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.

Be The Light

yDorA4p2SaOYhlQ0x1KkqAI’m never in a hurry to take my Christmas tree down.  I just love sitting in my living room on a cold Winter’s night, basking in the warm glow of the soft, colored lights.  The world seems to be a just a little more cheerful when I’m in the presence of a well-lit Christmas tree, and after the crazy year we’ve just endured, I’ve especially appreciated the comfortable coziness that it offers.  But it’s been up for almost two months now, so I’ve finally hauled my ornament boxes out of the basement so I can pack everything  away for next year.  I can’t say I’m especially happy about it, but it’s time.

Thankfully, my Christmas tree isn’t the only thing in my life that provides comfort and cheer.  Little things, such as reading a favorite book or sharing a delicious meal, always lift my spirits too.  And then there are those special people who have the ability to light up even the darkest of times with their generosity, compassion, humor, and just plain goodness.  They are the ones I turn to when I need help or advice, or even just a sympathetic ear.  They seem to know just what to say to make an overwhelming situation manageable, and can make us laugh when we need it most.  In short, they’re willing to shine their light into even the darkest corners of our lives, letting us see that maybe things aren’t quite so bad as we thought.

There was a time in my life when I thought that success was measured mainly in material things, like having a big house, a comfortable savings account and an impressive career.  But I’m older now, and I’ve come to realize that “successful” living really isn’t about any of that.  It’s about being the kind of person who makes a positive difference to others, and who manages to leave the world an even slightly better place than she found it.  Or at least those are the people I admire the most these days.

The fact is we are only on this earth for a short period of time, and many of the people we love the most leave us far too soon.  When we’re gone, we’re not really going to be remembered for how many awards we won or how much wealth we managed to accumulate.  And we’re certainly not going to be remembered fondly for all the times we indulged in one-upmanship or petty bickering about religion or politics.  It’s the times we helped someone who needed it, offered a friend a shoulder to cry on without judgement or shame, or just plain figured out a way to lighten someone’s load that will be our true legacy.

I have spent countless hours enjoying looking at my Christmas tree, but I couldn’t begin to tell you how many ornaments it has and I wouldn’t dream of comparing it’s beauty to any other tree.  When it’s been taken down and no longer graces my living room, it’s the warm light of the tree that I miss and remember so fondly.  Because ultimately, all that ever really matters is the light we shine on others.

Let It Begin With Me

I am, by nature, a neat and tidy person.  I may not have coined the expression, “A place for everything and everything in its place,” but I live by it.  I am happiest when my house is clean and organized, and have found that too much dirt and clutter actually makes me vaguely uneasy.  As long as I’m being totally honest, I’ll also admit that when I’m anxious and unhappy, I sometimes find that cleaning my house actually makes me feel better.

I read somewhere that people who like to clean are attempting to impose order on a messy and unpredictable world, and I think that might be true.  (It would certainly explain why I find housecleaning to be  therapeutic.)  But the problem is that the world we live in is often messy, chaotic and sometimes downright dangerous, and there’s not a thing I can do to “clean it up,” at least on any significant scale.

I may be one of the few people who responds to troubles with a vacuum in one hand and dust cloth in the other, but I do think that trying to impose some kind of order on the world is common.  Many do it with social media posts, pointing out the error of other people’s ways in a vain attempt to convince them to think and behave in a way they find acceptable.  And let’s face it, politics is all about trying to elect someone who shares our values, in the hopes that the candidate will be elected and then impose our values on everyone else.  One way or another, we’re all trying to “clean up” the world, and often with the best of intentions.

But the truth is that the only person we can truly control is ourselves.   Yes, we can do our part to make the world a better place by speaking our truth, standing up to oppression, helping those who need it, and most of all, being kind and compassionate to everyone who crosses our path.  But we don’t really get to choose what other people think, say, or do.    And since none of us is perfect, that’s probably a good thing.

So the conclusion I’ve come to is this:  I need to learn to discern between the things I can control and the things I can’t, and I need to pay a whole lot more attention to the things I can.  I may not be able to make the world a peaceful place, but I can make sure I embrace peace in my own life by being as tolerant, honest, and forgiving as I can possibly be.  I can’t force others to own up to their mistakes and bad choices, but I can certainly own up to mine.  In short, all I can do is try, in my limited and flawed way, to live up to the values I really do believe in…..and then let go of all the angst, worry and stress that comes when I focus too much on the things that I can’t control.

buWO0NdZQV2vtwLyj31MrgIt’s a process for sure, and I doubt that I’ll be giving my vacuum cleaner a rest anytime soon.  But if I really want 2021 to be a better year, the very best way I can start is by cleaning up my own act.

Still Thankful

Fall photoI’ve always had mixed feelings about Fall.  On the one hand, I love the fabulous colors, the cooler temperatures, and all the pumpkins.  On the other hand, Fall means the end of Summer (which always makes me sad) and it reminds me that Winter is just around the corner.  And while Winter does bring beautiful snowfalls, having said that, I’ve basically covered all of Winter’s positive points.

Yet this Fall is different.  This year I’ve been doing everything I can think of to embrace the season.  I replaced my dying Summer flowers with mums and pansies. I’ve decorated the yard with tons of pumpkins, we’ve strung lights across our patio and we’re finally using gas fire pit I bought my husband for Christmas several years ago.  When the only safe way to entertain friends and family is outdoors, it’s amazing how much effort you can put into a patio.

Luckily, Mother Nature has blessed us with unseasonably warm temperatures, allowing us to enjoy the outdoors much longer than usual.  Those of us who live in the States are looking toward Thanksgiving next week, which will also be different this year.  Large gatherings are out, and people are trying to find alternatives that are safe and still include those who live alone.

I’m not going to lie:  there’s a part of me that is very sad about not being able to celebrate the holidays in our usual way.  But if this year has taught us anything, it’s taught us the need to adapt to our surroundings, so I’ve decided that it’s time to let go of what I had hoped for and simply accept what I actually have.  And I find that when I focus on the gifts that are still available, it’s easier to forget about the things that aren’t.

So this Thanksgiving, I’m going to be grateful that my husband figured out how to get the gas fire pit going again without anyone having to dial 911 (his track record on such things is spotty, to say the least).  I’m grateful for all the ways that friends and family have reached out to support us as we dealt with some personal challenges in our family this past year.  I’m grateful for our dog Finn’s full recovery from heart worms last summer, especially when I seen him running happily around the back yard.

I’m grateful that my mother is accepting the semi-isolation of living in a retirement center during pandemic restrictions with grace, thereby taking a whole lot of worry and stress off of my shoulders.  I’m grateful that my son and daughter live nearby with their families, so that I can still see them in a time when travel can be both difficult and dangerous.  I’m very grateful for the vaccines that are finally on the horizon, as that gives me hope for the future.  And hope is something I simply can’t live without.

So yes, Fall and Thanksgiving are different this year, and so is the way I’m reacting to them.  There is a bit of sadness and anxiety for sure, but there is also a whole lot of gratitude and many things that still bring me joy.  And when I think about it, that’s not really so bad at all….

Like a Dog

fullsizeoutput_5988Mom’s been kind of busy lately, so I thought it was time for me to write another blog post for her.  Because that’s the kind of dog I am:  always willing to lend a helping paw when it’s needed. Even though my specialty is disposing of left-over food, I’m more than happy to write a post for Mom if that takes something off of her “to-do list.” I also believe that there are times when the people can learn a thing or two from dogs, and from what I’ve heard, this is one of those times.

I know that many people are stressing about something Mom refers to as “that stupid pandemic,” and that it’s causing lots of trouble all over the world.  Apparently, it’s spread mostly through the air, from one person’s face to another person’s face.  And this is a perfect example of how people can learn from dogs, because people insist on greeting each other face-to-face.  But dogs greet each other by sniffing, and faces aren’t what we sniff, if you know what I mean.  So, all people have to do is greet each other like dogs do and the problem is solved.  You’re welcome.

I’ve heard that those who live in the United States are also worried about something they call an election, which has lots of people upset and calling each other bad names.  And once again, this is an area where people could learn from dogs.  Because dogs come in all breeds, colors and sizes, but we still remember that we’re all dogs and we mostly get along anyway.  We know life is too short to waste being angry or hateful, so we focus on the important stuff, like the source of that fabulous smell coming from the kitchen….

Plus, dogs are forgiving.  We may get into the occasional fight, but they are over quickly and no one holds a grudge afterwards.  We even forgive people.  Take yesterday, for instance, when the old battle-axe….I mean Mom…decided I needed a bath.  Never mind that it’s November, she plunked me in the wading pool and doused me with shampoo before I even realized what was happening.  But did I stay mad at her for her crazy and completely unjustified actions?   I did not, or I wouldn’t be writing this post for her.

Now I’ve always been taught that it’s wrong to brag about ourselves, so I hope no one thinks I’m trying to say dogs are better than people.  I’m just saying that sometimes, people might benefit if they acted just a little bit more like dogs.   For one thing, being all up in each other’s faces just isn’t a good thing during a pandemic.  But more importantly, I know for a fact that if people would be as patient, loving,  forgiving, and as willing to live in the moment as dogs are, then the world would be a better place for all of us.

Love,  Finn