Family, Friends, Personal

We all need a Shelia!

I had a sweet experience last week visiting my mom’s friend and neighbor, Shelia, who was my mom’s walking partner for over 30 years.

Mom and Shelia

Now, I’ve had some good walking partners but never one with that kind of consistency or longevity.

Thirty years of walks five days a week is remarkable — especially with someone who is not just your walking companion but your confident, counselor, and cherished friend.

My mom and Shelia covered a lot of territory over the years — in actual miles and in ideas, words, and heartfelt sharing

I visited Shelia to gather some of her memories of my mom, knowing she would have a unique perspective on her as a long-time friend.

Shelia invited me into her living room and as we settled in for a good visit, I turned on a voice recorder and started asking her questions. I wanted to know everything — what was Mom like as a friend? What were her priorities in life? What funny experiences did you have together? What would you say were her strengths? How did she get through her many trials?

I wanted to know as much as I could in the time we had together.

Not only did I learn some good stories about my mom, I felt like without even trying, Shelia welcomed me into the warm, intimate space of their unique friendship.

I actually felt sad to leave because I didn’t want the sweetness of that experience to end. I’ve always known Shelia to be wise, spiritual, creative, and smart, and I’ve appreciated her role in my mom’s and my family’s life. But while sitting with her in her living room, I felt some of what my mom must have felt to have her as a friend, and the word that kept coming to my mind was “lucky.”

My mom was one lucky woman to have had a friend like Shelia, and Shelia was lucky to have had a friend like my mom.

While I might not have a Shelia that lives around the corner that I can walk and talk face-to-face with every day, I have many other friends that have walked the miles with me.

I walked for years with my friend, Laura, in Virginia. After we both moved, we were sad that our walking ritual had to end. We too covered a lot of territory — not just on the paths and streets of Northern Virginia but in each other’s lives.

When she and her husband were called to serve a three-year mission for our church, I went to hear them speak before they left. As I approached Laura to tell her goodbye and wish her well on her mission, her husband stopped me and said, “If I were you, I’d just walk out that door, go to your car and leave.”

What he meant was that he knew it was about to get ugly, and I should just cut my losses and leave before Laura and I broke down in messy tears. We survived the three years, and now we are surviving the thousands of miles between us, but the fiber of the friendship is still there, and it gives me a little taste of what it might have been like for my mom and Shelia with their long history as walking partners.

Every morning, at 5:45, they met at the corner and canvassed the town, and as they walked, they talked about everything on their minds and in their hearts.

As Shelia told me her memories of Mom, I realized she knew everything about our family. There were no secrets between them. She knew every heartbreak and every triumph in my mother’s life – down to the oft-repeated detail that I was my mother’s hardest child to raise.

I told Shelia I couldn’t understand why my mother thought I was so difficult to raise. Shelia kindly said, “Well, with children like you, sometimes mothers want to say, ‘Hey, I’m the mother here!”

How could this child be difficult to raise? I mean, really…

Oh, so that’s what she meant…

She said my mom was more than a friend to her. “Sandra was a friend, neighbor, sister, mother, and therapist all in one.”

Not only did they share all their secrets and help each other through their challenges, they had some interesting encounters, like the morning Shelia was attacked by a white owl or when they were almost charged by a deer, or when my mom had some choice words to say at and about barking and unleashed dogs on their walking routes.

She reminded me of my mother’s obsession with neatness. She didn’t like anything to be out of place – her house, her yard, even her hair. She had a short, pixie cut and had to rush to her hair dresser Helen as soon as she felt the slightest bit of growth changing her neatly coiffed style.

Mom hated litter of all kinds. It just made her blood boil. Shelia said as they walked, Mom picked up all the stray bits of trash she saw along the way, and again, probably used some colorful words to describe the despicable people that would dare leave their garbage on her beautiful streets.

She felt a special kind of ownership of Main Street after working on Main at several places over the years — 224 clothing store, Town & Country home decor store, The Book Mark, and the Chamber of Commerce.

As she would say, it “irritates me right to death when they don’t take care of Main Street.” So, when Shelia and Mom walked on Main, Mom felt compelled to pull weeds, and deadhead flowers, and even leave reminders to water the plants!

She didn’t like seeing a dead plant through the window of one of the stores, so she made up a sign that said, “Please water your indoor plant.” Then, she taped it on the store door.

She told Shelia she was going to bring a little shovel and some gardening tools to clean things up along their walk. Shelia said, “I drew the line there, and said, ‘Sandra, we’re NOT doing that.” Shelia was so glad when Mom finally dropped that idea.

She did, however, make up awards for beautiful yards, and leave them on the porches of homes along their travels. She never missed a beautiful garden, a pretty porch, or a well-trimmed lawn! Even when I went home to visit, she would take me on a walk and make herself right at home showing me someone else’s yard.

I thoroughly enjoyed being wrapped in the warmth of Mom and Shelia’s lifelong friendship, and could only imagine what it must have been like for the two of them to see each other daily and “solve the world’s problems,” as my mom always said.

I called my daughter, Annie when I got home, and told her about my experience. She said, “Mom, we need a Shelia!”

As we talked, we realized we have wonderful friends, but our Shelias look different. Our friends are not always living next door or across the street — especially for 30-year stretches. And, our communications are different — more texting, or communicating through social media instead of walking together five times a week.

But, we sure envy and admire the Shelia-Sandra 30-year friendship ideal!

When my mom died, Shelia came to her viewing with a flower arrangement inside of a walking shoe. That said it all. It was a simple, beautiful symbol that captured a friendship that covered a lot of miles and a lot of life experiences.

A perfect symbol of a friendship that covered a lot of miles

Jane Fonda said, “Friendship between women is different than friendship between men. We talk about different things. We delve deep. We go under, even if we haven’t seen each other for years… It’s my women friends that keep starch in my spine and without them, I don’t know where I would be. We have to just hang together and help each other.” 

Shelia and my mom were the starch in each other’s spines, and isn’t that a treasured gift?

Who are the friends in your life that put the starch in your spine?

My visit with Shelia reminded me of the friends who have been and still are my “starch.” They may not fit the Sandra-Shelia standard of meeting at the corner at 5:45 ever day for 30 years but they surely have walked the miles with me.

I was reminded of some of my starch-like friends last week — one that talked to me from across the country about the challenges of parenting adult children, and then getting together with a group of cherished friends I met during my freshman year at college. We are all still walking the miles with each other.

So, thank you Shelia for welcoming me into the sacred space of your friendship with my mom, reminding me of her fun personality, strengths, and wisdom; and for reminding me of the value of friends.

Oh, and for teaching me why I was so difficult to raise, I think I get it now…

Personal

Aging Mindfully

While walking with my friend Keri last weekend, I told her I’m struggling to accept the fact that I’m getting old.

“We’re not old,” she said. “We’re sixty-three and that is not that old.”

The key phrase that jumped out at me was “that old.”

Old, yes, but not “that old.”

I told her I’m trying to embrace aging.

Trying is the key word here.

Until now, I’ve been in outright denial about it.

The pandemic, however, has done an excellent job of reminding me that I am in the “vulnerable population.”

I’ve decided to try harder to gracefully glide into the golden years even though 63 is “not that old” and it doesn’t feel that golden.

My friend Stacy has been telling me we need to “age mindfully.” I’m not even sure what that means but she has been dealing with aging parents and believes we need to be realistic about what’s ahead and have a plan for how we want things to go when we hit certain, shall we say, “milestones?”

A Psychology Today article defines aging mindfully as “aging in a way that doesn’t deny the negatives of getting older but doesn’t blow them up either.” Instead, the author recommends turning the mind to the benefits of aging with “realistic positivity,” which is defined as “seeing and accepting what is—both inside ourselves and in the world—and then shifting our focus to what we would love.”

If I’m going to have to age, which apparently is inevitable, I’m going to opt for the realistic positivity approach.

You may think this is not a revolutionary thought but coming from a woman who thinks she’s a solid 10 years younger than I really am, this is a big step.

I blame others for making me feel old — like the CDC with all that vulnerable population talk. (Aren’t you so sick of the CDC? We went along for years hardly knowing it existed and now, we can’t get through a day without hearing several mentions of it.)

And I certainly can’t forget what I’ve labeled “The Parable of the Irises,” which is a story about that time I ruined my shoulder while GARDENING from pulling out stubborn iris bulbs.

My doctor kindly pointed out that the chances of tearing a rotator cuff are commensurate with your age. If you’re 50, you have a 50 percent chance of it tearing. If you’re 60, you have a 60 percent chance, and up it goes as you age.

So, there’s a helpful piece of aging trivia for you.

I’ve done some deeply embarrassing things during my age-denial phase.

Like the time I ran into someone who claimed we went to high school together.

“No way,” I thought. “We are not the same age. We absolutely did not go to high school together.”

And then — I can’t believe I’m sharing this story — I said these words: “Oh, maybe I went to high school with one of your kids.”

Yes, I did.

I said that.

As soon as the words fell out of my mouth, I felt completely embarrassed and all the blood vessels in my body felt like they were on fire. I wanted to run and hide and never come out again.

My family slinked away in utter humiliation, slowly backing up as if they didn’t know me.

I wish I could say I learned my lesson through that experience, but that would be a lie.

I have been going to a water aerobics class (good therapy for the shoulder) and I told Doug that it’s a class full of oldsters – people who are there to soak and socialize, not exercise.  Then, one day, a lady asked how old I was and after I told her, she spritely said, “Oh, so you’re just six years older than me!”

I think this is called age dysphoria, a condition when people don’t identify with their chronological age.

Scientists claim that 60 is the new middle age. We know that can’t be true because how many people do you know who have lived to be 120?

So, maybe I can blame the scientists, aging experts, and the media for my age denial because they’ve contributed to this idea that I’m much younger than I really am.

Since I’m choosing to age with “realistic positivity,” I need to see and accept “what is.” That is going to require some work.

I also need to focus on what there is to love about this stage of life. The truth is there are so many things. One of them is apparently not caring about what other people think which frees me up to write things like the time I thought I was the same age as my classmate’s child.

Personal

COVID Chronicles

Doug and I tested positive for Covid over the holidays.

Our symptoms started out quite mild — feeling tired, a little achy, a small cough, and a scratchy throat.

We went to be tested just to be on the safe side.

The next day, we received our results. Doug tested positive and I tested negative. We had the same symptoms so I was quite sure I had it. Then, later in the day, I received another notice that I tested positive, followed by yet another message that my test was negative.

I made a few phone calls to clear up the confusion and finally was told that my test was absolutely positive, which explained my worsening symptoms.

We weren’t sure what to expect from the famed COVID, and we honestly wondered what our experience would be like. We know of people who have died, others who have been hospitalized, and some who have reported they’ve never been sicker in their lives. Then, we know many who contracted it and had very mild symptoms and some who had no symptoms at all.

So, we weren’t sure where we’d fall in that spectrum.

Just before we were diagnosed, we were notified that a sister-in-law who had the virus ended up going to the hospital, Then, she was told she probably wouldn’t make it through the night!

We were shocked and devastated that it progressed that far so quickly.

Miraculously, she made it through the night for which we are all so grateful. But she spent several weeks in the ICU and is just barely being released to go to a rehab center. Her struggle is not over.

With that on our minds, we checked in with each other repeatedly… how are you? Any changes? Are you better or worse? Do you have a fever? Are you hydrated? Have you eaten? Are you breathing okay?

We are so grateful for our friends, neighbors and family who checked on us regularly, brought us meals, shoveled our driveway, delivered our groceries, dropped off Advil, hot soup, bread, and so much more.

We both had all the classic symptoms. I lost my sense of smell and Doug lost his sense of taste and smell. Over three weeks later, Doug still can’t taste or smell although he is making progress.

I think what surprised us the most is that the symptoms linger — especially the fatigue. We felt a gentle lift of the symptoms after the two-week marker but the fatigue, aches, and pains hang on and randomly reappear. Just as we start feeling like we might be moving out of COVID land, we experience a little setback, which we understand is quite common.

We had a few sobering conversations and asked each other some questions we never thought we’d be asking.

What if things turn south fast? Are we ready for that?

What if we have a sudden decline, have to go to the hospital, and get the news, like our family member, that we likely won’t make it through the night? Are we ready for that? Are our affairs in order?

While we honestly never really felt in danger of that, we couldn’t help but wonder.

We thought about all the people who have died during this pandemic and all of those who have had much more serious battles than ours. Did they see it coming?

The one thing we know is that despite what people say, Covid is real. It’s miserable, and it’s worth taking all the precautions necessary to avoid it.

My daughter, Sara, came to drop off groceries for us one afternoon. She rang the doorbell, left the groceries on the porch, and then walked back to the sidewalk in front of our house. We opened the door, picked up the groceries, and waved to her from the entryway of our house. We were all in masks and more than six feet apart.

That moment was a poignant one for me. I felt like I had stepped into the footage of a news program like so many we’ve seen of separated family members.

I hate COVID and all the chaos, confusion, heartache, loss, grief, sickness, fear, anxiety, and isolation it has brought into our world. But at the same time, I want to embrace the lessons I’ve learned from it and I hope that when it’s all over, I remember them.

In one of our conversations, Doug said, “This has been a wake-up call on so many levels, hasn’t it?”

Yes, it absolutely has been a wake-up call. But the question is what has it awakened? How will we be different now?

Since this virus hit me right after I had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, I’ve had a lot of time to think — too much time to think, actually.

One of the things I learned is that I need to build a better boat.

Let me explain…

I’ve discovered a few holes in my boat…

Kenny Chesney sings a beautiful song called Better Boat. Here are the lyrics:

I ain't lonely, but I spend a lot of time alone
 More than I'd like to, but I'm okay with staying home
 My how the last few months have changed
 I'm smilin' more despite the pain
 I breathe in, I breathe out
 Got friends to call who let me talk about
 What ain't working, what's still hurtin'
 All the things I feel like cussing out
 Now and then I let it go
 I ride the waves I can't control
 I'm learning how to build a better boat
 I hate waiting, ain't no patience in these hands
 I'm not complaining, sometimes it's hard to change a man
 I think I'm stronger than I was
 I'll let God do what He does
 I breathe in, I breathe out
 Got friends to call who let me talk about
 What ain't working, what's still hurtin'
 All the things I feel like cussing out
 Now and then I let it go
 I ride the waves I can't control
 I'm learning how to build a better boat

I hope that I can build a better, stronger, more resilient boat to help me ride the waves I can’t control a little bit better. I also hope I can trust God and let him do what he does and not lose faith.

What about you? What has your COVID experience been like? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

From the News, Personal

Playing the Glad Game

It’s time to play Pollyanna’s Glad Game.

I’m so over the pandemic.

I’ve been desperately wanting all the craziness in the world to just be over already.

You know it’s bad when you keep asking yourself, “What else?” Fully expecting there to be one more thing day after day.

We woke up early on Sunday morning to about 75 messages — some of them texts from family asking, “Are you okay? Were you evacuated?” and most of the rest of them in a neighborhood chat group that was blowing up with photos, videos, and questions about nearby fires that seemed to be heading our way.

I have to admit that I slept through all the danger.

While neighbors were watching the fires burn all night, thankfully, I was sound asleep.

And, just for the record, we are fine.

We were never threatened by the fires.

And, our neighbors to the west were evacuated but no homes or lives were lost thanks to some quick-acting always-on-the-job firemen who took care of it.

Then, last night, we saw another fire off in the distance from our deck, and found out some friends on the other side of the lake from us were evacuated for yet another fire.

So, what else?

That’s the question on everyone’s minds.

There are so many layers of unrest in our world that I’m losing track. There’s the pandemic, killer hornets, earthquakes and the aftershocks, protests and rioting, nasty partisan politics, and the list goes on.

Yet… there is something else.

Like the volunteer fireman who was helping with the evacuations and traffic control Saturday night who said when he arrived on the scene, “It was the perfect storm of bad circumstances all coming together for disaster…The flames were headed toward homes. Kids were hiking in the trails above the fire. The wind was howling and fanning huge flames. Then something happened. The wind stopped. It just stopped. For no logical reason, it just went calm…The wind should have blown this into a real tragedy, but somehow it stopped. Why it stopped is for you to figure out.”

Or like the fact that I hear things like this from my friends, family and neighbors:

  • Things are great for us. I don’t know what it is but my family is thriving.
  • My disabled son found an apartment and moved out on his own for the first time, and he’s loving it! I’m so proud of him.
  • I am getting more done in my home and yard than I ever have before.
  • I love working from home. It’s the best. I get to spend time with my family. I’m not sure I want it to ever go back to the office.
  • Our gospel study is deeper and more rewarding than it’s ever been.
  • I can go for walks because my older kids can take care of my younger ones and that has never happened before because they’ve always been so busy with so many extracurricular activities.
  • My husband lost his job but somehow, we’re okay. We’re confident that we’ll be fine and that he’ll find something when the world settles down. I don’t know what it is but we feel really at peace.
  • I have been trying to find a new, affordable apartment for a long time, and the perfect one just opened up.
  • I have experienced chronic pain for years and recently fell. I was afraid it would make everything worse. Miraculously, it made everything better. I can’t explain it.
  • I’m having Zoom calls with old friends, and it’s been so fun to reconnect.

The list goes on.

like having at least one daughter close by… 🙂
Or finding this beauty on my front porch from an anonymous neighbor (thanks Diann!)

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know bad things are happening. We’ve had a few of our own.

But, I keep remembering an article I read by Sheri Dew, who said, “Many of you have no doubt had the same experience I’ve had of late. Grocery stores with long lines, no paper products or bottled water, and eerie rows of empty shelves. There are areas in the world where this is not uncommon, but in the United States and other industrialized nations, that is not the case. I imagine that for many around the world, there have been recent moments that almost felt post-apocalyptic.”

I nodded my head about the post-apocalyptic part because that’s definitely how it feels.

Then, she quoted LDS leader Elder Neil Anderson who said, ““As evil increases in the world, there is a compensatory spiritual power for the righteous. As the world slides from its spiritual moorings, the Lord prepares the way for those who seek Him, offering them greater assurance, greater confirmation, and greater confidence in the spiritual direction they are traveling. The gift of the Holy Ghost becomes a brighter light in the emerging twilight.”

Image by Jorge Guillen from Pixabay

To me, that says, even when the world seems bad, if we do our part, God does his.

We took a short road trip to Yellowstone last week and the peace, stunning sunsets, wildlife, and natural beauty just took our breath away. We didn’t want to leave. It was a good reminder that there is still beauty in the world.

It reminds me of the book Where the Red Fern Grows when the little boy, Billy, desperately wants a pair of coon hound dogs. His grandpa says, “Well, it’s been my experience that God helps those who help themselves. If you want God’s help bad enough, you’ll meet him halfway.”

Maybe, for me, part of meeting him halfway is looking for the compensatory blessings rather than seeing everything as signs of the apocalypse, which you have to admit is pretty easy these days.

If you’re seeing some compensatory blessings during these upside down, crazy times, please share them with me! I need all the positivity I can get.

Pollyanna’s Glad Game needs to be in full swing.

Personal

Bush Twin Gems from “Sisters First”

I just finished reading the book Sister’s First — Stories from our Wild and Wonderful Life by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush.

I picked up the book for two reasons — first, I’m a sucker for anything related to the Bush family, especially if it promises great stories about George and Barbara Bush.

Second, it’s the only memoir I know of that was written by two people, and my friend, Lisa, and I are having fun writing a memoir together, and we wanted to see how this book was structured.

The book did not disappoint on those two fronts.

A few gems that resonated with me:

Enjoy being in the game…

A couple of years ago in Maine, we were all sitting around the robin blue oval table that we’ve sat around for years having dinner — with Gampy at the head. The room was full of laughter. Everybody was talking, except for Gampy, and the conversation was ricocheting around the table. It started getting loud, and eventually he leaned over and in a hoarse voice, he whispered, ‘I miss this.’

And I asked, ‘What Gampy, what do you miss?’

And he looked around and said, ‘I loved being in the game. Don’t forget to enjoy being part of the game.’

Barbara pierce Bush

I loved this story because it reminded me of my mom toward the end of her life. When all of our family was together, the pace and volume of the back and forth conversation was too much for her.

It frustrated her until she learned to just soak up the love and energy in the room, noticing how everyone enjoyed being together. She loved just looking around the room and relishing that everyone there was “hers.” But, it was hard to see her gradually switch from being a participant to a quiet observer.

So, I loved George Bush’s advice, “Don’t forget to enjoy being part of the game.” We all need to appreciate being part of the game!

Sister Love Story…

I confess that I wasn’t sure if I would like the sister “love story” aspect of the book. In the acknowledgments, they wrote, “Sisters First isn’t a typical memoir, but rather a love story we wrote to each other.” That sounded a little too schmaltzy and contrived to me.

However, I was surprised to like it more than I expected.

A beautiful paragraph written by Jenna toward the end of the book made me stop and think about the power of sisterhood — whether by blood or by friendship.

She said she was reflecting on a day when she picked up her daughter, Mila, from preschool and Mila asked, “Where is Poppy? I want Poppy-Lou,” referring to her sister.

“That night, I held my girls closely and listened to the patterns of their breathing until they were in sync, until they were one. You have each other, I thought to myself, You can walk through this wild and wonderful life together. You will fight, yes. And you will adapt to each other’s quirks, but you will do it together. You will make your sister feel like she is enough. And for me, your mama, well, that is enough. More than enough. That is everything.”

Jenna Bush Hager

That really is everything, isn’t it? To have someone who makes you feel like you are enough? I thought of not just how my sister helps me feel that way, but how many of my dear girlfriends and now my daughters help me feel that way. I’m grateful that my daughters can write their own sister love stories now with not just each other but with their many female friends.

Live a life that’s worth it…

The last gem from this little book that I loved came from Barbara who wrote about a Burundian man who taught her that a birthday could be celebrated not just with a cake but by considering how, in the previous year, you had lived the best year that you could. And before you eat the cake, you have to share what you did for other people in that year.

You had to make a case that you were living in a way that was worth it, in a way that was giving to others. You are here for a reason, and you should be grateful for every year, and be ready to do the most [you can] with the next one.”

Barbara Pierce Bush

With yet another birthday around the corner for me, I love the idea of considering whether I lived the best way I could in the last year, and earning a slice of birthday cake by reflecting on what I’ve done for other people.

So, thank you Barbara and Jenna for giving me some beautiful words of wisdom and some stories to remember about creating and appreciating a beautiful life.