Hey – we may as well have fun as we go sliding into old age, right?

Dogs of Our Lives…

There are many great advantages to not having a dog. 

No bundling up for walks in the midst of a blizzard…

 

 

No home electronics destroyed… 

 

 

 

 

No need for elaborate care plans and pleading for dog-sitting volunteers when you want to have a simple weekend get-away with your spouse.  No worrying while you’re away that your dog is probably trampling through your friends’ vegetable garden with abandon at every opportunity, no matter how many barriers they erect.

No fretting about your horse-sized canine leveling grandma or the neighbors with her enthusiastic greeting, and the lawsuits that could follow.  No dashing home from work to hurriedly walk the dog before you head out to your other evening obligations.  No need for a lint-brush and vacuum in every room and at the office to remove all the dog hair. The. Dog. Hair. Is. Everywhere.

No triple-digit veterinary bills, or monthly double-digit food, treat and toy bills.  And speaking of toys, no tripping over tennis balls, stepping on ragged-edged beef bones in the middle of the night, or listening to the nerve-chilling squeak-squeak-squeak of squeaky toys all day long.

And the greatest advantage to never having a dog – never having to say “good-bye” to a beloved four-legged friend after years of companionship.  Their departure carves a hole in our hearts that never fully heals.

Yes – there are many advantages to being dog-free.  But I honestly just don’t think some humans were intended to be without dogs, and I’m one of them.

Molly

Molly was my first – a boxy little Australian Shepherd puppy purchased for protection when I lived alone on a country farm.  A territorial breed, Molly knew her job and did it well.  Then I met Hubby and we moved to the suburbs together, and she learned to be a civilized house dog.  In the process, she dropped me like a hot rock and bonded with my husband.  She would literally brush past my open arms to run to him.  Molly wasn’t the brightest bulb in the pack, but she was my (then his) faithful and comic companion for 16 years.  We put her to rest a day after she suffered a violent seizure, and it broke our hearts.  Hubby vowed to “never have another dog”. 

And we didn’t for a year or so…until Jenny came along.  My friend’s mother was moving to assisted living, and they needed a home for her big, black, hairy mutt who had been rescued from euthanasia several years earlier when her neglectful owners left her at a veterinarian’s office.  Back then, she was skinny, sick and hairless, but the vet and my friend nursed her back to health because of her placid, loving nature.  Our quiet routine vanished when Jenny moved in, and she immediately bonded with Hubby (I was starting to get a complex).  He had a retail store in town, and she went to “work” with him every day.  She was even featured in the local paper, and people came to the store just to see Jenny. 

 

Jenny

Jenny traveled to Massachusetts with us (where the grandchildren adored her), and to Florida, and North Carolina.  Because of the neglect in her early years, Jenny had separation anxiety.  That meant she went nuts when left alone, and had to stay in a dog crate.  And she was also completely terrorized by thunder and lightning.  She tore an extra large and very sturdy metal dog crate (and a section of drywall) to pieces during one storm when we weren’t home.  But when she plopped her head on your lap and gazed at you adoringly, you just couldn’t help adoring her right back.  Sadly, Jenny wasn’t young when she came to our home, and after 6 or 7 years, she was showing signs of old age.  She lost strength in her back legs, and the lost control of her balance, and we made another tragic trip to the vet.  Again, there was never going to be another dog – we could barely say her name without shedding tears, even months after her death.

You’ve probably already figured this out – yes, another dog has joined our life. 

February 2011

Last February, when apparently our house seemed too peaceful, we made an impulsive visit to the pound, and brought home a small yellow lab mix puppy who fit into our laps easily and charmed us completely.  Tully (named for the Irish city of Tullamore, one of our favorite places in Ireland) has noisily and rambunctiously taken over our lives.  She wasn’t supposed to be a big dog.  We didn’t want a big dog.  But she is big.  Really big.  And she’s still growing.  When she stretches out on our king-sized bed, she covers it from edge to edge. 

 

December 2011

While she used to sleep curled up in Hubby’s lap, she now threatens to topple the recliner if she tries it today.  She wants attention all the time, and seemingly never tires.  Her toys cover the living room floor, and her favorites are those that squeak the loudest.  She doesn’t like being alone, but she will resign herself to napping on the bed while we’re gone.  She can destroy an entire box of tissues if we leave them within reach, but rarely destroys anything else (with the exception of the TV remote she chewed up yesterday).  She’s the first truly intelligent dog we’ve had – her wheels are turning all the time, and it’s hard to stay ahead of her.  She’s a goofball, she drives us crazy, and she has brought a permanent form of chaos to our home. 

And yes, I know that my heart will be broken again someday, hopefully many years from now.  Getting a pet means planning on heartache – they rarely outlive us.  But the joy, warmth, laughter, and pure unadulterated love they bring into their lives while they share their time with us is invaluable, and yes, it’s worth the grief, no matter how bitter that grief may be at the time.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go to the store to buy Tully some new treats, and later today you’ll find me in the backyard, throwing a purple soccer ball over and over and over, just to watch her leap and bound and run.  And she will make my day complete.

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Where Did My Brain Go?

As long as I’m on the subject of hormones…  I find the second-most irritating symptom of menopause (after the raging emotions) to be the loss of mental function in general.  This is more than being absent-minded – I’ve been absent-minded all my life. 

But lately, it’s like I just go into a “brain-fog” with no warning.  I’ll be driving home from work and suddenly realize that I don’t remember getting off the highway exit, and yet here I am, driving down the side street to my home.  Apparently I drove it safely and legally, as I heard no honking horns or blaring sirens.  But I don’t remember doing it.  It’s not that I was thinking about something else – I wasn’t thinking at all. 

I’ve been in conversations recently, and I’ll suddenly realize that I’ve “tuned out” and I have no idea what I’ve missed.  I’ve become good at using my “interested” face and appearing to be listening – nodding, smiling, jotting a few notes.  But I didn’t hear an entire block of speaking.  Well, I heard it, since my hearing isn’t gone, but I didn’t process it.  Again, it’s not that I’m daydreaming, which I’ve always been very good at – my mind is just blank. 

It’s pretty creepy, actually, to realize you’re losing time (without the assistance of alcohol!).

And even when I’m not losing time, there are moments when I just can’t kick my brain into gear.  I’ll pick up a new bag of (low-fat) chips, start to pull it open, and then just stop.  What was I doing again?  Do I need the scissors?  No, I just have pull it open – and still my hands aren’t moving.  What the hell?  Do I want these chips?  Is there something else I’d rather have?  Is it too close to dinner?  Oh, for crying out loud – open the damn bag!

And choosing clothes for work?  There are days when it’s agony, because I can’t make a freakin’ decision.  Do I want the black pinstripe pants?  Did I wear black pants yesterday?  What shirt should I wear?  Does that pattern go with the pinstripe?  Will it be warm enough?  Maybe not…  But this brown sweater would do.  But then I have to pick different pants.  Do these need to be ironed?  What shoes would I wear?  Do I have trouser socks that match?  No, no – I already had my black shoes pulled out to wear.  I should wear the pinstripes.  Maybe add a jacket over a short-sleeved shirt?  But which jacket?  Does this match??  A-r-r-g-g-h-h!  By now, I’m late for work. 

Never good with names, I now meet people and forget their names within seconds of meeting them.  Even when I’m trying to remember – even when I made up a word-association to remember.  Or I mix up the word associations in an embarrassing way.  For example, I use word association to remember the name of a consultant our company is working with.  He’s tall, good-looking and conservative, and his first name is Don.  So I’ve associated him with Don Draper of Mad Men, and it helps me remember his first name.  But twice recently I’ve referred to him as “Don Draper” to colleagues, who then look at me as if I’ve lost my mind.  And perhaps I have.

So I did a little research, and sure enough, one of the symptoms of menopause is “foggy thinking”, absent-mindedness, short-term memory loss, lack of cognitive ability, etc., etc., etc.  Something to do with hormones (of course), and probably stress.  It can be a vicious cycle, actually.  Get frustrated at the brain-fog, stress out, which makes the brain function more poorly, which cause more stress, which makes the brain function even more poorly, and pretty soon, you’re driving home without remembering the trip, and wearing blue socks with black shoes. 

It’s not all the time – it comes and goes.  Some days, even weeks, I’m perfectly fine (or at least as good as I was before menopause arrived).   And then one day, or string of days, I’m just out of it.  I have to struggle to maintain any kind of focus and momentum.  It’s scary.

The good news is that it’s temporary – once menopause goes along its merry way and finishes with me, my cognitive ability should improve again.  How long will that take?  One article tossed around 3 – 12 years…..  3 – 12 YEARS??????  Oh, come on!!  I have a life to lead in the meantime. 

My husband thinks I’m just careless and should “try harder”, my co-workers wonder what’s happening, my boss thinks I’m not paying attention, my friends and family think I’m losing it and wonder why I let weeks go by without calling or emailing.  How do I tell them I sometimes have trouble remembering just how much time has gone by.  Did I call my mom yesterday?  Or was it last Friday?  Did I talk to her at all this week?  Maybe…but maybe not.   Damn it.

So how do I get better (other than waiting YEARS for menopause to pass me by)?  Most articles agree that three things can help – moderate exercise (oh crap, I hate exercise), a diet that includes many small meals during the day to keep the brain “fed”, and easing up on the stress load. 

Okay – so today I threw new batteries in the Wii and will try to get back on board with morning workouts.  My diet’s been better lately, but can certainly still improve.  And I’m trying to lose the same 20 pounds I’ve been trying to lose for more than a year (down 4 in two weeks), so I’m trying to limit snacking, which now may not be helping my brain.  And stress.  Ah, stress.  Let’s see – major system conversion going on at work, just finished a traumatic and exhausting move, trying to lose that damn 20 pounds that have settled into a happy “meno-pot” in my belly which makes all my clothes uncomfortable, and can’t remember anything.  What stress???  I guess I can get some “down-time” in there somewhere, between work, marriage and church activities.  Maybe get up between 3 and 4 AM to do some journaling?  Try to squeeze a yoga class into my hectic schedule?  A little more prayer? 

Somehow, I have to figure out how to get through these brain-fog spells without losing my job, my marriage, my friends and my sanity.  So I guess I’d better find the time to relax, eat better and exercise.  If I can only remember to do it….and why….and…what was I saying again??

Hormones Gone Wild…

I cried at a movie trailer last week.  You know, those two minute movie previews you’re subjected to in the theater before the real movie starts? 

And I am not talking about having dewy eyes or a little sniffle.  I’m saying that, less than 15 seconds into this preview, tears were welling up, and a few seconds after that, they were pouring down my cheeks.  I tried to stop it – told myself how stupid it was – tried to think about something funny to stem the tide – but it was no use.  So then I tried to at least hide what was happening by lowering my head.  But when Hubby glanced over, he couldn’t miss the tears that were now running down my neck and into my décolletage.  And he started snickering.  Which made me giggle.  But I still kept crying those big crocodile tears, laughing harder all the while.  Mind you, this was a trailer for “War Horse” – a Spielberg movie about, you guessed it, a horse in a war.  One shot of the horse snorting majestically, and I was reduced to tears.  Yes, I love horses, but this was stupid.   

You might think that I was shocked by my inappropriate and spontaneous emotional reaction, but I wasn’t.  I’m used to them these days.  And so is my husband. 

Hormonal mood swings are nothing new for me, but they used to at least be so predictable.  Hubby and I both knew that I was more likely to burst into tears over some imagined insult during that “time of month.”  Or perhaps break into hysterical laughter that I couldn’t stop.  Those few days every month often had me dancing on the edge of some form of hysteria, and opened the possibility that in the middle of the calmest, most normal conversation, my tone would abruptly change and I’d be lashing out verbally or stomping off to the next room in a huff. 

As I explained to Hubby when I’d see his confusion, it truly wasn’t something I could control.  I  hear the sharp words and sudden anger in my voice and literally wonder where the heck it came from.  It’s like being possessed.   It’s not a fun feeling.  But it was reliably predictable.  Watching the calendar helped, because if I knew when to expect those over-reactions, I was able to control them more successfully.  

But now that I’m in my 50s, all bets are off.  There is no predicting.  My period shows up whenever, which means my hormones ebb and flow whenever, too.  There is no “time of month” anymore, because I can go two or three months without having any actual period, but with multiple hormone surges showing up at random times. 

This makes for some interesting scenarios – like sobbing in the theater… over a preview.  It leads to totally irrational anger and responses to the anger.  I’m serious – I’ve had drivers cut me off on the highway, and I’ve actually considered ramming them as a possible response.  Of course I wouldn’t actually do that, but the idea that it is now one of the possible options running through my head (alongside flipping them the bird, honking the horn, giving a dirty look, etc.), is a shock. 

I remember my mother bursting into tears and sobbing over spilling a can of tuna fish into a basket of laundry when I was a young girl.  That’s not a happy thing to have happen, but it certainly didn’t warrant the anger and frustration and anguish that she displayed.  But now that I’m about the same age she was at the time, I understand it completely.  I can see myself having the same exact reaction.

A woman gave me the wrong change the other day, and, while I didn’t think I was angry about it, and it’s not something that would normally make me angry in the first place, I caught myself saying “I gave you a ten dollar bill” in a suddenly sharp and forceful tone that clearly said “you stupid idiot”.  I closed my eyes for a second and took a breath – then I smiled extra wide and thanked her profusely when she corrected the simple and harmless mistake, trying to make up for my nasty tone.  But I have no doubt that she muttered “bitch” under her breath as I walked away.  And who could blame her? 

Remember those old western movies and TV shows from our youth that always seemed to have a story line revolving around nitroglycerin?  It seems like someone was always taking a wagon past the Ponderosa or the Big Valley ranch with a tiny bottle of innocent-looking nitro that was at dramatic risk of exploding if it was dropped or jostled too much.  Yeah, well, that’s what menopausal hormones feel like.  Everything’s innocent and calm, and then BAM!!! – hormones gone wild.

Since my periods have been totally random for 2 or 3 years now, with no sign of stopping permanently anytime soon, I’m guessing my hormones are going to be raging for a while longer. 

Maybe I should have cards printed up that I can hand to innocent bystanders that say “I’m sorry for the over-reaction you just experienced – I’m mid-menopausal and I can no longer control or predict my hormonal responses.  It’s not your fault – but it’s not mine, either.”

My poor husband.  I know he loves me, and while he tries to be understanding, there are times when my wildly fluctuating moods frustrate and, even worse, hurt him.  I hate that.  So I continue to drink soy milk and whatever else might help, and I wait for these hormones that have been with me since my teens to just move on.  I’m too old to be this hysterical.  Hopefully I can manage to keep myself in Hubby’s good graces (and out of jail!!) while I work my way through this interesting part of the aging process.

When Terror Got Personal

When I stepped into the shower that bright September morning ten years ago, my only thoughts were of the new job I was starting that day.  The television was running in the background, and Matt and Katie were yukking it up over some silly thing.  It was a good start to a big day.

When I stepped out of the shower, the world had changed.  I heard Matt and Katie talking about something odd, so I stepped out of the bathroom, wrapped in a towel and dripping wet, to take a look at the TV.  And there was the first tower crowned with billowing smoke and flames.  Wow, I thought, Some idiot flew into the World Trade Center!  What a terrible accident! 

As I stood there transfixed, listening to the confusion on the Today Show set, I watched in horror as the second plane flew into the towers.  This is no accident.  At that point, I knew we were under attack.  Oddly, I still had a job to get to, so I frantically dressed and headed to work, listening to the radio as journalists tried to disseminate exactly what was happening.  When I walked in, a co-worker said that the Pentagon had been hit.   Another said a plane came down in Pennsylvania.

This was personal.

A little while later, all the employees were gathered in silence in the break room, staring at a tiny television screen.  The footage was of the top of the south tower, and as I watched, I realized the top appeared to be twisting slowly.  I remember crying out, but even then, my fear was of the top floors breaking off and falling.  I couldn’t comprehend that these behemoth towers could actually disintegrate totally in such a short period of time.  But as we watched, the top began to sink into the smoke, and down she came, in a terrible groan of despair and death.

This was personal. 

Before that morning, terrorism was something that happened to other people, in other countries.  It was certainly sad to see buses exploding in Israel, bombs going off in Northern Ireland, mayhem in Asia.  But it wasn’t “real” to us.  It was something we watched on TV and we thought (you know it’s true) Thank God that doesn’t happen here. 

My husband was working at a trade show in Salt Lake City that second week of September.  I was home alone, glued to the news shows, crying endlessly and feeling frantic at the thought of him boarding a plane to fly home once the airports reopened days later.  Ever the pragmatist, Hubby pointed out that his convoluted route through Cincinnati to our upstate NY city on commuter jets was probably not a major terrorist target.  He also explained that, even if he could find a rental car, the 1300 mile drive would surely be more dangerous than getting on a plane.  He was right, of course.  But an even bigger shock (ha-ha) was that we were having a serious conversation about which mode of travel in the United States was least likely to be targeted by terrorists.  Our world had changed.

A few weeks later, we had another serious discussion over Hubby’s travel-filled job and our vacation plans.  Should we change our plans?  Avoid the traveling we both loved?  Find a different job that didn’t involve frequent flier miles?  We agreed that we didn’t want to make those choices.  Giving up meant the terrorists succeeded in their plans – they terrorized us into changing our way of living.  Hubby and I looked into each other’s eyes and we agreed to keep flying, as much out of defiance as anything else.  Not only that, but we would agree, whether flying alone or together, to go down fighting if anything happened on our flights.  We promised each other that, in the freak chance that one of us died on a flight targeted by some crazed attacker, the other would know that we stood up and fought. 

Was that a bizarre conversation to have?  On September 10th, 2001, it would have seemed totally crazy.  But after 9/11, I think it made sense.  It gave us a deeply personal commitment to hang on to in a suddenly dangerous world. 

When I fly these days, I have to remember to wear slip-on shoes so that I can remove them easily to be screened for shoe bombs.  Shoe bombs.  Seriously?  Well, yes – seriously.  That’s personal.  I have to carry my passport to go to Canada.  Canada!!  That’s personal.  When I’m traveling, I watch for abandoned pieces of luggage, suspicious backpacks, odd behavior – all as a matter of course.  A machine that sees through my clothing so that I can get on a plane?  Sure, no problem.  That’s personal. 

The world has changed.  But even more important – the world has gone on.  Our American spirit didn’t collapse with the Twin Towers.  We still go to ballgames and work and church and picnics and concerts and parades and weddings and baby showers.  Terror became personal, terror changed our world, but terror did not win.

Lessons On Stuff…

Sometimes life has to hit me over the head multiple times to get a point across.  But as I head into my mid-fifties, I’m finally beginning to understand that most of the “stuff” I’m trying to drag along with me is absolutely worthless. 

I’m not talking about mental stuff (although I’m dragging a lot of that around, too).  I’m talking about actual physical things.  Furniture.  Books.  Clothes.  Art.  Memorabilia.  Chotchkies.  Lots and lots of chotchkies.  A chotchkie (I like that word!) is defined by the Urban Dictionary as “a small piece of worthless crap, a decorative knick knack with little or no purpose.”  That, in my opinion, is the perfect definition for too many things currently in my possession. 

I tend to personalize material things, and give them far more importance than they should ever have.  I think I learned that from an early age (sorry, Mom, but you know it’s true!).  Precious “things” have long been saved in our family, and used to decorate every nook and cranny.  Mementoes from vacations, gifts, family heirlooms, clever finds, pretty things, collectibles and things we call collectibles that really aren’t.  I have a hard time parting with any of these items, especially if I’ve had them “forever”.  It feels cruel to me in some bizarre way to discard an item that has traveled through life with me, even if I know I’ll never, ever use it again.  After all, “it’s still perfectly good”. 

To be fair to Mom, it’s not really her fault.  My grandparents on both sides were classic survivors of the Depression, and they frugally saved everything, used it up completely, and even then they wouldn’t part with it.  My Iowa grandparents used bath towels so thin and worn you could literally read through them, while in their closet was a box of plush towels from the famous Marshall Fields department store, a gift from their daughter.  A gift carefully put away for years, because “there was nothing wrong” with the old towels.  They were perfectly good.  When my New York grandmother passed away, we found similar boxes in her closet.  Fancy gifts of bathrobes, towels, and purses, all carefully saved and labeled (“Christmas 1980 – Keith and Darlene”).  Never opened because she hadn’t used up the old ones yet.  This was the generation that didn’t throw anything away.  Ever.

My first wake-up call about stuff was the death of my husband’s 2nd cousin.  Mary was basically a second mother for Hubby, as his own mom passed away at an early age.  Hubby was her sole heir, so we had the task of clearing out her humble 1-bedroom apartment.  Every cubbyhole was filled with her treasures.  While we kept a few things in her memory, most went summarily into boxes and headed off to the Good Will store.  It struck me that all those things that were so valuable to her simply held no practical value for us, and I began to look at my own saved possessions with the realization that when I’m gone, they’d probably suffer the same fate.

The second wake-up call was the task of packing up my parent’s home of nearly sixty years after my father died.  Mom was selling the house, and we spent months sorting and trying to prioritize stuff accumulated throughout a lifetime together.  This one was much more personal – these mementoes were part of MY memories – the things I’d grown up with (and a lot more stuff stashed in the attic that I’d never even seen!).  My first reaction was “save everything!”  And then reality struck – I already had my own house that was filled to the brim with things from my husband’s and my life together.  I simply couldn’t cling to and transfer everything from my parent’s home into mine (not to mention my brother might have something to say about it).  And that’s when I had the epiphany – my memories didn’t live in those things.  My memories lived in my heart, and I didn’t need a 30-year-old coffee mug to remember my dad, nor my old toys to remember my childhood.  I did pretty well at staying true to that epiphany, but there were still way too many “exceptions”.  After all, some of those things might have collectible value, so I had to keep them “just in case”.

I parted with even more chotchkies during our recent move. But as chronicled in my previous post, too much useless crap still moved with us.  And then Hurricane Irene took aim at our new home last week, which was now filled with our most precious old and new belongings.   

I spent that very long Saturday at our rental home up in New York, frantically watching The Weather Channel and surfing the internet for news on our North Carolina neighborhood.  Nothing I saw was good, and it got worse as the day stretched on and Irene pounded our home for nearly 24 hours. 

I’m embarrassed to admit that I started the day stressing over things.  The oak heirloom from the mid-1800’s.  The brand-spanking new entertainment center that spanned an entire wall.  The Stickley dining room set.  The nearly finished custom kitchen renovation.  What if a window broke?  What if the roof gave way?  What if a tree crashed into the house?  All of our STUFF would be ruined!

And then Stuff Lesson No. 3 kicked in.  Houses were flooding.  Trees were crashing down everywhere.  The relentless wind and rain were changing the landscape entirely.  And my friends and neighbors were living through it – riding out the storm inside their homes there.  While I was worried about things, there were people swimming to safety, clinging to roofs and trees, watching their houses literally float away, or burn down, or fill with murky, slimy, muddy waters.  I felt suddenly ashamed of myself.  And again, developed a whole new attitude toward STUFF, and realized how inconsequential it all really is to my life. 

Over the past week, thousands of people in the East are busy stacking ruined things at the curb to be discarded.  And that is terribly sad.  Many of those things can’t ever be truly replaced.  But those people will live on, and they’ll do just fine without the things that a week ago seemed so important to them. 

When my dear friend lost her home to a tornado earlier this year, she was shocked at how quickly she stopped caring about the things in her once-beautiful home.  Dashing to the basement as the house disintegrated around them was a distinctly clarifying moment – her husband and children were the only priority for her.  Nothing (and I mean NOTHING) else mattered to her.  She didn’t mourn the loss of stuff.  She was too busy celebrating the lives that had been saved.

My life would not have truly changed if all that stuff in North Carolina had been destroyed.  Well, there’d be a lot of work and inconvenience for a little while, but fundamentally my life wouldn’t change as long as I still had my family and friends.  Which makes me realize how totally unimportant stuff really is.  Which makes it a lot easier to sort through it and start donating or selling it.  Right now.

Let it be someone else’s treasure.  In this phase of my life, I’d rather my treasures were of the human kind.

Dreaming of Boxes….

I see boxes in my dreams.  Big boxes.  Little boxes.  Boxes overflowing with crumpled newspapers and bubble wrap.  Stacked boxes.  Flat boxes.  Empty boxes.  Heavy boxes.  Piles of boxes.  Everywhere, boxes.

My life reduced to boxes....

While shopping the other day, I heard the sound of someone using clear packing tape – that scratchy, screechy sound it makes coming off the roll – and I shuddered.  

Perhaps it’s my own personal form of PTSD – the result of moving.  Twice.  In two weeks.  Including to another state.  It’s a horrifying fact of life for many Boomers as we downsize and head to warmer climes.  And the current housing crisis is not really helping (but then again, it kinda is).

A long, long time ago (2008), we bought a house

in warm and wonderful North Carolina.  We’d fallen in love with the area while owning a small vacation condo there, and the glut on the housing market was perfect for buying a nice home at a really nice price.  All we had to do was quickly sell our New York house and we’d be heading into the warm sunset of southern living.  Well, that was the plan.  But you know what they say about plans….  The same buyer’s market that gave us a wonderful house in North Carolina made it next to impossible to sell our New York home, which went on the market early in 2009. 

We waited, and we waited, and we waited.  We dropped the price.  We packed away every family photo and cherished knickknack to ‘depersonalize’ the house as everyone tells you to do.  We changed realtors.  I staged the house.  We dropped the price.  We hired a professional stager to reorganize the layout.  We changed realtors.  Again.  We dropped the price.  Again.  We gave up and said “screw it” and put the furniture where we wanted it and let it looked lived in.  We dropped the price.  Again.  And, after a mere 2 ½ years, we FINALLY sold the house.

Naturally, after all this time on the market, the buyer wanted in right away.  So we started packing.  And we packed.  And we packed.  Every waking minute of every day, we packed.  While I was at work, Hubby packed.   Box after box after box after box after box.  How the heck did two people accumulate so much crap?!  Our time frame made sorting a challenge, so we ended up moving a lot of stuff that we certainly didn’t need to keep.

The day the movers arrived in North Carolina with our belongings, the heat index was 108 degrees.  Hubby went golfing (with my blessing).  Landscapers were pruning our shrubs with power clippers.  Our dog was barking non-stop in protest of being shut in a room (which she escaped from several times).  Lowes showed up to deliver new appliances.  And the moving guys were coming through the door in rapid succession, constantly asking the question “where do you want this?”  After several hours, I thought of several graphic suggestions for them, but I kept them to myself.  I definitely felt too old for this effort.

The tipping point came sometime around noon, while all this was happening, and I was suddenly acutely aware of the pandemonium around me and the sweat pouring down my body.  I had a choice of running from the property screaming at the top of my lungs…..or coping.  I took a deep breath, and told myself “This is one day out of your life, Joanne – that’s all.  Just one day, and you can cope with one day.”

As the afternoon ground on, I told one of the movers firmly that I didn’t want him to bring any more boxes into the house.  Boxes were piled everywhere, and there was barely room to move (did I mention that the kitchen and family room were in the midst of a total remodel?).  The poor guy looked at me and wasn’t sure if I was kidding.  He said “But there are more boxes on the truck!”  I calmly explained that those boxes must belong to someone else, because we surely didn’t own enough stuff to fill all these boxes.  He was still staring at me in confusion as I said “those boxes can’t be ours!”  With a smile, he looked at me and said “Lady, you’re the last delivery – it’s all yours.”  I cussed, laughed, and went back to work.

Once everyone left, and Hubby returned, I sat and looked in amazement at how much junk we owned.  And how sore and tired I felt.  And how much I smelled (I was in the shower shortly after that). 

The next morning, we started UNpacking.  And that was only slightly more fun than packing.  Because it involved boxes.  And boxes.  And decisions to be made.  Where to put things. Whether to keep things.  What to give away.  Where to put the empty boxes.  A-r-g-h!  Those damned boxes!!!

Four days later, we were headed back to New York.  Remember I said we moved twice?  The second move involved clothes (way too many) and a very few possessions to a partially furnished rental house in our hometown.  We’re not fulltime southerners yet.  Why?  Well, with all those price cuts on the hosue, I can’t exactly walk away from my steady paycheck to go freelance right now.  So after partially settling things in North Carolina, we came right back to start unpacking BOXES in the rental house.  More freakin’ boxes.  Everywhere.  Including in my dreams.    

I refer to this as the beginning of phase 2 of our “master plan”.  It’s a temporary phase.  Within a year, we’ll be starting a new life in North Carolina.  And this will all be just a fuzzy, messy, exhausting, and box-filled memory.

On Losing Friends…

There are many things that are a natural consequence of growing older.  Our hair turns gray.  Our skin wrinkles.  Our bodies slow down.  We find ourselves having more and more conversations over dinner with our friends that revolve around what medications we’re taking for various our maladies.  We start worrying intensely about retirement.

And we start going to a lot more funerals.

At first, most of the funerals we attend are for the previous generations.  It starts with our grandparents, then some older aunts and uncles, then sometimes it’s our own parents that we’re grieving for.  Those losses are tough.  It stinks.  We miss them.  Yet it feels like the natural flow of life – the ones who were here before us leave before us.

But right about now, in our fifties, we start losing friends.  Friends our age.  And that doesn’t feel natural at all.  Yes, we may have lost a few unexpectedly when we were younger.  Those are shocks, and even wake-up calls that life on this earth does not last forever.  But we are able to “justify” losses when we’re younger as being the exception rather than the rule.

But now – – – now we start seeing how fragile life truly is for our very own generation.  We start seeing each other more often in funeral homes instead of at happy hour.  We plan the carpools to get to the memorial services.  We bring casseroles to the house.  We meet for dinner after services to commiserate and be together.  We’re becoming “old hands” at the grieving business these days.  And that just sucks.

I don’t like going to calling hours and comforting the young adult children of my friends.  My heart breaks that their dad won’t be there to walk them down the aisle, that their mom won’t be around to give them advice about colicky babies, that the unborn children of these young people will never know their grandpa or grandma.  I don’t like seeing the elderly parents of my friends, facing a loss that no parent should have to bear.  And I really don’t like seeing broken-hearted husbands or wives, left alone at the stage of their lives when they were just getting their freedom back.  The stage of their lives that they’d been saving and planning for through-out their marriage – the empty nest, the retirement community, the trips and adventures.  The stage of life that I’m in right now.

Two weeks ago I lost a friend and co-worker to a stroke at 56.  Billy was just the nicest guy.  I mean he was truly, genuinely, completely nice.
Always smiling, always cheery, always a kind word to say as anyone walked by his workbench.  He could take a tired or battered piece of wood or leather furniture and bring it back to life – not just life, but renewed life, like-new life.   His workbench immediately became a flower, picture, and poem-covered shrine the day after his death.  Before that, he had decorated it with pictures of his family, notes from children, his favorite golfers (he loved the game) and funny cartoons.  He had put little reminders about work product written on masking tape and stuck onto the front of the shelves on his bench – “NS gets reboxed!”, etc.  But one little piece of tape with three words on it summed up his approach to life “Do Unto Others”.  That was the one that made me cry, and smile.

Tomorrow I say good-bye to a friend from our boating days, who became a friend for life.  Donna struggled with escalating heart problems this year, but her death last week at 61 was still a shock.  We had just spent some time with her over the holiday weekend, watching fireworks together, laughing and drinking and goofing around as always.  Eight days later she was gone.  We used to tease Donna about her “cleaning
frenzies” on the boat, jokingly calling her “Martha Stewart”.  While our husbands golfed in the early mornings, Donna and I and another friend would gather on the back of her boat with our coffees and books in hand, listening to NPR and chatting while the sun rose higher over the lake.  We vacationed together several times.  Donna had an enthusiasm for life and a penchant for laughter that I will truly miss.

Two months ago it was a former co-worker, John.  Months before that was another co-worker, Ray, whose wife is a friend.  Before that
was the brother of a another friend.  The parent of another.  I’m starting to create a “funeral wardrobe” to have at the ready at all times.

And I know that this trend won’t be getting any better as years go by.  Somehow I hadn’t really thought about the toll this would take – the losses so keenly felt when they’re contemporaries.

Making plans for the future is wise, but we can’t forget to enjoy the journey while we’re in it, instead of holding back for that magical “someday”
that just may not arrive.

The other lesson that has struck me is that I need to tell more people how much I appreciate them. I know it sounds corny, and it’s one of those things we tend to always say but never do.  But I want to mean it this time around.  It breaks my heart that I never told Billy how much his smile and his over-the-top-of-his-glasses gaze brightened my work day.  Even on the holiday weekend, when I knew that Donna’s health was failing, I didn’t look her in the eye and say “thank you for being my friend.”  Maybe that would have seemed melodramatic or even morbid.  But I should have said it anyway.

I hope you’ll join me in looking around your life and really seeing the people that make a difference, even if it’s just the laughing girl behind the counter at Panera who remembers your name and your favorite breakfast sandwich.  Tell her how much it means to you.  Tell your friends, and your family, and don’t worry if they give you odd looks or ask if you’re okay.  Make sure your spouse hears how much they’re appreciated.  You’ll feel better for knowing that they heard those words.

‘Cause frankly, you really just never know what tomorrow will bring.

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