The Best-Laid Plans

When I was a teenager, I learned to drive by practicing on my family’s Volkswagen Beetle, which had a stick shift.  As anyone who has driven a car with a stick shift knows, when you don’t shift properly, the car only moves forward in a jerky series of starts and stops, and sometimes just stalls out.  It was hard to get the knack of releasing the clutch and stepping on the gas in just the right way so that the car shifted smoothly into the next gear.  I figured it out eventually, but are times in my life when I feel as if I’m still in that little car, struggling to shift gears in a way that doesn’t jerk me all over the road.  This is one of those times.

A few weeks ago, we put my mother on a waiting list for a retirement community.   It was time for her to have a smaller living space to manage and more opportunities for socialization and activities, while still remaining independent.  The community she chose will provide all that, and once the decision had been made, we were eager to move ahead.  Unfortunately, we were told it could be a year before an apartment actually became available, so I reluctantly “shifted gears” and resigned myself to a long wait.  I even decided that the waiting was a good thing, since it would give Mom plenty of time to figure out what she wanted to take with her and to distribute the stuff she no longer needed.

Last week, I was organizing my paperwork when I noticed that I hadn’t put my cell phone number on the retirement community’s contact sheet.  I called the housing director to let her know, and after listening to me ramble a while, she said, “So I’m guessing you didn’t get my message yesterday?  The one that said the apartment you looked at is available now?”

C1bn%xHURyKz0aRtXD8CmQI was stunned.  The apartment we looked at was bright and airy, had an extra closet, and a balcony that overlooked the garden.  We all loved it, but were told that balcony apartments could take as much as two years to get, so Mom knew that the apartment she was going to get most likely wouldn’t have the balcony or extra closet.   And yet that exact apartment was now available immediately.  Mom was thrilled, and so were we, but it meant “changing gears” again as we prepare for a move in the very near future.

The last post I wrote about my mom’s upcoming move to a retirement home was all about patience, which is an area where I come up just a tad short.  And patience truly is a virtue that I’m working hard to acquire.  But sometimes life calls for other strengths, such as the ability to “go with the flow,” to move quickly when needed, and to seize an opportunity when it comes our way.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever learn to “shift gears” to adapt to the changes in my life nearly as well as I learned to shift gears in an actual car, but that’s okay.  I may be moving forward in a series of starts and stops, but I still get where I need to be.  And that’s all that really matters anyway…..

I Meant to Say

I may talk a lot (some would say I talk too much), but clear and effective communication isn’t my strong point.  There are many reasons for this, including the fact that when I get nervous I tend to babble on and on about nothing in particular, and completely skip whatever point I actually wanted to make.  Also, I don’t like conflict, so when I need to say something that might give offense, I tend to circle around the topic so widely that the person I’m talking to has no idea what I really mean.

But perhaps the biggest problem is simply that there is often a big difference between what I think I’m saying and what the person I’m talking to actually hears.  Because all of us have “personal filters” that can unintentionally distort the meaning of what is being said to us, and sometimes words can have different meanings to different people.  And as it turns out, the communication issues aren’t just limited to my dealings with other human beings.

One of the many advantages to having a dog live in the house is that dogs usually serve as an excellent alarm system.  If someone comes to your door, walks across your property, or even just innocently jogs down the street in front of your house, most dogs will let you know about it.  Loudly.  And that can be a good thing, especially if you happen to be home alone.

So when we brought our new dog, Finn, home a few months ago, I told him that one of his duties (aside from keeping the floor free of food and ridding the yard of vermin) was to serve as a watch dog.  And he took me at my word, quite literally.  One night I heard strange sounds coming from outside our front door and went downstairs to investigate.  Finn was already there, sitting nearby and watching intently as a stranger repeatedly tried to unlock the door and open it.  Luckily, it turned out to be a harmless young woman who was simply at the wrong house, but I still would have appreciated a woof or two out of Finn.  Clearly, I should have asked him to be an “alarm dog” rather than a “watch dog.”  (Although he is very good at watching.  Trust me on this.)

I suppose the lesson in all of this is that I need to remember that effective communication isn’t something I can ever take for granted.  Finn’s interpretation of being a watch dog is a great example of how easily our words and meanings can be misunderstood by others, and how we really do need to be a bit more forgiving when others don’t respond the way we would wish.  Actions and words that we are so quick to take offense at are often the result of nothing more than a simple miscommunication, I think.

fullsizeoutput_53ddSo I will try harder to make myself as clear as I possibly can, whether I’m talking to someone who walks on two legs or four.  Which means I might just have a shot at getting Finn to finally understand that the wading pool in the back yard is actually for my grandson….

Good Things Come

Patience may be a virtue, but it’s not one of mine.  I’m the sort who skips dessert and then steps on the scale to see how many pounds I’ve lost.  I wanted my new dog, Finn, to drop all of his annoying habits right away, even though he’s only one-year old.  (You’d think the fact that I’m sixty-one years old and still have almost all of my annoying habits would mean I’d be a little more patient with him.  But you’d be wrong.)  And when I planted this year’s tomato seedling, I immediately started planning the recipes I was going to make with this year’s bumper crop of tomatoes.

So now that my mom has made the decision to move into a retirement home, I’m ready to pack her up and move her in there as soon as possible….next week at the very latest.  And of course that’s not going to happen.

Never mind the fact that she’s going to be moving from a three-bedroom house (with a full basement and a garage) to a one-bedroom condo, which is going to require major down-sizing.  It’s going to be a huge task simply to decide which of her possessions she wants to take with her, never mind what to do with all the stuff she doesn’t want to take.  And then there’s all the chores that go with any move:  the change of address cards, shutting off utilities in the old house, hiring a mover, etc.  All of it takes time.

But the biggest problem is that the retirement community she’s selected has a waiting list, and we’ve been warned that it could be as long as a year before a unit opens up for her.  Which means that I’ve got too much time to spend worrying and fretting as I wait for this move to actually happen.

What if she has a major health issue in the next few months and no longer meets the “independent living” requirements?  What if we get rid of all her extra stuff and then she changes her mind about moving?  What if everyone who currently lives in the retirement home actually stays there for the next ten years, and a condo never becomes available?  There are so many things that could go wrong that my mind just reels…

But this, like so much in life, is something that I really can’t control.  Yes, I want to see my mother safe and happy in her new home, and I do think she’s made the right decision to move.  But the process isn’t going to go any faster if I fret and worry than it will if I manage to step back, take a deep breath, and let things work out however they happen to work out.

IMG_5532 2Because sometimes, I think, we just have to trust that once we’ve done everything we can to make something happen that it often does….if we can just wait a little while.  Finn may still annoy us now and then, but his behavior has improved enormously since he first moved in.  We kept my son’s dogs last week, and the three of them got along just great with no issues at all.  That’s progress.  And I may not have a bumper crop of tomatoes just yet, but I do have enough to make a tasty addition to the salad I’m serving with dinner tonight.

So maybe, just maybe, it’s time for me to admit that there’s some truth to that old saying, “good things come to those who wait.”  And then learn to do it with patience and trust….

This Too Shall Pass

Accepting change has never been my strong point.  I have a strong tendency to stick with  familiar things, and to cling to my long-established routines.  People usually seemed surprised (and a little impressed) when they ask me how long I’ve been volunteering at the local animal shelter and I answer, “almost seventeen years.”  A big part of the reason I’ve stayed so long is that I’m passionate about helping shelter dogs.  But if I’m being entirely honest, I have to admit that walking shelter dogs three days a week has also become a habit, and I don’t break habits easily.

But the problem with being resistant to change is that far too many things in my life are changing, and not always for the better.  In my darker moments, I strongly suspect that most of the things I enjoy and a most of the ways I prefer to do things are fast becoming obsolete.

For instance, I love taking photos, which is easier than ever now, thanks to digital cameras and smart phones.  But I also like to print them off and display them in photo albums, and it’s getting harder and harder to find any place that makes good-quality prints, much less actually sells photo albums to store them in.  I’ve been using the website of a local camera shop, but they recently replaced their edit feature with one that isn’t compatible with my computer, which is not a change for the better.

My husband and I are also apparently among the few people who prefer not to bank online, and actually pay our bills the old-fashioned way, by mailing checks.  Yet we know we are living on borrowed time, as our bank keeps making it harder to order checks, and also sends fewer checks with each order.  (Even though the fee for ordering checks keeps getting higher.)  I suspect they’re trying to see just how much they can charge their customers per check before we give up and switch to on-line banking.  Which, of course, makes it so much easier for hackers to access our accounts, so you can see what an improvement that’s going to be.

I love to read books, and by that I mean actual books…the kind that are kept on a book shelf.  But book stores are closing all over the country and some new “books” are being published only on-line.  I know that saves paper, but I also know that staring at screens for hours on end isn’t good for our eyes.  Plus, all those devices that we read from operate on batteries and/or electricity, which isn’t exactly good for the environment.  But mostly, I just love books and truly hate the thought of a world without them.

Sometimes I’m afraid the time is approaching when even writing, which is one of my greatest joys, will be obsolete.  Who needs to actually know how to write when we can have all our needs met by simply talking to our computers, virtual assistants and assorted other gizmos?

Still, I know that change has always been a part of life, and that since we’re living in what can only be described as a “technological revolution,” it’s simply coming at us a little faster than I’d prefer.  And I like to think that just as our ancestors lived through eras of great change (such as the industrial revolution), I will get through this as well.

Perhaps the time has simply come for me to worry a bit less about the changes around me and have a little more faith in my ability to adapt and cope.  And to remember that not all change is bad, and that some change is actually very, very good.  All I can say is that I’ll try.

Meanwhile, I’m going to keep walking the shelter dogs, and possibly start stockpiling photo albums for future use.  Because some change is simply unacceptable…..

The Good Fight

TvlA4iu0QPinzH73TPpYigI don’t usually pay much attention to Facebook memes, but I saw one a few years ago that really spoke to me.  It was a quote from Mary Anne Radmacher that read, “Courage does not always roar.  Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.'”  I think I remembered that quote because I found a lot of wisdom in her words, and some much-needed encouragement as well.

We live in a world where it is almost impossible to escape from the constant roar of angry voices around us.  It comes at us from all angles:  social media, the daily news, even conversations with friends and acquaintances.  And of course there is much in this world to provoke our anger, and many injustices that need to be corrected and many problems that need to be solved.  There never has been, or probably never will be, any shortage of things to be angry about, in either our personal lives or in the society we live in.  But the problem is, simply expressing our anger isn’t actually going to fix a thing.

It’s easy to point out injustices and issues, and speak out against them, loudly and frequently.  Nothing could be simpler than to point the finger of blame and to ridicule and demonize those who look at things a bit differently.  And few things are more comfortable than surrounding ourselves in a cloak of self-righteous, moral superiority.  Which is exactly why we all behave that way once in a while, and why some of us seem to get stuck in that mode.  Sadly, venting can become a habit and anger tends to breed even more anger.

But actually correcting injustices and solving problems requires so much more than simply speaking out.  It also requires a whole lot of hard work and sustained effort.  It often means we have to make some personal sacrifices, and it usually means that we have to be in dialogue with, and sometimes even work with, the very people who made us angry in the first place.  But mostly, fixing long-term and complex problems requires a whole lot of patience and persistence.

Like most people, I prefer quick and easy to solutions to the problems I face, both in my personal life and in the world around me.  But real life rarely works that way.  Which means that sometimes I’m going to feel so frustrated and discouraged that I just want to either lash out in anger or simply throw up my hands and walk away in despair.  Yet that is exactly the time when I need to dig down deep in myself and find the strength to carry on, moving forward with patience, an open mind, and the quiet resolve to make things better.

In other words, I have to find the courage to “try again tomorrow.”

The Ties That Bind

I promised myself that I wouldn’t be an obnoxious grandmother.  I vowed that I wouldn’t be one of those women who acts as if her grandchild is the most fascinating person in the world and who just naturally assumes that everyone else wants to hear all about him.  All the time.  I had no intention of carrying around a few hundred snapshots of my grandson in my purse just so I could whip them out and show them to my friends, neighbors, and the poor waiter who’s trying to take my dinner order.  (And just for the record, I don’t carry around snapshots of my grandson……because I don’t have to.  I have tons of photos of him stored on my phone, where I can not only show them to people, I can also send them to all my acquaintances.)  But one way or the other, I’ve basically failed in the “not being an obnoxious grandmother” department.

All I can say is that I meant well.  But I didn’t realize how difficult it was going to be to maintain any kind of objectivity when it comes to my grandson.  I didn’t know that I was going to fall so completely in love with him the very first time I saw him, just as I did with my own two kids.  I had no idea that I would be perfectly happy to just sit on the sofa with him when he’s sick, holding him while he sleeps because I’m afraid that if I try to put him in his crib, he’ll wake up.  And sick babies need their sleep.

IMG_5340I didn’t realize that I was going to find just about everything he does both fascinating and endearing, and have far more patience with him than I ever had when his mother was a toddler.  Even when he’s having a tantrum, like the time he got mad and threw his pacifier at me, I had to turn my head away so he wouldn’t see the smile that would only encourage bad behavior.  I guarantee you I didn’t have to hide my smile when my own kids acted that way.

I don’t pretend to know why we become so obsessed with our grandchildren, but I’m beginning to think it might have something to do with both our age and the way our families change over time.  Our parents have grown old or passed away, and our children have become adults and moved out of our homes to create their own lives.  That’s only natural, but it does mean that our familiar family units have changed, sometimes leaving a hole in our hearts that grandchildren seem to fill perfectly.  Or at least that’s my theory for now.

All I know is that despite all my good intentions, I’ve become the poster child for obnoxious grandmothers, and I may as well just own it.  Because I sure as heck am enjoying it……

Decisions, Decisions….

I never thought aging would be easy, but I also never realized it would be quite so confusing.  It’s hard enough to help my almost 89-year old mother figure out whether she wants to continue to stay alone in the spacious house she loves and has lived in for the past ten years, or move to a retirement community.  Moving would require downsizing to a one-bedroom apartment, but staying means that sometimes she is lonely and we would have to scramble for help if she fell or became seriously ill.  It’s not an easy choice to make, but it’s one she has to make for herself.

I may be only 61, but I’ve still reached the age where I’m confronted with far too many choices.  My husband and I live in a modest house with a big yard, with the master bedroom and bathroom upstairs.  We’ve lived here over twenty years and are very attached to our house.  But is it time to move somewhere that will work better for us as we age?  Somewhere with a first-floor master suite, a smaller yard and a driveway that isn’t long enough to park seven cars?  Sometimes I think living in a condo within walking distance to stores and restaurants would be great.  Other times, I think I’d rather just stay here until one of our kids signs us into a nursing home.

And those are the just the choices about living arrangements.  Because face it, the days when women reached a certain age and started dressing like “little old ladies” are basically over.  Stores that cater to women my age and up don’t exactly feature the house-dresses and sensible shoes my grandmother wore.  But there are still times when I look at an item of clothing and think, “is this too young for me?”  I still want to look nice, but I sure don’t want to be like the seventy-something woman I saw last week wearing a micro-mini skirt.  (Yes, she had long legs.  But no, it wasn’t a good look for her.)

Sometimes I think that medical science has advanced just a little too far, at least in the cosmetic surgery department.  Almost everything on our face and body can be plumped here and taken in there, which means we have to decide just exactly what kind of adjustments we’re willing to make in order to cling to our youthful looks.  And while I know that each of us gets to make our own choice, I sometimes find myself almost apologizing for my wrinkly neck and ever-growing under-eye bags because I know they can be fixed.  I’m just too chicken to actually do it.

No doubt about it, the choices we’re faced with as we age are as difficult as they are plentiful, and there is no “one size fits all” answer.  All we can do is establish our own priorities and pursue our own goals, and respect the fact that other people might make choices that are different from ours.  We each get to choose what is most important to us, and we each live in different circumstances.

But the one thing we have in common is the fact that we’ve lived long enough to even address the issues of aging.  Because even though growing older can be a pain some times, our life is still a gift, no matter what our age happens to be.

New Car Blues

I bought a new car a couple of weeks ago, which should be a good thing.  And in many ways, it is.  The car handles well, gets very good gas mileage and is new enough that everything is still shiny and in good working order.  I bought the exact same model as my old car because I believed it would make the adjustment to my new car smooth and easy.  Sadly, that belief turned out to be completely naive.

True, my new car looks an awful lot like my old one.  It’s not very big, it’s light grey, and  has a sun roof, just like my old car.  But there have been some big changes in the way they make cars in the past decade or so.  The new vehicles may look like cars, but they function more like a cross between a computer and a helicopter parent.

My old car had a small screen tucked away on the dashboard that displayed the radio stations and doubled as a rear view monitor when I backed up.  My new car has a much bigger screen that looms over the dashboard and is constantly demanding my attention, sending messages, displaying maps and even a little picture of whoever happens to be singing on the radio.  Why anyone thought that having a driver looking at a screen on the dashboard when they’re supposed to be keeping their eyes on the road is an improvement, don’t ask me.

I try to ignore my screen as much as possible, but it’s as persistent as a whiny child.  When I first started the car, a notice popped up saying that the my car was capable of sending information about my activities to the automaker, for use in their research and development department, and also informed me that there may be a small fee for this service.  I was given the choice to accept or decline, and since I saw no reason why I should pay for the privilege of being spied on, I declined.  That must have made it mad, because now every time I start the car, I get a notice reminding me that I declined and promising dire consequences due to my poor choice.

My new car also talks to me.  Frequently and repetitively.  At first I thought I was imagining the soft voice that I heard sometimes over the music from the radio.  But the voice got louder, and also figured out how to make the music stop while it was speaking. So now when I’m driving along, minding my own business, I’ll suddenly be informed that I’m approaching a highway that has partial lane closures due to construction.  (Which makes me wonder just exactly how my car knew I was planning to get on the highway.)

I’m not sure exactly where all this will end.  Yesterday, while I was driving a half-mile to the grocery store, I got three different alerts about a flash flood warning thirty-two miles away.  Who knows what other kinds of warnings my car is going to give me?  If I’m pulling into the drive through of the local Dairy Queen, am I going to hear “Ice cream has a lot of calories and your jeans are getting a bit tight?”  Or if I’m headed to the mall will my car tell me, “It’s been three days since you’ve visited your mother.  Forget the mall and drive to her house instead?”

I’m not usually one to long for the “good old days,” but I have admit that I really miss the time when the most we expected out of a new car was safe and reliable transportation.   I mean, who really wants a car whose main purpose seems to be proving that it’s smarter than it’s driver?

Come Together

First of all, I have to admit that I’m not really a hockey fan.  I may live in a city that has it’s very own NHL hockey team, but I’ve been to exactly one hockey game in my life and that was only because somebody gave my husband a couple of free tickets.   So it took me a while to realize that the St. Louis Blues were doing well enough to make it to the playoffs.  And that they did well enough in the playoffs to get a chance to play for the Stanley Cup.  That’s when I began to pay attention, and I’m really glad I did.

Banners proclaiming “Let’s Go Blues” sprang up all over the city, draped across buildings, hanging from highway overpasses, and proudly displayed on front lawns.  One radio station pledged to keep playing “Gloria” (this season’s theme song) non-stop until the Blues won the Stanley cup.  Statues of historic figures sported Blues jerseys and huge “watch parties” were organized so that Blues fans could gather to watch not only the games that were played in Boston, but the sold-out St. Louis games as well.

It was hard not to get caught up in the excitement, so my husband and put on blue shirts and headed out to watch the final games in the series.  We watched game five in a German restaurant that was televising the game on a huge screen in it’s bar, and helped the crowd cheer the Blues as they won.  We went to a sports bar for game six with high hopes, but they lost that game.  Being slightly superstitious, we went back to the German restaurant to watch game seven, figuring we were doing our small part to ensure a victory.  (We even sat at the same table and ordered the same food.)

It was a really fun night.  The bar area wasn’t too crowded when we first arrived, but by the time the game started, it was packed.  The crowd was a mixture of old and young, men and women, some in Blues attire and some not.  Late-comers were brought up to date on the action by those already seated at tables.  We all clapped and cheered for the good plays, and when the Blues scored a goal, everyone was up, hugging, cheering, and high-fiving people they hadn’t even met before.

IMG_5296When the Blues were ahead by three points with just over a minute left in the game, a young man sitting near the TV stood up and shouted, “Everyone on their feet for the final minute!”  And we all stood up, even the elderly woman with the walker.  The joy when the final buzzer went off was off-the-chart.

I’m incredibly happy that the Blues won that night.  Not just because this is their first Stanley Cup, although that’s an impressive achievement.  What I liked best was seeing my city drawing together to support their hockey team, and how we could see, at least for a little while, what it feels like to unite as a community toward a common goal.   In the days leading up to the final game, it was so easy to ignore all the things that usually divide us and to simply be fans of the St. Louis Blues, rooting for a historic victory for our city’s team.

I know it was just a game, and that soon enough, we’ll go back to the usual fussing and bickering about all the issues that we allow to divide us.  But I hope we’ll remember just how good it feels when we manage to stand together…..

A Word From Finn

IMG_4873Mom and Dad recently came home from a long trip, and they’re still busy trying  catch up on all little chores that piled up in their absence.  That means I get another chance to write a post for Mom’s blog, and bring everyone up to date on how I’m settling into my new home.

I want to say up front that I love my new home and I love my new parents.  But that doesn’t mean they don’t have some funny ideas that I still don’t understand.  For instance, they are very big on something they call “house rules,” and they have a ton of them.  No climbing on the furniture, no chewing on shoes, no begging for food at the table, no jumping on visitors, and so on and so on.  I do my best, but sometimes I just can’t remember them all.  Especially since some of them seem so silly!  I mean, if they don’t want me to chew on shoes, why do they leave them unattended on the floor, where they are so darned tempting?  Because let’s face it, leather shoes are the best chew toys ever!

They even have rules for the yard.  I’m not supposed to bark at the big chocolate lab that lives behind us, even though she barks at me all the time.  And Dad is always telling me to “Get rid of those *#*# chipmunks and voles,” but I still get in trouble whenever I  go after them, just because it involves digging some rather large holes.  But chipmunks and voles live underground for goodness sake, so how am I supposed to catch them if I can’t dig?  Sometimes Mom and Dad just don’t think things through…..

I’m also learning that even though I was adopted from the animal shelter to be a part of the family, I don’t automatically get included in family vacations.  They may go gallivanting off to fun places, but I get shipped off to the nearest boarding kennel.  Still, it was a nice kennel, and Mom packed my favorite blanket and toys.  She also signed me up for a few hours of group play time each day, which meant I got to run around in a big yard and play with all kinds of other dogs.

That went really well, until the very last day when a new dog came into the yard and said some really mean things to me.  (I won’t repeat it word for word, because I’m way too classy to say such things.)  Still, I’m not the sort of dog to take an insult lying down, so I let that dog know he had better not mess with me.  Which explains why they told Mom that I’m still welcome to board at that kennel, but I don’t get to go to group play time anymore.  But Mom told me that’s okay, not all dogs do well in big groups and that I’m a good dog even so.  My parents may be awfully strict, but sometimes they say just the right things.

I’ve lived at two different animal shelters, so I know I’m lucky to have found a real home with people who love me.  And I love them too, so I’ll keep trying to follow the rules (at least the ones I can remember), because that makes them happy.  I’ve heard them brag about how well I’m doing adjusting to my new home, and that makes me very proud.  Because we’re a family now and nothing is more important than that.

Love,  Finn