Keep It Simple

My husband and I recently returned from a wonderful vacation.  We were lucky enough to spend a week with our daughter, son-in-law and grandsons in a rented house just a few blocks from the beach, stores, and restaurants.  Spending time with the people we love is a good thing, and spending time with them in a vacation setting is even better.  Overall, it was a very good week.

Very good, but not perfect.  And yes, few things are perfect, and the key to a good vacation is to overlook the things that don’t go quite right.  We did that.  When it rained, we read and did jigsaw puzzles.  When it was too windy to walk the beach, we swam in our pool instead.  But the problem that we couldn’t quite conquer was the house itself.

It was a very nice house, but it also equipped with “state of the art” technology.  I know that sounds like a good thing, and in some houses, it probably is.  But in this particular house, it meant we spent way too much time just trying to figure out how to turn out the lights at night.

Every room had several switch plates that operated the various lights and window shades, and every switch plate had several buttons and finger-operated “slides.”  The trick was to push the right button and use the right slide in the right sequence, which apparently varied from day to day.  What worked to turn off the porch lights on Monday night did not work on Tuesday night.  Other lights turned on by themselves a few minutes after we turned them off.

And the problem wasn’t just the lights.  The front door refused to lock from the outside, so we had to lock it from the inside and then exit via the garage.  The ultra-sophisticated dryer started to make strange, loud noises instead of actually drying the clothes.  We decided we could air dry our clothes as long as the washing machine worked, so of course the washing machine promptly broke down, mid-cycle, with our clothes inside and the door still on “lock.”

But the worst was the stove top.  It was equipped with a control pad and six invisible burners that were supposed to light up when you placed a pan on them.  So I put my pan on, adjusted the temp and waited for my pan to heat so I could scramble some eggs.  The burner stayed cold, and the control pad informed me the “pan is not detected.”   I muttered words I didn’t want my grandsons to hear and pushed the setting button on the control pad, which produced a recipe for New England Clam chowder, complete with photos.  Eventually we discovered that the stove top only works with certain pans.

I’m not against state of the art technology, per se.  But I am against making things so very complicated that people who are trying to have a peaceful vacation have to waste time trying to figure out how to turn off a light or scramble some eggs.  I can do those things at my house, I swear.  My stove lets me use whatever pan I want, and I can dim our lights with a simple dimmer switch.

Sometimes complicated doesn’t mean better.  It just means more things that can go wrong.  The KISS (keep it simple, stupid) motto may not be nice, but it’s not wrong either……

Picture Perfect

I was at a photography shop yesterday, uploading my photos in order to make prints of them.   A woman was sitting at the at the kiosk next to me, being helped by a young man who worked at the store.  She was trying to make 5×7 inch prints of her photos, and it wasn’t going well.  The woman (who looked only slightly older than me) kept apologizing for her ignorance of the system, and for needing the employee to help her.  “Sorry I’m taking up so much of your time!  But this is hard for someone my age,” she said, “it was so much easier when all we had to do was bring in our photo card and insert it into the computer.”

The more I listened to their conversation, the more I was struck by the woman’s attitude.  Why did she keep apologizing?  Because she was right: it was so much easier to print our photos a few years ago.  We didn’t have to worry about uploads and file compatibility, retaining original resolution or any of the other stuff she was struggling to understand.  We just inserted our photo card into the kiosk, the pictures popped up on the screen, and we selected the number and size was wanted of each.  It was quick and easy.  

But in these past few years, printing photos has become a real struggle.  I can’t get my photos to upload properly to the online sites anymore (apparently, they’re not compatible), so I go to the shop and sync my phone with their device and upload them there.  Even that takes a very long time unless I use their Wi-Fi, which my phone informs me isn’t secure, and every once in a while the upload simply stops for reasons no one can explain.  These days, it takes real determination and lots of patience to make a print of a photo.  

I believe that woman had no need to apologize, and yet I understood why she did.  If you’re over fifty and struggling with any type of technology, often the immediate assumption is that you’re not quite smart enough to, say, actually print a photo.  The young man who was helping her was patient and kind, but not once did he agree with her that the new system is harder than the old.  Nor did he contradict her when she kept repeating that the problem was her age.  But the truth is, if a system has become complicated and doesn’t work properly, the problem might not be the age of the person trying to use it.  As radical as it sounds, the problem just could be that the system is flawed.

I know I’m one of the few people who still likes to print my photos, so I soldier on.  I’ve learned the difference between a “jpeg” and a “HEIC” photo file, and how to convert one to the other.  I schlepp to the photo shop to use their kiosk because if I try to use the shop’s website, it takes approximately five minutes for each photo to upload.  And when I’m really stymied, I’ll ask for help from the staff.  But no matter how difficult the process becomes, I have vowed that I will NOT utter the words,  “I’m sorry, but I’m just too old to understand……..”

 

Memorable

My husband and I eat out more than we should, but we rarely visit a restaurant more than once or twice a month.  I honestly don’t think there’s anything about either one of us that is particularly memorable, as we’re just your average sixty-something couple who enjoys a good restaurant meal.  So I’m always a bit surprised when the staff recognizes us, because I’m not exactly sure just what it is that would make us stand out from the dozens, if not hundreds, of other people they serve every month.  I mean, it’s not as if we’re bringing along our pet aardvark or something else that would attract undue attention.

Yet time and time again, the wait staff will greet us warmly and sometimes even remember what we like to order.  The first time this happened, I was with some former college friends, having our own little reunion five years after graduation.  We walked into the college bar we’d frequented as students and the bartender greeted us with, “Welcome back, ladies!  Having the usual?”  (That did startle me a bit, but I put it down as the result of a misspent youth.)

Sometimes it’s been rather touching, such as the time my husband and I returned to a restaurant we hadn’t eaten in since the pandemic started.  My husband got us a table while I made a quick stop in the restroom.  When I joined him, our old waitress brought over the menus and greeted us warmly.  I was impressed she’d remembered us, but then she looked at me and added, “It’s so good to see you!  When your husband walked in alone, we actually got a little teary.”  My husband battled cancer during the pandemic, so he weighed about fifty pounds less than he had when the staff last saw him.  I guess between him looking so gaunt and my absence, they thought we’d both contracted Covid and only he had survived.

We’ve puzzled about this, and the only thing we can come up with is that maybe we’re just good customers, restaurant-wise.  We eat out regularly, we’re always polite and friendly with the wait staff, and we try to tip well.  We’re patient when they’re short-staffed, and understanding when things don’t go perfectly.  Waiting tables is hard work, so maybe those who do it appreciate, and remember, the customers who treat them well.

And if you think about it, the same is true for almost every area where we  interact with other people.  We know how important it is to treat our friends and family well, but I believe it’s just as important to treat everyone we come into contact with well, as far as we are able.  A bit of patience, a friendly word, or even an encouraging smile seem like such little things….but the truth is, people notice them.  And often, that’s also what they remember.

Vindication

I’ve been telling Mom and Dad for years that rain and storms are dangerous, but they wouldn’t believe me.  They think they know better, just because I’m a dog.  Whenever I felt the atmosphere begin to change (and like most dogs, I can sense that well before the first raindrop appears), I’d whine, shake and pace anxiously to warn them of the impending danger.  When that didn’t work, I’d jump up on the couch next to them, or even on the table if that’s where they were sitting, in an effort to get their attention.  All that got me was a sharp, “Get down!” while they pushed me off.

Even when the storms actually hit, they’d pretend everything was okay.  It could be pouring rain outside, with the sky lit up with lightening and deafening booms of thunder, and Mom and Dad would basically just go about their business, ignoring it all.  Even worse, they wanted ME to ignore it!  “You’ll be fine, Finn,” they’d say.  “It’s nothing but a little rain and thunder.”  Now I know that my parents are mostly smart people, but when it comes to bad weather, they have absolutely no clue.

So I have to admit that I feel just a little bit vindicated after the past week.  We had THREE bad storms in the past seven days, and all of them resulted in some rather serious flooding in our area.  Unlike many others, our house escaped damage, so we were lucky.  But our driveway turned into a raging river with several inches of rain pouring down it, and we even had white caps where it meets the street.  Trash cans floated by and disappeared behind a neighbor’s house, and all the while the water crept closer and closer to us.

Mom says we’re lucky that our house sits up high, but even that didn’t help last night, when fifty-mile an hour winds drove the rain right against our house and the upstairs bathroom window started leaking all over the floor.  Mom seemed very unhappy about that, but not nearly as unhappy as she was later, when Dad used her best towels to stuff into the window to keep more water from coming in.  And today there are many streets in our neighborhood that are still closed because of the flooding damage and the trees that blew down in the high winds.

“See?” I want to tell my parents. “I was right!  Storms are VERY dangerous!”  I’d like to believe that when the next storm comes, they’ll be a bit more sympathetic to my fear.  And then maybe they’ll join me when I take precautionary measures, like going to high ground in case of flooding.  (The dining room table is ideal for that, and there’s room for all three of us on it.)  I know perfectly well that being frightened out of your wits and trying to find a safe place is the only logical response to bad weather, and maybe, just maybe, Mom and Dad have figured that out now too.

But I guess only time will tell if they’ll react appropriately when the next storm hits.  And the one thing that all  of us agree on is that we don’t want the chance to find that out for a long, long time.

Love, Finn

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

Home At Last

IMG_0344When Mom and Dad first brought me home from the animal shelter, I was still young and very naive.  I didn’t realize that people have tons of rules, and that I was expected to memorize and obey all those rules if I wanted to live in peace with my human family.  I had to learn where I was allowed to sleep (my dog bed, my crate, or the floor) and where I wasn’t allowed to sleep (everywhere else, apparently).  I had to distinguish between the dog toys that I was encouraged to play with and the children’s toys that I was forbidden to chew on.  Most importantly, I discovered that while it’s perfectly acceptable for humans to “potty” inside the house and that they even have designated rooms for it, I am expected to go outside every single time I have to relieve myself.  (And if you think squatting in the yard first thing in the morning when it’s ten degrees outside is easy, you’ve obviously never had to do it.)

Luckily for me, I’m a pretty smart dog.  I’ve memorized almost all of the rules, and I’ve also figured out that if I do need to break one or two, it’s best not to let Mom or Dad know.  Take my sleeping arrangements, for instance.  I know for a fact that the most comfortable place to sleep is the living room couch, but Mom and Dad don’t like to see me on it.  So I make sure they never do.  I wait until they are out of the house before I climb on the couch for a nap, and when I hear them returning, I just jump off and run to the door to greet them.  It’s a great system that keeps all of us happy.

I’ve also figured out that if I’m a little hungry, all I have to do is go stand by the back door until someone lets me outside.  Because every time I come back inside, I get a dog biscuit.  Mom and Dad argue all the time over who started that tradition, but it doesn’t really matter, because it’s set in stone now.  So whenever I want a snack, I just “ask to go outside.”  Then I stand on the back porch for a few seconds, scratch at the door to let them know I’m ready to come back in, and voila!  I get a dog biscuit.

But one of the nicest things I’ve learned is what happens when the holidays roll around.  Thanksgiving is next week, and already Mom is bringing home tons of groceries in preparation for the big feast.  There will be lots of food and I know some of the leftovers will go in my supper dish.  And this year there will be two little ones at the table who I can count on to toss some tasty tidbits my way during the meal itself!  A few weeks after Thanksgiving comes Christmas, which is even better because Christmas means extra food AND presents.  What more could a dog ask for?

51A4A3C2-A7FE-49C0-B318-67D49D6D1DB5I’m actually pretty proud of myself for how well I’ve adapted and I know that I’m lucky to have found a loving family. Because there are lots of dogs still living in shelters who would give their right paw for a chance to finally have a real home.  Just something to think about, for those of you who might have room in your hearts and home for one more…….

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…..

Common Ground

IySCob9WT3ulxRSEZimmIAMy dog Finn takes his sleep very seriously.  When he’s awake, he has endless energy, and spends his days tearing around the house or persistently trying to convince us that’s it’s time for another walk or even more food.  But by early evening, he’s always curled up in his dog bed, fast asleep.  And that’s just fine, right up until the moment when we want him to go outside for his last potty break before we put him in his crate for the night.

Our late-night routine is always the same.  When we’re ready to go to bed, my husband and I call Finn to go outside.  We always begin on a cheerful note, holding the back door open hopefully and calling, “Come on, Finn! Time to go outside!”  And Finn always ignores us, even when my husband adds, “I’ve got treats!”  (I refuse to resort to bribery.)  So then we approach his bed, a little less cheerfully, and tell him that he needs to go outside RIGHT NOW.  At this point Finn opens his eyes and fixes us with a glare that makes it clear he has no intention of budging an inch.

Eventually, Finn leaves his bed, either by choice when he sees we’re not backing down and we begin to use our really stern voices, or because I lose patience and simply lift up one side of his bed and gently tip him out.  And then he’ll go outside and potty (occasionally getting his revenge by peeing on my flowers), come back in, get his treat and trot willingly into his crate.  And yes, we go through this routine every single night.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, Finn persists in his belief that one night he’ll win the battle and not have a bathroom break before he goes to bed (which we’d allow if we thought his bladder could hold out that long).  And my husband and I keep right on believing that one of these nights Finn will cheerfully spring out of his dog bed and go outside the first time we call him.

It’s funny how often we persist in thinking we can change the way others behave, and how we naively believe that if we just try hard enough and long enough, we can convince other people that our way of thinking is the only right way.  Social media provides ample proof of that, with all those posts pointing out all the faults of those who happen to believe and act in ways that are different from us.  And we’ve all witnessed, and probably participated in, those futile arguments where we try so very hard to show someone just how flawed their thinking really is, and then end up frustrated when we’re not able to change their minds.

The truth is, Finn is probably never going to want to go outside for his late-night potty break, and we are never going to feel comfortable putting him to bed without it.  But maybe if we try getting him out a little earlier in the evening, he won’t mind it so very much, and he’ll still be able to “hold it” through the night.  Compromise, after all, is so often the key to solving problems.  It’s never quite as satisfying as winning an argument or actually getting our own way, but there comes a time when we realize that it’s better to “give a little in order to get a little.”  And that’s true for all of us, human and otherwise……

Good Riddance

Generally speaking, I like living in a climate with four distinct seasons.  I like the beautiful flowers of Spring, the fact that it’s warm enough in Summer to go swimming and walk out of my house without bothering to put on shoes, and I always enjoy the brilliant foliage of Fall.  Winter begins just before Christmas, which is my absolute favorite holiday, and also provides snowfalls that are both beautiful and peaceful.  The changing seasons give each year a pattern that is both predictable and comforting.

Of course, each season also has a downside.  Spring’s pollen makes me miserable for weeks, Summer always has a stretch of unbearably high humidity, and Fall means shorter days and ragweed.  And while Winter certainly has its own beauty, it also brings dangerously cold temperatures, icy roads and sidewalks, and air so dry it seems to suck the moisture out of every living thing.  But as far as I’m concerned, the absolute worst part of Winter is that it never knows when to leave.

fullsizeoutput_5fb1If seasons were people, Winter is the distant aunt who shows up on your doorstep bearing cookies and a great big suitcase, and who is still installed in your guest room long after you’re ready for her to go.  It’s the friend who sticks around for hours after the party is ended and doesn’t seem to notice your yawns and pointed glances at the front door.  It’s the time-share salesman who lures you into his office with tons of freebies before launching into a never-ending sales pitch.  Winter looks good when it first arrives, what with its sparkling landscapes and blankets of snow, but no other season manages to overstay its welcome quite like Winter.

Which is probably why I am now writing my annual, “I’m sick of Winter” blog post.  I’ve managed to cover most of the details over the years:  the static electricity, the frozen nose hair, the aching muscles from shoveling snow, constantly cleaning the floors because the salt on the outside steps keeps getting tracked in, and the need to put on several layers of clothes simply to take the trash out.  And I’ve mentioned a certain dog who persists in believing the frozen treats he finds (and tries to eat) in the back yard are chocolate popsicles, and often refuses to go outside altogether if he thinks it’s too cold.  But this year brought yet another annoying revelation:  if you drop your white face mask in the snow, chances are that you aren’t going to find it until the Spring thaw.

fullsizeoutput_5fb2So even though I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again:  it’s time for Winter to be over.  It’s time for the arctic blast that has gripped our country to go away, and let us begin to thaw out in peace.  We want to retire our snow shovels, put away the rock salt, and pack away our heavy coats until next year.  We’re not asking for any miracles, we just want it to warm up enough that we can once again get together with friends and family in our backyards, and even cook the occasional burger on our grills.  Not to mention quit worrying about frozen pipes and electricity outages.

In other words, “Winter, winter go away!  Come again another day!”  (And please make that day far, far, into the future……)

The Last Straw

It’s been really cold this week, and it’s supposed to get even colder by this weekend.  I’ve been preparing by stocking up on essentials, breaking out a jigsaw puzzle and this morning, I decided to fill up my gas tank before the truly frigid weather set in.  I pulled into a station I don’t normally use, and was amazed to see that there was a little screen on the gas pump, right next to the slot for my credit card.  Not the usual screen that provides instructions on operating the pump, but an actual little television screen, airing real commercials.   I was dumbfounded, to say the least.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t generally make decisions regarding my bedding when I’m filling my car with gasoline, so why anyone thought I’d want to see a mattress commercial just then is beyond me.  By the time I was done and replacing the pump, it had progressed to an ad for insurance, which made a bit more sense.  But I still found the whole thing terribly annoying.  The sound was turned up loud, and I actually had to wait for the commercial to end before I could print my receipt.

I’ve been feeling a little out of touch with the world for a long-time now,  but this might well be the “straw that broke the camel’s back.”  Because I think I’m done.  I’ve tried my best to keep up with our ever-changing world:  adapting to the endless new technologies, trying to keep up with the latest trends, and accepting things that I don’t even begin to understand.  Isn’t that what we’re told we’re supposed to do, if we want to stay young?  Be willing to learn new things, embrace change, pay attention to the latest fashions, and invest a small fortune in skin care products?  Because otherwise we’re nothing but a bunch of useless old fogies with one foot in the grave, right?

But I no longer care.  I’m done pretending that I don’t sometimes struggle with technologies that weren’t invented until decades after I was born.  I’m willing to admit that I think a whole lot of our current trends are just plain silly, and that they’ll go the way of the naval contemplation of the Sixties and the green shag carpeting of the Seventies.  I believe that it’s okay for houses to have walls and that body hair isn’t always something to be afraid of.  I admit to preferring printed receipts, real books, and brick and mortar stores.  Most of all, I believe that time spent by myself, off-line and unplugged, is both valuable and necessary for my basic sanity.

When you’ve lived as long as I have, you’ve seen too many things come and go to be terribly impressed with whatever the “latest and best” happens to be.  And you realize that although the world is always changing, basic human nature mostly remains the same.  You’ve figured out what’s important and what’s not, and you try very hard to embrace only the changes that are actually for the good.

So I’m okay with admitting that I have no use for gas pumps that try to sell me a mattress, or anything else other than gasoline.  From now on, I’m not only accepting my inner old fogy, I’m embracing her……