Sanibel Strong

Sanibel Island is my happy place.  I fell in love with the island the first time my husband and I visited in 1986.  I was pregnant with my daughter at the time, and appreciated the laid-back feeling of the island, which had no stop lights, no fast-food restaurants (unless you count the Dairy Queen) and no buildings over four-stories high.  The beach was natural, and full of shells.  There were just enough stores and restaurants for convenience and a huge nature preserve where we could spot all sorts of birds and even an alligator or two.  Sanibel provided exactly the relaxing and rejuvenating vacation we needed.

When our children were grade school, we began taking our family vacations on the island.  We booked only a four-night stay on our first trip down, because we worried the kids would get bored with the lack of theme parks and other kids’ activities.  But they loved it as much as we did.  My son became interested in photography and took tons of great photos, including one of an alligator on the beach. (We saw that only once, and it was safely returned to the Sanibel River.)  We’ve had many great vacations with our children, but my fondest memories are the times we spent together on Sanibel Island.

Our son and daughter are grown with families of their own, so now its usually just my husband and I when we visit the island.  There’s still the feeling of peace when we cross the causeway that connects Sanibel to the mainland, and catch that first sight of the island.  We have many favorite restaurants, and I always reserve at least two hours to browse through Gene’s Bookstore, which is one of the best bookstores I’ve ever visited.  We don’t own any property on Sanibel, but both of us think of the island as our second home.

As anyone with access to the news knows, Florida was recently devastated by Hurricane Ian, and Sanibel Island took a direct hit.  It was completely engulfed with water as well as battered by category-4 winds.  Many buildings are just plain gone, and the ones that are still standing have severe damage.  The causeway, which is the only access to the island, collapsed in at least four places.  There is no power, which means deadly mold will grow in the water-logged buildings.  People had to be air-lifted off the island, and most home-owners have lost everything. There are at least two confirmed deaths.

It’s hard for me, from the safety of my home in the MidWest, to wrap my mind around this tragedy that happened in Sanibel and across much of Southwest Florida.  I see the photos from drones and try hard to identify familiar landmarks.  I can only imagine the pain of those who lived and worked on the island, and the desperation they must feel as they wonder, “what now?”  I heard that the city of Sanibel is setting up an official fund for donations, and I hope that people who are able give generously.  I know I will.

I also know that eventually, the island will come back.  People will rebuild as best they can, and the time will come when the island will be open for visitors again.  It won’t look the same, because hurricanes change the actual landscape of islands.  The “old Florida” hotels with their little framed houses won’t be rebuilt that way, because they are far too vulnerable to strong hurricanes.  Many things that made Sanibel so charming are gone forever.  But I also know that when Sanibel finally recovers, it will still be a very special place.  The people who live there, work there, and visit regularly will make sure of that, because we know that the spirit of Sanibel is too strong to be destroyed.  And that’s why we love it so much….

Shine On

I lost a blogging friend last week.  It’s odd how the people we meet only through their blogs can seem like friends, but I guess that’s what happens when people write about their own lives, honestly and openly.  Those who read and comment on their posts really do feel as if they actually know the person who wrote them.  And few people wrote more openly and honestly than Martha, the late author of .https://whitehairgrace.com/

When I first started following her blog, Martha was writing about striving to live her remaining years as fully as possible.  I’m about 15 years younger, but her words still spoke to me.  We live in a society that values youth, and it can be a challenge to look for the blessings that come when we have more years behind us than we do ahead.  Then she was diagnosed with cancer, and that became the topic of most of her writing. Still, her spirit shone through in every post, despite the struggles with treatment, the brief remission and finally the acceptance of her upcoming death.  I won’t even try to explain how much I valued her blog, because I don’t have her eloquence.  I’ll only say her posts were a gift that I very much appreciated.

My regular readers know that I volunteer as a dog walker at our local shelter three times a week.  It’s very satisfying to help shelter dogs, but it can also be very draining, both physically and emotionally.  Those of us who spend a lot of time in shelters develop close friendships, probably because we support each other through the hard times.  One of the people I leaned on the most was an adoption counselor named Sherry.  She always listened to us, answered our questions, and offered comfort and encouragement when we needed it.  She was usually cheerful and upbeat, and known to break into an impromptu dance when she thought the occasion warranted it…and the occasion almost always did.

Sherry was in the middle of her own battle with cancer when my husband was diagnosed.  And even though she’d retired from the shelter and was undergoing very difficult treatments, she called me at least once a week to ask how my husband was doing.  They had the same kind of cancer, so her advice was on target and very helpful.  The many, many, people who knew her were devastated when Sherry passed away.   I was amazed at the sheer number of heartfelt tributes that appeared on social media, and I’m suer that was just a fraction of the people she’d helped in her life.

I honestly believe that people like Martha and Sherry are examples to us all.  They weren’t perfect, and didn’t pretend to be.  But they shared the best of themselves with others, each in her own way.  Whether it was  in the blogging world or the shelter world, they helped others with their openness, their wisdom and most of all their generous spirits.  They were the kind of people who light the way for others who are sometimes still stumbling in the dark.  May their light shine on forever…….

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.

Dog Training

03FF4508-3450-4F62-A4A1-53B29F66B001I’ve been living with my human family for over three years now, and I have to say that things are going pretty well.  I’m still not allowed up on the furniture (when my parents are around to see it) and they still insist on feeding me dry dog kibble when all I really want is a plate of the same food they’re eating, but overall, I’ve got them pretty well trained. The trick with humans, I’ve discovered, is to let them think they’re training you, when in reality, you’re training them.

Take walks, for instance.  Like all dogs, I love a good walk. Sauntering around the neighborhood with my human in tow is great fun, and I especially like stopping to sniff all the enticing odors along the way.  The first few times Mom took me for a walk, she insisted on keeping up a brisk pace, and seemed irritated when I’d stop to sniff every few feet.  She didn’t understand that investigating all the scents we encounter is how I learn what’s going on in our neighborhood.  How am I supposed to know that the beagle up the street passed stopped by this very same bush if I’m not allowed to smell it thoroughly?  And don’t get me started on all the interesting scents coming from the storm sewer….the stories I could tell!

So I had to teach Mom the importance of letting me stop and sniff on our walks.  It took quite a while, with me pointedly ignoring her tugging on the leash and repeated cries of, “Come on!” before she figured it out.  She still doesn’t let me stop and sniff every single scent, but now she waits patiently when I discover something particularly intriguing, which happens a couple of times per outing.  I heard her bragging to Dad about how she’s taught me to mostly keep moving, and of course I let her believe it.  But the truth is, I’ve taught her to let me stop and sniff.

And while my parents still fill my supper dish with kibble, I’ve taught them to also share their (far superior, in my opinion) food with me.  Again, it took time and lots of patience on my part, but now they both know that whenever they eat something, they have to save a bite of it for me.  And since both of them are fond of their food, I get quite a few “bites” of food every day.  My nickname is Bubbles (due to my bubbly personality) and they actually refer to the tidbits they give me as the “Bubble tax.”  I don’t care what they call it, as long as they pay it.

I’m not sharing this to brag on my success, even though I’ve done a pretty good job of training my parents.  I’m sharing it to give hope to all the other dogs who have just joined their human family and might be a feeling a little frustrated by how slow their new parents are on the uptake.  I want them to know that it takes time and patience to train your humans, but if you stick with it, the rewards are worth it.  Trust me on this…..

Love, Finn

Up and Down

If I ever had any doubts about the truth of the saying, “Life is like a roller coaster, full of ups and downs,” the events of the past couple of weeks have put them to rest.  Approximately four weeks ago, I was sitting in my favorite restaurant, celebrating an early birthday dinner with my immediate family.  I distinctly remember sitting with my oldest two grandchildren on my lap, looking over at the baby and thinking, “I am so blessed.”

IMG_1923The reason we were celebrating my birthday early was that my husband and I were going to be on Sanibel Island for my actual birthday, and Florida’s Sanibel Island is one of my very favorite places.  Even better, the trip was all I had hoped it would be:  we had great weather, were joined for a few days by good friends, found some fun shells and even had the chance to get up close and personal with manatees.  It was, honestly, the highlight of my year so far.

But what goes up must come down, as we all know.  Early last week, I started to feel a bit sick.  I figured it was my usual allergic reaction to the green tree pollen that’s coating everything here, but I took a Covid test and got a negative result.  I stayed home even so, resting and drinking lots of water.  After a couple of days I felt much better, but decided to take another Covid test before I ventured out in public, just to be sure.  And it was positive.

I know I still have lots to be thankful for.  My symptoms were extremely mild, and my husband was out of town on business while I got sick, and he tested negative when he returned.  Unfortunately, the difference in our Covid status means we can’t share living space, so I’m upstairs in the primary bedroom of our story-and-a-half house while my husband is staying downstairs and sleeping in the guest room.  And as nice as our primary suite is, it was designed for sleeping, not living in 24/7.  Especially not in the heat we’ve been enduring this past week, because our upstairs depends on the additional cooling provided by the window AC unit my husband would install if he were allowed to be in the same space as me.

Sometimes as I’m sitting on my bed, watching yet another HGTV rerun or reading yet another book and trying not to sweat on the pages, I can’t help but feel just a little bit sorry for myself.  Boredom and loneliness aren’t fun companions.  It’s a little off-putting when I don my N95 mask and go downstairs to replenish my ice water, and my husband gives me a horrified look and quickly darts into another room.  He’s being sensible, I know, but it still takes getting used to.  And it didn’t help when, safely back upstairs, the strap broke as I was removing the mask, snapping me sharply just below the left eye.  You know you’re in an unlucky phase when you get attacked by your face mask.

But I know that this, too, shall pass.  My husband continues to test negative, and every day brings me closer to the end of my isolation period.  I know the time will come when all I remember about this time is how grateful I am that it wasn’t much, much worse.  And meanwhile, I’ll just sit tight and dream about the next time I get to visit Sanibel…….

Spring Thaw

IMG_1720Spring has arrived, and I’m thrilled.  The daffodils are blooming, the trees are budding out, and the temperatures are running the gamut from just above freezing to warm enough for sandals.  I especially love early Spring because I can be outside without battling tree pollen and the annoying mosquitoes that come a bit later.  For me, Spring has always been a time of hope:  knowing that the long, dark Winter is finally over and that the earth is renewing itself with new and colorful life always makes me happy.

But this year, I’m even more ready for Spring that usual.  It’s not that I believe “everything will be alright now,” because even I’m not that stupid.  It’s just that I feel that after the events of the past two years, on both a personal and global level, I’m finally ready to move forward.

When the pandemic first hit and the lock downs began, all I wanted was my old life back.  I deeply resented all the people who kept saying, “things will never be the same again,” and clung desperately to my belief that somehow, all of us would indeed be able to step back into our pre-Covid lives.  But the world did change, and time, as it always does, marched relentlessly forward.  Slowly but surely, I began to accept my “new reality” and even make peace with it.  In hard times, we just do what we have to do, and learn to find joy in the little things.

But personally, I can’t stay in “survival mode” forever.  There comes a time when I need to get back to simply living my life as best I can.  That doesn’t mean I’ve finally manged to return to the life I had two years ago, because I haven’t, and never will.  It does mean that I’m ready to embrace the life I have as fully as I possibly can, keeping my old habits that still work and shedding the ones that don’t.  It means being open to new ways of thinking, doing, and living that make sense with the world as it is now, and the person I have become.

And so I’m ready for Spring, and not just the one I see outside my window.  I’m ready for a little rebirth of my own.  I’m ready to connect with people I haven’t seen in far too long, and whose absence I’ve felt deeply.  Recently, I was lucky enough to meet up with two dear friends from my school days, and I swear that even in the brief time we spent together, I could feel a little piece of my heart thawing out.  There really is nothing like being in the physical presence of our loved ones, friends and family alike.

I know that there are still major issues to be faced, and more trials ahead for all of us.  But my hope is that somehow in the midst of it all, we can all find our own, personal Spring.

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…..