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…..

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.

The Best Policy

Ann's photoWhen I was about six years old, I desperately wanted a pair of glasses.  And not just any glasses, I wanted  the “cat eye” framed glasses that were so popular at the time.  My older sister had a pair and so did Susan Breneke, who I thought was the coolest kid in the entire first grade.  I wanted those glasses so badly that I actually lied to my mother, telling her that far-away objects looked kind of fuzzy to me.  (My sister had described her vision problems to me in detail, so I knew just what to say.)  Unfortunately, my mom didn’t rush out and buy me a pair of glasses, which is what I thought would happen.  She took me for an eye exam, and I passed with flying colors.  I never did get those glasses.

I’m an adult now, and I no longer believe it telling lies to get what I want.   But there are still times when I think it would be easier to lie than tell the truth, and sometimes I struggle with being completely honest.

For example, I may want to tell a lie in order to spare a person’s feelings.  I know that people do that for me now and then.  When my husband and I are getting ready to go out, I’ll often ask his opinion of my outfit, sometimes even uttering the dreaded question, “Does this make me look fat?”  The closest he’s ever come to saying yes was the time I had just bought a new dress with lots of pleats at the waist and he asked me, “Have you seen the back view?”  Which was his subtle way of letting me know it made my butt look bigger than Cleveland.

Other times, I’ll hedge a little bit on my honest opinion when I’m talking to someone I know holds completely different views from me on a sensitive subject.  I’ve seen so many people become deeply offended, or even enraged, when someone dares to disagree with them that I’ve become a little too cautious in my responses.  There are times when telling the truth is harder than it sounds.

But I also know that I want to live my life as honestly and openly as I possibly can, and that means that I need to tell the truth about who I am and what I believe.  I need to accept the risk that there are going to be people who don’t like what I say or do, and that the loss of those relationships will probably sting, at least for awhile.  But the fear of rejection doesn’t outweigh the value of being true to my real self.

Like my husband, I need to always temper honesty with tact and sensitivity.  Honesty is never an excuse to run roughshod over someone’s feelings.  But handled correctly, telling the truth is actually easiest in the long run.  I don’t have to worry about keeping track of any little white lies I may have told if I always give an honest answer to a direct question.  If I admit to the many embarrassing things I have done in my life, there’s no need to worry about anyone “discovering” them.

And best of all, when I am honest with my friends and family, I know that those who stay in relationship with me like me for who I really am.  Any way you look at it, honesty really is the best policy.

Acting My Age

I may be getting old, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I am always mature.   Physically, I know I’m not young.  I am reminded of this every time I look in the mirror, or try to read anything without my reading glasses on, or worse, attempt to do something that requires the strength and flexibility I no longer have.  Believe me, my years of lifting anything over fifty pounds, turning cartwheels, or even mounting a tall horse without assistance are over.  But when it comes to maturity, there are times when I still fall short.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were sitting in a restaurant at a tall table near the bar, eating dinner and listening to some excellent music.  Some people came in and settled at the bar stools on our right, which was fine.  Unfortunately, they were quickly joined by even more people, mostly male and mostly drunk, who crowded into the space between the bar and our table.  They seemed to have no idea that they were regularly jostling our table, talking so loudly that we couldn’t carry on our own conversation, and that the man nearest to me was practically sitting on my lap.

The mature thing to do would have been to call the manager over and ask to be moved to a quieter table.  But I was annoyed.  We were there first, and they had invaded our space.  I had no wish for either my husband or I to confront people who were clearly under the influence, but that didn’t mean I was going to back down.  Instead, I leaned into the table and shifted my weight slightly to the right, moving the table just a few inches towards the crowd at the bar.  Then I would wait a few minutes and do it again.  It wasn’t long before the extra people standing between our table and the bar were, subtly but effectively, squeezed out.  And I admit that I felt a small thrill of victory as I watched them wander off, looking vaguely confused and annoyed.

It wasn’t my finest hour.  The people may have been rude, but they weren’t deliberately trying to ruin our dinner.  The simple fact was that I felt wronged, and felt the need to strike back, and did so.  If just one of them had noticed that I was deliberately moving my table in their direction, there could have been an ugly confrontation.  That’s what happens when I forget to be a grown up and let my inner child out, who still lives by the rules of the elementary school playground.

The sad truth is there is a difference between growing older and becoming mature.  The first one happens naturally, with no effort on our part, whether we like it or not.  But becoming mature requires an intentional effort to grow in understanding, patience, wisdom, and tolerance.  It means considering the consequences of our words before we speak and the consequences of our actions before we do something, and knowing when a cause is important enough to stand our ground and when it makes more sense to simply walk away.

I like to think that I’ve matured as I’ve grown older, and I know that in many ways I have.  Yet there is obviously still plenty of room for improvement and growth, even at this stage of my life.  I may wish I was just a little less old, but what I’d really like is to be a lot more mature.

Raining Down

I had been hoping for rain.  We had planted some bushes and put down some sod in our backyard, and I knew that a couple of good rains would help them take root.  But even more, I wanted the rain to wash away the nasty green tree pollen that has been covering every outside surface for the past couple of weeks.  I’m allergic to that stuff, and I was tired of going through my days with a scratchy throat, headache, itchy eyes and non-stop sneezing fits.  So when I heard the forecast for this past weekend’s rain, I was actually happy.

IMG_2434I should have paid just a little more attention to the details.  The prediction wasn’t just for rain, it was for tons of rain, falling for three days and two nights, often quite heavily.  The empty flower pots I have lined up next to garage, waiting to be filled with spring flowers, are now completely full of water instead.  My house and neighborhood is on high ground, but hundreds of people in my area are faced with flash floods, rising rivers, and water in their basements.  All I wanted was enough rain to water my plants and wash away the pollen.  But what I got was enough to make me think it might be time to start work on an ark.

It turns out that rainfall, like many things in life, is good only when it comes in moderation. Because as of today, I am officially sick of rain and more than ready for it to leave.  I am tired of constantly checking our basement to make sure no water is leaking in, or backing up through the sewer drain.  (We had that happen once and it is not an experience I wish to repeat.)  I am sick of feeling like a jerk when I make our old dog to go outside to do her business in the heavy rain, but not at all willing to risk her having an accident in my house.  I am well aware that the “drowned rat” look is not flattering on me, and so I would rather not walk around all weekend looking like one.

I’m not sure if the lesson here is “be careful of what you wish for,” or simply that “moderation is the key.”  Both adages have truth in them.  But at the end of a long, wet weekend, I think the real lesson for me is to simply learn to be more flexible and willing to deal with whatever the day happens to bring.  I might not have appreciated the rain, but being forced to spend the weekend inside did mean I finally got around to some household chores that had been hanging over my head for a while.  And since we couldn’t work outside, my husband and I decided to go to a movie at the local mall, followed by a nice dinner afterward.  It may not have been the weekend we had in mind, but it turned out to be a pretty good one.

There’s an old saying that states, “Into every life, some rain must fall.”  And I count myself lucky that all I had to deal with this weekend was actual rain, and that I was even spared the worst effects of that.  And when I think about it that way, I realize I really don’t have anything to complain about at all.

Wait and See

Why my daughter was one, my husband and I wanted to move to a house that would accommodate the second child we hoped to have.  Our first house was a small two-bedroom home, and the second bedroom was a little smaller than the average walk-in closest.  Our choices were limited due to our rather tiny budget, and after searching for several weeks, we were getting very discouraged.  So we were thrilled when our agent showed us a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home in a suburb that had good schools and was an easy commute to my husband’s job. And best of all:  it was in our budget, because it needed work and had sat on the market for a long time with no interest, so they had just reduced the price.  We immediately put in a very strong offer and confidently waited to hear the good news that we could begin packing.

glenway-houseI was so sure that the house would be ours that when our agent called to say the sellers had already accepted another offer, I actually cried, just a little.  I had been so happy that we had finally found the perfect house for our family, with plenty of room to grow into and loads of potential for a couple (like us) who were willing to do some rehab work. Losing that house was devastating, but all we could do was keep looking, and we eventually found another fixer-upper in the same neighborhood.  It was smaller (three-bedroom, one bath), but it was in our budget and although we weren’t particularly excited about it, we decided it would do.

The first few times I drove by the house we lost, I felt a little tinge of jealousy for the people who had been lucky enough to buy it.  I wanted that extra bedroom for my home office, and that extra bathroom sure would come in handy when we had house guests.  But eventually, I became a little more knowledgeable about real estate and realized that not buying getting that house I had wanted so desperately was actually the best thing that could have happened to our family.

Being young and naive, my husband and I had been so busy counting bedrooms and bathrooms that we didn’t pay much attention to the fact that the house sat on a busy street with no sidewalks, two blocks from active train tracks on the north and two blocks from a major highway on the south.  It also had a steep asphalt driveway which would have been impossible to navigate in icy weather, and was probably slippery even in rain.  The house we ended up with may have been smaller, but it sat on a quiet street where kids could safely ride bikes, had a flat driveway, and was within walking distance to a grade school.  Yes, we had to put time and money into it, but when the time came to sell that house, we were able to make a small profit from our efforts.  That wouldn’t have happened with the house we lost.

The point of this story is that I have learned, over these many years, that sometimes what we think is a bad thing actually turns out to be a good thing.  And conversely, what we think is a good thing can turn out to be bad.  So I try very hard these days not to get too excited when I believe something good has happened, at least not right away, until I see how things play out.  Even more importantly, I try not to be too despairing when things aren’t going quite the way I wanted.  Because I can’t predict the future any better than anyone else, and sometimes the best thing to do is simply wait and see.

Choose Wisely

As those of us who live in the United States have no doubt noticed, there’s an election on the horizon.  And it’s an ugly one.

Negative television ads show relentlessly on TV, Facebook is filled with political “attack” posts, and those of us who still have landlines are flooded with calls from people wanting to know how we plan to vote, and/or telling us how we should be voting.  Living through a Presidential election year is never fun, but this time around the tone is even more hateful and shrill than ever before.  We are constantly being told that if we don’t choose the right candidate, the consequences will be more dire than we can possibly imagine.  I honestly don’t remember a time when the two leading candidates elicited such powerfully negative feelings, or a time when quite so many people felt they didn’t want to choose either one.

Still, I think we have more choices than we realize.  Yes, we have to choose who we are going to vote for, or even if we are going to abstain from voting this year.  That’s a personal choice that each of us gets to make according to our own conscience, and I’m not going to use my blog to try to influence anyone in that choice.  But this election offers us many more choices than simply how we are going to vote, and I believe that most of those choices are actually more important than the choice we make when we enter the voting booth.

We can choose how we express our support for a particular candidate, or how we speak up against the actions and ideas of the candidate we don’t support.   We can choose not to engage in on-line political arguments.  We can choose not to post snarky Facebook posts about the other political party, day after tedious day.  We can choose not to verbally attack people who dare to voice an opinion that we don’t agree with, even if that means they are saying they plan to vote for a candidate we find contemptible.

That doesn’t mean we have to keep our opinions to ourselves.  We can choose to tell people how we plan to vote, and why.  We can put signs in our yards, campaign for the candidates of our choice and participate in political discussions. But we can also choose to do so without abandoning good manners and civility, and in general acting like a self-righteous prig or a school-yard bully.  In short, we can have political opinions without imitating the political mud-slinging and ugliness that surrounds us.

I do believe that our choices in this election matter, a lot.  Because we can choose to be a part of the hate and negativity that defines this election cycle, or we can choose to live according to a higher standard, remembering that we are all going to have to find some way to get along when it’s over, no matter who wins.   The choice is ours, and I hope we can choose wisely.

Great Expectations

Several years ago, I read an article in which the wife of a long-married couple was asked what she thought was key to her happy marriage and she answered, “I learned early on to lower my expectations.”  Personally, I sort of wondered just how much longer her happy marriage was going to last after her husband read that article.  And I thought that she was being a bit harsh, or had perhaps married a man who was simply not right for her.   But lately, I’ve come to believe that if I put her words into the context of simple human relationships, she might have been much more perceptive than I realized.

The older I get, the more I think that most of the conflicts we have with other people stem from the simple fact that they don’t live up to our expectations.  They don’t act the way we think they should act, or they don’t treat us the way we expected them to treat us.  And because they don’t, we find ourselves feeling hurt and angry, sometimes even lashing out at the people we think have failed us so miserably.  If we’re not careful, the problem can escalate from there, causing permanent rifts in our relationships with family and friends.

Sadly, this seems to happen in all aspects of our lives, and not just in the close relationships we have with family and good friends.  I once angered a fellow blogger because I commented on the photo that accompanied his post rather than the poem that he had written.  This was a person I had never met, but the fact that my response wasn’t what he had expected obviously stung.  If it’s that easy to hurt feelings of someone I barely knew, just think how easily it happens with those we know best.

I think the key might be in remembering that while our expectations always seem reasonable to us, that doesn’t mean that they are reasonable to other people, and it most certainly doesn’t mean that other people will meet them.  The fact is, we all look at things just a little bit differently, and so what makes perfect sense to us often seems completely illogical, or even rude and insensitive to others.  Sometimes I think we just need to take a step back, remember that the slights we perceive are rarely intended, and that the best thing we can do might actually be to “lower our expectations.”

I have come to the belief that lowering expectations is actually both a good and necessary part of how we handle our personal relationships.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t expect good behavior from others, it simply means that we stop projecting our ideas and values onto people who usually have their very own ideas about what is and is not appropriate.  It means that we put our own egos aside and learn to love and accept people as they really are, and not as who we may want them to be.

Which actually means that our expectations haven’t been lowered at all.  They’ve simply been expanded, and that’s a good thing.

Now That’s Impressive!

img_4884The older I get, the less easily I am impressed.  Gone are the days when I got really excited by a grand-slam home run in a baseball game, or envy a friend’s beautiful new piece of jewelry, or even believe that winning the lottery would be the nicest thing that could ever happen to me.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy those things anymore, because I do.  (Note to my readers: if one of you ever does win the lottery and are looking for someone to share all that loot, I’ll gladly step up.)  It’s just that I have gotten to the point where I no longer find those things particularly impressive.

More and more, I find myself paying attention to, and often admiring, not so much what people have or what they do, but how they treat others.  It’s wonderful when a professional athlete is able to help his team win an important game, but it’s impressive when he uses his fame to help out a worthy cause.  It’s great when the new company that someone has poured their heart and soul into finally takes off and makes a lot of money, but it’s impressive when the owner of that company uses their money to give back to the community and create opportunities for others to succeed as well.

I especially admire people who are thoughtful and generous towards others when no one is looking and when they have nothing to gain from their kindness.  I will always be grateful to the surgeon who operated on my husband’s knee, because after the operation was over, he took the time to come into the waiting room and not only tell me everything went well, but also to sit down beside me and ask if I had any questions.  I’m sure he had a very busy schedule that day, but he acted as if he had all the time in the world to reassure an anxious spouse.  It was a small kindness, but at the time, it made all the difference.

It’s not always easy to be kind, especially when we are bombarded with things on the news, social media, etc. that make us frustrated, angry and afraid.  And it’s hard to be kind when we’re rushing through our days, trying to keep up with our hectic schedules.  But often in life, what is hard is also exactly what needs to be done.  We may not be able to solve all the world’s problems, or even fix all the issues in our own lives, but what we can do is remember that kindness truly does help make things better.  And to do our best to practice it as often as we possibly can.

And when we are able to be kind, and when we are able to treat others with the same degree of compassion and tolerance that we want shown to us, then that is truly impressive.  Each and every time we do it.

Setting Boundaries

A few weeks ago, I had an accident on a boat dock that resulted in a large and deep bruise on my outer thigh.  Even though I didn’t do any major damage…nothing was broken or torn…my leg was swollen and sore.  I walked with a bit of a limp, and I couldn’t stand to have anything touch the wounded area.  And while I thought that I would be back to normal within just a few days, it turned out that my recovery actually took a few weeks. I still have a small and somewhat painful lump, although I’m glad to report that my outer thigh no longer looks like a colorful abstract painting.

The point is, for a few weeks, I wasn’t able to do many of my usual activities.  I still went to the animal shelter three times a week, but I didn’t walk any of the big dogs, and I even avoided the smaller ones that were especially jumpy.   I skipped my yoga class, didn’t ride my exercise bike, didn’t take long walks around the neighborhood no matter how nice the weather was, and in general, made sure that I didn’t put any more strain on my leg than was absolutely necessary.  I was often frustrated by my limitations, and sometimes those frustrations were aggravated by the thought that I was letting other people down.

I worried that my friend who teaches my yoga class was going to be annoyed with me for missing so many sessions.  I worried that my fellow shelter volunteers were going to be unhappy that I wasn’t helping them get the big and rowdy dogs out for their daily walks.  And I worried that the huge decrease in my level of exercise meant that it was going to be even harder to stuff myself into my already tight jeans.

I wanted my old life back.  I wanted to be able to do all the things I was used to doing, and to be able to meet all the expectations that other people usually had of me.  I found myself fretting a lot, becoming anxious and short-tempered, and feeling that I had to constantly remind everyone that I did, indeed, have a sore leg that was taking far too long to heal.

Thankfully, I finally came to my senses.  I realized that while I might not be able to do the things that I wanted to do, and that other people expected me to do, I truly was doing all that I could do at that particular point in my life.  And I realized that by looking for other people to “give me permission” to step back from my normal activities, I was setting myself up for nothing but guilt and disappointment.  Because no one else knew exactly how my leg felt on any given day, or what I could and couldn’t do without causing unnecessary pain or fatigue.  I realized that it was up to me to set my own limits and live within them, and not to pay too much attention to whether or not other people understood or approved of them.

The thing is, we are each responsible for setting our own boundaries, whether they be physical, mental or emotional.  We know what is going on in our own lives better than anyone else does, and we not only have the ability but also the responsibility to decide exactly what we can or can’t do.  That doesn’t mean we ignore challenges or become self-absorbed and selfish, but it does mean that we recognize our own limits and stop apologizing for living within them.  And once we do, we stop being worrying so much about living up to other people’s expectations.

There’s an old saying that “good fences make good neighbors.”  Honestly, I think the same thing holds true for personal boundaries.  Because knowing our own boundaries, and respecting other people’s boundaries, makes for good relationships.  And that makes life better for all of us.