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……

Like A Child

Sometimes I enjoy a good snowfall.  My living room has a gas fireplace and a large picture window, which makes it especially nice for sitting in a cozy armchair and watching the big fluffy snowflakes gently falling to the ground.  It’s an incredibly relaxing experience, and almost always leaves me with a lovely feeling of comfort and peace.

Unfortunately, not all Winter weather delivers in the comfort and peace department.  Early last week, the local weather forecasters predicted what could be our worst snow storm in over a decade, if not a century.  Depending on which TV channel I watched, I learned that we could get up to four hours of freezing rain, followed by several inches of sleet, topped off with twenty-plus inches of snow.  Like almost everyone else, I dutifully trotted off to the grocery store to stock up on supplies.  Then I checked that my emergency stash of candles and flashlight batteries was adequate and asked my husband to make sure we had gasoline for the generator,  (And tried not to worry too much when he told me he wasn’t even sure our generator still worked.)

When it finally hit, the Winter storm wasn’t nearly as bad as predicted.  We managed to skip the freezing rain altogether, and had only about an inch of sleet.  Sleet can be dangerous, but it’s not nearly as slippery as ice and it also doesn’t bring down power lines.  And while we did get plenty of snow, eight inches is a lot better than twenty.

I was happy that we were spared the “storm of the decade,” but I can’t say that I managed to enjoy this snowfall.  We never did get big fluffy snowflakes, but we did get lots of wind, very cold temperatures and stiff muscles from shoveling our sidewalks and driveway.  And I can only say that I must have had my mind on other things when I stocked up on groceries, because once we were snowed in I discovered that I was missing a few essentials.  (It’s really hard to make tuna casserole without tuna, or home-made pizza without cheese.)  As far as I was concerned, this snowstorm was just something to be endured.

981CD5CD-BD3A-43F4-BD75-A6FA657AC41ABut then I started getting texts from my daughter, complete with pictures of my grandson out enjoying the snow, as children do.  He went sledding, built a snowman and even “helped” with the shoveling.  At four, he’s far too young to listen to weather reports, but he sure knows how to have fun in the snow.  And thankfully, that reminded me that not everyone saw the recent snowfall through my jaded eyes.

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I hope I can always remember just how much it helps to see the world from someone else’s point of view now and then.  I hope I can remember that what’s an inconvenience to me might also my granddaughter’s first chance to play in the snow.  Because sometimes, all we need to do to brighten our mood is try to see things through the eyes of a child……

Let It Go

About a month ago, we learned that the big, old oak tree in our back yard was diseased and dying.  We’d been worried about its health for a while.  We also knew that if the tree fell down of its own accord it would fall either directly on our garage or the neighbor’s garage, and probably also hit one of our houses.  Safety comes first, so we called a local tree company and arranged to have the tree taken down.

Last week the removal crew showed up, positioned a big crane in our driveway and went to work.  The job took about five hours, and I was impressed with the way they worked until the the foreman announced that they were done for the day, casually adding, “You’re going to have some wood in your yard for a while.”  He explained that they could only remove the limbs small enough to fit in their chipper and that another crew would be along later to collect the trunk and bigger limbs.   When I inquired as to exactly what he meant by “later” he assured me that it was usually only a couple of days, but added that he couldn’t guarantee that timeline.

61CAD860-FB5D-463A-A574-94E3070DD4B9_1_201_aA quick survey of the yard revealed a stack of logs in the grass between our house and driveway, more stacks in the back yard, some of which were laying across the sidewalk, and finally, the huge trunk of the tree spanning the area behind the garage to the middle of the yard.  I asked him how long it usually took logs left on a lawn to kill the grass underneath them, and he said about seven days.

Five days later, the logs were still there and my husband and I were not happy.  We’re not the sort of people who pride ourselves on a perfect lawn, but we’re also not the sort who enjoy paying to have their lawn re-sodded just because a tree company left big logs strewn about.  We called and complained to the manager, and were assured that they should get to it within “a couple of days.”  That was when I made the transition from unhappy to frustrated and angry.

I fretted and stewed about it for most of the morning, which meant that I was in an awful mood as I went about my daily chores.  It’s not fun to tackle even the simplest tasks when you’re all worked up in righteous indignation, and walking shelter dogs while being TERRIBLY ANNOYED is also not pleasant.  But there really wasn’t anything else we could do about the situation, and eventually I realized that being so upset was doing nothing but making a bad situation worse.

And so I decided to let my anger and frustration go.  I knew that they would eventually show up and move the logs, and that we would deal with the damage to our yard then.  Meanwhile, I didn’t want to waste any more energy fretting about something that I couldn’t fix, especially since the more I thought about, the more I realized that a damaged lawn and a blocked sidewalk weren’t the worst thing in the world.

I know I’ll never be happy when problems arise, especially problems that I believe could have been prevented.  (How about not taking down the tree until  the clean-up crew is available?)  But I’m finally learning that there’s nothing to be gained by getting all worked up about situations that I can’t control.  Sometimes, if only for my peace of mind, I just need to let things go…….

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.

No Longer In Service

DSC00209I lost track of my cell phone last Friday morning and I haven’t seen it since.  I’m not sure exactly what happened, but I think I left it in the bathroom at the animal shelter when I was changing clothes after finishing my dog-walking shift.  But whatever happened, my phone didn’t come home with me and I didn’t realize it was missing until Friday night.

Naturally, I was panic-stricken.  That phone had all my contact numbers, my texts and a whole lot of pictures.  I wasn’t sure exactly what kind of havoc someone could wreak with a stolen cell phone, but I imagined all sorts of scenarios ranging from hacked emails to identity theft.  The fact that I had my cell protected by a pass code was a small comfort, but I figured a truly dedicated thief could crack that code eventually.

It didn’t help when I tried to call my service provider to report my phone stolen or missing only to have an automated voice tell me that my account password was incorrect. After three tries, the voice offered to reset my password and send it to my phone.  And while I’m sure whoever stole my phone would appreciate that very much, I personally didn’t think it was such a good idea.

Eventually I got a real live person on the phone and he graciously walked me through the process of turning off my old phone and ordering a new one which I could pick up on Saturday afternoon.  In the end, I was only without a cell phone for less than twenty-four hours, and I even got to keep my old phone number.

Looking back on the whole thing, I’m kind of embarrassed.  Not just because I managed to lose my phone in the exact same bathroom where I had dropped my previous cell phone in the toilet when it fell out of my coat pocket.  (Although I have sworn that I’m never going to use that particular bathroom again, since it seems to be very unlucky, cell phone-wise.)  What I was most embarrassed about was how worked up I got about losing a phone.

When cell phones first came out, I thought they were convenient for making calls while I was away from home, but I vowed that I would never be one of those people who are glued to their phone.  I remember rolling my eyes at a particularly pushy salesman who told me that my cell phone would become the most important thing I owned.  Yet here I was, a few years later, panicking just because my phone was gone.

Yes, it had my texts, my photos and my contacts on it, but I was able to recover most of those from back-ups.  And it was worrying to know that some out-of-town friends who were dropping by on Saturday morning might be trying to get in touch with me, but they also had the numbers of our home phone and my husband’s cell.  Ultimately, the only real problem I encountered by losing my phone (aside from having to pay for a new one) was the mild inconvenience of not being able to easily and constantly communicate with all my family and friends.

I’m almost sixty years old, which means I have spent more years of my life not having a cell phone than having one.  And yet I have obviously managed to become far too dependent on this particular device, and I find that a little disturbing.  Maybe I need to “misplace” my phone every now and then just to remind myself that I really can get along without it. . . at least for a little while.

A Small Kindness

ScanWatching my kids play team sports as they were growing up didn’t always bring out the best in me.  I liked watching them develop their athletic skills and learn the value of teamwork, and I enjoyed sitting on the sidelines during their games, chatting with the other parents.  But I also took it to heart when I thought a coach or umpire wasn’t being fair, and was just a little too quick to listen to the gossip and drama that are an inevitable part of youth sports.  Which explains, but doesn’t at all excuse, why I was so surprised one night when I was watching a softball game and saw a player on the opposing team performing a simple act of kindness for one of the players on my daughter’s team.

For years, I had heard that this particular team was the arch-rival of my daughter’s team, and that they cheated every chance they got, trash-talked my daughter’s team throughout every game, and that all of them–the players, the coaches and the parents—were just plain mean and nasty people.  And I’m embarrassed to admit that I basically believed it, especially after watching a few games that weren’t exactly what you’d call friendly competition.

So there I was one muggy summer night, sitting on the bleachers behind first base, watching my daughter’s softball game against their “arch rivals” and really hoping we (the good guys) would beat them (the bad guys.)   But then one of our players lost her helmet as she ran to first base, and it landed in the dust, out of her reach.  She couldn’t retrieve it without risking getting picked off the base.  The first-base player from the other team leaned over, picked up the helmet and handed it back to her. And just like that, all my preconceived notions about the girls on this team went down the drain.

I had to leave before the game was over, and I passed by the opposing team’s bench and bleachers on my way out.  The parents were complaining about the mosquitoes, and remembering the actions of their first-base player, I stopped and offered them my bottle of bug spray to use.  Since their girls were on the field at the time, I told them to hang on to it spray their girls when they came back to the bench and to give the bottle to my husband after the game.  They wanted to know who my husband was, and I said the coach of the team they were playing.  Which I could tell surprised them, a lot.

My husband came home late from that game, because not only did they return the bug spray to him, but their coach also offered him a cold beverage from the team cooler.  The two of them stood on the parking lot for a while after the game, chatting about the challenges of coaching kids’ sports teams and generally getting to know each other.  “They were really nice people,” my husband told me, “Who knew?”

My daughter’s team played against that team several more times, and both teams still played to win.  But they no longer felt like arch rivals, and more often than not, my husband and their coach lingered after the game for a friendly chat.  The people we had viewed as “the enemy” became just another group of girls playing a game, and just another group of parents cheering them on and occasionally forgetting not to take it all so seriously.  They were ordinary people, just like us.

And all it took for me to finally see that was one girl picking up another girl’s batting helmet and giving it back to her.

Look for the Good

img_3836My husband and I always put up the artificial Christmas tree in our living room on the weekend after Thanksgiving and we usually leave it up through the first week in January.  That means that each year, the tree is in our living room for at least six weeks.  It’s a beautiful tree, lit with old-fashioned bulb lights (I finally found a few sets that work) and loaded with antique ornaments.  Still, almost every day I find it necessary to make some small adjustment:  an ornament moved to a “better” spot, a green light swapped for a red, a branch tweaked an inch or so to the left.  Because no matter how pretty my Christmas tree may be, whenever I look at it, I somehow manage to see some small imperfection that needs to be “fixed.”

Sadly, my habit of focusing on the negative extends far beyond Christmas decorating.  Sometimes the animal shelter where I volunteer is very full of dogs, and occasionally there are days when we don’t have enough people to get them all out for their daily walk.  And when that happens, I don’t head home from my volunteer shift feeling good about all the dogs that I did help that day.  Instead, I fret about the dogs that I wasn’t able to walk, and often end up feeling frustrated and overwhelmed.

The same thing even happens with my blog.  If a particular post gets 200 views and 43 likes, I am usually quite happy with that, at least for a little while.  But then (and I’m almost ashamed to admit this) I often start to wonder just exactly why those other 157 people who viewed my post didn’t like it.  Which is just ridiculous, especially when I remember that when I started my blog I didn’t think I’d ever reach 200 followers, much less write a post that had that many views.

Of course I am very aware of all that is positive, beautiful and good in my life, and I do appreciate it.  I really do.  It’s just that I have this annoying habit of paying far too much attention to the things that aren’t going right, to the goals that I’m not able to accomplish, and to all those minor imperfections that are a normal part of everyone’s life.  And I really, really, want to stop doing that.

My husband and I just spent an unhappy couple of hours stringing some mini lights on the real Christmas tree that we put up in our basement family room.  We decided to try mini lights this year because they stay cool and are light-weight enough for this tree’s delicate branches, but I found them hard to work with because they don’t have clips to hold them in place.  We also had to replace an insanely tiny fuse and run back to the store for another strand.  Soon, we will hang the ornaments, and if I win the argument with my husband this year, we might even add some tinsel.

I am quite sure that the finished result won’t be perfect.  But I am equally sure that when we are done decorating this tree, it will be beautiful.  And I have made a solemn promise to myself that when I look at that tree, all I am going to notice is the beauty.  It may seem like a small thing, but I’ve got to start somewhere.

Right Here, Right Now

Last Friday, I was having a truly rotten day.  I didn’t feel very well when I woke up that morning, and heading down to the Humane Society to walk dogs in the heat and humidity didn’t make things any better.  Neither did discovering that we didn’t have nearly enough people to get all the dogs walked that morning.  It was just one of those days that starts out badly and goes downhill from there, as one problem after another kept popping up.  It wasn’t long before I was sincerely wishing that I had just stayed home.  Too many dogs, too many issues, and too few resources to deal with them all.

IMG_0460 2Then I decided to take a particularly rowdy dog out to the exercise pen, thinking that the time off-leash would do her some good, and the time spent sitting on a picnic table in the shade while she ran around the pen would do me even better.  But the thing with dogs is, they don’t always act the way we think they’re going to act.  I had envisioned her romping around the exercise pen, which she did, for exactly one lap.   Then she hopped up on the table, gave me a quick doggie kiss, shimmied down below the table for a second, then poked her head and shoulders back up between the bench seat and the table top.  She continued to work that picnic table as if it was a jungle gym, popping out from one unexpected place after another before disappearing down below again. I’ve never seen such a flexible dog.  If she’d be an actual gymnast, I’m pretty sure she would have scored at least a seven on agility alone.  Finally, she just lay down next to me, with her head on my leg, sighing happily.  And just like that, my crabby, despairing mood was gone.

As amazing as her antics with the picnic table were, the best thing that dog did was allow me to tune out all the problems that had been overwhelming me and to just focus on the here and now.  Sitting in the shade, watching a shelter dog have a wonderful time during her break from her solitary run was a beautiful thing, and made me realize that if I hadn’t come in this morning, this moment wouldn’t have happened.  And that allowed me to calm down, breathe deeply, and to be glad that I was in this particular place, at this particular time, and especially with this particular dog.

IMG_0471Of course, this is a life lesson that goes beyond my time at the animal shelter:  when the world’s problems seem too overwhelming to even think about, it’s okay to turn my back on the big picture and focus on the smaller, more personal  picture, at least for a little while.  Sometimes I just need to live in the moment, and to focus on what is right in front of me.  I know the old saying goes “can’t see the forest for the trees,” and I get that.  Usually, in order to get things done, we need to stop obsessing over the little details and look at the big picture.  But I believe there are also times when it’s necessary to ignore the forest and just focus on the trees.  Maybe even just the one tree that is particularly beautiful and affirming.   Because I believe there are times when happiness is best found in the details.

It’s All Relative

My husband and I were getting ready to go out to eat last weekend, and he asked what I thought of the shirt he had just put on.  I told him that it looked nice, but it might be just a little too casual for the restaurant we were going to.  We were celebrating our anniversary, so we were going to a new restaurant that had a reputation for being a bit formal.  When we were driving home after our dinner, he mentioned that he thought he could have worn the original shirt after all, since not everyone else eating there had been dressed up, and that “it was mostly the older people who were wearing suits and dresses.”  I answered, perhaps a bit too honestly, “Yes, but to all those young diners, we are the older people!”

I remember talking to a friend at her 50th birthday party, and she described how she had thrown a 50th birthday party for her father years ago, when she was still in her twenties.  She invited all of her parents’ friends to her house, and she remembered thinking how weird it was to see “all those old people partying.”  Now that she was celebrating her own 50th birthday, did that mean her kids thought she was an “old” person, partying with her “old” friends?  Sadly, I had to admit that they probably did.  I’m sure that would have been my son’s reaction, given how often he rolls his eyes and mutters “old people” whenever I ask him a particularly naive question about my computer.  (If he keeps that up, I’m going to have remind him that I may be up there in age, but I’m certainly not too old to change my will.  And unless he loses the attitude, it won’t be in his favor.)

IMG_0450The simple fact is that age is a very relative term.  I remember when I thought thirty was impossibly old, until I actually turned thirty, at which point I decided that you had to be at least forty to be well and truly old.  And now that I’m in my late fifties, I’m finding that I keep pushing back the upper age limit of what I consider to be my middle years, because the only thing that follows middle age is old age.  And I’m just not ready for old age yet, no matter what I see when I look in the mirror.

Maybe the answer is to stop letting people younger than me decide whether or not I am old.  Recently, I was at a ballgame and went to the concession stand to get an ice cream cone.  An elderly man took my order and had begun filling the cone from the soft-serve ice cream machine when he looked back at me over his shoulder, winked, and added four extra inches of ice cream to the cone before handing it to me with a flourish.  I would probably have been much more flattered if he had been under the age of eighty (he wasn’t) and still had at least half of his teeth (he didn’t.)  But realizing that it was just possible that he  saw me as young and pretty, I smiled and thanked him gratefully before heading back to my seat with my enormous ice cream cone.

Yes, age is definitely a relative term.  And I’m sure the day is coming, if I’m lucky enough to live that long, when I will define “old” as someone who is at least 95, and not a day younger.