Let It Begin With Me

I am, by nature, a neat and tidy person.  I may not have coined the expression, “A place for everything and everything in its place,” but I live by it.  I am happiest when my house is clean and organized, and have found that too much dirt and clutter actually makes me vaguely uneasy.  As long as I’m being totally honest, I’ll also admit that when I’m anxious and unhappy, I sometimes find that cleaning my house actually makes me feel better.

I read somewhere that people who like to clean are attempting to impose order on a messy and unpredictable world, and I think that might be true.  (It would certainly explain why I find housecleaning to be  therapeutic.)  But the problem is that the world we live in is often messy, chaotic and sometimes downright dangerous, and there’s not a thing I can do to “clean it up,” at least on any significant scale.

I may be one of the few people who responds to troubles with a vacuum in one hand and dust cloth in the other, but I do think that trying to impose some kind of order on the world is common.  Many do it with social media posts, pointing out the error of other people’s ways in a vain attempt to convince them to think and behave in a way they find acceptable.  And let’s face it, politics is all about trying to elect someone who shares our values, in the hopes that the candidate will be elected and then impose our values on everyone else.  One way or another, we’re all trying to “clean up” the world, and often with the best of intentions.

But the truth is that the only person we can truly control is ourselves.   Yes, we can do our part to make the world a better place by speaking our truth, standing up to oppression, helping those who need it, and most of all, being kind and compassionate to everyone who crosses our path.  But we don’t really get to choose what other people think, say, or do.    And since none of us is perfect, that’s probably a good thing.

So the conclusion I’ve come to is this:  I need to learn to discern between the things I can control and the things I can’t, and I need to pay a whole lot more attention to the things I can.  I may not be able to make the world a peaceful place, but I can make sure I embrace peace in my own life by being as tolerant, honest, and forgiving as I can possibly be.  I can’t force others to own up to their mistakes and bad choices, but I can certainly own up to mine.  In short, all I can do is try, in my limited and flawed way, to live up to the values I really do believe in…..and then let go of all the angst, worry and stress that comes when I focus too much on the things that I can’t control.

buWO0NdZQV2vtwLyj31MrgIt’s a process for sure, and I doubt that I’ll be giving my vacuum cleaner a rest anytime soon.  But if I really want 2021 to be a better year, the very best way I can start is by cleaning up my own act.

Silver Linings

My usual New Year’s post would include a list of all that has happened in the year before, both the good and the bad.  But I’m thinking that no one wants to read a list of all that went wrong in 2020, because let’s face it:  living through 2020 has been depressing enough and there’s no need to dwell on it.  And while the silver linings of this past year were rare, they were also very real, and I’d much prefer to talk about those.

Hard times teach us so much about ourselves and the society in which we live.  And while I saw far too many people (including politicians in both political parties) using this pandemic as an excuse to advance their own agendas, I also saw so many people go out of their way to help others in need.  I was in awe of the many ways people found to reach out to others in a time of unprecedented restrictions on human interaction, and know that personally, I am so very grateful for all those who took the time to show they cared just when I needed their support the most.  If nothing else, 2020 taught us that the human spirit is far stronger than any virus, and that nothing can stifle love, kindness, and compassion.

ncc8I2OwR%2G1yDUq6wYXgAs much as I hate all the devastation that this pandemic has wrought, I have to admit that it has taught me some valuable lessons.  There was a time when I seriously believed I was too old to take care of a young child anymore, and even struggled with understanding my role as a grandparent.  But then my grandson’s daycare closed for eleven weeks and I nervously stepped to the plate to offer my services as primary care-giver.  And it was wonderful!  I was more tired than I had been in years, but I also became much closer to my grandson than I ever would have been under normal circumstances.

Not being able to eat out as much as we had before reminded me that I like to cook, and that some meals really do taste best when they come out of my own kitchen.  The effort that it takes to be able to see loved ones forced me to realize that close relationships really are worth the effort, and should never be taken for granted.  Even the empty grocery shelves that I found so troubling early in this pandemic had a lesson to offer, as I will never again just assume that I will be able to buy what I need, exactly when I need it.  Sometimes we don’t recognize all the gifts in our lives until they are taken away, even temporarily.

IMG_0204While I would have preferred that 2020 had gone differently, for me and for everyone else in the world, it wasn’t entirely a wash-out of a year, and not just because this was the year I gained a precious granddaughter.  I learned a lot in the past twelve months, and I truly believe that some of those lessons will help me be a better person in the years to come.  I’ve learned to have more faith in myself and in the people around me, to remember that the best way to deal with adversity is with compassion and patience, and most of all, to never lose hope for a better future.  Happy New Year, everyone!

This Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Personal

Sometimes I worry about my grandchildren.  Not because there’s anything wrong with them, because there isn’t.  In my eyes, they’re both perfect and I seriously doubt if anything is going to change my opinion about that. (If grandmothers can’t provide unconditional love and acceptance, then what’s the point in having them?)  It’s just that every now and then, like most parents and grandparents, I find myself worrying about exactly what kind of world they’re going to be living in when they grow up.

There are always plenty of big issues to worry about, and goodness knows we have enough of them these days, but I’m talking more about the little things.  Because the world is changing so quickly, and sometimes I wonder if that means that the next generation is going to miss out on so much that I grew up believing was important.  I realize that cursive writing, the ability to read a map, make change, and do basic research any way other than looking it up on Google or asking Alexa are all fading away, and I can live with that.  (Although I think that relying too much on one source for all your information is never a good thing.)  But I was also raised with the belief that I had a right to personal privacy, and I do worry that privacy is a concept that is fast becoming extinct.

It’s not just that all our internet activity is being monitored, stored and sold to the highest bidder.  Or even that most households now have a virtual assistant (like Alexa) which has to be listening all the time in order to know when to respond to us.  (Remember when almost every spy movie involved finding the “bug” that the enemy had planted in the hero’s house?  Now we plant them ourselves, and pay for it.)  But I can’t help thinking that children who have grown up having so much of their personal life being played out on-line aren’t going to have the faintest concept of what privacy even is.

I’ve heard the argument that people who have nothing to hide shouldn’t worry about a lack of privacy, but I don’t buy it.  Privacy isn’t about hiding our faults and sins.  It’s about being in control of what parts of our lives we choose to share with others, and what parts we choose not to share.  And I don’t like the idea of that choice being taken away.

This is a public blog, and I make every effort to be completely honest when I’m writing it.  I’m very open about my thoughts and feeling on the topics I write about in each post.  But there are aspects of my life that I choose not to write about, and that’s usually because I’m either respecting someone else’s privacy or protecting my own.  Not every single thing we do, think, or say needs to be for public consumption and the inevitable judgement that comes with it.

Of course a certain amount of sharing ourselves with others is a good thing, and all healthy relationships are based on that.  But I believe that what we share, and who we share it with, should always be our own personal choice.

After All These Years

I’m well aware of the fact that I’m not young.  Or even middle aged.  (Although I refuse to change the name of this blog to “Fumbling Through My Final Years.”)  I’ve reached the point in my life where everything on my body that could possibly go south has done so.  Not only has it been decades since I’ve had to show my ID to purchase alcohol, but when I buy a bottle of wine at the self-check out lane and the screen instructs me to show a valid ID to the nearest checker, I simply wait until they look at me.  The clerk always  approves my purchase with a speed that is almost insulting.   Especially since I wear a face mask at the store, which I had (mistakenly) believed hid most of my wrinkles.

I often spot toys from my childhood at antique stores, along with other assorted items that were featured in the houses I grew up in.  If I want to confuse a member of the younger generation, I just use terms they’ve never heard of, like party-line telephones, penny candy, house dresses, Hi-Fi stereos, etc.  And most telling of all, I’ve reached the age where I consider “the younger generation” to be anyone who is at least ten years younger than me.  If that isn’t a sign of old age, I don’t know what is.

But like most people who find themselves on the wrong side of fifty, I tend to feel much younger than my actual age. Not physically, of course, because in that way I actually do feel every single one of my sixty-two years, but mentally.  Because on the inside, I’m basically the same person I’ve always been….just a little more experienced, if not actually wiser.

fullsizeoutput_5e0cWhich probably explains why, every once in a while, I don’t “act my age.”  And the holidays are a perfect example of one of those times.  I’ve always loved Christmas, and all of the decorating, baking, gift-giving and general cheerful chaos that it brings.  My holiday decorations have long since passed the tasteful stage, and  now look mostly as if the Christmas department at Sears exploded in my living room.  And the basement family room is where I put out the truly tacky stuff…..

But if there’s one advantage of growing older, it’s that we sometimes have the ability to indulge our inner child, and that’s what I do each year at Christmas.  I bake all of my favorite cookies, even if some of them grow stale before they can be eaten.  I put up two big trees instead of one, just because I like them.  I buy gifts for the people I love and then wrap them, because that’s so much more fun that just shoving them into a gift bag.  I donate to toy drives and food banks because sharing with those who need it makes me happy.  And every year I display a few special decorations that were gifts from loved ones who are gone, because the memories they invoke make the holidays even more special.

I’ve heard it said that Christmas is for children, and that may be true.  But there’s still a child in each of us, and personally, I believe that Christmas is the perfect time to invite that child to come out and play.

Changes in Attitude

JXHyluo%SGWcmbt7MgVpvgTraditions have always been a big part of my holiday celebrations.  We always use our good china for the meals at Easter and Thanksgiving, my Christmas tree is lit with the old-fashioned bulbs of my childhood, and champagne must be served on New Year’s Eve.  I go a little overboard when decorating my house at Christmas, but the actual process goes quickly because I put the exact same decorations in the exact same place every year.

I suppose I like my holiday traditions so much because they remind me of  the happy celebrations of years past.  Carrying on traditions of my childhood might also be a way of honoring family members who have passed.  (This could be why it was years before I was able to ignore my father’s strict rules about decorating a Christmas tree:  smallest ornaments on the top, biggest ornaments on the bottom, a white light bulb at the top of the tree, and if icicles are used, only one strand may be placed on each branch.  I felt like true rebel the first time I hung a large ornament near the top of the tree and dared to put three strands of icicles on an especially bare branch.)

But for whatever reason, I’ve always held on tightly to my holiday traditions, and only changed them when I had to in order to accommodate the changes in my growing family.  But then the year 2020 happened, and I decided that it’s rather pointless to try to hold on to traditions in a year when the world has been basically turned upside down.

So this year, we had our family dinner with just our kids on the night before Thanksgiving, and my mother joined my sister and her husband for their own separate dinner.  My husband and I spent Thanksgiving day putting up our Christmas tree and hanging our outdoor lights, adding a new string of Christmas lights around our patio. While I have absolutely no idea how we’ll be celebrating Christmas this year, I do know it will be very different from years past.

And you know what?  I’m mostly okay with it.  Sure, I worry about my 90-year old mother’s emotional health if she has to be alone on Christmas, but I’ll do everything in my power to prevent that.  (Because when you’re 90, “staying apart this year so we can be together next year” has a very hollow ring to it.)   But I’m also learning that different doesn’t always mean worse.  And there’s something kind of liberating about knowing that I can’t keep up with all my traditions this year, because that means that I’m free to think of new ways to celebrate the holidays that work in these strange and trying times.

I’m truly hoping that next year we will be able to celebrate the holidays however we please.  But this year, I’m going to have to rely on a major change of attitude and expectations to get me through the season.  And who knows?  In the midst of all this craziness, I just might just find a new tradition that is worth keeping long after this pandemic is gone.

Like a Dog

fullsizeoutput_5988Mom’s been kind of busy lately, so I thought it was time for me to write another blog post for her.  Because that’s the kind of dog I am:  always willing to lend a helping paw when it’s needed. Even though my specialty is disposing of left-over food, I’m more than happy to write a post for Mom if that takes something off of her “to-do list.” I also believe that there are times when the people can learn a thing or two from dogs, and from what I’ve heard, this is one of those times.

I know that many people are stressing about something Mom refers to as “that stupid pandemic,” and that it’s causing lots of trouble all over the world.  Apparently, it’s spread mostly through the air, from one person’s face to another person’s face.  And this is a perfect example of how people can learn from dogs, because people insist on greeting each other face-to-face.  But dogs greet each other by sniffing, and faces aren’t what we sniff, if you know what I mean.  So, all people have to do is greet each other like dogs do and the problem is solved.  You’re welcome.

I’ve heard that those who live in the United States are also worried about something they call an election, which has lots of people upset and calling each other bad names.  And once again, this is an area where people could learn from dogs.  Because dogs come in all breeds, colors and sizes, but we still remember that we’re all dogs and we mostly get along anyway.  We know life is too short to waste being angry or hateful, so we focus on the important stuff, like the source of that fabulous smell coming from the kitchen….

Plus, dogs are forgiving.  We may get into the occasional fight, but they are over quickly and no one holds a grudge afterwards.  We even forgive people.  Take yesterday, for instance, when the old battle-axe….I mean Mom…decided I needed a bath.  Never mind that it’s November, she plunked me in the wading pool and doused me with shampoo before I even realized what was happening.  But did I stay mad at her for her crazy and completely unjustified actions?   I did not, or I wouldn’t be writing this post for her.

Now I’ve always been taught that it’s wrong to brag about ourselves, so I hope no one thinks I’m trying to say dogs are better than people.  I’m just saying that sometimes, people might benefit if they acted just a little bit more like dogs.   For one thing, being all up in each other’s faces just isn’t a good thing during a pandemic.  But more importantly, I know for a fact that if people would be as patient, loving,  forgiving, and as willing to live in the moment as dogs are, then the world would be a better place for all of us.

Love,  Finn

Enough

fullsizeoutput_5d20It’s finally feeling like Autumn, with cooler temperatures, gorgeous foliage and pumpkins galore.  There’s something about Autumn that makes me want to “hunker” down” in my warm house, cooking substantial meals and making sure my cupboards are well-stocked with supplies.  But this year, I have to admit my urge to stock up has gotten just a teeny bit out of hand.

I’ve never understood what motivates hoarders. My theory has always been, “why have two of something when one will do?” But then the pandemic hit, and in the early stages that sometimes meant empty grocery shelves, making it hard to find basic necessities. And although I can almost always find what I need these days, those memories seem to have stuck with me. Because now I find myself wanting to stock up supplies like a frantic squirrel storing nuts in anticipation of a really, really, bad Winter.

My usual minimalist tendencies have disappeared. Now I wander the aisles of the grocery store, tossing things into my cart whether I need them or not. My kitchen cupboards are full, and so is the cabinet in the basement I use to store extra groceries and paper goods. I have a small bin full of cleaning supplies, disinfectants and face masks. And yet sometimes I still wonder, “do I have enough?”

The problem with always wanting more is that nothing ever seems to be enough, and that’s a horrible way to live. I know that my desire to keep adding to my stash is a reaction to the uncertainty of the times we’re living in, but I hate feeling that I’m somehow dropping the ball if I don’t have enough supplies in my house to see me through at least 2022. It’s time for me to stop the madness.

It’s true that no one knows when, or how, this pandemic will end. It’s also true that there may still be shortages, and I can’t always count on running to the grocery store to pick up something I need. But I think I’ve gotten to the point where I’d rather risk doing without something for a little while, because that’s preferable to constantly worrying about whether I have “enough.” And I think I’d rather trust that friends and family would step forward to share what they have if necessary, just as I would gladly share my supplies with anyone who needed them. And I know this is true, because they have shared, and so have I.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of choosing how I want to live. Do I want to live in an “everyone for himself” world, or do I want to keep a little faith in the people around me? Do I want to be a person who compulsively buys things out of fear of the future, or do I want to once again be happy with a reasonable amount of supplies in my house?

This pandemic has changed many things in my life, and in many cases there’s just not much I can do about it. But I’ve decided that it is a not going to turn me into a hoarder, and that’s something I can control.

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.