Positively Right

IMG_0709Have you ever had one of those dreams that seems so real you had a hard time convincing yourself it wasn’t, and the emotions you felt in the dream stay with you long after you wake up?  I once dreamed that my husband was cheating on me by dating the entire University of Iowa cheerleading squad, and also had the gall to tell me that it was “no big deal.”  I was so angry when I woke up that it was all I could do not to slap him.  And even though I knew it was just a dream, it still took me a few days before I quit glaring at him.

Which just goes to show how easy it is to get worked up about things that didn’t even happen and aren’t even real.  And sadly, I’m not just talking about exceptionally vivid dreams.  Or even all those annoying social media memes that are designed to generate outrage and anger, as dangerous as they can be to our emotional health.  What I’m talking about is much simpler:  how strongly our outlook (or our internal dialogue) can influence our mood and how we perceive the world around us.

When I’m feeling crabby, I have no problem finding things to fuel and sustain that mood.  A friend who is too busy to go to lunch with me is obviously tiring of my friendship;  the receptionist at the doctor’s office who doesn’t return a call right away must be incompetent; the driver who hesitates a bit too long when the light turns green absolutely has to be talking on a cell phone.  None of those things may be true, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling rejected, annoyed or self-righteously outraged.

It’s actually kind of scary how easy it is to react with very real anger and hurt to something that doesn’t exist anywhere except in my tiny little mind.  But the good news is that I can do something about it.

I can pay attention to that little voice in my head, and I can also rein it back in when it becomes too negative.  I can remember that most of the time, I honestly have no idea why people do the things they do and that nothing good can come from automatically attributing the worst possible motivation to other people’s actions.  And more importantly, I can remember that it’s almost always best to give other people the benefit of the doubt, at least until they have given me a good reason not to.

I used to think that people who believe in the power of a positive attitude were the sort of people who never really stopped believing in Santa Claus and who tended to buy into pyramid schemes with their spare money.  But the older I get, the more I realize that my attitude is not only one of the few things in my life I can actually control, but that the harder I try to keep it positive, the happier I’ll be.  And when I am happy rather than crabby, it’s just so much easier to also be patient, tolerant and most important of all…kind.  It really is as simple as that.

Better All The Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Raise Them Up

When I was pregnant with my son, I was absolutely convinced I was going to have a girl. I was going to name her Sarah Marie, and I believed that she would have red hair (like my husband before he went gray) and green eyes.  I was so sure of all this that I was actually shocked when the doctor put my son in my arms for the first time and said, “Congratulations, it’s a boy!”  Not disappointed, mind you…I loved my son completely and absolutely from the moment he was born….but definitely surprised.  And as I rocked my newborn son, a little part of me said good-by to Sarah Marie.

Honestly, that incident should have prepared me for what parenting is really all about.

As parents, we try so hard to make the right decisions for our children; to steer them onto the paths we think they should take and to instill our values and our knowledge in them.  And that’s as it should be.  But sometimes when we do that, I think we also make the mistake of thinking that our children will turn out to be exactly who we shaped them to be, and that they will always share our interests and always do things just the way we taught them.   But they rarely, if ever, follow exactly in our footsteps and sometimes set off on paths we never even imagined.  And that’s as it should be, too.

As a writer, I was thrilled when my son began writing stories for fun when he was about ten years old.  He was very good at it.  On some level, I suppose I even hoped he might grow up to have the commercially successful writing career that had eluded me.  But eventually he stopped writing those stories, preferring to spend his time playing sports and video games.  I remember being disappointed at the amount of time he would spend in front a computer when he could, in my opinion, be doing much more productive things.

And you know what?  That same son is now working happily and successfully in the field of technology.  He may not have taken the path I had envisioned for him, but he followed his own heart and found the path that was right for him.

Ann's photo 4

Neither my son or daughter turned out exactly the way I had pictured, and neither share every single one of my values and interests.  Instead, they did exactly what they were supposed to do and used the love, experience and knowledge they were raised with as a foundation upon which to build their own lives.  They are changing and evolving into exactly the persons they were meant to be.

My son surprised me, all those years ago in the delivery room, by turning out to be a bit different from what I had expected.  Honestly, both he and his sister still surprise me now and then.  And as their mother, I wouldn’t have it any other way…..

Letting Go

I have a box in my basement marked “Ann’s keepsakes,” filled with things that are special to me.  Anyone else would probably consider it a box full of worthless odds and ends, and wonder why in the world I’m saving it.  The battered stuffed pony,  the cheap ring with an artificial emerald, the red dog collar,  the purple lace ribbon and all the rest of the contents have no real value at all.  But to me, every single item in that box is special.

Ann's photo 1The stuffed pony was my favorite childhood toy and almost constant companion…it’s no wonder he looks so well-worn.  The “emerald” ring was a graduation gift from my grandmother, passed on to me because we both had May birthdays.  The dog collar belonged to Genny, the first dog who was my very own and not a family pet.  And the ribbon was a gift from a good friend’s mother, who made it to cheer me up after I came in last place in my heat during a Junior High track meet.  (Lots of people have ribbons for winning races, but I bet I’m the only one who has a last place ribbon.)

I think it’s normal to hang onto to the things we treasure and to the people we love.  We want to keep what, and who, we value in our lives.  But the problem is that there is so much that we can’t hang on to, no matter how hard we try.

One of my very first “blogging friends” was a woman from Australia, who wrote a great  blog about the trials and joys of farming there.  She read every one of my posts and never failed to leave an encouraging comment.  But one day she blogged about an upcoming surgery, and that was the last I ever heard of her.  I still have no idea if she simply dropped out of the blogging world, or if the surgery went horribly wrong.  And I doubt very much that I will ever know.

Life is full of losses, both large and small.  Favorite restaurants close, neighborhood friends move away, treasured family traditions come to an end.  And if you’re like me, you sometimes try a bit too hard to hang on to what is slipping away or even already gone.  It’s hard to lose the things and people we value, but sometimes don’t have much choice.

And so I keep my little box of keepsakes, stored away on my basement shelf.  I don’t get it out very often, as most days  I’m too busy dealing with the stuff that is happening in my life right here and now.  But every once in a while I add something to it, when I find myself facing yet another loss and want to save a little something to remind myself of a gift I once had.

In a way, I suppose, that’s the real purpose of my keepsakes.  They represent the good memories that are mine forever, even when the actual people and things are gone.  The influence of the past has helped shape who I am now, which means that those memories are a very real part of me and always will be.  And knowing that makes it just a little bit easier when the time comes to “let go.”

Like Me

A couple of years ago, I was at a party when one of my friends introduced me to a woman she’d known for years.  At first the woman was quite friendly as we exchanged the kind of pleasantries that people do when they first meet.  But as our conversation continued,  she became cool, and then almost hostile, and I had no idea why.  Later, I went over our conversation several times in my head, but I still wasn’t sure just exactly what I said that turned her off so completely.  I’m not going to lie, the encounter kind of bothered me for several days afterwards.

More recently, I loaned a book by one of my favorite authors to a good friend, thinking she would enjoy it as much as I did.  But she gave it back a few weeks later, saying that she found the book so boring that she didn’t even manage to finish it.  I was surprised by her response, and I admit, a little bit hurt.

It’s so easy to say that we don’t care what other people think about us, but at times it is so very hard to really and truly not care.  Especially when we’re trying our best to be nice, or offering up something that we really value for someone else’s opinion.  A friend who taught art classes at a local college once told me the hardest part of her job was getting her students past the paralyzing fear of putting their best work “out there” for other people to see and judge.  My guess is almost all creative people can relate to that particular fear.

Personally, I have always struggled with my need for the approval of others.  Sadly, social media doesn’t help, with it’s little “like” button that lets us know just exactly how many others approve of whatever we’ve been brave enough to share.  And the only downside to blogging is the stat page, which makes it all too easy to judge how well we wrote a particular post by the number of views it received on any given day.  So I have to be intentional about trusting my own judgement and not falling into the trap of thinking that whatever (and whomever) happens to be the most popular is automatically the best.

We are all individuals with our own tastes, our own opinions and our own unique way of looking at the world.  That means we aren’t always going to get the encouragement and the positive affirmations from other people that we would like, even when we are offering the very best we have to give.   And in order to be truly happy, we have to learn to live with that.

I honestly think that the one of the most important lessons we can learn in this life is to trust ourselves to know what is, and isn’t, best for us.  Because the important thing isn’t how many people “like” us or our work.  The important thing is whether or not we like ourselves.

The Heat Is On

I am nothing if not predictable.  Every winter I complain bitterly about the cold temperatures, icy sidewalks and super-dry air.  I resent having to wear extra layers of clothing to keep warm, and then add a heavy coat, gloves and hat when I’m going outside.  Especially if I’m going somewhere nice and all those extra layers actually have to coordinate.  I hate constantly having to apply lotion and lip balm to keep my skin from drying out and my lips from chapping.  I don’t like the bare trees and the colorless winter landscape.  Each and every year, I am officially sick of Winter the very second I pack away the last of my Christmas decorations.  All I want is for warmer temperatures to arrive.

And then Summer hits, with it’s oppressive heat, stifling humidity and zillions of blood-thirsty insects.  And I wonder just exactly why I was in such a hurry for this particular season to arrive.

Sure, Summer has a lot of good qualities.  The trees are green again, the flowers are blooming, home-grown fruits and vegetables are in abundance and few things are nicer than jumping into a sparkling pool on a hot afternoon.  But like all seasons, summer has its challenges.

fullsizeoutput_495fThe lawn that looked so wonderful during our annual two weeks of Spring is now riddled with weeds and sporting a ton of brown spots from where our dog uses it as her bathroom.  I’d rather not use harsh chemicals, so every year I spend hours pulling up the “creeping charlie” that spreads so fast it really ought to be named “sprinting charlie.”  But no matter how many mounds of weeds I pull, I can never get rid of it.  And no matter how many times my husband puts down new sod to replace the dead spots, it’s just a matter of time before my dog and her killer urine turn the grass brown again.

While I do like the simplicity of Summer clothes, my vision of walking out of my house without a care in the world isn’t particularly accurate.  Depending on where I’m going, I still have some additions to make.  If I’m heading out to my volunteer job walking shelter dogs, I have to make sure that I’m wearing plenty of sunscreen.  And extra deodorant, since I’ll be sweating buckets before my shift is half over.  If I’m going to do yard work, I need to add insect repellent as well, because apparently our yard is a popular destination in the mosquito world.  Thousands come every year, bringing their friends and families with them.

And if I’m going to a restaurant, a medical office, church, or any kind of indoor store, I need to make sure I take a long a jacket or sweater.  Because the people who control the thermostats in those places firmly believe that the hotter it is outside, the colder it must be inside.  Which means that if the heat index is nearing 100 degrees, the optimum temperature inside must be somewhere around 48 degrees.  I can only assume they have unlimited budgets when it comes to paying their utility bills.

DSC00116Still, all things come to an end, and this Summer will be no exception.  Autumn will eventually arrive, followed by Winter and all that it has to offer.  Beautiful snowfalls, cozy sweaters, tasty mugs of hot chocolate, and absolutely no mosquitoes.  I can hardly wait…..

Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

Soon Enough

fullsizeoutput_aaWe’ve had lovely weather for the past few days, comfortably warm in the daytime and cool at night.  It’s the kind of weather that makes it a joy to be outside. You’d think I’d be enjoying this break from Summer’s usual heat and humidity, and I am.  Sort of.  But the problem is, all the forecasts say this beautiful weather is going to be over far too soon.  By the end of the week, we’re supposed to have temperatures in the high nineties, heat indexes over one-hundred degrees, and very high humidity levels.  Which means that while I’m trying to enjoy the cool temperatures we’re experiencing now, I’m mostly dreading the horrible weather that’s coming.

I know that sounds silly, but it’s not just me.  Everywhere I go, I hear people talking about the weather and they’re all saying the same thing.  “Isn’t this great?  But it’s not going to last.  It’s supposed to be one hundred degrees by Thursday!”  The logical thing to do when we have a lovely, Spring-like day in late June would be to simply enjoy it.  But for some of us, that’s a hard thing to do.

These days, there seems to be many things that can cause us to worry and fret.  In my more cynical moments, I almost believe that the real goal of the news media is to keep us in a constant state of outrage and fear.  And that’s just what’s going on in the world around me.  I always have a few personal worries as well, such as the mild but persistent pain in the right side of my face.  I want to believe it’s nothing more than my usual jaw and sinus problems, but I also worry that I’ve got another bad tooth that’s going to need treatment.

I don’t know why it’s so hard to simply enjoy ourselves when something good comes along, and why it is so easy to worry about the bad things that we think might be coming our way.  Being prepared is one thing, but endlessly worrying about something that may or may not even happen is nothing more than a waste of time and energy.  And I don’t know of a single situation where worrying about something has made it easier to deal with when it actually happens.  (Often, it’s the reverse.  When I worry too much about upcoming dental work, I end up walking into the dentist’s office so tense and fearful that it’s all I can do not to run for the nearest exit.)

But this is not how I want to live my life.  If I’m eating dinner with my family on a Sunday evening, I want to simply enjoy the experience rather than worrying about whether or not we’re going to have enough volunteers the next morning to get all the shelter dogs walked.  When I feel pain somewhere, I want to just make an appointment to get it checked out, rather than fret about all the possible causes and what it will take to get it fixed.  Even better, I’d like to remember to be thankful that I have access to medical and dental care at all.

I know the only thing I can truly predict about the future is that it will always bring me a few things that I’d much rather avoid.  But that doesn’t mean I have to dwell on those things, worrying about what could happen or even what I know will happen.  I want to learn to deal with tomorrow’s problems…..tomorrow.   That way, I can actually enjoy and appreciate whatever good stuff is happening today.

A Little Longer

They say that cats have nine lives, and I’m beginning to believe that is also true for my dog.  During the sixteen years Lucy has lived with us, we have prepared ourselves for that “final goodbye” no less than three times.

The first was when she was only eight years old and came down with a serious case of pancreatitis, which the vet warned us could be fatal and that required an extended stay at the animal hospital.  But she recovered and came home with no ill effects aside from a very large vet bill.  The vet did tell us there was a real possibility the disease had shortened her life span.  But since Lucy is almost seventeen now, I can only assume that no one explained that to her.

Then one night last summer we found Lucy staggering in tight circles around the yard, panting hard and drooling, and finally falling over, unable to get back up.  Assuming she was having a major stroke, we rushed her to the emergency animal clinic and called our kids to warn them that the time had probably come to say goodbye.  Turns out, she was suffering from Vestibular Syndrome, which is common in old dogs.  The symptoms do resemble a stroke but most dogs usually recover after a few days.   And sure enough, Lucy did.

These days, Lucy is really beginning to both look and act like the extremely old dog she is.  She no longer always eats her breakfast no matter what tempting and tasty treats we put in her dog bowl, so I didn’t think too much of it last Thursday when she left her breakfast untouched.  But she also didn’t sit begging at the table while I ate, nor follow me around the house as she usually does.  By mid-afternoon, she was struggling to control her hind legs and she couldn’t stand properly or walk across the room without falling and/or repeatedly bumping into the furniture.  She ignored me when I tried to comfort her and seemed terribly weak, confused and unhappy, panting relentlessly and staring blankly ahead.

I thought, once again, the end  had come.  I contacted my family to tell them it was time to say goodbye.  Then I called the vet’s office and scheduled a euthanasia for the next day.  Lucy slept, sprawled awkwardly on the family room floor, for a few hours until my husband came home.  I was surprised to see her get up and greet him.  Later, when my daughter and son-in-law came, she seemed to be back to her normal (if elderly) self.  And my family was wondering exactly why they were supposed to be saying their final goodbyes.

Naturally, I changed her appointment from a euthanasia to an evaluation, and the vet assured me that Lucy was fine for her age.  She believed that Lucy had a neurological episode which she somehow managed to recover from.  Knowing Lucy, I’m quite sure she heard me say “euthanasia,” and immediately thought, “Holy crap!  I’d better snap out of it!”  Lucy is many things, but stupid isn’t one of them.

fullsizeoutput_48feClearly, Lucy is not quite ready to cross over the proverbial rainbow bridge.  Equally clearly, she will not make that crossing until she is darned good and ready.  I know that we are living on borrowed time now.  As the vet so eloquently put it, we are in the “gift stage” of Lucy’s life, since every day we have her with us is a gift.  And it’s a gift we’ll gladly accept, each and every time she gives it.

Forever Friends

I have always tried very hard not to hurt people’s feelings.  There are certain things I never write about in my blog, even when I’m struggling to find a topic for this week’s post, simply because I know that the post would cause someone pain.  And even though I usually have a lot to say about any given situation, there are times when I stay silent, because I know that my words would just make things worse.  I have even been known to tell a “little while lie” on those rare occasions when telling the truth would be a very hurtful thing.

Yet despite all my efforts to the contrary, I know for an absolute fact that I have, at one time or another, hurt the feelings of every single one of my close friends and relatives.  And as long as I’m being honest, I’ll admit that every single one of them has also hurt my feelings somewhere along the line.

I believe it’s impossible to be close to someone for any length of time and not say or do something that causes them at least a little bit of pain.  Sometimes it’s because we speak or act without thinking first.  Other times, we put a lot of thought into what we said or did and honestly believed that we were being helpful.  (And yet we weren’t.)  The bottom line is that it’s impossible to always know how our words and actions are going to be received and interpreted by others.  So every once in a while, we’re going to say and do exactly the wrong thing, often without having a clue that we’ve done so.

When I think of how easily misunderstandings occur in our relationships, I’m always just a little surprised that people manage to have long-term friends and close family relationships at all.  The key, I think, is the desire to keep those people in our lives and the willingness to forgive and forget all the little ways that we sometimes bump up against each other’s feelings.  I think it takes valuing someone enough to accept them for exactly who they are, which is precisely the same way we want them to accept us.  But however we manage it, long-term and close relationships are a gift to be treasured.

Ann's photoI turned sixty last month, and a few weeks afterwards I went out with some good friends to celebrate.   I “met” one of those friends when I was just one-year old and our mothers plunked us down in the same playpen.  I would have enjoyed the trip to the art museum, the happy hour by the lake, and the dinner at my favorite restaurant no matter what.  But I have to tell you, doing those things with dear friends I have known for forty years, and one I have known for almost my entire life, made the evening so much more special.

There really is nothing quite like sharing a milestone birthday with old friends who have shared so much of my life’s journey.  Perhaps, if I am very lucky, I will be celebrating my 80th birthday with those same friends.  And maybe I’ll even write about it in a blog called “Muddling Through My Golden Years.”