Just Enough

Yesterday was my husband’s birthday, which meant that I spent the days before it in a futile search for a gift for him.  We stopped getting each other big presents for our birthdays years ago, but we still have a family dinner to celebrate and I like to have something from me that he can open with the rest of his gifts.  The problem is that my husband already has most of the material possessions that he wants and I can’t afford to buy him the ones he wants but doesn’t actually own.  And every year it gets harder to come up with a creative idea for something I actually can get him.

I’ve already made him several photo books,  and had his broken college “Outstanding Athlete of the Year” and MVP Baseball trophies remounted.  I spent hours carefully removing the photos and articles from the disintegrating scrapbook his mother had made him and remounted them all in a brand-new scrapbook.  I bought him tickets to see his favorite comedian when he was in town.  My kids have given him photo collages of his grandson, had a painting made of the house he grew up in, gave him a key-chain engraved with his parent’s signatures and even made him a pen and pencil holder with a photo of his grand-dog that reads “I love Grandpa.”  As far as sentimental gifts go, I think we’ve covered the bases.

By late last week, I was almost in a panic mode.  What in the world was I going to give him this year?  When I asked for suggestions, he went to his closet and handed me a new sweater he’d already bought himself and suggested I simply wrap that up.  When I said that I wanted to get him something he didn’t already know about, he answered, “But I don’t really need anything.”

I was getting ready to argue with him when it hit me that he was actually telling the truth.  We celebrated his birthday last night with a dinner at his favorite restaurant, surrounded by his family.  He is in good health, has a family that loves him dearly and close friends he knows he can always count on.  In all the ways that really count, he has enough.

I don’t know why it’s sometimes so hard to realize that we don’t really need more stuff, bigger houses, fancier cars and all the latest gadgets.  Maybe it’s because we live in a society that constantly urges us to get more, and to equate having more with success and happiness.  But the truth is that when we have a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear and most of all, people we love and cherish in our lives, then we really do have….enough.  All the rest is just icing on the cake.

And when I looked at my husband last night, sitting at the table with his grandson in his lap and the rest of us nearby, I realized that I really was looking at a man who not only had enough, but a man who was very blessed indeed.

But that didn’t stop me from giving him one more thing, because I still think of birthdays as a time when it’s fun to open an actual gift.  I found this by a happy accident just a couple of days ago, and I think it will go perfectly on his desk at work, right next to the pencil holder with the photo of his grand-dog.  Some habits are just too hard to break….

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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.”

One More Time

I can’t say I wasn’t warned.  Lots of people told me how wonderful it was to become a grandparent, and how much I was going to enjoy this new addition to our family.  They told me exactly how I would fall in love, instantly and completely, the first time I saw the baby, and what a huge change he would make in my life.  I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t quite believe them, because so often in my life, the reality doesn’t live up to the hype.  I tend to set the bar really high when I hear such glowing reports, and I’m almost always disappointed by what I actually experience.  So I took all those predictions about how awesome it was to be a grandparent with a grain of salt.

IMG_3509 2Luckily, I’ve reached the stage in life when I no longer have trouble admitting that I am, every now and then, absolutely wrong.  Because I was wrong about this grandparent stuff:  it’s just as wonderful as I was told.  If anything, it’s even better.

The best part of being a grandparent isn’t having a cute little baby to hold, cuddle and rock to sleep.  It’s not the wonder of seeing my daughter and son-in-law in a whole new role as loving parents.  It’s not even feeling my heart melt every time my grandson smiles at me.  Of course I love all of that, but the absolute best part of becoming a grandparent is the chance to do things over, and better, than I did with my own children.

I had my children when I was still young, struggling to find some sort of writing career, and far too worried about what other people thought of me.  (And believe me, when you’re a mother, everyone has an opinion of just exactly how you’re supposed to be raising your children. Which they will share with you.)  At some level, I actually believed that when my children misbehaved or weren’t entirely happy at all times, that had to mean that I was doing something wrong as a mother.  One way or another, I spent way too much time “sweating the small stuff.”

But my children aren’t the only people who have been growing up in the past three decades.  I’ve matured as well, and now have more patience with myself and more tolerance for others.  I no longer care very much about what others think of me, and I have a much better understanding of what is, and isn’t,  worth worrying about.  All of which means that when I look at my grandson, I just see a little person to love and accept for exactly who he is, without all the worry and angst about “doing things right.”

Obviously, it’s not my responsibility to raise my grandson, and I know that his own parents will do a fine job with that.  But even so, whenever I interact with him, I can’t help but notice how much calmer and confident I am compared to how I felt when my own children were small, and how much easier I find it to settle down and simply enjoy holding a baby that I love so deeply.

Life is a journey that can teach us many things if we’re willing to learn.  And if we’re lucky, every once in a while something (or someone) comes along to let us know that we’re moving in the right direction.

By Any Other Name

As my regular readers know, I recently became a grandmother.  I promised myself that I would not become one of those women who talked constantly about their new grandchild, pausing only long enough to thrust photos of the baby into the hands of everyone I met.  I absolutely wasn’t going to keep blathering on about my new grandson in my blog, because I’ve always tried to write about a variety of topics so my readers don’t get too bored.  I was going to exercise self-restraint and common sense as I stepped into this new role of mine and only mention the new addition to our family when he did something truly newsworthy, like winning a Nobel Prize or discovering a cure for cancer.

Yeah, right…..  I have always written about what happens to be on my mind at the time I’m creating a new blog post.  And these days, what is on my mind is my new grandson.  All my good intentions lasted for less than a day.

Which brings me (finally) to the point of this post.  Ever since news got around that I not only look old enough to be a grandmother but that I’ve actually become one, people have been asking me what I’m going to be called.  When I was a child, we all just called our grandmothers “grandma,”  but nowadays we get to choose how our grandchildren we refer to us.  I know people who have come decided to go by Mimi, Nana, Me-ma, etc.  Those are good names, but none of them sound quite right for me.   And as long as I get to pick a name, why not pick something that I’d really like to be called?

Maybe I could get my grandson to refer to me as the “Wise One,” since age is supposed to bring wisdom and I’m not exactly young anymore.   Or, as long as I’m picking names that have no grounding in reality, I could be called “Goddess of Beauty and Youth.”  That has a nice ring to it, I think.   Or I could just go for the gold and have him call me “Wonder Woman.”  That sort of covers everything I aspire to.

Sadly, I have a feeling that by the time my grandson is old enough to pronounce any of the names I’d really like to be called, he’s also going to be old enough to roll his eyes while he’s saying them.  So I think I’ll just stick with tradition and go with “Grandma.”  It’s short, easy to remember and pronounce, and face it:  it’s what I am now.  But mostly it’s a title that I’m more than happy to claim.

Sands Through the Hour Glass

Did another year really just pass?  I know it sounds cliche, but it honestly seems as if it wasn’t that long ago that we were welcoming 2017 and yet now we are bidding it goodby.  When did time begin passing at warp speed?  And more importantly, how do I slow it down, at least a little bit?

It’s not that 2017 was a year that I particularly treasured.  Like most years, it had its good points and its bad points.  I could have lived without the two root canals and the three new crowns (those hurt both my mouth and my wallet), and the less said about the numerous varicose vein treatments I endured, the better.  I wasn’t a fan of the summer drought and the damage that wrought on the local environment.  And one way or another, I said good-bye to a few dear friends whom I miss very much.

IMG_3571But 2017 also had it’s good points.  I enjoyed a fun beach vacation with my family, reconnected with some old friends I hadn’t seen in far too long, and got to experience an (almost) total solar eclipse.  My blog was featured on WordPress “Discover” which put me in touch with interesting and talented writers from all over the world.  But best of all, I got the wonderful news that a grandson is on his way and, if all goes well, he should be arriving soon.

Aside from the chance to finally be a grandmother, I really don’t know what 2018 will bring.  I’m sure it will be a mix of highs and lows, the same as almost every other year.  I’m equally sure that it will pass by quickly, or at least that it will seem that way to me.  I had always heard that the older we get, the faster time flies, but I guess I had to actually experience it before I believed it.

I learned long ago to stop trying to make New Year’s resolutions because I rarely manage to keep them.  But I hope, now that I’ve reached the point in my life when time is passing far too quickly, that I will remember to treasure the good times and the good things that do come my way.  I’d like to stop hurrying through a life that is already moving along faster than it should.  I want to try savor the moments and to live in the present, especially now that I realize just how quickly the present becomes the past.

Time may be moving more quickly for me, but that’s okay.  I still have time enough left to enjoy the people and the things that I love, and that’s good enough for me.

A Change of Season

According to the calendar, Summer isn’t officially over until September 21.  But for me, the Labor Day weekend has always signaled the end of summer.  Public swimming pools close, all the kids are back in school, and although the days remain warm (or even hot), they are shorter and followed by cooler nights.  And the flowers that bloomed all summer long begin to look faded and worn, as if they know that the first frost isn’t all that far away.

Some years I’m more than ready for Fall, but not this year.  This year the summer went by way too fast, and we had so many unseasonably cool days that I barely got to wear most of my summer clothes.  If I had my way, we’d be celebrating the 4th of July this weekend, not Labor Day.  But I don’t get my way on such things, and Fall is coming whether I like it or not.  So all I can really do is think back on the last three months and be grateful for all the good memories they brought.

I’m grateful for the short trips we took to visit old friends who we don’t see nearly often enough.  I’m glad that I have finally figured out that good friends are worth the time and effort it takes to stay in touch, no matter how far away they live.  I may not be getting any smarter as I age, but I am doing much better when it comes to getting my priorities straight.

I’ll remember the cool nights my husband and I ate dinner out on our patio, which is rare in St. Louis’ usually hot and humid summers.  I’ll remember that this was the summer we finally painted the ugly-colored brick on our house an attractive shade of grey.  For the first time in over twenty years, I drive up to my house and think, “Wow! That looks nice!”

IMG_2688I’m grateful that I got the chance to host my mom’s 87th birthday party so that she could celebrate with some of her family and friends.  So many of my friends have lost their moms in recent years, and I know that they would give anything to be able to have them around for just one more family gathering.  When I was young, I tended to take my parents for granted (as young people do) thinking that they would always be around when I finally decided to make time for them.  Now I know better.

fullsizeoutput_417bBut mostly, I will always remember that this is the summer that I learned that we will be welcoming a grandson into our family in a few months.  Becoming a grandmother will be a huge and wonderful change in my life, and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the reality that my daughter is going to have a baby of her own.  To say I’m excited for the arrival of my first grandchild would be an understatement.

So this Labor Day, there is a part of me that is not quite ready to let go of summer and that wishes Fall would hold off just a little while longer.  But I also know that the changing seasons mirror the changing phases of my life, and that they mostly bring good things.  A mere three years ago, my immediate family consisted of only four people.  Two weddings later, it has grown to six, and soon there will a seventh member of our family.  And that’s a change I wouldn’t trade for the world.

Scary Fast

I was idly scrolling down my Facebook news feed yesterday when I spotted a couple of photos my daughter had posted of my son and herself, all dressed up for Halloween.  They were taken when my children were very young, in the preschool and kindergarten years, but when I looked at the pictures, I was instantly flooded with very specific memories of those two Halloweens.

martha-and-daniel-2I remembered that my daughter’s angel costume had been borrowed from church  (one of the costumes used for the annual Christmas program), and I remembered how grateful I was that my son wanted to be a fireman two years in a row.  I wasn’t one of those moms who enjoyed putting together elaborate costumes for my children, which also explains why my daughter’s ballerina costume in the second picture is nothing more than her dance class outfit with a shirt underneath the tutu to keep her warm.

I remembered how we carved the pumpkins just before eating dinner, so that our Jack-0-Lanterns would be ready for any early arrivals.  I remember how my husband and I took turns being the parent who stayed at home to greet trick-or-treaters, and the parent who took our kids around the neighborhood.  I remember the pumpkin sugar cookies I made,  dying the frosting orange and then adding just a touch of green for the pumpkin stem.  (I may not have been big on costumes, but I put an effort into those Halloween cookies.)  Mostly I remember the barely contained excitement of my son and daughter when the big night finally arrived, and for once, getting a lot of candy wasn’t just allowed, it was actually encouraged.

When my children were young, I was a stay-at-home mom who was struggling to make a go of a free-lance writing career.  Sometimes I felt a bit overwhelmed by the constant demands on my time, the never-ending cycle of laundry, meals, dirty diapers, and trying to keep two very active little people safe, healthy, and happy.  Occasionally I felt isolated and lonely, missing the company of my co-workers and the way I took easy access to adult conversation for granted.  Older women, especially my mom, often told me to treasure the years when my children were young, and warned me that they would be over far too soon.  “In the blink of an eye,” they said, “this will all be gone.”

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I’m ashamed to say that there were times when I didn’t quite believe them, because time didn’t seem to be moving all that fast to me.  But now my daughter is a 30-year old married woman, and my son is a 27-year old man who will be married in less than two weeks.  It seems like only yesterday that they were a little ballerina and fireman, and so excited for Halloween they could hardly stand still.  How can that be?  How in the world did time move so very quickly?  I remember those sweet days of their early childhood so very well, but I guess I must have blinked…..

Twilight Years

This morning I noticed a rather strong and disgusting smell in our basement.  It’s not unusual for us to spot the occasional mouse down there once Fall arrives, which my husband promptly dispatches.  (One of perks of being married is having someone else deal with unwanted house guests.)  Judging from the smell, we assumed that one of our mouse visitors must have died down there, so we called in our dog Lucy to help us find it.

Lucy has always been known for her keen sense of smell and her willingness to chase any small furry animal that dares to cross her path.  She came downstairs and obeyed our command to “find it” by sniffing eagerly around the basement walls.  Then she froze in front of the recliner on the family room side of the basement, staring intently underneath it.  “Good dog,” I told her, getting down to peer underneath the chair.  Only to find out that what had caught her attention wasn’t a mouse at all, but her favorite red ball.   I pulled it out and handed it to her, and she trotted off with the satisfied air of a dog who had done her job well.  And just so you know, after she left my husband and I found not one but two dead mice down there, and one of them was very, very, ripe.

img_0034I supposed I should be annoyed with Lucy, or at least disappointed that the dog who used to be able to sniff out a rawhide toy stored on the upper shelf of my closet in two seconds flat seemed to be unable to locate a very pungent rodent carcass.  But Lucy turned fifteen this month and this is just another reminder that she is aging, far more quickly than I would like.

When she first came to live with us, Lucy was eleven-months old and had been turned into the animal shelter as a stray.  Although she seemed quite calm when we picked her out, we quickly discovered that was only because she was still feeling the effects of the anesthesia from her recent spaying.  Lucy was actually a bundle of energy, almost scary-smart, and had very little inclination to follow the household rules.  I suspect most families would have promptly returned her to the shelter from whence she came, but instead we fell in love with her and learned to live with her eccentricities.  For her part, she did learn what “sit,” “stay,” “leave it” and “come” meant, and sometimes she even obeyed those commands.  Later, I added such useful phrases as  “Get off the dining room table!” and “Get your furry butt back in bed!” (spoken at five a.m. on a Saturday morning, when Lucy decided she needed breakfast) to her vocabulary as well.

But for some reason, I didn’t believe that a dog as energetic and smart as Lucy would ever age.  I couldn’t picture her no longer being able to hear anything but the loudest noises, and not even waking up when someone knocks at our door.  I couldn’t fathom a time when she would be willing to substitute a short walk around the block for her usual forty-five minute treks through the neighborhood.  I didn’t envision a time when she would hesitate before climbing a flight of stairs, as if debating whether the effort was worth it.  But all those things, and more, have come true in the past of year or so.

img_0992I know we are now living in Lucy’s twilight years, and that her time with us is drawing to an end.  To my mind, the only thing truly wrong with dogs is that their life spans are far too short.  We may have another year with Lucy, or we may only have another few weeks; we have reached the stage where either is possible.  All that we can do is enjoy the time we have left with our loving, neurotic, and smart little Lucy.  And if that means we have to sniff out our own dead mice, then so be it.

The Latest and Best?

I don’t know about you, but there are times when I feel distinctly out of step with the modern world.  I may only be fifty-eight years old, but often I feel as if I am already a relic of a past age,  often bewildered by how fast things are changing and wondering exactly where it all will end.  And although I appreciate the many advances our society has made, and I do enjoy the conveniences of certain aspects of modern technology, I also can’t help but think that some of technology’s latest offerings are just plain silly.  And more than a little bit annoying.

I have seen several commercials lately advertising new refrigerators that are actually equipped with cameras on the inside.  Apparently, it is possible to obtain an app for my phone that will allow me to see what’s inside my fridge by looking at my phone, although why I would want to do that, don’t ask me.  Yes, it could come in handy when I’m at the grocery store to see if the milk carton is almost empty.  But only if the milk isn’t hidden behind a big pitcher of lemonade.  Or, as is more likely in my case, a large bottle of wine.  Do the cameras rotate, allowing us to see all possible angles, including the bag of moldy cheddar in the cheese drawer?  Do they zoom in so I can read the sell-by date on the sour cream?   It seems to me that it would be so much easier to simply check the fridge before I went to the store.

DSC00209My household is one of the few in America that still has a landline phone, without the benefit of caller ID, and I’m not ashamed to say that I actually like it (although I will get around to adding the caller ID eventually.)  It works even when our power is out, and I never have to remember to charge it, the way I do my cell phone.  And while I enjoy the convenience of my cell phone, I prefer to use it the “old-fashioned way” by using my hands, rather than my voice, to operate it.  I find it very annoying to listen to someone speaking their text message:  “We made it the cabin.  Period.  The weather is great. Exclamation point.  Hope the fish are biting.  Smiley face.”   Seriously?  That’s better than typing?

And then there’s that mechanical voice called Siri.  If they’re going to install robot voices on phones, they should at least have given us a choice of what kind of voice we wanted and how we wanted it to be respond to us.  Personally, I’d pick a deep male voice with an British accent that always referred to me as “my brilliant darling.”  Now that would be worth listening to.

I appreciate some of the new technologies for cars, like the reverse screen, but I read an article the other day that says they are working on a “smart windshield” that will actually display messages, including Facebook, across the bottom of it.  Apparently, someone out there feels that seeing the latest cute kitten video or photo of someone’s lunch is so important that it needs to be available to us even when we are driving our cars.  Or maybe they’re going to wait until the cars are actually driving themselves, which I’m also told is coming soon.

Is it just me, or do so many of these new “advances” seem intent on making it unnecessary for humans to do much of anything at all for ourselves?  We won’t have to know how to write, we’ll just speak to our screens, which we will use for everything:  banking, shopping, communicating, you name it.  We won’t need to learn to drive, we’ll just hop in, settle back and let our cars take us where they will, hoping they get us to the right destination .  And we won’t need to remember anything, we’ll just ask Siri.  Ditto for doing any kind of research.

I don’t know about you, but there are times when it really does make me long for “the good old days.”  Never have I felt so old…..

I Think I’ll Pass…

For me, one of the best parts about growing older is no longer feeling the need to keep up with current trends.  The only social media I use is Facebook; I recognize almost no one in People Magazine; my home decorating style is hopelessly old-fashioned, and I never follow the latest fashion styles. (I don’t own a single pair of skinny jeans.  Partly because they don’t look comfortable, but mostly because the world has enough problems these days without anyone having to look at me stuffed into a pair of skinny jeans.)  In most areas of my life, I’m able to easily ignore fads and trends, and am quite happy to do so.

Sadly, some trends are easier to avoid than others.  My husband and I enjoy dining out, and  up until a few years ago, we used to especially enjoy trying to new restaurants.  We’re lucky to live in a large city where new restaurants open frequently, and it was fun to find a new place to eat that offered great food, good service, and reasonable prices. The problem is, most new restaurants also tend to be rather trendy, and I don’t particularly like, or even understand, most of the new trends in dining out.

IMG_1387Some I find simply annoying, like referring to the person standing behind the bar as a “mixologist” instead of a bartender.  Isn’t mixing drinks what bartenders have always done?  I know that many new restaurants and bars offer a huge array of complicated drinks, but I honestly prefer a simple glass of white wine with my meal.  And I don’t like feeling guilty about wasting the talent of the restaurant’s “mixologist” when I order it. (Although my son made up for it when we took him out for his birthday dinner and he ordered a smoked martini.  And yes, it was actually smoking when it came to the table.)

Other trends I find truly off-putting, like the new “communal table” seating.  I don’t go out to eat because I want to be squeezed into a bench at a long table that reminds me of lunchtime in my high school cafeteria.  I don’t like having to watch what I say because I know the strangers on either side of me can hear my conversation perfectly, and might even decide to chime in.  Nor do I want to know all the intimate details of their lives, unless they’re up to something especially interesting or illegal.  Also, I don’t want to be sitting close enough to other diners that I’m not only tempted to steal a french fry off their plate, but I’m actually able to do so if they are silly enough to look away for a second or two.  Fighting temptation is not one of my strong points.

And it might be my age, but I don’t like the high ceilings, concrete floors and general industrial warehouse decor that so many new restaurants choose, because it means the noise level in those restaurants is really, really loud.  My hearing is still pretty good, but in those settings, I find myself asking my husband and friends to repeat themselves far too often.  Sometimes I just give it up and smile and nod at whatever they are saying, hoping they aren’t asking for a loan or if I’d like to babysit their grandkids for a week while they go on vacation.

These days, it’s become fairly rare for my husband and I to try a new restaurant, as we find ourselves sticking to a few “tried and true” favorites where we know the noise level will be low, the tables set apart enough to ensure a private conversation, and no one is pressing us to try a drink that emits smoke.  I know that someday, the latest trends in dining out will probably be something more to my liking.  I also know that I’ll need someone to tell me about it, because, as is the case with most new fads, I probably won’t be paying attention.