A Fresh Start

When the pandemic first hit, I hated hearing people say, “things will never be normal again.”  It seemed to be such a pessimistic view, and predicted a future I didn’t want to face.  I didn’t want to live the rest of my life in fear of a virus, and honestly, I resented the suggestion that I would have to do just that.  It was almost as bad as people saying they didn’t mind the lock downs because they liked staying home.  I like to stay home too, but there’s a huge difference between choosing to stay home and having to stay home.

Now I realize I probably misunderstood what people were saying.   I think they really meant that our lives would never be exactly the same as before.  And that, of course, is true.  Many people lost loved ones, others lost their livelihoods, and everyone discovered just how quickly life can change for the worse.  I don’t know that I’ll ever feel truly comfortable in a crowded room again, or trust that I can find everything I need at the store.  The past three years have changed me.  But the good news is, not all of those changes are bad.

Before the pandemic, I left my house regularly to run errands, shop, go to work, etc., and never once thought, “Is this outing worth the risk?” If I wanted or needed to go somewhere, I simply went.  But after March 2020, I began to think carefully before venturing out of my house.  Suddenly, I knew exactly what my priorities were (caring for my grandson, helping shelter dogs, shopping for necessities) and what commitments and activities I was willing to give up.  Living through the pandemic helped me better distinguish between what I need and what I want.

And when gathering with my friends and relatives became potentially dangerous, I quickly learned which relationships I was willing to put on hold and which ones were too important to live without.  My immediately family became my “social bubble,” but I was very intentional about staying in touch with friends and extended family through phones calls, texts, and e-mails.  (I never did figure out how to work Zoom.)  I may not have been able to enter my Mom’s apartment, but I dropped off provisions and later, meet her outside for a socially-distanced visit.  Nothing emphasizes how much people mean to us more than the thought of having to live without them.

In this post-vaccination world, I’m back to doing many of the things I did before Covid hit.  But the truth is, I’m really not the same person I was three years ago.  I always wondered how I’d handle a crisis, and now I know. (My husband’s cancer diagnosis in June 2020 was a part of that lesson.)  I’m more willing to try new things.  I have a better sense of my true priorities, and I think I can see both my strengths and weaknesses more clearly.  And those are all good changes.  Sometimes, “not going back to normal” isn’t such a bad thing after all….

Room for Improvement

One of the downsides of buying “fixer-upper” houses is that they require a lot of work.  Over the years my husband has become adept at hanging dry wall, replacing basic plumbing fixtures, doing light carpentry, etc.  My job is usually painting and assisting, although once I surprised him by widening a doorway with my trusty crowbar.  (Sadly, my husband wasn’t impressed.)   But some jobs require a professional, and that’s when things get a little tricky.

The problem is while I love home improvement projects once they are finished, I hate the process of actually having the work done.  It’s not fun having to live with the noise and dust of demolition, and I’m not a fan of having workers in my house, no matter how nice or professional they are.  It never fails that if I get up extra early to be showered and dressed before the crew arrives, they don’t show up until around ten in the morning.  But if I dare to venture down into the kitchen to get my early morning Diet Coke, three carpenters are sure to come in the back door, calling out a cheerful “hello” while pretending not to notice I’m still in my pajamas.  You get to know the people who work in your house, but we don’t need to know each other quite that well.

Our latest project was supposed to be tearing out the carpet in the small family room off our kitchen, leveling a small section of the floor and laying down a new laminate floor.  What it turned into was the complete demolition of the entire floor (you could see the slab the room sits on), redoing most of the joists and then laying a new sub floor, laminate floor, baseboards and thresholds.  They also repaired some hidden holes in the exterior walls (we were wondering how a chipmunk got in our house).

None of this was easy.  I know because I could hear the workers complaining as they struggled to remove wood that was rock hard and nailed in with what seemed to be a thousand nails per square foot.  And just to make things extra fun, the nails were so old that the heads often came off when they were trying to pry them out.  I thought the worst was over when they began laying the new floor, but soon discovered that involved using the loudest nail gun I’ve ever heard.  And of course the sound of it terrified our dog Finn, who promptly took refuge on our antique and recently-refinished dining room table.

The project is just about complete as I write this, and the new floor really does look good.  It’s nice to know that the chipmunk entrance is now blocked off and new insulation has been installed.  A few hours with a good vacuum and a few dozen dust cloths should clean up the last of the mess, and then we get the fun job of moving our heavy furniture back into the room and finally placing my Christmas decorations where they belong.

Right now I’m swearing we’ll never tackle another home-improvement project, but I know that isn’t true.  Time has a way of making bad memories fade away, and eventually we’ll add that dormer to our bedroom I’ve been wanting for years.  All I ask is when that day comes, please ignore my whining and complaining.  Because no one likes to be reminded they really should have known better….

Getting Better

As my 92-year old mother often tells me, it’s hard to be old.  I may be almost thirty years younger, but trust me, I know what she’s talking about.  I’ve never been a vain person (or had reason to be), but never before has looking in a mirror resulted in quite so much shock and dismay.  It’s been years since I could read a book without a pair of reading glasses, but now I also need the glasses when I go shopping, because otherwise I can’t read the price tags and expiration dates.  And when I first started walking shelter dogs over twenty years ago, I was happy to walk any dog that needed to go out, no matter how strong or rowdy.  These days I gravitate toward the dogs that are smaller and calmer, desperately hoping that someone else will get to the mastiffs and rottweilers before my walking shift is over.

There was a time when I took my pants to the tailor to have the waistline taken in, because my waist has always been one size smaller than my hips.  Nowadays, I take my pants to the tailor only if I need them hemmed…..and that’s not because my hips have gotten smaller.  I could go on, but the list is too depressing.  I know all these physical changes are a normal part of aging, but that doesn’t always make them easier to accept.

Still, the part of aging I find hardest isn’t the loss of my youthful vigor or looks, but the loss of the many people, both family and friends, that I have known and loved.  I know I’m lucky to have my mother still in my life, as many of my friends have become the oldest generation in their immediate family.   But I still miss my father and my grandparents, and all the other people who passed away before I was ready to let them go.  Loss of loved ones is a part of aging that can be very hard to accept.

Thankfully, there is an upside to growing older, and that is that once we’ve reached the point where we have more years behind us than we do ahead, we’ve also had the time to learn a few things.  We’ve figured out just what a precious gift good health is, even if we can’t read the small print anymore.  We treasure our friends and family even more because we know they won’t be with us forever, and we also know how much we’ll miss them when they’re gone.  If we’ve been paying attention at all, we finally realize just how precious and fragile life really is, and that so much of the stuff we spend our time worrying and fretting about doesn’t matter in the least.

The good thing about aging is we often become more honest with ourselves and with others, daring to share our true selves with the world and allowing those around us to do the same.  We know how important it is to support each other through hard times, and we learn the value of overlooking so many of the things we’ve allowed to divide us.  If we let it, aging can actually bring out our best selves, which is always a good thing.  Even if we can’t actually see it in the mirror……

Opting Out

Sometime it’s hard not to be discouraged.  I think that two-plus years of dealing with Covid-19 has left most of us a bit drained, and often operating on our last nerve.  It doesn’t take much these days to provoke an angry reaction, and patience is often in short supply.  While things have certainly improved from the pre-vaccine days, we haven’t managed to return to the normal life we long for.

I still feel nervous when I walk into a crowded room, have a love/hate relationship with face masks, and worry every time I have a sore throat that I’m coming down with Covid.  (I have seasonal allergies, so a sore throat and a runny nose are normal for me at least four months of the year.)  I hate going to my doctor, because he still refuses to see any patient that has Covid symptoms, and almost all symptoms could be Covid.  And, as petty as it sounds, I’m tired of watching my favorite restaurants close down because they can’t get enough staff and/or supplies.

All of which is to say that these days, I’m not always my usual, mostly-cheerful self.  I’m much more thin-skinned, and quick to feel offended or hurt.  I still have good days, but there are too many times when I can best be described as crabby.  And I’ve decided that I really, really, don’t want crabby to become my new normal.

It’s easy to be cheerful when things are going well, and easy to be touchy and rude when they aren’t.  It’s easy to respond to rudeness with anger, and to lash out when someone directs a snide remark my way.  It’s tempting to engage in an on-line argument when someone posts a particularly obnoxious or inaccurate meme, in the hopes of “setting them straight.”  In other words, the opportunities to be nasty to other people are almost limitless.

But, as I said, that’s not the person I want to be.  And so I’m making the deliberate decision to “opt out” of the whole mess, as much as possible.  Because I really don’t need to respond to someone looking for an argument, or react when someone says or writes something that hurts my feelings.  I know there will be times when I’m tempted to give “tit for tat,” as the saying goes, but I hope that I’ll be strong enough to know that by doing so I’m only making a bad situation worse.  Sometimes, silence really is golden.

I’ll try to remember the the person whose words or actions bother me is probably also operating on his or her last nerve, and may not even mean to cause offense.  I’ll try to act the way I want someone to respond when I inadvertently offend them, by giving the benefit of the doubt.  Mostly, I’ll try to remember that, while I can’t control other people’s words and actions, I most certainly can control my own.  And that these days, it’s more important than ever to try to be my very best self.

Shine On

I lost a blogging friend last week.  It’s odd how the people we meet only through their blogs can seem like friends, but I guess that’s what happens when people write about their own lives, honestly and openly.  Those who read and comment on their posts really do feel as if they actually know the person who wrote them.  And few people wrote more openly and honestly than Martha, the late author of .https://whitehairgrace.com/

When I first started following her blog, Martha was writing about striving to live her remaining years as fully as possible.  I’m about 15 years younger, but her words still spoke to me.  We live in a society that values youth, and it can be a challenge to look for the blessings that come when we have more years behind us than we do ahead.  Then she was diagnosed with cancer, and that became the topic of most of her writing. Still, her spirit shone through in every post, despite the struggles with treatment, the brief remission and finally the acceptance of her upcoming death.  I won’t even try to explain how much I valued her blog, because I don’t have her eloquence.  I’ll only say her posts were a gift that I very much appreciated.

My regular readers know that I volunteer as a dog walker at our local shelter three times a week.  It’s very satisfying to help shelter dogs, but it can also be very draining, both physically and emotionally.  Those of us who spend a lot of time in shelters develop close friendships, probably because we support each other through the hard times.  One of the people I leaned on the most was an adoption counselor named Sherry.  She always listened to us, answered our questions, and offered comfort and encouragement when we needed it.  She was usually cheerful and upbeat, and known to break into an impromptu dance when she thought the occasion warranted it…and the occasion almost always did.

Sherry was in the middle of her own battle with cancer when my husband was diagnosed.  And even though she’d retired from the shelter and was undergoing very difficult treatments, she called me at least once a week to ask how my husband was doing.  They had the same kind of cancer, so her advice was on target and very helpful.  The many, many, people who knew her were devastated when Sherry passed away.   I was amazed at the sheer number of heartfelt tributes that appeared on social media, and I’m suer that was just a fraction of the people she’d helped in her life.

I honestly believe that people like Martha and Sherry are examples to us all.  They weren’t perfect, and didn’t pretend to be.  But they shared the best of themselves with others, each in her own way.  Whether it was  in the blogging world or the shelter world, they helped others with their openness, their wisdom and most of all their generous spirits.  They were the kind of people who light the way for others who are sometimes still stumbling in the dark.  May their light shine on forever…….

Success!

Every once a in a while, something happens to restore my faith in human nature.  Usually, something rather simple, like an unexpected act of kindness.  Rarely does it have anything to do with the internet, which usually frustrates me, or social media, which far too many people use as an excuse to let their inner bully come out to play.  But much to my surprise, this time what gave me a much-needed burst of optimism was the combination of the internet and social media that is the WordPress community.

A couple of weeks ago, I began having trouble commenting on other blogger’s posts.  Then last weekend, I found I could no longer reply to comments on my own post without logging in again (complete with password) each time.  I exchanged tons of emails with the Word Press help staff as we tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to fix the problem.  When I discovered I could still write a post, I wrote two short posts just to let my readers know what was going on.  I did that partly because I wasn’t at all sure I could keep blogging and didn’t want to simply disappear without letting anyone know why.  But if I’m honest, I was also hoping that maybe one of my fellow bloggers had suffered from a similar problem and was willing to share the solution.  I thought it was a long shot, but worth the try.

The response was more than I could have possibly hoped for.  The tips and suggestions were plentiful and very helpful.  For the first time, I began to believe that my blog really would be fixed, which was a huge relief.  But what really lifted my spirits was seeing how many people I know only through my blog were willing to take the time to try to help me get my blog back on track.  Some offered repeated suggestions, even providing helpful links.  One woman (thank you, Margy!) even chatted with a Word Press tech on my behalf and reported back the answer.  I was amazed at how generously people gave  their time and knowledge to help, without expecting anything in return.

Sometimes blogging seems to demand too much of my time, and every once in a while, it feels like a chore.  But I’ve always stuck with it because I valued the creative outlet writing my blog provides, and I also valued the relationships I’ve developed with other bloggers from all over the world.  And now I know for sure that blogging is worth the effort, because it shows me, repeatedly, just how most good people really are.

The last email I received from the Word Press techs (aka “Happiness Engineers,” but it’s hard to say that with a straight face) provided the answer I needed to get my blog up and running properly again.  Thank you, Paulo.  It has something to do with enabling cross tracking, which I didn’t completely understand but my son did, and he explained it to me.  I’m sure that I’ll eventually encounter other problems, but that’s okay.  Because I’m part of the Word Press community, and we have each other’s backs.

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……

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…..

For All To See

TheVogtFamily-72I love spending time with my three-year old grandson, and whenever I do, I know I’m going to hear “Watch me!” or “Watch this!” a lot.  And I’m perfectly okay with that, because that’s what little children do.  They are very focused on getting the attention and the approval of the people around them, and few things make them happier than our praise and affirmations.  Besides, I really do enjoy watching my grandson as he masters a new skill, or simply witnessing the joy he brings to his everyday experiences.

Sometimes I think we would all do well to act more like a child now and then, but the key is to make sure that we’re being childlike only in appropriate ways….finding joy in simple things, being honest with our emotions and living in the moment as children tend to do.  Sadly, the childlike trait most adults seem to be embracing these day is the need for the constant attention and approval of others.  And that’s not a healthy way to live our lives at all.

Yes, I know that social media makes it so very easy to document and share almost every aspect of our days, but just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.  Of course it’s fun to post a few photos of our recent vacation, or to share our favorite pictures from our recent photo sessions, etc., and there’s nothing wrong with that.  But I think the trouble begins when we find ourselves somewhere fun, having a great time, and our first instinct is to whip our our phones and photograph it, so we can post it where others and see it and validate our experience with their responses.  Or when we try to process our emotions by sharing every single aspect of our trauma through daily photos, posts, and even videos.

There’s a fine line between healthy sharing and over-sharing, I think.  And one of the ways to know when we’ve crossed it is when we find ourselves worrying too much about the responses our social media posts generate.  If you had a great time at the neighborhood block party, then it really was a positive experience, even if your photos of it were largely ignored on social media.  And if you’ve thought long and hard about your stance on a particular issue and are comfortable with the conclusions you drawn, your opinion isn’t any less valid just because no one in your comment section agrees with you.  We don’t really need other people to approve our emotions, thoughts, or actions, no matter how much we’re encouraged to believe we do.

90tuq7S5RiKvHbPFH0wSo my advice, to myself and everyone else, is remember that not everything needs to be shared, and how much more we can enjoy ourselves when we’re not trying to document something and experience it at the same time.  Maybe the next time we see a beautiful sunset we should just sit quietly and look at it, drinking in nature’s beauty.  Or the next time we’re feeling emotional, we should just call someone we trust to empathize and help us feel better.  Because often, the most important moments in our lives happen when no one is looking at all….

Lessons Learned

Roughly one year ago, Covid 19 managed to turn the world as I knew it upside down.  I remember picking up my grandson at his daycare, which like almost everything else in my area, was temporarily closing.  “See you in two weeks,” his teacher told us as she waved goodbye.  And I’m embarrassed to say that I mostly believed her.   I had no idea just how badly this virus and its restrictions would impact us, or for how long.

It’s been a long twelve months, and in many ways I’m not the same person I was a year ago.  Never again will I just assume that I can buy what I need, when I need it, or take being able to spend time with my friends and family for granted.  I think I’ll always be a little uncomfortable in a crowded room, wondering just what sort of germs I’m being exposed to, and I will probably keep my trusty little bottle of hand sanitizer stashed in my purse from now on.  As for toilet paper, my new mantra is “you can’t have too much of a good thing.”

7GPiXSO+Rmj7a9KhzqQBut I think the changes go deeper than that.  Living through such a traumatic year (my family also faced some difficulties that had nothing to do with Covid) has taught me a lot about myself, and I think growing in self-awareness is always a good thing.  I learned that I had the ability to be patient, even when I yearned for quick answers and even quicker action.  And while I’ve never been what could be called the “outdoorsy type,” I learned that the more time I spend outside, the calmer and happier I become.  Nature truly is a great healer, for both the body and the soul.  I also figured out that one way to cope with uncertain times is to get busy working on the things I do have control over, even something as mundane as painting the guest bedroom.

I may be a natural introvert who craves some alone time each and every day, but now I also know how desperately I need to stay connected to other people.  Talking with friends and family reminds me that I don’t have to face problems alone, and there is both strength and comfort in that.  That old saying, “a problem shared is a problem halved” is absolutely correct, and a reminder of just how important it is to support each other in our times of need.  And in the face of so much negativity, conflicting “facts” and general fear-mongering, I’ve learned the importance of thinking for myself, doing research when necessary, and trusting in good old-fashioned common sense as much as possible.

So no, I’m not exactly the same person I was twelve months ago, but that’s okay.  In fact, it’s more than okay, because the lessons I’ve learned from the past year have left me better equipped to face the future with hope and confidence.  And for that, I’ll always be grateful.