Around the Bend

It would be nice if we could turn back the hands of time now and then, just for a little while.  I’d love the chance to sit at the table in my grandmother’s kitchen again, enjoying a meal she made especially for us, or gallop across a field just one more time on my beloved horse, Prince.  And I’d give just about anything for even a few more moments with any of the people I’ve loved and lost, with the chance to hear their voices and give them even one more hug.  By the time you’ve reached my age, the chances are you’ve got a ton of happy memories that you’d happily relive if you were only given the chance.

But life is not just a journey.  It’s a journey on a one-way street, often in a speeding car, without a u-turn ramp in sight.  The past is just a memory, the present is our reality, and our future is whatever lies just around the next bend.  And that can be a scary thing, because unlike the past or the present, the future is mostly unknown.

IMG_2553I don’t know about you, but there’s a whole lot going on in my life right now that I never saw coming.  Some of it is good and some of it is bad, but most of it was totally unexpected.  I still remember how I used to look at our calendar early last year and worry about how we were possibly going to keep up with such a busy schedule of travel and events.  Who knew the answer would be a virus that would force us to cancel them all?  And I remember the cold stab of fear I felt when I heard that my daughter-in-law was being prepped for an emergency delivery six weeks before her due date.  I had no way of knowing that the result would be a beautiful and perfectly healthy granddaughter who spent only two weeks in the hospital.

I’ve always been the sort of person who likes to plan ahead, so I’ll admit that sometimes I find the uncertainty of the future to be a little bit scary.  But I’ve learned through the years that the unknown is simply a part of life, and my only real choice is to accept that.  More importantly, I’ve learned that the unknown isn’t always a bad thing, and that some of the surprises the future has in store for us will most certainly be good.  I’m also realizing that worrying about what might happen is a waste of time and energy, because when bad things do happen, they are usually completely different from whatever I had anticipated.

So I’m thinking that maybe it’s time that I stop looking so much to the past when I’m less than thrilled with the present, and start looking a little more to the future and the changes that it will most certainly bring.  Sometimes all you can do in this life is buckle up and enjoy the ride, looking firmly forward as you wait to see just what’s around the next bend in the road ahead…..

Just Do It

I’ve loved writing for as long as I can remember.  It was my favorite class in elementary school, and  by the time I reached college I just had to major in English, never mind the fact that jobs for English majors were few and far between.  I remember sitting at my father’s desk as a child, happily typing my stories even though I knew no one but me was ever going to read them.  The joy was in creating the story, and readers were just the icing on the cake.

To this day, I find it much easier to express myself in the written word than by actually speaking.  In fact, when I do have to talk, I often find myself a bit tongue-tied and nervous, searching desperately for the right words.  The result is not pretty, and I rarely manage to get my point across in any meaningful way.  Hours later, when I replay the scene in my head, I think, “I should have said this.  Or I wish I had said that.”  But in the heat of the moment, the words I wanted so desperately just didn’t appear.

So on those rare occasions when I find it difficult to write, I don’t quite know how to handle it.  When it’s time for another blog post, I sit at the computer and try to concentrate on just exactly what I want to say.  Usually, it takes no more than five minutes for me to come up with a topic, and get started.  Admittedly, these days it takes an additional ten minutes or so to remember how to work Word Press’ new Block Editor so that I can actually type my post, but that’s a minor inconvenience that I’ve managed to solve……so far.  Still, once I get going, the writing flows and I usually feel satisfied with the result by the time I hit the “publish” button.

But then there are the days when that doesn’t happen.  The days when I know it’s time for another blog post, but no topic comes to mind that I think anyone could possibly find interesting.   There are times when I honestly feel that I have nothing of value to share, no new insights to offer, and no spiffy phrases that will entertain.  Those are the times when I type a first sentence, read it, and delete it over and over again, and when I begin to think that maybe six years is a long enough run for my blog, and maybe it’s time to call it a day and do something more useful with my time….you know, like learning Latin or reorganizing my junk drawer.

But the thing is, once I give myself permission to step back a bit, and maybe not write if I really don’t feel like it, my attitude begins to change.  Just subtly at first, as I type out a few rough drafts whose quality makes me eternally grateful for the “delete” button.  Yet I persevere, because I know that if I just go through the motions enough times, I’ll find my groove again.  And I’ll rediscover the joy of writing, of communicating my thoughts and feelings in a way that I hope others will relate to and find helpful, and that I’ll once again find the courage to not only string together a whole bunch of words in a way that finally feels right, but that I’ll manage to hit that “publish” button when I’m done.  Because when all is said and done, what writers do is write.  And half the battle is just doing it.

The Last Straw

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let It Begin With Me

I am, by nature, a neat and tidy person.  I may not have coined the expression, “A place for everything and everything in its place,” but I live by it.  I am happiest when my house is clean and organized, and have found that too much dirt and clutter actually makes me vaguely uneasy.  As long as I’m being totally honest, I’ll also admit that when I’m anxious and unhappy, I sometimes find that cleaning my house actually makes me feel better.

I read somewhere that people who like to clean are attempting to impose order on a messy and unpredictable world, and I think that might be true.  (It would certainly explain why I find housecleaning to be  therapeutic.)  But the problem is that the world we live in is often messy, chaotic and sometimes downright dangerous, and there’s not a thing I can do to “clean it up,” at least on any significant scale.

I may be one of the few people who responds to troubles with a vacuum in one hand and dust cloth in the other, but I do think that trying to impose some kind of order on the world is common.  Many do it with social media posts, pointing out the error of other people’s ways in a vain attempt to convince them to think and behave in a way they find acceptable.  And let’s face it, politics is all about trying to elect someone who shares our values, in the hopes that the candidate will be elected and then impose our values on everyone else.  One way or another, we’re all trying to “clean up” the world, and often with the best of intentions.

But the truth is that the only person we can truly control is ourselves.   Yes, we can do our part to make the world a better place by speaking our truth, standing up to oppression, helping those who need it, and most of all, being kind and compassionate to everyone who crosses our path.  But we don’t really get to choose what other people think, say, or do.    And since none of us is perfect, that’s probably a good thing.

So the conclusion I’ve come to is this:  I need to learn to discern between the things I can control and the things I can’t, and I need to pay a whole lot more attention to the things I can.  I may not be able to make the world a peaceful place, but I can make sure I embrace peace in my own life by being as tolerant, honest, and forgiving as I can possibly be.  I can’t force others to own up to their mistakes and bad choices, but I can certainly own up to mine.  In short, all I can do is try, in my limited and flawed way, to live up to the values I really do believe in…..and then let go of all the angst, worry and stress that comes when I focus too much on the things that I can’t control.

buWO0NdZQV2vtwLyj31MrgIt’s a process for sure, and I doubt that I’ll be giving my vacuum cleaner a rest anytime soon.  But if I really want 2021 to be a better year, the very best way I can start is by cleaning up my own act.

Silver Linings

My usual New Year’s post would include a list of all that has happened in the year before, both the good and the bad.  But I’m thinking that no one wants to read a list of all that went wrong in 2020, because let’s face it:  living through 2020 has been depressing enough and there’s no need to dwell on it.  And while the silver linings of this past year were rare, they were also very real, and I’d much prefer to talk about those.

Hard times teach us so much about ourselves and the society in which we live.  And while I saw far too many people (including politicians in both political parties) using this pandemic as an excuse to advance their own agendas, I also saw so many people go out of their way to help others in need.  I was in awe of the many ways people found to reach out to others in a time of unprecedented restrictions on human interaction, and know that personally, I am so very grateful for all those who took the time to show they cared just when I needed their support the most.  If nothing else, 2020 taught us that the human spirit is far stronger than any virus, and that nothing can stifle love, kindness, and compassion.

ncc8I2OwR%2G1yDUq6wYXgAs much as I hate all the devastation that this pandemic has wrought, I have to admit that it has taught me some valuable lessons.  There was a time when I seriously believed I was too old to take care of a young child anymore, and even struggled with understanding my role as a grandparent.  But then my grandson’s daycare closed for eleven weeks and I nervously stepped to the plate to offer my services as primary care-giver.  And it was wonderful!  I was more tired than I had been in years, but I also became much closer to my grandson than I ever would have been under normal circumstances.

Not being able to eat out as much as we had before reminded me that I like to cook, and that some meals really do taste best when they come out of my own kitchen.  The effort that it takes to be able to see loved ones forced me to realize that close relationships really are worth the effort, and should never be taken for granted.  Even the empty grocery shelves that I found so troubling early in this pandemic had a lesson to offer, as I will never again just assume that I will be able to buy what I need, exactly when I need it.  Sometimes we don’t recognize all the gifts in our lives until they are taken away, even temporarily.

IMG_0204While I would have preferred that 2020 had gone differently, for me and for everyone else in the world, it wasn’t entirely a wash-out of a year, and not just because this was the year I gained a precious granddaughter.  I learned a lot in the past twelve months, and I truly believe that some of those lessons will help me be a better person in the years to come.  I’ve learned to have more faith in myself and in the people around me, to remember that the best way to deal with adversity is with compassion and patience, and most of all, to never lose hope for a better future.  Happy New Year, everyone!

This Christmas

ddVckuVpRGyx7hp7gz2TZwEven though I love Christmas, there’s always something about December that makes me feel a little sad.  The shorter days and longer nights we experience this time of year don’t help, but the biggest problem is probably the way I tend to build Christmas up in my head and the fact that the reality of Christmas rarely lives up to my expectations.  (I guess Chuck Griswold and I have something in common besides our love for over-the-top holiday lighting.)

I tend to anticipate the perfect Christmas with a huge assortment of delicious cookies and other fabulous food, a perfectly-decorated tree surrounded by a pile of presents that are “just right” for the person who is going to open them, and most of all, lots of fun and relaxing time with my friends and family.  And while the Christmas I get is always pretty darned good, there are also lots of little snags along the way:  burnt cookies, the arrival of my annual Christmas cold, trying to coordinate a schedule for our get-togethers that works for everyone, and discovering that the perfect present I wanted to buy for someone special is on back-order until Spring.

And that’s the reality of a normal Christmas.  This year, we’ll be celebrating a Covid Christmas, which means I won’t be able to attend my beloved Christmas Eve candlelight service, or host the usual big gatherings of my friends and family.  My in-person Christmas shopping has been minimal, and the delivery of the gifts I ordered online has been spotty, to say the least.  (We opened one box to find only the shredded packaging of the gift we had ordered.  Someone is going to be on Santa’s naughty list for that one!)  All of which is to say that this year, it’s been a little harder than usual to maintain my Christmas cheer.

And yet….Christmas is still my favorite holiday and I have no intention of giving it a miss this year.  Yes, we are still struggling with a pandemic that has dragged on far too long, and we are so very tired of it.  The days are short and cold, and Winter is just beginning.  Celebrating the holiday in many of my favorite ways is out of the question, sadly.  But none of that has managed to stop Christmas from coming, and whether or not I enjoy this Christmas is a decision that is mine alone to make.

IMG_7285So I’m choosing to enjoy it.  I’m choosing to give the people I love my imperfect gifts, and just have those gift receipts handy if they need to exchange them.  I’m choosing to spend my dark December evenings basking in the glow of my Christmas tree, or when it’s warm enough, sitting outside enjoying the colored lights we strung around our patio.  I’m baking extra cookies this year and plan to leave them on the porches of the neighbors and friends I can’t invite over.  I’ve discovered that a local church is having an outside (socially distanced and masked) Christmas Eve candlelight service that I might attend if I decide to brave the predicted cold temperatures.  And if not, there are plenty of services I can view online.

Merry Christmas to all those who celebrate it.  And to absolutely everyone:  wishing you much joy, peace and happiness, now and in the year ahead.

It’s Personal

Sometimes I worry about my grandchildren.  Not because there’s anything wrong with them, because there isn’t.  In my eyes, they’re both perfect and I seriously doubt if anything is going to change my opinion about that. (If grandmothers can’t provide unconditional love and acceptance, then what’s the point in having them?)  It’s just that every now and then, like most parents and grandparents, I find myself worrying about exactly what kind of world they’re going to be living in when they grow up.

There are always plenty of big issues to worry about, and goodness knows we have enough of them these days, but I’m talking more about the little things.  Because the world is changing so quickly, and sometimes I wonder if that means that the next generation is going to miss out on so much that I grew up believing was important.  I realize that cursive writing, the ability to read a map, make change, and do basic research any way other than looking it up on Google or asking Alexa are all fading away, and I can live with that.  (Although I think that relying too much on one source for all your information is never a good thing.)  But I was also raised with the belief that I had a right to personal privacy, and I do worry that privacy is a concept that is fast becoming extinct.

It’s not just that all our internet activity is being monitored, stored and sold to the highest bidder.  Or even that most households now have a virtual assistant (like Alexa) which has to be listening all the time in order to know when to respond to us.  (Remember when almost every spy movie involved finding the “bug” that the enemy had planted in the hero’s house?  Now we plant them ourselves, and pay for it.)  But I can’t help thinking that children who have grown up having so much of their personal life being played out on-line aren’t going to have the faintest concept of what privacy even is.

I’ve heard the argument that people who have nothing to hide shouldn’t worry about a lack of privacy, but I don’t buy it.  Privacy isn’t about hiding our faults and sins.  It’s about being in control of what parts of our lives we choose to share with others, and what parts we choose not to share.  And I don’t like the idea of that choice being taken away.

This is a public blog, and I make every effort to be completely honest when I’m writing it.  I’m very open about my thoughts and feeling on the topics I write about in each post.  But there are aspects of my life that I choose not to write about, and that’s usually because I’m either respecting someone else’s privacy or protecting my own.  Not every single thing we do, think, or say needs to be for public consumption and the inevitable judgement that comes with it.

Of course a certain amount of sharing ourselves with others is a good thing, and all healthy relationships are based on that.  But I believe that what we share, and who we share it with, should always be our own personal choice.

After All These Years

I’m well aware of the fact that I’m not young.  Or even middle aged.  (Although I refuse to change the name of this blog to “Fumbling Through My Final Years.”)  I’ve reached the point in my life where everything on my body that could possibly go south has done so.  Not only has it been decades since I’ve had to show my ID to purchase alcohol, but when I buy a bottle of wine at the self-check out lane and the screen instructs me to show a valid ID to the nearest checker, I simply wait until they look at me.  The clerk always  approves my purchase with a speed that is almost insulting.   Especially since I wear a face mask at the store, which I had (mistakenly) believed hid most of my wrinkles.

I often spot toys from my childhood at antique stores, along with other assorted items that were featured in the houses I grew up in.  If I want to confuse a member of the younger generation, I just use terms they’ve never heard of, like party-line telephones, penny candy, house dresses, Hi-Fi stereos, etc.  And most telling of all, I’ve reached the age where I consider “the younger generation” to be anyone who is at least ten years younger than me.  If that isn’t a sign of old age, I don’t know what is.

But like most people who find themselves on the wrong side of fifty, I tend to feel much younger than my actual age. Not physically, of course, because in that way I actually do feel every single one of my sixty-two years, but mentally.  Because on the inside, I’m basically the same person I’ve always been….just a little more experienced, if not actually wiser.

fullsizeoutput_5e0cWhich probably explains why, every once in a while, I don’t “act my age.”  And the holidays are a perfect example of one of those times.  I’ve always loved Christmas, and all of the decorating, baking, gift-giving and general cheerful chaos that it brings.  My holiday decorations have long since passed the tasteful stage, and  now look mostly as if the Christmas department at Sears exploded in my living room.  And the basement family room is where I put out the truly tacky stuff…..

But if there’s one advantage of growing older, it’s that we sometimes have the ability to indulge our inner child, and that’s what I do each year at Christmas.  I bake all of my favorite cookies, even if some of them grow stale before they can be eaten.  I put up two big trees instead of one, just because I like them.  I buy gifts for the people I love and then wrap them, because that’s so much more fun that just shoving them into a gift bag.  I donate to toy drives and food banks because sharing with those who need it makes me happy.  And every year I display a few special decorations that were gifts from loved ones who are gone, because the memories they invoke make the holidays even more special.

I’ve heard it said that Christmas is for children, and that may be true.  But there’s still a child in each of us, and personally, I believe that Christmas is the perfect time to invite that child to come out and play.

Changes in Attitude

JXHyluo%SGWcmbt7MgVpvgTraditions have always been a big part of my holiday celebrations.  We always use our good china for the meals at Easter and Thanksgiving, my Christmas tree is lit with the old-fashioned bulbs of my childhood, and champagne must be served on New Year’s Eve.  I go a little overboard when decorating my house at Christmas, but the actual process goes quickly because I put the exact same decorations in the exact same place every year.

I suppose I like my holiday traditions so much because they remind me of  the happy celebrations of years past.  Carrying on traditions of my childhood might also be a way of honoring family members who have passed.  (This could be why it was years before I was able to ignore my father’s strict rules about decorating a Christmas tree:  smallest ornaments on the top, biggest ornaments on the bottom, a white light bulb at the top of the tree, and if icicles are used, only one strand may be placed on each branch.  I felt like true rebel the first time I hung a large ornament near the top of the tree and dared to put three strands of icicles on an especially bare branch.)

But for whatever reason, I’ve always held on tightly to my holiday traditions, and only changed them when I had to in order to accommodate the changes in my growing family.  But then the year 2020 happened, and I decided that it’s rather pointless to try to hold on to traditions in a year when the world has been basically turned upside down.

So this year, we had our family dinner with just our kids on the night before Thanksgiving, and my mother joined my sister and her husband for their own separate dinner.  My husband and I spent Thanksgiving day putting up our Christmas tree and hanging our outdoor lights, adding a new string of Christmas lights around our patio. While I have absolutely no idea how we’ll be celebrating Christmas this year, I do know it will be very different from years past.

And you know what?  I’m mostly okay with it.  Sure, I worry about my 90-year old mother’s emotional health if she has to be alone on Christmas, but I’ll do everything in my power to prevent that.  (Because when you’re 90, “staying apart this year so we can be together next year” has a very hollow ring to it.)   But I’m also learning that different doesn’t always mean worse.  And there’s something kind of liberating about knowing that I can’t keep up with all my traditions this year, because that means that I’m free to think of new ways to celebrate the holidays that work in these strange and trying times.

I’m truly hoping that next year we will be able to celebrate the holidays however we please.  But this year, I’m going to have to rely on a major change of attitude and expectations to get me through the season.  And who knows?  In the midst of all this craziness, I just might just find a new tradition that is worth keeping long after this pandemic is gone.

Still Thankful

Fall photoI’ve always had mixed feelings about Fall.  On the one hand, I love the fabulous colors, the cooler temperatures, and all the pumpkins.  On the other hand, Fall means the end of Summer (which always makes me sad) and it reminds me that Winter is just around the corner.  And while Winter does bring beautiful snowfalls, having said that, I’ve basically covered all of Winter’s positive points.

Yet this Fall is different.  This year I’ve been doing everything I can think of to embrace the season.  I replaced my dying Summer flowers with mums and pansies. I’ve decorated the yard with tons of pumpkins, we’ve strung lights across our patio and we’re finally using gas fire pit I bought my husband for Christmas several years ago.  When the only safe way to entertain friends and family is outdoors, it’s amazing how much effort you can put into a patio.

Luckily, Mother Nature has blessed us with unseasonably warm temperatures, allowing us to enjoy the outdoors much longer than usual.  Those of us who live in the States are looking toward Thanksgiving next week, which will also be different this year.  Large gatherings are out, and people are trying to find alternatives that are safe and still include those who live alone.

I’m not going to lie:  there’s a part of me that is very sad about not being able to celebrate the holidays in our usual way.  But if this year has taught us anything, it’s taught us the need to adapt to our surroundings, so I’ve decided that it’s time to let go of what I had hoped for and simply accept what I actually have.  And I find that when I focus on the gifts that are still available, it’s easier to forget about the things that aren’t.

So this Thanksgiving, I’m going to be grateful that my husband figured out how to get the gas fire pit going again without anyone having to dial 911 (his track record on such things is spotty, to say the least).  I’m grateful for all the ways that friends and family have reached out to support us as we dealt with some personal challenges in our family this past year.  I’m grateful for our dog Finn’s full recovery from heart worms last summer, especially when I seen him running happily around the back yard.

I’m grateful that my mother is accepting the semi-isolation of living in a retirement center during pandemic restrictions with grace, thereby taking a whole lot of worry and stress off of my shoulders.  I’m grateful that my son and daughter live nearby with their families, so that I can still see them in a time when travel can be both difficult and dangerous.  I’m very grateful for the vaccines that are finally on the horizon, as that gives me hope for the future.  And hope is something I simply can’t live without.

So yes, Fall and Thanksgiving are different this year, and so is the way I’m reacting to them.  There is a bit of sadness and anxiety for sure, but there is also a whole lot of gratitude and many things that still bring me joy.  And when I think about it, that’s not really so bad at all….