Anticipation

One of my favorite Christmas memories is picking out each year’s Christmas tree with my father.  We would go to a local tree lot, where he would find several trees that he thought would do nicely.  I, on the other hand, was in search of the perfect tree, and I didn’t believe it was a decision that could be rushed.  I inspected dozens of trees, often asking the assistants to hold them so I could step back and see them from every angle.  Sometimes we visited more than one lot, because none of the trees in the first lot were quite good enough.  And I have a vivid memory of him standing in the freezing drizzle, his crew cut  spiking from ice, holding a tree and saying, “I really think this one is good enough, don’t you?”  There was something in his tone that made me realize disagreement wasn’t an option.

These days, my husband I put up two Christmas trees.  The artificial one goes up in our living room the day after Thanksgiving, and the real one goes in our basement family room in early December.  When we were first married, my poor husband was dragged along from tree lot to tree lot as I searched for a tree that was exactly right.  One year we actually returned a live tree because we didn’t like the way it looked in our living room when we got it home.  From the look on the face of the woman who ran the tree lot, I’m pretty sure we’re the first customers who ever did that.

I think the reason I tried so hard to find the perfect tree was simply that I really love the Christmas season.  I love the decorating, the shopping, the baking and the gatherings.  Because I loved the holiday so much, I wanted everything about it to be perfect, starting with the tree.  But the truth is, no matter how hard I tried, I never…not even once….celebrated a perfect Christmas.  I’ve had some very nice Christmases, but never a perfect one.

And all these years later, I’ve finally realized that’s okay.  I’ve figured out I can still enjoy the holiday season, even with a tree that’s too short or too skimpy, with cookies that don’t look a thing like the picture in the recipe book, and even when a holiday gathering I’d looked forward to is cancelled.  Christmas can be quite nice even if my allergies are acting up and the dog decides to eat the gingerbread house I spent two hours decorating.

My very favorite church service of the entire year is the Christmas Eve candlelight service, but in 2020, no church was open. But that year my sister sent me a link to an online “service” her church had created and I loved it.  Turns out, watching “Silent Night” sung by candlelight is almost as good as being there.  And the year my entire family came down with a cold on Christmas Day wasn’t the disappointment I thought it would be.  We slept in, then gathered around the tree to open presents.  It was a subdued celebration, and we went through an entire box of tissues that morning, but it was still special.

So yes, I’m looking forward to Christmas this year, but no, I’m not expecting it to be perfect.  I know gift receipts will be lost, someone in the family will get sick, schedules will have to be reshuffled, and tempers will frayed.  But through all the messiness of real life, the joy of Christmas will still be there…..and that’s good enough for me.

The Color Purple

November has always been a tough month for me.  For one thing, I seem to be allergic to it, because I honestly can’t remember the last time I enjoyed good health during November.  At the very least, I get a runny nose and post-nasal drip, which causes a sore throat and general crankiness.  Some years I also get an ear and/or sinus infection but I’ve managed to avoid that this year…so far.

But my issues with November aren’t just physical.   I hate how it gets dark just a little bit earlier with each passing day, and how the bare the trees look once they shed their colorful leaves.  I don’t like having to rake up said leaves, especially since none of them are from trees in our yard.  And those of us with dogs know the leaves on our lawn can cover up all sorts of things that we’d rather not step in, and yet I do, almost every time I go outside.  I typically host our family’s Thanksgiving dinner, so I also stress over planning the menu and figuring out where I stored my big turkey-roasting pan.

But this November has been particularly hard, because it included an election day.  Few things shake my faith in basic human decency more than an election.  I don’t mind people putting up yard signs for the candidate they plan to vote for, although I don’t really see the point.  If I want to vote for “candidate A,” I’m going to do so, even if I’ve seen fifty signs for “candidate B.”  Still, yard signs are a nice way to show support for your favorite candidate, because they don’t hurt anybody.

The problem I have with the election process is the unbelievably vicious and negative tone of the campaigns, and I’m not just talking about the TV ads or the circulars that get stuffed in my mail box every day.  Those are horrible, and my personal response is that after I’ve seen a few, I don’t want to vote for any of the candidates.   Not because I believe the bad things they are saying about their opponents, but because I don’t want to vote for anyone who tries to win by smearing their opponent.  And these days, that’s basically everyone.

Social media is worse.  I only do Facebook, thank goodness, but even then I see way more hateful memes that I can tolerate.  And the really bad thing is, it makes me think just a little bit less of the person who is posting.  I know politics is the ultimate “them and us” situation, and it’s easy to think winning justifies any amount of fear-mongering and mud-slinging, but it still gives me pause.  And not in a good way.

The elections are over as I write this, although there are a few races still “too close to call.”  I don’t know what the outcome will be, other than that approximately half the nation will be happy with the results and the other half will be unhappy.  But whether happy or not, those of us who live in the US are all still Americans.  And it’s way past time we learned to live and work together peacefully despite our differences.  Because we’re not a “Blue” nation or a “Red” nation.  We’re a mixture of the two, which can make for a very nice color indeed….

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.

Vital Connections

DSC03900The last of my tomatoes is gone, and I didn’t get to eat any of them.  I absolutely love the taste of home-grown tomatoes, so over the past several years I’ve made several attempts to grow them myself.  Sadly, all that work and effort produced only one bumper crop of cherry tomatoes.  I was happy and proud, but it only happened once.  Some years I grew enormous tomato plants that didn’t actually produce tomatoes, other years my plants were infected with “white flies” which meant the tomatoes never ripened, and one year something ate my entire tomato plant.  All that was left was a sad little gnawed-off stump.

Hope springs eternal, so this Spring when I saw a healthy little plant that was labeled as an “early producer,” I thought I would give it a try.  I was heartened to see five tomatoes growing shortly after I planted it, and since there was no sign of the dreaded white flies, I thought this was going to be my year, tomato-wise.  But then the tomatoes began disappearing, one by one.  I asked my husband to surround the plant with a protective barrier.  That worked for three days, but this morning, all that was left of my tomato crop was a single tomato with a huge bite taken out of it.  I know when I’m beat, so I left it on the ground so some critter could finish its meal.

I think the time has come for me to admit that growing my own tomatoes is not in my skill set.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy home-grown tomatoes, it just means I have to eat tomatoes that other people have grown.  For now, I buy them at the local farmer’s market.  Later this Summer, my friends and family who can successfully grow tomatoes will most likely share their extras with me.  And I’ve decided that I’m okay with that.

The truth is, sometimes we have to rely on other people.  When the shower head in our main bathroom started dripping, my husband and I made several attempts to fix it ourselves, but finally gave up and called a plumber.  The plumber fixed it in less than an hour.  When my dog managed to snag my necklace and I heard a loud “twang,” I thought it was broken.  It wasn’t, but the chain was suddenly several inches longer.  I couldn’t figure out how a sterling silver chain suddenly lengthened, but a friend took one look at it and told me that the chain had “sprung,” which did indeed make it longer.  Sometimes other people know the answers that elude us.

I am, by nature, a somewhat independent person and I don’t apologize for that.  But I also know just how connected I am to other people, and how much we all rely on each other to get through our day-to-day lives.  And I hope I can always remember just how much I need others, even those people who don’t think, vote, believe, or look just like I do.  Because when I can remember how connected we all truly are, it’s a whole lot easier to treat others the way I want them to treat me.  And that results in a better world for everyone…..

In With The New

5648D17B-10C5-49D3-8139-2BF17A237E0DThere’s a lot to love about Spring.  The warmer temperatures, the bright colors on the trees as they sprout new buds, and the gorgeous array of flowers are all welcome signs that Winter is finally over.  Spring is a time of hope, when nature seems to reawaken and we venture outside without bundling up first.  It’s easy to understand why many people call it their favorite season, and I’m certainly always happy to see it arrive.

But Spring has its downside as well, and not just for those of us who suffer from seasonal allergies.  (Though the runny nose, sore throat, itchy eyes and sneezing isn’t any picnic to live with, especially these days when every single allergy symptom is also on the list of Covid symptoms.)  The problem with Spring, for me anyway, is that it involves a whole lot of work.

Spring cleaning my house is simply the beginning.  Once I’ve given everything a thorough cleaning and airing, including painting touch-ups, I help my husband with the yard.  We set up our patio furniture, rake the last of our neighbor’s leaves off our grass, haul out our flower pots to refill, trim bushes and plants, and spread the newly-delivered mulch.  The big box-store commercials make preparing our yards for Spring look like so much fun, but after a few  hours of steady work, trust me, the thrill wears off.

And then there’s the worst job of all: my annual “shifting of the wardrobe.”  This involves removing all the Winter/Fall clothes from my closet and dresser and replacing them with my warm-weather clothes.  It sounds easy, I know, but I struggle with this job each year.  Spring’s fluctuating temperatures makes deciding what I should pack away and what I should leave out for another few weeks rather difficult.  Then there’s the whole question of what I should do with a sweater that I bought (on sale, from a high-end store) three years ago and haven’t worn once.  Or the blouse that I’ve worn many times, because I’ve been wearing it for twelve years.  Just how long is too long to hang on to a blouse?  These are not decisions that I make easily.

I know my life would be simpler if I lived in a house that had a closet big enough to store all my clothes year-round.  But as hard as it is for me to sort through everything two or three times a year, I also know it’s actually a good thing.  It forces me to evaluate my clothes and make a conscious decision on exactly what I want to keep, and helps me recognize when the time has come to get rid of a sweater I once loved but has long since lost its shape and no longer fits.  It’s sort of a  “fashion renewal.”

I still love Spring, despite my allergies and all the work it brings.  Sprucing up our yard, buying new flowers to plant, and weeding out my wardrobe is worth the effort, because discarding what no longer works and actively making room for new things gives me hope.  And the hope that comes from renewal is the very best part of Spring.

Little Things

I got a letter from the gas company today, threatening to turn our gas off if we didn’t contact them immediately to schedule a safety inspection for our gas meter.  I had already scheduled the inspection and it was completed three days ago.  According to the inspector, our meter passed.  I don’t know if the inspector failed to turn his report in, or if the gas company sent the letter before he did so, but the upshot was that I called the gas company’s customer service department and was on hold for a long time before getting a recording saying, “All our representatives are busy now, please leave a voice mail and we’ll get back to you soon.”  That was three hours ago, and I’m still waiting.

In the grand scheme of things, this is not a huge problem.  I’m sure it will get sorted out eventually, and even if they do turn our gas off temporarily, we have electric space heaters and I can cook in our electric toaster oven.  But it is annoying and something I’d rather not deal with.

Lately, I’ve found myself getting far too annoyed at “the little things.”  When a neighbor decided to keep her trash cans at the curb next to our driveway, I was really offended, and not just because it’s against the city ordinances.  It bothered me to look out my window and see them there.  I got upset when there was only one checker working in the store on a busy Saturday morning, resulting in a long wait to check out with my groceries.  It seemed that the little things were adding up, and I was reacting with both anger and impatience.

Which meant that it was time for a good old-fashioned “attitude adjustment.”  Yes, life has been difficult for the past two years and continues to be in many ways.  But the reality is that if I can pay enough attention to the little things to become annoyed by them, then I can also pay enough attention to the little things to react in a more positive way.  The trick is simply to pay attention to different little things.

fullsizeoutput_507dRather than look out my window and see ugly trash cans, I can focus on the beautiful daffodils or the lovely purple buds on our young tree.  Instead of being frustrated by how hard it is to schedule family gatherings at holidays, I can be thankful that my son and daughter live close enough that we always get to celebrate the holidays with them and their families.  I can be thankful that my husband and I are able to eat inside our favorite restaurants again, be grateful that today’s storms didn’t cause any damage in our area, and thrilled that one of my favorite shelter dogs was finally adopted.

Yes, the little things do count, and they do have a very real effect on our moods.  But the good news is that the positive little things add up just as quickly as the negative ones, and they produce a much, much better result.  And the choice of which little things we pay attention to is ours……

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.

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…..

Like A Child

Sometimes I enjoy a good snowfall.  My living room has a gas fireplace and a large picture window, which makes it especially nice for sitting in a cozy armchair and watching the big fluffy snowflakes gently falling to the ground.  It’s an incredibly relaxing experience, and almost always leaves me with a lovely feeling of comfort and peace.

Unfortunately, not all Winter weather delivers in the comfort and peace department.  Early last week, the local weather forecasters predicted what could be our worst snow storm in over a decade, if not a century.  Depending on which TV channel I watched, I learned that we could get up to four hours of freezing rain, followed by several inches of sleet, topped off with twenty-plus inches of snow.  Like almost everyone else, I dutifully trotted off to the grocery store to stock up on supplies.  Then I checked that my emergency stash of candles and flashlight batteries was adequate and asked my husband to make sure we had gasoline for the generator,  (And tried not to worry too much when he told me he wasn’t even sure our generator still worked.)

When it finally hit, the Winter storm wasn’t nearly as bad as predicted.  We managed to skip the freezing rain altogether, and had only about an inch of sleet.  Sleet can be dangerous, but it’s not nearly as slippery as ice and it also doesn’t bring down power lines.  And while we did get plenty of snow, eight inches is a lot better than twenty.

I was happy that we were spared the “storm of the decade,” but I can’t say that I managed to enjoy this snowfall.  We never did get big fluffy snowflakes, but we did get lots of wind, very cold temperatures and stiff muscles from shoveling our sidewalks and driveway.  And I can only say that I must have had my mind on other things when I stocked up on groceries, because once we were snowed in I discovered that I was missing a few essentials.  (It’s really hard to make tuna casserole without tuna, or home-made pizza without cheese.)  As far as I was concerned, this snowstorm was just something to be endured.

981CD5CD-BD3A-43F4-BD75-A6FA657AC41ABut then I started getting texts from my daughter, complete with pictures of my grandson out enjoying the snow, as children do.  He went sledding, built a snowman and even “helped” with the shoveling.  At four, he’s far too young to listen to weather reports, but he sure knows how to have fun in the snow.  And thankfully, that reminded me that not everyone saw the recent snowfall through my jaded eyes.

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I hope I can always remember just how much it helps to see the world from someone else’s point of view now and then.  I hope I can remember that what’s an inconvenience to me might also my granddaughter’s first chance to play in the snow.  Because sometimes, all we need to do to brighten our mood is try to see things through the eyes of a child……

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……