Unexpected Gifts

When I first began this blog, I kept to a strict schedule of publishing a new post at least every four days.  I worried that I wasn’t posting often enough, because I’d read that all successful blogs posted something new every single day, but I also knew that daily posting would be too much for me.  Eventually, I settled on my current blogging schedule of posting once a week or so, and that usually seems to work out just fine.

Usually, but not always. Because when it came time to write my most recent post, I found myself coming up with one excuse after another for not actually sitting down at my computer and writing.  I’m not exactly sure what my problem was, although life has been particularly hectic lately and I am easily distracted.  Still, I knew writing requires self discipline and I finally told myself, very firmly, that I was going to write a post on Thursday, come hell or high water.  I had made my plan, and I was going to stick to it, no excuses accepted.

But that didn’t happen.  Thursday flew by with visits from multiple repairmen and delivery services, all of which required some major rearranging of our house and furniture, and a couple of quick trips to the store.  And the evening was even more interesting, when we were hit with an unexpected storm that brought 70-miles per hour winds and heavy rains.  We lost both our power and our internet service, but counted ourselves lucky not to sustain any major property damage. 

By Friday morning our power had come back on but our internet was still out, so writing a blog post wasn’t an option.  But I wouldn’t have had time to write one anyway, because my son’s house and my granddaughter’s daycare center were still without power, and so I spent the day helping care for my granddaughter while my son and his wife worked from our home. 

I’m embarrassed to say that I actually felt guilty, just for a little while, for neglecting my blog after I had been so determined to write that overdo post.  (I’ve always been a little slow on the uptake, but this was a stretch, even for me.)  But finally I came to my senses and realized:  I wasn’t neglecting my blog at all.  I was simply taking care of things that needed my attention a bit more urgently and that were a lot more important.  Storms happen.  Grandchildren require care.  Washing machines break and need to be replaced as soon as possible. 

BWa7CwnUQ2aoDvsK6Di43QYes, my blog is important to me and I love the creative outlet (and self-discipline) it helps provide.  But there are going to be times when it takes a back seat to the other demands on my time and that’s perfectly okay.  Sometimes our normal routines are interrupted, but we get back to them eventually.   And in this case, the interruption meant I got to spend the day with one of my very favorite people in the world…..so I’m not about to complain.

 

For All To See

TheVogtFamily-72I love spending time with my three-year old grandson, and whenever I do, I know I’m going to hear “Watch me!” or “Watch this!” a lot.  And I’m perfectly okay with that, because that’s what little children do.  They are very focused on getting the attention and the approval of the people around them, and few things make them happier than our praise and affirmations.  Besides, I really do enjoy watching my grandson as he masters a new skill, or simply witnessing the joy he brings to his everyday experiences.

Sometimes I think we would all do well to act more like a child now and then, but the key is to make sure that we’re being childlike only in appropriate ways….finding joy in simple things, being honest with our emotions and living in the moment as children tend to do.  Sadly, the childlike trait most adults seem to be embracing these day is the need for the constant attention and approval of others.  And that’s not a healthy way to live our lives at all.

Yes, I know that social media makes it so very easy to document and share almost every aspect of our days, but just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.  Of course it’s fun to post a few photos of our recent vacation, or to share our favorite pictures from our recent photo sessions, etc., and there’s nothing wrong with that.  But I think the trouble begins when we find ourselves somewhere fun, having a great time, and our first instinct is to whip our our phones and photograph it, so we can post it where others and see it and validate our experience with their responses.  Or when we try to process our emotions by sharing every single aspect of our trauma through daily photos, posts, and even videos.

There’s a fine line between healthy sharing and over-sharing, I think.  And one of the ways to know when we’ve crossed it is when we find ourselves worrying too much about the responses our social media posts generate.  If you had a great time at the neighborhood block party, then it really was a positive experience, even if your photos of it were largely ignored on social media.  And if you’ve thought long and hard about your stance on a particular issue and are comfortable with the conclusions you drawn, your opinion isn’t any less valid just because no one in your comment section agrees with you.  We don’t really need other people to approve our emotions, thoughts, or actions, no matter how much we’re encouraged to believe we do.

90tuq7S5RiKvHbPFH0wSo my advice, to myself and everyone else, is remember that not everything needs to be shared, and how much more we can enjoy ourselves when we’re not trying to document something and experience it at the same time.  Maybe the next time we see a beautiful sunset we should just sit quietly and look at it, drinking in nature’s beauty.  Or the next time we’re feeling emotional, we should just call someone we trust to empathize and help us feel better.  Because often, the most important moments in our lives happen when no one is looking at all….

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……

The Most Wonderful Time

May has always been one of my favorite months.  When I was a child, I loved it because May started with my birthday celebration and ended with the last day of school.  (I know some children actually liked going to school, but I was never one of them.  I can still remember the pure joy of walking home on that last day of the school year, knowing that I had almost three months of glorious freedom before I had to go back.)  These days, I don’t greet my birthdays with quite the same enthusiasm and it’s been decades since I graduated from school, but I still think May has an awful lot going for it.

In May, it’s usually warm enough to enjoy being outside, even if I sometimes need a sweater or light  jacket.  It’s when I plant the flowers that brighten my yard, and almost always the month when my azalea bushes bloom.   I love eating dinner outside, either at a restaurant or on our own patio, because this time of year the insect population hasn’t yet exploded and it’s possible to enjoy a good meal with out fending off hungry flies or blood-thirsty mosquitoes.  (And if you’re ever making the argument that even Mother Nature makes the occasional mistake, just bring up mosquitoes.)

Early May also brings Mother’s Day gatherings and, for racing fans, the  Kentucky Derby, which I traditionally celebrate with a small party and home-made mint juleps.  I didn’t really intend to start an annual Derby party tradition when I threw the first one all those years ago for some church friends, but the following year the church secretary called and wanted to know the start time of this year’s Derby party so she could include it in the church newsletter.  And let’s face it, once an event is in the church newsletter, it’s going to happen, so you may as well just go along with it.

o+cRJw0HQJOhXYdVsqWIMgThis year May was a little different, since I was on my beloved Sanibel Island for both my birthday and the Kentucky Derby, spending a quiet week with family.  But it was still a very good month.  My granddaughter turned one, and few things are better than celebrating your very first granddaughter’s very first birthday.   I was also able to host a small backyard family gathering in honor of my sister-in-law’s recent marriage, and to attend a barbeque with good friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen since the pandemic started.  One way or another, this year’s May brought many happy moments, which were all the sweeter because last year’s was basically a washout.

But now May is drawing to a close, and that means one thing and one thing only:  Summer has arrived.  Yes, I know that the calendar says Summer doesn’t arrive until late June, and that those who live in the southern hemisphere are actually approaching Winter.   But I firmly believe that when Memorial Day ends, Summer begins.  And I’m ready for it:  bring on the picnics, the open swimming pools, the temperatures that allow me to go barefoot outdoors, the long days and short nights. Bring it all!  All of it, that is, except for the mosquitoes.  Those nasty little things can stay far, far away…..

Silver Linings

My usual New Year’s post would include a list of all that has happened in the year before, both the good and the bad.  But I’m thinking that no one wants to read a list of all that went wrong in 2020, because let’s face it:  living through 2020 has been depressing enough and there’s no need to dwell on it.  And while the silver linings of this past year were rare, they were also very real, and I’d much prefer to talk about those.

Hard times teach us so much about ourselves and the society in which we live.  And while I saw far too many people (including politicians in both political parties) using this pandemic as an excuse to advance their own agendas, I also saw so many people go out of their way to help others in need.  I was in awe of the many ways people found to reach out to others in a time of unprecedented restrictions on human interaction, and know that personally, I am so very grateful for all those who took the time to show they cared just when I needed their support the most.  If nothing else, 2020 taught us that the human spirit is far stronger than any virus, and that nothing can stifle love, kindness, and compassion.

ncc8I2OwR%2G1yDUq6wYXgAs much as I hate all the devastation that this pandemic has wrought, I have to admit that it has taught me some valuable lessons.  There was a time when I seriously believed I was too old to take care of a young child anymore, and even struggled with understanding my role as a grandparent.  But then my grandson’s daycare closed for eleven weeks and I nervously stepped to the plate to offer my services as primary care-giver.  And it was wonderful!  I was more tired than I had been in years, but I also became much closer to my grandson than I ever would have been under normal circumstances.

Not being able to eat out as much as we had before reminded me that I like to cook, and that some meals really do taste best when they come out of my own kitchen.  The effort that it takes to be able to see loved ones forced me to realize that close relationships really are worth the effort, and should never be taken for granted.  Even the empty grocery shelves that I found so troubling early in this pandemic had a lesson to offer, as I will never again just assume that I will be able to buy what I need, exactly when I need it.  Sometimes we don’t recognize all the gifts in our lives until they are taken away, even temporarily.

IMG_0204While I would have preferred that 2020 had gone differently, for me and for everyone else in the world, it wasn’t entirely a wash-out of a year, and not just because this was the year I gained a precious granddaughter.  I learned a lot in the past twelve months, and I truly believe that some of those lessons will help me be a better person in the years to come.  I’ve learned to have more faith in myself and in the people around me, to remember that the best way to deal with adversity is with compassion and patience, and most of all, to never lose hope for a better future.  Happy New Year, everyone!

It’s Personal

Sometimes I worry about my grandchildren.  Not because there’s anything wrong with them, because there isn’t.  In my eyes, they’re both perfect and I seriously doubt if anything is going to change my opinion about that. (If grandmothers can’t provide unconditional love and acceptance, then what’s the point in having them?)  It’s just that every now and then, like most parents and grandparents, I find myself worrying about exactly what kind of world they’re going to be living in when they grow up.

There are always plenty of big issues to worry about, and goodness knows we have enough of them these days, but I’m talking more about the little things.  Because the world is changing so quickly, and sometimes I wonder if that means that the next generation is going to miss out on so much that I grew up believing was important.  I realize that cursive writing, the ability to read a map, make change, and do basic research any way other than looking it up on Google or asking Alexa are all fading away, and I can live with that.  (Although I think that relying too much on one source for all your information is never a good thing.)  But I was also raised with the belief that I had a right to personal privacy, and I do worry that privacy is a concept that is fast becoming extinct.

It’s not just that all our internet activity is being monitored, stored and sold to the highest bidder.  Or even that most households now have a virtual assistant (like Alexa) which has to be listening all the time in order to know when to respond to us.  (Remember when almost every spy movie involved finding the “bug” that the enemy had planted in the hero’s house?  Now we plant them ourselves, and pay for it.)  But I can’t help thinking that children who have grown up having so much of their personal life being played out on-line aren’t going to have the faintest concept of what privacy even is.

I’ve heard the argument that people who have nothing to hide shouldn’t worry about a lack of privacy, but I don’t buy it.  Privacy isn’t about hiding our faults and sins.  It’s about being in control of what parts of our lives we choose to share with others, and what parts we choose not to share.  And I don’t like the idea of that choice being taken away.

This is a public blog, and I make every effort to be completely honest when I’m writing it.  I’m very open about my thoughts and feeling on the topics I write about in each post.  But there are aspects of my life that I choose not to write about, and that’s usually because I’m either respecting someone else’s privacy or protecting my own.  Not every single thing we do, think, or say needs to be for public consumption and the inevitable judgement that comes with it.

Of course a certain amount of sharing ourselves with others is a good thing, and all healthy relationships are based on that.  But I believe that what we share, and who we share it with, should always be our own personal choice.

Simple Pleasures

When I was a child, one of my favorite outings was a trip to the local zoo.  Sometimes we went as a family, but most often we went with neighborhood friends, all piled into my mother’s car.  The adults would sit in the front seat,  with the other moms holding their babies on their laps, and the rest of us kids would squeeze into the back seat.  If we couldn’t all fit, we’d make the smaller ones sit on the floor.  (This was in the days before seat belts and car seats.)   Once we arrived at the zoo, we’d have a marvelous time running around and seeing all the exotic animals, riding the zoo train, and when our moms weren’t looking, fishing coins out of the fountains to be used at the nearby concession stands.

Later, when I had my own kids, I loved taking them to the zoo as well.  It was fun to watch them enjoy the same things I had loved so much as a child, and to take them for a ride on the very same zoo train.  The zoo has changed and improved in many ways over the years, and thankfully provides a much more natural habitat for its animals these days, but a visit there is still a little trip down memory lane.

Now that my children are grown, I was looking forward to taking my two-year old grandson to the zoo this summer.    Sadly, the zoo had to close temporarily when the pandemic struck and when it did open back up, there were many new restrictions in place.  Reservations were required, masks must be worn, and many attractions remained closed.  I wasn’t sure it was worth the bother, and decided my plans to take my grandson to the zoo were yet another casualty of the Covid virus.

But when my daughter told me she’d made reservations for us to take my grandson to the zoo, I agreed to go.  We came prepared with our masks, a wagon to pull my grandson around in when he was tired of walking, and plenty of cold drinks to keep us hydrated.  While we didn’t have a typical zoo experience,  I can honestly say it was still an enjoyable one.

IMG_6591

We saw plenty of animals, (my grandson liked the elephants the best) and, of course, rode the zoo train just as I had all those years ago.  It was fun to see a two-year old get so excited when he saw his favorite animals and enjoy the train ride so much.  When it was over, I thanked my daughter for taking the initiative to plan the outing, knowing that if she hadn’t, I would have missed out on a very special experience.

And the next time I think that trying to do something I normally enjoy is just too much trouble these days, I’m going to remember that trip to the zoo.  Just because I can’t do many things as I normally would, doesn’t mean I can’t do them at all.  I can still invite friends over, we just sit outside and keep our distance.  I can still enjoy food from my favorite restaurants, I just eat it on their patio or get carry-out.  I may not be able to browse the library, but I can order the books I want and pick them up curbside.

Life is certainly different now, and sometimes it’s hard not to be discouraged.  But I think if we’re willing to be flexible and a little determined, we’ll find that there are still plenty of simple pleasures just waiting to be enjoyed.

The Company You Keep

No doubt about it, 2020 hasn’t exactly turned out to be a banner year.  Aside from the birth of our new granddaughter (which was a wonderful gift), it has mostly been a series of hardships that had to be both accepted and endured.  From learning that our dog tested positive for heart worm in February, to the arrival of the Covid virus in Spring and the subsequent lock-downs which resulted in the cancellation of every single event and gathering we had been looking forward to, to the worry of our granddaughter’s premature birth, followed closely by my husband’s cancer diagnosis, I feel as if I’ve hardly had a chance to draw a breath, much less process it all.

But like everyone else whose world has been turn upside down in the past few months, I don’t really have a choice other than to do my best to cope with this new reality.  And so I do what I can to adapt and learn new coping strategies.  It helps to do the small things that cheer me up, like buying fresh flowers for our house or making sure I always have a stack of new books to read when I can find the time.  I’ve learned the importance of self-care, and am getting much better at saying “no” to obligations that  threaten to overwhelm me.  If nothing else, I’ve  come to accept my limitations, and that’s a good thing.

I’ve also discovered the importance of discernment.  There are days when I take a break from the news, knowing that all the craziness and conflict will still be there when I actually feel strong enough to hear it.  I hit the “unfollow” button on Facebook in order to keep my newsfeed free from the petty bickering and tribal chest-thumping that many feel obligated to post on a daily basis.  Sometimes I let my phone go directly to voice mail, particularly when it rings just as I am sitting down to a hot meal or settling into a comfortable chair with a good book.   It took a while, but I’ve finally learned not to feel guilty about that.

More importantly, I’ve learned to be a bit more particular about the people I talk to on a regular basis.  I’ve always believed in accepting others for exactly who they are, and that is still the case.  But now that I find myself living almost constantly on the fine line between coping and feeling completely overwhelmed, I realize that I need to spend most of my time only with those who have the ability to cheer me up and keep me hopeful. One good thing about hard times is that you discover some of the people you know are really, really, good at being supportive.  They’re the ones who listen to you without judgement, who assure you that things really will get better, and who know how to make you laugh when all you thought you could do was cry.

IMG_6698I still love all my friends and family, and value my relationship with each and every one of them.  But right now, in this particular situation, I’m gravitating toward those who are helping me cope.  And that’s okay, I think.  If nothing else, they’re showing me exactly what I need to do when it’s my turn to “pay it forward” and help someone else who is in need.  Because the one thing I know about dealing with hardships is that it’s so much easier when you don’t have to face them alone.

Changing Times

Coping with change has never been my strong point, which could explain why I’m feeling a bit disoriented these days.  It seems that the very second I adjust to one new “normal,” everything shifts and then I have to adjust all over again.  In my weaker moments, I think that all I want to do is go to sleep and not wake up until this whole mess is over.  Thankfully, those moments are way outnumbered by the times I realize that even though my life is certainly different, it isn’t necessarily bad.

Becoming the primary care-giver for my grandson was a huge shift for me, and not just because he shows up at our door early in the morning, all smiles and boundless energy at a time when I’m just staggering around, still half asleep.  Babysitting my grandson has reminded me of what it means to live in the moment, because that’s the only way that two-year olds know how to live.  It’s given me the chance to enjoy the company of a toddler when I’ve lived long enough to know not to sweat the small stuff, and to realize what a gift it is to be able to spend so much time with a little person that I love so much.

fullsizeoutput_5a0dIf someone gave me the choice, I would never have chosen to add a new granddaughter to our family in the middle of a pandemic, (especially since  she arrived six weeks early) but things worked out just fine.  She’s proven to be a real fighter, spending only two weeks in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit before she was able to come home.  We had to meet her for the first time outside, wearing masks and at a distance, but it was still a moment of pure joy.  Trust me, few things can make your heart quite so happy as seeing your son cradling his new baby daughter.  (She’s not quite as small as she looks in this picture– it’s an odd camera angle and my son has big hands.)

I started this blog over five years ago, and the most I hoped for was that I’d accumulate about one-hundred followers. Sometime in the craziness of the last few weeks, I’ve surpassed the 5,000 followers mark.  I’ve been blogging long enough to know that blogging stats don’t mean much, but that still feels like a milestone, no matter how inaccurate it may be.  Especially since as of June 1, Word Press is changing the system I use to write and edit my posts, which means I have no idea if I’ll be able to figure out how to continue this blog or not.

So if my next blog post doesn’t appear on schedule, or if the format looks decidedly odd, please know that I’m trying my best to learn a new system and to keep my blog going.  I’m not what you would call “tech savvy” and it always takes me a while to learn new things.  But I’m optimistic that I’ll figure it all out eventually, and believe that this will simply be yet another new thing to get used to.  If the past couple of months have taught me nothing else, it’s that I’m far more adaptable and much stronger than I ever would have believed.  And even more importantly, that change isn’t always such a bad thing.

A Change of Plan

I may be the sort of person who likes to plan for the future, but that doesn’t mean things always turn out quite the way I had planned.  My Spring calendar had been filled with activities that all ended up being cancelled, and I was also supposed to help host a small baby shower for my daughter-in-law who was due in late June with our first granddaughter. Unfortunately, we had to reschedule it twice due to the shelter-at-home restrictions being extended much longer than we had anticipated.

Finally, we decided that the wisest thing to do was simply schedule a “drive-by shower.”  We would decorate the front porch, have the mother-to-be sit there in a comfy chair, and people could drop off their gifts at the curb and then watch while she opened them.  We even ordered individually-wrapped, decorated cookies from a local bakery to give out as favors.  It seemed like an excellent plan for following the restrictions on gatherings and still managing to have a meaningful shower for the mom-to-be.

fullsizeoutput_59ebBut like so many things this Spring, the shower didn’t go exactly as planned.  We still had it, complete with balloons and cookies.  But my daughter-in-law couldn’t attend, because she was in the hospital with her newborn baby girl.  Our granddaughter surprised us all by making her entrance into this world six weeks early.

Both mother and daughter are doing well, and we couldn’t be more thrilled at this addition to our family.  I’m not going to lie, when I first heard that the baby was going to come so early, I was very worried and found it difficult to think of anything else.  I wanted my granddaughter to be okay, and I wanted my son and daughter-in-law to be spared from the anxiety that comes with an early birth.  I can’t tell you the relief we felt when we learned the baby had arrived safely and that our daughter-in-law was doing well.

Sometimes I think I’ll scream if I hear one more television commercial using the words “we are living in uncertain times”…..seriously, is there a single person on this earth who doesn’t know that?  But as tired as I am of hearing it, it’s the truth.  We are living in uncertain times, and like all challenging situations, it brings out both the best and the worst in people.

Last weekend, our family dealt with a very personal “uncertain time,” and I’m happy to say that we saw only the best of everyone.  I saw my son and daughter-in-law face a scary situation with courage and strength, and know that they received excellent medical care in a time when hospitals are truly hurting.  Friends and family continually reached out to us with reassuring messages and prayers.  The stories of so many other babies born prematurely who turned out just fine were particularly comforting, because it gave us so much hope.  So many people offered us “their best” and that helped us more than I can ever say.

So as these “uncertain times” that we live in stretch on, I hope I’ll remember what I’ve learned in these past few days.  Which is just how important it is to offer a sympathetic ear, or to offer a word of hope and encouragement as we all struggle to cope and find our way forward.  It may seem like a small thing to do, but trust me, sometimes it can make all the difference in the world.