Ready or Not

Fall has finally arrived, but I’m not ready for it.  I’m not ready yet to say goodbye to Summer, with its long, hot days and warm nights.  I don’t want to pack away all my Summer clothes and exchange my sandals for shoes and socks.  I hate the way the flowers in the pots around my patio are beginning to wilt and wither no matter how much I water them, and the way the daylight is fading just a bit earlier with each passing week.  Yes, I know the calendar says Summer officially ended over a week ago, but in my mind, there should be at least another month of it to go.

Part of the problem is that my husband and I didn’t get to have much of a Summer this year.  He had a bad reaction to surgery in early July, and his extended hospitalization and recovery period meant we had to abandon our plans for a Summer getaway trip.  And it seemed as if by the time my husband was finally feeling well enough to enjoy Summer activities, the season was practically over.  I think it’s hard to move on to a new season when you don’t feel as if you really experienced the old one.

My guess is that a lot of people are feeling that way these days, even though their personal situation isn’t exactly the same as ours.  We’ve been living through some very strange times, mostly due to the horrible pandemic that refuses to go away, and also because of the many natural disasters that have occurred and what feels like more than our usual share of political upheaval.  So many of us have felt the loss of the things that we hold dear about our normal lives, and it’s only natural to have trouble letting go of our expectations and moving forward.

The trouble is, we don’t really have a choice.  Time marches steadily on, usually faster than we would prefer, and there’s not a darn thing we can do about it.  Clinging to our ideas of “what should have been” doesn’t get us anywhere we want to be, and it actually makes it harder to move into the future with any hope or sense of purpose.  The only thing to do is move forward, appreciating what we have and anticipating what is to come.  Because there will always be something to enjoy and treasure if we can just open our eyes and see it.

IMG_4023So I’m dragging out my Fall decorations, placing pumpkins and mums on my front porch, and pretty soon I’ll bake the traditional pumpkin pie that, to me, always signals the beginning of this season.  I know that the leaves on the trees will soon be exploding in beautiful colors and that the shorter days mean cooler nights, which are perfect for enjoying on our patio.  No, I didn’t get the Summer I had hoped for, but who knows?  This Fall might just make up for it.  It’s worth a try, anyway.

Unexpected Gifts

When I first began this blog, I kept to a strict schedule of publishing a new post at least every four days.  I worried that I wasn’t posting often enough, because I’d read that all successful blogs posted something new every single day, but I also knew that daily posting would be too much for me.  Eventually, I settled on my current blogging schedule of posting once a week or so, and that usually seems to work out just fine.

Usually, but not always. Because when it came time to write my most recent post, I found myself coming up with one excuse after another for not actually sitting down at my computer and writing.  I’m not exactly sure what my problem was, although life has been particularly hectic lately and I am easily distracted.  Still, I knew writing requires self discipline and I finally told myself, very firmly, that I was going to write a post on Thursday, come hell or high water.  I had made my plan, and I was going to stick to it, no excuses accepted.

But that didn’t happen.  Thursday flew by with visits from multiple repairmen and delivery services, all of which required some major rearranging of our house and furniture, and a couple of quick trips to the store.  And the evening was even more interesting, when we were hit with an unexpected storm that brought 70-miles per hour winds and heavy rains.  We lost both our power and our internet service, but counted ourselves lucky not to sustain any major property damage. 

By Friday morning our power had come back on but our internet was still out, so writing a blog post wasn’t an option.  But I wouldn’t have had time to write one anyway, because my son’s house and my granddaughter’s daycare center were still without power, and so I spent the day helping care for my granddaughter while my son and his wife worked from our home. 

I’m embarrassed to say that I actually felt guilty, just for a little while, for neglecting my blog after I had been so determined to write that overdo post.  (I’ve always been a little slow on the uptake, but this was a stretch, even for me.)  But finally I came to my senses and realized:  I wasn’t neglecting my blog at all.  I was simply taking care of things that needed my attention a bit more urgently and that were a lot more important.  Storms happen.  Grandchildren require care.  Washing machines break and need to be replaced as soon as possible. 

BWa7CwnUQ2aoDvsK6Di43QYes, my blog is important to me and I love the creative outlet (and self-discipline) it helps provide.  But there are going to be times when it takes a back seat to the other demands on my time and that’s perfectly okay.  Sometimes our normal routines are interrupted, but we get back to them eventually.   And in this case, the interruption meant I got to spend the day with one of my very favorite people in the world…..so I’m not about to complain.

 

What It Is

No one ever promised us that life would always be easy.  Or if someone did, they lied.  Because sometimes, no matter what we do, life is just plain hard.  And the older I get, the more I believe that the wisest thing to do is to simply accept that fact.

I read recently (I’d quote the source, but of course I can’t remember it) that one of the main sources of our frustration is the difference between what we expected and what we actually get.  That really resonated with me, because I’ve found that almost every time I’m frustrated and upset, it’s because the situation I find myself in is not the situation I was hoping for or expecting.  And it’s the gap between what I had anticipated and the reality of what actually occurred that often makes me feel so upset.  In other words, the more I think about “what should have been,” the more disappointed and bitter I become.

One way to ward off that frustration would be to simply stop planning or hoping for good things in our lives, because then we wouldn’t be disappointed when those good things didn’t actually materialize.  That philosophy might guarantee we’re never going to be disappointed again, (if you don’t ever plan that dream vacation, you never have to worry about it getting cancelled) but who wants to live like that?  I sure don’t.

I think, perhaps, that the key is to simply remember that nothing in this world is ever guaranteed, and that sometimes even our best-laid plans are going to veer wildly off course.  Challenges we never saw coming are going to pop up when we least expect them, and often when we’re least prepared to cope with them.  And when that happens, it’s natural to be upset and disappointed, at least for a while.  But eventually, we have to let go of our frustration and focus on dealing with the situation at hand.

My husband and I didn’t plan on spending our anniversary at the Emergency Room a mere five days after what was supposed to be a simple surgery, but we did.  And I didn’t plan on sitting at his bedside in the hospital for nine days after that either.  At first, I was bitter because this was not “how things were supposed to be.”  But eventually, I managed to let go of my frustration and simply accept what was.  My husband was in a good hospital, getting good medical care, and he was slowly but surely improving.  I was allowed to be with him, which wasn’t the case for hospital patients when the pandemic first hit.  I was even allowed to bring him food, which tasted a lot better than what the hospital cafeteria sent up.  In other words, I had reasons to be grateful, once I was willing to let go of my expectations and actually see them.

5oNQQuOjR1SkDZ6qfXaozAAnd the fact that life can be unexpectedly hard isn’t the only thing I accept.  I also accept, and even plan on, the fact that life can also be quite good.  Which is why I have every intention of making a dinner reservation at a very nice restaurant when next year’s anniversary rolls around, and I might even look into booking a weekend getaway as well.  That celebration may not actually happen, but I’m hoping it will, and that hope is enough for me.

Just Be There

We’ve had a rough couple of weeks in our household, and things are just now returning to normal.  Once again, my husband had a surgery that went well and a recovery that didn’t.  Honestly, he’s spent so much time in a hospital lately that I seriously considered hauling in his favorite recliner chair and repainting the walls of the room his favorite color.  I figured if he had to be stuck for so long in a hospital room, we may as well make it nice.  Luckily, he was released before I gave in to the urge to redecorate his surroundings and now he’s back home where he belongs.

I’ve always found that when difficult times arrive, I spend all my time and energy just coping, and don’t really “process” what’s happened until later. But now that things have finally calmed down, I find myself looking back over the past few weeks and realizing one very important thing:  there is no way in the world I would have managed without the amazing support of so many caring people.

Hospitals have always been scary places for me (I tend to faint at the sight of blood), but I found out they’re even scarier when the patient is your loved one and and they aren’t doing so well.  And you know what helped me deal with that fear?  The nursing staff who were unfailingly cheerful and attentive, and who always took the time to reassure me when I needed it.  Being an advocate for a patient in a hospital is exhausting, both physically and emotionally, but seeing how good the nurses were at caring for my husband made it so much easier to bear.

I’m also incredibly thankful for the many friends and relatives who took the time to call and text, keeping track of my husband’s progress and offering nonstop encouragement and support.  There were times when those texts were the lifeline I needed to stay (or at least try to appear) calm and strong, and other times when they  provided relief from the boredom of sitting in a hospital room day after day, or gave me a much-needed laugh.  Friends and family are gifts, and you never realize just how much of a gift until you’re in a tough spot and they’re right there with you every step of the way.

It was also a gift to see so many people reaching out to my husband in his time of need.  He had more people praying for him than I could possibly count.  Cards arrived almost daily, some from college friends he hasn’t seen in decades, and all of them helped raise his spirits.  One of his old friends sent him personalized copies of the books he’d written about his own battle with cancer, and the tips for staying positive helped enormously.  Frankly, my husband isn’t usually much for reading, but he not only read those books, he took one of them with him when he was readmitted to the hospital and read from it daily.

This post is more personal than what I usually write, and I hope I haven’t overdone the detail.  But the reason I’m sharing it is simple.  The next time someone you know is going through a tough time, please reach out and offer them your support.  Don’t let fear of intruding or “being a pest” stop you.  Because even if they don’t have time to acknowledge it or respond to you, your care and concern will mean the world to them.  Trust me, it really will.

Opting Out

I’ve hit the wall, and I’m done.  I know we’ve all been through a lot in the past year and a half, and that most of our nerves are truly shot.  I know it’s human nature to want to divide the world into “them and us,” and that isn’t going to change.  I know the easiest way to feel better about ourselves is to look down on someone else, and how tempting it is to do that.  Most of all, I know I’ve been guilty of all of this myself, far too often.  But it seems to me that the ugliness has reached new heights these days, and I have gotten to the point where I just can’t take it anymore. 

I don’t want to live my life in fear and anger, or even in a state of “justified” outrage.  I don’t want to believe that people who are different from me are necessarily bad people.  I don’t want to spend precious time ridiculing those whose behavior and choices I don’t understand, and I most definitely don’t want to indulge in pointless online arguments with those who dare to express an opinion I don’t happen to agree with. 

Life can be tough, and it’s normal to want to find someone, or a group of people, to single out as the cause of all our problems.  But a quick look at history shows us that bad things happen, to all of us, when we begin to believe that our aggression towards someone else is justified and deserved.  (Because isn’t that what every single abuser says about his or her victim?  That they “deserved” it?)  So I have made the conscious choice to back away from that kind of thinking, and instead to look very hard for the common ground that binds all of us together.  Because I truly believe that it’s so much more productive to look for what unites us than to concentrate quite so much on what divides us.

I realize that my choices go against the grain in a world where we are constantly being pitted against each other, and where we seem to dream up new divisions each day.  We’ve always been conditioned to divide ourselves along political, national, and religious lines, and sadly, most of us do just that.  But now we’re also dividing along the lines of vaccinated verses unvaccinated, rural verses urban, vegans verses omnivores, and even battling over our choices about education, gender definitions and about everything else you can possibly imagine.  If we keep going at this rate, I’ll only be allowed to like people who are exactly like me.  Which would mean I’ll only like…. me.

So the time has come for me to say “enough is enough” and I don’t want to do this anymore.  We all get to make choices in how we spend the precious time we have on this earth, and I’ve made mine.  I want to be done with the fighting, the squabbling, the superior outrage and all the rest of it, and I’m going to do my very best to turn my back on it, both literally and figuratively.  Sometimes, if only for the sake of our sanity, we need to choose to simply “opt out.”

 

Sensible Shoes

fullsizeoutput_6477It’s been three weeks since I broke my foot, and since the break was really just a “hair-line fracture” of only one bone, I am now allowed to walk around without my big bulky boot.  And while I’m absolutely thrilled that I’m no longer clomping around like the Frankenstein monster, there is a catch:  I have to wear supportive footwear for at least the next four weeks.  Apparently, it takes a long time for bones in our feet to completely heal, and until they do, they’re still fragile and at risk for a serious break that would require surgery.  And obviously, foot surgery is something I want to avoid.

The upshot is that I spent yesterday shopping for shoes and sandals (it’s too hot in July to wear shoes all day) that will adequately support my foot for the next month or so.  I quickly realized that footwear falls into two distinct categories:  shoes and sandals that are cute and offer no support at all, and shoes and sandals that are supportive, but were designed for maximum ugliness.  And I say this as someone who has never been particularly obsessed with shoes.  I don’t have a closet full of shoes, and the shoes and sandals I do own were selected more for their comfort level than for their style.  I don’t own anything with more than a one-inch heel.  So if I call a shoe ugly, you can bet that it truly is ugly and not simply unfashionable.

I finally found a pair of sandals that fit perfectly, support my feet completely and are pretty darned comfortable.  They also look like the something my ninety-year old mother would wear, and she buys her shoes custom-made via a prescription from her podiatrist.  (She has fallen arches, bunions, and hammer toes.)  I’m ashamed to say that I was actually feeling a little sorry for myself when I left the shoe store.  Partly because I had just spent a whole lot of money for a pair of sandals I didn’t even like, and partly because, despite my actual age, I still think of myself as far too young to be wearing “sensible shoes.”

But then, thank goodness, I finally began to get a bit of perspective.  I may have spent several hours searching for supportive footwear that actually looked good and come up empty-handed, but I did find a pair of sandals that would protect my foot while it’s healing.  And they not only look better than the boot I’ve been wearing for the past few weeks, they’re a whole lot more comfortable.  Plus, I don’t have to keep a big plastic bag stashed in my purse to cover my boot in case I get caught out in the rain, and I can drive without having to change my footwear.   Those are all good things.

As the old saying goes, “You can’t control what happens to you, but you can control how you react to it.”  Sometimes it takes me a little while to remember that, and to stop wasting quite so much time fretting about the things I can’t control (like breaking my foot) and to work a bit harder on how I cope with the things life throws my way.  So I’ve decided I’ll wear my new sandals without complaint, and when my foot is fully healed, I’ll store them away for use in my old age.   And if that day does come, I hope that I’ll remember to be grateful that I actually lived long enough need, and maybe even appreciate, sensible shoes.

For All To See

TheVogtFamily-72I love spending time with my three-year old grandson, and whenever I do, I know I’m going to hear “Watch me!” or “Watch this!” a lot.  And I’m perfectly okay with that, because that’s what little children do.  They are very focused on getting the attention and the approval of the people around them, and few things make them happier than our praise and affirmations.  Besides, I really do enjoy watching my grandson as he masters a new skill, or simply witnessing the joy he brings to his everyday experiences.

Sometimes I think we would all do well to act more like a child now and then, but the key is to make sure that we’re being childlike only in appropriate ways….finding joy in simple things, being honest with our emotions and living in the moment as children tend to do.  Sadly, the childlike trait most adults seem to be embracing these day is the need for the constant attention and approval of others.  And that’s not a healthy way to live our lives at all.

Yes, I know that social media makes it so very easy to document and share almost every aspect of our days, but just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.  Of course it’s fun to post a few photos of our recent vacation, or to share our favorite pictures from our recent photo sessions, etc., and there’s nothing wrong with that.  But I think the trouble begins when we find ourselves somewhere fun, having a great time, and our first instinct is to whip our our phones and photograph it, so we can post it where others and see it and validate our experience with their responses.  Or when we try to process our emotions by sharing every single aspect of our trauma through daily photos, posts, and even videos.

There’s a fine line between healthy sharing and over-sharing, I think.  And one of the ways to know when we’ve crossed it is when we find ourselves worrying too much about the responses our social media posts generate.  If you had a great time at the neighborhood block party, then it really was a positive experience, even if your photos of it were largely ignored on social media.  And if you’ve thought long and hard about your stance on a particular issue and are comfortable with the conclusions you drawn, your opinion isn’t any less valid just because no one in your comment section agrees with you.  We don’t really need other people to approve our emotions, thoughts, or actions, no matter how much we’re encouraged to believe we do.

90tuq7S5RiKvHbPFH0wSo my advice, to myself and everyone else, is remember that not everything needs to be shared, and how much more we can enjoy ourselves when we’re not trying to document something and experience it at the same time.  Maybe the next time we see a beautiful sunset we should just sit quietly and look at it, drinking in nature’s beauty.  Or the next time we’re feeling emotional, we should just call someone we trust to empathize and help us feel better.  Because often, the most important moments in our lives happen when no one is looking at all….

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……

Recharged

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back in the Saddle

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

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

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

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

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