The Time Between

IMG_3559 2For the past few weeks, our house has been far too quiet.  No one is barking at the back door, letting me know that she has waited exactly five seconds for someone to let her in and she’s deeply unhappy about the delay.  When I’m working at my computer, no one is laying by my feet, snoring loudly.  I don’t hear the repetitive squeak of dog toys, or the click of canine toenails on the hardwood floors.  Our house has been peaceful, quiet, and almost entirely free of dog hair…..and I don’t like it one bit.

Lots of people have asked me if we’re going to get another dog.  That question always surprises me a little, because I would think that anyone who knew me at all would realize that of course I’m going to get another dog.   If I should spend my final years bed-ridden in a nursing home, I’ll most likely have a chihuahua hidden under the blankets and be bribing the staff to bring it food and take it for bathroom breaks.  I’m not the sort of person who wants to live a dog-free life.

But I also know that it’s too soon to bring another dog home.  My husband and I are still grieving for Lucy.  It’s still hard to remember to walk in the house and not call out, “Lucy, I’m home!” (One of the best things about having a dog named Lucy was being able to say that.)  When I’m away from the house for several hours, I still think I need to go home and let her out.  And just last night, we realized that we still had her dog food stashed in our pantry, right below the box of dog treats.  The simple truth is that we aren’t quite ready to open our hearts and our home to another dog just yet.

IMG_3983So these days, I get my “dog fix” when I walk the shelter dogs, who are always very happy to get the attention.  My son and daughter-in-law’s dogs also come visit, making themselves instantly at home at “Grandma’s” house, as they explore every nook and cranny and scope out the furniture for the best napping spots.  And they don’t seem to mind too much when we make it clear that their sleeping choices are limited to the floors and the dog beds.

One way or another, we are getting used to our life without Lucy, and coming to terms with not having a dog of our own anymore.  I know that this particular phase of our life is temporary, and that the time is coming when we’ll begin to look for another dog to join our family.  Until then, I’m really grateful for the shelter dogs and my “grand-dogs” for making this time of transition just a little bit easier.  And for reminding me of just why I love dogs so much in the first place.

Walking the Walk

When I started this blog three years ago, I had two simple goals.  First, I wanted it to be  a creative writing outlet where I could write honestly and openly about the topics that interested me.  Secondly, I wanted to make sure my blog was a positive place where everyone (including my readers) could share their opinions and beliefs without being attacked by others.  I wanted my blog to be a “hate-free” zone where disagreement was welcomed as long as it was respectful and civilized.  And luckily, that’s exactly the way it turned out.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I was actually starting to feel a little bit smug about how little negativity my blog attracted, congratulating myself on keeping the nastiness away.  But have you ever had one of those “aha” moments, when you finally realize something so obvious that you can’t believe you didn’t see it before?  Because that’s exactly what happened to me yesterday.

I was driving down the street, actually thinking of how happy I was that I had managed to keep my blog so positive and hate free for three years when a driver suddenly pulled out in front of me.  I slammed on my brakes and missed him, but I was still incredibly angry.  And I didn’t hesitate to express that anger through a series of words that were both ugly and hateful.  The fact that I was alone in the car with the windows rolled up didn’t really matter.  Whether or not anyone could hear what I said wasn’t the point.  The point was that I finally realized that even though I had managed to create a hate-free blog, I most certainly wasn’t living a hate-free life.

I couldn’t help but wonder just exactly how different my life would be if I became just a bit more intentional about trying to keep hatred and anger out of my own heart.  I’m not naive enough to think that I will never get angry again, or that I won’t resent people I believe have done me wrong, or even that I can simply decide that I’ll never feel hateful again.  I’m sure I’ll do all those things, despite my best efforts.

But still, I know I can do better.  More importantly, I know that I want to do better.  I want to think twice before I open my mouth in anger.  When I feel slighted by someone, I want to try to look at things from their point of view rather than immediately feeling sorry for myself.  And when I feel hate stirring in my heart, I want to ask myself if I really want hateful feelings to be a permanent part of who I am.  Because hatred hurts the one who harbors it just as much as it hurts its target.

For the past three years, I’ve managed to keep hatred, pettiness, resentment, etc. out of my blog, and I’ve been very happy with the result.  So I think it’s time that I at least start trying to do the same thing with the rest of my life.

Time Out

I’ve been out of sorts lately, both physically and emotionally.  I’ve been tired and cranky, lacking the energy to perform even the most basic daily chores and not particularly interested in engaging in the social activities I usually enjoy so much.  I thought I might be coming down with some sort of virus, but days passed and I never actually got sick.  It took me a while to figure it out, but I finally realized what was wrong with me was that I was feeling totally and completely overwhelmed and that trying to keep up with everything I usually do was only making things worse.

Feeling overwhelmed now and then is normal for me, as it is for most people.  Most of us lead busy lives with responsibilities that we can’t drop every time they feel a little too heavy.  I volunteer regularly at an open-admission animal shelter, and I can promise you that every single person who either works for or volunteers at an open-admission animal shelter is all too familiar with feeling overwhelmed.  It’s just part of the package.  And I know the same is true for parents with little children, people with super-stressful jobs, those who are primary care-takers for aging parents, just to name a few.  There are times when know that we’re trying our best, but we also know that our best is not quite good enough.

Dealing with our own issues is hard enough, but we are also constantly aware of the onslaught of tragedies that are playing out in the world.  The Las Vegas massacre, Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, the earthquake in Mexico–the bad news just keeps coming, and it becomes almost impossible to even process it after a while.  Honestly, it’s not  surprising that most of us feel overwhelmed at times.  And when we do, sometimes the best response is to take a little break from it all.

Taking a break doesn’t come naturally to me, probably because it feels too much like wimping out.  I have a tendency to think that I should be able to handle whatever life happens to throw at me, and that admitting there are times when I can’t is the same as admitting that I am weak.  But I’m not.  I’m just like everyone else:  I have my limits.  And when I hit them, I need to step back and allow myself to catch my breath.

So this past week, I didn’t write my usual blog post for no other reason that it felt like too much work.  I gave myself a couple of days to perform only the essential chores and let the other stuff slide.  I didn’t accept any invitations for social gatherings.  I watched only enough news to learn the basic facts, then either turned the TV off or switched to a different channel.  I let my phone ring out more than once, knowing that any important messages would be left on my voice mail.

And you know what?  It worked.  Taking a break from it all didn’t make the world any better or make any of my problems go away, as nice as that would be.  But it did change my attitude and it did restore my confidence in my ability to cope with the the things I need to handle.  My head doesn’t hurt anymore, and I’m looking forward to seeing some old friends this weekend.

I am a strong person, but that doesn’t mean I can be strong enough all the time.  And for those times when I’m not strong enough, a little “time out” is exactly what’s needed.

A Delicate Balance

I’ve gained almost ten pounds in the past two years, and I’m blaming it on this blog.  It takes a lot of time to write my posts and answer the comments on them, and it takes even more time to read and comment on all the other blogs I follow.  And to make matters worse, once I’m sitting at my computer, I feel the need to read and answer my emails, and then to head on over to Facebook to see if anyone has posted anything more interesting than the latest political outrage or a photo of their lunch.  And all of this takes time, which means I’m spending more and more time sitting, which we all know is not exactly good for our bodies.  Hence the weight gain in the two years I’ve been writing this blog.

And honestly, it’s not just my body that suffering from all those hours spent sitting in front of my computer.  The internet is a wonderful thing, but it can also be incredibly depressing.  The non-stop bad news, the hateful comments and name-calling, and even the photos of lost pets can be overwhelming at times.  If I’m not careful, surfing the world-wide web can leave me thinking that this world is just plain mean and dangerous, and that basic human decency is nothing more than an illusion.

So what do I do?  Do I abandon my blog, deactivate my Facebook account, unplug my computer and live “off the grid” for the rest of my life?   Or do I just pretend that I’m not spending far too much time looking through pictures posted by people I barely know when I could be doing something far more productive?  (And by the way, it’s not “creeping” to look through people’s Facebook posts and photos.  If something is private, don’t put it on social media in the first place.)

I know many people who don’t do social media, and even some who rarely, if ever, utilize the internet.  They’re happy with their choice, and that’s great.  But it’s not the right choice for me.  I like the way I’ve connected with old friends, and keep in touch with far-away family and friends through Facebook, and I’ve become rather dependent on the ability to easily find so much useful information just by Googling it.  Even more, I love blogging because it has me writing regularly again and has connected me to terrific writers and readers from all over the world.  I honestly don’t want to give any of that up.

Which leaves me with only one obvious choice:  find a balance.  There is a huge middle ground between wasting hours every day sitting in front of my computer and abandoning it altogether.  I can write my blog, keep my Facebook account and otherwise use the internet while still making sure I get physical exercise every single day.   I can skim the news stories on the internet, reading only the ones I need to, and skip the comment section altogether.  I can enjoy seeing the photos of my friend’s new grandchildren on Facebook while blocking the posts that I know are going to ruin my mood for the rest of the day.

It’s just a matter of discipline and taking control of my life and making intentional choices about how I want to spend my time.  Of course it won’t be easy, but so many things that are worthwhile and necessary for living a meaningful life aren’t especially easy.  And it’s either that or go shopping for some bigger jeans….

Life is like…

IMG_2531With all due respect to Forrest Gump, I don’t believe that life is really like a box of chocolates.  Personally, I believe that everyday life is actually far more like doing laundry.  Because no matter how many loads I wash, I know there’s always going to be more that needs to be done.  I never get to the point where I can say, “That’s it!  I washed, dried, folded, and put away all those clothes, and now I’ll never have to do laundry again!”  Doing the laundry is an ongoing process, which makes it very much like so much of the rest of my life.

For instance, when it comes to home and yard maintenance, we no sooner complete one project than we are faced with another.  We repaired out driveway last week, which means it’s time to replace our garage door and dig up three dead bushes.  And at the Animal Shelter where I volunteer, no matter how many dogs I walk and am thrilled to see get adopted into their forever home, there are always more dogs coming in that need to be walked and cared for until it’s their turn to be adopted.  Just like the laundry, it’s a never-ending cycle.

Even when I think something is coming to an end, I often find out that it isn’t.  I went to the doctor yesterday for what I thought was the final check up on the varicose vein treatment on my right leg, so I was surprised when he strolled into the examining room bearing a tray of syringes.  Apparently, I needed another treatment for minor veins, so here I sit in my support hose for another week.  (They look so fashionable when worn with summer shorts and dresses.)  When I was leaving, he asked if I wanted to do the next treatment in six weeks or wait until Fall, when he’s going to laser the varicose vein in my left leg.  And so the fun continues….

Just like laundry, life presents us with both loads that are light and loads that are heavy, and we have no choice but to handle them all.  And just like when we do laundry, sometimes we are successful (“I got the stain out!”) and sometimes we fail (“That stain is permanent!”).  Occasionally, we do something stupid (such as running a new wool sweater through both the washing machine and the dryer), and all we can do is forgive ourselves and move on, hoping we manage to handle things better the next time.

I honestly believe that few things in life are a matter of “one and done,” and that a big part of success stems from our willingness to just keep plugging away to the best of our abilities.  And it helps to remember that it’s not just the bad stuff, or even the everyday mundane stuff, that keeps on coming, but the good stuff as well.  We will always have something to celebrate and be grateful for, if we are willing to look for it

I could say more, but I think I’ve made my point.  Also, I’ve got to go throw another load of laundry in.

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.

One Dog At A Time

IMG_0282People often ask me how I manage to cope with volunteering at a large, open-admission animal shelter.  “Isn’t it just too depressing?” they ask.  “Don’t you want to take them all home?  And how can you stand knowing that not all of them get adopted?”

I’m no fool.  (I may not be overly bright, but I really don’t think I’m a fool.)  I’m a middle-aged woman with declining physical strength and limited financial resources, so I’m well aware that I won’t be able to single-handedly save all the dogs that wind up at the shelter.   Beyond that, I know I won’t be able to even make a dent in the huge problems that come from pet overpopulation, or animal abuse and neglect. There are too many people willing to take out their frustration and anger on animals, and even more people who thoughtlessly discard pets who have become inconvenient just like so much garbage.  Sadly, people who work or volunteer at animal shelters become far too familiar with the darker side of human nature.

What I have learned to do is concentrate on what I can fix.  I can take a shelter dog out of its run for a nice walk, giving it a chance to potty outside of its run, get some fresh air and sunshine, and, if needed, a chance to learn some basic manners to make it more adoptable.  I can show a dog who came to the shelter knowing only abuse or neglect from humans that people can also be kind and loving.  I can make a dog’s stay at the shelter less stressful, and when it does get adopted, I can feel a little satisfaction in knowing that I was a small part of that process.

It’s partly a “one dog at a time” philosophy that keeps me going.  I try to concentrate on that fact that I am helping this dog, right now, and believe me, the dog lets me know it appreciates my effort.  Most dogs like to go for walks, but shelter dogs absolutely LOVE to go for walks, and they don’t try to hide their enthusiasm.  But what really makes it possible for me to keep heading down to the shelter, even on the days when I find it a bit too overwhelming and depressing, is the fact that I’m not alone.

Sure, I can take pride in knowing that, on my own, I am able to walk and help a small number of shelter dogs.  But the good news is that there are lots of other volunteers who are doing the exact same thing.  I’m just one of a large number of people who are willing to spend their time helping shelter dogs.  And when enough of us show up on the same morning, we can get all the dogs on the adoption floor out for a walk (with all the accompanying benefits), even when we’re full and there are over 70 of them. By working together and supporting each other, we are able to help a whole lot of shelter dogs, each and every day.

So whenever I find myself getting discouraged by the huge number of unwanted, abused or neglected dogs that need help, I try to remind myself that what is really important is that I simply continue to chip away at the problem by doing what I can, when I can.  As an individual, all I can ever do is give my best effort.  But I am always so very thankful for all the other individuals who are also giving their personal best,  by doing what they can, when they can.   Because together, we manage to accomplish amazing things.