Reasonably Nice

It’s been very hot and humid here for the past few days, and I don’t seem to be coping with it very well.  Part of the problem is that I walk dogs at a local animal shelter, which means that I’m outside a lot, no matter what the weather.  (The fact that I’m no longer a “spring chicken” probably also has something to do with it, but I prefer not to think about that.)  The upshot is that by the time I was done with my walking shift yesterday morning, I was hot, tired, and and sore.   All I wanted to do was go home, take a cool shower, and lie down.

Then I discovered that there were some dogs in another part of the shelter still waiting to be walked, and that I was the only person still around to walk them.  I’d like to say that I accepted the situation and did my duty cheerfully, but I did not.  I was angry, because now I was faced with two unpleasant choices:  either stay and walk some more dogs, or go home, knowing those dogs wouldn’t get walked that morning.  And like most angry people, I immediately looked for someone to blame:  Why hadn’t someone else walked those dogs?  Why had they “saved them” for me to take care of?   Obviously, someone wasn’t doing their job, or so I told myself.

Luckily, I shared my frustrations with a staff person I trust, because venting sometimes helps.  She listened calmly to my rant, and then gently pointed out that sometimes there just aren’t enough people to get everything done, no matter how hard they try.  No one had “saved” any dogs for me to walk, they just hadn’t been able to get to them all.  Everyone, she reminded me, was just doing the best they could.

It took me a few minutes to stop feeling sorry for myself and to realize the truth in what she said.  It took a few more minutes to actually be grateful for her honesty, because it was something I needed to hear.  When times are hard, it’s only natural for us to react with disappointment and anger, and to look for someone to blame for all our troubles.  But doing so doesn’t help anyone or anything.

I think it’s especially good for us to remember that now, because in these crazy and turbulent times we’re all struggling, one way or another.  And the last thing struggling people need is someone lashing out at them in anger.  What struggling people need, which means what all of us need, is a little bit of patience, kindness, and acceptance, I think.

Or at least that’s what I needed yesterday when I complained to that staff person.  She could have taken my rant personally and reacted in anger, but she didn’t.  Her calm and reasoned response was a gift to me, because it helped me calm down and look at the situation much more rationally.  And you know what?  I did stay and walk those dogs, and while I was doing so, someone else came along to help.  I may have been even more tired by the time I finally got home, but I wasn’t angry anymore.  Instead, all I felt was gratitude……

Just Be There

We’ve had a rough couple of weeks in our household, and things are just now returning to normal.  Once again, my husband had a surgery that went well and a recovery that didn’t.  Honestly, he’s spent so much time in a hospital lately that I seriously considered hauling in his favorite recliner chair and repainting the walls of the room his favorite color.  I figured if he had to be stuck for so long in a hospital room, we may as well make it nice.  Luckily, he was released before I gave in to the urge to redecorate his surroundings and now he’s back home where he belongs.

I’ve always found that when difficult times arrive, I spend all my time and energy just coping, and don’t really “process” what’s happened until later. But now that things have finally calmed down, I find myself looking back over the past few weeks and realizing one very important thing:  there is no way in the world I would have managed without the amazing support of so many caring people.

Hospitals have always been scary places for me (I tend to faint at the sight of blood), but I found out they’re even scarier when the patient is your loved one and and they aren’t doing so well.  And you know what helped me deal with that fear?  The nursing staff who were unfailingly cheerful and attentive, and who always took the time to reassure me when I needed it.  Being an advocate for a patient in a hospital is exhausting, both physically and emotionally, but seeing how good the nurses were at caring for my husband made it so much easier to bear.

I’m also incredibly thankful for the many friends and relatives who took the time to call and text, keeping track of my husband’s progress and offering nonstop encouragement and support.  There were times when those texts were the lifeline I needed to stay (or at least try to appear) calm and strong, and other times when they  provided relief from the boredom of sitting in a hospital room day after day, or gave me a much-needed laugh.  Friends and family are gifts, and you never realize just how much of a gift until you’re in a tough spot and they’re right there with you every step of the way.

It was also a gift to see so many people reaching out to my husband in his time of need.  He had more people praying for him than I could possibly count.  Cards arrived almost daily, some from college friends he hasn’t seen in decades, and all of them helped raise his spirits.  One of his old friends sent him personalized copies of the books he’d written about his own battle with cancer, and the tips for staying positive helped enormously.  Frankly, my husband isn’t usually much for reading, but he not only read those books, he took one of them with him when he was readmitted to the hospital and read from it daily.

This post is more personal than what I usually write, and I hope I haven’t overdone the detail.  But the reason I’m sharing it is simple.  The next time someone you know is going through a tough time, please reach out and offer them your support.  Don’t let fear of intruding or “being a pest” stop you.  Because even if they don’t have time to acknowledge it or respond to you, your care and concern will mean the world to them.  Trust me, it really will.

Enough is Enough

I’m not sure who’s in charge of handing out luck, but whoever it is, he or she should be fired.  Immediately.  Because the string of bad luck I’ve been on for the past year or so has worn out it’s welcome and needs to go away right now.  Yes, I know adversity makes us stronger and that “when the going gets tough, the tough get going,” but there comes a time when even the toughest of us just want things to lighten up a little.

photo-3I handled it when my dog  came down with heart worm, even after being on heart worm preventative pills for a year.  I adjusted to the pandemic and all the grief and hardship it brought.  I handled the fear of my granddaughter’s premature birth and my husband’s cancer diagnosis, and when I started seeing flashing lights in my right eye, I was just grateful to be able to get a quick appointment with my eye doctor.  Even when my beloved “grand-dog” Frank died unexpectedly on the very day of my husband’s major surgery, I focused on what a good life he had led and and was thankful that he had died at home, with my son and daughter-in-law with him.

I’m not saying that I didn’t complain through it all, or have my moments of self pity and anxiety.  Of course I did, and it would be silly to say otherwise, especially since some of the people who read my blog know me personally and they’d spot the lie. I’m just saying that during what has been a very turbulent period, I tried really hard to keep a positive attitude and to focus just as much on the things that were going right as the things that were going wrong.  And I also figured that sooner or later, our luck had to improve.

Yet just one day after my husband finally got his port removed (which is a very good sign and certainly cause for celebration), I managed to break a bone in my foot.  I wasn’t even doing anything risky or athletic when it happened.  I simply tried to turn around, and while my foot turned, the flip-flop sandal I was wearing didn’t, and down I went.  And of course it is my right foot, which means that I can’t drive when I’m wearing the big “walking boot” the doctor said I’d need to keep on for the next four to six weeks.  (Note to self:  next time I decide to break a foot, break the left one.  It’s so much more convenient.)

It’s not a bad break and it doesn’t even hurt very much.  But it was the last straw, as far as I’m concerned.  Someone has messed up, somewhere, and given me an extra helping of bad luck, I’m just sure of it.  And they need to make it right, and start sending more good luck my way to make up for it.  I’ve spent some time thinking about this and I have my arguments all clear in my mind, complete with supporting data to prove my case. Now all I need to do is figure out just exactly who I have to make my case to, and I’ll be all set.  If only life came with a good customer service department……

Patiently Waiting

I’ve never been a patient person.  Waiting is not my strong point, no matter what I happen to be waiting for.  If I’m looking forward to something good, then I want it to happen right now, this very second.  Even if I’m dreading something, I’d much rather just hurry up and get it over with, sooner rather than later.  Unfortunately, there are times in my life where I don’t really have a choice, and I find myself having to wait with as much patience as I possibly can.

A few weeks ago, my husband had a scheduled surgery that was supposed to result in a three to five-day hospital stay.  The surgery went well, but his recovery didn’t, and he ended up spending over ten days in the hospital due to minor complications.  I wish I could say that I always handled the situation with patience and grace, but that would be a lie.  What I actually did was worry a lot, feel sorry for myself and even sorrier for my husband, and in general wake up each morning thinking, “PLEASE let today be the day that he finally gets to come home.”

It was a long ten days, but I did learn a few things about myself in the process, not the least of which is that I would make a truly awful nurse.  I’ve always been a bit of a klutz, but repeatedly tripping over various tubes that are actually connected to a patient is never a good thing, and neither is forgetting to unhook the IV pole before helping him go for a walk in the hallway.  Also, it’s a good idea to wind the chord of the nurse call button around the bed railings, because otherwise it falls off the bed every time you adjust the blankets…and then you have to keep telling the nurse station that you didn’t really mean to call them.

Luckily, I also learned some more useful lessons during my husband’s recovery, and the main one was that when I have no choice, I really can manage to wait patiently for things to get better.  Although I’ve always been nervous in hospitals (I never even like visiting a patient), I actually became accustomed to the routine and stopped having to look away from any procedure that involved blood or other body fluids.  I spent hours sitting quietly in the corner, reading a book while my husband slept, and actually became quite friendly with some of the nurses.  It’s amazing what we can endure when we have to, and I do think it helps to be reminded of that from time to time.

Of course I would have much rather my husband’s hospital stay hadn’t lasted quite so long, and to have spared him that trauma and both of us that worry.  But I like to think that the next time I’m waiting for something I desperately want right now, that I’ll remember there’s a reserve of strength and patience in each of us, just waiting for us to tap into it. And that when we do, we’ll have everything we we need to tide us over until the hard times are over….

The Time is Right

I think almost everyone spends far too much time waiting.  We wait in line, we sit in special waiting rooms before our medical appointments, we endure easy-listening music on our phones while waiting our turn to speak to a live customer service rep,  we wait for test results, and this year, we’re all waiting for the end of a global pandemic that has really outworn its welcome.  Most of that waiting is beyond our control and so we accept it and learn to adapt.  We tell ourselves that what we’re waiting for will eventually arrive, and until then, we bide our time as best we can.  I’ve managed to read entire magazines while waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store, which not only keeps my mind occupied but saves me the cost of having to actually buy the magazine.

But the problem with waiting is that it can become a habit, and not in a good way.  It’s easy to slip into the habit of thinking that somehow our lives will be good and whole just as soon as whatever issue we happen to be dealing with is finally resolved, or whatever we’re waiting for finally arrives.  We can become so focused on waiting for what we believe will be a better future that we tend to overlook the present.  Or at least that’s what I find myself doing a lot these days.

If I can just make it through these next few months, then the worst of the pandemic will be over and I’ll be able to enjoy myself again.  Once my husband gets past this next medical procedure, then I can relax and focus on the things I love to do.  Once we get that new dormer put in our upstairs bedroom, then my house will finally look and function exactly the way I want it to.  I could go on and on, but you get the picture.  It’s as if I believe that I’m existing in some sort of limbo, just waiting for something to happen so that I can finally begin to live my life the way I want to.

Sometimes I need reminding that when whatever I happen to be waiting for finally arrives, I’m surely going to start waiting for something else.  Which means that the best way to deal with it all is to simply live the best life I can, right here and right now.  It’s amazing how much can be accomplished, and how much joy can be found, when we simply allow ourselves to live in the present, even with all its imperfections and uncertainties.

Hoping and planning for a better future is a good thing.  But when we focus too much on waiting for that future to actually arrive, I believe we’re also cheating ourselves out of the good that can be found in the present.  One of my favorite sayings has always been, “Life is for living.”  I’m beginning to think that it’s time for me to edit that a little, and change it to “Life is for living now!”   Because that’s the God’s honest truth……

Lessons Learned

Roughly one year ago, Covid 19 managed to turn the world as I knew it upside down.  I remember picking up my grandson at his daycare, which like almost everything else in my area, was temporarily closing.  “See you in two weeks,” his teacher told us as she waved goodbye.  And I’m embarrassed to say that I mostly believed her.   I had no idea just how badly this virus and its restrictions would impact us, or for how long.

It’s been a long twelve months, and in many ways I’m not the same person I was a year ago.  Never again will I just assume that I can buy what I need, when I need it, or take being able to spend time with my friends and family for granted.  I think I’ll always be a little uncomfortable in a crowded room, wondering just what sort of germs I’m being exposed to, and I will probably keep my trusty little bottle of hand sanitizer stashed in my purse from now on.  As for toilet paper, my new mantra is “you can’t have too much of a good thing.”

7GPiXSO+Rmj7a9KhzqQBut I think the changes go deeper than that.  Living through such a traumatic year (my family also faced some difficulties that had nothing to do with Covid) has taught me a lot about myself, and I think growing in self-awareness is always a good thing.  I learned that I had the ability to be patient, even when I yearned for quick answers and even quicker action.  And while I’ve never been what could be called the “outdoorsy type,” I learned that the more time I spend outside, the calmer and happier I become.  Nature truly is a great healer, for both the body and the soul.  I also figured out that one way to cope with uncertain times is to get busy working on the things I do have control over, even something as mundane as painting the guest bedroom.

I may be a natural introvert who craves some alone time each and every day, but now I also know how desperately I need to stay connected to other people.  Talking with friends and family reminds me that I don’t have to face problems alone, and there is both strength and comfort in that.  That old saying, “a problem shared is a problem halved” is absolutely correct, and a reminder of just how important it is to support each other in our times of need.  And in the face of so much negativity, conflicting “facts” and general fear-mongering, I’ve learned the importance of thinking for myself, doing research when necessary, and trusting in good old-fashioned common sense as much as possible.

So no, I’m not exactly the same person I was twelve months ago, but that’s okay.  In fact, it’s more than okay, because the lessons I’ve learned from the past year have left me better equipped to face the future with hope and confidence.  And for that, I’ll always be grateful.

Let It Begin With Me

I am, by nature, a neat and tidy person.  I may not have coined the expression, “A place for everything and everything in its place,” but I live by it.  I am happiest when my house is clean and organized, and have found that too much dirt and clutter actually makes me vaguely uneasy.  As long as I’m being totally honest, I’ll also admit that when I’m anxious and unhappy, I sometimes find that cleaning my house actually makes me feel better.

I read somewhere that people who like to clean are attempting to impose order on a messy and unpredictable world, and I think that might be true.  (It would certainly explain why I find housecleaning to be  therapeutic.)  But the problem is that the world we live in is often messy, chaotic and sometimes downright dangerous, and there’s not a thing I can do to “clean it up,” at least on any significant scale.

I may be one of the few people who responds to troubles with a vacuum in one hand and dust cloth in the other, but I do think that trying to impose some kind of order on the world is common.  Many do it with social media posts, pointing out the error of other people’s ways in a vain attempt to convince them to think and behave in a way they find acceptable.  And let’s face it, politics is all about trying to elect someone who shares our values, in the hopes that the candidate will be elected and then impose our values on everyone else.  One way or another, we’re all trying to “clean up” the world, and often with the best of intentions.

But the truth is that the only person we can truly control is ourselves.   Yes, we can do our part to make the world a better place by speaking our truth, standing up to oppression, helping those who need it, and most of all, being kind and compassionate to everyone who crosses our path.  But we don’t really get to choose what other people think, say, or do.    And since none of us is perfect, that’s probably a good thing.

So the conclusion I’ve come to is this:  I need to learn to discern between the things I can control and the things I can’t, and I need to pay a whole lot more attention to the things I can.  I may not be able to make the world a peaceful place, but I can make sure I embrace peace in my own life by being as tolerant, honest, and forgiving as I can possibly be.  I can’t force others to own up to their mistakes and bad choices, but I can certainly own up to mine.  In short, all I can do is try, in my limited and flawed way, to live up to the values I really do believe in…..and then let go of all the angst, worry and stress that comes when I focus too much on the things that I can’t control.

buWO0NdZQV2vtwLyj31MrgIt’s a process for sure, and I doubt that I’ll be giving my vacuum cleaner a rest anytime soon.  But if I really want 2021 to be a better year, the very best way I can start is by cleaning up my own act.

This Christmas

ddVckuVpRGyx7hp7gz2TZwEven though I love Christmas, there’s always something about December that makes me feel a little sad.  The shorter days and longer nights we experience this time of year don’t help, but the biggest problem is probably the way I tend to build Christmas up in my head and the fact that the reality of Christmas rarely lives up to my expectations.  (I guess Chuck Griswold and I have something in common besides our love for over-the-top holiday lighting.)

I tend to anticipate the perfect Christmas with a huge assortment of delicious cookies and other fabulous food, a perfectly-decorated tree surrounded by a pile of presents that are “just right” for the person who is going to open them, and most of all, lots of fun and relaxing time with my friends and family.  And while the Christmas I get is always pretty darned good, there are also lots of little snags along the way:  burnt cookies, the arrival of my annual Christmas cold, trying to coordinate a schedule for our get-togethers that works for everyone, and discovering that the perfect present I wanted to buy for someone special is on back-order until Spring.

And that’s the reality of a normal Christmas.  This year, we’ll be celebrating a Covid Christmas, which means I won’t be able to attend my beloved Christmas Eve candlelight service, or host the usual big gatherings of my friends and family.  My in-person Christmas shopping has been minimal, and the delivery of the gifts I ordered online has been spotty, to say the least.  (We opened one box to find only the shredded packaging of the gift we had ordered.  Someone is going to be on Santa’s naughty list for that one!)  All of which is to say that this year, it’s been a little harder than usual to maintain my Christmas cheer.

And yet….Christmas is still my favorite holiday and I have no intention of giving it a miss this year.  Yes, we are still struggling with a pandemic that has dragged on far too long, and we are so very tired of it.  The days are short and cold, and Winter is just beginning.  Celebrating the holiday in many of my favorite ways is out of the question, sadly.  But none of that has managed to stop Christmas from coming, and whether or not I enjoy this Christmas is a decision that is mine alone to make.

IMG_7285So I’m choosing to enjoy it.  I’m choosing to give the people I love my imperfect gifts, and just have those gift receipts handy if they need to exchange them.  I’m choosing to spend my dark December evenings basking in the glow of my Christmas tree, or when it’s warm enough, sitting outside enjoying the colored lights we strung around our patio.  I’m baking extra cookies this year and plan to leave them on the porches of the neighbors and friends I can’t invite over.  I’ve discovered that a local church is having an outside (socially distanced and masked) Christmas Eve candlelight service that I might attend if I decide to brave the predicted cold temperatures.  And if not, there are plenty of services I can view online.

Merry Christmas to all those who celebrate it.  And to absolutely everyone:  wishing you much joy, peace and happiness, now and in the year ahead.

Enough

fullsizeoutput_5d20It’s finally feeling like Autumn, with cooler temperatures, gorgeous foliage and pumpkins galore.  There’s something about Autumn that makes me want to “hunker” down” in my warm house, cooking substantial meals and making sure my cupboards are well-stocked with supplies.  But this year, I have to admit my urge to stock up has gotten just a teeny bit out of hand.

I’ve never understood what motivates hoarders. My theory has always been, “why have two of something when one will do?” But then the pandemic hit, and in the early stages that sometimes meant empty grocery shelves, making it hard to find basic necessities. And although I can almost always find what I need these days, those memories seem to have stuck with me. Because now I find myself wanting to stock up supplies like a frantic squirrel storing nuts in anticipation of a really, really, bad Winter.

My usual minimalist tendencies have disappeared. Now I wander the aisles of the grocery store, tossing things into my cart whether I need them or not. My kitchen cupboards are full, and so is the cabinet in the basement I use to store extra groceries and paper goods. I have a small bin full of cleaning supplies, disinfectants and face masks. And yet sometimes I still wonder, “do I have enough?”

The problem with always wanting more is that nothing ever seems to be enough, and that’s a horrible way to live. I know that my desire to keep adding to my stash is a reaction to the uncertainty of the times we’re living in, but I hate feeling that I’m somehow dropping the ball if I don’t have enough supplies in my house to see me through at least 2022. It’s time for me to stop the madness.

It’s true that no one knows when, or how, this pandemic will end. It’s also true that there may still be shortages, and I can’t always count on running to the grocery store to pick up something I need. But I think I’ve gotten to the point where I’d rather risk doing without something for a little while, because that’s preferable to constantly worrying about whether I have “enough.” And I think I’d rather trust that friends and family would step forward to share what they have if necessary, just as I would gladly share my supplies with anyone who needed them. And I know this is true, because they have shared, and so have I.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of choosing how I want to live. Do I want to live in an “everyone for himself” world, or do I want to keep a little faith in the people around me? Do I want to be a person who compulsively buys things out of fear of the future, or do I want to once again be happy with a reasonable amount of supplies in my house?

This pandemic has changed many things in my life, and in many cases there’s just not much I can do about it. But I’ve decided that it is a not going to turn me into a hoarder, and that’s something I can control.

A Sure Thing

Predicting the future has never been an easy thing to do, but these days, it’s become completely impossible.  If 2020 has taught us nothing else, it’s that life is uncertain and plans are often nothing more than optimistic hopes.  And I have to say that I really, really, don’t like living this way.

One of my coping mechanisms for dealing with difficulties has always been to have something…anything…to look forward to.  Dreaming of our annual January vacation on the beach is what gets me through the cold and dark Winter days, and even something as small as knowing I have dinner reservations at my favorite restaurant can lift my spirits on a particularly stressful day. 

I’m never happy to see Summer end, but knowing that the holidays are coming has always made it easier to accept.  Yet who knows if I’ll be able to host a family Thanksgiving dinner this year, or if we’ll see extended family at Christmas?  These days, it sometimes seems that looking forward to something is a sure-fire way to make sure it doesn’t actually happen.

Which is why I very deliberately didn’t think much about the family weekend getaway we had planned for the end of September.  My husband and I had booked a house at a nearby lake community for three nights and invited our children and grandchildren to join us.  I knew it would be great fun if we managed to pull it off, but I waited until the very last minute to begin buying our supplies and packing our things, just in case.

fullsizeoutput_5ceeAnd miracle of miracles, it all worked out.  The house had a gorgeous view of the lake and plenty of room for everyone, and the weather was great. We found time to relax and unwind, while some of us golfed, fished, visited a nearby winery, made crafts, went horseback riding, played games, or went for walks in the woods.  The lake was warm enough to try the paddle boards and I even managed to go kayaking without falling into the water (another miracle).

All in all, we had a wonderful time and it’s a weekend I won’t soon forget.  Finally being able to “get away” for a while was great, and spending quality time with the people I love was even better.  But perhaps the greatest gift of all was realizing that, even in these crazy and uncertain times, sometimes the things we look forward to really do happen.  And knowing that gives me all the hope I need.