Gratitude

There are times in life when it’s hard not to feel sorry for ourselves, and this is definitely one of them.  We’re grieving for our old way of life, when we could come and go as we pleased,  hang out with friends and family, and being in a large crowd wasn’t dangerous and illegal.  We’re worried that we might get seriously ill, or that someone we love might get sick and or die, and our hearts break for all of those who are grieving a loved one right now or battling this virus themselves.  It’s natural to feel overwhelmed, anxious and depressed, and of course, that is often exactly what we are feeling these days.

But we’re in this for the long haul, and personally, I can’t live in a constant state of worry and fear.  So I try very hard to focus on the things in my life that are still good, right here and now, even in the midst of the chaos.  And I’ve found that once I stop worrying quite so much about what might happen and yearning quite so much for what I once had, I realize that there are still many things in my life that inspire nothing but gratitude.

I’m grateful that I still have my health, and that no one in my family has yet caught this virus.  I know that can change at any time, which is why I’m also incredibly grateful for all the brave souls in the health care field who are risking their own health every time they go to work.   Their dedication and courage will not be forgotten anytime soon.

I’m glad that I’m able to provide childcare for my grandson while his daycare is closed, because few things are better than spending time with a grandchild.  And as anyone who cares for toddlers knows, they are a wonderful distraction from the worries in life, both big and small.

I’m grateful that I have a back yard I can enjoy when I feel the need to get out of my house, especially now that there are signs of Spring everywhere I look.  In the midst of so much loss, it’s reassuring to see the signs of new life in the budding trees and the blooming flowers.  Spring is all about new birth and renewal, and that’s a message we can use right now.

I’m grateful that so far, I’ve been able to get everything I truly need in terms of food and basic supplies.  The empty shelves in the supermarkets do fill back up, and the temporary shortages remind me not to take any of it for granted.  Even in the face of this contagious virus, people are still producing food and medicine, delivering it to the stores, and working at those stores so that the rest of us can have what we need to live.  And immense gratitude is the only possible response.

I’m grateful for the small things that make these days so much easier to bear:  getting lost in a good book, spending the evening playing Yahtzee with my husband, and talking to my mom on the phone every day, especially when she tells me she’s doing just fine.  I’m cooking more than I have in years, so I’m especially grateful that my husband always tells me that what comes out of my kitchen “tastes great,” even those times when I know it doesn’t.

But most of all, I’m grateful for all the wonderful people in my life who take the time to stay in touch because there is no way in the world I would get through the upcoming weeks without their support.  Sharing our worries, offering each other encouragement, helping each other find some way to laugh and be happy, even for a little while, makes all the difference.  So to everyone who is reaching out right now, through phone calls, texts, emails, blogs, or social media….thank you.  Because you are a reminder that together, we really will get through this.  And I couldn’t possibly be more grateful for that.

Something New

IMG_1130When I was a child, Valentine’s Day meant school parties and special family dinners that featured heart-shaped gelatin molds and my very own box of chocolates.  When I hit the awkward teen-age years, the holiday was mostly a painful reminder of the boyfriend I didn’t have.  Then I found true love, and for the past forty-something years, Valentine’s Day was celebrated with flowers, chocolates and dinner at a nice restaurant, all of which I enjoyed very much.

But tastes change as we age, and in recent years both my husband and I began to tire of the crowds at the restaurants on February 14.  While the roses he brought me were beautiful, we couldn’t help feeling a bit scammed by the fact that their prices doubled (or even tripled) around Valentine’s Day.  And I have definitely reached the age where eating a huge box of chocolates is not a good idea, either in terms of health or being able to fit into my pants.

So this year, my husband and I decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day by babysitting our grandson so our daughter and son-in-law could enjoy an evening out.  Like all parents with full-time jobs and young children, they could use  more “couple time” and we love nothing more than being with our grandson.  Which why I spent this year’s Valentine’s evening snuggling with a two-year old while reading him bedtime stories.  And loving every minute of it.

I’ve come to believe that one of the secrets to living a happy life is the ability to let go of traditions, expectations, and even relationships that no longer work.  When our traditions stop giving us joy, it’s time to find new ones.  When familiar thought-patterns keep us nursing old grudges and reinforce negative self-images, it’s time to look for new perspectives.  And when people we were once close to make it clear that they are no longer interested in spending time with us or including us in their gatherings, then it’s time to accept that and focus our time and energy on those who do value our company.

It’s not a matter of turning our back on the past and all of the happy memories we have.  It simply means that we understand that all of us change, and that the things that once worked for us may not be such a good fit anymore.  More importantly, it means that we’re recognizing that there are new possibilities just waiting to be explored that just might make us every bit as happy as what we are leaving behind.  We just have to be brave enough to try them.

There was a time when I thought the best possible Valentine’s Day celebrations involved lots of flowers, cards, chocolates, and dinner at a fancy restaurant.  I couldn’t have imagined wanting to spend the evening eating store-bought macaroni and cheese, salad from a bag and reheated chicken nuggets, followed by bathing a toddler and then reading him the exact same book six times in a row before he finally fell asleep.  Yet that is exactly how I celebrated this year.  And you know what?  It was one of the nicest Valentine’s Days I’ve had in years.

Looking Forward

I know it sounds trite, but I honestly can’t believe that 2019 is already over.   I know I’ve  reached the age where time seems to go by at warp speed, but I’m still having a hard time accepting that we are now into a brand-new year.

IMG_5150Part of the problem is probably that this past year has been an especially busy one, in both good ways and bad.  It was a good year for travel, with a relaxing family vacation in Florida and several visits to out-of-town family and friends.  The highlight was a wonderful cruise on the Rhine River last May that enabled us to visit four different countries and sail along the famously scenic Rhine Gorge.  We also welcomed a new dog into our home, which is both a joy and an adjustment as we all learn each other’s ways.  (He’s taught us not to leave food unattended, and we’re trying to teach him that furniture is off-limits for dogs.)

The biggest challenge, by far, was my mother’s decision to move into a small apartment in a nearby retirement community.  It was absolutely the right decision, but it involved a tremendous amount of time and work to get her packed up and moved into her new home.  And then we had to go through all the stuff she and my father had accumulated during their lifetime and decide what to do with it all.  (Note to self:  get rid of all unnecessary possessions.  Immediately.  Don’t saddle our kids with this task.)  Getting the house ready for it’s new owners was the next step, which involved lots of cleaning, painting, updating, and dealing with a few unpleasant discoveries such as the impressive mold growth under the kitchen sink from an undetected leak.

All in all, the past few months have been such a whirlwind of activity that the holidays basically sneaked up on me this year, and by the time I got into the Christmas spirit, they were almost over.  Can it truly be time to take the Christmas tree down when it seems as if I just put it up yesterday?   Thank goodness for the traditions that we observe each year, because those provide the memories that make the holidays so special and real, even during the years that they rush by a little too quickly.

And thank goodness for the changes that each year brings, too.  It’s comforting to know that Mom is so happy in her new apartment, with a support system that she needs at this stage of her life.  It’s fun to see my daughter and son-in-law buying my mom’s old house and making it into their own family home.  Best of all was the special present we received from my son and daughter-in-law on Christmas morning:  the news that we’re going to be adding another grandchild to our family this coming June.

So while I might not have been quite ready to say good-by to 2019, I’m not really sorry that it’s over.  I’ll treasure the good memories and try hard to remember the lessons I learned from the challenges.  But mostly, I’ll look forward into 2020 and do my best to make it a very good year.  Happy New Year to you all!

A Dog’s Christmas

I already wrote a post about how much I loved Thanksgiving, but I have to tell you that I loved Christmas even more!  It began when Mom started baking Christmas cookies in early December, and I learned that if I sat and stared at her with big, pitiful eyes, she would usually let me have a little taste of one.  I also learned that Mom is a bit of klutz who often drops stuff on the floor when she’s cooking, and that if I move really fast, I can snatch it up and eat it before she stops me.  So one way or another, I got to sample every batch of cookies that came out of the kitchen.

M79Qb91dQvWsXuyBi9Lo%QEven better, I heard that if I was a really, really, good dog (and I am, because snarfing up cookies that are spilled on the floor doesn’t count as being bad), I could expect a gift or two from Santa Dog on Christmas morning.  I even got my very own stocking to hang on the mantle so that Santa Dog would be sure to remember me.

I also found out that Christmas isn’t celebrated on just one day.  My parents had lots of friends and family over all through December, and all of those visits meant delicious food was served.  The best part was that not all of the guests believed in my parents’ “no food for dogs at the table” rule,  so lots of them slipped me a little tidbit when they thought my parents weren’t looking.  And afterwards, I was always in the kitchen to lend a paw in cleaning up and dealing with the leftovers.

There was just one part of Christmas that I didn’t really care for.  About a week before Christmas day, Mom told me that I needed a bath because I smelled.  And she was right, I did have a distinct aroma…a blend of wet fur, all the things in the yard I found to roll in, and a general doggie odor.  In other words, I smelled great!  Why she thought I needed a bath, I’ll never know, but she hauled me to the nearest dog wash and plunked me right in the tub.   The less said about the actual bath, the better.  I’ve heard the mind has a way of blocking out traumatic experiences, and I’m hoping that is true.  Except for the part where Mom accidentally turned on the water when she had the nozzle pointed right at her face, because that was pretty funny.

The best part of Christmas, though, was the actual day.  I went to bed extra early the night before because I heard Santa Dog only comes if you’re asleep, and I didn’t even budge from my dog bed when Mom and Dad came home late from the Christmas Eve service. And it worked!  I had two toys under the tree and some dog biscuits in my stocking on Christmas morning.  We also had family over for opening presents and breakfast, which was delicious.   Later that afternoon, my two doggie cousins came over to play and we had a terrific time running all over the yard.

Getting together with friends and family, sharing delicious food and cookies, getting wonderful presents…..how could I possibly not love Christmas?  It’s my favorite holiday, and I can’t wait to do it all over again next year!!

Love, Finn

Not Yet

I don’t think anyone loves Christmas more than I do.  I love the lights, the smell of a real Christmas tree, the music, the cookies, the cards, the parties, and even the shopping.  Christmas is the one holiday I really look forward to each year, and have ever since I can remember.  But here’s the thing:  the last time I checked, Christmas doesn’t actually come until December 25.

I still remember standing on our front lawn one night with my father, looking at at the Christmas lights on the house across the street.  “Now that’s really pushing the season!” my father told me, shaking his head in disgust.  He couldn’t believe that anyone would put their Christmas lights up on December 1st.  I wonder what my father would have said about the woman I recently saw happily stringing lights and bells across her fence on November 1st.  Then again, I probably know exactly what he would have said, and it wouldn’t have been complimentary.

IMG_2107Personally, I think my father may have been a little bit too strict in holding off on his Christmas celebrations.  (The first year my parents were married, he didn’t look for a tree until late Christmas eve and all the lots were closed, but that’s another story.)  But I admit that it bothers me to see Christmas lights up in early November and to see fully-decorated trees in windows weeks before Thanksgiving.  Yes, we all get to decide when we begin decorating for our favorite holidays, but it seems to me that there’s such a thing as “too early.”

It’s weird to see someone’s leftover Halloween decorations being displayed right next to a house that is all decked out for Christmas.  It’s annoying to hear Christmas carols being played in the grocery store while I’m still trying to decide what size turkey I’m going to need for Thanksgiving this year.  And while I understand that stores want to put out their holiday merchandise as early as possible, I resent being forced to buy wrapping paper and other Christmas paraphernalia in November because I know perfectly well it will all be picked over by December 6th.  And replaced with Valentine’s Day decorations by December 20th, if not before.

Besides, my tiny little mind doesn’t multi-task well, so all this blending of the holidays is confusing for me.  I like to concentrate on one thing at a time.  So what’s wrong with waiting until one holiday is over before we begin the celebrations for the next one?  Whatever happened to “living in the moment?”  And how can we possibly enjoy the anticipation of our favorite holiday when we’re surrounded by people who insist on acting as if it’s already here?

Yes, I love Christmas.  Always have, and always will.  Which is why I also believe that it’s a holiday worth waiting for…..

Moving Forward

I think my husband and I were just a teeny bit optimistic when it came to my mom’s move to her new retirement home.  Yes, she was moving from a spacious house to a one-bedroom apartment, but we thought we had the perfect system to handle it.  “Just pick the things that you want to take with you, and we’ll handle the rest,” we told Mom.  “It shouldn’t us take very long to clear out the house.”   Seriously, I don’t know what in the world we were thinking.

The problem wasn’t so much the sheer quantity of stuff that was left in her house even after Mom took everything she wanted to her new apartment, and even after all the members of the family had taken all the stuff they wanted.  The problem was trying to decide just exactly what to do with everything else, because her old house has to be cleared out before anyone can move in.  (The last time I checked, there’s not much demand for a house that is full of someone else’s stuff.)

We donated as much as we possibly could, and contacted antique dealers to see if there is any interest in buying some of the older items.  We filled several recycle bins with anything that could be recycled, and finally ordered a dumpster for the rest.  All of this took much more time and hard work than we had anticipated, but even that wasn’t the hardest part.  The hardest part was watching my mother visit her old house and seeing how sad it made her to watch a lifetime’s worth of accumulation being donated, recycled, and sometimes even trashed.

I understand her pain, and I do wish there was a way that we could keep everything she wants us to keep.  But we can’t.  We don’t live in a huge house, and our house is already pretty darned full of our own stuff.  Ditto for all the other members of the immediate family.  After stewing about it for a while (my way of dealing with conflict), I finally decided that we all needed to face a simple truth:  it’s time to move on.

So I told Mom that it’s perfectly normal to feel sad about letting go of some of her possessions.  But I also reminded her of how happy she is in her new home.  She loves her new apartment, and she raves about her new retirement community.  She says everyone she has met is so nice, and she enjoys all the social activities that are offered daily. They even have a room devoted to jigsaw puzzles, her favorite hobby.

Sure, Mom could have kept everything if she had chosen to stay alone in her house, surrounded by all her stuff.  But she chose to move to a retirement community where she would have an apartment small enough for her to easily manage and far more of a social life than she has enjoyed in years.  And the price she has to pay for that choice is giving up some of her possessions, even knowing that some of them won’t be “staying in the family.”

I believe the lesson for my Mom is really a lesson for us all.  Life is meant to be lived to the fullest, and we can’t do that when we cling to the past.  Letting go of the things that hold us back, whether they are material objects, old grudges we continue to nurse, or even belief systems that have become outdated, can be painful for sure.  But it’s the only way we’ll ever move forward and discover the promise of our future.

fullsizeoutput_54efIt helps to remember that the life we’re living today is the one that will be creating the memories of tomorrow.  Like, say, sharing a meal in your new apartment with your favorite (if only) great-grandson….

Try a Little Kindness

Late last Friday afternoon, almost all of St. Louis was under a severe thunderstorm warning, with a chance for tornadoes to develop.  I was worried that my daughter and son-in-law wouldn’t make it to the daycare center in time to get my grandson, so I offered to pick him up.  We all met at my house just before the storm broke.  Thankfully, we didn’t get any tornadoes, but we got a lot of rain in a very short amount of time.

fullsizeoutput_54c2At first it was sort of fun to stand on our front porch and watch the rain come down, once we were sure it was safe to do so.  But then we noticed that the water was steadily rising, and that some of the neighbor’s recycling bins were floating down the street.  Soon the water was up to the hubcap’s of my daughter’s car, which was parked in front of our house.  Our drive-way looked like a river, and we watched, fascinated, as several plastic drainage pipes floated down our driveway, followed by small branches and what looked like an Amazon Prime package.  As my one-year old grandson so eloquently put it, “Oh, no!”

We’ve lived in our house for over twenty-five years and this is only the second time I’ve seen this type of flooding.  When the rain finally let up and the water began to recede,  my husband went around back to see if our garage had been flooded.

The good news was that the inside of our garage was dry.  The bad news was that the mother of our new neighbor behind us was out in her daughter’s yard, inspecting the damage.  And she was, to put it mildly, a little out of sorts.  She didn’t understand how so much water ended up in her daughter’s back yard.  She shared her opinion that the three skinny bushes we had planted between our yards must have caused all that water to back up onto her daughter’s property, and wanted to know what kind of idiot would plant bushes there.  The situation was, she kept repeating, “unacceptable.”

My husband is normally a patient man.  He listened to her complaints, then pointed out that our houses sit at the bottom of our street and that the water from the top of our street flows downhill towards us.  And that the three scraggly bushes did nothing to prevent the thousands of gallons of water from pouring down our driveway, so they’d hardly cause a flood in her daughter’s yard.  But eventually he’d had enough, and came back inside, shaking his head at her behavior.  My guess is that this woman has never been nominated for neighbor of the year.

The thing is, I understood why she was upset.  Her daughter had recently moved into the house, and I’m sure it was very concerning for her to see the kind of flooding we experienced last Friday.  But what I can’t excuse is how determined she was to find someone to blame, and how she took her anger out on my husband.  That, in my opinion, is what’s truly “unacceptable.” We don’t always get to control our emotions, but we most certainly can control how we express them.  And from a purely practical standpoint, it’s never a good idea to alienate the people who live next to you.

Luckily, the young woman who actually lives in the house is very nice, and doesn’t seem to be angry at all.  Which means that I think she will be a nice neighbor, and who knows?  We might even be able to work together to figure out a way to redirect at least some of the water from heavy rains.

But meanwhile, I have to say that I’m hoping that her mother doesn’t visit very often……

Time Flies

If that old saying “time flies when you’re having fun” is true, then all I can say is, I must be having the time of my life.  Because time is flying by so quickly these days that I can barely keep up.  According to the calendar, Summer is drawing to a close.  But I swear it was just yesterday that I was busy replacing all the Winter clothes in my closet with light-weight Summer tops and capris.  How can it possibly be time to start thinking about Fall?

And it’s not just the seasons that are flying by.  The nieces and nephews that I watched grow up now have kids of their own, and some of those kids have already graduated from high school.  Logically, I know that means a whole lot of years have passed since my nieces and nephews were born.  But emotionally, I tend to believe that they all must have found some sort of time machine that turned them into mature adults in the blink of an eye.  And I can only assume that my own kids must have used the same machine, because how else could my youngest one be thirty?

I’ve always known that time is a relative thing, because I remember the days of my own childhood when I would sit in classroom, sneaking peeks at the wall clock while I waited impatiently for recess.  The minutes simply dragged by until that long-awaited recess bell finally rang and we all rushed outside to play.  And yet those fifteen minutes of recess just flew by, because it seemed as if I had barely started to have fun before the bell rang again and we all had to line up and go back in the school building.

But what I didn’t realize was the fact that the older I became, the faster time would speed by.  I didn’t know that I was going to reach a stage in my life when I really, really wanted time to slow down, and not just when I was having fun.  I had no idea that with age comes the understanding that our time in this world is limited, and meant to be savored and enjoyed as much as we possibly can.

It almost seems unfair that this is a lesson that we don’t seem to learn until we have lived long enough that we’ve become far too familiar with grief and loss, and stopped assuming that the people we care for the most will always be with us.  At age sixty-one, I’m also accepting that I no longer have a long lifetime ahead of me to pursue unfulfilled dreams or repair broken relationships.  So I suppose it’s only natural that I feel that time is passing by far too quickly now, and why I really wish there was a way to slow things down a bit.

Unfortunately, I have absolutely no control of the great cosmic clock, which will tick on at the same speed it always has, whether I like it or not.  The only thing I can do, and the only thing any of us can do, is to spend the time we have left wisely.  For me, that means letting go of petty jealousy and anger, and actually doing the things that I love rather than thinking that I’ll get around to it someday.  And most importantly, making sure I spend as much time with the people I love right now, while I still can.

Swiftly Fly The Years

It’s no secret that I’m not exactly young anymore.  I’m sixty years old, and could easily pass for a few years older than that (sagging chins and wrinkly skin runs in my family.)  I know I don’t have the strength and stamina I used to have; I never go anywhere without a pair of reading glasses, and I avoid mirrors whenever possible.  So you can see that I really do understand that I’ve become, shall we say, “a woman of a certain age.”

Which is why I can’t quite explain how shocked I was when I realized that my son, (the youngest of my two “children,”) had the audacity to turn thirty this past weekend.  I don’t remember being quite this surprised a couple of years ago, when my daughter turned thirty, although maybe that was because at that time I could take comfort in the thought that at least one of my offspring was still in his twenties.  But my son is my youngest, and now he’s thirty.  How in the world did that happen?  When did my baby boy become a thirty-year old man?

fullsizeoutput_4ee1I know it’s sounds beyond cliche, but it really does seem like just yesterday when he was just a little guy, full of energy, fun and endless curiosity.  I remember how he struggled to pronounce the letter “r” which always made him sound as if he was speaking with a southern drawl.  He could be stubborn when it suited him, but that wasn’t always a bad thing.  If he was interested in something, he threw himself into it with his whole heart.  Once when I was picking him up from preschool, the teacher handed me a large paper bag to take home, filled with that day’s art project.   Apparently, the children had been asked to paint a picture on a coffee can lid.  All the other children painted one.  My son painted nineteen of them.

But now my son and daughter are all grown up and their childhoods are mere memories.  Now we’re all adults.  Sometimes I struggle with just how much advice I’m allowed to give at this stage of our lives, and exactly where the line is between being helpful and being intrusive.  As a mother, I think I’ll always worry and want them to take good care of themselves and make wise decisions.  But our role as a parent changes and evolves as our children grow up and become independent adults.  All I can say is that I try my best to say and do the right thing.  And I’m beyond grateful that I raised two forgiving souls who are willing to overlook the times I get it just a little bit wrong.

So yes, now I am definitely an “older” woman,  but the more I think about it, the more I realize that is perfectly okay.  This stage of life allows me to focus more on myself and to follow my own interests.   And when I look at the fine young man my son has become, I find that I really don’t mind so much that he just happens to be thirty years old…..

Another Year Over

I have never gotten into the habit of writing regularly in my journal, but I do make it a point to take lots of photographs, print them out and label them, and then place them in a photo album.  Those albums come in handy when I’m trying to remember which year we went on a particular vacation, or who was present at one of our family gatherings.  All I have to do is leaf through my photo albums until I find the right photo, and voila!  I have my answer.

And as 2018 draws to a close, I find myself thinking back over the year and all that happened in it, both the good and the bad.  I don’t really need my photo albums to recall the moments that were most significant to me personally, as my mental pictures are still very clear.

IMG_4149I remember the first time I saw my grandson, just moments after his birth, and how perfect he looked and  how I fell in love with him so instantly and completely.  I remember the hot summer night we spent in the swimming pool at my son’s new house, enjoying a pre-4th of July family dinner and swim party.  I remember sharing my 60th birthday dinner with friends I have known for almost every one of those sixty years.  I remember answering the door on Halloween night and being greeted by a tiny little penguin who promptly took my hands and waddled his way into our living room with a huge smile on his face.

I also remember gently stroking our beloved dog, Lucy, as she took her last breath.  I remember hearing the sad news of the deaths of my sister-in-law’s mother and the mother of a good friend on the same weekend, and how bad I felt that the funerals were hundreds of miles away so that I couldn’t attend both services.  I remember how my heart broke when I heard the horrible and tragic news that a dear friend’s beautiful daughter died suddenly and unexpectedly.  2018 was not a year without tragedy and profound sorrow.

Some of my memories are rather bittersweet.  I remember the how scared I felt when my grandson had to be hospitalized for RSV when he was only ten months old.  But I’ll never forget the sight of my son-in-law singing to his sick little son during a particularly unpleasant procedure, because he knew how much the little guy likes music.  Love is expressed in so many ways, and truly is what gets us all through the hard times.

2018 will soon be history, and I know that eventually my memories of most of the year won’t be nearly so vivid.  (Good thing I have those photo albums.) But the changes and the events of the past year have definitely left their mark.  And all I can hope is that I am just a little bit wiser, a little bit stronger, and most of all, a little kinder than I was twelve short months ago.

Happy New Year, everyone!