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.

Little Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Chapter

I’ve never claimed to be good at aging gracefully.  Far from it.  I tend to resent most of the changes that aging has caused:  the sags and wrinkles, the sore joints, the inability to read small print, the forgetfulness, the loss of strength and stamina.  I complain bitterly about all of it, and am often shocked when I look in the mirror and am literally “faced” with the difference between how I picture myself and how I actually look.  When I shop for new clothes, I find myself wondering if a certain style is too young for me, and yet I’m still offended if a sales clerk offers me a senior discount.  Far too often, my reaction to aging has been a mixture of confusion and dismay.

And yet……I can’t deny that there are a few benefits to being a “woman of a certain age.”  I have a far better sense of self than I ever did when I was young, and even not-so-young.  I have acquired a certain bit of wisdom that steadies me when I’m faced with the roller coaster of current news and trends, and I’m thankful for the perspective that my age has given me.  If I’m entirely honest, I have to say that I actually value the intellectual and emotional aspect of aging, and what I resent is really just the physical part.

The good news is that I’ve finally figured out that there’s something that makes coping with my aging body just a little bit easier, and that something is being a grandmother.  My three grandchildren bring me great joy, but as odd as it sounds, they also help me accept all the physical changes that I used to resent so much.

So what if I have a sagging chin?  I’m a grandmother, not a new mom!  And those reading glasses I have stashed all over the house (and in my purse, and in my car) are normal for grandparents.  My grandparents wore glasses all the time, after all.  And maybe I am wearing “mom jeans” when I go out in public, but what else do you expect from a woman is actually a grandma?  Looking at it that way, I’m actually dressing young for my age.  Embracing my role as a grandmother is truly kind of liberating, because it takes away the pressure that so many women my age feel to look and act younger than we really are.

TheColemanGrandkids-97 2When I was younger, I never thought I’d be happy spending a Friday night rocking a baby to sleep or bathing a toddler, but the truth is, I am.  Sometimes I still feel a bit surprised by the fact that I have three grandchildren now, but trust me, it’s a happy surprise.  I’m no longer young, and that’s a fact.  But luckily, I’ve got three precious reasons to be grateful for this new stage of my life, and when all is said and done, all I really feel is blessed……

Role Reversal

My mother asked me for money the other day.  She’s just had her hair cut, and had given the stylist the last of her cash.  My mother lives in a retirement complex and no longer drives, so she depends on her family to provide her with the supplies she needs, including a little bit of spending money.  So I call her when I’m at the grocery store to ask if she needs anything. I also make sure she has a supply of greeting cards to send out, and my husband and I usually shop for the presents she wants to give for family birthday parties.

I don’t mind doing any of it, and I know that I’m actually quite lucky that my mother, at age 91, is still independent in so many ways.  But when she asked me for the cash, I couldn’t help smiling a little.  I was remembering all those years when I was growing up and I was the one asking her or my father for money.  For some reason, that particular phone call made me see just how clearly our roles have reversed in recent years.  She used to be the one who took care of me, and now I (and my sisters) are the ones who are taking care of her.

I’m not going to lie, it felt weird when I first realized just how much my mother has come to depend on me.  In some way, I suppose, we never outgrow wanting to have our mother act like a mother.  We want our parents to express interest in our lives, to believe that, even after all these years, they still “have our backs.”  But I learned that what often happens as our parents age is that they gradually become uable to manage their own lives, much less help with their adult sons and daughters.  My mother was a talented seamstress and I always counted on her to alter my clothes, or even sew curtains for our house.  But she gave up sewing a few years ago, and now I use a tailor.

My mother loves living in her retirement community, knows most of the residents and participates in the many activities there.  But her interest in the world outside that community has definitely diminished.  She no longer reads her mail, pays her bills, or files her important paperwork, so I do all of that for her.  And I’m just fine with that.

I’ve learned, over these past few years, to stop worrying about the things she doesn’t do, and to simply be grateful for the things she still does do.  She’s always had an excellent singing voice and still sings in both her church choir and her community’s glee club.  She still calls me frequently, is always glad to see me when I stop by, and graciously allows me to help with her latest jig saw puzzle.  And she absolutely adores her three great-grandchildren.

IMG_5115What I’ve finally figured out is that the mother/daughter relationship isn’t stagnant.  It changes over the years, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Yes, now I often care for the woman who once cared for me….but she’s still my mother, and I’ll do my best to treasure every minute I have left with her.

Nothing Ventured….

When I first started this blog over seven years ago, I was very nervous and had no real idea of what to expect. I wanted to write about the challenges of being “middle-aged” in the hope that others might be able to relate.  I assumed my readers would be friends and family, and possibly a few people who happened to stumble across my blog by accident.  I’d read that posting at least once a day was necessary for successful blogging, but I started with a more manageable schedule of posting once every four days.  I figured that I’d eventually work my way up to the recommended daily blog post.

But as is so often the case, blogging turned out to be something very different from what I had envisioned.  For one thing, I soon realized that not all of my friends and family were actually interested in reading my blog, but that some old classmates, coworkers, casual acquaintances and total strangers were willing to read and occasionally comment on my posts.  I was pleasantly surprised by how encouraging almost all of the comments were, despite my fears of writing on a public forum.  And as time went on, I expanded my blog’s focus beyond the issues of being middle aged and simply began writing about all the things that interest me.

My blogging experience may have turned out very differently from what I expected, but it’s actually been a very good one.  I’ve loved having the chance to connect with wonderful people from all over the world, and being introduced to so many other blogs that I truly enjoy reading.  And while I actually post less often now than I did when I first began (that daily post never did happen), I know I’ve benefited from writing on a regular basis for the past seven years.  Writing is like almost every other skill:  the more I practice it, the more confident I become.

Blogging regularly has also helped me grow, both intellectually (and yes, I know there’s lots of room for improvement there) and emotionally.  It’s impossible to write well about any topic without first figuring out how I really feel about it, and why.  I think that kind of self-examination is good for us, and goes a long way toward helping us discover our true nature.  And I honestly believe that learning to trust our inner voice is a very good thing.

So I’m very glad that I took the risk and started this blog all those years ago.  Like so many other times when I finally found the courage to try something new, I discovered that the rewards were definitely worth the effort.  And since my natural tendency has always been to stick with what is familiar and safe, I make a point of reminding myself now and then that almost everything in my life that I value most is a direct result of trying something new.  As the old saying goes, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained….”

Something New

One year, my husband and I went out for dinner on the night after Thanksgiving.  The soup special was called something like “Turkey Medley,” and it was one of the best-tasting soups I’ve ever had.  Somehow, the cook had managed to include almost all of the flavors of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in one soup…the turkey, the dressing and the roasted vegetables….all of it.  Right then and there I decided that the following year, we were going back to that same restaurant on the day after Thanksgiving so I could have that soup again.  And this time, I planned to take extra home with me.  So you can imagine my disappointment a year later when the waiter informed me that the soup special that night was clam chowder.

IMG_1071I think it’s only natural to want to repeat something that we’ve really enjoyed, and sometimes we’re able to do just that.  My husband and I fell in love with Sanibel Island the first time we visited and it’s still one of our very favorite vacation spots.  But if I’m honest, I have to say that our first visit was the best, because we were discovering someplace brand new, and to us at least, quite wonderful.  It’s the same way when I like a movie so much that I go back to the theater to watch it again.  I still like it the second time I see it, but I don’t really enjoy the movie as much as I did the first time.

And this is something I have to remember each year as we move into the holiday season, because  Christmas is a time when I find myself trying, often subconsciously, to relive the happy moments of past Christmas celebrations.  But the truth is, I’m no longer a child so I don’t feel the almost unbearable excitement of waking up on Christmas morning and knowing that there’s a pile of presents for me under our tree.  My son and daughter are also grown up now, so the joy of watching their excitement on Christmas morning is also a thing of the past.  I’ll cherish those special memories forever, but the truth is that they are not going to be repeated.

And that’s okay.  Because if we spend all our time trying to recreate the things we enjoyed in the past, we’ll never be able to appreciate all that the present has to offer.  It’s true that I’ll never again celebrate Christmas as a young child or as the mother of young children, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had in this holiday and in all the ones that will follow.  For the next few years, I’ll enjoy being the grandmother of small children, which has it’s own benefits.  I get to share their excitement and joy, but their own parents have to do most of the work of preparing for the holidays.

My husband and I have been back to the restaurant that served that fabulous soup many times, but it’s never been offered again.  Clearly, it was a one-time experience.  But we have tried other menu items and specials, and many of them were absolutely delicious.  Which just goes to show, I think, that sometimes we have to let go of the past in order to fully appreciate the present…..

Lost and Found

I thought I lost my wedding ring this morning.  I had just finished walking a dog at the animal shelter where I volunteer when I noticed that the ring wasn’t on my finger.  The dog I’d been walking seemed to pride herself on pulling very hard throughout our walk, so it was very possible that it had somehow slipped off my finger while I was clutching my end of the leash.  I searched for my ring diligently, carefully retracing our steps and even doing a thorough, if rather disgusting, search through two trash cans full of used doggie poop bags.  But I didn’t find it.

My wedding ring is a plain gold band that’s not particularly valuable, and not a family heirloom.  But it has obvious sentimental value to me, and I wasn’t happy about the thought of it being lost forever.  A couple of my fellow volunteers suggested renting a metal detector to look for it, and while I thought that was a good idea, I wanted to go home and search my house and car first.  And lo and behold, we found the ring hiding in my jewelry box.  How it got in there I’ll never know, because it’s the one piece of jewelry I always wear.  I never put it in my jewelry box, as far as I can remember.  But it’s a mystery I can live with because it has a happy ending.

I’ll admit that while I was looking for my ring I didn’t really believe I’d find it.  There were so many places where it could have slipped off my finger that I thought the chances of finding it again were very small, even if I used a metal detector.  I had resigned myself to the fact that the ring I’ve worn for decades was well and truly gone, and thought that I just needed to accept that fact.  But it was found, and now it’s back on my finger, where it belongs.

The truth is, sometimes things that we believe are lost forever can be found again.  And as we are starting to cautiously move out of a time when the pandemic dictated so much of our lives, I’m hoping that some of what we lost during the past several months can also be found again.  I’m hoping that we can find the patience and compassion that has been sorely missing as we deal with people whose reactions to the pandemic were not exactly the same as ours.  I’m hoping that we can find our sense of community again, and remember that we really are “all in this together” and that what affects one of us often affects all of us.

45E59CA4-A803-44A6-B235-04E02D8E44EFThere is no doubt that we have been through some very trying times,  and that some of us have faced devastating losses.  It’s easy to believe that most of the good things we took for granted before the pandemic have been lost forever, but I honestly don’t believe that’s true.  There are still so many reasons to be hopeful….we just have to keep looking until we find them.