Success!

Every once a in a while, something happens to restore my faith in human nature.  Usually, something rather simple, like an unexpected act of kindness.  Rarely does it have anything to do with the internet, which usually frustrates me, or social media, which far too many people use as an excuse to let their inner bully come out to play.  But much to my surprise, this time what gave me a much-needed burst of optimism was the combination of the internet and social media that is the WordPress community.

A couple of weeks ago, I began having trouble commenting on other blogger’s posts.  Then last weekend, I found I could no longer reply to comments on my own post without logging in again (complete with password) each time.  I exchanged tons of emails with the Word Press help staff as we tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to fix the problem.  When I discovered I could still write a post, I wrote two short posts just to let my readers know what was going on.  I did that partly because I wasn’t at all sure I could keep blogging and didn’t want to simply disappear without letting anyone know why.  But if I’m honest, I was also hoping that maybe one of my fellow bloggers had suffered from a similar problem and was willing to share the solution.  I thought it was a long shot, but worth the try.

The response was more than I could have possibly hoped for.  The tips and suggestions were plentiful and very helpful.  For the first time, I began to believe that my blog really would be fixed, which was a huge relief.  But what really lifted my spirits was seeing how many people I know only through my blog were willing to take the time to try to help me get my blog back on track.  Some offered repeated suggestions, even providing helpful links.  One woman (thank you, Margy!) even chatted with a Word Press tech on my behalf and reported back the answer.  I was amazed at how generously people gave  their time and knowledge to help, without expecting anything in return.

Sometimes blogging seems to demand too much of my time, and every once in a while, it feels like a chore.  But I’ve always stuck with it because I valued the creative outlet writing my blog provides, and I also valued the relationships I’ve developed with other bloggers from all over the world.  And now I know for sure that blogging is worth the effort, because it shows me, repeatedly, just how most good people really are.

The last email I received from the Word Press techs (aka “Happiness Engineers,” but it’s hard to say that with a straight face) provided the answer I needed to get my blog up and running properly again.  Thank you, Paulo.  It has something to do with enabling cross tracking, which I didn’t completely understand but my son did, and he explained it to me.  I’m sure that I’ll eventually encounter other problems, but that’s okay.  Because I’m part of the Word Press community, and we have each other’s backs.

Let It Shine

When I first heard that my granddaughter was going to be born six weeks early, I was very worried.  Two of my sisters were born too early and hadn’t survived, and a close friend also lost her son who was born prematurely, so I suppose it was only natural that I was scared.  But as I told friends and family about my granddaughter’s birth, I was surprised by how many of them took the time to assure me that my fears were probably misplaced.  I heard story after story from people who had either been preemies themselves, or had a friends or family members whose premature babies grew up to be perfectly healthy children and adults.  I can’t tell you how much those stories helped me, and how much I needed that support.

There’s a popular meme on social media that says something along the line of “everyone is dealing with some kind of hardship, so please be kind.”  And that is so true.  I told people about my granddaughter’s early birth, but there are times when we don’t feel comfortable sharing our problems with others, for whatever reason.  Which means that all of us are almost constantly interacting with people who are hurting, and how we treat them can either help lighten their load or make them feel even worse.  In other words, how we treat others really is a big deal.

It’s especially a big deal right now, as our world seems to face one huge challenge after another and the number of people suffering seems to grow larger every day.  I have no idea what the answers to all these problems are, but I do know that my actions and my words matter.  I may be only one person with zero influence on world affairs, but I can still try to make things just a little bit easier on those around me.

As a blogger, I can use my posts and comments to encourage other bloggers and readers. As a wife, daughter, mother and grandmother, I can give my time and energy to help my family when they’re struggling.  And while I may not have the strength I once did, I can still walk most shelter dogs who desperately need a break from the isolation of their runs.  My personal gifts may be few and not particularly impressive, but I can still choose to use them as much as possible.  And that’s true, I believe, for all of us.

DA56F645-3AF5-4B06-94B8-F2460D5CDBC3In these dark times, all of us have the choice of either spreading the darkness even further, or being a light for those around us.  I hope that we choose to be the ones who encourage and support each other, just as those people helped me when I was so worried about my granddaughter being born too soon.  I’ll always be so grateful to those who assured me she would be just fine, because as it turns out, they were right…..

In the Mirror

I’ve always rather liked the old saying, “Love many; trust a few; always paddle your own canoe.”  It seems to pack a lot of advice in a few simple words, but like most things in this world, the real meaning is up to interpretation.  When I first read it, I believed the last few words referred to being self reliant, and not counting too much on others to take care of us.   And there is a certain amount of wisdom in that interpretation, as expecting others to meet our every need is bound to result in serious disappointment.  But the older I get, the more I see another meaning in those words that I believe is even more important.

“Always paddle your own canoe” can also mean refrain from paddling other people’s canoes.  And by that I don’t mean refrain from helping other people who are in need, as I sincerely believe that all of us have an obligation to help others as much as we possibly can.  That’s just a part of what it means to be human and to live in community.  What I do mean is that we need to refrain from trying to direct other people’s lives.  To use the canoe analogy, that means to refrain from telling other people how fast they need to paddle, what kind of oars they ought to be using, and which bodies of water they should navigate, etc.

Of course we all like our own ideas best, and I’m no exception.  In my heart of hearts, I probably believe that the world would be a better place if only everyone else thought and acted more like me, and I think that’s a belief that most of us share whether we’re aware of it or not.  The problem is that it has become far too fashionable to act on that belief, and to spend endless time and energy pointing out other people’s faults and trying to bring them in line with our way of thinking and doing.  A quick glance at social media is proof of that, with its endless posts that have basically the same message:  “my values are better than your values.”  Few of the posts actually come right out and say that, but the message is still there, loud and clear.

I’ve come to believe that if we’re really interested in making the world a better place, we need to start with ourselves.  Instead of spending quite so much time finding fault with other people, we need to take a good long look in the mirror and see how we can do better.  And then make the effort to actually be better.  And if we put even half the energy that we put into trying to change other people into improving ourselves, I think the results would be amazing, to say the least.

So, yes, I still like that saying about paddling your own canoe.  Because I really believe that if I can keep trying to paddle my canoe (as in live my life) as best as I possibly can, I just might end up doing some good in this world……

Without Me

The day after Christmas, I woke up feeling just a little bit “off.”  At first, I thought I had probably just overdid a bit over the holidays.  But as the day wore on, I felt worse, not better.  My throat hurt, I started coughing and I felt a little achy.  By the next morning, I was well and truly sick and stayed that way for most of the week.  The good news was that I tested negative for Covid three times, but the bad news was that I was absolutely miserable and unable to do anything other than lay around feeling sorry for myself.

4F20ECF8-0FF5-4683-8705-FDA15FC89E5ETypically, I spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve relaxing and getting together with friends and family.  The work of the holidays is over by then, but the decorations are still up, the kitchen is stocked with cookies and other Christmas goodies, and there’s plenty of time to enjoy it all.  I hated missing out on all that, but as the week went on, I also began to feel guilty about all the other things I wasn’t doing:  walking the shelter dogs, keeping up with my blogging, hosting a small family gathering for my out-of-town sister, and even basic housework.  (I emptied the dishwasher one day and then had to go lay down for three hours to recover.)

Even worse, I was supposed to be spending at least part of that week helping my daughter care for her newborn son.  Her husband was working and her older son’s daycare was closed for the holidays, so I had promised that I’d be around to lend a helping hand.  But even if I’d had the energy, I couldn’t risk going anywhere near her house.  I didn’t have Covid, but I was still sick and probably contagious.

So there I was, not only sick but feeling very guilty about being sick.  I remembered how hectic caring for a newborn and a young child can be, and how grateful I was for any and all assistance.  I hadn’t seen my out-of-town sister in months and hated the thought of her going back home without us getting together.  I knew that every day I wasn’t at the animal shelter meant that the other volunteers had to walk even more dogs than usual, and that there was a chance that some dogs would miss their daily walk altogether.  I even felt guilty about not keeping up with the comments on my latest blog post, or keeping up with my friends’ blogs.

The silver lining in all this mess was that eventually I realized that sometimes I’m not going to be able to do the things that others want or need me to do, and that I need to stop fretting about it and simply accept it.  There are going to be times when I can’t live up to either my expectations or the expectations of other people, and I have to learn to be okay with that.  Stuff happens, plans go awry, and sometimes, I just need to let go of the ridiculous idea that the world will crash and burn if I’m not carrying my fair share of the load every single minute.

My daughter made it through the week without my help; the blogging world kept right on going without me, and the shelter dogs all got their daily walks.  Go figure.  My sister was even able to stay in town long enough for me to recover and spend time with her, but she would have forgiven me if I hadn’t.  Because the truth is, none of us is indispensable.  Some of us just need to be reminded of that now and then…….

Do No Harm

The first lesson I learned from this pandemic was the importance of self-care.  Adding a bouquet of flowers to my cart when I’m grocery shopping, taking the time to re-read a favorite book, or just putting on make-up even when I know no one is going to see it underneath my face mask, can work wonders on my spirit.   Keeping as many of my normal routines as possible and indulging in the little things that bring me joy are great coping mechanisms that make this whole situation so much more bearable.

But while the benefits of self-care may have been the first lesson I learned, it isn’t the most important one.  Yes, taking care of myself as best I can, both emotionally and physically, is a very good thing.  But what’s even more important right now is remembering to also take care of other people–those who are close to me and even the people I don’t know at all.  Because the truth is we’re all feeling very stressed these days, so anything and everything we can do to help each other isn’t just appreciated, it’s also necessary.

Sadly, many people seem to be taking their anger and frustration out on each other, in either direct or indirect ways.  Memes on social media that ridicule or chastise people we disagree with are becoming more common and more vicious.  I see examples of selfish driving (blowing through red lights, cutting off other drivers, etc.) and sometimes even road rage almost every time I’m in my car.  Those of us who still read newspapers can’t help but notice that the letters to the editor almost all seem angry and full of accusations, but very short on actual solutions.

All this is doing is making a bad situation even worse.  Now is not the time to pour gasoline on the burning fires of our collective frazzled nerves.  Now is the time to offer the cooling waters of patience, wisdom, and most of all, compassion.  And no gesture is too small to make a difference.  We never know what’s going to turn the tide for someone else and make them feel a little less stressed or a little less alone.  It can be as simple as a smile from a stranger, or an offer to let someone with only a few items go ahead of you in the check out line.  These days, people need to see evidence of the positive side of human nature as often as they can.

DSC01258And the best part is, when we make the decision to try to help someone else cope with these crazy times, we discover that we’re also helping ourselves.  Doing even a small act of kindness makes us feel less powerless and more hopeful because it reminds us that we have the ability to make a positive impact on others.

Hard times have always brought out both the worst and the best in people.  But I believe that when we are intentional about being our best selves, we usually find that the times don’t seem quite so hard.

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.

Let It Go

IMG_1848I think all of us have times when we feel as if we’re on a treadmill, and someone keeps turning the speed up higher and higher.  Those times when there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to get through even half of our “to do” list, and we fall into bed each night exhausted and already fretting about all the things we have to accomplish tomorrow.  For some reason, Fall always seems to be one of those times for me, and this year is no exception.

I’m sure part of the problem is that the days are growing steadily shorter and that there is so much to do in order to get our yard ready for Winter and our house ready for the upcoming holidays.  My husband and I are also spending a lot of time getting my mother’s old house ready for its new owners and dealing with all the little glitches that always arise at times like these.  (It took us two months to realize that some of the utility bills for her house have gone AWOL.)   Add these extras to our usual day-to-day responsibilities, and I suppose it’s no wonder we’re feeling a bit overwhelmed.

But I know all those things are just part of the problem.  And the rest of the problem rests squarely on my shoulders.  Because I have a long-standing and very unhealthy habit of taking on too much and hanging on to too much.  My intentions are good….I want to be a supportive friend, a good neighbor, a dependable family member, and basically just the sort of person that others know they can count on for help, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Within reason, of course.  But the problem is, sometimes I forget to be reasonable.

I tend to forget that there are limits to how much responsibility I can take on and still retain a sense of well-being.  I seem to need constant reminders that when I try to “be there” for everyone, I usually end up satisfying no one, least of all myself.  I need to learn that there’s no such thing as a perfect friend or relative, and that as long as I am doing my best, those who truly care about me will be okay with that.

I suspect that self-care and setting healthy boundaries will always be a process for me, and that’s okay.  I’d rather be too generous with my time and resources than too selfish.  But I also want to respect my limits, and learn to say “no” to obligations and needs that I truly can’t meet without stretching myself too thin.  I need to let go of my natural inclination to rush in and try to fix things, all the time.  Because let’s face it, it’s both arrogant and short-sighted of me to believe that I’m the only one who can step up when help is required.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll get to the point where next Fall is just a little bit more relaxed, and therefore more enjoyable for me and also for the people who would rather not have to deal with me when I’m stressed and crabby.  That certainly strikes me as a worthy goal….

Finn Speaks

fullsizeoutput_50fcMom’s been a little tired lately, so I thought I’d help out by writing this week’s blog post for her.  I’ve never written a blog post before (it’s kind of hard to type with paws), but I’m going give it my best shot.  Because that’s the sort of dog I am:  a helper.

I’ve been told that I’m really cute, and I suppose that’s true, since I have wiry black fur, long legs, perky ears and a big white patch on my chest.  People also say that I am very sweet, very energetic and really, really, persistent….I prefer to think of myself as focused and determined, but those aren’t the words that other people use.  Still, I know my main purpose in life is to help others.  And I’m really good at it, if I do say so myself.

I spend my days constantly looking for ways that I can help my family.  When Mom is preparing a meal, I’m always in the kitchen, laying right by her feet so I can keep an eye on what she’s doing and lend a helping paw if necessary.  Plus, I want to be able to immediately clean up any food that she happens to drop on the floor.  (Which she does almost every time she trips over me.) Mom likes to keep her house clean, and believe me, there will NEVER be any food on her floors when I’m around.

I also help Mom and Dad tie their shoes, especially if they’re in a hurry.  I shove my face right in, grabbing the laces to hold them in place since they seem to be having such a hard time performing this simple task.  Sometimes they get so flustered that they actually try to push me away!  Some dogs might get their feelings hurt by that sort of thing, but I know Mom and Dad are just embarrassed that it’s taking them so long to tie their shoes.  So I get right back in there and “help” until the job is done, no matter how long it takes.

Mom and Dad also spend a lot of time complaining about how out of shape they are, so I try to help by getting them to play tag with me.  When we are outside together, I’ll race around the yard, inviting them chase me.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked so far.  They just watch me run, and say things like, “I wish I had half his energy!”  But they just stand there, or sometimes even sit at the patio table, snacking and sipping wine.  I love my parents, but they can be a little slow on the uptake.  Still, I’ll keep on running and hope that some day they’ll figure it out and join me for a few laps around the yard.

There are lots of other ways that I help out, but I know that Mom tries to keep her blog posts kind of short, so I’ll do the same.  Besides, I’ll probably get the chance to write another guest post some day, when Mom’s too tired or too busy to do it herself and needs my assistance.  Because I’m a helper, and I’m REALLY good at it!

Love, Finn

Can I Help?

A few days ago, I had oral surgery to address an ongoing infection in one of my upper molars.  The procedure involved cutting through my gums and manually removing the infection and the tips of the molar’s roots before sealing them off.  I’m not going to lie and say it was fun, or even no big deal.  I don’t like even simple dental procedures, and this one was a doozie, any way you looked at it.  But I can say that the procedure wasn’t nearly as bad as I had anticipated, for one reason and one reason only:  the terrific attitude of the endodontist and her staff.

From the minute I walked into the office, I was treated with compassion, patience and encouragement.  Did I want a blanket to cover up in?  Did I have any questions before we began?  Would I like the chair set to massage during the procedure?  Of course I wanted all of it, especially the chance to ask some last-minute questions.  And by the time the procedure began, I was much calmer more relaxed than I would ever have thought possible in those circumstances.  By the time it was over, I was actually kind of proud of myself for how well I handled it.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my pride was misplaced.  Yes, I had done a good job of managing my nerves in the days before the procedure, but by the time of the actual appointment, I was both nervous and scared.  If the staff had been hurried and abrupt, brushing off my questions, rolling their eyes at my request for a last-minute bathroom break, or acting as if there was no reason for me to be apprehensive, my entire experience would have been very, very, different.  If I had even stuck around long enough for them to do it.  (I may be old, but I can still run pretty fast when I have to.)

The reason I was so calm during the procedure was because the endodontist and her staff did everything in their power to settle my nerves and allow me to get through it with as much dignity as possible.  And that is a gift that I will not soon forget.

I’m sure I was just one of a series of scared and nervous people that the endodontist’s staff has dealt with, and that the way I was treated was their normal routine.  But their patience and encouragement made a world of difference to me.  Which just goes to show that how we treat other people really is a very big deal.

It really doesn’t take that much effort to offer someone an encouraging word, or to listen when someone needs to express their fears and concerns.  It isn’t that hard to smile at a newcomer, to talk to someone who is lonely, or to offer our sympathy to someone who is grieving.  Yet each and every time we do these things, we may well be giving someone else that little bit of help they need to get them through whatever difficulty they happen to be facing at the time.  And what could be more important than that?

Quietly Doing Good

Years ago, I was cooking dinner in our kitchen when I heard the ominous sound of something very heavy landing on our roof.  The wind had been getting steadily stronger all day, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I looked out our back door and saw that the massive elm tree in our yard had been completely uprooted.  Most of it was now resting on the corner of our house, directly above our daughter’s bedroom.  We called our insurance company right away, only to find out that there was wide-spread damage in our area and that help would not be coming anytime soon.  We were finally able to find a tree company to actually get the tree off our house, but we were put on a waiting list to get the hole in our roof fixed.  It was a frustrating situation, and my stress level was off the charts.

A  couple of days afterwards, a friend stopped me as I was leaving church and offered me materials to temporarily patch the roof until the professionals could get to it.  As he was loading the stuff into my trunk, he also offered to come over and help my husband do the patching if needed.  It was such a simple gesture, but I can’t begin to tell you how much it meant to my husband and I.  Having someone reach out in a time of need can make all the difference when we are feeling discouraged and overwhelmed.

Looking back on it, I’m not surprised at my friend’s actions.  He and his wife were very active in our church in their own quiet way.  They didn’t draw attention to themselves, just saw what needed to be done and got to work:  teaching the children, working on the building, lending a hand at special events.  Whenever and wherever help was needed, they helped.  So when they heard that a tree had fallen on our house and we couldn’t find anyone to repair the roof, naturally they stepped in.  And they gave me the supplies in the parking lot, after most people had gone home.  They didn’t need anyone to witness their generosity.

I’ve been a part of many different groups and organizations over the years, and the one thing they have in common is that they all have a few people in them just like my friends.  People who are happy to help with whatever is needed, working in the background and feeling no need to call attention to themselves and their good works.  Their work is rarely acknowledged, but they aren’t doing it for the thanks.  They are doing it for the simple reason that the work needs to be done.  These people see the same problems the rest of us do, but rather than just complaining, they work toward solutions.  And while they don’t solicit praise or recognition for themselves, they are quick to offer an encouraging word to others.  They are, without exception, the backbone of whatever organization they happen to serve.

There will always be those that seek the limelight and that excel in high-profile, leadership positions.  And there’s nothing wrong with that, as every organization has to have someone in that role.  But I believe that the true heroes are the ones who prefer to work quietly and efficiently behind the scenes, making sure that whatever needs to happen actually does happen.  They are the ones doing the most good, and they are the ones who understand that doing good is its own reward.  They are also the people I admire the most.