Happy Holidays

1V5A5417From the very minute that I was adopted from the animal shelter, I had  a feeling I was going to really, really like living with my new family.  And I was right.  I’ve got my own bed, my own crate, a basket full of dog toys and a big yard to run around in.  I have two doggie cousins, Frankie and Roxy, who sometimes come over to play with me.   Plus, I’ve got my parents trained to be very generous with the dog biscuits…they even use them to “bribe” me to go outside for a potty break when it’s raining.  All in all, I’ve been pretty darned happy with my new family and thought that things couldn’t possibly get any better.  But they did!

I didn’t know much about holidays before I came to live here, so I had no idea what I was missing.  Turns out, there’s a holiday called Thanksgiving, and we celebrated it yesterday.  I knew something good was going to happen when Mom put a big turkey in the oven to bake, and then spent the next few hours in the kitchen, making even more food.  The house smelled so good that I could hardly stand it!

But things got even better when the rest of the family showed up.  Because get this:  every single one of them showed up with some sort of food!  From what I can tell, Thanksgiving is a holiday that is all about food and sharing it with friends and family.  How cool is that?  We started in the afternoon with lots of appetizers (I made sure I got my share), and then everyone sat down at the big table that was loaded with all the rest of the food, including that fabulous turkey.  I sat right beside the little guy in the high chair, because I knew I could count on him to drop some tasty tidbits my way.   Finally, when everyone crowded in the kitchen to clean up, I helped dispose of anything that was left on their plates.  I know it’s my job to help whenever I can, but it’s especially nice to be able to combine business with pleasure.

Frankly, I’d be a little sad right now that it’s all over if I hadn’t discovered that there’s another holiday coming up in a few weeks.  It’s called Christmas, and I’ve heard it also involves a lot of extra food, especially cookies.  Of course I’m all in favor of that!

In addition to the food, Christmas seems to require putting up lots of lights and decorations, which is fine with me.  But I really got excited when I saw the big tree that Dad put up in the living room.  I know exactly what that’s for, and I can hardly believe my good luck.  They’ve given me my very own indoor bathroom!  No more going out in the cold and rain when I need to pee….how thoughtful is that?  And that’s not all.  They’re going to put all these shiny balls all over it, and I love balls! I can hardly wait to take them off and play with them.

It’s too early to compare, but it just might be that I’m going to love Christmas even more than I loved Thanksgiving!

Love,  Finn

 

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….

Not Yet

I don’t think anyone loves Christmas more than I do.  I love the lights, the smell of a real Christmas tree, the music, the cookies, the cards, the parties, and even the shopping.  Christmas is the one holiday I really look forward to each year, and have ever since I can remember.  But here’s the thing:  the last time I checked, Christmas doesn’t actually come until December 25.

I still remember standing on our front lawn one night with my father, looking at at the Christmas lights on the house across the street.  “Now that’s really pushing the season!” my father told me, shaking his head in disgust.  He couldn’t believe that anyone would put their Christmas lights up on December 1st.  I wonder what my father would have said about the woman I recently saw happily stringing lights and bells across her fence on November 1st.  Then again, I probably know exactly what he would have said, and it wouldn’t have been complimentary.

IMG_2107Personally, I think my father may have been a little bit too strict in holding off on his Christmas celebrations.  (The first year my parents were married, he didn’t look for a tree until late Christmas eve and all the lots were closed, but that’s another story.)  But I admit that it bothers me to see Christmas lights up in early November and to see fully-decorated trees in windows weeks before Thanksgiving.  Yes, we all get to decide when we begin decorating for our favorite holidays, but it seems to me that there’s such a thing as “too early.”

It’s weird to see someone’s leftover Halloween decorations being displayed right next to a house that is all decked out for Christmas.  It’s annoying to hear Christmas carols being played in the grocery store while I’m still trying to decide what size turkey I’m going to need for Thanksgiving this year.  And while I understand that stores want to put out their holiday merchandise as early as possible, I resent being forced to buy wrapping paper and other Christmas paraphernalia in November because I know perfectly well it will all be picked over by December 6th.  And replaced with Valentine’s Day decorations by December 20th, if not before.

Besides, my tiny little mind doesn’t multi-task well, so all this blending of the holidays is confusing for me.  I like to concentrate on one thing at a time.  So what’s wrong with waiting until one holiday is over before we begin the celebrations for the next one?  Whatever happened to “living in the moment?”  And how can we possibly enjoy the anticipation of our favorite holiday when we’re surrounded by people who insist on acting as if it’s already here?

Yes, I love Christmas.  Always have, and always will.  Which is why I also believe that it’s a holiday worth waiting for…..

Puppy Love

When my first child was born, I remember being surprised by how I instantly fell in love with her.  From the very second the doctor put my daughter in my arms, I was completely and totally in love.  The same thing happened two years later when I had my son, and then again many years later when I first laid eyes on my newborn grandson.  It surprised me because that’s not how I usually operate.  I may decide that I like someone very quickly, but it usually takes a while to actually fall in love.   For me, falling in love is a process that has to unfold in its own good time.

That was certainly the case with Finn, the dog we adopted from the animal shelter last February.  When I first saw him sitting in his run, looking at me with friendly interest, I was immediately attracted.  After spending some time with him at the shelter where he had to stay until he was neutered, I grew to like him very much.  And when we first brought him home, I liked him even more.  But I didn’t really love him, and he didn’t really feel like “my” dog.

It didn’t particularly worry me, because I know there’s always an adjustment period when we bring a new dog into our homes and that it takes time for us to get to know one another.  We learned that Finn is a sweet soul who is very affectionate, energetic and just a little bit more stubborn that we’d prefer.  (In Finn’s opinion, just because I’ve told him “no” forty-nine times when he tries to join me on the couch is no reason not to try for the fiftieth time.  He is the eternal optimist.)

Finn’s persistence can be annoying, especially on the days when I’m babysitting my grandson and Finn insists on trying to share his toys and lick his face.  I know that Finn would never intentionally hurt my grandson, but his attentions are sometimes overwhelming for a toddler and so I have to separate them a lot.  And remind my grandson that Finn’s toys are not for children and remind Finn that my grandson’s toys are not for dogs.  Over and over.  Those are the times when I wonder just exactly why I selected a young terrier as our next family dog, rather than say, a fourteen-year old Basset Hound.

But honestly, it doesn’t matter why I picked out Finn, or how many annoying habits he happens to have.  Because sometime in the past few months, it happened.  I fell in love with Finn and his pushy little self.  I still get annoyed with him from time to time, but he has definitely wormed his way into my heart and that’s where he’ll stay for the rest of his life.  He’s my dog now, absolutely and completely.

As an animal shelter volunteer, I see so many dogs that are returned by their new owners just a few days after their adoption.  I’m sure a few of those people have legitimate reasons for doing that, but I firmly believe that most of them are making a big mistake.  “Just give it time,” I want to tell them.  Because none of us are perfect, whether we walk on two legs or four paws.  And all worthwhile relationships require a certain amount of effort and patience.

But if you trust and believe, the love will come…..

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Real Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving Forward

I think my husband and I were just a teeny bit optimistic when it came to my mom’s move to her new retirement home.  Yes, she was moving from a spacious house to a one-bedroom apartment, but we thought we had the perfect system to handle it.  “Just pick the things that you want to take with you, and we’ll handle the rest,” we told Mom.  “It shouldn’t us take very long to clear out the house.”   Seriously, I don’t know what in the world we were thinking.

The problem wasn’t so much the sheer quantity of stuff that was left in her house even after Mom took everything she wanted to her new apartment, and even after all the members of the family had taken all the stuff they wanted.  The problem was trying to decide just exactly what to do with everything else, because her old house has to be cleared out before anyone can move in.  (The last time I checked, there’s not much demand for a house that is full of someone else’s stuff.)

We donated as much as we possibly could, and contacted antique dealers to see if there is any interest in buying some of the older items.  We filled several recycle bins with anything that could be recycled, and finally ordered a dumpster for the rest.  All of this took much more time and hard work than we had anticipated, but even that wasn’t the hardest part.  The hardest part was watching my mother visit her old house and seeing how sad it made her to watch a lifetime’s worth of accumulation being donated, recycled, and sometimes even trashed.

I understand her pain, and I do wish there was a way that we could keep everything she wants us to keep.  But we can’t.  We don’t live in a huge house, and our house is already pretty darned full of our own stuff.  Ditto for all the other members of the immediate family.  After stewing about it for a while (my way of dealing with conflict), I finally decided that we all needed to face a simple truth:  it’s time to move on.

So I told Mom that it’s perfectly normal to feel sad about letting go of some of her possessions.  But I also reminded her of how happy she is in her new home.  She loves her new apartment, and she raves about her new retirement community.  She says everyone she has met is so nice, and she enjoys all the social activities that are offered daily. They even have a room devoted to jigsaw puzzles, her favorite hobby.

Sure, Mom could have kept everything if she had chosen to stay alone in her house, surrounded by all her stuff.  But she chose to move to a retirement community where she would have an apartment small enough for her to easily manage and far more of a social life than she has enjoyed in years.  And the price she has to pay for that choice is giving up some of her possessions, even knowing that some of them won’t be “staying in the family.”

I believe the lesson for my Mom is really a lesson for us all.  Life is meant to be lived to the fullest, and we can’t do that when we cling to the past.  Letting go of the things that hold us back, whether they are material objects, old grudges we continue to nurse, or even belief systems that have become outdated, can be painful for sure.  But it’s the only way we’ll ever move forward and discover the promise of our future.

fullsizeoutput_54efIt helps to remember that the life we’re living today is the one that will be creating the memories of tomorrow.  Like, say, sharing a meal in your new apartment with your favorite (if only) great-grandson….

Dangerous Thoughts

I’m the sort of person who likes to be prepared.  It’s second nature for me to plan ahead and try to consider every possible outcome of almost every situation, especially the negative ones.  I buy travel insurance for our big trips, have an emergency kit both in my house and in the trunk of my car, keep a stash of any medications I may need in my purse, etc.  I always have a “plan B” in mind when I’m making any kind of decision, no matter how big or small, because I’m well aware that things might not work out as I had hoped.

So I really don’t need anyone or anything constantly warning me of possible danger, or pointing out all the things that should be causing me worry and angst.  Believe me, I’ve got that covered.  Which is why I get so annoyed with all the warnings and alerts that I’m bombarded with every day of my life.

The news media is bad enough, with it’s constant stream of negativity and dire warnings about, well….everything.  Yes, we are facing some very serious issues in our country and in the world, but I don’t think that daily newscasts with the essential message of  “be afraid, be very afraid!” are going to help us solve them.  Nor do I appreciate it when my cell phones sends me emergency news alerts about things that are definitely not emergencies.  If my phone is going to interrupt my day with an alert, it had better be about something serious, like an approaching tornado or an invasion of Martians.

But the worst offender is my car.  It has several built-in warning systems which I’m sure were intended for safety, and that’s a good thing.  Unfortunately, I’ve come to believe that my car was programed by someone who’s rather paranoid, because it warns me about everything, all the time.  If I pull into the garage and get within two feet of the trash cans, my car not only beeps at me, but warning lights flash and sometimes it even hits the automatic brakes.  Yes, getting within two feet of another car on the highway would be a problem.  But I’m parking my car.  In my garage.  And it’s not a huge garage, so I have to get “dangerously” close to the trash cans to do so.

Last week my car got really upset because I had parked in the street, and someone else pulled up behind me a bit closer than my car deemed appropriate.  They had actually left plenty of room for me to pull away from the curb, but the minute I started my car, it flashed and beeped and generally had a panic attack as I manuvered out of the spot.  I swear, if my car was a person, it would say nothing but “Danger!  Watch out!  Oh my gosh, oh my gosh…OH MY GOSH!!!!”

As I said, I don’t need this in my life.  I’m well aware of the dangers that surround me, and I take them seriously.  If I’m going to be bombarded with unsolicited messages, I’d much rather hear something encouraging, such as, “You can do it!”  Building confidence is almost always more effective than instilling fear, even when facing the big problems, in my opinion.  Now all I have to do is figure out a way to get others, especially my car, on board with that….

My Way

rlMtuR23SC6pZJLH6olOvQMy mother and I have an ongoing dispute over the proper placement of silverware in the dishwasher.  I always place my forks, spoons and knives in the dishwasher with the handles up.  My mother places them in with the handles down, because she says the silverware gets cleaner that way.  And perhaps they do, I tell her.  But what happens after the dishwasher has run its cycle, and then I have to remove the silverware by placing my grubby little fingers on the parts of the spoons and forks that are supposed to go in people’s mouths?  And isn’t it dangerous to handle the knives by the blades?

When I say this, my mother always nods and says, “That’s probably true.”  But as soon as she thinks I’m not looking, she goes right on putting the silverware in the dishwasher with the handles down.

The correct way to load a dishwasher is a relatively small matter in the grand scheme of things, but I think our ongoing disagreement is a good illustration of a much bigger problem.  Because most of us tend to believe that our way of doing things is the best way, and our way of thinking is the only way.  And then we cause a whole lot of trouble by trying to convince everyone else that we’re right.

If you’ve ever had a “discussion” with someone who holds different views from you, especially on such sensitive topics as politics or religion, you know what I’m talking about.  Those are two topics where people have never had much tolerance for disagreement.  But even different beliefs in how we raise our children, how we run our households, how we celebrate holidays….heck, just about anything these days….can cause us to lose our tempers and lash out at those we think of as “other.”

I guess it’s just hard for us to accept that it’s not our place to tell everyone else what to think or how to act.  It seems to be human nature to like our own way best, and to harbor the belief that the world would be such a better place if everyone else just “got with the program” and came around to our way of thinking.  But it doesn’t work like that.  Because the people who are different from us like their way best, too.  And they also think that the world would be so much better if we would just wise up and agree with them.

The best thing we can do, I think, is to live our lives as best we can according to our own convictions, and to be very open about what we believe and why.  And if someone else wants to share their beliefs with us, we can listen to what they have to say and really think about why we do or do not agree with them.  Sometimes minds will be changed, but often they won’t.  And that’s okay, because other people are allowed to be different.  They really are.

So I will keep right on loading the silverware in my dishwasher with the handles up, and my mother will keep right on putting the handles down.  And that’s fine, because either way, we’ll still end up with clean silverware.

A Simpler Life

When I was young, moving was so simple.  When it was time to move, my husband and I would box up our stuff and then enlist the help of our friends to haul everything to our new home.  In return for their free labor, we would supply beer and pizza.  (We learned the hard way not to offer the beer until after our belongings were safely in our new place.) It was actually a pretty good system, and one that was used by all our friends because none of us owned very much.

You have no idea how much I long for “the good old days” when moving was such an easy process.  Although my husband and I have no plans to relocate, we have spent the past several weeks helping my mom prepare for her upcoming move to a retirement community.  And since that means she’ll be downsizing from a spacious house to a one-bedroom apartment, we’ve had to sort through all of her possessions in order to help her select just what she plans to take with her.  And trust me, she has a LOT of possessions…..most of which are now in need of a new home.

9JO1EVwaTaGfjiDVqJJCcAPicking the furniture she wanted to take was the easy part.  But once we moved on to her books, kitchen stuff, china, photos, towels, holiday decorations, clothes, keepsakes, etc., thing became much more complicated.  No one wants to part with precious family heirlooms, but trust me, after you’ve “discovered” the fourth box filled with old dishes that some distant aunt brought back from her trip abroad, you really begin to rethink just exactly what is precious and what is not.  Especially when you know that your mom’s new home doesn’t have room for most of it.

Don’t get me wrong, we did discover some family “treasure” among Mom’s boxes, and I couldn’t be happier about that.  But the main thing I’ve discovered in the past few weeks is that most of us have far too much stuff.  In this country, you don’t have to be rich to be able to fill your house with things that you don’t really need and may not even value.  And even the things that are valuable in your eyes are probably things that your family and friends don’t really want.

So my advice is this:  resist the urge to amass great quantities of anything.  And I do mean anything.  Because the time will come when you will either have to move somewhere smaller, or you will simply leave this life altogether, and some poor person is going to have to go through your stuff and try to decide what to do with all of it.  And the longer it takes them to do so, the more tired and crabby they will become.  Trust me on this.

The simple truth is that when it comes to material things, less is more.  Always.  Please think about that the next time you go shopping for something you don’t really need, or feel obligated to bring home yet another souvenir from your vacation.  Remember it the next time you’re cleaning out a closest and decide to keep something you haven’t used in ten years “because it just might come in handy some day.”  Not for you, it won’t.  Which means it’s time to donate it to someone who really can use it.

I know the process of cleaning out Mom’s house won’t last forever, and when we’re finally finished over there, I’m turning my attention to my own house.  Because there’s no two ways about it:  it’s time for me to practice what I preach……