Refreshment Time

Sometimes I think the best part of any vacation is simply the chance to take a break from our usual routines and obligations, and to leave behind the stress and worry that normally takes up far to much of our attention and energy.  Especially if we have the good sense to actually disconnect from our regular lives by not keeping up with our emails, texts and whatever other form of social media we are in the habit of using.

Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes I have a hard time even remembering all the stuff I’m supposed to be worried about, never mind trying to actually deal with all those problems.  Add in the usual busy schedule, caring for the family and friends who need it, and the constant onslaught of negative news, and it’s no wonder that my tiny mind really does struggle to keep up with it all.  And believe me, I know there are many, many others whose lives are far more complicated than mine.

Which is why taking a break from it all every now and then is so very important.  It’s amazing what a little time spent “off the grid” can do to restore our souls and remind us that life is so much more than a check list of duties and goals that needs to be completed.

IMG_5250Vacations allow us to leave all those worries, schedules and obligations behind, for a least a little while.  More importantly, they give us the time to reconnect with our true selves, and if we’re lucky, with the people in our lives who matter the most.  And it doesn’t matter if our vacation is long and expensive or short and cheap, as long as we disconnect from our usual routines and spend the time doing something that truly makes us happy.  Even taking a long walk in a park or sitting in the sun in our own back yard, happily reading a favorite book can count as a vacation if we need it to.  “Stop and smell the roses” is more than just a cliche.

I believe that all of us need a little time off now and then, so we can have the opportunity to listen to our hearts and be reminded of who we really are.  It’s far too easy to get so caught up in the frantic pace of our daily lives that we put our minds “in neutral” and spend our days doing little more than completing whatever task is in front of us and then quickly moving on to the next one.  But that’s not what life is supposed to be, at least not all the time.

One of my favorite literary characters is fond of saying, “Life is for the living.”  And I couldn’t agree more…..

Right Now

Recently, I was in line at a drive-up ATM, behind a man who was obviously conducting several banking transactions.  He was definitely taking longer than usual and another car pulled up behind me as I waited.  When I glanced in my rear-view mirror, I could see the woman behind me shaking her head and getting more and more agitated.  Suddenly, she pulled out of line and roared across the parking lot to the walk-up ATM.  Ignoring several dozen empty parking spots, she parked in the driving lane right in front of the bank, jumped out and ran up the the ATM.  I guess she was in a hurry to do her banking.

When did we begin to believe that having to wait, even for a few minutes, was such a bad thing?  When did it become a huge imposition to have to actually stop for a red light, or wait in traffic for a few seconds while the car in front of us tries to make a left-turn?  When did we begin to think that we deserve everything we want right this very second, and heaven help anyone who happens to get in our way?

I know there are times when we all get impatient.  When I’m in line at the grocery store and the person in front of me hands the checkout clerk a thick wad of coupons, and then argues vehemently and at great length when the clerk scans them and declares that most of them are expired, I feel impatient.  I do believe that people who behave that way are being inconsiderate to the rest of us.  But waiting in line is still a part of the personal shopping experience, and it’s really not that bad.  (There’s a reason the grocery stores display the tabloids by the check out counters:  it gives us something to read while we wait.)

For me, it helps to put things into perspective, and remember that the world does not revolve around me and wasn’t designed to enable me to rush forward at top speed all day long.  Year ago, my family was driving to Chicago to visit my parents.  We’d been zipping right along for most of the trip, when suddenly the highway traffic came to a complete halt.  We sat for forty-five minutes without moving an inch, for no reason we could see.  Both my husband and I complained bitterly, especially after our young son told us that he was going to need a bathroom break very soon.  We were all feeling well and truly sorry for ourselves, and angry that the authorities hadn’t managed to get the traffic moving yet.

Then we noticed the Med-Vac helicopters flying overhead and realized that there must have been a really bad accident ahead.  Obviously several people were hurt so badly that needed to be flown to the nearest hospital.  And just like that, our anger and indignation about sitting on the highway for so long disappeared.  Getting to Chicago “on time” didn’t seem like such a big deal anymore.

IMG_0136I believe we are quickly becoming a society of people who operate on the false assumption that immediate gratification is something we are entitled to.  We aren’t.  Sometimes we do have to wait in a slow line, and sometimes we are going to have our busy schedule interrupted by other people and things we can’t control.  When that happens, we can choose to fly into a self-centered rage, or we can take a few deep breaths and realize that sometimes, these things just happen.  And that learning to wait patiently now and then isn’t really such a bad thing.

Sands Through the Hour Glass

Did another year really just pass?  I know it sounds cliche, but it honestly seems as if it wasn’t that long ago that we were welcoming 2017 and yet now we are bidding it goodby.  When did time begin passing at warp speed?  And more importantly, how do I slow it down, at least a little bit?

It’s not that 2017 was a year that I particularly treasured.  Like most years, it had its good points and its bad points.  I could have lived without the two root canals and the three new crowns (those hurt both my mouth and my wallet), and the less said about the numerous varicose vein treatments I endured, the better.  I wasn’t a fan of the summer drought and the damage that wrought on the local environment.  And one way or another, I said good-bye to a few dear friends whom I miss very much.

IMG_3571But 2017 also had it’s good points.  I enjoyed a fun beach vacation with my family, reconnected with some old friends I hadn’t seen in far too long, and got to experience an (almost) total solar eclipse.  My blog was featured on WordPress “Discover” which put me in touch with interesting and talented writers from all over the world.  But best of all, I got the wonderful news that a grandson is on his way and, if all goes well, he should be arriving soon.

Aside from the chance to finally be a grandmother, I really don’t know what 2018 will bring.  I’m sure it will be a mix of highs and lows, the same as almost every other year.  I’m equally sure that it will pass by quickly, or at least that it will seem that way to me.  I had always heard that the older we get, the faster time flies, but I guess I had to actually experience it before I believed it.

I learned long ago to stop trying to make New Year’s resolutions because I rarely manage to keep them.  But I hope, now that I’ve reached the point in my life when time is passing far too quickly, that I will remember to treasure the good times and the good things that do come my way.  I’d like to stop hurrying through a life that is already moving along faster than it should.  I want to try savor the moments and to live in the present, especially now that I realize just how quickly the present becomes the past.

Time may be moving more quickly for me, but that’s okay.  I still have time enough left to enjoy the people and the things that I love, and that’s good enough for me.

A Delicate Balance

I’ve gained almost ten pounds in the past two years, and I’m blaming it on this blog.  It takes a lot of time to write my posts and answer the comments on them, and it takes even more time to read and comment on all the other blogs I follow.  And to make matters worse, once I’m sitting at my computer, I feel the need to read and answer my emails, and then to head on over to Facebook to see if anyone has posted anything more interesting than the latest political outrage or a photo of their lunch.  And all of this takes time, which means I’m spending more and more time sitting, which we all know is not exactly good for our bodies.  Hence the weight gain in the two years I’ve been writing this blog.

And honestly, it’s not just my body that suffering from all those hours spent sitting in front of my computer.  The internet is a wonderful thing, but it can also be incredibly depressing.  The non-stop bad news, the hateful comments and name-calling, and even the photos of lost pets can be overwhelming at times.  If I’m not careful, surfing the world-wide web can leave me thinking that this world is just plain mean and dangerous, and that basic human decency is nothing more than an illusion.

So what do I do?  Do I abandon my blog, deactivate my Facebook account, unplug my computer and live “off the grid” for the rest of my life?   Or do I just pretend that I’m not spending far too much time looking through pictures posted by people I barely know when I could be doing something far more productive?  (And by the way, it’s not “creeping” to look through people’s Facebook posts and photos.  If something is private, don’t put it on social media in the first place.)

I know many people who don’t do social media, and even some who rarely, if ever, utilize the internet.  They’re happy with their choice, and that’s great.  But it’s not the right choice for me.  I like the way I’ve connected with old friends, and keep in touch with far-away family and friends through Facebook, and I’ve become rather dependent on the ability to easily find so much useful information just by Googling it.  Even more, I love blogging because it has me writing regularly again and has connected me to terrific writers and readers from all over the world.  I honestly don’t want to give any of that up.

Which leaves me with only one obvious choice:  find a balance.  There is a huge middle ground between wasting hours every day sitting in front of my computer and abandoning it altogether.  I can write my blog, keep my Facebook account and otherwise use the internet while still making sure I get physical exercise every single day.   I can skim the news stories on the internet, reading only the ones I need to, and skip the comment section altogether.  I can enjoy seeing the photos of my friend’s new grandchildren on Facebook while blocking the posts that I know are going to ruin my mood for the rest of the day.

It’s just a matter of discipline and taking control of my life and making intentional choices about how I want to spend my time.  Of course it won’t be easy, but so many things that are worthwhile and necessary for living a meaningful life aren’t especially easy.  And it’s either that or go shopping for some bigger jeans….

Time Well Spent

Sadly, time is no longer on my side.  Even though I still think of myself as middle aged, I am actually well past the mid-point of my life and fast approaching the “golden years.”  Which means I am always startled (and not in a good way) by what I see in the mirror every morning, and that I have learned to accept that all the hair dye, concealer, push-up bras and cosmetic procedures in the world aren’t ever going to make me look young again.  And I’ve gotten used to that, I really have.  Because at this point in my life, I’m much more concerned with making sure that I don’t waste any of the precious time I actually have left.

A healthy perspective is one of the few gifts of aging, but I think it is a very valuable one.  I no longer believe I can put off the important stuff, counting on a tomorrow that may never come.  If something is important, it deserves to be done now, or at least as soon as possible.  Procrastination is a luxury reserved for the young.

Beyond that, I have a much better sense of what is truly  important.  I used to waste far too much time trying to push myself into situations that didn’t work for me, just because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do.  I wasted even more time trying to get the approval of almost everyone in my life, even from people who made it clear time and time again that I wasn’t living up to their expectations.  Now I know that life is too short to waste on people who don’t enrich my life, who aren’t willing to accept me as I am, or who seem intent on trying to shape me into whoever they happen to think I ought to be.

Last weekend, I visited the small town in Kansas where I lived during my preteen and teenage years.  I got together with dear friends I have stayed close to for over forty years, and also got the chance to reconnect with old friends I haven’t seen in far too long.  It was a wonderful weekend full of laughter and memories, and we had a terrific time acting (almost) as silly as we did when we actually were young. And when the weekend drew to a close, we all agreed that we needed to get together again, sooner rather than later.  Because we aren’t getting any younger, and we’re no longer willing to wait quite so long to hang out with people whose company we enjoy so much.

When I was young, I honestly believed that I had all the time in the world to do the things I wanted to do, to spend time with the people I loved, and to chase after each and every one of my dreams.  Now I know better, which could be rather depressing.  But I choose not to look at it that way.  Instead, I have  come to see my aging as a gift that forces me to realize that time is an incredibly valuable commodity, and that I need to spend it wisely.  I just wish I hadn’t waited quite so long to figure that one out.

Just Say No

When I was young, I was taught that obedience was a good thing.  If a teacher or one of my parents asked me to do something, I knew without a doubt that I was supposed to actually do it.  Life was better when I did what was expected of me, and failure to comply often brought unpleasant repercussions. So I learned early on to complete those classroom assignments, to do my chores at home, and in general, and to help out when I was asked to do so.  And to one degree or another, that lesson has stuck with me throughout my life.

In most ways, it’s been a good thing.  I had no problem accepting assignments from my bosses or my editors, and never felt any resentment at being “told what to do,” especially in situations where I was being paid to do it.  I believe it also instilled a sense of responsibility to others, which meant donating my time and money to worthy causes and helping people (and animals) as much as I possibly could.  It gave me a sense of duty, and I’m thankful for that.

But there’s a downside to being so quick to accept tasks and shoulder responsibility, and it’s called burn-out.  I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m feeling particularly stressed and overburdened, it’s usually because I have said “yes” when I really should have said “no,” or at the very least, “maybe later.” And that usually happens when I forget that the only person who truly knows exactly how much I can and cannot do is me.

All too often, I find myself taking on far more than I can reasonably handle.  And when it finally does sink in that I’ve bitten off way more than I can chew, I actually find myself getting angry with the people who have asked me to do the items on my to-do list that are stressing me out.  I act as if it was someone else’s fault that I didn’t have the good sense to recognize and respect my own limits, which is just plain silly.

The fact is that it’s up to me to set my own personal boundaries and to make good decisions about how I spend my time.  I’m the one who knows what my daily obligations are, and I’m the one who knows how much free time I have to devote to other causes.  Which means I’m the one whose job it is to make sure I’m not freaking out because I’ve over-committed my time, or forgotten that there are only twenty-four hours in a day.

Knowing where to draw the line between taking care of ourselves and meeting other people’s expectations and needs is a difficult thing.  It can take us a long time to learn how to establish our own personal boundaries.  But I think it’s important to remember that a big part of being a responsible adult is realizing that we can’t take care of anyone else if we don’t take care of ourselves while we’re at it.

Time Well Spent

I was hurrying to my car early yesterday when I heard someone call, “Good morning!”  Looking around, I saw that my neighbors, whom I know only slightly, were in their back yard with their toddler son.  As I waved back at them, they scooped up their son and brought him over to the fence for me to see.  “He’s going to be one-year old this coming Tuesday,” they told me proudly.  I admit that I hesitated for a few seconds, because I was running late for church, and didn’t really have time to stop and talk.  But then I did the right thing and went over to meet them at the backyard fence to admire their son and chat a bit.   I ended up being even later for church than I usually am, but it was more than worth not hurting the feelings of the very nice young parents who live behind us.

We rarely have enough people on our walking shifts at the local animal shelter where I volunteer,  which means we are usually working as fast as we can to make sure all the dogs get out for their daily walk.  Often, people visiting the shelter will approach us with their questions, and our usual response is to direct them to the staff at the front desk, who are happy to help them.  But every once in a while, we are approached by someone who wants to tell us about a beloved pet that has recently passed away, because it’s not uncommon for people to look for a new pet while they are still grieving for their old one.  And when that happens, we pause for a little while to hear their stories.  Grieving people need the chance to express their sorrow, and that can only happen if we take the time to listen.

Of course there are times when we truly are too busy to pause, even for a couple of minutes, just because someone wants our attention.  But I also believe that there are many times when we just hurry on our way, believing that we don’t have the time to deal with someone else’s problems, or can’t possibly spare a moment on someone who isn’t an integral part of our day-to-day life.  And that’s a shame, because that means we’ve lost an opportunity to form a real connection to another human being, especially at a time when the other person desperately needs that connection.

IMG_1767Most of us do live busy lives and keep hectic schedules, and aren’t always able to “stop and smell the roses” as the old saying goes.  That means time is a precious commodity, and like all precious commodities, it should be spent wisely.  But there is a difference between spending our time wisely and hoarding our time with little or no regard for the needs of others.  And when we are able to be generous with our time, and use it to truly help someone else, then that is always time well spent.

Stay In Touch

There’s no denying it, life is busy these days.  Most of us spend our time rushing madly from one commitment to another, trying to meet the demands of our jobs, our families, or whatever it happens to be that requires our time and attention. So it’s only natural that we look for areas in our lives where we can cut back, and chores are ignored, obligations are dodged, and relationships are neglected.   And sadly, one of the things we are often too quick to let go of is our friendships.

I remember being shocked once when a friend told me, “I’m not interested in making any new friends, because I have all the friends I want already.”  But now I understand what she meant.  Friendships, like all relationships, take time, and there are just so many hours in the day.  So in an effort to maintain her current friendships, she had simply declared a moratorium on making any new ones.  I think the same theory is at work when people make room for a new friend in their life by dropping an old one.

But for me, my friends, both old and new, are too precious to let go.   So I have been vigilant about trying to stay in touch with my old friends, even during the phases in my life when I have very little time to spare, and for the most part, I’ve been successful. Sometimes connecting is as simple as a quick text, other times it’s a phone call just to touch base, while still other times it involves a drive across the state for a girls’ weekend with my high school friends.  However it happens, it’s time well spent, because it means we are keeping the friendship alive.

0553Recently, I enjoyed a high school reunion where I reconnected with many old friends, was visited by one of my best friends from college, and had lunch with a dear childhood friend who now lives on another continent.   I was thrilled when several of my life-long friends, even those who live far away, attended my daughter’s wedding.  There’s just something so satisfying about sharing my life’s major moments with people I have known for decades, and in meeting a friend I haven’t seen in years and still feeling that instant, close connection.  With every single encounter, I find myself being so very glad that I made the effort to stay in touch with my “old” friends.

Yes, making friends and keeping old friendships alive does requires a certain amount of time and effort.  But I’ll gladly put it in, because they’re worth it.