In With The New

5648D17B-10C5-49D3-8139-2BF17A237E0DThere’s a lot to love about Spring.  The warmer temperatures, the bright colors on the trees as they sprout new buds, and the gorgeous array of flowers are all welcome signs that Winter is finally over.  Spring is a time of hope, when nature seems to reawaken and we venture outside without bundling up first.  It’s easy to understand why many people call it their favorite season, and I’m certainly always happy to see it arrive.

But Spring has its downside as well, and not just for those of us who suffer from seasonal allergies.  (Though the runny nose, sore throat, itchy eyes and sneezing isn’t any picnic to live with, especially these days when every single allergy symptom is also on the list of Covid symptoms.)  The problem with Spring, for me anyway, is that it involves a whole lot of work.

Spring cleaning my house is simply the beginning.  Once I’ve given everything a thorough cleaning and airing, including painting touch-ups, I help my husband with the yard.  We set up our patio furniture, rake the last of our neighbor’s leaves off our grass, haul out our flower pots to refill, trim bushes and plants, and spread the newly-delivered mulch.  The big box-store commercials make preparing our yards for Spring look like so much fun, but after a few  hours of steady work, trust me, the thrill wears off.

And then there’s the worst job of all: my annual “shifting of the wardrobe.”  This involves removing all the Winter/Fall clothes from my closet and dresser and replacing them with my warm-weather clothes.  It sounds easy, I know, but I struggle with this job each year.  Spring’s fluctuating temperatures makes deciding what I should pack away and what I should leave out for another few weeks rather difficult.  Then there’s the whole question of what I should do with a sweater that I bought (on sale, from a high-end store) three years ago and haven’t worn once.  Or the blouse that I’ve worn many times, because I’ve been wearing it for twelve years.  Just how long is too long to hang on to a blouse?  These are not decisions that I make easily.

I know my life would be simpler if I lived in a house that had a closet big enough to store all my clothes year-round.  But as hard as it is for me to sort through everything two or three times a year, I also know it’s actually a good thing.  It forces me to evaluate my clothes and make a conscious decision on exactly what I want to keep, and helps me recognize when the time has come to get rid of a sweater I once loved but has long since lost its shape and no longer fits.  It’s sort of a  “fashion renewal.”

I still love Spring, despite my allergies and all the work it brings.  Sprucing up our yard, buying new flowers to plant, and weeding out my wardrobe is worth the effort, because discarding what no longer works and actively making room for new things gives me hope.  And the hope that comes from renewal is the very best part of Spring.

Little Things

I got a letter from the gas company today, threatening to turn our gas off if we didn’t contact them immediately to schedule a safety inspection for our gas meter.  I had already scheduled the inspection and it was completed three days ago.  According to the inspector, our meter passed.  I don’t know if the inspector failed to turn his report in, or if the gas company sent the letter before he did so, but the upshot was that I called the gas company’s customer service department and was on hold for a long time before getting a recording saying, “All our representatives are busy now, please leave a voice mail and we’ll get back to you soon.”  That was three hours ago, and I’m still waiting.

In the grand scheme of things, this is not a huge problem.  I’m sure it will get sorted out eventually, and even if they do turn our gas off temporarily, we have electric space heaters and I can cook in our electric toaster oven.  But it is annoying and something I’d rather not deal with.

Lately, I’ve found myself getting far too annoyed at “the little things.”  When a neighbor decided to keep her trash cans at the curb next to our driveway, I was really offended, and not just because it’s against the city ordinances.  It bothered me to look out my window and see them there.  I got upset when there was only one checker working in the store on a busy Saturday morning, resulting in a long wait to check out with my groceries.  It seemed that the little things were adding up, and I was reacting with both anger and impatience.

Which meant that it was time for a good old-fashioned “attitude adjustment.”  Yes, life has been difficult for the past two years and continues to be in many ways.  But the reality is that if I can pay enough attention to the little things to become annoyed by them, then I can also pay enough attention to the little things to react in a more positive way.  The trick is simply to pay attention to different little things.

fullsizeoutput_507dRather than look out my window and see ugly trash cans, I can focus on the beautiful daffodils or the lovely purple buds on our young tree.  Instead of being frustrated by how hard it is to schedule family gatherings at holidays, I can be thankful that my son and daughter live close enough that we always get to celebrate the holidays with them and their families.  I can be thankful that my husband and I are able to eat inside our favorite restaurants again, be grateful that today’s storms didn’t cause any damage in our area, and thrilled that one of my favorite shelter dogs was finally adopted.

Yes, the little things do count, and they do have a very real effect on our moods.  But the good news is that the positive little things add up just as quickly as the negative ones, and they produce a much, much better result.  And the choice of which little things we pay attention to is ours……

Spring Thaw

IMG_1720Spring has arrived, and I’m thrilled.  The daffodils are blooming, the trees are budding out, and the temperatures are running the gamut from just above freezing to warm enough for sandals.  I especially love early Spring because I can be outside without battling tree pollen and the annoying mosquitoes that come a bit later.  For me, Spring has always been a time of hope:  knowing that the long, dark Winter is finally over and that the earth is renewing itself with new and colorful life always makes me happy.

But this year, I’m even more ready for Spring that usual.  It’s not that I believe “everything will be alright now,” because even I’m not that stupid.  It’s just that I feel that after the events of the past two years, on both a personal and global level, I’m finally ready to move forward.

When the pandemic first hit and the lock downs began, all I wanted was my old life back.  I deeply resented all the people who kept saying, “things will never be the same again,” and clung desperately to my belief that somehow, all of us would indeed be able to step back into our pre-Covid lives.  But the world did change, and time, as it always does, marched relentlessly forward.  Slowly but surely, I began to accept my “new reality” and even make peace with it.  In hard times, we just do what we have to do, and learn to find joy in the little things.

But personally, I can’t stay in “survival mode” forever.  There comes a time when I need to get back to simply living my life as best I can.  That doesn’t mean I’ve finally manged to return to the life I had two years ago, because I haven’t, and never will.  It does mean that I’m ready to embrace the life I have as fully as I possibly can, keeping my old habits that still work and shedding the ones that don’t.  It means being open to new ways of thinking, doing, and living that make sense with the world as it is now, and the person I have become.

And so I’m ready for Spring, and not just the one I see outside my window.  I’m ready for a little rebirth of my own.  I’m ready to connect with people I haven’t seen in far too long, and whose absence I’ve felt deeply.  Recently, I was lucky enough to meet up with two dear friends from my school days, and I swear that even in the brief time we spent together, I could feel a little piece of my heart thawing out.  There really is nothing like being in the physical presence of our loved ones, friends and family alike.

I know that there are still major issues to be faced, and more trials ahead for all of us.  But my hope is that somehow in the midst of it all, we can all find our own, personal Spring.

Role Reversal

My mother asked me for money the other day.  She’s just had her hair cut, and had given the stylist the last of her cash.  My mother lives in a retirement complex and no longer drives, so she depends on her family to provide her with the supplies she needs, including a little bit of spending money.  So I call her when I’m at the grocery store to ask if she needs anything. I also make sure she has a supply of greeting cards to send out, and my husband and I usually shop for the presents she wants to give for family birthday parties.

I don’t mind doing any of it, and I know that I’m actually quite lucky that my mother, at age 91, is still independent in so many ways.  But when she asked me for the cash, I couldn’t help smiling a little.  I was remembering all those years when I was growing up and I was the one asking her or my father for money.  For some reason, that particular phone call made me see just how clearly our roles have reversed in recent years.  She used to be the one who took care of me, and now I (and my sisters) are the ones who are taking care of her.

I’m not going to lie, it felt weird when I first realized just how much my mother has come to depend on me.  In some way, I suppose, we never outgrow wanting to have our mother act like a mother.  We want our parents to express interest in our lives, to believe that, even after all these years, they still “have our backs.”  But I learned that what often happens as our parents age is that they gradually become uable to manage their own lives, much less help with their adult sons and daughters.  My mother was a talented seamstress and I always counted on her to alter my clothes, or even sew curtains for our house.  But she gave up sewing a few years ago, and now I use a tailor.

My mother loves living in her retirement community, knows most of the residents and participates in the many activities there.  But her interest in the world outside that community has definitely diminished.  She no longer reads her mail, pays her bills, or files her important paperwork, so I do all of that for her.  And I’m just fine with that.

I’ve learned, over these past few years, to stop worrying about the things she doesn’t do, and to simply be grateful for the things she still does do.  She’s always had an excellent singing voice and still sings in both her church choir and her community’s glee club.  She still calls me frequently, is always glad to see me when I stop by, and graciously allows me to help with her latest jig saw puzzle.  And she absolutely adores her three great-grandchildren.

IMG_5115What I’ve finally figured out is that the mother/daughter relationship isn’t stagnant.  It changes over the years, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Yes, now I often care for the woman who once cared for me….but she’s still my mother, and I’ll do my best to treasure every minute I have left with her.

Let It Shine

When I first heard that my granddaughter was going to be born six weeks early, I was very worried.  Two of my sisters were born too early and hadn’t survived, and a close friend also lost her son who was born prematurely, so I suppose it was only natural that I was scared.  But as I told friends and family about my granddaughter’s birth, I was surprised by how many of them took the time to assure me that my fears were probably misplaced.  I heard story after story from people who had either been preemies themselves, or had a friends or family members whose premature babies grew up to be perfectly healthy children and adults.  I can’t tell you how much those stories helped me, and how much I needed that support.

There’s a popular meme on social media that says something along the line of “everyone is dealing with some kind of hardship, so please be kind.”  And that is so true.  I told people about my granddaughter’s early birth, but there are times when we don’t feel comfortable sharing our problems with others, for whatever reason.  Which means that all of us are almost constantly interacting with people who are hurting, and how we treat them can either help lighten their load or make them feel even worse.  In other words, how we treat others really is a big deal.

It’s especially a big deal right now, as our world seems to face one huge challenge after another and the number of people suffering seems to grow larger every day.  I have no idea what the answers to all these problems are, but I do know that my actions and my words matter.  I may be only one person with zero influence on world affairs, but I can still try to make things just a little bit easier on those around me.

As a blogger, I can use my posts and comments to encourage other bloggers and readers. As a wife, daughter, mother and grandmother, I can give my time and energy to help my family when they’re struggling.  And while I may not have the strength I once did, I can still walk most shelter dogs who desperately need a break from the isolation of their runs.  My personal gifts may be few and not particularly impressive, but I can still choose to use them as much as possible.  And that’s true, I believe, for all of us.

DA56F645-3AF5-4B06-94B8-F2460D5CDBC3In these dark times, all of us have the choice of either spreading the darkness even further, or being a light for those around us.  I hope that we choose to be the ones who encourage and support each other, just as those people helped me when I was so worried about my granddaughter being born too soon.  I’ll always be so grateful to those who assured me she would be just fine, because as it turns out, they were right…..

Nothing Ventured….

When I first started this blog over seven years ago, I was very nervous and had no real idea of what to expect. I wanted to write about the challenges of being “middle-aged” in the hope that others might be able to relate.  I assumed my readers would be friends and family, and possibly a few people who happened to stumble across my blog by accident.  I’d read that posting at least once a day was necessary for successful blogging, but I started with a more manageable schedule of posting once every four days.  I figured that I’d eventually work my way up to the recommended daily blog post.

But as is so often the case, blogging turned out to be something very different from what I had envisioned.  For one thing, I soon realized that not all of my friends and family were actually interested in reading my blog, but that some old classmates, coworkers, casual acquaintances and total strangers were willing to read and occasionally comment on my posts.  I was pleasantly surprised by how encouraging almost all of the comments were, despite my fears of writing on a public forum.  And as time went on, I expanded my blog’s focus beyond the issues of being middle aged and simply began writing about all the things that interest me.

My blogging experience may have turned out very differently from what I expected, but it’s actually been a very good one.  I’ve loved having the chance to connect with wonderful people from all over the world, and being introduced to so many other blogs that I truly enjoy reading.  And while I actually post less often now than I did when I first began (that daily post never did happen), I know I’ve benefited from writing on a regular basis for the past seven years.  Writing is like almost every other skill:  the more I practice it, the more confident I become.

Blogging regularly has also helped me grow, both intellectually (and yes, I know there’s lots of room for improvement there) and emotionally.  It’s impossible to write well about any topic without first figuring out how I really feel about it, and why.  I think that kind of self-examination is good for us, and goes a long way toward helping us discover our true nature.  And I honestly believe that learning to trust our inner voice is a very good thing.

So I’m very glad that I took the risk and started this blog all those years ago.  Like so many other times when I finally found the courage to try something new, I discovered that the rewards were definitely worth the effort.  And since my natural tendency has always been to stick with what is familiar and safe, I make a point of reminding myself now and then that almost everything in my life that I value most is a direct result of trying something new.  As the old saying goes, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained….”

Sweet Dreams

IMG_1065Sometimes it’s hard to be a dog.  I mean, I know I mostly live a good life:  I’ve got a nice home with  a loving human family, a big yard, and my very own basket of dog toys.  But I can’t help but noticing that at my house, there are certain glaring inequities between the lifestyles of those who walk around on two feet and those of us who walk around on four paws.

I’ve written before about the fact that humans get to use an indoor bathroom, whereas I am forced to potty outside, no matter what the weather.  It seems especially unfair when it raining or storming, since those are very scary situations and all I want to do is hide inside and hope that I live to see another day.  And don’t get me started on the perils of icy porch steps or searching in vain for a spot in the yard that isn’t covered in snow or sleet so I can finally do my business.

But the biggest discrepancy (and the one I find hardest to accept) occurs at mealtime.  My parents eat three meals a day, plus snacks.  Sometimes they eat out at restaurants, bringing home the leftovers, and other times Mom cooks.  My favorite dog bed is in the kitchen, so I’m right there while she’s cooking (or reheating) and the delicious aromas just make my mouth water!  When the meal is finally ready, I prance around the kitchen, wagging my tail and in general letting them know just how happy I’d be if they fix a plate for me, but does that ever happen?  No, it does not.

IMG_1527Mom and Dad might feast on a huge variety of meats, pastas, vegetables, fruits and breads, but do you know what I get served?  Dry dog kibble, that’s what.  Twice a day, every day.  Yes I know that there are plenty of starving dogs in the world who would happily make do with kibble, but do you have any idea how hard it is to see and smell so many tasty foods, day in and day out, and never get offered more than one tiny morsel of it?  Trust me, it’s enough to drive a dog crazy!

I’ve tried to let my parents know how I feel.  When they’re eating, I sit right next to them and stare at them imploringly, whining a little now and then to drive my point home.  All that gets me is the aforementioned tiny morsel, and that’s after they’ve cleaned their plates.  I even tried ignoring my kibble in the hopes that they’d serve me something better, but Mom just said that a hunger strike would do my waistline a world of good.  (Body shaming may be a no-no for humans, but clearly it’s still acceptable for us dogs….yet another inequity.)

Don’t get me wrong, I really love my parents.  And I know they think they’re doing the right thing by feeding me the dry dog food.  But that doesn’t stop me from hoping that they’ll eventually figure out that what I really want is to eat the same food they do, served in very generous portions.   A dog can dream…..

Like A Child

Sometimes I enjoy a good snowfall.  My living room has a gas fireplace and a large picture window, which makes it especially nice for sitting in a cozy armchair and watching the big fluffy snowflakes gently falling to the ground.  It’s an incredibly relaxing experience, and almost always leaves me with a lovely feeling of comfort and peace.

Unfortunately, not all Winter weather delivers in the comfort and peace department.  Early last week, the local weather forecasters predicted what could be our worst snow storm in over a decade, if not a century.  Depending on which TV channel I watched, I learned that we could get up to four hours of freezing rain, followed by several inches of sleet, topped off with twenty-plus inches of snow.  Like almost everyone else, I dutifully trotted off to the grocery store to stock up on supplies.  Then I checked that my emergency stash of candles and flashlight batteries was adequate and asked my husband to make sure we had gasoline for the generator,  (And tried not to worry too much when he told me he wasn’t even sure our generator still worked.)

When it finally hit, the Winter storm wasn’t nearly as bad as predicted.  We managed to skip the freezing rain altogether, and had only about an inch of sleet.  Sleet can be dangerous, but it’s not nearly as slippery as ice and it also doesn’t bring down power lines.  And while we did get plenty of snow, eight inches is a lot better than twenty.

I was happy that we were spared the “storm of the decade,” but I can’t say that I managed to enjoy this snowfall.  We never did get big fluffy snowflakes, but we did get lots of wind, very cold temperatures and stiff muscles from shoveling our sidewalks and driveway.  And I can only say that I must have had my mind on other things when I stocked up on groceries, because once we were snowed in I discovered that I was missing a few essentials.  (It’s really hard to make tuna casserole without tuna, or home-made pizza without cheese.)  As far as I was concerned, this snowstorm was just something to be endured.

981CD5CD-BD3A-43F4-BD75-A6FA657AC41ABut then I started getting texts from my daughter, complete with pictures of my grandson out enjoying the snow, as children do.  He went sledding, built a snowman and even “helped” with the shoveling.  At four, he’s far too young to listen to weather reports, but he sure knows how to have fun in the snow.  And thankfully, that reminded me that not everyone saw the recent snowfall through my jaded eyes.

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I hope I can always remember just how much it helps to see the world from someone else’s point of view now and then.  I hope I can remember that what’s an inconvenience to me might also my granddaughter’s first chance to play in the snow.  Because sometimes, all we need to do to brighten our mood is try to see things through the eyes of a child……

Try Again

IMG_1442 2My husband and I try to take a Florida vacation every January.  We’re not fans of the month’s cold days and long nights, so it makes sense for us to spend a week of it on a warm Florida beach.  We also like having something fun to look forward to after the holidays wind down, and have found that nothing beats the post-Christmas blahs quite like throwing shorts, swimsuits and sun screen in a suitcase and heading south for a few days of rest and relaxation.

But this year was different.  I had a hard time looking forward to this trip, and it wasn’t just because the pandemic has taught me to have a “wait and see” attitude about almost everything I schedule. The problem was that this year’s vacation was going to be almost an exact repeat of the trip we took last January:  we were leaving on Martin Luther King weekend, going to the same coastal island, and rented the exact same condo.  And sadly, last year’s trip didn’t go so well.

Last year’s trip was supposed to be a celebration of my husband’s successful battle with cancer.  I was planning to reserve a table on the patio of one of the area’s nicer restaurants, and was even going to order a bottle of champagne for a special toast.  But things went wrong from the start.

While we were driving down the highway a rock flew up and cracked the windshield of our rental car.  Later that day, a distracted bicyclist rode smack into our car.  It wasn’t our fault and she wasn’t seriously injured, but it was very upsetting even so. Then I began having eye symptoms that might mean an injured retina, which I knew could mean a surgery with a long recovery.  But worst of all was the call from my husband’s surgeon with the results of the biopsy from his recent scope.  The surgeon said it was nothing to worry about, but after looking it up online, we were convinced he had grown a new tumor.  So much for our week of relaxation and celebration….

So I suppose in the back of my mind, I secretly believed that bad things were going to happen on this trip.  I’m not superstitious, but I had learned to associate this particular area with serious problems, and that made it hard for me to truly believe that we were going to have fun this time.

But we did.  We had no problems with the car, no accidents, and absolutely no bad news from any of my husband’s doctors.  We walked the beach, did a puzzle, slept late, ate out on patios, and in general had the sort of week that I had envisioned last year.  I didn’t order a bottle of champagne, but we did finally toast the fact that my husband’s cancer is gone.

Before our trip, I had toyed with the idea of cancelling our reservations and going somewhere else this year, somewhere with no bad memories.  I’m so glad I didn’t cancel and let those bad memories ruin a lovely vacation spot for us.  Because sometimes, the best thing to do is to give places (and people) a chance to redeem themselves…….