October Musings

Opal - October birthday for herThere are¬†many things in my life for which I’m grateful. I thank God every day for my good health, the people who care about me, my four-legged best friend Liberty and my home. Last week we were fortunate to make it through Hurricane Matthew unscathed – power was out for less than two days and the only damage my house sustained was one shingle that ended up in the yard. So why have I been so down in the dumps this week?

It’s a combination of things – the awareness that time is passing by, I’m getting older, and I still haven’t met my soul mate, the feeling that everything I’ve accomplished in my life is in the past and now I have no real purpose, and just general concerns about my future and the future of our country. I knew this was a passing mood because it does descend on me every so often. Most of the time I’m content with my life but the other day I was wondering why love has always been such a challenge for me. I’m sure I’m not alone in these thoughts and someone who is reading this has also thought that, although their life is good, something is still missing. I believe there is a reason for everything and that God has a plan for each of us but that doesn’t mean I’m always able to patiently accept the unknown!

I decided I needed to talk it over with a good friend so I stopped at her house after my yoga class. I know she has experienced the challenges and disappointments of trying to find love and self-worth. She was divorced, and then spent many years as a widow. She tried online dating, fix-ups, blind dates and had no luck with them, just like me. She decided at some point to put it in God’s hands and just make the most of her life. It didn’t happen right away but, a few years after she came to that decision, she finally met the love of her life in a totally unexpected way. Actually, I came to the same decision myself several years ago but, every so often, the old doubts resurface and cause me to question “what is”.

It was good to talk with my friend because, having had many of the same experiences, she understands my feelings and offers just the right balance of reassurance, encouragement, and sympathy. She reminded me that, even when you don’t think you’re doing anything “important” you may be making an unseen impact on someone’s life. She said I have no way of knowing how much I may be helping a child when Liberty and I participate in PAWS to Read. Hmm. I just do it because I enjoy the kids and it’s fun for Liberty so I hadn’t thought about it that way but, as soon as she said it, I knew she was right. She suggested that I write two lists – one being 10 things I think are good about my life, the other being 10 things I’m not satisfied with. She remembered doing that in the past and feeling that it helped to put things in perspective for her. I know the positive in my life far outweighs the negative but I’m going to do the lists because I always like the idea of gaining new perspectives. Meanwhile, I already gained some perspective and lightened my mood just by sharing my feelings with such a caring friend. As I drove home I thanked God for the blessing of her friendship. Later on, she gave me another blessing when she sent an email saying that our conversation had helped her, too. She has been going through a significant health challenge this year and, in helping me with my concerns, she realized she needs to reassess some things in her life, too.

This morning the temperature was in the low 40’s – I’ve been waiting for a morning like this for two months! The sun was shining, there was a light breeze, Liberty was feeling very frisky and we had a lovely long walk on a wooded trail. As I walked along, saying my prayers, I could feel the last of my heavy mood lifting and blowing away on the breeze. I stopped to get a fresh baguette at the bakery then went home, toasted it and slathered it with butter and raspberry jelly. I sat in the screened porch and enjoyed the baguette, Starbucks Cafe Verona and the beautiful morning. Life is good ūüôā

So, you may ask, what’s the point of this post? I guess I just wanted to share my thoughts about how I deal with down moods in the hope that it will be helpful to someone out there who might be feeling sad or alone. Some suggestions: 1) talk to a good friend whom you can trust with your feelings; 2) focus on the blessings in your life; 3) do something nice for someone; 4) adopt a dog from a shelter!

Happiness is not the absence of problems; it is the ability to deal with them.

2016-halloween

Treats? Yes?

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Expectations

HopeI’ve been working on the problem of having expectations for a long time – especially unrealistic expectations – but, I’m still not quite where I want to be. Expectations of myself, of the outcomes of situations, of other people, and expectations that others have of me. Expectations I have had of myself have led me down some dark pathways of romantic idealism, failed perfectionism (alas, all perfectionism fails), self-criticism and doubt. Expectations regarding the outcome of situations have often led to disappointment and unhappiness. Expectations of people have led to feelings of betrayal, disillusionment and sadness. I’ve made a lot of progress on everything except my expectations of other people – maybe the answer is to have very low expectations!.

I just finished a book by author, lecturer, and radio host Dennis Prager titled “Happiness is a Serious Problem”. He devotes an entire chapter to expectations so, I guess I’m not the only person who wrestles with this issue. He states that “in general, expectations lead to unhappiness” and I tend to agree. He defines expectations as “taking for granted that something will happen or regarding something as virtually inevitable”, therefore, with rare exceptions, where we do not have complete control we should not have expectations. And in just how many situations in your life do you have complete control? I don’t know about you, but I realized some time ago that the only things I have any¬†control over are my thoughts and actions – and even that can be a¬†huge challenge at times!

Still, as logical as all that sounds … does it mean we can never have any expectations of other people and our relationships with them? When we marry someone and take vows with them before God, should we not expect them to keep those vows? Should close friends not expect honesty, trustworthiness and loyalty? It is in the area of close relationships that I have the most difficulty in letting go of expectations. I’m not talking about forgiving honest mistakes or tolerating human flaws because I know that no one is perfect, certainly not me, and I always hope (or do I expect?) to receive forgiveness and tolerance from those who are closest to me. We all disappoint each other at times without meaning to, but I’m thinking of much more serious injuries like lying, cheating, betrayal, and other forms of disloyalty. Loyalty and honesty are very important to me. That is what you can expect from me if I’m a friend of yours and it is what I expect in return from you. Needless to say, I’ve had some crushing disappointments but, was it because I expected a certain type of behavior or was it because I trusted someone? Where is the line between trusting and expecting in relationships? Doesn’t a person’s character invite you to expect a certain type of behavior from them?

Another long-held expectation I had was regarding my relationship with my son. I always thought that once he was an adult he would honor and respect me. I didn’t invent this idea – remember the fifth commandment “Honor your father and your mother”? – and yet, this concept seems to be foreign to him. Perhaps I bear some responsibility for not instilling it in him at an early age but, whatever the reason, I recently had to re-evaluate my thinking and begin to let go of my expectation that someday we would have a warm, comfortable and friendly adult relationship. I would love to be able to just enjoy¬†relaxed conversations with him without feeling like I’m walking blindfolded through a mine field. Recent events have forced me to admit that this may never happen and I need to stop waiting for something of which he may not be emotionally capable. I think¬†I need to learn the difference¬†between hope and expectation.

If you align expectations with reality, you will never be disappointed. ~Terrell Owens

Liberty has Great Expectations!

Liberty has Great Expectations!

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Doldrums

Don't be afraid of storms_edited-1Years ago I used to spend a lot of time on sailboats and I became familiar with the doldrums. This is when the wind drops, the sails just hang limply, and, unless you turn the outboard motor on, you’re not going anywhere. This usually happens during the summer so, not only are you not going anywhere, it’s also very hot.

Dictionary.com also defines doldrums as: a dull, listless, depressed mood; low spirits. The illness and death of an old friend brought depressing thoughts of aging and dying, missed opportunities and the swift passage of time. On top of that, the hot, humid Florida summer has sapped my energy and left me unmotivated. My early morning walk with Liberty leaves me exhausted and, after a shower, I usually don’t want to go out again. I push myself to go grocery shopping, run errands, and do household chores but, most of my time is spent reading, listening to The Blaze radio, and watching movies. I’m so tired by 3 p.m. that I have to take a nap! Occasionally, I meet a friend for lunch or dinner and a movie. I haven’t even been doing many pet visits for Haven Hospice over the past few weeks. Visiting Alzheimer’s and dementia patients is difficult for me under the best of circumstances and, when I’m already in low spirits, it drags me further down.

There isn’t much you can do if you’re experiencing the doldrums. It’s probably best to accept that you are stuck in a holding pattern, waiting for the wind to fill your sails again. Obviously, if you think you’re seriously depressed you should seek professional help but, if it’s just the doldrums then all you can do is ride it out the best way you can. Probably the most important things you can do for yourself are to focus on doing what you enjoy, be grateful for your blessings, and avoid negativity as much as possible. Pamper yourself. Seek inspiration. I feed my spirit by listening to cds by Rabbi Lapin and his new podcast on The Blaze, sermons online by Rev. Ken Lawrence of the First Baptist Church of Hampton Falls, NH (my friend, Nadine, turned me on to him-she spends July and August there. Lucky dog!) ¬†As exhausting as it is in the hot weather, I continue to get out and walk every morning (thank God for Liberty!) because I know that spending time outdoors and getting some exercise is good for me – especially when it’s over!

All things must pass, including the doldrums, and eventually my spirit will be sailing again. If I close my eyes I can almost feel the cool breeze …

I often wonder if my imagination is one of God’s choicest gifts bestowed upon me to deliberately break me free from the frequent doldrums of my humanity. ~Craig D. Lounsbrough ¬†¬†¬†¬†

Hang in there, Mom! I think I feel a breeze.

Hang in there, Mom! I think I feel a breeze.

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Stuff I Like-Part 3

Make a joyful noiseThe other night I went to see “Love & Mercy”, which is a film about the life of Brian Wilson (creative genius behind the Beach Boys), focusing on the years 1962 through 1992. It is well written and acted but, it’s not about the Beach Boys so you don’t have to be a fan of theirs to like the film. It is the story of a sensitive musical genius and his struggles to overcome an abusive childhood and years of mental health issues and drug addiction. It is the best depiction of one person’s creative process that I have ever seen. It is sad and dark at times but, in the end, it is also about the redemptive power of love; one of my favorite themes.

I became an instant Beach Boys fan the moment I heard “Surfer Girl” in the summer of 1963, when I was 12, and they and the Beatles provided the soundtrack of my life for the next couple of decades. I liked other rock n’ roll groups and other types of music but, because their music was so important to my formative years, they will remain a part of who I am forever. I probably drove my parents crazy by playing the same albums over and over but, as much as I loved the Beach Boys music, I didn’t appreciate the timeless genius of it until I was much older. Not so much the lyrics, because most of those are anchored firmly in a certain time and culture but, the music itself and the amazing production arrangements – both Brian’s creations. There are some songs that still bring tears to my eyes, among them “Caroline, No”, a heart breaking song about the loss of innocence, “God Only Knows” one of the most beautiful love songs ever written (both from the classic “Pet Sounds” album) and “Don’t Worry, Baby”, supposedly about a guy’s fears regarding a drag race but, if you listen closely, I think much more is being said between the lines. In addition, Brian’s soaring falsetto will make your heart ache.

By 1965 Brian had grown creatively and wanted to move away from the “cars, girls, beach” formula but he was under constant pressure to keep delivering Top Ten hits so his family (this was a family business – the three Wilson brothers, Brian, Carl and Dennis, their cousin Mike Love, and a friend, Al Jardine) could continue to make money and maintain the band’s popularity. The pop magazines I bought as a teen presented a fluffy, happy, version of the Beach Boys lives – back in the ’60’s we very rarely knew the truth about our celebrities (or our elected officials!). A sanitized version of the reason Brian stopped touring with the group in 1966 was published – the real reasons were darker and more complicated than just a desire to “focus on song writing and production”. I had no idea of Brian’s true story until 1995 when I read “Heroes and Villains: The True Story of the Beach Boys” by Steven Gaines (if you’re interested in reading a well-written portrait of Brian Wilson I recommend “Catch a Wave” by Peter Ames Carlin).

I saw the Beach Boys in concert every year for 10 years – 1971 to 1981 – and every show was a celebration of youth, summer and good times complete with beach balls and frisbees. I saw them for the first time in 1971 with my fianc√©e in but in 1981 my marriage ended and I went to my last Beach Boys concert at the Providence Civic Center. Over the years I had often wished they would perform more of their new music instead of relying so heavily upon past hits and, for a few years in the early 70’s, they seemed to be doing that but, eventually they went back to the old formula. As a result of that and changes in my own life, I viewed the Beach Boys through a different prism in that last concert. Suddenly the sight of nearly middle-aged men singing “Be True to Your School” and “I Get Around” seemed sad. At the end of the concert Mike Love yelled out “Party in the bar at¬†the Marriott – you’re all invited!” to 22,000 fans. I looked at my friend and said “Could that be real?” and he said “Let’s go and find out!” The bar in the Marriott was packed but, gradually, some of the Beach Boys back up musicians arrived and then, we saw Mike and Carl across the bar from us. My friend went to the bathroom and, as I was sitting alone at the bar, Dennis Wilson came toward me with a man holding each of his arms. He seemed to be drunk and they were apparently helping him to walk out of the bar. Dennis was always my favorite of the Beach Boys and I was thrilled just to be that close to him but, he veered towards me, stopped and said “What’s a pretty lady like you doing all alone?” I was tongue-tied! I think I said “My friend is in the bathroom” or something equally witty. He asked if I had been at the show and I said yes and he thanked me. Then he kissed me on the cheek and he and his escorts continued on their way. (Years later I read “Dumb Angel: the Life and Music of Dennis Wilson” by Adam Webb and learned what a tragically self-destructive person he had been – ironically, the only real surfer in the Beach Boys drowned in 1983 at the age of 39) When my friend came back from the bathroom he was furious that he had missed the whole thing but I told him it never would have happened if I hadn’t been alone. It was a memorable and fitting end to my decade of Beach Boys concerts.

The good news is that all the beautiful music Brian Wilson has created is still available to me any time I want to hear it and he is still creating. He has an almost unfiltered innocence and vulnerability that touches me and his song “Love & Mercy” is wonderful – after all, who can’t relate to the simple need for¬†love & mercy in their lives?

PS/check out the absolutely gorgeous BBC production of “God Only Knows” on YouTube

Washington Oaks-Matanzas River 5-22-15

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Digital Nomad

Father's Day-happy camperI recently read something that instantly resonated with me – someone described herself as a “digital nomad”. She is a writer/photographer who travels around the country in an RV (with her dog) and documents on her blog the places she visits, the people she meets and the experiences she has along the way. Yes! I said to myself. Yes, that could be me!¬†Perhaps someday I’ll be able to indulge in this particular day dream. Maybe someday I’ll be writing this blog from the Grand Canyon or the Pacific Coast Highway or Niagra Falls or the Rocky Mountains or …

Every week I buy two lottery tickets and I always think I’m going to win. So far, I haven’t won more than a few dollars but, for some reason, I always think I’m going to win BIG. I’ll share a sad little story with you now that I have shared with very few people. I don’t like to talk about it or dwell on it but, it fits the context of my thoughts today. Many years ago, as a struggling single mother living paycheck to paycheck, I used to buy one lottery ticket every week with the same sequence of numbers. I did that, without fail, for about 3 years until one week when I was so sick with the flu that I didn’t even think about the lottery. The following week, when I was checking the winning numbers for the ticket I had bought that week, I was shocked to see that my numbers had won on the previous Saturday – the day I would have normally bought a ticket if I hadn’t been sick. I would have won over $2M – I can’t remember the exact amount; I think it was $2.4M – and that money would surely have changed my life in unimaginable ways. I can’t adequately describe the way I felt but some of the emotions were anger, frustration, disappointment and a deep sense of injustice. I ranted and raved. I swore. I cried. I felt sorry for myself. Eventually, I managed to get past it but, trust me, I was miserable for weeks.

As with most of the disappointments I’ve experienced, I searched for a lesson to be learned. The immediate lesson was to NEVER use the same numbers every time I buy a lottery ticket! I’ve never been able to come up with any other lesson that makes sense. Many years later, when my best friend and I used to work together, we often talked about what we would do with the money if we won a big lottery payout. I would sometimes reflect on the difference to how I would have spent it if I had won years before. I comforted myself by saying I was more mature and unselfish than I used to be¬†and so, I would use the money in more thoughtful ways that benefited more people. Hmm, maybe that’s why I didn’t win back then. Yeah, right. I’ve heard lots of stories about people winning millions of dollars and just blowing it all without doing one good thing for anyone. Final conclusion: there are some things that can’t be explained. Maybe that’s the ultimate lesson.

So, what does all that have to do with being a digital nomad? I have no idea except that if I win the lottery this week I know exactly what I would do – 1) pay off my mortgage, 2) pay off my son’s student loans and give him some cash, 3) pay off my best friend’s mortgage and give her some cash, 4) give substantial donations to the charities I currently support, 5) do some renovations on my house, 6) buy a Road Trek (in my opinion, the Cadillac of motor homes), and 7) hit the road with my laptop, camera and Liberty.

Not all those who wander are lost. ~J.R.R. Tolkien

Let's go!

Let’s go!

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Stuff I Like-Part 2

Simplicity copy

Simplicity. I like simplicity.

In relationships (romantic and otherwise):

I don’t like a lot of drama (or melodrama) or complications from either friends or lovers. I’m 64; I’ve done¬†complicated and difficult. I’ve walked on enough eggshells. Now I want the simple, low stress of being with people who like and accept me as I am and for whom I feel the same. I like a shared sense of humor – you know, when explanations are unnecessary. I don’t like hidden agendas, ulterior motives, or deception. I don’t have the time or energy to figure out where you’re coming from. I don’t like bragging or self-aggrandizing. I like honesty, integrity and humility. I like people who understand the difference between sympathy and pity, understanding and judgment, analysis and criticism, and curiosity and intrusiveness.

I do my best to live by two maxims “say what you mean; mean what you say” and “live and let live”. Pretty simple.

In my home:

I don’t like clutter. I have a one car garage and I actually have room to keep my car in it. I’m not the type of person who would ever need to rent a storage unit. In decorating, I like simple lines and warm colors and not too many knick-knacks. Many years ago I read a quote by a famous designer (I can’t remember his/her name) “Only keep what you feel is functional, beautiful or of sentimental value” and I have followed that 99% of the time (there is always the odd item that I’m not quite sure what to do with!). I like to go through my belongings every couple of years and weed out anything that no longer fits one of those categories. It must be a zen thing because I always feel mentally lighter afterwards and, believe it or not, when my house is clean and uncluttered I actually feel cooler during the long, hot Florida summer.

In my personal “style” (I’m using the word “style” loosely here):

I live in northeast Florida where, most of the year, my wardrobe consists of shorts, T-shirts, tank tops, sneakers and flip-flops. In the cooler months I add jeans, sweatshirts and long-sleeved shirts. I don’t like a lot of “frou-frou” – just plain, simple, comfortable styles. One of my favorite T-shirts has a pair of tiny flip-flops and the word “simplify” on the front, which I think kind of sums things up. I don’t like to get dressed up and, since retiring 4 years ago, I don’t have to! I wear whatever is easy and comfortable for ME. ¬†So far, the only benefit I can see in getting older is that I am finally comfortable with who I am. I say, whoever you are, just embrace the things that make you unique and don’t change them for anyone. Now, that is simple.

In my attitudes about life:

Somewhere over the past few years, I was blessed with the gift of experiencing¬†simple joy. I believe I got there through practicing gratitude. Gratitude is a conscious way of thinking; whereas, joy is an unbidden and uncontrollable spiritual experience. It is much harder to describe a feeling than a way of thinking but, I think there is a connection between these two. I think the active and consistent practice of gratitude will naturally create the right environment for experiences of joy. Unfortunately, many of us are too focused on chasing pleasure, especially when we’re young. Don’t misunderstand, I think pleasure is great and adds a lot to life but, it shouldn’t be confused with real happiness – and certainly not with joy. Pleasure brings a temporary feeling of happiness but when the pleasure ends so does the related happiness, which means you have to continually seek the next “pleasure fix” in order to experience the happiness again. Joy is a much deeper, more textured form of happiness; it will take root and it will expand your soul but, it is not affected by the presence or absence of pleasure. Pleasure can change the moment; joy can change your life.

It is the sweet, simple things in life which are the real ones after all. ~Laura Ingalls Wilder

 

Sittin' on a dock of the bay

Sittin’ on a dock of the bay … (can you hear Otis¬†whistling in your head?)

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Obstacles

Don't be afraid of storms_edited-1For quite awhile I’ve been mulling over the concept¬†that obstacles are placed in our path for a reason. It could be to slow us down so that we are forced to take more time to think or it could be to teach us a difficult lesson or to know ourselves better. Maybe we are just supposed to find a different approach. I see God’s hand in this but, you don’t have to believe in God to understand what I’m getting at.

The first obstacles are placed in front of us by our parents. We want to do something or go somewhere and we are told we can’t. Kids react in different ways to restrictions imposed by their parents. Some have temper tantrums, some become argumentative, others sulk or cry. Eventually, most kids learn that certain behaviors can win favor and others cause more restrictions to be heaped on them. In general,¬†most kids eventually¬†understand the reasons for the obstacles their parents have constructed. They want us¬†to be safe, to learn self-control, responsibility, and that our actions have consequences.

When we become independent adults the obstacles we confront are no longer placed there by our parents but are we able to stand back and see them as “teaching moments”? Speaking for myself, the answer to that is no. In fact, it is only very recently that I started seeing things¬†in a different light and realized that some obstacles that frustrated me¬†in the past ended up actually helping me. Maybe if you strongly desire something and, no matter what you do, you just can’t achieve or obtain it you should stop pushing and take some time to analyze the situation. Maybe what you’re working so hard at is actually not the right path for you and that is why you keep failing.

I can apply this concept to several times in my life when I railed against what I perceived as an obstacle. For¬†example, on two occasions I believed that a relationship with a particular man was what I needed. In hindsight I can clearly see that marriage to either of those men would have been disastrous for me so now I’m grateful for the obstacles that prevented that from happening. At the time I was frustrated and broken-hearted but, in reality, I wasn’t ready to be a partner in a healthy, stable relationship and neither were the men to whom I was attracted. The disappointment I experienced from those failed relationships led me on a journey of self-discovery that helped me to become a stronger more centered person. Those obstacles ended up teaching me a lot but I couldn’t see that when I was going through it.

Another example: a few years ago I was very restless and I wanted to move but two big obstacles were in my way. First, my mother didn’t want to move and I wouldn’t leave her alone and second, the housing market tanked and I couldn’t sell my house without losing a lot of money. Considering how restless I felt at the time, I probably would have sold the house despite losing money if I had been willing to leave my mother. It would have been an impulsive, poorly thought out decision. I was frustrated by my¬†inability to move and often felt trapped, which led to periodic bouts of depression. Once again, I was pushing against the obstacles instead of trying to understand why they were placed in my way. Fast forward about six years and I now see that those obstacles prevented me from hurting myself financially – not a smart thing to do in your late 50’s! I wanted to retire at 60 so I had to face the fact that any impulsive moves would ruin that dream. Once I retired I also gave up on trying to convince my mother to move because I could see it would make her unhappy. I admit, sometimes I resented having to give up on an idea that seemed so important to me at the time but now I’m glad for the obstacles that prevented me from moving because I can appreciate the value of having a home which I can comfortably afford on¬†my retirement income. Also, if I had been able to move when I wanted to I’m sure I would still be working!¬†I could cite many more examples but I think you get the idea.

I was hesitant to write about what I have learned from obstacles in my life because I recently started volunteering for Haven Hospice doing pet therapy visits with my dog, Liberty, and the experience has shown me that the obstacles I have dealt with so far are nothing compared to what so many people are facing and what I may also have to face someday. Would I still be able to think there is something to learn from an obstacle if I was confined to a bed or a wheelchair? What if the “obstacle” is that I had¬†lost all my independence and everything that was important to me and I only had a few months to live? I don’t know. I was afraid that it might sound like¬†self-indulgent clap trap to write¬†about learning from obstacles but I decided that I wanted to share these thoughts because, in the end, they may have value to someone who is currently facing an obstacle.

I know now that I have learned from the obstacles in my life to be more grateful for my blessings, more appreciative of my surroundings and more thoughtful in my decisions. I have learned from obstacles that so much of the quality of my life is dependent on the way I think and react. Maybe those are the lessons that will serve me best in facing whatever obstacles, large or small, I will confront in the future.

I’m convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. ¬†¬†~Charles R. Swindoll

the appropriate bandana for a dog named Liberty

the appropriate bandana for a dog named Liberty

for more of my artwork and books visit www.LyndaLinke.com