Still Thankful

Fall photoI’ve always had mixed feelings about Fall.  On the one hand, I love the fabulous colors, the cooler temperatures, and all the pumpkins.  On the other hand, Fall means the end of Summer (which always makes me sad) and it reminds me that Winter is just around the corner.  And while Winter does bring beautiful snowfalls, having said that, I’ve basically covered all of Winter’s positive points.

Yet this Fall is different.  This year I’ve been doing everything I can think of to embrace the season.  I replaced my dying Summer flowers with mums and pansies. I’ve decorated the yard with tons of pumpkins, we’ve strung lights across our patio and we’re finally using gas fire pit I bought my husband for Christmas several years ago.  When the only safe way to entertain friends and family is outdoors, it’s amazing how much effort you can put into a patio.

Luckily, Mother Nature has blessed us with unseasonably warm temperatures, allowing us to enjoy the outdoors much longer than usual.  Those of us who live in the States are looking toward Thanksgiving next week, which will also be different this year.  Large gatherings are out, and people are trying to find alternatives that are safe and still include those who live alone.

I’m not going to lie:  there’s a part of me that is very sad about not being able to celebrate the holidays in our usual way.  But if this year has taught us anything, it’s taught us the need to adapt to our surroundings, so I’ve decided that it’s time to let go of what I had hoped for and simply accept what I actually have.  And I find that when I focus on the gifts that are still available, it’s easier to forget about the things that aren’t.

So this Thanksgiving, I’m going to be grateful that my husband figured out how to get the gas fire pit going again without anyone having to dial 911 (his track record on such things is spotty, to say the least).  I’m grateful for all the ways that friends and family have reached out to support us as we dealt with some personal challenges in our family this past year.  I’m grateful for our dog Finn’s full recovery from heart worms last summer, especially when I seen him running happily around the back yard.

I’m grateful that my mother is accepting the semi-isolation of living in a retirement center during pandemic restrictions with grace, thereby taking a whole lot of worry and stress off of my shoulders.  I’m grateful that my son and daughter live nearby with their families, so that I can still see them in a time when travel can be both difficult and dangerous.  I’m very grateful for the vaccines that are finally on the horizon, as that gives me hope for the future.  And hope is something I simply can’t live without.

So yes, Fall and Thanksgiving are different this year, and so is the way I’m reacting to them.  There is a bit of sadness and anxiety for sure, but there is also a whole lot of gratitude and many things that still bring me joy.  And when I think about it, that’s not really so bad at all….

All Good Things

It seemed to me that this past Winter was especially hard.  My home town was spared the horrible blizzards that devastated other parts of the Midwest, but our Winter was still made up of months of very cold temperatures and too much snow and ice.  I don’t know if it’s my age or that my volunteer job of walking dogs at the local animal shelter means I’m outside for long periods of time, but whatever the reason, I don’t tolerate the cold very well.  The blood drains out of my fingers, leaving them bleached white and painful, my nose runs continuously, and my eyes tear so much that everyone thinks I’m crying.

So you can see why I was really, really, ready for Winter to be over, even as the frigid temperatures hung on and the promise of Spring seemed so very far away.  I often found myself wondering just how big of a beach-front Florida condo we could buy if we sold our house and drained our savings accounts.  Sometimes I thought about just staying in my nice warm bed all day, reading books and eating hot soup.  I even toyed with the idea of having all the supplies I needed delivered to me so that I didn’t have to venture out into the cold.

But I didn’t act on any of those crazy impulses.  Instead, I just kept to my regular routine, knowing that sooner or later, Winter would give up and leave, making room for the Spring that I was longing for.  And sure enough, Spring finally showed up.

fullsizeoutput_5070The past couple of weeks have been (mostly) wonderfully warm, with just enough rain to wash away the nasty tree pollen that triggers my allergies.  The flowers are blooming, the trees are budding, and the birds are singing outside my window every morning.  The days are getting longer, and it now stays light well into the dinner hour, which means we can both cook and eat outside on our patio.

I believe Winter comes to all of us in many ways.  Some times it’s the literal Winter of cold, nasty weather and long, dark nights.  Other times, it’s the hardships and losses that that we suffer through and that can make life feel so very difficult, both physically and emotionally.  There are times when it seems as if our personal Winter will never end.

fullsizeoutput_507dThat’s when it helps me to remember that at the end of every seasonal Winter, no matter how hard and how long it has been, comes Spring.  The sun gets a little stronger, the temperatures a little warmer and the days last a little longer with each passing week.  And that reminds me that the dark days in our personal lives don’t last forever either.  It may take a long time, but eventually our burdens will feel just a little bit lighter, our hearts will feel just a little bit warmer, and our spirits will celebrate the arrival of our very own Spring.

Falling Down ?

img_0919It’s taken a while, but the cool weather of Fall has finally arrived where I live.  And I’m not especially happy about it.  I’ve been feeling a bit down all day, ever since waking up this morning and seeing that the temperature outside was only 56 degrees with no sunshine in sight.  I know there are lots and lots of great things about Fall, and I appreciate most of them.   It’s just that I’m not ready to let go of summer, and the weather today is forcing me to recognize that the summer of 2016 is well and truly over.

The days are already getting shorter, which means that it won’t be long before I’m waking up in darkness.  I spent part of last evening digging out my sweaters and light-weight jackets since it’s already too cold to go outside without wearing one or the other.  Despite my careful attention, many of my annual flowers are looking tired and withered, and it’s only a matter of time before there will be a frost which kills them altogether.   Within weeks, I’ll actually have to turn on the heat and deal with the dry skin and static electricity it always generates despite our humidifier’s best efforts. I may be a Debby Downer, but honestly, I find all of this rather depressing.

But there’s no sense in fighting the inevitable and I certainly don’t want to spend the next few weeks wallowing in self-pity, so I have decided that I need to stop thinking quite so much about all the things I will miss about summer and focus instead on the things I really won’t miss at all.  Sure, it’s hard to forget about the backyard cookouts, the pleasure of jumping into the refreshingly cool water of a swimming pool on a hot summer day, and the convenience of walking outside anytime without having to put on any extra clothing whatsoever.  Not to mention the fresh fruit and tasty tomatoes.  But I’m going to try.

From now on, I’ll bear in mind that the arrival of Fall means I won’t have to circle the parking lot of the grocery store in the futile search for a parking space in the shade so the inside of my car won’t feel like an oven when I’m done shopping.  I can even buy ice cream without worrying about it melting before I reach home.  I’m going to remember that the time is rapidly approaching when I  won’t have to do any more yard work:  no watering the potted plants, deadheading the flowers, trimming the bushes, cutting back the ivy, and fighting a no-win battle against the weeds.

And best of all, no outdoor bugs.  I’m not sure if the cold weather kills them or, like bears, they simply hibernate all winter, but for whatever reason, they go away and I am grateful.  No more bees buzzing around my ears when I walk out the back door (they love the crepe myrtles we were silly enough to plant right next to the back porch), no more carpenter bees drilling holes in the eaves and (finally) no more mosquitoes!  If I were ever trying to argue that God does make mistakes, exhibit “A” would be mosquitoes.  The world would have been just fine without the pesky little buggers.

This new attitude must be working, because I’m already feeling better.  It’s time to break out the Fall decorations, stick a few pots of hardy mums and some pumpkins on the porch and hit the mall in search of a couple of new sweaters.  And then I’m going to come home and bake a pumpkin pie.

Be Careful What You Wish For

It’s only three days into “official” summer, but already I’m beginning to wonder exactly why I was looking forward to it so much.  Don’t get me wrong:  I’m enjoying the fresh produce, the way it stays light outside until well past 8:00, and the more relaxed pace that summer brings.  What I’m not enjoying is the intense heat and humidity that has arrived and seems to be intent on sticking around, just like an uninvited and obnoxious house guest.  Maybe it’s my age, but I’m not handling the heat nearly as well as I usually do, which means that when I’m finished walking shelter dogs or doing a couple hours of yard work, I’m both cranky and exhausted.  I tend to park myself in front of the nearest air conditioning vent, thinking of all the things I’m supposed to be accomplishing with the rest of my day, and basically deciding that each and every one of them is too much trouble bother with.

Lea and Ann in poolAfter a couple hours of sitting in the cool inside air and wallowing in intense self-pity, I manage to get up and get on with the duties of the day, but even then, everything seems to require much more effort than it normally does.  I think back in wonder to the days of my childhood, when central air-conditioning was a rare thing, and I somehow not only survived the summer, but actually enjoyed it, living in a house that was cooled only by fans and, eventually, a single window AC unit installed in our dining room.  Was I more resilient back then?  Or simply too busy playing with my friends to notice the wilting heat? Those afternoons spent splashing in the little plastic wading pool were rather nice.

I know that eventually, I’ll get used to the heat and humidity….probably the day just before the heatwave breaks.  Until then, I’ll do my best to soldier on.  The shelter dogs need me (and all the other volunteers) to go down to the shelter to make sure the dogs get their share of potty breaks, walks, training, and socialization while they wait for their turn to be adopted.  The flowers and shrubs in our yard need care and watering to make it through the summer , and the weeds are actually thriving in this heat, so putting off yard work until September is simply not an option.

I also have to accept that this might be my “new normal” physically, and that I have reached the age where I no longer adjust to extreme temperatures as well as I used to.  (I have heard there are advantages to aging, but sometimes find that one hard to believe.)  If that’s the case, then I’ll simply adapt, the same way I have adapted to my fading eyesight,  my wrinkled and sagging neckline, and the ache I am beginning to feel in my hips whenever I exert myself a bit too much.  No one ever said growing older was going to be easy, and we all know it’s so much better than the alternative.

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!”