Gratitude, Hope and Grace, Oh My!

Anyone who has spent the night anxiously looking after a sick child or pet can relate to that ‘Please, God, I’ll do anything if You’ll let him/her get through this!’ mantra we mutter mindlessly as we sweat it out with the child or pet. We think of all the love and joy and happiness that child or pet brings to us and reminds us of how fragile we all are. We feel keenly how much they mean to us and how their loss would diminish us. We look around at our house and our possessions and realize that our greatest treasures are the sweet lives around us.

The Crankee Yankee (my husband) and I used to live in an apartment complex before we were lucky enough to move into our present home. One day there was a fire alarm and the doors in every corridor automatically shut; that alone is panic-making. The Crankee Yankee, who had been outside, ran in and told me to put the cat (at that time, we only had one) into her carrier and to get out NOW. As I bundled my now-cranky cat into the carrier with her favorite toy, I thought briefly of our important papers, my jewelry and clothing, the few antiques I had from my grandparents, etc.–and realized that nothing was as precious as our lives.

All of us in the building; parents, kids and animals, stood in the parking lot, watching the firemen search every floor. Finally we got the all-clear; no fire, no danger. At that moment, all of us stood together in sheer gratitude.

One of my ‘dear ones’ was recently in a dangerous area of the Middle East, and I worried about him constantly. Each day I prayed for his safety, sent him long-distance Reiki, and asked the angels to watch over him. In short, I did everything that was in my tiny sphere of influence to keep him safe. It was hard to stay hopeful and harder still to stop worrying. Agonizing months later, we got word he was finally flying home. In my mind’s eye I saw a battalion of muscular angels guiding the plane through the air. Hope had become reality.

When we were finally able to see and hug him, the Crankee Yankee and I threw him a BBQ of Biblical proportions–we slung the old fatted calf right on the grill for him. While we sat enjoying each others company, I thought of Emily Dickinson’s immortal poem, “Hope is the Thing With Feathers:”

“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.”

Now grace is that indefinable something that allows us to be forgiven, lifted up and filled to capacity with love and joy. All of us have experienced it at one time or other in our lives; times when we have been given to without first giving. It’s like being pulled out of a crowd of thousands and given a bag of gold, or being honored publicly for walking an old lady across the street. It is an unearned gift; nothing we can foresee.

Grace can confuse you, too–it comes in many guises. My biggest moment of grace came directly from my parents. Mom and Dad were adamant about my going to college right out of high school. Like many other lazy teens, I really wanted to stay home and hang out and just enjoy not having to go to school. Wisely, my parents disabused me of that idea. They had been firm about me saving my waitressing money each summer for college, and had me apply for a town scholarship. That scholarship was easily enough to pay for each semester’s books. Still, my parents sacrificed a lot to send me to college, and adjured me to make the most of the experience.

Well, I certainly did. Living on my own with my own room and dorm mate was a huge and heady step toward personal freedom. I went to classes and dutifully took notes. I majored in English education, figuring that since I loved to read and write, why not teach others to do the same? But after class I partied as I had never done before. Let’s just say I went a little off the rails. I fell hopelessly in love with a music major a few years older than me, and I spent as much time with him as I could. It became easier for me to skip classes, spend money and party. My idea of presenting my parents with my college degree was beginning to fade.

Long and predictable story short, I was summoned home. I sat with my two unsmiling parents and was read the riot act. If I was going to skip classes, fool around and generally waste the sacrifice my parents had made for me, than I could jolly well pay for my remaining colleges years myself. What could I say? They were absolutely right; I had been self-indulgent, lazy and had not appreciated all I had been given.

So stunned and shaken, I drove back to college. I went right to the local eatery and asked for a waitressing job. I started work right away and worked out a schedule that fit with my classes and homework. I became very familiar with all-nighters and renewed my friendship with my portable typewriter. (Mind you, this was well before computers and the Internet, so research papers really meant serious research.) I saved every cent, and I got my summertime waitressing job back. I still had my books scholarship, and I scraped by.

Finally, graduation day came, and my parents and my grandparents watched me receive my college diploma. I felt a mixture of exhaustion, exultation and the lingering ghost of the previous night’s hangover–but I had DONE it. I had stepped up to the plate and had done what I needed to do and was able to show my parents what I was made of.

It took me years to truly appreciate that particular grace in my life–I know now how hard it was for my parents to stand strong and not give in and help me out. I later found out that, when Mom or Dad would break down and want to help me, they would gently remind each other why they were doing this. They had to let me sink or swim on my own. This was a gift of sublime grace that has literally made me the person I am today, so many years later.

It reminds me of the old song, “Amazing Grace,” that declares in one verse that “I was blind/But now I see.” I hope we can all see clearly everything we have been given for which to be grateful and hopeful, and recognize the grace in our lives.





Dos and Don’ts After 60

As I get older, I tend to write myself little Rules of the Road for this stage of my life. I find that, instead of a rapidly dwindling amount of choices, there are many I never thought about. Generally I’d say that you couldn’t write me a check big enough to be 20 again, but of course if I knew then what I know now….but we all know how that one goes. As the wise Penn-Dutch say, “We grow too soon old, and too late smart.” Ain’t THAT the truth?

In my 20s, anything went–I could wear anything and look fabulous, I could wear makeup or not and look wonderful, I could try my hand at riding a unicycle, fall off it and look adorable, I could make great statements about the world at large and be more-or-less listened to (probably just patiently indulged), I could dye my hair purple and be cute, and so on. I could get away with damn near anything. Youth gives you some pretty major leeway that you don’t get later on in life.

WARNING: Way before you even get to spitting distance of 40, don’t make beauty your only ticket to the show called Life.

But things do change when we get older, say 60-ish. There’s a lot to be said for acting your age, but as “60 is the new 40,” there is no need to be an old poop, either. There are a whole lot of options for us now that weren’t before, such as:

  • Travel–even taking a day trip up in the mountains will give you a refreshing change of pace.
  • Devote yourself to a really fun hobby–you pick.
  • Mentor someone.
  • Read at least one great classic.
  • Listen to some really good music each day.
  • Change your attitude and bloom where you’re planted.
  • Never tried surfing  or paddle boarding? Try it now. If you fall, you’re only falling into water.
  • Join a book club.
  • At least once a day, put yourself first.
  • Volunteer at an animal shelter or wherever you like. The rewards are tremendous.
  • Start walking, either alone or in a group. Not only is it good and gentle exercise, but you start noticing so much around you. I call them Appreciation Walks.
  • Speaking of the above, invest in some really good walking shoes. They are well worth the cost.
  • Speaking of that above, buy better-made (read that more expensive) shoes. They will feel better, last longer and be comfortable far longer. Better to have one great pair of shoes for $100 than ten pairs of cheap shoes for $10 each.
  • Make a date at least once a month with a few of your best friends. Go out to lunch, go shopping, pack a lunch and sit on the rocks facing the ocean. Before you go your separate ways, make the next date.
  • Get a pet.
  • Keep a journal.
  • This is the age around which we begin to lose our parents. We may end up caring for them ourselves. This is a tough and often heartbreaking job, but it can be a time to make peace, let old issues go, enjoy simple conversations, and so on. When the parent(s) pass on, take the time to grieve and breathe. This is a time when not only your family, but your old friends as well can be your safe harbor.
  • Go through your home and weed out the clutter (Note to self: this one’s for ME). Make a Donate pile, a Yard Sale pile, a Throw-away pile and a Give to Relatives pile. This, along with making your will and getting your important papers in order, is a gift to your children.
  • Move on! Don’t waste your time on a bad relationship, a bad job, a bad book or movie, or a bad situation. You don’t get points for hanging on.
  • Always wanted to dump your late grandmother’s old fur coat? Donate it. Where Grandma is now, she’ll not only understand, but approve.
  • If you’re comfortable with it, become a hugger.
  • Treat yourself to a good massage at least once a month.
  • If you are able, dance and sing as much as possible.
  • Take some classes; Chinese cooking, painting, Tai Chi, gardening, pottery, jewelry-making, etc.

There are, however, things that really should be avoided at this age, such as:

  • Do not under any circumstances try the latest dance craze in public. You will embarrass yourself, your children and grandchildren. People watching will feel uncomfortable pity for you. If you persist and do this anyway, you’d better have a one-way ticket for Costa Rica for the next day. You won’t want to be around for the backlash.
  • Do not wear ridiculously high heels. You’ll fall and break a hip.
  • Do not wear bright red, orange or purple lipstick–you’ll look like a creepy clown.
  • Do not put a mirror on your lap and look down. (Trust me on this one–do it by yourself and you will be horrified by how cruel gravity can be.)
  • Do not natter on and on endlessly about how much better things were when you were growing up, or at least choose your audience well. This is a great topic for old friend get-togethers.
  • Do not put your butt over your head unless you are 1) extremely limber, 2) practice yoga on a daily basis, and 3) do not have low blood pressure.
  • Do not be surprised when you fart each time you bend over. That’s the true sound of the 6os.
  • Do not believe those ads that promise you that their gel/cream/serum/lotion, etc. will make you look instantly younger. They won’t. The only thing they will do is to lighten your wallet.
  • Do NOT use teenage lingo, and quit saying “Awesome!”
  • Stop whining about how pretty you used to be. You’re fabulous the way you are RIGHT NOW.
  • Do not bring up hot flashes, night sweats or prolapsed bladder issues with anyone other than your true friends. Believe me, no one else wants to hear about them.

Most of all, let’s embrace our age, and let go of the my-oh-my-how-my-looks-have-changed attitude. Ever hear this apt little verse by Edward Lear?

“As a beauty I’m not a great star,
There are others more handsome by far,
But my face, I don’t mind it,
Because I’m behind it.
It’s those out in front that I jar.”

So let’s make friends with the mirror and enjoy who we are right now.

Do You Remember Your First “Aha!” Moment?

Do you remember your first “Aha!” moment? Mine came when I was about 10 years old. I went to a Girl Scout camp every summer, a place I loved unconditionally. I had camp friends and camp traditions and camp clothes and a whole camp persona. At home, I was just me with all my faults and insecurities. No one at camp knew my history or the dozens of embarrassing incidents at school and at home. (When you grow up in a small town as I did, everyone knows everything about you. If you peed your pants in second grade, then at your 3oth high school reunion, you would still be called “Pee Pants.”) But at camp I was a leader; fearless, confident, ready for anything.  At camp, I could truly be who I wanted to be.

Camp was a glorious blur of learning new things, making new friends and enjoying the company of old friends, and just plain fun. I slept fully and deeply, ate hugely, ran and swam and biked and sailed and canoed and fished and hiked and built camp fires. I made up ghost stories I told around a flickering camp fire, and for the first time in my life, found I had a talent for storytelling. Encouraged by all those frightened faces, I made the stories scarier and more bizarre. One of the counselors, Jinx, whom I adored, took me aside after a night of ministering to terrified kids suffering from nightmares. She told me that it’s one thing to entertain, and quite another to show off. Gently, she explained that, in my desire to be popular, I had caused her and another counselor to lose their well-deserved sleep to comfort the scared girls. Not only that, but the same girls begged their parents to come take them home. The enormity of what I had done overwhelmed me and I felt truly guilty. (But I never lost that thrill of creating stories out of my head.)

One of the many attractions of being in camp was the gently-enforced rule to create your own nickname. This would be your “official” camp name. Mine was Spider. I hated spiders (still do), and although the nickname made sense to me then, I’ve forgotten why it did.

Our camp was across the lake from a Boy Scout camp, and once a summer, our camp visited their camp. There was horseback riding, crafts, a contest of camping skills such as building a camp fire in record time, making lean-to shelters and canoe races. There was a big dinner, and a dance at night.

My “Aha!” moment came while we were visiting. I was talking with a boy who had beaten my time at camp fire building, and we were comparing notes. I remember thinking that all boys weren’t horrible; this one was actually pretty nice, even if he had beaten me. Suddenly we both felt the ground shake beneath us, and one of my tent mates, a tiny girl from Bath, came galloping by on a horse. In the time it took for me to register that 1) the horse was out of control, 2) my friend was screaming in terror and in trouble, I ran up to the horse, grabbed the bridle and hung from it to slow him down. To my amazement, the horse actually came to a halt, and one of the three counselors who had come running down the hill after the horse was able to rescue my friend.

One of the counselors checked my friend over, determined she was not hurt, only badly scared. The first counselor gentled the horse, and lead him back to the barn. The last counselor took me by the shoulders and asked if I was all right. I nodded; I couldn’t seem to speak right then. He asked how I had known to do the right thing to stop the horse; I stammered that I really didn’t know–I had been just scared that my friend would be hurt. I don’t remember much after that, although a girl I still keep in touch with told me later that “everyone” was talking about how brave I was. All I remember to this day was dumbstruck wonder that I did what I did.

That happened decades ago, and, as Wendy told Peter Pan when he finally came for her; “My dear, I am ever so many years past 20.” I don’t understand why we get these glimmers of greatness any more than I did when I was 10. All I know is that that was my first moment of knowing that I was capable of more than I knew.

Do you remember your first “Aha!” moment? You probably do on some level, and maybe you never gave yourself credit for it. Believe me, these are the unexpected gifts we receive all through our lives. They seem to come out of nowhere, and there is no predicting them. We have all read about mothers who, after a car accident, were able to lift that car off their child. There are so many stories of men and women who put their own safety aside to help or carry another person down the stairs in the World Trade Center buildings during 9/11. There is the policeman who ran toward a car fire on the highway, reached through the window to pull the unconscious driver out before the engine blew. So many people, both First Responders or simply ordinary people, rushed into the street during the Boston Marathon bombings to help the injured and get them out of harm’s way.

Perhaps your “Aha!” moment hasn’t come yet. Trust me, it will. And trust me, you will know what to do.

Even the Smallest Kindness Matters

Being a force for good doesn’t necessarily mean that you are Captain America, clad in tights and saving the world day after day. There are heroes and angels all around us who perform small acts of kindness and compassion each day. They are not always in the news or on YouTube, but they are there just the same. They are our better angels, and their reach goes a long way toward diffusing the harsh and violent times in which we live.

Take for example Carol Flynn, who had just paid for her purchases and was about to leave the Sioux Falls store when she overheard a young woman behind her asking the cashier to match the price on four boxes of diapers. The cashier was reportedly only able to match the price for one box, so the mother could not afford the purchase. Ms. Flynn walked up to her,  patted her on the shoulder and paid the $120 for the diapers. As the young woman stammered out her thanks, Ms. Flynn asked her to just pay it forward when she could. This kindly exchange was captured by a bystander and went viral on YouTube.

Who knows what further acts of kindness followed this video? I’m betting that that young woman will pay it forward when she can. I’m also betting that many, many people were inspired to do something for someone else “just because.” These episodes of grace are just that: little shining moments of heart-to-heart connection with another person. Just as violence and hatred can be sparked by one person or one act, so too can kindness light up the nobility of spirit of which we are all capable.

It is as easy as smiling at a total stranger, holding the door open for someone, complimenting a young cashier at the grocery store on her nail polish, and so on. All these little things cause a wave of positive energy that can change lives and indeed the tenor of our planet. Did you ever hear the saying that a butterfly gently wafting its wings can cause a tsunami miles away? It is the same with a simple act of kindness. The intention and the influence spreads and affects us all. How many times have we heard on our local news station about an injured stray cat or dog brought to a shelter by a kind person? Before you know it, hundreds and even thousands of dollars are raised to cover the cost of veterinary care, plus several people offer to adopt the animal.

In this time of our world, there is so much sadness, sorrow, pain, rage, war and viciousness. These things affect us all in some way or another. One person may not be able to turn the tide to all this negativity, but many people doing many small positive things can affect a great change. Just as constantly dripping water will eventually wear away a stone, many acts of goodness can wear away hopelessness, apathy, fear and rage.

There IS hope, there IS positive change, there IS room in our hearts to be better people; not just for ourselves, but for others and our world. I challenge myself along with you to make just one tiny gesture of good faith and hope each day.

We can do this.


Cat Aerobics–My Exercise of Necessity

I really do have a “serious” exercise routine; I walk down to the pond and all around it as often as I can, and on off days I do a set of band exercises that works me out head to foot. However, it turns out that my everyday-cannot-miss exercise is Cat Aerobics, performed by me and the Crankee Yankee (my husband) each day. Here’s the schedule:

4:30 am: One or two cats wake us up by jumping on our heads, scuffling loudly or barfing. (I think that they choose straws each day for this.) The desired outcome is to get us up to feed and water them all. Nala, our one female, gets fed on the office window sill. Pookie, our youngest male, likes to eat his food under my armoire in the bedroom. Pepper, our older male, wants his food served in the busiest foot traffic area in the kitchen; on the floor right where we need to stand in order to prepare food and use the sink. Once he’s had his fill, he wants the dish moved under the kitchen table. (Seriously–he will stand there looking up for minutes on end if we don’t do it.)

5:00 am: The Crankee Yankee cleans the litter boxes (bless him!) and whatever mess and mayhem the skunks, racoons and other wildlife have left down under the porch during the night. He then refills the under-the-porch food and water for the early morning skunks, and puts out food and water for the neighborhood cat freeloaders…yep, we are suckers.

6:00am: The Crankee Yankee and I finally get to have coffee and breakfast. After that, one of us has to fill the bathroom sink with cold water so that the cats can drink out of it at will. This is in addition to the three full water bowls they have, plus one extra one downstairs. They just like the novelty.

7:30 am: I chase down Pepper to clean his ears in preparation for the three transdermal meds he has to have each morning and night. This is not a routine he really cares for as the meds are administered via Q-tip onto the inside of the ear flap. This also means I have to promise him that I will give him an extra spoonful of food right afterwards. If that weren’t enough, every third day he has an oral med, which means he can’t eat for a half hour before and a half hour after. This means that all three cats’ food bowls have to come up for that time. No one is a big fan.

8:00 am: I have to chase Pepper again to clean one more ear, so the Crankee Yankee can give him his last dose for the morning.

You could say that, except for the necessity of giving Pepper his life-saving meds, we brought this on ourselves, and you’d be right. The cats run the house, we merely pay the bills and provide services. They say that dogs have masters, but cats have staff. We ARE the staff.

I would write more, but right now all three cats have come out of a secret meeting demanding we put on Animal Planet and fluff up their beds.




James Foley

I know that I am not alone in mourning the tragic and senseless death of New Hampshire’s James Foley, killed by ISIS. I am sure that many others share my shock, anger, outrage and sorrow over this brutal and savage attack on an American citizen. Whatever your political views are, this is a tragedy of immeasurable proportions.

In this blog, I am careful not to air my personal political or religious views; that’s for each person to decide for themselves. Personally, I am saddened for James Foley’s family, friends and community, especially for his mother. To have given birth to a child, raised that child with love, care and joy, watched his progression through life, shared his accomplishments, successes, life milestones and more–only to lose that child in such a heartless, savage and brutal way has to be pain beyond comprehension.

My first reaction in hearing this news was typical of what many Americans must feel–a combination of rage, grief and helplessness. What can I do about events such as this? How can I help? How can I make this better? How can I live my life to honor people such as James Foley? What I have chosen to do is to write this post and continue to live my life as best I can and use all the considerable gifts I’ve been given to their highest and best purpose. I will not and can not waste time raging powerlessly against forces I can neither control nor stop. I will stay grateful for each moment I draw breath. I will not give in to acts of rage and fury. As an American, I will not give in to fear of these people.

Some say that members of ISIS are already in this country. Some say that they wouldn’t dare come here. Some say that this incident is none of our business. Some say that we should go to war right now against these people. Some say that ISIS will not stop its atrocities until we all submit to their demands and become part of their religion. I certainly don’t have answers for any of this.

All I have is the ability to put my talents and gifts to good use, mourn and remember James Foley, and not make his death a reason to be hateful or fearful. As with 9/11, this event is carved deep into my heart, and I will not forget. I will honor James Foley and all the others and make them part of my family. I will not let the horror and outrage break me or make me give up on living the best life I can and using my gifts to help those I can.

My hope is that we do not lose our humanity and good intent, or our hopes and dreams. This is  how I have chosen to wage war on those who threaten our country and our way of life.



Much Maligned Massage

Massage is a wonderful thing; relaxing, rejuvenating, and revitalizing. It is an excellent way to release stress that collects in various parts of our bodies, and often symptoms we would take to a doctor can be greatly relieved with massage. Not only is massage beneficial to healing and relaxation, but it often keeps areas of the body that naturally hold stress in check. Massage releases the body’s endorphins, which gives us that wonderfully relaxed and ‘all is well with the world’ feeling. Unfortunately, massage often gets a bad rep as some people automatically assume it’s associated with all kinds of kinky services you can get in certain skeevy areas of town. The following information is my personal experience with massage.

When I lived in Texas, I had a wonderful massage therapist whom I saw twice a month. At the time, I was under a lot of stress and was recovering from a divorce. The massage helped with body aches, fluid retention and overall anxiety. As I came to know my therapist better, I found out that he also volunteered his time in nursing homes. Working with older bodies, especially when there are issues such as thinning skin, fragile bones, advanced arthritis and so on, requires a special touch and awareness. When meeting a new client, he always spent time getting to know them and their specific needs. He also met with family members, healthcare workers and doctors to make sure that his client would benefit from massage.

Almost to a person, the elderly responded very well to gentle massage. Often, some cried with the sheer release of pain, and also from simply being touched in a kind and comforting way. As we grow older, we often lose our sources of sheer human touch. Our husbands, wives, and partners may die before we do, and who is there left to rub our shoulders, hold our hands, stroke the hair back from our foreheads, and place warm hands on our aching feet? These elderly folks my friend worked on viewed him as an angel of mercy.

It is sad that many people feel that massage therapists only want to touch “beautiful bodies.” The truth is that a certified massage therapist has studied and worked with many clients of all ages, shapes and sizes. They are as familiar with the human body as a doctor or physical therapist. The human body is a roadmap for them; they can feel and see areas of concern, pain, stress or tenseness. Their reason to work is to alleviate pain and discomfort using their very considerable schooling and knowledge. They understand body makeup well, and their job and focus is to facilitate healing and comfort. They see the person, not their size, color, etc.

If you are a modest person, the very idea of massage may seem scary. Massage therapists understand this, and make it clear that you do not need to be completely naked; if you like, you can leave on your undies and they will work with that. When you go in for a massage, there is always a drape with which to cover yourself as you lie on the table. While working on you, the therapist is respectful of your modesty and only uncovers the area upon which they are working. Private areas are not revealed. Additionally, they welcome questions, knowing that those coming in for a first massage do not always know what to expect.

Some massage therapists talk or question during massage, and some work in absolute silence. If you are going to your first massage, take a moment to think about what you personally would prefer. Telling your therapist what you are comfortable with is not rude, it’s purely information about you  that the therapist welcomes. The more they know about you and your preferences, the more beneficial the massage. You may also request light, medium or deep tissue massage. If you are new to this, you may want to start light. Myself, I love deep tissue massage. I tend to hold energy in so the deeper, the better for me. All these things are explained to you prior to the massage, either by the therapist or in the paperwork you fill out. I tell you this so that you will be better prepared when you go in for the first time. If, once you read or hear this and feel panicked, don’t worry–the staff and therapists have seen it all before. They have no problems with you deciding you are not comfortable with this and/or that you prefer to return at a later time after you’ve thought it all over. (This includes people who have freaked out on the table, jumped up and ran naked out of the room!)

Something I found out about myself when I got my first massage: as the therapist began working on my knees and feet, I was unbearably ticklish and began twitching and laughing. My therapist laughed, too, and explained that this is a normal reaction. Often, ticklishness is more of a trust issue than real discomfort. Hearing this, I was able to relax and enjoy the massage of my legs and feet, knowing that I was NOT being tickled; I was being helped.

As we grow older, massage becomes less a luxury than a real necessity. If we are 65, then all our parts are 65 as well. It’s normal and natural to have aches and pains as we go along. Of course, serious conditions need to be treated professionally; that’s a given. You also should check with your doctor before you have your first massage to be sure that it won’t adversely affect any existing conditions. If ok with your doctor, massage can definitely alleviate much pain and suffering. Following your first massage, it is entirely natural that you may feel a bit run-down the next day. (Again, this too will be explained to you.) It is recommended that, following the massage, you drink plenty of water and relax. It will take your body a while to process this new release of trapped energy and just about always, you will feel so much better.

I hope that this post may answer some questions people have about massage and perhaps take some of the anxiety out of it. Any reliable massage therapist has your best interests at heart, and their job is to help you feel better. Perhaps this has also cleared up some of the misconceptions about massage.

A good massage is cheaper than a vacation on Maui, and best of all, both your body and mind get a vacation.

“I Give Up!” (For Today, Anyway)

It’s raining buckets here, and our garden is getting a great soak. One of the “neighbor cats,” whom we fondly call Plumpy-Nut, took shelter in our bird feeder to get out of the wet. It’s about 5′ off the ground, and I think he’s a pretty smart cat to get himself in there and out of the rain. It’s quite cool for an August day; about 67 degrees, so the Crankee Yankee (my husband) and I decided to make this a day off for both of us. Also, the pre-fall weather and the soothing sound of the rain makes us both sleepy, and even though we could clean the inside of the house today, we just didn’t want to.

I am sleepy because Pepper, our third cat, hawked up an enormous hairball inches away from my face this morning at 3:30a.m., which meant the sheets needed washing immediately. So, after the be-hairballed sheets were in the washer, I made up the bed with clean sheets and eventually went back to bed. The Crankee Yankee swore he would vacuum the house today, but I knew it wouldn’t get done; it’s just the kind of day it is.

So, while sipping my third cup of coffee, I looked around at the cat hair tumbleweeds on the rugs, the smudged kitchen floor, the dusty end tables and knick-knacks, the cobwebs in the corners, the piles of coupons, magazines, and other papers littering the kitchen table, and said: “That’s IT! I give UP! Dirt, mess, cat hair, mud, etc.–you WIN.”

The Crankee Yankee looked at me as only he can do–a mixture of “are you kidding me?” and “really?” and “I know you aren’t serious but you LOOK serious so I’m not going to argue with you.” I even allowed myself the luxury of imaging how we would eventually become one of those couples who hoard everything, and who have to make tunnels through all the junk in the house just to move from room to room. I also imagined people in our neighborhood watching us and our three cats get boarded onto a police car headed for the nearest mental hospital, saying to each other, “Yep–I knew they were crazy. I just didn’t know HOW crazy!” Then our still-half-finished house would be sold to pay off our stay in the nut house.

But that’s just the lack of sleep and too much coffee talking. We both decided that we would just put all projects on hold for the day, go out and get breakfast (which, by the way, was truly hedonistic), and sing “Let It Go” from “Frozen.” I informed the Crankee Yankee that I really didn’t mean I was going to give up on everything and let the place go to hell–that I just needed to let everything go TODAY.

And sometimes that’s all it takes to reset the old internal clock. Just turn your back on all the mess, mud, muck and mire and forget it for the day. Oh, it will all be there for sure the next day, but for today, sometimes you really just have to let everything float over you and stop trying. It’s a “just for today” thing. I swear.


Finding the Happy

You know how it goes; you wake up in a grumpy mood and say to yourself, “it’s going to be an awful day.” And surprise–it IS an awful day. Coincidence? Nope, not at all. It’s the old ‘glass half empty, glass half full’ state of mind, and it’s up to you to decide which glass you have. Having a good day, or just finding the “happy” in any situation is entirely up to us. You can decide you’re going to have a great day, and, despite what happens in the day, you will have a great day. Or, you can go the other way, and have a lousy day.

Case in point: I have never just loved hot and humid weather, and have griped about it for years. So I dreaded every summer because I kept on saying how much I hated hot and humid weather. I just made it worse on myself, and suffered far more than I needed to, and probably was a big downer to those around me who do enjoy that kind of weather. So I decided to take my own advice a few years ago–I decided I didn’t hate hot weather, and instead embraced it. I would think of how cold I had been the previous winter and how many layers of clothingI had had to put on to stay warm. All of a sudden, the summer–even the sticky days–felt great. Oh, I still retreat to the A/C when we have a stretch of steamy weather, but I no longer complain. The attitude shift made all the difference.

The Crankee Yankee (my husband) and I were recently picking through a big coffee can of fresh blueberries (courtesy of the abundant blueberry bushes that grow in and around the swamp on my brother-in-law’s property). We carefully picked out all the green berries, stems, twigs and so on, and I started thinking. What if changing our attitudes about the good vs. bad in our lives was as easy as picking through berries? I mean, it’s  easy to see the leaves and twigs along with the berries–could it be that weeding out the not-so-great things in our day, our lives, our situations could be that easy?

I started to think of good things vs. bad things  in my life. For example, I have a great part-time job with a great company. This job puts me smack in the middle of a gorgeous part of northern New Hampshire, I work with wonderful people, I’m doing work I truly enjoy, and I’ve made some good friends there. The company regularly hosts fun events for its employees, such as seasonal barbeques, chili cook-off contests, pizza lunches for various reasons, family days at the local park, and on holidays there are Yankee swaps, cookie parties and cube-decorating contests. Each Christmas we are given gift cards to our favorite grocery stores. The building is designed to let in plenty of natural light, and as you walk down the corridors, you can watch the seasons change in all their glory. It really is an ideal place to work. All these good things are the “berries.”

The “debris” is that it’s a 145 mile commute from my door to theirs, I travel along three major highways to get there, and I spend a lot of money on tolls, gas and car maintenance for my 12-year old vehicle. So in my job situation, I have a whole lot more berries than debris.

So what’s the secret to finding the “happy” in any situation? We can start by asking ourselves a few questions, such as:

  • Is there anything positive about this situation? (Even if it’s a job you hate, you still get paid, right? So that’s positive!)
  • Is my own attitude about this situation making things worse or better?
  • Can I do anything to positively affect this situation?
  • Am I so steeped in my own unhappiness that I may be bringing others down?
  • Can I afford to leave this situation? If I can, will I? What’s holding me back?

When you can answer those questions to your satisfaction, you will end up with a list of berries vs. debris. You will have to decide if the berries are worth the debris. This kind of thinking is how we start to change our lives. We have to remember that we really do have control over how we feel, how we perceive the world around us and what kind of people we want to be. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is doable. Remember that little victories, such as saying to yourself, “hey–I’m not that crazy about this current job, but it pays for my <insert whatever hobby, etc. you love here>!” Find and enjoy the smallest victory, the smallest good feeling, the smallest sense of happiness. It will keep you looking for more, therefore making more happy happen.

This is how we find the “happy” and keep it. For good!

Of All the Things I’ve Lost, I Miss My Eyebrows the Most

I’ll be the first to tell anyone that I honestly don’t mind being my age at all. In fact, you couldn’t write me a check big enough to be 20 again (assuming of course that I still wouldn’t know then what I know now). I’ve cheerfully accepted that my body sounds like popcorn when I first get out of bed (joints, ya know), that I now have “distinguished” silver streaks in my hair, that I’ve become a gravity victim, or that I can’t eat fried food any longer. I no longer wear high heels or pantyhose. I put in my time wearing those instruments of torture, and I’m done with them. It doesn’t bother me a bit that, due to an insane amount of physically demanding hobbies in my 30s and 40s, both rotator cuffs have pooped out. I’m not wild about the fact that my neck is getting turkey wattle-ish, but hey—that’s what scarves are for.

But I do miss my eyebrows. They patiently put up with all my plucking and shaping over the years, and I never had to worry about them. That and my hair (always short) were things I never had to spend much time on, much less fuss with. But these days, due to the inevitable creep of time, my trusty old eyebrows have given up on me, packed up their follicles and have moved on (probably for Hawaii. I would, too, if I could).

The greater part of my morning routine is painstakingly etching on eyebrows. Fortunately, I have handy expression lines where they used to be, so I just follow the template. I never realized what an art form this is. Oh, you can do it in a hurry with a Magic Marker, but that’s if you don’t care if you look ridiculous. Subtlety is the key. I take more time with this than I do with any part of my morning routine. Using an eyebrow pencil sharpened within an inch of its life, I painstakingly stroke on each tiny line to imitate eyebrow hairs. With one eyebrow complete, I have to duplicate it on the other side. Finally, I use a tiny brush dedicated to this purpose to blur the lines and make it look as if I still have real eyebrows. It’s exhausting–but absolutely necessary.

Since I feel that I can’t waste perfectly applied eyebrows just sitting around reading or cooking or doing laundry, I make it a point to go and do something. Even if all I do is just pick up cat food and coffee, or take a book back to the library, at least I know my eyebrows look good; normal anyway. These days, it’s all about normal—not necessarily spectacular, but normal.

Oh, for the carefree days when all I had to do to look good was to wash my face, run a comb through my hair and brush my teeth! These days it takes a goodly amount of time to prepare my face to face the world. I am still vain enough to want to look decent, if not good. When I was a lot younger, I noticed that some women of a certain age always dressed well, wore expertly applied make-up and had their hair done each week. In my ignorance, I used to think, “Why bother? You’re OLD!”

Well, now that I am of that certain age, I get it. I realize that no young and lusty men are dying to ask me out or offer me diamonds and mansions; that’s not what I’m going for. I do what I do to feel good about myself, which in turn makes me feel good about everything. Sure it takes effort, so what? I know I will never look 25 again; that’s just fine. I’m going for feeling good for me.

..but I do miss my eyebrows!