Looking Back

It’s hard to believe it, but 2021 is almost over.  It’s been a rather strange year…not as bad as 2020, but not as good as I had hoped for either.  Like many of us, I had believed that this would be the year that marked the end of the pandemic, but this nasty virus seems determined to stay with as long as possible.  Still, we’re learning how to deal with it and making great strides in the areas of vaccines and treatments.  I honestly believe that eventually modern medicine will prevail, and hope that day comes sooner rather than later.

On a more personal note, it’s been a very busy year, filled with lots of peaks and valleys.  We were dismayed last Spring when we discovered that my husband needed to have a major surgery that early tests had indicated he could avoid, and discouraged when he ended up spending over 21 days in the hospital.  But we were thrilled this Fall when subsequent tests showed that his cancer is finally gone, and we began wrapping our minds around the fact that the cancer patient was now a cancer survivor.  Making that transition takes a bit of time, emotionally.

We had visits from out-of-town relatives we hadn’t seen in over a year, and were able to take a much-anticipated Florida vacation with all of our immediate family.  We were able to include my mother in our Thanksgiving and Easter dinners this year, and to gather as a family to celebrate her 91st birthday.  Those are among the many moments I’m grateful for, and were all the sweeter because I no longer take such things for granted.

This is also the year I was fitted with “Invisalign” braces to correct some ongoing dental issues, but I can’t honestly say I’m grateful for that because I discovered (after I handed over the check) that they are supposed to be worn for 22 hours a day and that I’m not allowed to eat or drink anything but water while wearing them.  Note to self:  always read the fine print before embarking on new procedures.  Still, when it’s all over and my teeth are finally aligned correctly I’m quite sure I’ll feel the gratitude.

FullSizeRenderBest of all, this was the year we added a new grandson to our family, and I realized once again just how quickly I can fall in love with a little bitty person I just met.  One of the nicest things about families is how there is always enough room, and enough love, for one more.

Wishing everyone a very happy New Year, with sincere wishes for a wonderful 2022 for all!

Keeping The Faith

I was hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year, so when I first heard the news reports of predicted turkey shortages, I was concerned.  I hurried to my local grocery store early in November to place my order for a fresh turkey, just to make sure I would have one.  But the clerk at the meat counter told me that they weren’t taking orders for turkey or anything else this year, and that he wasn’t sure they would have any fresh turkeys for sale at all.  He told me that if I wanted to be sure to have a turkey for my Thanksgiving dinner, I should buy one of their frozen ones right now, before they ran out. 

I thanked him and went over to the inspect the frozen turkeys.  They were covered with frost, and when I scraped off the label in order to read the price, I was shocked to see that it would cost $37 for a 14-pound turkey.  Call me cheap, but I just couldn’t make myself pay that much for what looked suspiciously like a turkey left over from last year.  I decided to keep looking, and that if I came up empty-handed, we could always celebrate Thanksgiving with a nice lasagna instead.

Luckily, I found a store that was happy to take my order for a fresh turkey, and while it wasn’t exactly cheap, it was free-range, so that made the price easier to accept.  Much harder to accept was the sight of the literally dozens of turkeys, both fresh and frozen, available in every grocery store in the days just before Thanksgiving.  All that worry, all that schlepping from store to store searching for turkeys, and it turned out that there were more than enough for everyone.  I haven’t felt quite that conned since the days after the Beanie Baby craze, and I could blame that one on my kids.

No one who knows me well would ever call me an optimist, but even I have had enough of the doom and gloom predictions that seem so relentless these days.  Yes, there are very real issues to worry about and I’m quite sure that there really are bad things coming our way.  But I also know that not every dire prediction comes true (the predicted turkey shortage certainly didn’t) and that perhaps the time has come for me to be a little more discerning when I decide how I respond to the constant reports of how “the sky is falling.”  Because maybe it is, but maybe it isn’t.

IMG_1069 2We actually had a rather nice Thanksgiving this year.  The vaccines allowed us to gather as an extended family, and for that I was thankful.  I was even more thankful that my husband’s long battle with cancer finally seems to be over, and that we will soon be welcoming another grandchild into our family.  Also, I managed to cook the turkey without setting off the smoke alarm, which doesn’t always happen.  All of which is to say that, even in these troubled times, there is still a whole lot of good going on.  We just have to be willing to see it….

Step by Step

I love reading, and mystery novels are my favorite genre.  Trying to figure out “who did it” is a fun challenge, but what I especially love about mysteries is that they almost always have a strong plot line and a definite conclusion.  By the end of the book the mystery has been solved, all questions have been answered, and all the loose ends are neatly tied up.  I can close the book with a sigh of satisfaction and move on to another story.  Which, in my opinion, is just how it should be.

Sadly, real life rarely works out that way.  Real life tends to be messy and confusing, with lots of loose ends that may or may not be tied up eventually, and problems that can go unresolved for years.  Reality doesn’t always provide the clear beginning, middle, and end that our favorite stories deliver.  And sometimes our troubles drag on for so long that we find it hard to believe they’ll ever be over.

When we met with the oncologist after my husband’s cancer diagnosis, he told us the schedule for the chemo treatment would be an infusion every three weeks for eighteen weeks.  I went home and dutifully marked our calendar for each treatment, even writing in “done with chemo!” on the last date.  But when I mentioned this to the oncologist at our next visit, he told me that chemo doesn’t work that way.  My husband would have his blood tested before each infusion to make sure he was strong enough to go through the treatment, so there might be times when we would have a delay for a week or so.  He said that the chemo schedule was only a suggestion, and that we would take the whole thing step by step, depending on my husband’s reaction.

It turned out he was right, because my husband actually finished chemo a bit earlier than they had predicted, and we were especially thrilled when early tests showed that he didn’t need the major surgery that sometimes follows.  Unfortunately, later tests showed he did need two surgeries, and both of them resulted in longer hospital stays than anyone expected.  What should have been a nine-month course of cancer treatment stretched into a fourteen months, partially due to Covid restrictions.  And somewhere during all that mess, I learned to stop looking for a definitive schedule and to simply take each day, and each test/treatment/procedure as it came.

Which may explain why I’m having trouble accepting that, as far as we know, my husband is now in remission.  I had thought that the end of his cancer treatment would feel like a victory, with my husband and I toasting each other over a bottle of champagne and exclaiming “It’s over!”  Part of the problem is that cancer doesn’t really work that way, because it’s a sneaky disease that has a habit of rearing it’s ugly head when we least expect it.  My husband will be closely monitored in the upcoming months to make sure all is well, and I know we will be nervous before each and every test and scan.

eW3mn0cBQVebae5TBOD62QBut mostly, the problem is that my husband’s battle with cancer didn’t end with a victorious “bang.”  It has simply wound down, slowly, and on an unpredictable schedule of its own.  And it’s taking both of us a while to give ourselves permission to believe that the worst is truly behind us.  But that’s okay, because we’ll get there eventually, the exact same way we got through his treatment:  one step at a time.

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…..

Recharged

Sometimes we all just need to take a little break, and I have to admit that I was more than ready for mine.  My husband and I had planned a trip to Florida for early May before we knew that he would be having major surgery this past Spring.  For a little while we both believed that the trip would have to be cancelled, so you can imagine our relief when the surgeon gave his permission to go, pointing out that my husband could recover at a beachfront condo just as well as he could at home.

But when my husband’s hospital stay extended a week longer than it should have, we still thought that our much-anticipated vacation wasn’t going to happen.  I told myself that it didn’t matter, and that as soon as my husband was better we’d go on a trip somewhere fun, but deep down I was very disappointed.  It’s been a very tough year for my family, and I really wanted to spend a week relaxing at on my beloved Sanibel Island.  I actually felt foolish for looking forward to this trip so much, because the past few months had me almost conditioned to be afraid to look forward to much of anything at all.

I know adversity can make us stronger and more focused on what’s important in our lives, and that’s a very good thing. But sometimes, it can also train us to believe that not only is “the glass half empty,” but that it’s bone dry and will remain that way forever.  When disappointments and bad news come at us too quickly, or when difficult circumstances last for too long, it can become very hard to hang on to our optimistic attitudes and to allow ourselves to really believe that things will ever improve.  Or at least that’s been my experience.

But you know what?  Despite the need for a major surgery we thought he had avoided, and despite the complications that kept my husband in the hospital much longer than we had anticipated, we were able to go on our trip.  My daughter and her family joined us, and we had a wonderful family time just hanging out together, walking the beach, swimming, and (in my husband’s case) taking LOTS of much-needed naps.

I can honestly say that my husband made great strides in his recovery during our trip, which was a real blessing.  But he wasn’t the only one who benefited from our week away from it all.  With each passing day, I felt my spirits lifting just a little bit more.  My heart began to feel lighter, and I felt calmer and more at peace than I had in a long, long time.  The experience was healing for both of us, just in different ways.

ZWZqbuKtTFOCLFbCPIs2oAI know that I was very lucky to be able to go on vacation recently, and that many people are still living under restrictions that don’t allow any travel at all.  But my point is that all of us, no matter what our circumstances, would benefit from finding a way to take a break from our problems and spending even a little time doing whatever we can to recharge our bodies and refresh our souls.  Keeping hope alive and finding those moments of happiness isn’t always easy, but it is always worth the effort.

Patiently Waiting

I’ve never been a patient person.  Waiting is not my strong point, no matter what I happen to be waiting for.  If I’m looking forward to something good, then I want it to happen right now, this very second.  Even if I’m dreading something, I’d much rather just hurry up and get it over with, sooner rather than later.  Unfortunately, there are times in my life where I don’t really have a choice, and I find myself having to wait with as much patience as I possibly can.

A few weeks ago, my husband had a scheduled surgery that was supposed to result in a three to five-day hospital stay.  The surgery went well, but his recovery didn’t, and he ended up spending over ten days in the hospital due to minor complications.  I wish I could say that I always handled the situation with patience and grace, but that would be a lie.  What I actually did was worry a lot, feel sorry for myself and even sorrier for my husband, and in general wake up each morning thinking, “PLEASE let today be the day that he finally gets to come home.”

It was a long ten days, but I did learn a few things about myself in the process, not the least of which is that I would make a truly awful nurse.  I’ve always been a bit of a klutz, but repeatedly tripping over various tubes that are actually connected to a patient is never a good thing, and neither is forgetting to unhook the IV pole before helping him go for a walk in the hallway.  Also, it’s a good idea to wind the chord of the nurse call button around the bed railings, because otherwise it falls off the bed every time you adjust the blankets…and then you have to keep telling the nurse station that you didn’t really mean to call them.

Luckily, I also learned some more useful lessons during my husband’s recovery, and the main one was that when I have no choice, I really can manage to wait patiently for things to get better.  Although I’ve always been nervous in hospitals (I never even like visiting a patient), I actually became accustomed to the routine and stopped having to look away from any procedure that involved blood or other body fluids.  I spent hours sitting quietly in the corner, reading a book while my husband slept, and actually became quite friendly with some of the nurses.  It’s amazing what we can endure when we have to, and I do think it helps to be reminded of that from time to time.

Of course I would have much rather my husband’s hospital stay hadn’t lasted quite so long, and to have spared him that trauma and both of us that worry.  But I like to think that the next time I’m waiting for something I desperately want right now, that I’ll remember there’s a reserve of strength and patience in each of us, just waiting for us to tap into it. And that when we do, we’ll have everything we we need to tide us over until the hard times are over….

Back in the Saddle

I first learned to ride a bike when I was about six years old, and it wasn’t easy.  My father had bought me a blue Schwinn from the neighborhood bike store, and told me to ride it home while he jogged along beside me, keeping a firm grip on the back of the seat.  “Lean!” he kept telling me, “just lean!”  And I did….first to the left and then to the right, and I would have toppled right over he’d let go.  It never occurred to me that he meant I was supposed to lean forward, and apparently, it never occurred to him to clarify.  Eventually we made it the six blocks back to our house, both of us tired and frustrated.  But I finally did get the hang of riding a two-wheeler without training wheels, and all these years later, I still enjoy the occasional bike ride.  It’s true what they say about riding a bike:  once you learn how, you never really forget it.

I suppose that’s true about most of what we learn in life, but sometimes it doesn’t feel that way.  I love volunteering at my local animal shelter, and have been going down there at least twice a week for years.  But when I go on vacation for a week or two, I’m often hesitant to go back, as if I doubt my ability to handle the shelter dogs.  Once I actually do it, I’m just fine.  But still, that hesitation is always there.

It’s the same with writing my blog posts.  When I keep to my schedule, I have very little problem writing my weekly posts.  But if I take a break from blogging, writing that first post afterwards is always difficult.  Sometimes it seems that the longer I stay away from something, the harder it is to go back to it.  Even when it’s something that I really love to do.

I’m guessing this is why I’m feeling a little bit cranky and lost these days, because the past year has meant giving up a lot of the things I normally do and enjoy.  Of course Covid has played a big part in that, and I can’t tell you how happy I am to have finally received my second vaccine.  But it’s been a rough year for our family in many ways that have nothing to do with Covid.  The worst is finally behind us, but I find myself struggling to believe that could possibly be true.  It’s as if I’ve been trained to expect the worst and believe that feeling anything other than fear and dread is somehow not being realistic.  But living in fear and dread is not who I am, and it’s certainly not who I want to be.

So I believe that it’s way past time for me to “get back in the saddle” and get back to the business of living my life, as fully and as normally as I possibly can.  It took me a while to learn to ride that bike, all those years ago, and I fell off of it more than once.  But I always picked myself up, wiped off my bloody knees, and got right back on.  And it wasn’t long before I was leaning forward, pedaling hard, and loving the ride…..

The Time is Right

I think almost everyone spends far too much time waiting.  We wait in line, we sit in special waiting rooms before our medical appointments, we endure easy-listening music on our phones while waiting our turn to speak to a live customer service rep,  we wait for test results, and this year, we’re all waiting for the end of a global pandemic that has really outworn its welcome.  Most of that waiting is beyond our control and so we accept it and learn to adapt.  We tell ourselves that what we’re waiting for will eventually arrive, and until then, we bide our time as best we can.  I’ve managed to read entire magazines while waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store, which not only keeps my mind occupied but saves me the cost of having to actually buy the magazine.

But the problem with waiting is that it can become a habit, and not in a good way.  It’s easy to slip into the habit of thinking that somehow our lives will be good and whole just as soon as whatever issue we happen to be dealing with is finally resolved, or whatever we’re waiting for finally arrives.  We can become so focused on waiting for what we believe will be a better future that we tend to overlook the present.  Or at least that’s what I find myself doing a lot these days.

If I can just make it through these next few months, then the worst of the pandemic will be over and I’ll be able to enjoy myself again.  Once my husband gets past this next medical procedure, then I can relax and focus on the things I love to do.  Once we get that new dormer put in our upstairs bedroom, then my house will finally look and function exactly the way I want it to.  I could go on and on, but you get the picture.  It’s as if I believe that I’m existing in some sort of limbo, just waiting for something to happen so that I can finally begin to live my life the way I want to.

Sometimes I need reminding that when whatever I happen to be waiting for finally arrives, I’m surely going to start waiting for something else.  Which means that the best way to deal with it all is to simply live the best life I can, right here and right now.  It’s amazing how much can be accomplished, and how much joy can be found, when we simply allow ourselves to live in the present, even with all its imperfections and uncertainties.

Hoping and planning for a better future is a good thing.  But when we focus too much on waiting for that future to actually arrive, I believe we’re also cheating ourselves out of the good that can be found in the present.  One of my favorite sayings has always been, “Life is for living.”  I’m beginning to think that it’s time for me to edit that a little, and change it to “Life is for living now!”   Because that’s the God’s honest truth……

Around the Bend

It would be nice if we could turn back the hands of time now and then, just for a little while.  I’d love the chance to sit at the table in my grandmother’s kitchen again, enjoying a meal she made especially for us, or gallop across a field just one more time on my beloved horse, Prince.  And I’d give just about anything for even a few more moments with any of the people I’ve loved and lost, with the chance to hear their voices and give them even one more hug.  By the time you’ve reached my age, the chances are you’ve got a ton of happy memories that you’d happily relive if you were only given the chance.

But life is not just a journey.  It’s a journey on a one-way street, often in a speeding car, without a u-turn ramp in sight.  The past is just a memory, the present is our reality, and our future is whatever lies just around the next bend.  And that can be a scary thing, because unlike the past or the present, the future is mostly unknown.

IMG_2553I don’t know about you, but there’s a whole lot going on in my life right now that I never saw coming.  Some of it is good and some of it is bad, but most of it was totally unexpected.  I still remember how I used to look at our calendar early last year and worry about how we were possibly going to keep up with such a busy schedule of travel and events.  Who knew the answer would be a virus that would force us to cancel them all?  And I remember the cold stab of fear I felt when I heard that my daughter-in-law was being prepped for an emergency delivery six weeks before her due date.  I had no way of knowing that the result would be a beautiful and perfectly healthy granddaughter who spent only two weeks in the hospital.

I’ve always been the sort of person who likes to plan ahead, so I’ll admit that sometimes I find the uncertainty of the future to be a little bit scary.  But I’ve learned through the years that the unknown is simply a part of life, and my only real choice is to accept that.  More importantly, I’ve learned that the unknown isn’t always a bad thing, and that some of the surprises the future has in store for us will most certainly be good.  I’m also realizing that worrying about what might happen is a waste of time and energy, because when bad things do happen, they are usually completely different from whatever I had anticipated.

So I’m thinking that maybe it’s time that I stop looking so much to the past when I’m less than thrilled with the present, and start looking a little more to the future and the changes that it will most certainly bring.  Sometimes all you can do in this life is buckle up and enjoy the ride, looking firmly forward as you wait to see just what’s around the next bend in the road ahead…..

Lessons Learned

Roughly one year ago, Covid 19 managed to turn the world as I knew it upside down.  I remember picking up my grandson at his daycare, which like almost everything else in my area, was temporarily closing.  “See you in two weeks,” his teacher told us as she waved goodbye.  And I’m embarrassed to say that I mostly believed her.   I had no idea just how badly this virus and its restrictions would impact us, or for how long.

It’s been a long twelve months, and in many ways I’m not the same person I was a year ago.  Never again will I just assume that I can buy what I need, when I need it, or take being able to spend time with my friends and family for granted.  I think I’ll always be a little uncomfortable in a crowded room, wondering just what sort of germs I’m being exposed to, and I will probably keep my trusty little bottle of hand sanitizer stashed in my purse from now on.  As for toilet paper, my new mantra is “you can’t have too much of a good thing.”

7GPiXSO+Rmj7a9KhzqQBut I think the changes go deeper than that.  Living through such a traumatic year (my family also faced some difficulties that had nothing to do with Covid) has taught me a lot about myself, and I think growing in self-awareness is always a good thing.  I learned that I had the ability to be patient, even when I yearned for quick answers and even quicker action.  And while I’ve never been what could be called the “outdoorsy type,” I learned that the more time I spend outside, the calmer and happier I become.  Nature truly is a great healer, for both the body and the soul.  I also figured out that one way to cope with uncertain times is to get busy working on the things I do have control over, even something as mundane as painting the guest bedroom.

I may be a natural introvert who craves some alone time each and every day, but now I also know how desperately I need to stay connected to other people.  Talking with friends and family reminds me that I don’t have to face problems alone, and there is both strength and comfort in that.  That old saying, “a problem shared is a problem halved” is absolutely correct, and a reminder of just how important it is to support each other in our times of need.  And in the face of so much negativity, conflicting “facts” and general fear-mongering, I’ve learned the importance of thinking for myself, doing research when necessary, and trusting in good old-fashioned common sense as much as possible.

So no, I’m not exactly the same person I was twelve months ago, but that’s okay.  In fact, it’s more than okay, because the lessons I’ve learned from the past year have left me better equipped to face the future with hope and confidence.  And for that, I’ll always be grateful.