Positively Right

IMG_0709Have you ever had one of those dreams that seems so real you had a hard time convincing yourself it wasn’t, and the emotions you felt in the dream stay with you long after you wake up?  I once dreamed that my husband was cheating on me by dating the entire University of Iowa cheerleading squad, and also had the gall to tell me that it was “no big deal.”  I was so angry when I woke up that it was all I could do not to slap him.  And even though I knew it was just a dream, it still took me a few days before I quit glaring at him.

Which just goes to show how easy it is to get worked up about things that didn’t even happen and aren’t even real.  And sadly, I’m not just talking about exceptionally vivid dreams.  Or even all those annoying social media memes that are designed to generate outrage and anger, as dangerous as they can be to our emotional health.  What I’m talking about is much simpler:  how strongly our outlook (or our internal dialogue) can influence our mood and how we perceive the world around us.

When I’m feeling crabby, I have no problem finding things to fuel and sustain that mood.  A friend who is too busy to go to lunch with me is obviously tiring of my friendship;  the receptionist at the doctor’s office who doesn’t return a call right away must be incompetent; the driver who hesitates a bit too long when the light turns green absolutely has to be talking on a cell phone.  None of those things may be true, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling rejected, annoyed or self-righteously outraged.

It’s actually kind of scary how easy it is to react with very real anger and hurt to something that doesn’t exist anywhere except in my tiny little mind.  But the good news is that I can do something about it.

I can pay attention to that little voice in my head, and I can also rein it back in when it becomes too negative.  I can remember that most of the time, I honestly have no idea why people do the things they do and that nothing good can come from automatically attributing the worst possible motivation to other people’s actions.  And more importantly, I can remember that it’s almost always best to give other people the benefit of the doubt, at least until they have given me a good reason not to.

I used to think that people who believe in the power of a positive attitude were the sort of people who never really stopped believing in Santa Claus and who tended to buy into pyramid schemes with their spare money.  But the older I get, the more I realize that my attitude is not only one of the few things in my life I can actually control, but that the harder I try to keep it positive, the happier I’ll be.  And when I am happy rather than crabby, it’s just so much easier to also be patient, tolerant and most important of all…kind.  It really is as simple as that.

A Day of Rest

Last week was a busy one, for a number of reasons I won’t bore you with.  Suffice it to say that it was one of those weeks when I had trouble remembering all the the things I was supposed to be doing, let alone actually getting them done.  I like to think I handled it well, but I suspect if you asked those who had to deal with me, they would tell you I was just a little bit cranky from time to time.  (Or very cranky all week long, depending on their level of honesty verses tact.) But still, I finished off the week with most of the items checked off of my to-do list.  Which means that today I finally have a few free hours to spend any way my little heart desires.

And do you know what I’m actually doing today?  Nothing much.  Nothing much at all.

Not so long ago, I would have felt really guilty about wasting so much time when I could be doing something “worthwhile.”  I don’t know about you, but I always have a few big projects hanging over my head that need my attention.  Right now I have an old dresser that needs to be sanded and stained (there was a reason the antique store was selling it so cheaply and displaying it in such a dark corner), and there’s several bins in the basement filled with stuff I’m quite sure I don’t need any more.  Also, I promised my mother I’d wash her windows several weeks ago.  But I didn’t do any of things.

Instead, I mostly just puttered around my house, doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that.  I didn’t actually just sit on the couch and stare into space for several hours, but only because I don’t find just sitting and staring into space particularly relaxing.  What I do find relaxing is doing small chores that catch my attention, in my own way and in my own time.  I only sat down to write this post because I actually felt like writing it, and not because it’s Sunday and I almost always write a post on Sunday afternoon.

It may not seem as if I did anything particularly important today, but the fact of the matter is that I did accomplish one very important thing.  I rested.  I rested my mind by only doing tasks that required little or no thought, and I rested my body by slowing down and taking it easy for a change.  And you know what?  For the first time in several days I don’t feel tired, stressed and cranky.  Instead, I feel pretty darned good.

Life is far too busy for most of us, and we usually have little choice but to forge ahead with our hectic schedules.  But I believe that every once in a while, it’s important to “step off that treadmill” and allow ourselves a little breathing time.  We need to pay attention when our body tells us it needs a break, or when our thoughts become so jumbled that we can’t seem to think straight.  And those are the times when we need to find a way to slow down, tune out as much of the outside world as possible, and allow ourselves to simply be.  Because those are the times when resting is actually the most important thing we could possibly be doing.

The Best Policy

Ann's photoWhen I was about six years old, I desperately wanted a pair of glasses.  And not just any glasses, I wanted  the “cat eye” framed glasses that were so popular at the time.  My older sister had a pair and so did Susan Breneke, who I thought was the coolest kid in the entire first grade.  I wanted those glasses so badly that I actually lied to my mother, telling her that far-away objects looked kind of fuzzy to me.  (My sister had described her vision problems to me in detail, so I knew just what to say.)  Unfortunately, my mom didn’t rush out and buy me a pair of glasses, which is what I thought would happen.  She took me for an eye exam, and I passed with flying colors.  I never did get those glasses.

I’m an adult now, and I no longer believe it telling lies to get what I want.   But there are still times when I think it would be easier to lie than tell the truth, and sometimes I struggle with being completely honest.

For example, I may want to tell a lie in order to spare a person’s feelings.  I know that people do that for me now and then.  When my husband and I are getting ready to go out, I’ll often ask his opinion of my outfit, sometimes even uttering the dreaded question, “Does this make me look fat?”  The closest he’s ever come to saying yes was the time I had just bought a new dress with lots of pleats at the waist and he asked me, “Have you seen the back view?”  Which was his subtle way of letting me know it made my butt look bigger than Cleveland.

Other times, I’ll hedge a little bit on my honest opinion when I’m talking to someone I know holds completely different views from me on a sensitive subject.  I’ve seen so many people become deeply offended, or even enraged, when someone dares to disagree with them that I’ve become a little too cautious in my responses.  There are times when telling the truth is harder than it sounds.

But I also know that I want to live my life as honestly and openly as I possibly can, and that means that I need to tell the truth about who I am and what I believe.  I need to accept the risk that there are going to be people who don’t like what I say or do, and that the loss of those relationships will probably sting, at least for awhile.  But the fear of rejection doesn’t outweigh the value of being true to my real self.

Like my husband, I need to always temper honesty with tact and sensitivity.  Honesty is never an excuse to run roughshod over someone’s feelings.  But handled correctly, telling the truth is actually easiest in the long run.  I don’t have to worry about keeping track of any little white lies I may have told if I always give an honest answer to a direct question.  If I admit to the many embarrassing things I have done in my life, there’s no need to worry about anyone “discovering” them.

And best of all, when I am honest with my friends and family, I know that those who stay in relationship with me like me for who I really am.  Any way you look at it, honesty really is the best policy.

No Waiting

IMG_3233I’m not sure why I look forward to Spring so much every year, but I do.  I may love the beauty of a new snowfall, but by the time March winds down, I really don’t want to actually see a new snowfall anymore.  This time of year, all I want to see are lots of flowers, buds on trees, and the sun filtering through the bedroom blinds when I wake up in the morning.  I want the temperatures to warm up enough that I can pack away my heavy coats and bulky sweaters, and allow me to wear shoes that don’t necessarily require socks.  I want to be outside without the cold making my nose run and turning my finger tips white.

This year is no exception:  I am ready for Spring.  The problem is, I’m still waiting.  Because even though the calendar says Spring has arrived a while ago, the Winter weather is still hanging on.  Easter Sunday was yesterday, and even though the sun did shine briefly in the morning, the day ended with sleet and snow.  Which is still on the ground.  It’s beginning to feel as if the warm temperatures and pretty flowers I’m waiting for are never going to arrive.

I don’t know about you, but when something isn’t going my way, I tend to get impatient and anxious, and maybe just a teeny bit obsessive.  I begin to focus on whatever it is that’s bothering me, and worse, I begin to believe that as soon as that particular problem is solved, everything will be just fine.  At the moment, I’m blaming my cranky mood on the fact that it’s April 2 and there’s snow and ice on the ground, and that I still have to wear my ugly knee socks in order to keep warm.  I have almost convinced myself that if the weather would just warm up, I’d be a happy camper.

Which is, of course, just plain silly.  The weather will eventually warm up and that will be a very good thing.  But I know that even when it does, I’ll have something else I’ll be fretting about, because my life (just like everyone’s) will always have its share of stress and worry.  So what exactly is the point in my waiting for these cold and gloomy days to go away before I find a way to cheer up?

The older I get, the more I realize that my happiness has much more to do with my attitude than with my environment.   I think it’s time that I become more intentional about choosing to be happy, and looking for the things that can make me happy, right here and right now.  I know that a positive attitude can work wonders for people dealing with serious problems, so why can’t it work for someone who is just plain sick of Winter?

I think it’s time I put on my prettiest sweater and my warmest coat and went for a walk on this too-cold Spring day, just because I can.  And if I look for them, I bet I’ll even see some of those hardy Spring flowers blooming in the snow.

This Is The Day

We went to brunch this morning to celebrate my son-in-law’s birthday, taking our baby grandson with us.  The little guy did great, spending most of the time either sleeping or snuggling quietly on my shoulder, staring in wonder at the activity around us.  It was one of the nicest brunches I’ve had in a long time.  The food and company were great, of course.  But what really made me happy was the chance to just sit there with my family, holding my infant grandson.  And I wanted to savor every minute of it, because I know that babies don’t stay babies for very long and that far too soon, he’s going to be too big to drape so perfectly over my shoulder.

I am not, and never have been, particularly good at “living in the moment.”  I tend to put off doing the things that I could be doing, and even the things that I really want to do, until later, when I’m not quite so busy.  Or tired.  Or stressed.  Or whatever other excuse I have come up with for not fully appreciating what, and who, I have in my life right now, at this very moment.  And by doing so, I am counting on a future that is in no way guaranteed.

Life can change in an instant, both for the better and for the worse.  And all we can really count on is the here and now.  So it is actually rather important that we make each and every day count, as much as we possibly can.

IMG_0780For me, that means holding my grandson while he’s still small enough to let me, even if the food on my plate gets a little cold while I do so.  Or putting him in his stroller and taking him for a walk on a warm spring day, even when I have dozens of unfinished chores on my to-do list.  It even means taking even a few minutes to actually play the piano I insisted on buying a few years ago, rather than just vowing to find the time play whenever I dust it.

Making my day count may mean calling that friend I haven’t talked to in ages, or reaching out to mend a rift that threatens a once close relationship.  It may mean making a healthy choice for my next meal, or going for a brisk walk even if the weather isn’t perfect.  It may mean trying something I’ve always wanted to do, even if I’m afraid I will fail miserably.  The important thing is that I do it today.  Not tomorrow, because tomorrow may not come, for me or for someone I love.

Ever since my father died, I have made it a point to call my elderly mother several times a week.  Somewhere along the line, we began ending our phone calls with the words, “love you.”  We were never the sort of family who said that very often, and it was a little awkward at first.  But now it’s a habit, and a good one at that.  Because there is no better time to tell someone you love them than today.

The Only Constant

I started this blog because I wanted to write about the phase of my life that I called “middle age,” even if I was a bit old for that title. At the time, I was feeling a little bit lost and unsure of myself in the face of changes that sometimes seemed overwhelming.  I was a stay-at-home mom whose kids had grown up and moved out, and a free-lance writer who hadn’t sold anything in years.  My mother had reached the age where our roles were beginning to reverse.  Trying to keep up with the latest in technology left me feeling both confused and inadequate.  Worst of all were the changes that aging had wrought on my body, which essentially meant that everything that could possibly go south had done so, and I couldn’t read a thing without my reading glasses.

One way or another, I felt that my old identity had been stripped away and I hadn’t yet found my new one.  I thought that blogging about it might help, because writing has always helped me sort out just exactly what I am thinking and feeling.  And I was right…..it did help.  Just not quite in the way I had thought.

It’s been over three years since I launched Muddling Through My Middle Age, and I still haven’t found that new identity.  But after spending so much time writing about the struggle to figure out just who I have become,  I finally realized that it is that it’s perfectly okay not to know exactly who I am, or to claim a particular role and self-image and try to make it last for the rest of my life.  Because life is constantly changing, and the only way I can ever hope to cope with that is by being willing to change right along with it.

Of course some things about me will always stay the same.  My basic personality, my morals and my values, my deepest loves and my most annoying quirks are with me for life.  But so many other things have changed.  Just in recent years, I’ve become a blogger, a mother-in-law and a grandmother.  I am, slowly but surely, gaining confidence in my ability to master technology.  I have embraced new ideas and conquered some old fears.  I have become more “comfortable in my own skin” than I have ever been, even if that skin is awfully wrinkled and saggy these days.

The truth is, there is no such thing as just one new identity for me to discover and embrace for the rest of my life.  There’s just me….continually changing, growing and adapting to whatever life happens to bring.  And that’s a good thing.

Walking the Walk

When I started this blog three years ago, I had two simple goals.  First, I wanted it to be  a creative writing outlet where I could write honestly and openly about the topics that interested me.  Secondly, I wanted to make sure my blog was a positive place where everyone (including my readers) could share their opinions and beliefs without being attacked by others.  I wanted my blog to be a “hate-free” zone where disagreement was welcomed as long as it was respectful and civilized.  And luckily, that’s exactly the way it turned out.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I was actually starting to feel a little bit smug about how little negativity my blog attracted, congratulating myself on keeping the nastiness away.  But have you ever had one of those “aha” moments, when you finally realize something so obvious that you can’t believe you didn’t see it before?  Because that’s exactly what happened to me yesterday.

I was driving down the street, actually thinking of how happy I was that I had managed to keep my blog so positive and hate free for three years when a driver suddenly pulled out in front of me.  I slammed on my brakes and missed him, but I was still incredibly angry.  And I didn’t hesitate to express that anger through a series of words that were both ugly and hateful.  The fact that I was alone in the car with the windows rolled up didn’t really matter.  Whether or not anyone could hear what I said wasn’t the point.  The point was that I finally realized that even though I had managed to create a hate-free blog, I most certainly wasn’t living a hate-free life.

I couldn’t help but wonder just exactly how different my life would be if I became just a bit more intentional about trying to keep hatred and anger out of my own heart.  I’m not naive enough to think that I will never get angry again, or that I won’t resent people I believe have done me wrong, or even that I can simply decide that I’ll never feel hateful again.  I’m sure I’ll do all those things, despite my best efforts.

But still, I know I can do better.  More importantly, I know that I want to do better.  I want to think twice before I open my mouth in anger.  When I feel slighted by someone, I want to try to look at things from their point of view rather than immediately feeling sorry for myself.  And when I feel hate stirring in my heart, I want to ask myself if I really want hateful feelings to be a permanent part of who I am.  Because hatred hurts the one who harbors it just as much as it hurts its target.

For the past three years, I’ve managed to keep hatred, pettiness, resentment, etc. out of my blog, and I’ve been very happy with the result.  So I think it’s time that I at least start trying to do the same thing with the rest of my life.

A Fond Farewell

IMG_0358I’ve never been very good at saying goodbye, especially to someone I really like.  So when I heard that one of my very favorite staff members at the animal shelter where I volunteer was planning to retire this month, I didn’t react well.

First I tried to convince her to stay.  When that didn’t work, I tried to convince management that she wasn’t really old enough to retire yet.  Sadly, I never did figure out how to forge a fake birth certificate that would back up my claim, so that didn’t work either.  All I had to fall back on was denial, but as the day of her actual retirement crept closer, that stopped working as well.  You can’t help plan someone’s retirement celebration without also recognizing that they actually are going to retire.

I know my friend deserves to retire and that she is ready for this new phase of her life, and I also know I need to support her in this decision.  That’s what friends do.  But the problem is that knowing she won’t be at the animal shelter anymore just makes me incredibly sad, and even a little bit lost.

She taught the volunteer orientation class I took when I first started at the shelter over fifteen years ago, and I still remember what a great job she did of preparing us for the realities of volunteering in an open-admission animal shelter.  It wasn’t long before I, along with most of the other volunteers, learned that she was an excellent source of advice, guidance and support when we needed it.  I saw how protective she was of the animals in her care, and how compassionate she was towards the people she worked with, and how helpful and patient she was with people who came in to adopt a new pet.

Lots of people are good at their jobs, but my friend was one of those who always went the extra mile, both for the animals and for the people around her.  She sent regular texts and emails, letting volunteers know that a favorite dog had finally been adopted so we could celebrate the good news even when we weren’t at the shelter.  She listened to us when we needed a sympathetic ear, and cheered us up when we were down, and was rather well known for her habit of breaking into an impressive “happy dance” when she thought the situation called for it.

My friend was a fixture at the animal shelter and her departure is going to be felt deeply by all those who worked with her.  I suppose our grief over her retirement is the proof of what a terrific job she did during her time there and what a wonderful friend she was to all, of both the two-footed and the four-footed variety.   We only miss what, and who, we truly value.  And we will miss her very much.

I still can’t quite imagine what the shelter will be like without my friend, and I know that the next few weeks are going to be a major adjustment for many of us.  But we will continue our volunteer work, doing our best to help the animals, celebrating the successes, and offering support to each other when we need it.  And I can’t think of any better way to honor my friend’s legacy than that.

I Don’t Get It

I had always been told that age brings wisdom, and in some ways I suppose that’s true.  I like to think that I’ve gotten a bit smarter over the years, or at least just a little less clueless than when I was young.  But I’m almost sixty years old now and there are still far too many things  in this world that I simply do not understand.  And I’m beginning to think that I never will.

Much of what I fail to understand is fairly new, so my age might actually be working against me there.  For instance, I keep seeing ads where restaurants and grocery stores boast about providing “clean food.”  And I think, as opposed to what?  Dirty food?  Are they seriously bragging that they aren’t serving food that’s been dropped on the ground or retrieved from the garbage can?  Of course their food is clean.  If it wasn’t, the health department would shut them down.  That’s their job.  If a restaurant or store wants to impress me with the quality of their food, they need to focus more on words like “healthy” “fresh” and “tasty.”  Especially “tasty.”

I’m also bewildered by the growing popularity of  the “open concept” choice of home design.  As far as I can see, open concept is achieved by tearing down almost all of the existing walls in a home to create one giant living space.  Apparently, this is necessary so that there are sight-lines all over the house, meaning that those living in it can see everything all the time.  For some reason, that’s considered important and the days of enjoying a bit of privacy or some peace and quiet in your home are over.  I can’t help but wonder if even bathroom walls will eventually be removed just so people could be sure of  seeing everything, even when seated on the toilet.

But the things I don’t understand aren’t just limited to new trends.  I know that I’m a bit of a clean-freak and that means my house is probably cleaner than most.  But I’m still surprised by how many people feel free to comment on how “unnaturally clean” my house is.  I know they don’t mean anything negative by it.  But personally, I’d never dream of walking into someone’s messy house and saying, “Wow!  What a pig sty!”  I think people should be allowed to keep their houses as clean or messy as they want, within reason.  (If your house is so clean that you’re following your guests around with a dust cloth and vacuum cleaner, then it is too clean.  If your guests can’t find anywhere to sit down that isn’t sticky and are afraid to eat what comes out of your kitchen, then it’s too dirty.)  Everything in between is perfectly okay.

These are just a few of the things that I puzzle over, and believe me, there are many more.  I’m hoping I’ll get to live a good long life and that will give me the chance to solve more of life’s little mysteries.  But I think it’s far more likely that there will always be many things I won’t begin to understand, even if I life to be one hundred.  And I guess that’s just part of what makes life so interesting…

The Age of Technology

My days are filled with reminders that I am no longer young.  I wake up each morning with stiff and aching joints.  I can’t apply make-up without the help of a magnifying mirror, which is annoying because the magnifying mirror also does a terrific job of revealing every single wrinkle on my face.  (When I use a regular mirror I only notice my sagging chin and eye bags, but I found out the hard way that it’s not a good idea to apply mascara when you can’t actually see your eyelashes.)  I am reminded daily that I have nowhere near the strength or stamina I had even ten years ago.  One way or another, it is impossible for me to forget that I am getting old. And while I may not especially like it, I do accept it.

But accepting the fact that I am, shall we say, “a woman of a certain age” doesn’t mean that I enjoy being treated as if the fact that I am old also means I am incompetent and stupid.  Which is why I tend to get just a bit crabby when either my computer or my smart phone decides to act up and I am stuck with the daunting task of trying to get it fixed.

I’m not the sort of person who panics the minute something goes wrong.  I always try to identify the problem and look up ways to fix it before I finally (and reluctantly) ask for help.  And I put off asking for help because I know that as soon as I do, I will be told by someone half my age that the problem must be that I am doing something wrong.  Because if someone who looks like me (see above reference to sags, bags and wrinkles) is having a problem with her technology, the problem has to be that she isn’t bright enough to work it properly.  It can’t possibly be the fault of the computer, the smart phone, or the I-Pad, etc.

I once spent an hour with an employee at a cell-phone store who kept telling me that the problem I was explaining simply couldn’t exist.  Politely but persistently, I assured him it did.  (We old people can be stubborn.)  And even when, after exhausting all other possible explanations, he finally realized that I was telling the truth, he didn’t actually acknowledge I was right.  He just fiddled with my phone some more and handed it back to me, assuring me that it was now working just fine.  And then then went to “help” the next customer.

I know I’m not a whiz at technology, and that I was born back in the days when phones were rotary, televisions were black and white, and there was no such thing as a personal computer.  None of this comes naturally to me.  But I have learned how to operate a smart phone, publish a blog on the internet, and even send a decent text message as long as I remember to put on my reading glasses before I begin typing.  So I think I have earned the right to at least be given the benefit of the doubt when I say that something on my computer or phone isn’t working properly.

DSC01665There’s so much more I could say on this subject, but I don’t have the time.  My 87-year old mother is having problems opening her emails, and I have to go over to her house and figure out just what she is doing wrong…..