For What It’s Worth

For my last birthday, my son and daughter-in-law gave me a gift certificate good for a “behind the scenes encounter” our local zoo.  There were lots of different options to choose from (some easily ruled out, as I have no desire to get up close and personal with large reptiles.)   I chose the Penguin Encounter, and last Tuesday, my husband and I joined a small group of people who toured of the zoo’s penguin facilities.  We learned how the penguins are cared for at the zoo as well as how they live in the wild.  We also learned about the zoo’s efforts to preserve the natural habitat of penguins, and finally, we were actually able to “meet” a couple penguins.

IMG_0697We were instructed to sit quietly on the floor in a large circle.  Then the keeper led in two penguins, explaining that these two were well socialized and accustomed to walking around in the building.  We were allowed to gently touch their back or chest with one hand if they came close enough that we could touch them without leaning forward or extending our arm.  Sure enough, one of them waddled right up to me, and now I can honestly say that I have “petted a penguin.”

I really appreciated this gift, and not just because it was so fun to interact with a real penguin.  It also served as a timely reminder that what I value most in life has nothing to do with material objects and everything to do with how I get to spend my time.  Hanging out with my grandson, going on a trip to somewhere I’ve never been before, having dinner with good friends, even helping someone in need: these are the experiences that make life so interesting and that create memories that stay with us forever.

Like most people, I have a tendency to acquire far more things than I actually need, and even a bit more than I truly want.  I think it’s partly a result of human nature, and partly a result of the consumer-driven society I happen to live in.  It’s so easy for us to believe we want or need something, especially if we happen to notice that lots of other people really want it too.  (Remember Beanie Babies?)   Sometimes it seems as if unreasonable greed lives just below the surface in most of us, just waiting for something to trigger it.

But the truth of the matter is I have almost everything I need or want, and there really is very little reason to bring even more stuff into my modestly-sized house.  Which is something I’ll need to remember as I help my mom sort through all the things she’s accumulated but has no room for as she downsizes into her new apartment next month.  There’s going to be a whole lot of stuff that needs a new home, and I want to make sure that very little of it finds its way over to my house.

Because when you come right down to it, stuff is just that:  stuff.  And accumulating too much of it just makes our houses too crowded and our lives too complicated.  Far better to spend our time and energies doing the things that make us happy.  And who knows?  Sometimes that might even mean petting a penguin…..

The Best-Laid Plans

When I was a teenager, I learned to drive by practicing on my family’s Volkswagen Beetle, which had a stick shift.  As anyone who has driven a car with a stick shift knows, when you don’t shift properly, the car only moves forward in a jerky series of starts and stops, and sometimes just stalls out.  It was hard to get the knack of releasing the clutch and stepping on the gas in just the right way so that the car shifted smoothly into the next gear.  I figured it out eventually, but are times in my life when I feel as if I’m still in that little car, struggling to shift gears in a way that doesn’t jerk me all over the road.  This is one of those times.

A few weeks ago, we put my mother on a waiting list for a retirement community.   It was time for her to have a smaller living space to manage and more opportunities for socialization and activities, while still remaining independent.  The community she chose will provide all that, and once the decision had been made, we were eager to move ahead.  Unfortunately, we were told it could be a year before an apartment actually became available, so I reluctantly “shifted gears” and resigned myself to a long wait.  I even decided that the waiting was a good thing, since it would give Mom plenty of time to figure out what she wanted to take with her and to distribute the stuff she no longer needed.

Last week, I was organizing my paperwork when I noticed that I hadn’t put my cell phone number on the retirement community’s contact sheet.  I called the housing director to let her know, and after listening to me ramble a while, she said, “So I’m guessing you didn’t get my message yesterday?  The one that said the apartment you looked at is available now?”

C1bn%xHURyKz0aRtXD8CmQI was stunned.  The apartment we looked at was bright and airy, had an extra closet, and a balcony that overlooked the garden.  We all loved it, but were told that balcony apartments could take as much as two years to get, so Mom knew that the apartment she was going to get most likely wouldn’t have the balcony or extra closet.   And yet that exact apartment was now available immediately.  Mom was thrilled, and so were we, but it meant “changing gears” again as we prepare for a move in the very near future.

The last post I wrote about my mom’s upcoming move to a retirement home was all about patience, which is an area where I come up just a tad short.  And patience truly is a virtue that I’m working hard to acquire.  But sometimes life calls for other strengths, such as the ability to “go with the flow,” to move quickly when needed, and to seize an opportunity when it comes our way.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever learn to “shift gears” to adapt to the changes in my life nearly as well as I learned to shift gears in an actual car, but that’s okay.  I may be moving forward in a series of starts and stops, but I still get where I need to be.  And that’s all that really matters anyway…..

The Good Fight

TvlA4iu0QPinzH73TPpYigI don’t usually pay much attention to Facebook memes, but I saw one a few years ago that really spoke to me.  It was a quote from Mary Anne Radmacher that read, “Courage does not always roar.  Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.'”  I think I remembered that quote because I found a lot of wisdom in her words, and some much-needed encouragement as well.

We live in a world where it is almost impossible to escape from the constant roar of angry voices around us.  It comes at us from all angles:  social media, the daily news, even conversations with friends and acquaintances.  And of course there is much in this world to provoke our anger, and many injustices that need to be corrected and many problems that need to be solved.  There never has been, or probably never will be, any shortage of things to be angry about, in either our personal lives or in the society we live in.  But the problem is, simply expressing our anger isn’t actually going to fix a thing.

It’s easy to point out injustices and issues, and speak out against them, loudly and frequently.  Nothing could be simpler than to point the finger of blame and to ridicule and demonize those who look at things a bit differently.  And few things are more comfortable than surrounding ourselves in a cloak of self-righteous, moral superiority.  Which is exactly why we all behave that way once in a while, and why some of us seem to get stuck in that mode.  Sadly, venting can become a habit and anger tends to breed even more anger.

But actually correcting injustices and solving problems requires so much more than simply speaking out.  It also requires a whole lot of hard work and sustained effort.  It often means we have to make some personal sacrifices, and it usually means that we have to be in dialogue with, and sometimes even work with, the very people who made us angry in the first place.  But mostly, fixing long-term and complex problems requires a whole lot of patience and persistence.

Like most people, I prefer quick and easy to solutions to the problems I face, both in my personal life and in the world around me.  But real life rarely works that way.  Which means that sometimes I’m going to feel so frustrated and discouraged that I just want to either lash out in anger or simply throw up my hands and walk away in despair.  Yet that is exactly the time when I need to dig down deep in myself and find the strength to carry on, moving forward with patience, an open mind, and the quiet resolve to make things better.

In other words, I have to find the courage to “try again tomorrow.”

Come Together

First of all, I have to admit that I’m not really a hockey fan.  I may live in a city that has it’s very own NHL hockey team, but I’ve been to exactly one hockey game in my life and that was only because somebody gave my husband a couple of free tickets.   So it took me a while to realize that the St. Louis Blues were doing well enough to make it to the playoffs.  And that they did well enough in the playoffs to get a chance to play for the Stanley Cup.  That’s when I began to pay attention, and I’m really glad I did.

Banners proclaiming “Let’s Go Blues” sprang up all over the city, draped across buildings, hanging from highway overpasses, and proudly displayed on front lawns.  One radio station pledged to keep playing “Gloria” (this season’s theme song) non-stop until the Blues won the Stanley cup.  Statues of historic figures sported Blues jerseys and huge “watch parties” were organized so that Blues fans could gather to watch not only the games that were played in Boston, but the sold-out St. Louis games as well.

It was hard not to get caught up in the excitement, so my husband and put on blue shirts and headed out to watch the final games in the series.  We watched game five in a German restaurant that was televising the game on a huge screen in it’s bar, and helped the crowd cheer the Blues as they won.  We went to a sports bar for game six with high hopes, but they lost that game.  Being slightly superstitious, we went back to the German restaurant to watch game seven, figuring we were doing our small part to ensure a victory.  (We even sat at the same table and ordered the same food.)

It was a really fun night.  The bar area wasn’t too crowded when we first arrived, but by the time the game started, it was packed.  The crowd was a mixture of old and young, men and women, some in Blues attire and some not.  Late-comers were brought up to date on the action by those already seated at tables.  We all clapped and cheered for the good plays, and when the Blues scored a goal, everyone was up, hugging, cheering, and high-fiving people they hadn’t even met before.

IMG_5296When the Blues were ahead by three points with just over a minute left in the game, a young man sitting near the TV stood up and shouted, “Everyone on their feet for the final minute!”  And we all stood up, even the elderly woman with the walker.  The joy when the final buzzer went off was off-the-chart.

I’m incredibly happy that the Blues won that night.  Not just because this is their first Stanley Cup, although that’s an impressive achievement.  What I liked best was seeing my city drawing together to support their hockey team, and how we could see, at least for a little while, what it feels like to unite as a community toward a common goal.   In the days leading up to the final game, it was so easy to ignore all the things that usually divide us and to simply be fans of the St. Louis Blues, rooting for a historic victory for our city’s team.

I know it was just a game, and that soon enough, we’ll go back to the usual fussing and bickering about all the issues that we allow to divide us.  But I hope we’ll remember just how good it feels when we manage to stand together…..

The Bright Side

I have often wished I was just a tad more optimistic.  I wish I had a natural inclination to look at the bright side of life, to see the “glass as half full,”and to assume that things will almost always work out just fine in the end.  That sounds like a wonderful perspective to have, and I really wish it was mine.  But it’s not.

I’m not exactly “Little Miss Doom and Gloom,” but I have always been the kind of person who isn’t surprised when problems show up, even the big ones.  When something bad happens in my life, the thought “but I never thought this would happen to me” doesn’t cross my mind.  I’m much more likely to think, “of course this happened to me!  Why wouldn’t it?”  It’s not something I’m proud of, believe me…..it’s just who I am.

But the good news is that attitudes can be changed, and I’m working hard to change mine.

Which is why, after living with our new dog Finn for over a week, I’m finally accepting him at face value and realizing that he is indeed a very nice little dog.  I liked him from the start, but I also found myself “waiting for the other shoe to fall,” meaning that he would exhibit some awful behavior that would make me regret bringing him home.  (In my defense, I’ve had a little experience along those lines.)   But happily, we haven’t seen a single serious behavior issue at all.

IMG_4558He’s actually sort of a lovable goof.  I don’t think he was first in line when brains were given out, but he seems to have made up for that with an extra helping of nice, and that’s a trade that will serve him well.  He has an adorable habit of leaping into the air for joy every third or fourth step when he’s running across the yard.  He’s shown nothing but friendly interest in our toddler grandson and is very housebroken.  In short, all my fears and worries about adopting him were for nothing.

Adopting Finn has helped me realize that there really is nothing to be gained by focusing quite so much on all the things that can go wrong in my life, and by focusing a whole lot more on all the things that can go right.  “Count your blessings” may sound hopelessly cheesy, but it’s actually a very helpful way to remind ourselves of all the good things we already have.  When I truly recognize the many, many, good things that have happened to me already, I can’t help but feel appreciative.  And more importantly, I have to acknowledge that it just stands to reason that other good things will come my way as well.  Of course bad stuff happens to us all, but it’s high time I stopped actively expecting it to show up on a regular basis.

I’ve come to believe that dogs can teach us many things if we’re willing to learn, and Finn is busy teaching me that sometimes, things work out exactly as we had hoped…and all we can do is be grateful.

Many Hands

As you may know, St. Louis was hit with a doozie of a snowstorm this weekend.  We had sleet and a little freezing rain, followed by about a foot of snow, topped off with more sleet and freezing drizzle.  The result was super-slippery roads, resulting in many accidents, highway and street closures, and general misery for all those who were simply trying to get home at the end of a long week.

img_4454On Saturday morning, we awakened to what looked like a winter wonderland.  Snow was everywhere, at least a foot deep.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t the dry, powdery snow that skiers love.  It was the heavy, soggy snow that can damage roofs and bushes, and even cause trees to drop branches on power lines.  When we saw that the tall bushes that line our property were bowing low under the weight of the snow, we quickly bundled up and headed outside to do some heavy-duty snow removal.

If you ever want proof that you aren’t young anymore, I can recommend trying to shovel two porches, two sidewalks and a driveway that holds seven cars….after you’ve already spent twenty minutes knocking snow off a few dozen bushes.  I started at the end of the driveway, where the snowplow had helpfully piled up the huge mountain of snow it had removed from the street.  My husband and I worked hard, but we both needed a break before we had shoveled even a fourth of the driveway.  I cooked breakfast, and while I was cleaning up, my husband headed back outside to tackle the driveway again.

I’ll go ahead and admit that I didn’t exactly hurry my way through the breakfast dishes.  I was still tired and sore (that snow pile at the end of the driveway was partially ice, and that stuff was heavy) and I figured it didn’t hurt to take a little longer break before I went back out.  I knew it was going to take hours to get everything shoveled, so there was no reason to hurry.

So you can imagine my surprise when I finally finished the dishes and looked outside to see that our driveway was almost completely cleared.  Especially since the man I saw shoveling the last bit of snow was not my husband.  In fact, there were actually three people out there helping my husband finish the driveway and I didn’t know recognize any of them.  I wondered, briefly, if they were some sort of service group who were out shoveling for the elderly.  But surely we’re not that old….

Turns out, they were neighbors who lived down the block and they told my husband that they had come to help simply because we had “the longest driveway in the neighborhood.” My husband thanked them profusely, but even so, I doubt they had any idea how much we appreciated their help.  It would have taken us hours to get everything shoveled and we would have been sore for days afterwards.

Lots of people are willing to help others as long as they are noticed and admired for their good work.  But far fewer people are willing to pitch in and help with no expectation of recognition or thanks, especially when the work required is truly hard.  Yet those people are a gift and a reminder to the rest of us that, wherever and whenever possible, we need to step forward and lend a helping hand.

One of my mother-in-law’s favorite sayings was, “Many hands make light work.”  And she was absolutely right.  Because when we work together, it’s amazing what can be accomplished.

A Happy Anniversary

It wasn’t until  sat down to write this week’s post that I realized this month is my blog’s four-year anniversary.  (I’m embarrassed to admit that I actually thought it was my blog’s fifth anniversary until I did the math one more time.  Some of us just weren’t cut out for working with numbers….)  Anyway, I’m happy to say that the blog I started with much hope and trepidation four years ago is still going strong and that the experience has turned out to be a very good one.

It’s impossible to do something for four years straight and not learn a few things along the way.  Prior to starting my blog, I had harbored a deep distrust of the internet, and couldn’t even buy something on line without panicking at the thought of actually putting my credit card number out there in cyberspace.  The thought of putting my writing on the internet for all the world to see (and comment on) was the biggest hurdle I had to overcome before I could summon up the nerve to publish my first post.  One of the first things my blog taught me is that the using the internet isn’t quite as dangerous as I had believed.

Yes, there are hackers galore, and there are also lots of folks out there who spend their days making nasty online comments to perfect strangers just because they can.  But there are far more good people who are willing to offer encouragement, advice and kindness to the people they meet online.  One of the best things about writing a blog post is getting comments on it that expand and improve on the point I was trying to make, and that happens a lot.  I feel very lucky to have readers who are both smart and generous with their knowledge.

I’ve also learned that we humans have much more in common than I ever realized.  My intended audience was middle-aged women, mostly because that’s who I was (yes, I know at sixty I’m stretching the definition of middle age a bit) and I figured those were the people who would relate to what I had to say.  But I have regular readers who are male, and regular readers who are either younger or older than I am.  It turns out, most of the issues I struggle with aren’t restricted to middle-aged woman at all.  They’re human issues that most of us can relate to just fine, no matter what our age, sex, belief system, or nationality happens to be.  The blogging community can represent diversity at its best.

Finally, I’ve learned how important it is not to let my fears, both the reasonable and the not-so-reasonable ones, stop me from doing the things I really want to do.  I love writing and I love writing this blog, yet if I hadn’t managed to overcome my fears of “putting myself out there” on the internet, I would not have spent the past four years writing this particular blog.  And that would have been a real shame, because I would missed out on all the gifts this blog has given me:  the chance to grow as a writer, to connect with terrific people from all over the world, and the hope that (with a little luck and a lot of work) I may make it to my actual five year blogging anniversary.

Only The Best

I was at a restaurant the other night when I noticed a young couple being seated at a nearby table.  As soon as they sat down, the man placed his laptop computer on the table in front of him and began typing.  The woman immediately pulled out her phone and gave it her full attention.  The looked up from their devices just long enough to place their orders, but I don’t think they said more than three words to each other before their food arrived.

DSC03670 2Once the food came, the man pushed his computer aside and began to eat, but the woman kept her phone out and used it to take some photos of her dinner.  And apparently the lighting over their table wasn’t very good, because she picked up her plate and carried it to an empty table, where she put it down and took another photo.  I guess that photo wasn’t satisfactory either, because she repeated the process at several other tables before she finally carried her food back to her own table and began to eat.

I’ll never know exactly why the woman was so concerned with getting a high-quality photo of her dinner, but I assume she intended to share it on social media.  We certainly live in a time where it’s common to share almost every detail of our lives and almost every thought that crosses our minds, and the internet makes it so very easy for us to do so.  But it seems to me that all too often, we have lost sight of the difference between the things we should share and the things that we should be keeping to ourselves.

Honestly, sharing all the mundane details of our lives only annoys other people.  (I know I could live happily without ever seeing a photo of someone else’s meal.)   But far worse is the kind of sharing that is downright hurtful. When someone we care for voices an opinion that we think is just plain silly, we don’t need to actually tell them that.  I’ve never yet met a pregnant woman who appreciated being told about someone’s incredibly long and painful labor.  And people who have made difficult decisions don’t benefit from having someone second-guess their choice afterwards.  A good rule of thumb is that if sharing our thoughts will cause unnecessary stress or hurt feelings, then those thoughts shouldn’t be shared at all.

Sharing is a good thing, as long as we do it wisely.  We can do an incredible amount of good when we share our resources with those who are in desperate need, and sharing words of encouragement and hope can make a huge difference in the life of someone who is struggling.  The trick is to make sure that what we are sharing is something that is actually wanted and/or needed by the person we intended to share with.

I still think about that couple at the restaurant.  Maybe they really didn’t have anything they wanted to say to each other.  But I believe that their dinner would have been so much better if, rather than focusing on taking a good photo of their food to share online, they’d chosen to give their time and attention to each other instead.  That, in my opinion, would have been something actually worth sharing.  Because good things happen when we choose to share only the very best we have to offer…..

A Change of Season

fullsizeoutput_4c9dAutumn has never been my favorite season, but for some reason, this year is different.  This year I’m actually enjoying Autumn.  Maybe it’s because we finally got a Fall with a lot of beautiful color on the trees, or maybe it’s because we enjoyed a spell of perfect Autumn weather with warm days and cool nights.  It might be that Halloween is fun again, now that I have a grandson among the trick-or-treaters.  (He may not be able to walk on his own yet, but he still looked adorable in his penguin costume.)  It could even be that my mother and sister are hosting the Thanksgiving dinner this year, which spares me the cleaning and shopping frenzy that usually defines my early November.

IMG_4023All I know is that I feel a new appreciation for Autumn, even now that the weather has turned cold and rainy.  I loved baking my first pumpkin pie of the season and have decorated my front porch with pumpkins.  I didn’t even mind packing away the last of my summer clothes and switching them out for the warmer clothes I’ll be needing in the upcoming months.

Perhaps I’m finally learning to live in the moment, and appreciate what I have right now rather than impatiently waiting for something better.  I suppose one sign of maturity is realizing that life is never going to be entirely (or even mostly) perfect, and that if I want to be happy, I need to learn to be happy with the messy imperfections that always make up the here and now.  I need to look around me at what I do have and be grateful for it.  And when I see a problem that needs to be fixed, I have to be willing to work hard to change what I can and also accept that sometimes my best efforts won’t be good enough.

Maybe I’m beginning to appreciate Autumn because I am, at age sixty, in the Autumn of my own life.  And while I have lost much of the strength and vigor of my youth, I am also beginning to understand the gifts that this season of my life brings.  It’s nice to reach the stage where I’m truly beginning to accept (and even like) who I am, especially because that makes it so much easier to accept other people exactly as they are.  Sometimes I do miss having young children at home, but I also enjoy the peacefulness  that an “empty nest” brings.  And it’s rewarding to get to know my son and daughter as independent adults who are happily making their own way in life.

When I was young, I never cared much for Fall.  I missed the warmth and freedom of summer, and was impatient for the Christmas season to begin.  But now I see that there’s a real beauty in this time and I’m more than happy to savor the many gifts of this season.  Winter will be here soon enough, but that’s okay….for now, I’m just happy to enjoy Autumn.

The New Age

When I first started this blog, I planned to write about the challenges facing women “of a certain age.”  Specifically, I wanted to write about how to handle the time in our lives when we can no longer call ourselves young without everyone thinking we are either drunk or completely delusional, and yet are also not ready to embrace the title of senior citizen.  (Although we will happily accept the discounts, especially if no one is around to see it.)

You would think that after four years of writing this blog I would have run out of things to say on the subject, but so far that hasn’t happened.  And I think I know why.  I may not always write specifically about aging, but the fact that I am a sixty-year old woman really does impact how I see the world around me and how I interact with it.

If I were writing this blog when I was eighteen, you can bet that not a single post would mention wrinkles, menopause or nostalgia for a time when I woke up and some part of my body didn’t hurt.  Instead, I’d probably be writing about struggling with trying to pick a major in college that would lead to a rewarding career, wondering if I was ever going to find true love, and did I have enough money to buy myself a couple of beers on Friday night?

So one way or another, my age does determine my perspective, in both good and bad ways.  For example, I would have considered my recent oral surgery a bad thing, no matter what age I had to endure it.  But as a sixty-year old woman, I couldn’t help but notice that the slight swelling in my cheeks did a great (if temporary) job of eliminating the fine wrinkles around my mouth.   And when I was a young woman, a shopping trip meant searching for clothes that were both stylish and flattering.  Now I couldn’t possibly care less about what’s in style (I refuse to wear “peek-a-boo shoulder” blouses and my chubby little legs will never be stuffed into a pair of skinny jeans) and seek mainly comfort when I’m making my wardrobe selections.  If the outfit is also flattering, that’s a plus, but it’s not mandatory.  Thank goodness, because so few of them are.

IMG_3935The bottom line is that being sixty is a part of who I am now, just as being seventy will be a part of who I am in ten years.  Age affects all our lives.   I was reminded of this last week when I was watching my grandson, who is now eight-months old.  It wasn’t that long ago when he was still at the age where he stayed where I put him.  Now he not only crawls over to his toy box when I put him on the floor,  he reaches into it and personally selects the toys he’d like to play with.  Sometimes age has a very big impact indeed.

I suppose I will never reach the point where I have written all I can about coping with a particular phase of my life, because each phase simply flows into the next.  And each phase brings its own unique challenges and rewards.  All I can hope is that this adventure continues for many more years to come….