Picture Perfect

I was at a photography shop yesterday, uploading my photos in order to make prints of them.   A woman was sitting at the at the kiosk next to me, being helped by a young man who worked at the store.  She was trying to make 5×7 inch prints of her photos, and it wasn’t going well.  The woman (who looked only slightly older than me) kept apologizing for her ignorance of the system, and for needing the employee to help her.  “Sorry I’m taking up so much of your time!  But this is hard for someone my age,” she said, “it was so much easier when all we had to do was bring in our photo card and insert it into the computer.”

The more I listened to their conversation, the more I was struck by the woman’s attitude.  Why did she keep apologizing?  Because she was right: it was so much easier to print our photos a few years ago.  We didn’t have to worry about uploads and file compatibility, retaining original resolution or any of the other stuff she was struggling to understand.  We just inserted our photo card into the kiosk, the pictures popped up on the screen, and we selected the number and size was wanted of each.  It was quick and easy.  

But in these past few years, printing photos has become a real struggle.  I can’t get my photos to upload properly to the online sites anymore (apparently, they’re not compatible), so I go to the shop and sync my phone with their device and upload them there.  Even that takes a very long time unless I use their Wi-Fi, which my phone informs me isn’t secure, and every once in a while the upload simply stops for reasons no one can explain.  These days, it takes real determination and lots of patience to make a print of a photo.  

I believe that woman had no need to apologize, and yet I understood why she did.  If you’re over fifty and struggling with any type of technology, often the immediate assumption is that you’re not quite smart enough to, say, actually print a photo.  The young man who was helping her was patient and kind, but not once did he agree with her that the new system is harder than the old.  Nor did he contradict her when she kept repeating that the problem was her age.  But the truth is, if a system has become complicated and doesn’t work properly, the problem might not be the age of the person trying to use it.  As radical as it sounds, the problem just could be that the system is flawed.

I know I’m one of the few people who still likes to print my photos, so I soldier on.  I’ve learned the difference between a “jpeg” and a “HEIC” photo file, and how to convert one to the other.  I schlepp to the photo shop to use their kiosk because if I try to use the shop’s website, it takes approximately five minutes for each photo to upload.  And when I’m really stymied, I’ll ask for help from the staff.  But no matter how difficult the process becomes, I have vowed that I will NOT utter the words,  “I’m sorry, but I’m just too old to understand……..”

 

Vital Connections

DSC03900The last of my tomatoes is gone, and I didn’t get to eat any of them.  I absolutely love the taste of home-grown tomatoes, so over the past several years I’ve made several attempts to grow them myself.  Sadly, all that work and effort produced only one bumper crop of cherry tomatoes.  I was happy and proud, but it only happened once.  Some years I grew enormous tomato plants that didn’t actually produce tomatoes, other years my plants were infected with “white flies” which meant the tomatoes never ripened, and one year something ate my entire tomato plant.  All that was left was a sad little gnawed-off stump.

Hope springs eternal, so this Spring when I saw a healthy little plant that was labeled as an “early producer,” I thought I would give it a try.  I was heartened to see five tomatoes growing shortly after I planted it, and since there was no sign of the dreaded white flies, I thought this was going to be my year, tomato-wise.  But then the tomatoes began disappearing, one by one.  I asked my husband to surround the plant with a protective barrier.  That worked for three days, but this morning, all that was left of my tomato crop was a single tomato with a huge bite taken out of it.  I know when I’m beat, so I left it on the ground so some critter could finish its meal.

I think the time has come for me to admit that growing my own tomatoes is not in my skill set.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy home-grown tomatoes, it just means I have to eat tomatoes that other people have grown.  For now, I buy them at the local farmer’s market.  Later this Summer, my friends and family who can successfully grow tomatoes will most likely share their extras with me.  And I’ve decided that I’m okay with that.

The truth is, sometimes we have to rely on other people.  When the shower head in our main bathroom started dripping, my husband and I made several attempts to fix it ourselves, but finally gave up and called a plumber.  The plumber fixed it in less than an hour.  When my dog managed to snag my necklace and I heard a loud “twang,” I thought it was broken.  It wasn’t, but the chain was suddenly several inches longer.  I couldn’t figure out how a sterling silver chain suddenly lengthened, but a friend took one look at it and told me that the chain had “sprung,” which did indeed make it longer.  Sometimes other people know the answers that elude us.

I am, by nature, a somewhat independent person and I don’t apologize for that.  But I also know just how connected I am to other people, and how much we all rely on each other to get through our day-to-day lives.  And I hope I can always remember just how much I need others, even those people who don’t think, vote, believe, or look just like I do.  Because when I can remember how connected we all truly are, it’s a whole lot easier to treat others the way I want them to treat me.  And that results in a better world for everyone…..

Not So Smart

I got a text from a friend this morning, asking if it would be a good time for her to call me.  It was, so I replied, “of course.”  Or at least that was what I intended to reply, so you can imagine my surprise when I checked my answer a bit later and saw that what I had actually replied was, “M. Por ya.” Obviously, auto-correct had struck again, and I can only imagine how much it confused my poor friend.

I had been walking my dog at the time I received the text, so it’s possible that I hit one or two wrong letters when I replied to it.  But there is no language in this universe in which “M. Por ya” makes any sense, so why in the world would auto-correct make that my response?  And “of course” is a common phrase in the English language, so why couldn’t auto-correct recognize it, even if I did miss a letter or two when I typed it?  Auto-correct is supposed to be a part of the new smart technology, but I have my doubts about that.

In fact, I have my doubts about a whole lot of things that are lumped into the “smart technology” category.  My car, for instance, is programed to beep at me relentlessly until all of the passengers are wearing seat belts.  It’s a safety issue and it makes sense….most of the time.  But my car also beeps at me if I put a heavy bag of groceries on the front seat, and it beeps at me when my dog is riding the in front seat too.  The seat belt in question is designed for humans, not groceries or dogs, but I have to insert the buckle in the slot anyway just to get the car to quit beeping at me.  The fact that the seat belt isn’t actually restraining anything is apparently beyond my car’s comprehension.  (And this is the same car that slammed on the emergency brakes when a leafy twig blew across the street in front of it.)  Smart?  I think not.

I’ve known for a long time that my computer is tracking all my online activity and sharing it with all and sundry, and I guess the fact that I can’t get it to stop means it’s at least smarter than me.  (Who isn’t?)  But since it knows what sites I visit, don’t you think it would also know what I’m doing on that site?   So when I browse hotels for an upcoming trip, wouldn’t it also know when I’ve already  booked a room?  Apparently not, because I’ll get adds for hotels in the area I plan to visit for weeks afterwards.

I think it’s time that we stopped assuming that all technology is smart, and wait until a particular device or program has actually earned the title.  That’s the way it works with people.   We don’t just assume a person is smart until they’ve found a way to prove it.  So maybe what we need to do is start classifying our technology a little more accurately.  There can be categories for smart, above-average, average, below average and just plain “dumb as a box of rocks.”  It may not be nice, but at least it would be accurate and we’d know what to expect from our devices.  And I’d feel a little less annoyed the next time auto-correct garbles one of my texts, because I’d know it was just doing the best it could….

Sweet Dreams

IMG_1065Sometimes it’s hard to be a dog.  I mean, I know I mostly live a good life:  I’ve got a nice home with  a loving human family, a big yard, and my very own basket of dog toys.  But I can’t help but noticing that at my house, there are certain glaring inequities between the lifestyles of those who walk around on two feet and those of us who walk around on four paws.

I’ve written before about the fact that humans get to use an indoor bathroom, whereas I am forced to potty outside, no matter what the weather.  It seems especially unfair when it raining or storming, since those are very scary situations and all I want to do is hide inside and hope that I live to see another day.  And don’t get me started on the perils of icy porch steps or searching in vain for a spot in the yard that isn’t covered in snow or sleet so I can finally do my business.

But the biggest discrepancy (and the one I find hardest to accept) occurs at mealtime.  My parents eat three meals a day, plus snacks.  Sometimes they eat out at restaurants, bringing home the leftovers, and other times Mom cooks.  My favorite dog bed is in the kitchen, so I’m right there while she’s cooking (or reheating) and the delicious aromas just make my mouth water!  When the meal is finally ready, I prance around the kitchen, wagging my tail and in general letting them know just how happy I’d be if they fix a plate for me, but does that ever happen?  No, it does not.

IMG_1527Mom and Dad might feast on a huge variety of meats, pastas, vegetables, fruits and breads, but do you know what I get served?  Dry dog kibble, that’s what.  Twice a day, every day.  Yes I know that there are plenty of starving dogs in the world who would happily make do with kibble, but do you have any idea how hard it is to see and smell so many tasty foods, day in and day out, and never get offered more than one tiny morsel of it?  Trust me, it’s enough to drive a dog crazy!

I’ve tried to let my parents know how I feel.  When they’re eating, I sit right next to them and stare at them imploringly, whining a little now and then to drive my point home.  All that gets me is the aforementioned tiny morsel, and that’s after they’ve cleaned their plates.  I even tried ignoring my kibble in the hopes that they’d serve me something better, but Mom just said that a hunger strike would do my waistline a world of good.  (Body shaming may be a no-no for humans, but clearly it’s still acceptable for us dogs….yet another inequity.)

Don’t get me wrong, I really love my parents.  And I know they think they’re doing the right thing by feeding me the dry dog food.  But that doesn’t stop me from hoping that they’ll eventually figure out that what I really want is to eat the same food they do, served in very generous portions.   A dog can dream…..

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.

All Together Now

If the past couple of years have taught me anything, it’s the importance of being flexible.  So even though I’d been very much looking forward to a Florida getaway with my family, I kept telling myself that there was always a possibility that the trip wouldn’t actually happen.  I told myself this even as I arranged for our house/dog sitter, packed my bags, arrived at at the airport and all the way up to the moment when our plane actually took off.  It was only once we were safely in the air that I finally drew a sigh of relief and allowed myself to believe that this much-anticipated vacation was truly beginning.

It’s not that there was anything particularly special about our trip.  We weren’t heading to an exotic destination, or checking something big off our “bucket list” or even treating ourselves to something new and different.  We were just renting a vacation home for a week and our only plan was to relax and spend time with our family.  I know it may sound boring to some people, but at this point in my life, it struck me as the perfect vacation plan and I was more than ready for it.

3859E432-F548-4257-89B5-54F1E547F1AB_1_201_aAnd things went mostly according to plan.  As we settled into our house, I soon realized that relaxation is a rare commodity when you’re vacationing with a three-year old and a one-year old.  (I’d count myself lucky if I could muster up just one-tenth of their energy and stamina.)  But that was just fine, because I also realized that although sharing a house with active little people may not be relaxing, it sure is fun and entertaining, especially if they happen to be your grandchildren.  There’s something pretty special about stumbling out of bed in the morning and being greeted with big smiles, hugs, and an enthusiastic, “Yea!  Grandma’s up!” I mean, my husband and I love each other dearly, but mostly we just grunt at each other first thing in the morning.

Sharing a house with our kids and their families for the week also gave us a chance to reconnect in ways that just don’t happen in our normal, day-to-day life.  Late night conversations around the hot tub when the little ones were safely tucked in bed, working on a jigsaw puzzle together, or even just sharing a meal as a family were gifts to be savored.  Even sitting back and watching others interact was special, because I knew those interactions were strengthening family bonds that should last long after my husband and I are gone. 

Now it’s over, and I’m slowly adjusting back to a life that is both more solitary and hectic than the one I enjoyed while on vacation.  I’m actually a bit more tired than before I went, but that’s normal because travel is wearing and so is catching up on all the chores that waited patiently for my return.  The weariness will pass but the memories of our time together aren’t going anywhere, and wouldn’t trade those for anything in the world…..

Obsolete

My grandson has discovered “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (the original cartoon version) and it quickly became a favorite.  It’s not offered on the streaming service my daughter uses, so I offered to get him his very own copy.  I went to my local Barnes and Noble because I knew it had a huge DVD section, including tons of selections for the holidays.  Sadly, the key word turned out to be “had,” because when I arrived, all I saw was a big empty space where the DVDs and CDs used to be displayed.

I don’t know why I was surprised.  I have heard that “no one uses DVD or CD players anymore,” so it stood to reason that stores were going to quit stocking them.  And since I still have and use both devices, I guess that proves what I have long suspected:  these days, I’m a nobody.  That doesn’t particularly bother me, but thinking about the thousands of obsolete players and millions of useless DVDs and CDs destined for a landfill bothers me a lot.

When I first began using a digital camera, I kept the photo cards for all my pictures so I could always make more prints of them.  Later, I learned to upload photos onto my computer, and then to the “cloud” for safe keeping.  But my earlier digital photos are still stored on those little photo cards, and when I tried to upload them onto my new computer, I searched in vain for a slot to insert a photo card.  Yes, I discovered I can buy an adapter that will help, but why in the world couldn’t the people who design new computers have simply included a slot for photo cards?  If they had, I wouldn’t have to buy yet another gadget.

These days, we are constantly being urged to reuse and recycle as much as we possibly can, and with good reason.  Wouldn’t it be nice if that applied to our tech devices as well?  I understand that there will always be a “new and improved” version of everything we use, and that’s fine.  But does making way for the new version always have to mean getting rid of the old?  Yet all too often, that’s exactly what happens.  A case in point being that my new computer is not only lacking a slot for my photo cards, but it also can’t seem to communicate with my (older, but still working) printer.  So now I have to buy a new printer and figure out what to do with the old one.

Ann's BaptismI hate to admit it, but it does seem to me as if sometimes the old ways were a whole lot easier.  My mother never worried about how she was going to store her photos, because she had a simple system: print them and stick them in a photo album.  And even though they were taken many decades ago, I can still get out my baby photos and look at them any time I please, with no worries about compatibility, adapters or unnecessary waste.  Apparently, back in 1958, they knew how make things last…….

Step by Step

I love reading, and mystery novels are my favorite genre.  Trying to figure out “who did it” is a fun challenge, but what I especially love about mysteries is that they almost always have a strong plot line and a definite conclusion.  By the end of the book the mystery has been solved, all questions have been answered, and all the loose ends are neatly tied up.  I can close the book with a sigh of satisfaction and move on to another story.  Which, in my opinion, is just how it should be.

Sadly, real life rarely works out that way.  Real life tends to be messy and confusing, with lots of loose ends that may or may not be tied up eventually, and problems that can go unresolved for years.  Reality doesn’t always provide the clear beginning, middle, and end that our favorite stories deliver.  And sometimes our troubles drag on for so long that we find it hard to believe they’ll ever be over.

When we met with the oncologist after my husband’s cancer diagnosis, he told us the schedule for the chemo treatment would be an infusion every three weeks for eighteen weeks.  I went home and dutifully marked our calendar for each treatment, even writing in “done with chemo!” on the last date.  But when I mentioned this to the oncologist at our next visit, he told me that chemo doesn’t work that way.  My husband would have his blood tested before each infusion to make sure he was strong enough to go through the treatment, so there might be times when we would have a delay for a week or so.  He said that the chemo schedule was only a suggestion, and that we would take the whole thing step by step, depending on my husband’s reaction.

It turned out he was right, because my husband actually finished chemo a bit earlier than they had predicted, and we were especially thrilled when early tests showed that he didn’t need the major surgery that sometimes follows.  Unfortunately, later tests showed he did need two surgeries, and both of them resulted in longer hospital stays than anyone expected.  What should have been a nine-month course of cancer treatment stretched into a fourteen months, partially due to Covid restrictions.  And somewhere during all that mess, I learned to stop looking for a definitive schedule and to simply take each day, and each test/treatment/procedure as it came.

Which may explain why I’m having trouble accepting that, as far as we know, my husband is now in remission.  I had thought that the end of his cancer treatment would feel like a victory, with my husband and I toasting each other over a bottle of champagne and exclaiming “It’s over!”  Part of the problem is that cancer doesn’t really work that way, because it’s a sneaky disease that has a habit of rearing it’s ugly head when we least expect it.  My husband will be closely monitored in the upcoming months to make sure all is well, and I know we will be nervous before each and every test and scan.

eW3mn0cBQVebae5TBOD62QBut mostly, the problem is that my husband’s battle with cancer didn’t end with a victorious “bang.”  It has simply wound down, slowly, and on an unpredictable schedule of its own.  And it’s taking both of us a while to give ourselves permission to believe that the worst is truly behind us.  But that’s okay, because we’ll get there eventually, the exact same way we got through his treatment:  one step at a time.

Just Be There

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patiently Waiting

I’ve never been a patient person.  Waiting is not my strong point, no matter what I happen to be waiting for.  If I’m looking forward to something good, then I want it to happen right now, this very second.  Even if I’m dreading something, I’d much rather just hurry up and get it over with, sooner rather than later.  Unfortunately, there are times in my life where I don’t really have a choice, and I find myself having to wait with as much patience as I possibly can.

A few weeks ago, my husband had a scheduled surgery that was supposed to result in a three to five-day hospital stay.  The surgery went well, but his recovery didn’t, and he ended up spending over ten days in the hospital due to minor complications.  I wish I could say that I always handled the situation with patience and grace, but that would be a lie.  What I actually did was worry a lot, feel sorry for myself and even sorrier for my husband, and in general wake up each morning thinking, “PLEASE let today be the day that he finally gets to come home.”

It was a long ten days, but I did learn a few things about myself in the process, not the least of which is that I would make a truly awful nurse.  I’ve always been a bit of a klutz, but repeatedly tripping over various tubes that are actually connected to a patient is never a good thing, and neither is forgetting to unhook the IV pole before helping him go for a walk in the hallway.  Also, it’s a good idea to wind the chord of the nurse call button around the bed railings, because otherwise it falls off the bed every time you adjust the blankets…and then you have to keep telling the nurse station that you didn’t really mean to call them.

Luckily, I also learned some more useful lessons during my husband’s recovery, and the main one was that when I have no choice, I really can manage to wait patiently for things to get better.  Although I’ve always been nervous in hospitals (I never even like visiting a patient), I actually became accustomed to the routine and stopped having to look away from any procedure that involved blood or other body fluids.  I spent hours sitting quietly in the corner, reading a book while my husband slept, and actually became quite friendly with some of the nurses.  It’s amazing what we can endure when we have to, and I do think it helps to be reminded of that from time to time.

Of course I would have much rather my husband’s hospital stay hadn’t lasted quite so long, and to have spared him that trauma and both of us that worry.  But I like to think that the next time I’m waiting for something I desperately want right now, that I’ll remember there’s a reserve of strength and patience in each of us, just waiting for us to tap into it. And that when we do, we’ll have everything we we need to tide us over until the hard times are over….