Keep It Simple

My husband and I recently returned from a wonderful vacation.  We were lucky enough to spend a week with our daughter, son-in-law and grandsons in a rented house just a few blocks from the beach, stores, and restaurants.  Spending time with the people we love is a good thing, and spending time with them in a vacation setting is even better.  Overall, it was a very good week.

Very good, but not perfect.  And yes, few things are perfect, and the key to a good vacation is to overlook the things that don’t go quite right.  We did that.  When it rained, we read and did jigsaw puzzles.  When it was too windy to walk the beach, we swam in our pool instead.  But the problem that we couldn’t quite conquer was the house itself.

It was a very nice house, but it also equipped with “state of the art” technology.  I know that sounds like a good thing, and in some houses, it probably is.  But in this particular house, it meant we spent way too much time just trying to figure out how to turn out the lights at night.

Every room had several switch plates that operated the various lights and window shades, and every switch plate had several buttons and finger-operated “slides.”  The trick was to push the right button and use the right slide in the right sequence, which apparently varied from day to day.  What worked to turn off the porch lights on Monday night did not work on Tuesday night.  Other lights turned on by themselves a few minutes after we turned them off.

And the problem wasn’t just the lights.  The front door refused to lock from the outside, so we had to lock it from the inside and then exit via the garage.  The ultra-sophisticated dryer started to make strange, loud noises instead of actually drying the clothes.  We decided we could air dry our clothes as long as the washing machine worked, so of course the washing machine promptly broke down, mid-cycle, with our clothes inside and the door still on “lock.”

But the worst was the stove top.  It was equipped with a control pad and six invisible burners that were supposed to light up when you placed a pan on them.  So I put my pan on, adjusted the temp and waited for my pan to heat so I could scramble some eggs.  The burner stayed cold, and the control pad informed me the “pan is not detected.”   I muttered words I didn’t want my grandsons to hear and pushed the setting button on the control pad, which produced a recipe for New England Clam chowder, complete with photos.  Eventually we discovered that the stove top only works with certain pans.

I’m not against state of the art technology, per se.  But I am against making things so very complicated that people who are trying to have a peaceful vacation have to waste time trying to figure out how to turn off a light or scramble some eggs.  I can do those things at my house, I swear.  My stove lets me use whatever pan I want, and I can dim our lights with a simple dimmer switch.

Sometimes complicated doesn’t mean better.  It just means more things that can go wrong.  The KISS (keep it simple, stupid) motto may not be nice, but it’s not wrong either……

Home to Stay

I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty smart dog, so it’s hard for me to admit that I’ve been fooled.  And to make it even worse, I’ve been fooled by the people I love most in this world:  my mom and dad!

I know how lucky I was to be adopted into a human family.  I spent time in two shelters, and I can tell you that no matter how well a shelter is run, living alone in a cage is VERY hard on us dogs.  (And the situation is even worse now, because most shelters are both full and short-staffed.)  So on the whole, I count myself lucky.

But like most dogs, I believe that my parents’ number one priority is taking care of me.  I want them to stay home, all the time, with me.  Dogs are social creatures, and we like having our loved ones around us.  Always.  So you can imagine my dismay when I realized that Mom and Dad think nothing of leaving me at home alone, sometimes for hours, and sometimes even for days when they go off somewhere they call “vacation.”  (Sure, they hire a dog sitter to come over a few times a day, but the rest of the time, they’re off having fun on a beach and yours truly is sitting at home alone.)

And I’ve made my feelings known.  I give Dad my best sad face when he leaves in the morning, but he just pats me and says, “I’ve got to go to work now, Finn.”  Mom does the same thing when she leaves to go to the shelter, or the grocery store, or any of the other places she finds it necessary to waltz off to without me.   I can whine all I want, or do my best to slip out the door with them, but it always ends the same way:  they leave me.

But here’s the worst part:  I’ve discovered my parents weren’t being honest when they said they had to leave sometimes.  These days, people can work from home, and have everything they need, including groceries, delivered directly to their house.  They can use the internet for all their entertainment, and even “go to church” while sitting at home in their underwear, staring at the screen.  They don’t need to leave the house to see their family and friends, because they can use “FaceTime” on their phones.  The truth is, there is absolutely no reason, with the possible exception of an occasional emergency, for my parents to ever set foot off their property again.

Now all I have to do is figure out a way to teach my parents about this basic truth.  I know they’ll resist giving up their vacations, but seriously, every day spent with me is just like a vacation, right?  And they do love holding their grandchildren, particularly the baby, but I’m not against having the little ones come to our house.  I rather like them, honestly, and not just because they leave trails of food in their wake that I can snarf up.

It won’t be easy to convince my parents never to leave home again, but I bet I’ll be successful.  Because when you come right down to it, I really am a pretty smart dog!

Love,  Finn

Sanibel Strong

Sanibel Island is my happy place.  I fell in love with the island the first time my husband and I visited in 1986.  I was pregnant with my daughter at the time, and appreciated the laid-back feeling of the island, which had no stop lights, no fast-food restaurants (unless you count the Dairy Queen) and no buildings over four-stories high.  The beach was natural, and full of shells.  There were just enough stores and restaurants for convenience and a huge nature preserve where we could spot all sorts of birds and even an alligator or two.  Sanibel provided exactly the relaxing and rejuvenating vacation we needed.

When our children were grade school, we began taking our family vacations on the island.  We booked only a four-night stay on our first trip down, because we worried the kids would get bored with the lack of theme parks and other kids’ activities.  But they loved it as much as we did.  My son became interested in photography and took tons of great photos, including one of an alligator on the beach. (We saw that only once, and it was safely returned to the Sanibel River.)  We’ve had many great vacations with our children, but my fondest memories are the times we spent together on Sanibel Island.

Our son and daughter are grown with families of their own, so now its usually just my husband and I when we visit the island.  There’s still the feeling of peace when we cross the causeway that connects Sanibel to the mainland, and catch that first sight of the island.  We have many favorite restaurants, and I always reserve at least two hours to browse through Gene’s Bookstore, which is one of the best bookstores I’ve ever visited.  We don’t own any property on Sanibel, but both of us think of the island as our second home.

As anyone with access to the news knows, Florida was recently devastated by Hurricane Ian, and Sanibel Island took a direct hit.  It was completely engulfed with water as well as battered by category-4 winds.  Many buildings are just plain gone, and the ones that are still standing have severe damage.  The causeway, which is the only access to the island, collapsed in at least four places.  There is no power, which means deadly mold will grow in the water-logged buildings.  People had to be air-lifted off the island, and most home-owners have lost everything. There are at least two confirmed deaths.

It’s hard for me, from the safety of my home in the MidWest, to wrap my mind around this tragedy that happened in Sanibel and across much of Southwest Florida.  I see the photos from drones and try hard to identify familiar landmarks.  I can only imagine the pain of those who lived and worked on the island, and the desperation they must feel as they wonder, “what now?”  I heard that the city of Sanibel is setting up an official fund for donations, and I hope that people who are able give generously.  I know I will.

I also know that eventually, the island will come back.  People will rebuild as best they can, and the time will come when the island will be open for visitors again.  It won’t look the same, because hurricanes change the actual landscape of islands.  The “old Florida” hotels with their little framed houses won’t be rebuilt that way, because they are far too vulnerable to strong hurricanes.  Many things that made Sanibel so charming are gone forever.  But I also know that when Sanibel finally recovers, it will still be a very special place.  The people who live there, work there, and visit regularly will make sure of that, because we know that the spirit of Sanibel is too strong to be destroyed.  And that’s why we love it so much….

Opting Out

Sometime it’s hard not to be discouraged.  I think that two-plus years of dealing with Covid-19 has left most of us a bit drained, and often operating on our last nerve.  It doesn’t take much these days to provoke an angry reaction, and patience is often in short supply.  While things have certainly improved from the pre-vaccine days, we haven’t managed to return to the normal life we long for.

I still feel nervous when I walk into a crowded room, have a love/hate relationship with face masks, and worry every time I have a sore throat that I’m coming down with Covid.  (I have seasonal allergies, so a sore throat and a runny nose are normal for me at least four months of the year.)  I hate going to my doctor, because he still refuses to see any patient that has Covid symptoms, and almost all symptoms could be Covid.  And, as petty as it sounds, I’m tired of watching my favorite restaurants close down because they can’t get enough staff and/or supplies.

All of which is to say that these days, I’m not always my usual, mostly-cheerful self.  I’m much more thin-skinned, and quick to feel offended or hurt.  I still have good days, but there are too many times when I can best be described as crabby.  And I’ve decided that I really, really, don’t want crabby to become my new normal.

It’s easy to be cheerful when things are going well, and easy to be touchy and rude when they aren’t.  It’s easy to respond to rudeness with anger, and to lash out when someone directs a snide remark my way.  It’s tempting to engage in an on-line argument when someone posts a particularly obnoxious or inaccurate meme, in the hopes of “setting them straight.”  In other words, the opportunities to be nasty to other people are almost limitless.

But, as I said, that’s not the person I want to be.  And so I’m making the deliberate decision to “opt out” of the whole mess, as much as possible.  Because I really don’t need to respond to someone looking for an argument, or react when someone says or writes something that hurts my feelings.  I know there will be times when I’m tempted to give “tit for tat,” as the saying goes, but I hope that I’ll be strong enough to know that by doing so I’m only making a bad situation worse.  Sometimes, silence really is golden.

I’ll try to remember the the person whose words or actions bother me is probably also operating on his or her last nerve, and may not even mean to cause offense.  I’ll try to act the way I want someone to respond when I inadvertently offend them, by giving the benefit of the doubt.  Mostly, I’ll try to remember that, while I can’t control other people’s words and actions, I most certainly can control my own.  And that these days, it’s more important than ever to try to be my very best self.

Something New

When some friends invited my husband and I to join them on their trip to Las Vegas, we happily accepted.  My husband had only been there on business trips, spending his time in meetings on the outskirts of the city, and I hadn’t been there at all.  Las Vegas wasn’t a place we had a special interest in visiting, but getting out of town with friends seemed like a great idea, so we decided to give it a try.  And we ended up having a wonderful time.

One advantage of traveling with friends is that they encourage us to try new things.  Not only did we spend a few days in Vegas, but my husband (who is very uncomfortable with heights) actually joined us on the giant, 550-foot tall, ferris wheel on the strip.  The first time we saw it, my husband said there was no way he was getting on that thing.  But our friends assured us that each “pod” is huge and completely enclosed, and said the wheel moved so slowly that you don’t even feel it or realize how high up you are.  To my surprise, my husband agreed to try it.  It could have been peer pressure…even at our age, that’s a thing…or it could have been the glass of wine he drank at dinner.  But for whatever reason, we all boarded the “High Roller,”  and it turned out that they were right.  It wasn’t scary at all, and offered a fabulous view of the city.

Talking about it later, my husband and I agreed we probably wouldn’t have visited Las Vegas at all if our friends hadn’t invited us.  And I know for a fact that if the two of us had made that trip alone, there is no way we would have ridden that ferris wheel.  I’m not as uncomfortable with heights as my husband is, but I tend to avoid them just the same.  At age 64, I’ve reached a point in my life where I believe I already know what I like and what I don’t like, which is okay.  But what is not okay is that sometimes I allow that knowledge to stop me from trying something new.

And that’s where friends and family come in.  They can invite us to try something for the first time, or to venture somewhere we’ve never even considered going.  I like to think of myself as a creature of habit, because that sounds so much nicer than “stuck in a rut.”  Left to my own devices, I rarely wander out of my comfort zone.  But when someone I know and trust suggests something brand new, that opens a door for me to expand my horizons, to experience somewhere brand new, and to realize that I can do more than I ever thought possible.

I guess sometimes peer pressure, from the right people and for the right reasons, can be a very good thing indeed….

No Fear

I’ve always been a worrier.  I’ve tried hard not to be, but my success has been marginal, to say the least.  For some reason, I can easily imagine a myriad of things that can go wrong in just about any given situation, and I tend to think about those possible negative outcomes a bit more than I should.  I honestly think I was just born this way.  

The good news is the older I get, the more accepting I have become of my true nature. So instead of trying to worry less, I try to remember that just because I’m worried that something will go wrong doesn’t mean it actually will go wrong.  I think when we can’t actually change a part of our character, the best thing to do is simply adapt to it.  Yes, I worry.  But no, that doesn’t necessarily mean bad things are coming.  When I can remember that, I do so much better, because then I don’t let my habit of worrying about something morph into actual fear.

There are still times (thankfully rare) when I let my worry get out of control and cross the line into fearful thinking.  Recently, my husband had a follow up visit with his surgeon to discuss some lingering side effects from his cancer surgery.  There was no real reason for alarm, but in the days leading up to his appointment I found myself seriously afraid that we were going to get bad news.  I was living in dread and fear, unable to fully engage with others or simply enjoy myself.  I knew I was overreacting, but I couldn’t calm down or think rationally about the situation.  

Luckily, his visit with the surgeon showed that everything is, indeed, just fine and all my worry was for nothing.  I’m both grateful and relieved.  But when I look back over the past couple of weeks, I’m struck by just how much I missed out on by being so afraid.  The truth is, you can’t truly live your life when you’re afraid.  The best you can do is endure.

I think there is a lesson for all of us in this, because when I look around, I realize that I’m not the only one who’s struggling with excessive fear these days.  We’re afraid of escalating war, climate change, and increasing crime, etc.  In my country, both conservatives and liberals are afraid the other side is out to destroy our democracy and take away our basic freedoms.  Fear is all around us, encouraged by the news and politicians, and the results aren’t pretty.

Of course our country and our planet are facing some very real problems that require solutions.  But I believe solutions are never found when we’re living in fear.  Solutions require ingenuity, hope, compassion and most of all, working together with people we don’t always agree with.  I think it’s natural to worry about our problems and to seek answers.  The trick is to not let our worry morph into a paralyzing, and ultimately destructive, fear.  Because a life lived in fear isn’t good for anybody, ever.  Trust me on this……

 

 

Picture Perfect

I was at a photography shop yesterday, uploading my photos in order to make prints of them.   A woman was sitting at the at the kiosk next to me, being helped by a young man who worked at the store.  She was trying to make 5×7 inch prints of her photos, and it wasn’t going well.  The woman (who looked only slightly older than me) kept apologizing for her ignorance of the system, and for needing the employee to help her.  “Sorry I’m taking up so much of your time!  But this is hard for someone my age,” she said, “it was so much easier when all we had to do was bring in our photo card and insert it into the computer.”

The more I listened to their conversation, the more I was struck by the woman’s attitude.  Why did she keep apologizing?  Because she was right: it was so much easier to print our photos a few years ago.  We didn’t have to worry about uploads and file compatibility, retaining original resolution or any of the other stuff she was struggling to understand.  We just inserted our photo card into the kiosk, the pictures popped up on the screen, and we selected the number and size was wanted of each.  It was quick and easy.  

But in these past few years, printing photos has become a real struggle.  I can’t get my photos to upload properly to the online sites anymore (apparently, they’re not compatible), so I go to the shop and sync my phone with their device and upload them there.  Even that takes a very long time unless I use their Wi-Fi, which my phone informs me isn’t secure, and every once in a while the upload simply stops for reasons no one can explain.  These days, it takes real determination and lots of patience to make a print of a photo.  

I believe that woman had no need to apologize, and yet I understood why she did.  If you’re over fifty and struggling with any type of technology, often the immediate assumption is that you’re not quite smart enough to, say, actually print a photo.  The young man who was helping her was patient and kind, but not once did he agree with her that the new system is harder than the old.  Nor did he contradict her when she kept repeating that the problem was her age.  But the truth is, if a system has become complicated and doesn’t work properly, the problem might not be the age of the person trying to use it.  As radical as it sounds, the problem just could be that the system is flawed.

I know I’m one of the few people who still likes to print my photos, so I soldier on.  I’ve learned the difference between a “jpeg” and a “HEIC” photo file, and how to convert one to the other.  I schlepp to the photo shop to use their kiosk because if I try to use the shop’s website, it takes approximately five minutes for each photo to upload.  And when I’m really stymied, I’ll ask for help from the staff.  But no matter how difficult the process becomes, I have vowed that I will NOT utter the words,  “I’m sorry, but I’m just too old to understand……..”

 

Shine On

I lost a blogging friend last week.  It’s odd how the people we meet only through their blogs can seem like friends, but I guess that’s what happens when people write about their own lives, honestly and openly.  Those who read and comment on their posts really do feel as if they actually know the person who wrote them.  And few people wrote more openly and honestly than Martha, the late author of .https://whitehairgrace.com/

When I first started following her blog, Martha was writing about striving to live her remaining years as fully as possible.  I’m about 15 years younger, but her words still spoke to me.  We live in a society that values youth, and it can be a challenge to look for the blessings that come when we have more years behind us than we do ahead.  Then she was diagnosed with cancer, and that became the topic of most of her writing. Still, her spirit shone through in every post, despite the struggles with treatment, the brief remission and finally the acceptance of her upcoming death.  I won’t even try to explain how much I valued her blog, because I don’t have her eloquence.  I’ll only say her posts were a gift that I very much appreciated.

My regular readers know that I volunteer as a dog walker at our local shelter three times a week.  It’s very satisfying to help shelter dogs, but it can also be very draining, both physically and emotionally.  Those of us who spend a lot of time in shelters develop close friendships, probably because we support each other through the hard times.  One of the people I leaned on the most was an adoption counselor named Sherry.  She always listened to us, answered our questions, and offered comfort and encouragement when we needed it.  She was usually cheerful and upbeat, and known to break into an impromptu dance when she thought the occasion warranted it…and the occasion almost always did.

Sherry was in the middle of her own battle with cancer when my husband was diagnosed.  And even though she’d retired from the shelter and was undergoing very difficult treatments, she called me at least once a week to ask how my husband was doing.  They had the same kind of cancer, so her advice was on target and very helpful.  The many, many, people who knew her were devastated when Sherry passed away.   I was amazed at the sheer number of heartfelt tributes that appeared on social media, and I’m suer that was just a fraction of the people she’d helped in her life.

I honestly believe that people like Martha and Sherry are examples to us all.  They weren’t perfect, and didn’t pretend to be.  But they shared the best of themselves with others, each in her own way.  Whether it was  in the blogging world or the shelter world, they helped others with their openness, their wisdom and most of all their generous spirits.  They were the kind of people who light the way for others who are sometimes still stumbling in the dark.  May their light shine on forever…….

Memorable

My husband and I eat out more than we should, but we rarely visit a restaurant more than once or twice a month.  I honestly don’t think there’s anything about either one of us that is particularly memorable, as we’re just your average sixty-something couple who enjoys a good restaurant meal.  So I’m always a bit surprised when the staff recognizes us, because I’m not exactly sure just what it is that would make us stand out from the dozens, if not hundreds, of other people they serve every month.  I mean, it’s not as if we’re bringing along our pet aardvark or something else that would attract undue attention.

Yet time and time again, the wait staff will greet us warmly and sometimes even remember what we like to order.  The first time this happened, I was with some former college friends, having our own little reunion five years after graduation.  We walked into the college bar we’d frequented as students and the bartender greeted us with, “Welcome back, ladies!  Having the usual?”  (That did startle me a bit, but I put it down as the result of a misspent youth.)

Sometimes it’s been rather touching, such as the time my husband and I returned to a restaurant we hadn’t eaten in since the pandemic started.  My husband got us a table while I made a quick stop in the restroom.  When I joined him, our old waitress brought over the menus and greeted us warmly.  I was impressed she’d remembered us, but then she looked at me and added, “It’s so good to see you!  When your husband walked in alone, we actually got a little teary.”  My husband battled cancer during the pandemic, so he weighed about fifty pounds less than he had when the staff last saw him.  I guess between him looking so gaunt and my absence, they thought we’d both contracted Covid and only he had survived.

We’ve puzzled about this, and the only thing we can come up with is that maybe we’re just good customers, restaurant-wise.  We eat out regularly, we’re always polite and friendly with the wait staff, and we try to tip well.  We’re patient when they’re short-staffed, and understanding when things don’t go perfectly.  Waiting tables is hard work, so maybe those who do it appreciate, and remember, the customers who treat them well.

And if you think about it, the same is true for almost every area where we  interact with other people.  We know how important it is to treat our friends and family well, but I believe it’s just as important to treat everyone we come into contact with well, as far as we are able.  A bit of patience, a friendly word, or even an encouraging smile seem like such little things….but the truth is, people notice them.  And often, that’s also what they remember.