Cottage Cheese and Angel Wings

This summer I started wearing shorts again.

I haven’t worn shorts for probably ten years or more.  Ever since the backs of my legs pedal pushersstarted looking like cottage cheese.  There’s a certain age where women trade in their shorts for Bermudas because, really, does anyone want to look at cottage-cheese legs?  And then after that we trade in the Bermudas for capris (or pedal pushers, if you’re from my era) because, really, does anyone really want to look at those elephant knees?  Yuck.

About the same time I gave up shorts, I quit wearing sleeveless tops.  Why?  Well, duh.  I had those flappy arm things.  And does anyone really want to look at those??

So for the past ten years or so I wore longer pants and tops with sleeves, even though I lived in California where the temperatures in the summer could bake a nice triple chocolate cake without an oven.  Because, after all, I was officially middle aged, menopausal, cottage-cheesy and flappy-armed, and it was time to tuck those imperfections away so as not to impose them on the world.  Fully clothed and well covered, I looked pretty good.

Then I moved to Missouri.  The temperatures here don’t get as hot, but we have something else: humidity.  And it didn’t take me long to realize that humidity and tops with sleeves did not blend well.  Plus I lived out in the middle of nowhere so who saw my flappy arms anyway?

Once I started wearing sleeveless tops around the house, I became liberated.  I mean, seriously liberated.  OMGosh liberated.  I remembered that my grandma used to call her flappy arms “angel wings,” and I decided I liked that.  No longer were they ugly old flappy arms; now they were angel wings, and I was dang proud of them.  So from about April until October, it was sleeveless tops and angels wings for me.  And not just at home, either.  Because guess what?  It’s also hot and humid in town.  And once I became liberated, there was no going back.  Plus I realized that I really didn’t care what anyone else thought about my lovely wings.

Then this year came along, with its record rainfall – which means record humidity.  And my capris began sticking to the backs of my legs as if I’d sat in a puddle.  Or had a little accident, a much less pleasant visual.

It was then that I started thinking about why I’d stopped wearing shorts in the first place.  I mean really thinking about it.  Was it because I didn’t like shorts?  No.  Was it because they weren’t comfy?  No.

It was because my body had changed, and my legs weren’t 18 anymore.  Just like the rest of me.

Now, here’s a funny thing.  I started thinking about my husband’s wardrobe and realized it really hadn’t changed much over the years.  Well, except for style trends — he wouldn’t be caught dead in those 80’s basketball shorts these days, but only because no self-respecting guy would.  But other than that, he gets to wear whatever he wants.

It’s different for women.  See, the world has convinced us that once our bodies peak and start down the other side, we need to cover them up.  We need to hide anything that doesn’t look 18 anymore.  Cottage cheese legs?  Hide them.  Ugg.  As in ugly.  Angel wings?  Keep them under wraps.  Bit of a tummy issue?  Spandex, baby.  Chest sagging a bit?  (Not that I have that particular problem since I don’t have a lot to work with there.)  Lift and support – which means wider and tighter  and more uncomfortable bras.  Feet getting gnarly?  Trade in those cute sandals for orthopedic tennies.

Why do we have to do this?  So we can “look good”?  For whom?  And why is looking good so important?  Sure, everyone wants to look nice when they go out, but this goes beyond looking nice.  This is changing your whole wardrobe to hide your body because it no longer fits into what the world says a beautiful woman should look like.

I’m not buying it anymore.

I refuse to accept that a woman’s beauty has anything to do with how the world views the package in which she is wrapped.  A woman’s beauty — anyone’s beauty — comes from their character, not their body.  It comes from what’s inside, not what’s outside.  If that sounds trite to you, reverse the statement — “beauty comes from what’s outside, not what’s inside.”  Yeah … I’d choose trite over shallow any day.

I read an anecdote in Readers Digest once that really stuck with me:  A man and his wife were sitting on the beach when a young woman in a bikini strolled by.  They both watched her for a minute, and then the woman sighed and said, “I’ll never look like that again.”  Her husband replied, “That’s okay, honey.  Neither will she.”

I’m not 18.  I haven’t been 18 for 40 years.  I have the body of a 58 year old, and I’m not ashamed of it.  I’m not going to dress to please other people; I’m going to dress to please myself.  If you don’t like looking at the bumps on the backs of my legs, then don’t look at my legs.  Why are you looking at my legs anyway?

So I’m wearing shorts again.  To go with my sleeveless tops.  My legs are cooler, my arms are cooler, I am freer.  And my body is so happy that I’m not ashamed of it anymore, it’s doing the happy dance – in all its lumpy and flappy glory.

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Boredom Is as Boredom Does

I was weeding the garden this morning, absolutely the most fun and exciting aspect of weeding2gardening, said no gardener EVER.  Seriously, wouldn’t you think that when you tell all your friends, and post all over Facebook, that you’re going to attempt your first-ever vegetable garden, at least one person would love you enough to forego all the you go, girls and just say, hey, don’t forget the part about sitting in dirt full of manure and trying to pull out a gazillion little tenacious weeds, which, by the way, are going to reappear after the next rain so you get to do it all over again?

But anyway.  I was weeding the garden and thinking that task could bore the spots off a leopard when I remembered something my dad told back when I was just a kid.  It must have been when I was in the fourth grade.  I say that because I thought my fourth grade teacher was an idiot.  She wasn’t, of course, but I, in all my nine-year-old wisdom, thought she was.  And she didn’t have such a hot opinion of me either.  In retrospect, that may be because my nine-year-old self wasn’t mature enough (read: smart enough) to refrain from rolling my eyes and sighing whenever I thought she said something dumb.  Which I thought frequently.

Anyway, I digress.  One of the things I thought was just stupid was our weekly spelling homework.  We got a list of spelling words that we had to write out five hundred times each.  Okay, maybe ten times each but it felt like five hundred.  I was a voracious reader from the time I could sound out “See Spot run,” and like most voracious readers, I was a good speller.  I could see a word once or twice at best and know how to spell it, and I was way above grade level at reading and spelling.  (I’m not bragging on myself, I’m bragging on my parents.  This is a plug to all you parents out there to read to your kids and get them excited about books.)

So imagine a very active nine year old having to sit down week after week and write out five hundred words, like dear and aunt and bubble, five hundred times each.  Okay ten words ten times each.  Same-o same-o to a nine year old.  I hated it.  I thought it was stupid.  Let’s write “stupid” five hundred times.

One time I was discussing this with my dad.  “Discussing” sounds much better than “whining and complaining.”  I told him how stupid and boring it was.  I knew all the words.  I got 100 percent on my spelling tests every week, and not because I wrote out the words over and over again.

My dad did not tell me to quit whin… quite discussing the matter and just do what I was told.  He did not poo-poo my preadolescent rant.  He listened, and then he told me that throughout my life I was going to find myself in boring, tedious situations.  I was going to find myself doing things that had to be done but which did not hold my interest.  My choice, he said, was to be consumed by the tedium of my task or to find a way to make it interesting.  (You have to love a dad who uses the word “tedium” with a nine year old.)  Anything can be interesting, he said, if you find a way for it to challenge your mind.

Dad took my list of spelling words and told me to make up a story as I wrote out the words using each of the words in order in the story.  I had a dear aunt who lived in a giant bubble ….  From then on, writing out my spelling words became a lot more fun, and my love of writing stories emerged.

So today as I was weeding, I remembered Dad’s advice and wondered how I could challenge my mind with this onerous task.  Nothing brilliant occurred to me.  The sun was hot, and it’s incredibly humid here in Missouri, and by the way there are bugs in a garden.  Anyone ever tell you that?  Humph.

But as I pulled the weeds I found myself feeling very satisfied when they came out with their roots intact and irritated when they would snap off at the surface, because I knew then that they would just grow back.  And a thought niggled at my mind, and I found myself composing a blog post in my head.

And so weeding the second half of the garden went much faster and was much more pleasant than weeding the first half.  My mind was fully engaged in composing an analogy of weeds in a garden and the weeds of sin and hate and evil in our world.  When your mind is engaged in thought, it doesn’t really matter what your hands are doing; there’s still something interesting going on.  (Plus the second half of the garden is where the herbs are so instead of the smell of good old cow dirt I was surrounded by rosemary and basil, hence the “much more pleasant” aspect.)

IMAG0400

I’ll write up that post about weeds and get it on here sometime soon.  But this post is just a hats-off to my dad, an unassuming man whom no one would look twice at on the street but whose mind never stopped and who taught me that boredom is always a choice, that a person with a brain has an endless capacity for self-entertainment.

Just one little suggestion, though – if you’re weeding a garden, don’t get so lost in your head that you forget to stop pulling the weeds when you feel a sneeze coming on, or you might end up with a handful of sage instead of weeds.

I guess we’ll have pork chops with sage and cinnamon for dinner tonight.

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I Wish I’d Rubbed Her Back More Often

I was thinking about my mom today.  Not because of any of the usual reasons – it’s not her birthday, or the anniversary of her death, or a holiday that makes me remember family gatherings of the past.

Because my back hurt.

I’ve had arthritis issues with my back for the past couple years, starting ironically enough shortly after my mom passed away.  I say ironically because Mom suffered serious arthritis in her back for 20-some years before she died, and I probably wouldn’t be writing this if I’d experienced the pain of arthritis before she died rather than after.

My own pain is much less severe than hers was, and it’s under pretty good control with a lovely little pill called Celebrex.  But after days like yesterday, when I spent the morning chasing a ten-month-old boy around and the afternoon tilling and raking and hoeing the very wet, very fertile (think cow country) dirt in my raised garden bed in order to get it ready to plant, there’s nothing on this earth short of a morphine drip that would help the pain in my back.  And for some reason they don’t let you keep morphine drips on hand for days when you’re just stupid.  So today my back hurts, and it makes me think about my mom.

I wish I’d rubbed her back more often.

In the last few years of her life, I was blessed with the privilege of taking care of her to the extent she needed care.  She lived on her own right up to the end, but for the last four or five years her health wasn’t good, and I went over to see her nearly every day. That sounds really super sweet and oh-I’m-such-an-awesome-daughterish, doesn’t it?  Let’s be honest.  This is one of those things that you appreciate much more in hindsight.  I admit to you here and now that there were plenty of times when all I wanted to do after I got off work was go home, have a glass of wine, and crawl into bed with a good book.  There were plenty of weekends when I didn’t want to leave my beautiful little mountain haven and drive 45 minutes to Mom’s, go to the grocery store for her, spend the day watching the golf channel, then drive 45 minutes home.

Florence Nightingale I wasn’t.

But even though, yes, I appreciate those years more now that Mom’s gone, for the most part, I didn’t mind them while we were going through them together.  God had orchestrated things so that my husband was working 1600 miles away for those same years, and I could spend as much times with Mom as she needed without any guilt that I was neglecting him.

We had a little ritual on weeknights.  When she wasn’t well, I’d fix dinner for her; when she was feeling pretty good, she’d fix dinner for me.  We’d play Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit and watch Jeopardy, and then she’d be ready for bed and I would head home.

I could tell when Mom was having a bad pain day.  She would move a lot in her chair, never able to get really comfortable.  Sometimes she’s just sit up on the edge of it.  When she did that, I knew it really hurt.  I’d go over and rub her back for a little bit, and she’d just close her eyes and kind of sink into the pressure of my hands.

Now that I have my own back pain, I understand how good it feels to have someone rub it when it hurts.  I love it when my husband gives me an impromptu massage when I’m hurting.  It’s a little piece of heaven right here on earth, let me tell you.  If I’d known how blissful it felt, I think I would have rubbed my mom’s back a lot more than I did.

And that makes me sit up and think, what else am I missing?  What other things am I not doing for people I love – or people in general – just because I don’t know first-hand how much it would mean to them?  How oblivious am I to the world around me just because I haven’t personally experienced something?

Maybe it’s human nature; maybe we all tend to be reactionary.  We give to the charities that somehow touch our own lives– the cancer society if we’ve had cancer or lost someone to it, the heart association likewise, or Alzheimer’s research, or diabetes prevention, or domestic violence prevention.  We tend not to think so much about things that haven’t ever affected us.  (Okay, by “we” I mean “I” but somehow it makes me feel a lot better to include all of you.)  How awesome would it be if we – I mean if I – could be more aware of all the little needs around me that don’t usually make it onto my radar?

There must be dozens of things I could do every day for people I come in contact witkids at storeh to make their lives just a little tiny bit better, a little tiny bit brighter.  I could scratch my husband’s back even if he doesn’t ask me to.  I could make an extra meat loaf next time and give it to my daughter-in-law to freeze for one of those days when the world is crazy and she needs something easy to make for dinner.  I could take a second to tell the manager at IHOP that our server did just an excellent job, kept us in hot coffee and was exceptionally pleasant.  I could let the mom with the three kids under five have cuts in line at the grocery store so she can get out of there before her head explodes.  And help her unload her cart onto the belt while she tries to keep six little hands from putting every candy bar in sight into the basket.

If I could do one unexpected thing each day, just one, that brought a small happiness to someone, wouldn’t that just be cool?  And at the end of the day, I could think back and not have any regret that I’d wasted another 24 hours.

I don’t have a lot of regrets about my time with my mom.  I really, honestly do feel blessed to have been there for her, and despite the occasional periods of exhaustion, I knew while I was doing it that it was a privilege.

But I do wish I would have rubbed her back more often.

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Every Day at Three

Today I’m sharing something a little different, a short story I wrote.  I hope you enjoy it.
3-o-clock

Lorraine did not need a watch to tell her it was getting on to three o’clock.  She felt it in her bones; she felt it every weekday in her bones, and she had ever since she started letting Becky Lee walk home from the bus stop by herself last year in fifth grade.

Goodness, was it just last year?  Seemed like forever ago.  But Becky Lee was in sixth this year, so must’ve been.  She hadn’t wanted to let her do it, but Becky Lee threw fit after fit till she just wore her mama out.  And truth be told, all the other kids had been walking home alone for a while already.

Lorraine knew she was over protective without James having to tell her.  And to give him credit, he never did say it.  But she saw it in his eyes when she argued with Becky Lee, and even if he never said anything, she knew what he was thinking.  So in the end she just threw up her hands and said fine, walk home by your own self, but you better be in this house by three o’clock every dang day or I’m coming to get you and you won’t never walk home alone again.

Every day when it was close to three o’clock, Lorraine knew it, felt it, and she stood by the window and peeked out.   All this time, and she still got the nervous stomach waiting till she got that first glimpse of the child coming up the walk.  She tried not to let Becky Lee catch her at the window; she didn’t want her to know she was nervous still.  When she spied her on the walk, she’d hurry back to the chair, pick up her stitching or a book or whatever might be handy and wait, all nonchalant, till Becky Lee poked her head in.  Then she’d say, oh, is school out already? My, this day has just flown by.

Now she held the thin curtain in her hand and moved it just a little so she could see the schoolgirlwalk.  Her stomach was getting sore from the nerves.  Becky Lee must be a little bit late today.  Lorraine tried to keep the bad thoughts away but they came anyhow.  Things could happen to a little girl in three long blocks between the bus stop and home.  There’s bushes people could hide behind.  She’d read one time about a car that pulled up and a man snatched a little girl off the street, right in the middle of the day, right in plain sight.  Just took her.

Where was that child?  Lorraine looked at the chair to make sure her sweater was ready if she needed to go out looking.  If she did, it would be the only time.  She’d never let that little miss walk home alone again, she didn’t care how many fits she threw.  She didn’t care what James said or didn’t say, or what kind of looks he gave her.

Where was James, anyway?

Lorraine looked back out the window.  Her shoulders, hunched and tight, relaxed.  There on the walk was her sweet girl.  She dropped the curtain and hurried over to her chair.

A minute later Lorraine heard the door open behind her, heard that sweet voice.  “Hi, I’m home.  I’m gonna go to my desk and do my homework.”

Without turning around, Lorraine nodded.  “Be sure you do it all, Becky Lee, before your father gets home.”

“I will.”  The door closed softly.

Lorraine closed her eyes and said her daily prayer of thanksgiving for her child’s safety.

At the desk down the hall, the young woman slid into the vacant chair and typed a password into the computer.  She took a drink of Pepsi out of a styrofoam cup and turned to her friend in the chair next to her.

“Okay, so you know what to do tomorrow, right?”

“I only watch you do it every day.”

“Tell me anyway.  It’s important.”

The friend laughed.  “I go out at ten to three, circle around front, walk in the front door, go to 107, pop my head in, and say hi, I’m home, I’m gonna go do my homework.”

“Right.  Don’t forget, and don’t be late.”

“Promise.  But isn’t she going to know it’s me and not you?”

The young woman smiled.  “It’s not me or you.  To Lorraine, it’s her daughter Becky Lee, when she was in grade school.  And if you’re late, it’ll worry her sick, so don’t be.

“You’ve been taking care of Lorraine for how long now, and she doesn’t remember you from one day to the next.  But she knows every day when it’s three o’clock to be watching for Becky Lee.  How is that possible?”

“That’s Alzheimers.  It doesn’t matter if she can’t remember me.  What matters is that Becky Lee gets home from school safely every day.  So don’t forget, okay?  And don’t be late.”

alz

Facts:  An estimated 5.3 million Americans are suffering from Alzheimer’s this year, two-thirds of them being women.  It is the sixth leading cause of death in America.  One in three seniors die with Alzheimer’s or some other dementia.  Every 67 seconds, another person in the United States is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Won’t you consider joining the fight against this disease?  Visit http://www.alz.org/ to learn more and find out how you can help.

This story was inspired by and is dedicated to my amazing niece, Sarah Spreitler Silva, a young woman with a heart full of compassion for those needing memory care.  I love you, Sarah.

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Now Leaving Eden

The other day I caught a mini-micro glimpse into what God must have felt when He saw Eve reach for that apple.

I was entertaining my nine-month-old grandson Jayden while his folks were busy outside.  This is the awesome part of grandmotherhood – you get to stay inside on hot, muggy days and entertain the grandkids while everyone else has to work outside.  Not a bad gig.

We were sitting on the living room floor – and if you’re a grandparent (or a parent of young IMG_2244children, for that matter) you will immediately picture a floor covered with primary-colored toys that play inane songs if you so much as look at them, stuffed animals, balls of every shape and texture, bouncers, baby chairs, and a pack-n-play whose sole purpose is to hold all the above-mentioned paraphernalia once baby has left the building – and Jay was playing with a piece of thread he had found on the carpet.  It was more interesting than the myriad toys, balls, animals, etc.  Of course.

Then he noticed the lamp cord running from the lamp under the recliner and made a beeline toward it.

Now, this has happened before.  Anything that looks like a string or cord or rope is fascinating.  When he sees the lamp cord and heads for it, I just pick him up and turn him around, and something else catches his eye.

Except this time, he turned back around and headed for the cord again.

And again.  And again.  And again.

Well, I thought, excellent time to start teaching the boy what the word “no” means.

“No, Jay,” I said, turning him around and handing him something else to play with.

Back to the cord.

“Jay, no no.  Here, play with this.”

Back to the cord.

“Jayden, no.  You can’t play with that.  It’ll hurt you.  Here, play with this.”

Jay growled at me.  Yes, he growled.  He scrunched up his little face (his daddy used to do the same exact thing) and went, “Errrrrrrrrrrrr!”

I laughed.  It was cute.  “No, Jay.  That’s one thing you can’t have.  Look, there’s a whole room full of toys here.  Let’s play with THIS!” I said, pulling over one of his favorites and pushing the button that starts the incessant singing of merrily-we-do-something-or-other.

Jay then tried to climb over me to get to the lamp cord.  When I turned him around again, he yelled.  Now, this is a child who seriously never cries except when he’s hungry or tired.  (In this way, he does not take after his dad, who was much more … vocal … as a baby.  Just saying.)  But he yelled, and then he growled, and then he started to cry.

He had decided that, despite the fact the room was chock full of wonders and delights, the only thing he wanted was the one thing I would not let him have.  And when I prevented him from getting to it, he started into full fit-throwing mode.

Yep.  We are definitely leaving Eden.

And it made me a little sad, even though I knew it was coming, and it wasn’t really a surprise.  But I wasn’t quite ready for that sweet time of innocence to end.  That time of trust.  That time where his curiosity could be channeled easily to the things that were good for him, and things that weren’t could be kept away.  That time where he depended on us for everything and defiance hadn’t awoken yet.

eveappleHow much more must it have broken God’s heart when Eve reached for that apple?  Even though He knew it was coming, even though of course it was not a surprise to Him?  Here was this perfect place to live, this garden chock full of wonders and delights, and defiance crept in, and all she wanted was that one thing He said no to.

And since that time, with every single human being He has created, He has goearth-explodedne through this same thing.  That’s pretty sobering.  I mean, seriously, after the first few I would have just thrown in the towel.  At the very least, after I’d saved Noah and his family, and then the defiance started all over again, I would have just pointed my finger at the earth and let ‘er rip.

Lest you think I am preaching down my nose at a world full of unbelievers, I’m talking about myself.  I’m talking about people like me, people who have put their faith in Jesus Christ and have been redeemed.

We’re the ones who hurt the Lord’s heart when we insist on reaching for that lamp cord even though He has told us no.  Even though He has told us it’s not good for us.  We’re the ones who understand the truth of God’s word and have the Holy Spirit in us, guiding and directing us.

Is God indifferent to the sin of the unbeliever?  Of course not.  God hates all sin (and loves all sinners).  But if you’re watching the news and you hear that a local man has been arrested for bilking poor little old ladies out of their life’s savings, it’s going to make you sad.  If you find out it was your child who did the bilking, it’s going to break your heart.

When I – I who have accepted God’s gift of salvation, I who recognize and believe that Jesus Christ willingly took my sin on Himself when He was brutally nailed to that cross, I who have been adopted as a daughter of the King Himself and am eternally His child – when I choose to reach for that lamp cord, in whatever form it may take, then it’s not just the sin itself that hurts God.  It’s that His very own child has once again defied Him.

Jayden doesn’t know that electrical cords can hurt him.  He’s too young to grasp the concept that I tell him no in order to protect him, not to withhold good things from him.  He doesn’t have a developed-enough mind to reason these things out.  That’s all part of the learning process.

But I, as an adult and a Christian, understand fully that God’s word is the lamp unto my feet.  I understand that the things He tells me I should not do are for my protection, not because He wants to withhold good things from me. I understand that sin is bad for me.

And yet … I gossip.  Sometimes I lie (shocking?  Come on, you know you do too).  Sometimes I am mean.  Sometimes – more often than I want to admit – I think really ugly thoughts.  I have been known to cuss.  Do these seem like “little” sins?  Do you really think I’m going to list all my big ones here for the world to see?

Every time I sin, God must feel like He’s watching Adam and Eve leave Eden all over again.  How sad is that?

Shouldn’t that be enough to make me quit reaching for that lamp cord?

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Killing Big Daddy

I’ve been living in rural Missouri for about a year and a half now, after having lived most of my life in Southern California.  If you’ve ever been to SoCal, you will know that it’s really just one big metropolis, and the only way you know you’re in a new city is the little sign they post to let you know you’ve crossed that imaginary line that divides one from the next.

Talk about culture shock.  Here I have to drive 30 minutes to get to a town of any significant size, and by that I mean one big enough to have a Walmart.  Woo hoo.  If I want a Target – heaven forbid – it’s an hour, minimum.  And that’s only if I disregard the speed limits.  In SoCal, driving an hour to get somewhere is taking a trip.  Here it’s just going to the store.

But I’ve gotten used to that.  There’s something to be said for miles and miles of pastoral countryside, especially this time of year, after a bleak winter.  Everything is getting green, and it really is one of the most peacefully beautiful places.  Even the cows I often make fun of are cute, dotting the hillsides.  And driving all that distance to get somewhere isn’t such a big deal when you only run into one or two other cars the whole way.  There and back.  (Of course, it can be a little irritating when you get behind Farmer Joe on his John Deere, because it’s hard to find a good passing spot on these winding, hilly roads, but then again, around here the motto is, what’s yer hurry?)

The thing I haven’t quite grown accustomed to is the wildlife.  And by that I don’t mean majestic wildlife, either.  I love the bald eagles and herons and cranes that fly by my house on the river every day.  I like the beaver that has a home directly across from us.  The deer that bound and leap on the hillside when I go out my front door are just gorgeous.  Even the wild turkeys are pretty amazing to see.

I mean the possums.

We have got the biggest, ugliest possums in the whole wide world.  Honest to pete, I’ve never seen an uglier critter in my life, and they are bold.  They come right up on the back deck as soon as the sun even thinks about setting and start snooping around for any errant bits of cat food that our outdoor cats might have neglected to consume during the day.

They look like rats on mega steroids.  Hunchbacked, with big old mouths and wicked sharp teeth.  And their tails.  opossumOh my goodness, you think a rat’s tail is nasty looking.  If one of these  possums hit you with its tail it’d knock you into next week.  And the tails are that icky pink color that’s just, you know, gross.

So every night it’s a battle, me against the possums.  As far as I can tell, there are two who live somewhere close, a big one (I call him Big Daddy) and a little one (the Runt).  They come up on the deck and snoop around and I go chase them off.  Time and again.  My husband shoot them, but he doesn’t want to put a hole in the deck and once they’re off it, they’re gone into the shrubs and hidden.

Finally I borrowed a trap from a friend and baited it.  The first night we caught one of our outdoor cats, which I expected.  We let him out and didn’t see him again for a week (he’s pretty skittish, so I figured it would only take once to make a true believer out of him).

The next night, though … bingo!  We got Big Daddy.  I planned on letting him cool his heels in the cage all day, and hubby could take care of him when he got home from work.  A little target practice.

Throughout the day I’d go out on the deck for one reason or another and there would be Big Daddy, pacing and hissing at me from that cage.  Nasty critter.  After a couple of times I moved the cage farther down the deck so I didn’t have to look at him.  He was so ugly.

In the middle of the afternoon I noticed Big Daddy was hunched down in the cage, not pacing.  It occurred to me that he was probably hot, out in the sun.  They’re nocturnal, after all.  It was kind of cruel putting him out in the light like that.  I moved the cage into a dark, shady spot.  As I moved it, I noticed Big Daddy’s head.  The hair was missing on one spot, and he had a big scar. He must be a fighter, I thought.  A tough guy.

A little later I went back out and walked over to the cage.  Big Daddy didn’t hiss at me.  He just looked at me.  Ugly or not, there’s something heart wrenching about a caged animal looking up at you.

He looked so sad.  I wondered if he knew his fate.  Poor ugly little guy.  After all, he was just being what he was created to be, right?  Ugly and annoying.  But God created him.  And there he was, caged up on my deck waiting for the firing squad.  I wondered then, if it were a cuter little animal, say a raccoon or a fox, would I be so ready to see it dead?  Is one animal’s life worth more because it’s cuter than another animal?

Is one creature – any creature – more valuable than another just because it’s prettier? Or smarter? Or more talented? Or “normal” by man’s definition of the word?

I texted my husband.  I told him we got Big Daddy.  He texted back that he wouldn’t be home till late.  Well, I said, maybe I should just take Big Daddy far away and let him go.  You know, since it would be dark and hard to shoot and all by the time he got home.

My husband laughed.  Well, smiley-faced laughed.  He knows me so well.  He knows I have no heart for killing animals, no matter how ugly and annoying they are.  Truth be told, he doesn’t either.  He could shoot something that was menacing us, but he’s just not someone who enjoys it. And I love that about him.

So with a little help from my daughter-in-law, I packed up Big Daddy, took him off far, far away, and let him go.  I’m hoping to catch the Runt and do the same with him.  We have some raccoons I’d like to get rid of as well but I found out they’re a little too wily for the trap.  For now, I’ll settle for being possum free.

What’s the point of this post?  There isn’t one, really.  It’s just a story about an ugly possum and how he helped me remember who I was.

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If You’re Easily Offended, Don’t Read This

Fair warning: I’m going to go off the beaten path a little bit with this post.  It’s going to be a little more serious and a little more … hmm, I’m struggling for the right word here.  Political?  It’s not really political.  Politically incorrect maybe.  If it offends you, I apologize.  Well, no, actually, I don’t.  If it offends you, I think you’re too easily offended, and I find it a little ironic because it’s a bit about the ridiculous lengths people are going to these days to avoid offending people.

Two incidents were in the news recently that propelled me into writing this.  I thought about writing something after the first one, but decided against it because it was a group of college students doing what college students do – being a little radical, being a little esoteric, being a little (or a lot) liberal.  But when I read about the second incident…well, here I am.  I couldn’t keep silent any longer.

First, the first.  You probably heard about it.  Six students at the University of California, Irvine who were on the student legislative council voted to ban the display of the Americanbanned_flag flag, or any national flag, in the common are of the student government offices.  The resolution stated that national flags – citing the American flag in particular – have been “flown in instances of colonialism and imperialism” and “serve as symbols of patriotism or weapons for nationalism.”  It further stated that “[f]reedom of speech, in a space that aims to be as inclusive as possible[,] can be interpreted as hate speech.”

There was an immediate backlash.  Thousands of students at UCI protested the action, clearly indicating that the six students who enacted the bill did not represent the wishes of the majority of the students at the school.  The executive cabinet of the student government vetoed the bill within days.

Then, a few days ago, a story splashed across the internet that Lexington High School minute_manstudents were told by school administrators that the theme they chose for their junior/senior dance – American Pride – was objectionable and should be changed to “National Pride” so as to be more inclusive.  This is Lexington, Massachusetts, by the way.  You know, where the Revolutionary War started?  The shot heard around the world?  Their mascot is the Minute Man.

Again, there was a huge backlash, and administrators backed down.  The theme remains American Pride, and the dance will go on.  In fact, the administrators are saying it was all a big misunderstanding; they never said the theme had to change.  They just wanted a “dialogue” with the students about it.  They just “suggested” the change in order to make sure nobody felt like they couldn’t attend the dance if the theme was American Pride.  The students, administrators say, just misinterpreted their concerns.  That’s all.  Mountain out of a molehill thing.

But it’s not a molehill.  Here’s my take on it (and here’s where you might get offended, so if you’re all into political correctness or anti-Americanism or let’s-never-say-anything-that-ever-might-possibly-bother-someone-in-the-whole-wide-world, you’d better stop reading now).

This is America.  Yes, it’s a melting pot.  Yes, we are made up of people from all over the world.  We are diverse.  Many languages are spoken here.  But it’s still America, and there’s a reason people come here.  There’s a reason people want to go to the universities here.  There’s a reason people immigrate to America.

Because it’s America.  And America is something to be proud of.  Perfect?  No.  But there is no perfect place in the world.  There used to be, but then there was the whole, “Here, Eve, take a bite of this apple,” thing and that kind of screwed that up.

This is America.  If you live here, no matter what your heritage, you’re part of America.  You can be proud of it, or not.  You can love it, or not.  That’s your choice.

But if you are offended by the American flag, then you should find a country to live in that doesn’t offend you.  Don’t try to make us remove our flag so that you don’t have to look at it. Don’t try to squelch our displays of patriotism because you’re not feeling it. If you’re not proud to be an American, then don’t be one.  Find a country you can be proud to be part of, and move there.  You’d be so much happier, wouldn’t you, not living in a place that you’re ashamed of?

Do I mean that if you live in America you have to reject every aspect of your foreign heritage?  No, I do not.  Can you be part of America and still be proud to be French, or English, or Iranian, or Chinese, or Russian, or Nigerian, or Haitian, or Peruvian? Of course you can.

But if you choose to live in America, whether you were born here or immigrated here, then be part of America.  Be proud of the good things – because there are good things, great things – about America.  And the other things?  The bad things – because there are bad things – that none of us are proud of?  Well, let’s work on fixing those things together instead of wasting all this energy on arguing about whether red, white, and blue is going to hurt somebody’s feelings.

American-Flag-Demographic-Diversity-Faces

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Sticks and Stones

help-me-scrabble_2

Hello.  My name is Susan, and I’m a Scrabbleaholic.

It started with just a game once in a while when I would visit my mom in the evening.  She enjoyed a good game, but she could control it.  My sister liked to play, too, so we would play remotely on the computer every so often.  She could control it, too.

I could not.  Once I discovered computer Scrabble on Facebook, it was all over for me.  I started playing games with all the friends I had who also played.  At any given time I would have a half dozen games going.  Not unmanageable.  I could still function.  My life apart from Scrabble went on.

Even when I found I could start games with random opponents, people I didn’t even know, it was okay.  My game count doubled, sure, but that was fine.  I could handle it.  I checked the computer every time I walked by to see if it was my turn, but hey, I’m retired.  What else did I have to do?  I would get mildly irritated when the little box would pop up to tell me I had no turns available, but I was usually able to resist the invitation to start a new game with a new random opponent.  Usually.

My husband probably noticed the house was untidier than usual.  That was due to my watching my grandson three mornings a week.  It had nothing to do with my spending more time on the computer.  Honest.

Then something happened.  I discovered The App.  Yes indeed, there was a Scrabble app for my phone.  And my iPad.  Not only could I play my Facebook games anywhere, anytime – I could play against THE COMPUTER.

No more waiting for opponents to play.  The computer took its turn immediately after mine.  Every. Single. Time.  I was in Scrabble Heaven.

ScrabbleAddict-600My husband probably noticed we were eating leftovers more frequently.  That was due to budget constraints, not because I was spending more time playing Scrabble.  Really.  It was.

In the evenings while we were watching TV “together,” I’d be secretly (or not so secretly) playing Scrabble on my iPad.

In the car when we took drives “together,” I’d play Scrabble on my phone.

I made lists of weird words for future reference.  I practically memorized the two-letter-word list.   I planned future moves before it was even my turn and then would be semi-irritated when my opponent “took” my spaces.

But here’s the funny thing.  I found that there were just some words I could not play, even when they would give me a FABULOUS score.  I don’t mean just curse words, either.  I don’t play curse words (real ones; I don’t mind using the watered down versions like shoot or darn).

I’m talking about mean words.

For instance, in a game against a random opponent, a woman I didn’t know, I had the opportunity to make the word fatso.  The “f” would have been on a triple letter square and it would have been a double word play.  That would have been 48 points, people.  That’s a nice score.  But … what if my opponent happened to be overweight?  Or had been, in her youth, perhaps, and had been the subject of ridicule?  What if that word had been hurled at her at some point in her life and had left scars?   I had no way of knowing; probably not, but maybe.

Other words, words that can be used derogatorily, don’t bother me so much.  Words like stupid or imbecile or nitwit. We’ve probably all been called one of those words at some point (some of us more frequently than others).  But some words just have such a hateful feel to them that I can’t play them in the game, even though it’s just a game.  Even if it would give me a great score.  Even if it would give me a bingo and 50 extra points.

Words can hurt people.  Anyone with any conscience at all knows that the words we speak can be brutal, devastating.  So can written words.  We’ve all seen the news reports of how Facebook posts and texts and YouTube videos have ended in tragedy because of the humiliation they have caused someone.  And I’ll bet it wouldn’t be much of a struggle for you yourself to remember something hurtful someone said to you in your past, because that’s how our memories work.  We remember the really great things, and we remember the hurtful things.

Some wounds never go away.  They might heal over, but they leave scars, and scars are susceptible to reinjury.  I have a scar from a burn on the outside of the little finger on my left hand.  Every time it gets too close to a heat source, I feel it in the scar, sharply, before I feel it in the healthy tissue.  It hurts in the old wound first and worst.

Maybe it’s taking it a little too far to think that, for someone somewhere, just looking at a Scrabble board with the word “fatso” on it would cause them pain.

But maybe not.  And if there’s a chance that that word might stir up something hurtful in someone’s heart, that every time they went back to the game, their eye would automatically find the space on the board where that word sat and they would cringe a little inside, is it worth the 48 points to me?  No, it’s not.

So maybe I’m not a true addict after all.  Maybe I just like a good game of Scrabble.  Or ten.

Author Unknown

Author Unknown

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I Don’t Need Body Jets

This morning I got smacked in the face.  Not once, but three times.  By God.

Actually He didn’t smack me at all.  He whispered in my ear.  And it took three times because I didn’t even hear Him the first two times.  When I finally – finally – heard Him, it felt very much like a smack in the face.  I realized He had been trying to talk to me all morning and I just hadn’t been listening.

This is how it went.

I was sipping my coffee and looking at the Christmas tree.  It’s the Monday after Christmas and I’m wondering how long I can put off taking down the decorations.  Not because I’m messy-xmas-storage-03 (1)enjoying looking at them so much, although they’re pretty, but because – come on, whine with me – it’s so much work.  I have 36 years’ worth of ____________ {insert appropriate adjective here; the first one that came to my mind this morning was crap but that’s not a very nice way to describe Christmas decorations so I’m leaving it blank} to tuck away for another year.  I have to pull out all those hideously huge blue tubs I store it all in, take out all my usual, everyday {insert same word here} that I took down when I put up the Christmas {______}, find a way to put the Christmas {______} back into the tubs so it all fits, and haul them back to the barn.  Where poor hubbie has to figure out how to get them up to the hanging rack without killing himself on all the {______} we have stored in the barn.

Here’s the thing about those blue tubs, too.  They’re pretty full of Christmas stuff that I didn’t even put out.  Strands and strands of lights we didn’t put up, and ornaments we didn’t hang because the tree is only so big, right?  And I have a limited number of flat surfaces on which to set the multiple nativity sets and angels and choir boys and snowmen and Santas that I have accumulated.  So I would say at least half of what I have is still in the tubs.  It’s going to be a nightmare trying to fit all this … stuff … back into those dang blue tubs.  Maybe I need to get another couple tubs.  And while I’m at it, maybe I ought to pick up some new decorations.  You know, while they’re on after-Christmas sale.  Some of mine are getting a little worn.

Into this thought pattern something tickled my ear but I brushed it away.  Must have been a bug.  I decided I’d wait and take the decorations down after New Year.

A short time later, I was wondering if I should run into town today (this in itself is a project, as “running into town” entails driving some 60 miles each way) to use the $25 gift card at the JC Penney Home Store that I picked up before Christmas.  I was so very clever about that!  I found some canisters there that I liked for $99; if you bought a gift card of $100 or more that particular day, you got a $25 gift card for free.  So I bought a $100 gift card, which I later used to buy the canisters online (after they went on sale after Christmas, when I bought them for $75 – woo hoo, baby! So I also got a matching serving bowl.  Score!).  But you had to use the $25 card in the store, so … maybe I should run into town.

Now, if I could just figure out what it was I want to buy with that $25.  You know, since I already have the canisters.  And the matching bowl.  Well, surely there will be something else I like.

Here again, the ear tickling thing.  Here again, I brushed it away.  But I decided to wait and go into town another day.

Still later I was in the bathroom putting something away, and I took a moment to look body jetsaround.  We have a lovely bathroom.  Huge.  With a nice double sink area, lots of counter space, and a giant, jetted tub.  It’s like a little mini spa.  The shower, though, is kind of tacky.  I mean, it’s okay, but it’s pretty average.  I watch HGTV a lot, and there are some pretty awesome showers out there.  You know the kind, with those rainfall shower heads, and body jets, all beautifully tiled with little nooks for your shampoo and stuff.  I wondered how much it would cost to put one of those in the bathroom.  Boy, that would make that bathroom just perfect.  Seriously, how cool would it be to have body jets??

That’s when I heard God in my ear.

Girlfriend, you don’t need more stuff.  (Okay, those of you who prefer a more formal relationship with God can substitute “my child” for “girlfriend,” but I’m just telling you how it happened to me.)

And right then was when I got smacked in the face.  That’s when I realized He’d been trying to talk to me all morning.  It hadn’t be a bug at all.

I don’t need more tubs to put my decorations in, and more decorations to put in the tubs.  I need to go through what I have and pare it down to what I actually use, and give the rest of the good stuff to someone who will actually use it and enjoy it, someone who maybe can’t afford to go out and buy decorations.  Young marrieds or someone down on their luck.  Or give it to one of the local thrift stores.  Don’t just hoard it in blue tubs year after year, and add to it because, well, that cute little snowman over there is 75 percent off.

I can’t think of one thing I actually need at JC Penney.  Not one.    And … a new shower with body jets?  Body jets?  There are people all over the world who don’t even have showers.  Don’t even have running water.  And I want body jets?

Don’t worry, this is not going to turn into my mother’s “there are starving children in China, eat your dinner” rant.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reaping the fruit of our labor.  We have worked hard all our lives, and we have some nice things.  We have a nice home.  It’s not extravagant, but it’s very nice.  Our towels are a little frayed around the edges (hmm, maybe I should buy .. NO NO NO), but they work great.

It’s just that God whispered to me today that I have enough.  It’s time to quit.  It’s time to stop accumulating more and more and more.

It’s time to stop focusing on things that might improve my little world and start focusing on how I might improve someone else’s world.

I have enough.  I don’t need more.  If, every time I find myself getting ready to buy something I don’t need, I take that money and do something for someone else with it, wouldn’t that be a much better use of what God has given me?  If, instead of buying yet another pair of jeans and trying to cram them into the drawer that already has too much in it I take that $40 and give it to the food bank, or buy blankets for the homeless, I will have the same amount of money as I would have had I bought the jeans, and I will have the added benefit of still being able to close my dresser drawer.

And someone else will go to bed less hungry, or warmer.

I have enough.  I don’t need body jets.

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Slingshots and Underwear

{Disclaimer:  In my home, Christmas is about Christ first, presents second.  But this post addresses a more secular aspect of Christmas because it’s what’s bugging me right now.  I’m adding this disclaimer so that all of you who know me out there won’t be wondering why I’ve written a purported Christmas post without talking about Christ.}

pile-of-giftsCruising through Facebook the other day, I read a little blurb suggesting that parents should use caution in how many gifts they leave under the tree from Santa, because what if their child goes rushing outside with stories of all the amazing loot Santa gave them and little Johnny next door, whose dad was laid off last year, wonders why Santa only left him a slingshot and a package of underwear.  Hadn’t he been good enough?  Was he a BAD BOY?  Or did Santa just like your Suzy better?

The best scenario, this post suggested, might be for everyone to give their child one single gift from Santa and all the rest of the gifts from the parents themselves.  That way, everyone would be equal, no one would feel slighted, and the children of the world would understand that the children with a lot of loot got it from their wealthier (or more indulgent) parents, not from an unkind, unfair, maybe even biased Santa.

I admit, when I first read that, I bought into it.  I hadn’t ever looked at it that way, to be honest.  I mean, yikes, who wants to be that parent, the one who causes little Johnny to have self-esteem issues for the rest of his life?

But literally the next day I saw a blog post warning parents against posting pictures on Facebook of their children sitting in front of their Christmas loot for all the world to see.  There were numerous reasons for this warning, one of which was that it was just tacky to brag about all the crap you bought your kid, but another was that other children might see the pictures and … you guessed it.  Wonder why Santa gave your child so much loot and they only got a slingshot and a package of underwear.  Bam.  Self-image problems.  Santa doesn’t love me as much as little Suzy.  Or … wait for it … Life’s Not Fair.

Now hang on.  Is this seriously a problem? toddler on computer

First off, if the kid is young enough to believe in Santa, what’s she doing in front of a computer looking at Facebook?

But more important than that, have we really raised a generation of children who can’t possibly bear up under the pressure of other children getting more toys than they do on Christmas?  Have we created a generation so fragile that their heads explode when faced with any of life’s inherent inequalities?

When my two boys were growing up, we lived in a small resort area.  There was, at the time, one elementary school.  That meant that my kids went to school with the children of the (very) wealthy people who had the huge houses on the lake.

Now, I’m fairly certain Santa brought those children a heck of a lot more presents than he brought my kids.  And the presents were a lot more expensive.  Think Atari and Nintendo (this was a lonnnggg time ago, guys) as opposed to The Game of Life and, of course, underwear.  Even the kids who lived next door and were in our same socioeconomic class got more/better presents.  Their parents went overboard (in my humble opinion) every year.  Crazy overboard.

But I don’t recall even one time either of my boys being ticked off/hurt/turned into a serial killer because Santa liked Lisa and Joey next door, or the rich kids on the lake, better than he liked them.  (They did spend a lot of time next door playing with Joey’s cool toys, though.)

The same is true for my own childhood.  We lived in a very middle class neighborhood.  Everyone was pretty much in the same financial boat.  We all came pouring out of our houses on Christmas showing off whatever it was that Santa brought us – sometimes it was super cool, like a new bike or a sled or roller skates.  Sometimes it was less cool (and not something we could take outside) like a new desk.

Then there was Ralphie.  Yes, his name was really Ralphie.  He was the grandson of an older couple who lived down the street, and his parents had done substantially better, financially, than most of our parents.  So when he came over to his grandparents’ house on Christmas, he always brought a carload of the latest greatest things that none of us ever dreamed of getting from Santa.  Where we got bikes, he got ten-speed bikes.  Where we got sleds, he got uber-sleds that had gears and steering wheels.  You get it.

And the thing about Ralphie was, he was sooooo smug.  He strutted his stuff.  He had nappy red hair that looked like a Brillo pad on his head, and when he got braces we were all jealous – this was well before braces were de rigueur for every middle schooler.  And he just bragged about all the stuff Santa left him every year.

But never once, not one single time, did any of us whine about Santa being unfair.  Or loving Ralphie more than he loved us.  (We knew that couldn’t be true!)  It just never occurred to any of us to blame Santa — for anything.  Sometimes we didn’t get what was on our lists, but our parents always had an explanation on Santa’s behalf, and we learned that sometimes you just had to deal with a little disappointment.  We didn’t end up in therapy over it.

When did we decide that everything always had to be equal or it was going to ruin our children?  When did we decide that we had to protect our children from ever facing any disappointment in life?  When did we decide that every child in our child’s world should get only that which our child gets, and nothing more?

Come on, people, we are way overthinking this.  I challenge you to think back on your own childhood and come up with a time when you were just crushed because Santa was more generous to someone else than he was to you.  I don’t mean that time he brought you and your sister both dolls, and your sister got the bride doll and you just got the bridesmaid doll, and you were all pouty-faced because you wanted the bride doll (okay, that was just a random example and not necessarily anything that ever really happened to anyone who is writing this blog post).  I mean a time when Johnny next door got 87 gazillion gifts and you got a slingshot and underwear.

Kids aren’t that fragile.  Kids get it.  If they don’t, it’s because we’ve taught them, wrongly, that life somehow owes them something.  Yes, there are circumstances that break our hearts, where families have fallen on really hard times and can’t afford Christmas presents at all.  Okay, let’s step in and help those folks!

But let’s not turn Santa into some kind of utopian experiment in equality, because, you know, where does it stop?  At first, it’ll be, okay, everyone gets one gift from Santa.  Oh, but wait!  Johnny got the latest Playstation (is that even cool anymore?) and I only got a slingshot!  No fair!  So pretty soon everyone has to get the same gift from Santa?  You know where that will end, right?

Everyone will just get underwear.

fruit-loom

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