet Coke that I drink each time I’m walking dogs at the local animal shelter really the best way to quench my thirst, particularly on a hot and humid day?  Is it time to make the switch to water, as so many of the other volunteers do, even though I’ve always bought myself a Diet Coke as a treat when I’m walking dogs?  I could go on, but if I listed all of my habits that aren’t exactly enhancing my life, I’d end up with a blog post that was at least 5,000 words.  Which would be way too long, and way too embarrassing to share.  The point is that my house isn’t the only thing that could use a bit of “cleaning out” this Spring.

They say old habits die hard, and that’s quite true.   But I can still choose to leave some of my old habits behind, especially those that are no longer serving me and that may actually be getting in the way of the kind of life I actually want to lead.  And if I can manage to get rid of even a few of those habits this year, then that will be the best Spring cleaning I’ve ever done.

A Temporary Fix

Even though I could certainly use it, I honestly don’t think I’ll ever have any serous plastic surgery done.

It’s not that I’m morally opposed to plastic surgery, or don’t understand wanting to reduce the signs of aging.  We live in a society that values youth, and those of us who are in our late fifties (or sixties and seventies) are living much more active lives than our parents and grandparents did at that age.  So it only makes sense that we would like to look as young as we feel, which means that a quick “nip and tuck” starts looking very attractive.   Even someone someone like me, who is very nervous of medical procedures and used to faint at the mere sight of blood, can feel tempted to head to the nearest plastic surgeon’s office and ask for “the works.”

But the truth is, even the best of plastic surgery would be wasted on me.  And I know this because I have had a couple of minor procedures done (for health reasons) in the past couple of years, and I’ve already managed to ruin them.

For years I suffered from sagging eyelids, which combined with my chronic dry-eye, meant that I almost always had a sore on the outer corner of my eye where the tears would get trapped in the fold of skin.  I tried wiping the area regularly with tissues and even applying ointments, but nothing helped.  So I finally went to a doctor, who told me the best results would come from making an incision in the top of my eye lid and cutting away the excess skin.  As if.  I quickly asked for other options, and he said I could also do a simple eyebrow lift.  I figured I could handle that, and so I had it done.

And you know what I did last night?  While trying to pick up the TV remote in the dark, I managed to smack my head right into the corner of my night stand, just above the eye.  So now I have a hugely swollen eye socket and a purple eyelid, and, you guessed it, tears caught in the fold of the eyelid.  All that work undone in one moment of klutziness, and my life is nothing if not one long string of klutzy moments.

I have had problems with the veins in my legs for the past fifteen years or so, which finally morphed into full-blown varicose veins.  Which I had treated, repeatedly and somewhat painfully, armed with the knowledge that when I was done, I would finally have legs that didn’t look some kid had colored on them with red and purple markers.  After the initial spider vein treatments, my legs did look vein free….for a few weeks.  But it wasn’t long before I began bumping into things (steps, the open dishwasher door, whatever)  which would cause a bruise, which would turn into yet another cluster of spider veins.  I’m thinking I’ll probably get to enjoy the results of my recent varicose vein treatment for a little bit longer, like say, maybe six months.

So you see why I remain unimpressed by the best that plastic surgery has to offer.  But if the medical field ever comes up with a procedure to cure klutziness, I’d sign up for that so fast……

Speak Gently

img_1716Remember that old saying, “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all?”  Personally, I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to it, because I thought that there were times when I just had to speak up, even if what I had to say wasn’t particularly nice.  So when someone made me mad, I vented about it to someone else.  When I saw something that I thought was unjust or illogical, I was quick to complain to anyone who listened, before I even took the time to make sure I had my facts straight.  Often, my words were not at all nice, and I can’t begin to tell you how many times they have come back to bite me in the butt.

Sometimes I found out that the person who made me angry had perfectly good reasons for their words or actions.  Other times I discovered that what I thought was unjust or illogical made perfect sense once I had all the facts of the situation.  People I thought were uncaring or incompetent have surprised me with their helpfulness and competence once they were given a chance to do so.  And in each of those cases, I was left wishing fervently that I had kept my big mouth shut.  Especially when I knew there was a very good chance that the person might discover exactly what it was I said about them.

Even those times when whatever I happened to be complaining about turned out to be true, once I calmed down, I usually wished that I hadn’t been quite so outspoken in my criticism.  Sometimes people are doing the best they can, even if they aren’t living up to my standards, or doing the things that they are supposed to be doing.  Harsh criticism rarely motivates anyone to do better, and treating someone like an enemy can often turn them into exactly that.  In a world where most good things are accomplished through understanding and cooperation, creating enemies is rarely a good idea.

I’m far from a perfect person, and I know there will always be times when my temper gets the best of me and I say things about other people that I shouldn’t.  But I also know that this is something that I really want to work on, because life is so much easier when I don’t have to worry about what I’ve said, because my words were not hurtful.  I can be honest about a problem that needs to be solved, and I can speak against an injustice without being hateful, snide, or smugly superior.  There are many ways to speak the truth, and some are better than others.

We live in a world where technology often spreads our words far and wide, and many of us live in a nation that is going through a particularly contentious time.  Which is why I think that it’s more important than ever that I do my very best to keep my words gentle.  I may not always succeed, but I promise I’m going to try.

Spring Cleaning

I’m what you might call a “neat freak.”  I admit, I prefer my house when it’s sparkling clean and everything is exactly where it should be.  I like my wooden floors to shine; I like my kitchen counters free of clutter; I keep the spices on my spice rack alphabetized, and when I walk into my bathroom, all I want to smell is the air freshener.  Clutter annoys me, and I have basically declared unending war on household dirt and grime.  I have a dog in my house, which means that I use my vacuum cleaner about as often as I use my hair dryer.  So it is only natural that I spend a good deal of time each March doing my annual spring cleaning.

IMG_1203Spring cleaning means that windows must be washed, wooden furniture must be polished, and dust bunnies must be hunted down and destroyed.  My winter clothes are packed up in plastic bins, and my spring clothes are unpacked and stored neatly (sorted according to style, color and sleeve length) in my dresser or closet.  Daffodils are cut from my garden and arranged carefully in a vase on the mantel.  I fill several bags with donations for Good Will, and hit the local malls in hope of finding a couple of new spring outfits that both fit and flatter.  I’m rarely successful, but I still try.

For me, spring cleaning isn’t just about cleaning my house (I pretty much do that all year round), it’s also about getting rid of the stuff I don’t need anymore, and trying to replace it with things that I actually do need but don’t have.  It’s about streamlining my life, and trying to surround myself only with things that matter, meaning only things that are either necessary or that I love.  And it’s not just limited to my house.

There’s something about spring that makes me want to examine my life, and identify the areas that are going well and the areas that could stand a little (or a lot) of improvement.  Am I treating the people I love as well as they deserve to be treated?  Or am I nursing grudges, or using the busyness  of my life as an excuse not to spend time with them?  Am I seeing them clearly, for who they now are, or am I clinging to the image of the person I once knew, because that’s so much easier for me?

Am I taking risks and trying new things, or just staying in my familiar ruts and doing things “the way I’ve always done them?”  Do I have the will power to get rid of life-long habits that no longer serve any useful purpose, and too often get in the way of my health and happiness?  Do I have the courage to reach out to people who annoy me, anger me, or even frighten me and try to find some common ground?  Or am I content to just keep dividing the world into “them” and “us?”

Personal spring cleaning is so much harder than simply cleaning my house, but it’s also so much more necessary.  If I want to start living more fully, and if I want to realize my full potential (modest though it may be), I have to be willing to let go of the resentments, complacency, prejudice, and all those other bad habits that are cluttering up my life.  I have to make room for new relationships, healthy habits and all the beautiful things that can enrich my life if finally make them a priority.

I know that personal spring cleaning, just like conventional spring cleaning, is a process that takes both time and commitment.  But it seems to me that if I can manage to keep a clean house, I ought to at least be willing to try to live a clean life as well.

Risk It

I have always been a very cautious person.  When deciding whether or not to try something new, I tend to carefully analyze the situation, weigh all the potential risks, envision every single thing that could possibly go wrong, and then, more often than not, I chicken out.  I usually decide that the risk just isn’t worth it, and decide to stick with the safety of my familiar routine. Luckily for me, I have found the courage to step outside of my comfort zone a few times in my life, and I am so glad that I did.

DSC03708While I was still in college, I volunteered at a nearby humane society, and although I learned a lot, I also found the experience so stressful that I developed the beginnings of an ulcer.  It took me years to decide to try it again, but I finally did shortly after we adopted our beloved dog Sandy from the local humane society.  That was thirteen years ago, and although volunteering at a large, open-admission animal shelter can sometimes be very hard, (both physically and emotionally) I’ve stuck with it.  I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned about dogs, how good it feels to see a dog I’ve worked with get adopted, or how much I’ve grown as a person just from my volunteer experience down there.  Although I signed up only because I wanted to help the shelter dogs, I’ve also had the added benefit of becoming close friends with many of the other volunteers.  I’m talking about real friends, the kind who stick by you no matter what, who know what you’re thinking before you even say it, and the kind who will let you cry or curse when you need to, and then do their best to cheer you up afterwards. There’s a lot to be said for people who have seen you at your worst but still like you anyway.

I thought about starting this blog for at least two years before I actually did it.  I wasn’t afraid of the actual writing, but I was very afraid of sending my writing out into cyberspace where anyone could read it, and even worse, comment on it.  As far as I was concerned, no possible good could come from talking to strangers on the internet.  I had watched enough true crime shows to know that was an absolute fact.

But a little over a year ago, I did finally start my blog.  And thanks to WordPress, I know that it has been read by people in 52 different countries, had almost 5,000 visitors and over 10,000 views.  Yes, there is spam, but my spam filter catches most of it and I delete the rest.  But I have formed online “friendships” with so many interesting, kind, smart and talented bloggers that now I really regret how long it took me to find the courage to start this blog.  I had no idea how much support and encouragement I would encounter from people who only knew me through reading my blog.  I don’t care what anyone says, I now believe that there are many, many nice people in this world.

I know I will always be a bit cautious.  It’s just part of my personality, and I don’t think I can do anything about that.  But I also know that with each step I take out of my comfort zone, taking a risk becomes just a little bit easier.  With each risk I take, I expand my horizons a bit more, grow a bit more, and live life just a little bit more fully.  And that makes the risk so very worth it.

 

Unplugged

IMG_0083My favorite part of getting my hair done has always been the chance to sit quietly in the salon, reading magazines with absolutely no literary merit while I’m waiting for the color to set.  I don’t have to talk to anyone; I don’t have to remember a word I’m reading; I can just sit and relax for a good forty minutes or so in an oasis of self-centered tranquility, with the added bonus of knowing that by the time I leave, my grey roots will be nothing more than a bad memory. Unless, of course, I forget to turn my cell phone off.

Because when I leave my phone on, someone is sure to call or text, or I’ll hear the familiar ding that lets me know I have a new email, and instead of having my peaceful “me time,” I find myself compulsively checking my phone to see just who wants me to deal with what.  And, of course, answering those texts and emails, or making a mental note to return a call. (I refuse to be one of those people who holds loud, personal conversations on a cell phone in a public place.)

Similarly, almost every morning when I get up, no matter how much I’m rushing around to get out the door on time, I sit down in front of my computer and check my emails, my Facebook page and my blog page.  I answer the emails, reply to or “like” comments on Facebook, and answer any comments on my blog.  I’m not sure why I feel the need to do this at the start of my day, but it has become as much a part of my morning routine as the Diet Coke I drink every morning.  Sometimes what I read on the computer screen makes me smile and starts my day off on a positive note, but other days I read about problems and issues that are very stressful, and I find myself irritated and crabby before I’ve even had breakfast.

I struggle to find a balance between the instant (and constant) connectedness that our technology provides and my need to have some personal space, or a chance to pay attention to what, or who, is right in front of me.  I’m not going to lie, I like the way social media lets me communicate with old and faraway friends, and I get a kick out of seeing their photos and sharing memories.  I value the way I can so easily get in contact with my someone when I need to (remember the old days, when we had to find a pay phone if we wanted to call someone when we were out and about?) My cell phone also makes me feel safer, since I know I can always call for help in an emergency.

But that doesn’t mean I want to be available to other people all the time.  I don’t want someone calling or texting me when I’m out to dinner with my husband or friends, when I’m finally, after a long session at the Humane Society, sitting down to a very late lunch, or when I’m trying to concentrate on my writing.  I don’t need to know instantly how many people liked my latest Facebook post, or even how many people have read my most recent blog post.  And I hate the fact that I have to remind myself of that, each and every time I hear my phone ding, or notice that I have 12 unread emails on my computer.

Maybe it’s because I tend to be compulsive, or maybe it’s because I’m a worrier (I don’t want to ignore a true emergency), but I know that I have to figure out a better way to live with my digital connections.  I have to find that balance between communicating with others and finding the time I need just to live my life in the here and now.  I know that’s not going to happen over night, but I’m going to try to do better.  I have a hair appointment this Tuesday morning, and the minute I sit down in the stylist’s chair, I’m turning my cell phone off.  It’s not much, but it’s a start.