Fresh and New

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, mostly because I can’t seem to keep them.  I used to resolve to lose a little weight, spend less time worrying about things I can’t control, take better care of myself, and eat a healthier diet.  Secretly, I’d also hope that the new year would be the one where my writing career finally took off, and I’d get a nice big contract for one of the children’s book manuscripts I was trying to get published. 

Sadly, none of those things actually happened, at least for very long.  I’d diet for week or so, and then go right back to my love affair with all things sugary or fried.  I’d still worry far too often about far too many things.  The only children’s book I ever managed to publish was sold to an educational publisher for a one-time payment of $2,100…..and the check came three months late.  (If you Google “rich and famous children’s book authors,” my name does not appear on your screen.)

Still, there is something about a new year that feels like a fresh start.  It’s not that the previous year was a bad one, because in my case, it wasn’t.  I was able to travel again, which meant visiting friends and family I haven’t seen since before the pandemic began. My husband’s scans and blood tests revealed the wonderful news that his cancer is still gone.  We finally got the floor in our back family room leveled, and my husband began his partial retirement just last month.  (Never mind the fact that so far, he seems to believe that being partially retired means working lots of overtime.)  

But whether the previous year was good, bad or a mixture of the two, starting a new year always seems like a good thing. I see my house with new eyes once the Christmas decorations are packed away, and I always recognize a few things I’d like to change.  And while I might not make major changes to my diet, once the holidays are over I do stop having Christmas cookies for dessert after every meal.  I no longer write children’s books, but I do write a blog (yes, the one you’re reading) and I’ve come to enjoy that very much.  I don’t get paid, but it is a creative outlet and it’s put me in touch with some wonderful people from all over the world.

So instead of resolutions, I’ve decided to start the new year by simply appreciating whatever gifts the previous year brought and being willing to make at least small adjustments that could result in a better year ahead.  It’s my way of trying to embrace the best of the old and carry it on into the new year, while letting go of the things that it’s time to leave behind.  Because a new year can represent a chance to look at things in a new way, without all the baggage we accumulate through the years.  I guess that’s what “seeing through the eyes of a child” means….  

Happy New Year, everyone!

The Little Things

I tripped over my slippers a couple of weeks ago and injured my big toe.  I wasn’t sure if it was broken or merely sprained, but since the treatment for both is basically the same, I didn’t go to urgent care to find out.  I figured it wasn’t worth spending an hour or two in a waiting room surrounded by Covid, RSV and flu germs just to be told to stay off my foot, elevate it and apply ice.  Honestly, I didn’t think injuring a toe was a big deal.

Turns out, I was wrong. Although the swelling was minimal, I couldn’t comfortably wear most of my shoes or even my slippers.  And not being able to put weight on my big toe meant I couldn’t walk normally, which caused my back and other parts of my foot to hurt if I walked too much.  That meant I couldn’t do my regular volunteer shifts walking dogs at the local shelter, had to choose my outfits based on my limited footwear, and in general plan my life around what my injured toe did and did not allow me to do.  I felt guilty, annoyed and frustrated, not to mention embarrassed when I begged off commitments because “I tripped over my slippers and hurt my toe.”  I considered wrapping my ankle and claiming I’d sprained it rescuing a small child from a burning house, but I’m not that good of a good liar.

The good news is my toe is finally starting to heal, and I’m no longer limping very much.  I’m back at the shelter, but sticking to walking small dogs that don’t pull, and the list of shoes I can wear without pain is growing steadily.  I believe it won’t be too much longer before I can resume my normal life, and that gives me some much-needed hope.

I learned many things from the past two years, but one of the most important lessons was the importance of hope.  Dealing with hard times for the short-term is one thing, but when you don’t see any “light at the end of the tunnel,” it’s very, very hard to keep your spirits up.  Believing that things will eventually improve, one way or another, really is essential to our emotional heath.

I think about that when I sit in church, enjoying a Christmas concert, or dine with good friends in our favorite restaurant.  There was a time when such things weren’t possible, and yet I’m doing them again.  In the past year, I’ve visited friends and family I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic started.  Covid and other viruses aren’t going away, but we are learning to control them with vaccines and better knowledge about how they spread.  That’s progress, and that gives me hope.

My beloved Sanibel Island is still severely damaged by the hurricane that hit three months ago, but it’s also beginning to recover.  Some stores and restaurants have reopened, and the island will be open to the public for day visits after the first of the year.  That’s a huge step forward, and it also gives me hope.

The truth is, there are signs of hope all around us, hidden among the world’s many problems.  We just have to be willing to look for them, and to recognize them when we spot them.  It’s true that those signs of hope may be small and easy to dismiss, but trust me, the little things really do count….even something so small as a toe that is finally beginning to heal.

Room for Improvement

One of the downsides of buying “fixer-upper” houses is that they require a lot of work.  Over the years my husband has become adept at hanging dry wall, replacing basic plumbing fixtures, doing light carpentry, etc.  My job is usually painting and assisting, although once I surprised him by widening a doorway with my trusty crowbar.  (Sadly, my husband wasn’t impressed.)   But some jobs require a professional, and that’s when things get a little tricky.

The problem is while I love home improvement projects once they are finished, I hate the process of actually having the work done.  It’s not fun having to live with the noise and dust of demolition, and I’m not a fan of having workers in my house, no matter how nice or professional they are.  It never fails that if I get up extra early to be showered and dressed before the crew arrives, they don’t show up until around ten in the morning.  But if I dare to venture down into the kitchen to get my early morning Diet Coke, three carpenters are sure to come in the back door, calling out a cheerful “hello” while pretending not to notice I’m still in my pajamas.  You get to know the people who work in your house, but we don’t need to know each other quite that well.

Our latest project was supposed to be tearing out the carpet in the small family room off our kitchen, leveling a small section of the floor and laying down a new laminate floor.  What it turned into was the complete demolition of the entire floor (you could see the slab the room sits on), redoing most of the joists and then laying a new sub floor, laminate floor, baseboards and thresholds.  They also repaired some hidden holes in the exterior walls (we were wondering how a chipmunk got in our house).

None of this was easy.  I know because I could hear the workers complaining as they struggled to remove wood that was rock hard and nailed in with what seemed to be a thousand nails per square foot.  And just to make things extra fun, the nails were so old that the heads often came off when they were trying to pry them out.  I thought the worst was over when they began laying the new floor, but soon discovered that involved using the loudest nail gun I’ve ever heard.  And of course the sound of it terrified our dog Finn, who promptly took refuge on our antique and recently-refinished dining room table.

The project is just about complete as I write this, and the new floor really does look good.  It’s nice to know that the chipmunk entrance is now blocked off and new insulation has been installed.  A few hours with a good vacuum and a few dozen dust cloths should clean up the last of the mess, and then we get the fun job of moving our heavy furniture back into the room and finally placing my Christmas decorations where they belong.

Right now I’m swearing we’ll never tackle another home-improvement project, but I know that isn’t true.  Time has a way of making bad memories fade away, and eventually we’ll add that dormer to our bedroom I’ve been wanting for years.  All I ask is when that day comes, please ignore my whining and complaining.  Because no one likes to be reminded they really should have known better….

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.

Ever Onward

They say “time flies,” and that’s the truth.  And maybe it’s just me, but it seems that not only is time speeding by at an alarming rate, but it has brought more change with it than I ever thought possible.  It’s been almost eight years since I started this blog, and the changes that have occurred in those eight years alone amaze me. And I’m not just talking about the changes I see when I look at my stat page.

On the family front, both my son and daughter got married and became parents, which means we’ve added three precious grandchildren to our family.  Realizing I was old enough to be a grandmother was a bit of a shock, but the first time I laid eyes on my newborn grandson, I happily accepted my new role.  (Even though my requests to have my grandchildren refer to me as “Wise One” or “Goddess of Youth and Beauty” were ignored.  I’ve learned to make do with “Gramma.”)  My husband was diagnosed with colon cancer, went through the treatments and now enjoys remission.  We lost our great-nephew, a wonderful and much-loved young man, suddenly and unexpectedly.  My mother moved into a retirement home, which required considerable downsizing of a lifetime’s accumulation.  We said goodbye to our beloved Lucy, the smartest dog I have ever known, and welcomed Finn into our home.  Anyway you look at it, that’s a lot of change in a short time.

The changes in my blogging world aren’t nearly so personal, but they are plentiful.  My blog grew in unexpected ways, as I branched out from writing just about middle age and connected with people all over the world.  Some blogging friends and regular readers have faded away, but new ones have taken their place.  I’ve learned, mostly, to keep up with the constant changes that Word Press makes, although I’m still managing to avoid using the “block editor.”  (I’ve taken many writing courses, and not one of them mentioned “blocks.”) And sometimes I let my dog, Finn, write a guest post on the subject of his choice.  So yes, my blog has changed a bit in the past eight years.

I know that the upcoming years are going to bring even more changes, probably at an even faster rate.  My husband will go into partial retirement at the end of this month, and my oldest grandchild will begin kindergarten next year.  After over twenty years of walking shelter dogs, I’m recognizing that my body is now forcing me to pick and choose which dogs I walk.  Although my mom is still in good health, she’s reached the stage of her life where her need for assistance is steadily growing.  I also know that the time is coming, sooner than I’d like to admit, when I’ll be the one in the retirement home…..

`So I’m responding to all this in the only way that makes sense:  I’m accepting it.  In some ways, I also embrace and welcome the changes that life has brought.  (Did I mention my adorable grandchildren?)  Other changes, like the growing arthritis in my thumbs, I’d gladly do without.  But I know that the future will bring plenty of joy to offset the challenges, and that the key to aging well is to simply live as well as you can, each and every day.  And that’s exactly what I intend to do.

Getting Better

As my 92-year old mother often tells me, it’s hard to be old.  I may be almost thirty years younger, but trust me, I know what she’s talking about.  I’ve never been a vain person (or had reason to be), but never before has looking in a mirror resulted in quite so much shock and dismay.  It’s been years since I could read a book without a pair of reading glasses, but now I also need the glasses when I go shopping, because otherwise I can’t read the price tags and expiration dates.  And when I first started walking shelter dogs over twenty years ago, I was happy to walk any dog that needed to go out, no matter how strong or rowdy.  These days I gravitate toward the dogs that are smaller and calmer, desperately hoping that someone else will get to the mastiffs and rottweilers before my walking shift is over.

There was a time when I took my pants to the tailor to have the waistline taken in, because my waist has always been one size smaller than my hips.  Nowadays, I take my pants to the tailor only if I need them hemmed…..and that’s not because my hips have gotten smaller.  I could go on, but the list is too depressing.  I know all these physical changes are a normal part of aging, but that doesn’t always make them easier to accept.

Still, the part of aging I find hardest isn’t the loss of my youthful vigor or looks, but the loss of the many people, both family and friends, that I have known and loved.  I know I’m lucky to have my mother still in my life, as many of my friends have become the oldest generation in their immediate family.   But I still miss my father and my grandparents, and all the other people who passed away before I was ready to let them go.  Loss of loved ones is a part of aging that can be very hard to accept.

Thankfully, there is an upside to growing older, and that is that once we’ve reached the point where we have more years behind us than we do ahead, we’ve also had the time to learn a few things.  We’ve figured out just what a precious gift good health is, even if we can’t read the small print anymore.  We treasure our friends and family even more because we know they won’t be with us forever, and we also know how much we’ll miss them when they’re gone.  If we’ve been paying attention at all, we finally realize just how precious and fragile life really is, and that so much of the stuff we spend our time worrying and fretting about doesn’t matter in the least.

The good thing about aging is we often become more honest with ourselves and with others, daring to share our true selves with the world and allowing those around us to do the same.  We know how important it is to support each other through hard times, and we learn the value of overlooking so many of the things we’ve allowed to divide us.  If we let it, aging can actually bring out our best selves, which is always a good thing.  Even if we can’t actually see it in the mirror……

No Fear

I’ve always been a worrier.  I’ve tried hard not to be, but my success has been marginal, to say the least.  For some reason, I can easily imagine a myriad of things that can go wrong in just about any given situation, and I tend to think about those possible negative outcomes a bit more than I should.  I honestly think I was just born this way.  

The good news is the older I get, the more accepting I have become of my true nature. So instead of trying to worry less, I try to remember that just because I’m worried that something will go wrong doesn’t mean it actually will go wrong.  I think when we can’t actually change a part of our character, the best thing to do is simply adapt to it.  Yes, I worry.  But no, that doesn’t necessarily mean bad things are coming.  When I can remember that, I do so much better, because then I don’t let my habit of worrying about something morph into actual fear.

There are still times (thankfully rare) when I let my worry get out of control and cross the line into fearful thinking.  Recently, my husband had a follow up visit with his surgeon to discuss some lingering side effects from his cancer surgery.  There was no real reason for alarm, but in the days leading up to his appointment I found myself seriously afraid that we were going to get bad news.  I was living in dread and fear, unable to fully engage with others or simply enjoy myself.  I knew I was overreacting, but I couldn’t calm down or think rationally about the situation.  

Luckily, his visit with the surgeon showed that everything is, indeed, just fine and all my worry was for nothing.  I’m both grateful and relieved.  But when I look back over the past couple of weeks, I’m struck by just how much I missed out on by being so afraid.  The truth is, you can’t truly live your life when you’re afraid.  The best you can do is endure.

I think there is a lesson for all of us in this, because when I look around, I realize that I’m not the only one who’s struggling with excessive fear these days.  We’re afraid of escalating war, climate change, and increasing crime, etc.  In my country, both conservatives and liberals are afraid the other side is out to destroy our democracy and take away our basic freedoms.  Fear is all around us, encouraged by the news and politicians, and the results aren’t pretty.

Of course our country and our planet are facing some very real problems that require solutions.  But I believe solutions are never found when we’re living in fear.  Solutions require ingenuity, hope, compassion and most of all, working together with people we don’t always agree with.  I think it’s natural to worry about our problems and to seek answers.  The trick is to not let our worry morph into a paralyzing, and ultimately destructive, fear.  Because a life lived in fear isn’t good for anybody, ever.  Trust me on this……

 

 

Travel Plans

I had such high hopes for this Summer.  Last year’s Summer was a bit of a dud, what with my husband spending most of it recovering from two surgeries.  The weather had been good and the Covid numbers down, but we simply couldn’t take advantage of it.  I’m not looking for sympathy, I’m just explaining why my expectations for this year were so high.  I wanted to truly enjoy this Summer, spending as much time as possible outside and taking several trips to exciting new destinations.  I wanted to make up for everything we missed out on last year, and then some.

But that isn’t what happened.  It’s not fun to be outside when the temperatures creep above 100 degrees, especially when that’s coupled with high humidity.  Sometimes it cools down enough that we can be outside later in the evening, but it’s often rather brutal during the day .  And while we did schedule a few trips, none of them are to places I haven’t already been.

At first I was a little put out when I realized that this wasn’t going to be the Summer I finally got to explore the Pacific Northwest, visit the Grand Canyon, or discover some charming New England coastal towns.  I really wanted to go to all those places, and more, but by the time we had scheduled our trips to Iowa, Kansas and Indianapolis, our schedule was full.  I’ll admit that I had a, “what the heck happened to my plans?” moment when I realized our travel calendar had filled up without including any new destinations.  But then I thought about it some more and realized that we had some very good reasons for our choices.

We were not going anywhere new or exciting, but our destinations were still important.  We went to Iowa to visit my husband’s family, and it have been over two years since we’d been there, what with Covid and health issues.  We spent time with almost all of our relatives there, and few things are more important than spending time with family.  Then we went to Kansas to visit dear friends and I was also able to reconnect with old classmates in the small town where I went to Middle School and High School.  After the challenges of the last two years, catching up with old friends and classmates just felt right.

I think it was ten years ago when my daughter gave me a mother/daughter trip to Indianapolis for my birthday gift, and while I was there, I realized my husband would enjoy the attractions of downtown Indianapolis very much.  I gave him a coupon for a couple’s weekend there several Christmases ago, but we never found the time for it.  So that’s where we’re going next month, because we’ve put it off long enough. It will be a new destination for him, and a relaxing weekend for both of us.

I still have a huge list of places I want to visit.  But sometimes, it’s more important to use our vacation days traveling to spend time with the people, both family and friends, who mean the most to us.  And it’s especially important after two years when getting together with those people has been almost impossible.  Of course I still want to visit all the fun destinations on my list, but I also know that when it comes right down to it, people are more important than places….and I know we made the right choice.

Good Old Summertime

I shouldn’t complain, because this is exactly what I had yearned for all Winter long.  I wanted Summer to come, that lovely season when I could go outside without putting on a coat, or even shoes.  I wanted to wake up in the morning when the sun had already risen, and I wanted my yard to be filled with colorful flowers.  I wanted dinner on the patio, long days and short nights, and nightly weather reports that never once mentioned the words “sleet” or “snow.” The problem is, this Summer I got just a bit more than I bargained for.

Yes, I wanted warm weather, but no, I didn’t want the temperatures to climb into the triple digits and stay there.  I didn’t want it to be so hot that when I came home from walking shelter dogs all morning I had to take a cool shower and a two-hour nap.  I didn’t want humidity so high that my sun glasses fog up when I walk outside, and I didn’t want to see my flowers withering in the sun.  And most of all, I didn’t want weather reports that used the words “excessive heat warning” several days in a row.  But sadly, that’s exactly what I got, and I don’t like it one bit.

So it’s hot—really hot–outside, and I’m a little cranky. (My husband would probably tell you that I’m a lot cranky, but what does he know?)   And the heat wave is supposed to extend into next week, so there’s not any relief in sight.  Which means I have two choices:  I can hole up inside my air-conditioned house wait it out, or I can put on my “big girl panties” and just accept the nasty weather.

I was leaning toward the first choice, but as so often happens, outside influences pulled me in the other direction, challenging me to live my life as fully as I can even in the midst of a heat wave.  It may be miserable outside, but the dogs living in the shelter where I volunteer still need regular potty breaks.  So I go and help walk them, just for short walk and keeping on the grass as much as possible.  Although I could stand to lose a few pounds, my husband most definitely can’t, so that means regular trips to the grocery store and restaurants are in order.  There are still meetings, chores, errands and all of the usual things that keep us busy no matter what the weather happens to be up to.

IMG_2119 2And sometimes there are those moments when we are lucky enough to move from simply “enduring” to actually “enjoying” our circumstances.  I asked my oldest grandson yesterday if he wanted to help me set up the sprinkler to water the back yard.  He did, and he also wanted to know if he could play in said sprinkler.  Long story short, he put on his swim suit and had a great time jumping through the water, while I stood by and watched him, getting almost as wet as he was even if I didn’t have the good sense to put on my suit.

It was the longest time I had spent in our yard in the afternoon sun in a long time, but I didn’t mind at all.  The water kept me cool and my grandson kept me entertained, and best of all, I finally remembered just exactly why I had been so anxious for Summer to arrive……

Making Good Time

064A2666-4A53-49B9-A8C9-E76F4CF47CC0I love strawberries, and I especially love fresh-picked strawberries.  When our children were young, we used to take them to a “pick your own” fruit farm and come back with buckets of strawberries.  My in-laws also had a strawberry patch behind their house, and for years we made sure we visited when the strawberries were ripe.  My mother-in-law graciously allowed me to help myself to her berries, which were always delicious.  But after my in-laws passed away and our children grew up, I stopped finding the time to go strawberry-picking.

This year, I was intrigued when my daughter-in-law gave me some strawberries that she and my granddaughter picked from a nearby farm.  They were very tasty, and she said the farm was only a twenty-minute drive away.  I’ve been busy lately, and at first I didn’t think I could possibly find the time to go pick strawberries.  But I also remembered all those other years I wanted to go and decided I was too busy, and how much I regretted it afterwards.  The strawberry season is a short one.

73FEBAA1-F39C-4314-8A2D-4E3654B318A2So last Tuesday I put on my oldest pair of tennis shoes, drove myself to the farm and picked a big box full of ripe strawberries. (I would have picked two boxes, but my back told me it was time to stop stooping over.)  I ate a few dozen, shared some with my family, cleaned another bowl-full to keep in the fridge, made a strawberry pie, and froze the rest.  Not a bad result for a quick morning’s work.

Yesterday my grandson spent the afternoon at our house, and his parents were also going to drop his baby brother off at dinnertime so we could watch both of them while they enjoyed a quick date night.  Just when it was time for me to start cooking our dinner, my grandson decided it was time to dance to one of his favorite songs.  I watched him for a few minutes, complimented his moves, and edged toward the kitchen.  “Please play the song again!” he pleaded, then added, “and dance with me!”  I hesitated, knowing that it really was time to get dinner going before the baby arrived.

But just as I was opening my mouth to tell him I didn’t have time to dance right now, I suddenly realized that the time is soon coming when he won’t want to dance to “Baby Shark,” or any other song, with his grandma.  And so I played the song again, took his hands, and we danced.  Or to be more accurate, he danced and I jerked around like someone who’s receiving mild electric shocks.  Dinner was late, but we had fun, and I know I made the right choice.

The truth is that life will always be busy, and there will always be problems demanding our attention.  But sometimes we have to stop being so sensible and serious, and just do what makes us and those we love happy.  The world won’t stop if we indulge our inner child now and then, and who knows?  We might just be a better person for it too.