GratiTuesday: My mother-in-law

My mother-in-law is visiting us for a few days this week. This means that we paid extra-special attention to cleaning the house prior to her arrival. Although she’d never say anything directly, she’s the type that notices dust and stains and things out of place. She is also old fashioned enough to consider the cleanliness of the house to be in my purview, not her son’s (just like she is old fashioned enough to insist on assigning my husband’s last name to me even though she’s aware that I kept my own).

We are very different in many ways. In addition to my not-quite-to-her-standards housekeeping, we have different political and world views. She is extraverted and loves to talk and I’m aware that my introverted tendencies puzzle—perhaps disappoint—her. I know I should call her now and then to just chat, but chatting on the phone for long periods of time is my definition of one of the rings of hell. I have tried to introduce her to texting (my favorite way of non-face-to-face communication), but she isn’t very interested in, or comfortable with, technology. She is also loves clothes and shoes and is a lot more focused on fashion and style than I am.

So, you might ask, why have I chosen her for my GratiTuesday post? Of course I am grateful for her giving birth to my husband and raising him to be the man he is today. But it’s also because she is a truly remarkable woman.

My mother-in-law has more energy than just about anyone I know. She travels, entertains, works out, volunteers, plays bridge several days a week, and is the first one to extend a very capable, helping hand to anyone who needs it. She always has a smile and a kind word and makes friends wherever she goes.

She has endured more than her share of challenges and tragedies in her life but she has managed to keep a positive attitude and push ahead. I have never seen her complain or burden someone else with her pain. She has a few health issues but you would never know it by talking to her or observing her.

This is just a small portion of her shoe collection... which puts mine to shame.
This is just a small portion of her shoe collection… which puts mine to shame.

One of my mother-in-law’s favorite things to do is shop at thrift stores and consignment shops. She can put together a stunning outfit on less money than I might pay for a single pair of shoes. She is teeny-tiny so she wears clothes beautifully and, at 83 years old, she rocks skinny jeans, leather jackets, and high heels. Her favorite color combination is black and white, which she augments with touches of red, purple, and animal prints. She loves shoes and has more pairs (often bought second-hand) than most people I know – and they are way cuter and higher heeled than most of mine.

My husband and I will enjoy her while she is here and probably heave a sigh of relief when she is leaves. We will become a lot more relaxed and a less concerned about a little dust here and there. Our house will soon look comfortably lived-in and become quiet again. And, we will miss her.

I should probably give her a call in a week or so just to chat.

GratiTuesday: Lifelong learning opportunities

I’ve written several posts about the free or low-cost educational opportunities many communities offer to those who are 50+. I continue to be amazed at the breadth of subject matter and quality of instruction these classes, workshops, lectures, and field trips offered.

The OASIS Institute is just one of many learning opportunities that can be found in many communities.
The OASIS Institute is just one of many learning opportunities that can be found in many communities.

Last semester, among several classes my husband and I attended, were a couple of exceptional one-day workshops offered by our local OASIS Institute. Teaching them was a tenured professor of Philosophy and Humanities at a local college and a popular speaker at both OASIS and Osher. The depth of his knowledge was amazing and his skills as a lecturer quite impressive.

One of his workshops was titled Practicing Gratitude. By weaving religion, philosophy, poetry, culture, and modern-day challenges, the instructor was able to shine a light on why we are wired to react more strongly to negative events instead of positive ones and remember insults rather than praise. Even when positive experiences outnumber negative ones, we often will focus on the negative.

Our proclivity to look for threats and be hyper aware of potential negative outcomes was hard-wired into our prehistoric brains. Our early relatives wouldn’t have lived very long by assuming everything would turn out great if they just looked on the bright side of life. Their world was full of threats and their survival depended on being wary and watchful.

Fortunately in our modern world, embracing a positive outlook and practicing gratitude won’t get us eaten by a saber-toothed cat. That’s not to say we should turn a blind-eye to possible threats and naively expect that everyone has our best interests at heart. We still need to remain attentive and protect ourselves from harm. But, we can change the way we react to events and alter our perspective by proactively and consciously practicing gratitude. Even a negative experience can yield a positive outcome (if only a small nugget of one) if we train ourselves to look for it.

Many people have embraced the practice of gratitude and have found that by doing so, they have become calmer and feel happier. Suspicion and hyper-vigilance can be exhausting and depressing. In order to help them focus, some people keep a gratitude journal; others begin every day by making a mental list of people and things they are grateful for. Beginning on the first Tuesday after the new year, I started to write a weekly GratiTuesday post. I hope to keep it up throughout 2016 and beyond.

Today, I am so very grateful for the incredible lifelong learning opportunities available to me. The instructors, volunteers, sponsors, and donors work together to inspire and engage us so we never stop learning.

What are you grateful for?

GratiTuesday: A roof over our heads

The strong El Niño we were warned about is finally here. Although it is sunny today, last week the skies over Southern California opened up and began to pour rain. And, they say it is only just the beginning. After the long drought we’ve had, most of us are extremely grateful for the precipitation. I know we’d prefer gentler showers, but, unfortunately, we don’t get to choose.

The last time this area was hit by a record El Niño was the winter of 1997-1998. That was the winter that we didn’t have a roof.

Kitchen

We had purchased our house three years earlier with the intention of remodeling. The house had a great view but its small dark rooms, pink kitchen with pink appliances, and single bathroom (with pink tile!) were indicative of its 1950s pedigree. We wanted to open it up, enlarge some rooms, and add a second floor master suite. Because we were living in the home during construction and doing much of the work ourselves, the project took a bit longer than we initially anticipated… two years longer, to be exact.

When the El Niño storms hit Southern California late in 1997, the house was in the midst of demolition and construction. Our second story was framed out but there were no roofing materials over the rafters. When it started to storm, water poured down through every opening—and there were a lot of them—into the first floor below, soaking the original hardwood floors we were trying to protect.

We tried to channel the water as best we could away from the floors and other vulnerable areas. We stapled plastic tarps to the ceiling joists, hoping to divert the water into the trashcans and buckets we had positioned around our house. One day I stayed home from work to try and manage the situation, but, at one point, I had to give up. The rain was coming down in torrents, the wind was howling, and our tarps were rendered useless. After shedding some tears in frustration, I picked up my camera to document the mess.

Livingroom Livinroom2

Then, after several months of what seemed to be constant rain pounding our area, El Niño was finally over. We slowly dried out and proceeded with our remodel. Although it impacted our project, what happened to us pales in comparison to what others experienced. Roads were washed out, crops destroyed, businesses flooded, homes devastated by mudslides, and people lost their lives. One report indicated that El Niño’s global impact caused upwards of $45 billion in economic losses and claimed an estimated 23,000 lives.

Now, almost twenty years later, another El Niño is here and some say this one could be even stronger than 1997-1998. Fortunately, this time our house is buttoned up tight and we can observe the rain from the inside out – not from the outside in.

I am so grateful that we are ready for it this time. I hope others are too.