A Change of Season

I don’t think I would ever want to live in a climate that didn’t have four distinct seasons.  As much as I complain about the heat and humidity of July and the icy-cold days of January, I know that each season brings some good things that I’m not willing to give up.  Few things beat the beauty of a brand-new snow fall, and there’s nothing as refreshing as jumping into a swimming pool on a hot summer day.  I love the colorful beauty of the leaves in Autumn, and the way the first spring flowers bring hope for longer and warmer days ahead.

IMG_2677Fall has come a bit late to my corner of the world this year, but it has finally arrived.  And that means I’m spending time trimming back some bushes, storing away the pots that I use for my annual flowers, and washing my windows one last time before the temperatures plummet.  Inside, I’m doing some hard-core house cleaning in preparation for the Christmas decorations I know I’ll be putting up next month.

For me, there’s something soothing about the rhythm of the seasons and the special traditions that each one brings.  The changing seasons provide a sense of order to my year, because I am definitely one of those people who likes to know what is going to happen next and I know what to expect from each new season.

This year, the change of season has been especially significant because I seem to be at a point in my life when so many things are changing in ways that I can’t control.  Friends who move away, co-workers who retire, minor health issues, shifting family dynamics, even our bizarre political climate….all make we wonder just exactly what the future is going to bring.  Luckily, many of the changes around me are positive, but all will impact my life in ways that I can’t begin to predict.

IMG_2612My daughter is expecting our first grandchild in early January, and with each passing week, what was once only an abstract joy has become that much more real.  Seeing her opening gifts at her baby showers, surrounded by family and friends who have turned out to offer their love and support is both comforting and humbling.  I still have no idea just exactly what being a grandparent will mean, but I’m anxious to find out.

I think I will always be just a little bit intimated by change, even when it’s a change I’m looking forward to very much.  And that’s okay, because it’s just who I am. But one thing I know is that each new season in my life, just like each new season of the year, will bring not only change, but also the possibility of some amazingly good gifts…..

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.

New Year’s Hope

I gave up making New Year’s resolutions a long time ago, mostly due the the embarrassing speed with which I broke them.  I never lost the ten pounds I resolved to shed, probably because my resolution to hit the gym regularly and eat only healthy food never lasted more than two weeks.  I usually managed to be lose my temper or be overly critical of something by January 4th (at the latest), so there went my resolution to always keep a positive attitude.  And as for tackling my long list of things I was supposed to do but really, really, didn’t want to do, all I can say is, that didn’t happen either.  My New Year’s resolutions always ended up making me feel like a chubby, crabby failure with a serious procrastination problem.  So I stopped making them.

Still, there is always something about a new year that feels a bit hopeful and optimistic.  Maybe it’s the simple act of putting a brand new calendar up on my refrigerator, with all those blank squares not yet filled in with appointments and obligations.  Maybe it’s the fact that the days are finally beginning to get longer rather than shorter, even if we are in the early stages of winter.  It might even be knowing that the crazy holiday schedule of all those extra commitments, parties and family gatherings is drawing to a close.  Because as much as I enjoy them, I really don’t have the stamina too keep up that pace for very long. One way or another, a new year seems offer the possibility of a new start, and an opportunity for a slightly better way of life.

I guess that is why, despite my long tradition of breaking my New Year’s resolutions, the beginning of January always finds me thinking seriously about making some changes in my life.  I know that some things are never going to change, and that no matter how much I’d like to have a more cheerful disposition, I’m never going to be one of those people who lights up a room simply by walking into it.  And as for the extra ten pounds, they have taken up permanent residence on my hips and have no plans to move, ever.  Still, there are plenty of areas in my life where I would like to improve, and this time of year somehow gives me hope that those changes can actually happen.

I may be well into the second half of my life, but I still have certain hopes and dreams for my future, and I still believe that with a bit of effort on my part, at least some of those hopes and dreams can be realized.  And I’m beginning to realize that maybe the key to making New Year’s resolutions is to look at the big picture, and to recognize exactly what it is that I want to accomplish in the time I have left, and what steps I need to take to make that happen.  And then begin moving toward those goals, one resolution at a time.  Even baby steps move us forward, and eventually get us where we want to be.

January 1st may be just another date on the calendar, but I believe the promise of the New Year is real.  It’s the promise and hope of new possibilities, if only we are willing and brave enough to try for them.  And one way or another, I intend to honor that promise.

Shower Gifts

Yesterday, I helped host a family shower for my son’s fiance.   I admit that I was a bit nervous about the whole thing, because I really love the young woman my son is marrying and wanted to throw her a nice shower to welcome her into our family.  My daughter, who also helped host the shower, wanted to do a champagne brunch, so we booked a room in a nearby restaurant for the event, ordered some petite fours and cake pops from a local bakery to serve, and in general, did all the things that one does when planning a bridal shower.  Still, I was just a little bit on edge, wondering if everything would go well and being more than a little bit afraid that something would inevitably go wrong.  Little Mary Sunshine, that’s me.

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But I am happy to say that everything went just fine.  The restaurant staff was very professional, setting up the room the way we wanted it and serving delicious food.  We had a nice turn-out, and everyone seemed to have a good time.   As is the tradition, at the end of the shower, the bride-to-be opened her gifts while we all watched.  She got some terrific presents and seemed very happy with all of them, which was a wonderful thing to see.

Still, while I was watching my future daughter-in-law open her gifts, I found my mind wandering a bit.  I kept looking around the room at all the people who were there, and realizing how much I appreciated each of them being there.  Each and every person in that room made the effort to take time out of their busy weekend to come to this shower, showing their support for the newest addition to our family.  And their presence was a gift.

My sister helped host and provided the beautiful flowers for the shower.  My mother offered assistance in any way that was needed, and helped us set up the room.  My sisters-in-law from Iowa not only came a great distance to attend the shower, they showed up early to help us get ready and stayed late to help clean up afterwards.  My sister-in-law from downstate, her two daughters and her granddaughter, all came to help us celebrate and show their support.

Family friends came, some of whom I have known for my entire life.  Friends I met when I was just a baby and friends I met when I was newly-married and childless were all there, knowing how important this shower was to me and my family.  The youngest attendee was the seven-week old granddaughter of a dear family friend, and that baby represented the fourth generation in the friendship between our two families.  It doesn’t get much more special than that.

Yes, the bride-to-be received many terrific gifts at this shower, and that’s as it should be.  It was her day, and she handled it with grace and style, just as I knew she would.  But as I looked around the room yesterday and took in all the people who were there, the friends and family who showed up to offer their support and to welcome the newest member of our family, and to meet her lovely mother and grandmother, I couldn’t help but realize that my son’s fiance wasn’t the only one who was receiving gifts.

True, the love and support of family and friends is not a gift that I could open.  But it was a gift nonetheless, and one that I will remember and appreciate for a very, very, long time.

The Parents’ Table

anns-bdayAt 58, I have reached the age where I can no longer, by any stretch of the imagination, consider myself to be young, or even “young-ish.”  I am stubbornly clinging to the middle-age category, although there are plenty of people who would argue that I am too old even for that.  I treat that argument with the contempt it deserves, because who knows?  I may actually make it to my 116th birthday.  We are making great strides in the fields of technology and medical science, and I intend to milk both for all they are worth. Still, every now and then, despite my best efforts, I come face-to-face with the reality of my age.

These unwelcome intrusions of painful reality into my fantasy life are nothing new.  I remember shopping with a friend one day when I was in my  late twenties, and I automatically headed for the store’s “Junior Department.” My friend refused to follow me, saying bluntly, if honestly, “Ann, we aren’t Juniors anymore.”  Huh?  Then I looked around for the “Fashionable Young Women Who Aren’t Juniors But Are Still Young and Hot” department, but it simply wasn’t there.

My hair’s natural color used to be a soft brown that I was actually rather happy with, and unlike many of my friends, I never even considered changing its color.  Even after I started spotting the occasional grey hair I firmly believed that I was far too young to be actually turning grey.   Until the day I sat down in my hairdresser’s chair and she asked me, “Have you considered doing highlights?  You know, to cover up all this grey hair?”  And a few years later, that was followed by the day that the highlights were replaced with a total dye-job.

Then there was the time I was accompanying my teenage son to his high school sports banquet.  My children may have been in their teen years, but deep down, I still thought of myself as a young mother.  But then I realized that a young mother doesn’t sit in the passenger seat of a car with a hot casserole dish on her lap while her son drives them to a banquet.  It was, no matter how I looked at it, a distinctly matronly moment.

Last weekend, my husband and I attended the wedding of one of my daughter’s best friends, and we found ourselves seated at a table with three other couples we didn’t know.  They looked about our age, and as we introduced ourselves, we realized that we were all parents of the bride’s good friends.  Laughingly, we referred to ourselves as “the parents’ table,” and sat happily on the sidelines, watching the young people dance.  I remembered when it was my parents’ generation at our weddings who were watching us dance, and marveled at the realization that I was now officially one of the “older generation” myself.   Surprisingly, I found that in this case, I didn’t mind it one bit.

Which is not to say that I have completely internalized the lesson that I am no longer young.  I think it is impossible, really, to always be aware of our true age, because on the inside, I’m still the same person I’ve always been.  And that’s why it will be quite some time before I change the name of this blog to “Muddling Through My Old Age.”  Some illusions are just too hard to give up.

It’s Simple

Back in the days when I regularly read newspapers, I always made a point of checking out the editorial pages.  I didn’t bother to read the op-ed pieces written by the editors, because  once I knew the editorial slant of the newspaper, I also knew exactly what its editors were going to write about any particular issue.  No, what I liked to read were the letters to the editor, because those were often written by ordinary people who felt strongly enough about a particular issue to write to the newspaper in the hopes of having their views shared with the community at large.  Some of the letters were insightful, some were angry, and few were funny (sometimes unintentionally).  But the ones that stood out the most were the ones that, in all sincerity, outlined a few simple steps that the writer was just sure would fix all of our society’s problems.

It never seemed to occur to the people who wrote those letters that if the solution to the complex and long-standing problems we face were really that simple, chances are that someone else would have thought of them by now.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why someone would want to believe that if we just took a few simple steps, we really could end all wars, stamp out poverty, erase income inequity, cure cancer, banish racism, etc., and in general instantly transform the world into the kind of happy, healthy and peaceful place we all want it to be.  I understand it, but I just don’t happen to share that belief.  We may not want to admit it, but most of the problems we are facing today have been around for a long time, and I just don’t think they’re going away anytime soon.

Of course there are many things we can and should do to address the many challenging issues we face, both in our nation and in the world at large.  Throwing our hands up in despair doesn’t help anything, and actually makes things much, much worse.  But I do believe that we need to be honest, both with ourselves and with each other, and acknowledge that complex problems usually require complex and sometimes difficult solutions.  And we humans are rarely inclined to show the kind of patience, hard-work, tolerance and maturity that are needed to do the job.

I think it is natural for us to seek simple solutions, especially in a world that often seems so confusing and sometimes downright dangerous.  Maybe the answer is to quit trying to impose our simple solutions on other people.  Maybe, rather than insisting on telling other people what they should be believing and what they should be doing, we need to focus on implementing our simple solutions in our own lives.  Wasn’t it Mahatma Gandhi who said, “be the change you wish to see in the world?”  And really, it doesn’t get much more simple than that.

Welcome, Summer!

IMG_1315I know the calendar claims that summer doesn’t officially start for another three weeks, but I have always considered summer to be the season that begins with Memorial Day weekend and ends with Labor Day weekend.  And I have always been so very glad when it finally arrives.

When I was a child, nothing beat walking home from the last day of school year, carrying a year’s worth of desk supplies with me and trying to wrap my head around that wondrous fact that I didn’t have to go back to school for weeks.  Summer meant freedom from my school schedule, long days of bike riding and playing with my friends, family barbecues, ice cream and popsicles, and frequent trips to the municipal swimming pool.  What wasn’t to like about all that?

Now that I am decades (many, many decades) past my childhood, summer is still a special treat.  These days, summer means nights spent sitting out on our patio, eating a meal or simply enjoying a glass of wine while the day fades slowly into a comfortably warm night.  It means all of my favorite fruits are in season, so I can enjoy fresh and locally grown strawberries, cherries, watermelon and peaches.  This is the time of year when a simple bacon and tomato sandwich, served with fresh corn on the cob, is more than enough for dinner.

IMG_1318Summer means that my yard is carpeted with lush, green grass and pots of flowers spread color everywhere.  The warm weather means I can happily pack away all my coats, gloves and boots, and dressing to go out usually means nothing more than changing into a dressier pair of sandals. Although most of my regular routine remains the same, there’s something about summer that feels slower, simpler, and more in tune with nature.

Of course I know that it’s early days yet, and that by mid-August, I will probably not be enjoying summer quite so much.  I’ll probably be sick of the flies and misquotes that seem to grow steadily in number as the summer progresses, and that my once lush lawn will be withering a bit, struggling against both the heat and the weeds that invade each and every year.  I’ll be tired of doing so much yard work, of having to water my flower pots almost every day, and of shaving my legs each morning. (I know I could wax them, but I tried that once and it hurt.  A lot.)

I’m sure that when the Labor Day weekend is over, I’ll probably be looking forward to fall, with its cooler evenings and beautiful colors.  There are definite advantages to living in a climate that has four distinct seasons.  But for now, at this particular moment in my life, all I can honestly feel is “welcome, summer!”

Irish Travels

It always takes me a little while to “shift gears” when I return home even from a short trip, so it’s no surprise that I’ve been feeling a bit muddled since returning yesterday from my trip to Ireland.  I suspect I’ll be feeling the effects of jet lag for at least a couple more days, but I don’t mind.  The trip was more than worth it.

This was the first international trip my husband and I have been on that wasn’t organized by someone else, and we were a bit nervous about how everything would go.  (Even for domestic flights, we print multiple copies of our boarding passes and tend to show them to every airline staffer we see “just to make sure everything is okay.”  One of these days, someone is probably going to lose patience with us and reassign us to permanent seats in the lavatories.)  For our Ireland trip, we not only had a long international flight, but we were also traveling around the country by train and had made our own hotel reservations on-line.  That’s a huge step for a couple of “nervous travelers” (paranoid travelers) such as my husband and me.

IMG_0302Amazingly, everything went off without a hitch.  We visited Kilkenny, Dublin (where we stayed with a good friend who is temporarily living there) and Galway.  We used the Irish Rail system to get to each town, and since we stayed in the city centers of Kilkenny and Galway, we were able to walk to almost everything we wanted to see.  While in Galway, we booked a day trip to the Connemara area on one of those huge tour busses.  How the driver managed to maneuver it down the narrow country lanes, I’ll never know, but he did it expertly, stopping every now and then to let a sheep or two get safely across the road.

Almost everyone we ran in to was both pleasant and helpful, directing us when we made a wrong turn or answering our questions cheerfully.  The food in both the pubs and restaurants was delicious, although I was a little taken back when I first saw the baked beans on the breakfast buffet.  And after a long day of enjoying the sights, it was fun to sit  in a real Irish pub, sipping wine (I know, but I just don’t like beer, ale or lagers) and listening to music. The authentic Irish music was very good, but my favorite performer was the young man with a terrific voice who sang a huge variety of songs. Trust me, you haven’t really heard Johnny Cash’s “Walk the Line” until you’ve heard it sung in an Irish accent, with many of the locals singing along.

IMG_0223This trip was a first in many ways.  It was my first (but hopefully, not my last) trip to Ireland.  It was the first time I have depended on a train to travel from one city to another. It was the first time I saw sheep sporting big dabs of neon paint, used to distinguish which sheep belong to which farm.  It was the first time I rode a horse English style, which is something I have always wanted to do.  I don’t think I was particularly good at it, but the guide was helpful and the horse was patient, so it all worked out.  We even trotted through a rather busy roundabout on our way to the park, which was a definite first for me.

It may sound odd, but both my husband and I are feeling a bit proud of ourselves right now, having stepped out of our comfort zone and still managing to achieve a certain level of success.  And who knows?  Maybe the next time we fly somewhere, we’ll be daring and head to the airport with only one copy of our boarding passes.

 

Winter Woes

DSC00118Self pity comes easily to me in the winter.  I don’t like cold weather, and because my volunteer job entails walking shelter dogs three times a week in any and all weather, I spend way more time out in the cold than I want to.  Even when I am inside my warm house, I am constantly plagued with dry skin, chapped lips and random shocks from static electricity.  We have a humidifier, but from what I can tell, its main job is to fog up our windows. Even our wood furniture suffers, drying and cracking unless I’m diligently polishing it with lots and lots of lemon oil.

I hate having to put on a jacket just to take my trash out.  I hate how much longer it takes me to get dressed in the winter, especially if we are going somewhere nice:  slacks, shoes, socks, sweater, scarf, coat and gloves all need to be coordinated, and that’s far too much trouble for someone with my  feeble fashion sense.  Summer is so much easier, because then all I have to do is put on a pair of capris, a nice top, and some sandals, and I’m good to go just about anywhere.

IMG_0945And I especially hate the way I have to constantly supervise my dog whenever I let her out in the winter, because she persists in believing that those frozen treats she keeps finding (and eating) in our back yard are chocolate popsicles.  They aren’t.  More than once our neighbors have been treated to the sight of me charging out the back door late at night, clad only in my flannel pajamas, yelling, “Don’t you dare eat that, you dumb dog!”  Lest you think I’m making too big a deal of this, I’d like to point out that if we do let her have her “snacks,” she eventually throws them up in our house, and always on my good rugs.  So the vigilance continues…..

But then, in the middle of the cold and dark month of January, along comes a beautiful, sunny day with a high of sixty degrees.   A day in which I can take a long walk around our neighborhood wearing only a heavy sweater; a day in which I can climb up the ladder to take down our last Christmas wreath in complete comfort, and a day that reminds me that Spring will, eventually, come and thaw everything out.  I know that today is just a reprieve, and that another cold front is on its way (just in time for the weekend, according to the weather reports), but I’m still deeply grateful.

It doesn’t matter whether we have the relatively mild winter we’ve enjoyed so far this year or the horrible cold, snow and ice we endured last year, winter will always be my least favorite season. So a day such as today is a reminder that, even in the darkest and most difficult times of our lives, there will be welcome reprieves, both small and large, that make it easier for us to believe better times are coming.  It’s often the little things that can give the most hope, I think, if we can just allow ourselves to appreciate them when they come into our lives.  Spring may not be coming for several weeks, but unexpectedly, a spring day is here, right now.  And I intend to enjoy it as much as I can….just as soon as I’m done cleaning the back yard.

 

 

Forever Family

familyMy daughter got engaged last summer, and her wedding is coming up fast.  Even though we’ve spent the past few months booking a venue, reserving a church, selecting her wedding dress and making all the hundreds of other decisions that seem to be required for a wedding these days, it has only recently begun to sink in that she’s actually getting married.  And soon.

I still remember the first day I brought her home from the hospital, and how everything single thing in my world suddenly felt so different.  The house my husband and I had lived in happily for a couple of years had to be completely reconfigured to accommodate a baby, a good night’s sleep became nothing more than a distant memory, and even the shortest outing required careful planning as we either had to find and hire a reliable baby sitter or pack a diaper bag with more provisions than I normally packed for a week’s vacation back in my childless days.  My husband and I had shifted from being a couple to being a family, and life was never the same again.

Later, as we were raising both my daughter and her younger brother, I couldn’t even imagine what life would be like when they grew up and moved out to start their own lives.  The four of us were a complete and happy family unit, and the thought of us not living together anymore was almost frightening.  At the time, I had a friend whose youngest daughter had recently moved out and I asked her how she could possibly cope with that loss.  She told me that in her opinion, the teenage years were God’s little way of making it a bit less painful to see them go.  And as the years went by, I understood that she was right.

When our turn came to have an empty nest, it wasn’t the horrible adjustment I thought it would be, because I realized that I hadn’t really lost my kids at all.  They had grown up, but we were still a family and our relationship was simply different than it was when they were children.  Now I could see the young woman and the young man they had become, and I liked what I saw.  And the little bonuses of having an empty nest, such as the extra closet space, much smaller grocery bills and not having to listen to either country or rap music in my house helped, too.

MarthaIn a few short weeks, our family is going to change again, and in a big way.  My daughter will be married, which means her first priority will be her new husband, and not us.  She’ll even have a new last name.  But, once again, this is just a change that means our family will be different, and that’s not a bad thing.  We’re gaining a terrific son-in-law who already feels like a member of our family.  It’s reassuring to see my daughter in love with someone who makes her happy and to know that they are choosing to spend their lives together.  And I know she is marrying into a wonderful family whose love and support will only enrich her life.

I have come to believe that family is something that is both constant and constantly changing.  And that change isn’t always a bad thing.  In the case of this particular change that is coming to our family, I believe it’s a very good thing indeed.