Sands Through the Hour Glass

Did another year really just pass?  I know it sounds cliche, but it honestly seems as if it wasn’t that long ago that we were welcoming 2017 and yet now we are bidding it goodby.  When did time begin passing at warp speed?  And more importantly, how do I slow it down, at least a little bit?

It’s not that 2017 was a year that I particularly treasured.  Like most years, it had its good points and its bad points.  I could have lived without the two root canals and the three new crowns (those hurt both my mouth and my wallet), and the less said about the numerous varicose vein treatments I endured, the better.  I wasn’t a fan of the summer drought and the damage that wrought on the local environment.  And one way or another, I said good-bye to a few dear friends whom I miss very much.

IMG_3571But 2017 also had it’s good points.  I enjoyed a fun beach vacation with my family, reconnected with some old friends I hadn’t seen in far too long, and got to experience an (almost) total solar eclipse.  My blog was featured on WordPress “Discover” which put me in touch with interesting and talented writers from all over the world.  But best of all, I got the wonderful news that a grandson is on his way and, if all goes well, he should be arriving soon.

Aside from the chance to finally be a grandmother, I really don’t know what 2018 will bring.  I’m sure it will be a mix of highs and lows, the same as almost every other year.  I’m equally sure that it will pass by quickly, or at least that it will seem that way to me.  I had always heard that the older we get, the faster time flies, but I guess I had to actually experience it before I believed it.

I learned long ago to stop trying to make New Year’s resolutions because I rarely manage to keep them.  But I hope, now that I’ve reached the point in my life when time is passing far too quickly, that I will remember to treasure the good times and the good things that do come my way.  I’d like to stop hurrying through a life that is already moving along faster than it should.  I want to try savor the moments and to live in the present, especially now that I realize just how quickly the present becomes the past.

Time may be moving more quickly for me, but that’s okay.  I still have time enough left to enjoy the people and the things that I love, and that’s good enough for me.

Take A Chance

We added a patio to our back yard several years ago, which left an area between our house and the new patio that needed some landscaping.  I went to a garden supply store and bought several bushes, which we planted according to the directions on the labels, paying careful attention to how large they were supposed to grow.  But either the person who wrote those labels knows even less about plants than I do or the bushes had their own ideas regarding optimal growth, because every one of them grew to at least three times their predicted size.  What was supposed to be an artistic  arrangement of greenery and flowers looked more like an over-grown jungle with each passing week.

We dug up a few bushes and moved them to other parts of our yard, hoping they would survive the transplant.  Most of them did.  But then we were left with a scraggly-looking plant that was wedged in between a crepe myrtle and an evergreen.  I didn’t remember buying it and wasn’t even sure whether it was a bush or a particularly ambitious weed.  My husband and I debated whether we should transplant it or simply pull it out, but in the end we decided to move it to the side of the house to replace a rose bush that had died last year.

It was in the middle of summer and I had no idea what kind of sunlight this particular plant preferred, so I knew the odds of survival weren’t good.  I also knew it was entirely possible that we were going to all this effort to save a weed, possibly even a version of a ragweed that both my husband and I are allergic to.  But for some strange reason, replanting seemed the right thing to do.

IMG_2815The plant not only lived, it thrived.  And the last time I was at a garden center, I saw one that looked just like it and eagerly read the label.  Turns out, that scraggly bush wasn’t a weed at all…it’s actually a butterfly bush (which I still don’t remember buying).  And this whole past week it’s been busy attracting monarch butterflies.

I’m not, and never have been, what you’d call an optimistic person.  Right now I have a pain in a lower molar which I’m quite certain is going to require some kind of serious and expensive treatment, because a pain in my tooth can’t mean anything else, right?  Looking at the bright side is not my strong point and neither is expecting good things, despite the fact that I have had my share of good things in life.  It’s a negative thought pattern that I have always struggled with and truly hope to overcome some day.

Which is the point of the story of the butterfly bush.  I’m not good at gardening and most of the bushes and flowers that I plant die well before their time despite my best efforts.  But I overcame my natural pessimism and gave that weedy-looking plant a chance, and the reward was a thriving and beautiful butterfly bush that actually does attract butterflies.  And I hope that whenever I look at it, I’ll remember the lesson it taught me.  Because I really do want to become a person who is more willing to take a chance on something good.

Open My Eyes

Last Monday, my post “A Blogger’s Voice” was featured on Word Press Discover page, which meant that my blog was suddenly getting a much bigger audience than usual.  For the most part, I was thrilled.  I think every writer wants their words to reach as many people as possible (if we didn’t, we would just write in a personal journal) and the thought of all those new readers was exciting.  I was also flattered that a Word Press editor thought my blog was worthy of being included in their Discover program.  I really didn’t think this would ever happen to my blog.

But a small part of me was also worried.  I knew that along with all that extra exposure came the very real risk of a whole lot of spam, criticism, and downright nasty comments.  When they let me know I was going to be included in Discover, Word Press even included advice on how to the handle negative comments that might be coming my way. Honestly, in the days between being notified that I was going to be “discovered” and before it actually happened, I even toyed with the idea of backing out of the whole thing.

But then I realized that none of this would have happened if my good blogging friend Barb Knowles hadn’t recommended me to a Word Press editor.  Barb writes a funny, poignant and insightful blog called Sane Teachers , and has been a wonderful source of inspiration and support.  I didn’t want to let her down or have her think I wasn’t grateful for her recommendation so I decided to just go for it.  I figured between my spam filter and my ability to moderate comments, I could handle whatever negativity came my way.

And you know what?  The nastiness, the criticism, and the spam never materialized.  In the past week, I’ve added about 500 new followers and the last time I looked, that post had about 1,700 views. My spam filter caught no more than the usual amount of spam, and I moved about eight comments into the trash only because they included what I thought might not be a legitimate Word Press link in them.  Even then, I may have been overly quick to hit the “trash” button, but I didn’t want to run the risk of any of my readers getting a virus from a link on my blog.

My point is not that all those people loved my blog.  I’m sure that most of them didn’t even read it, and simply hit the “follow” and “like” buttons in the hopes that I would do the same for their blog.  My point is that the onslaught of negativity that I had anticipated didn’t happen.  Instead, I received lots of positive and courteous comments from other bloggers.  Being “discovered” connected me to many people who also struggle with finding the courage to put their true thoughts and feelings into their posts and then send them out into cyberspace.  It let me communicate with people from all over the world, both getting and giving encouragement and good wishes.  It was an awesome experience.

I am very, very, grateful to Barb and to Word Press for the chance to be “discovered.”  I am grateful for the new views, follows and the comments on my post.  But what I most grateful for is the way that this whole experience reminded me that there is still so much good in the world, and so many good people in the world, if only I’m willing to open my eyes and see.

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.

Get Closer

When I was pregnant with my first child, I was heading to lunch with a work friend when I tripped at the top of a set of very tall and very steep concrete steps.  I tried to grab the railing to catch myself, but it was too far away.  Luckily, my friend was strong and had good reflexes, because he shot out his arm to block my fall, and then steadied me with his other hand.  If it hadn’t been for him, I would have fallen all the way down those stairs and ended up in a broken heap on the asphalt parking lot many feet below.  I was still shaken when we reached the restaurant, and apparently, so was my friend, because the first thing he did was order a stiff drink.  I noticed his hand was trembling slightly when he lifted the glass.  There’s no doubt in my mind that he saved my baby’s life.

Aside from our work life, my friend and I had very little in common.  He was single and still living with his parents while I was married and living in my own house.  He had never left the St. Louis area, whereas I had only recently returned to it.  He was gay; I was straight.  I was an avid animal lover, yet when I asked him to sign my anti-vivisection petition, he politely declined, saying he saw nothing wrong with experimenting on animals if it had the potential to help humans.  I could go on, but you get the idea. We were two very different people, and yet we worked together quite well and found it easy to be friends.

And this story is just one example of the many times my life has been enriched by people who are very different from me.  I am white, but the woman whose encouragement gave me the most confidence to write for children is black.  I think deer are among the most beautiful creatures on this earth, but I have friends and relatives who hunt.  I love to read, am terrible at sports and have unbelievably bad math skills, yet the man I married rarely reads, went to college on a sports scholarship and makes his living as an accountant.  And I couldn’t imagine life without him.

I know the current trend is increasingly to “stick with our own kind,” and have nothing to do with those who have different values, different cultures and different beliefs, but I honestly think it is a horrible one.  Sure, we can watch only news shows that reflect our opinions, and we can rage against those who think (and, worst of all vote) differently than we do, and we can “unfriend” all the people on Facebook whose posts we disagree with.  But if we do, the loss is our own.

So many people are worth knowing, if we are brave enough to give them a chance.  When we get close to people who seem different, we often find they have some wonderful qualities mixed in there with the stuff that puts us off.   l don’t know about you, but I have good friends  who voted for Clinton, and I have good friends who voted for Trump.  I didn’t vote for either of those candidates, but you know what?  I still value my friends who did more than words can say.

And whenever I do feel the temptation to “stick with my own kind,” all I have to do is remember my friend and coworker from all those years ago.  Because if I hadn’t gotten to know him, he wouldn’t have been with me on those steps.  And I might not have a daughter at all.martha-at-xmas

Shower Gifts

Yesterday, I helped host a family shower for my son’s fiance.   I admit that I was a bit nervous about the whole thing, because I really love the young woman my son is marrying and wanted to throw her a nice shower to welcome her into our family.  My daughter, who also helped host the shower, wanted to do a champagne brunch, so we booked a room in a nearby restaurant for the event, ordered some petite fours and cake pops from a local bakery to serve, and in general, did all the things that one does when planning a bridal shower.  Still, I was just a little bit on edge, wondering if everything would go well and being more than a little bit afraid that something would inevitably go wrong.  Little Mary Sunshine, that’s me.

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But I am happy to say that everything went just fine.  The restaurant staff was very professional, setting up the room the way we wanted it and serving delicious food.  We had a nice turn-out, and everyone seemed to have a good time.   As is the tradition, at the end of the shower, the bride-to-be opened her gifts while we all watched.  She got some terrific presents and seemed very happy with all of them, which was a wonderful thing to see.

Still, while I was watching my future daughter-in-law open her gifts, I found my mind wandering a bit.  I kept looking around the room at all the people who were there, and realizing how much I appreciated each of them being there.  Each and every person in that room made the effort to take time out of their busy weekend to come to this shower, showing their support for the newest addition to our family.  And their presence was a gift.

My sister helped host and provided the beautiful flowers for the shower.  My mother offered assistance in any way that was needed, and helped us set up the room.  My sisters-in-law from Iowa not only came a great distance to attend the shower, they showed up early to help us get ready and stayed late to help clean up afterwards.  My sister-in-law from downstate, her two daughters and her granddaughter, all came to help us celebrate and show their support.

Family friends came, some of whom I have known for my entire life.  Friends I met when I was just a baby and friends I met when I was newly-married and childless were all there, knowing how important this shower was to me and my family.  The youngest attendee was the seven-week old granddaughter of a dear family friend, and that baby represented the fourth generation in the friendship between our two families.  It doesn’t get much more special than that.

Yes, the bride-to-be received many terrific gifts at this shower, and that’s as it should be.  It was her day, and she handled it with grace and style, just as I knew she would.  But as I looked around the room yesterday and took in all the people who were there, the friends and family who showed up to offer their support and to welcome the newest member of our family, and to meet her lovely mother and grandmother, I couldn’t help but realize that my son’s fiance wasn’t the only one who was receiving gifts.

True, the love and support of family and friends is not a gift that I could open.  But it was a gift nonetheless, and one that I will remember and appreciate for a very, very, long time.

Father’s Day Gifts

Like so many things in my life, Father’s Day has changed.  When I was a child, Father’s Day meant getting out my paper and crayons and making a home-made card for my father, to accompany the gift I had either made or purchased for a quarter at the local Ben Franklin store.  As I grew older, the cards and gifts I gave to my dad on Father’s Day became more sophisticated and expensive, but they were no more sincere than the clay ashtray I made for him two years after he gave up smoking. (I honestly don’t remember why that seemed like a good idea.)  And then came that afternoon in the grocery store five years ago when, out of sheer habit, I headed for the greeting card aisle to buy a Father’s Day card, before I suddenly and sadly realized that I no longer had either a father or a father-in-law to acknowledge with a card.

These days, my family’s Father’s Day celebrations are centered on my husband, who has been a father for almost thirty years now.  We usually meet at a restaurant of my husband’s choosing, since what he always wants most for Father’s Day is simply to spend time with his kids. (I try not to dwell on the fact that he always chooses to go out for a meal rather than have me cook it, as that could be a judgement on my cooking skills.)  It’s always a happy gathering, as we are fortunate to have wonderful relationships with our son and daughter and their significant others, and I know how lucky I am to have married a man who is not only a great husband, but a terrific father as well.

Still, there is always something a little bittersweet about Father’s Day.  Partly, it is the memories of the fathers that my husband and I have lost.  I don’t think we ever outgrow the desire to have a father in our lives, or ever stop missing them when they are gone.  All we can do is be grateful for the time we did have with them, the good memories, and the wisdom that they passed on when they shared the best of themselves with us.

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And even as we are enjoying the company of our adult son and daughter, there is always a small part of us that remembers, and misses, the sweet years when they were growing up. I remember my toddler daughter running across the lawn to greet my husband when he came home from work, calling “Dee!  Dee!” as she ran.  (“Daddy” was still too hard for her to say.) And my husband still cherishes the framed, painted handprint my son made him in Sunday school class when he was just three years old.  Even though he always worked at a demanding, full-time job, my husband found time to be very active in our children’s lives, coaching their sports teams, advising them, playing games with them, and generally just being there whenever they needed him.

So, yes, Father’s Day is a bit more complicated now that I am in late middle age, but it is still a very good day.  It’s a time to remember and appreciate the father and father-in-law I had, to cherish the memories of my husband’s relationship with our kids while they were growing up, and to celebrate the family we are now.  Sometimes complicated is good.

 

Middle Aged Birthdays

Ann's 6th bday 2Ever since I hit the wrong side of fifty, I’ve been a little confused about how I should celebrate my birthday.  When I was a child, birthdays were simple:  I got a cake (in the flavor of my choice), a nice party with my friends and family, and best of all, a pile of presents to open.  I couldn’t even imagine anything nicer, except perhaps getting my very own pony.  Later came the teen-age parties, the obligatory booze-soaked twenty-first birthday, and of course, my “over-the-hill” thirtieth birthday party.

But as a middle-aged woman, birthday cakes, parties, and presents no longer hold much attraction for me.  I know that no matter how good a cake tastes, it’s just going to end up on my hips.  These days, I can throw a party anytime I want to, and don’t need to wait for my birthday to come around as an excuse.  And when someone asks me what I’d like for my birthday this year, the answer that springs to mind is that I’d like my eyesight, my memory, and my youthful energy back.  I’d also like some things I’ve never had, such as coordination, common sense and strikingly good looks, but no one can give me those, either.  I have friends who don’t really want to have their birthdays acknowledged or celebrated any more, and I understand where they’re coming from.

Still, there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to ignore my birthday altogether, even if I’m at the stage where being another year older doesn’t sound like such a good thing.   But like all middle-aged people, I’ve seen too much death and serious illness to not want to celebrate the fact that I have, indeed, lived through another year that was blessed with good health, family and friends.  My life is far from perfect, but I know that I have a lot to be thankful for, and I am.

So while I won’t be having a big birthday party this year, and probably won’t be eating any birthday cake, I will still celebrate my birthday this weekend.  I’ll have the usual birthday dinner with my family and get a few presents and cards.  But mostly, I’ll try to remember to be grateful for the year I just had, (the good and the bad), and to promise myself that my next year will be as meaningful and positive as I can make it.  Middle-aged birthdays are more about celebrating the milestones of our life than parties and presents, and that’s as it should be.  But I still wouldn’t mind if someone gave me that pony…