Tuesday, July 5, 2016

And The Rockets' Red Glare . . .

. . . the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night,

That my house was still there . . .

And my yard . . .

But not my peace of mind. Okay. My sanity.

Ever since they made the purchase of fireworks legal in our state, my former favorite 4th of July holiday has become an explosive event. I’m not just talking about my neighbors and their lack of thoughtfulness or even their lawlessness. I’m also talking about my reaction to their thoughtlessness.

There’s never been a more bottled up rocket launcher than the emotions I keep shoving down inside of me during every amateur micro-burst that shakes our chandelier. I keep doing that because I don’t want anyone to be mad at me. Or shoot at me. Or take direct aim on my house with their “legal” fireworks.

Okay, because I’m a chicken and it takes a lot to make the transformation into a mama bear.

Here’s something weird, but very important about fireworks.

It’s legal to buy them. It’s not legal to shoot them off in neighborhoods—not aerial missiles, anyway. You know, the colorful, photogenic kind that terrify everyone’s dogs and cats and leave me with PTSD until the next pyrotechnic event. So far, those dates include New Year’s Eve (also no longer my favorite holiday), Halloween (never a favorite holiday), and random weeknights—just because people bought fireworks half-price the day after a holiday and thought we’d enjoy a little background noise for no particular reason.

I don’t.

I am, too, a patriot. No, I am not old. I just want to enjoy fireworks shows in appropriate places, like shopping mall parking lots, city parks, and Disneyland, where professionals with all three fingers on each hand control them. Not overhead, six houses from mine.

So I cooked up a plan.

“Next July,” I yelled to my husband above the commotion of our neighbors’ late night, celebratory explosions, “I don’t want to be home on the 4th of July. I want to go somewhere else to see fireworks.”

“But we just got back from going somewhere else to see fireworks,” he said. “And why are you yelling?”

“Because I don’t want to be home at all on the 4th next year!”

This is the next year. So we booked a room with leftover hotel points, dug out all of our Christmas gift cards, and planned ourselves a date night so our neighbors could spend the evening being obnoxious and we could spend the evening not caring.

Somebody told them.

On July 2nd, a few preliminary rounds exploded down the street for about a half an hour. Okay, I thought. That wasn’t too bad. Ridiculously early, but short.

On July 3rd, one of our neighbors staged his own production, complete with lights and booms and cheers, for three and a half hours. I’ll say this for him—it was free. When bedtime rolled around, though, and the lamp on my side of the bed was still shaking, I lost my cool. And probably my salvation.

Now, hubby and I have different temperaments. I married him because he is the epitome of patience. And I usually get mad at him because he is the epitome of patience. So while I was fuming and losing my mind over the selfishness of our neighbors—don’t they know there are babies trying to sleep and people who get up at 4 in the morning every day?—my husband, the retired firefighter, who, for years, was serenaded to sleep by a symphony of firefighters and their foundation-shaking snores—really couldn’t have cared less that the neighbors were committing misdemeanors behind our house.

It took a little honest communication to sort all of that out. And I’m happy to report that we resolved our differences before anything other than an innocent neighbor’s backyard went up in flames. It looked like we’d find the July 4th of our dreams after all.

On Independence Day, we left our house because we didn’t have the freedom to enjoy any peace there. We headed to our Shangri-la hideaway in Phoenix, went out for a nice dinner, and returned to our room to wait for the sun to go down. 

Now, listen. Enjoying fireworks in the Valley of the Sun is almost an oxymoron. The high in Phoenix yesterday, July 4th, was 109 degrees. That’s the boiling point for frogs and tempers. We’ve tried to enjoy this holiday a dozen different ways before, but all of them left us with heat exhaustion and second degree burns. Finally, we discovered the one and only way to view a good light show in Arizona—from the inside of our air conditioned truck.

We found the perfect empty parking lot, aimed our windshield in the direction of the floor show, and sat back for forty minutes waiting for the big pay off. At ten after nine, we looked first at the dark sky in front of us, then at each other, and said,

“Where’s the show?”

We’d researched this. We were one mile east of the park where the big production was supposed to go off, and three miles northeast of another one the local casino was in charge of. They were late. Both of them. The next show we knew of was thirty minutes away. If we left now, by the time we got there we’d be lucky to see the finale. We pulled out our cell phones, searched Safari, and brought up the unbelievable truth. We were late. Two days late. Both events had gone off without a hitch on July 2nd.

I blame my neighbors for this. 

Since when is the Fourth of July celebrated in its entirety on the Second and Third of July? Is this a communist plot or a socialist prank in an election year? Who’s stealing our legal right to Independence Day? Was it written in the fine print somewhere in Obamacare that we had no right to find fireworks on Fireworks Day? I wanted answers. I wanted names.

I wanted people to stop messing around with the Fourth of July.

We turned around in the empty parking lot and headed back to our hotel, where on the way we saw eight cars lined up side by side against an open stretch of desert, in full fireworks viewing posture. Two cute college girls sat on the back of their open convertible, with John Philip Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever blaring from Pandora, while the man in the next car leaned against his vehicle looking at his cell phone. His wife stood against a wooden barrier, looking longingly off into the dark night. Everyone was waiting patiently. For something.

“Honey!” I said in excitement. “That must be where the show’s going to happen.”

“But it’s after nine,” he said, driving past the onlookers.

“Maybe it starts at 9:30 instead of 9,” I told him.

“But you looked it up,” he said. “The fireworks blew up two days ago.”

“Well, eight cars full of people over there think there’s a show about to start. I’m just one woman with a cell phone. I could be wrong.”

He sighed. Poor guy. What choice did he have?

He turned around, and we headed back to the impromptu parking area, where we took the last spot alongside the man with the cell phone. My husband rolled down his window and asked him,

“Are there fireworks happening here soon?”

“I sure hope so,” the stranger answered.

“Well, we wondered because online it says the show happened on Saturday.”

Silence. And then .  .  .

“Ohmigosh.” He looked up from his cell phone to my husband, staring at him blankly like he’d just been told there was no Santa Claus.

“You’re right,” he said. “And we’ve been sitting here in the heat for thirty minutes for nothing.”

We backed out away from our misinformed peeps, and drove away. I wish I’d taken a picture of that sad group of cars all lined up side by side. Thirty miles north, like a pinhead of light on the horizon, a distant fireworks display in a town that still owns a calendar punctuated the dark to the delight of the blondes in the convertible.

“Yay!” they shouted.

It was all the show any of us got. Some reward for the only true patriots in the south end of Phoenix.

I’ve got a new plan, though. Next year, we’re not even going to be in the state for the Second or Third or Fourth of July. We’re getting out of this stinking desert and going some place green. We’re gonna leave three days early and find a pretty place with good temperatures and a working calendar. Then we’re gonna watch fireworks without any early pre-show bologna, and cheer and eat hot dogs and applaud when the big finale lights up the sky.

“They don’t celebrate the Fourth in Ireland,” my husband said, when I laid out the plan.

That’s when I finally blew up. Talk about a rocket’s red glare.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

In Spite Of Me

I have a confession to make. When I became a mother, I had no credentials.

It gets worse. 

My husband and I raised our two children by gut instinct. There was no village. There was just me on the days my firefighter husband was on a twenty-four hour shift. And the rest of the time—there were just the two of us.

And . . .

wait for it. . .

we didn’t know what we were doing. Close your mouth.

I wonder sometimes why God gives babies to barely grown adults. Completely uneducated and with no significant prior experience, we’re supposed to train them up in the way they should go. We barely knew where we were going. How were we supposed to know where our kids should go?

We’d both had examples, of course. Not perfect, but pretty good. So we turned to them for advice.

“You’re entitled to your own mistakes,” I was told. Which didn’t exactly sound like advice to me. It sounded more like a life sentence with no hope of parole. What had they learned about raising kids?

I felt like I was being warned. Like I was put on notice that I was definitely going to screw up somehow, which was either a reflection on me or on the frustrating responsibility of parenting. Or both.
So I set about to do it right. Do it perfectly. Fix all the mistakes in the next generation that had been made with ours.

It wasn’t easy. 

It wasn’t possible.

I was determined to do it anyway.

Mold my breed. Train their minds. Give them my values and watch them live a perfect life.

Like mine.

There was a problem, though. I wasn’t perfect.

Like a temperamental cake in the oven, I was in process myself the entire time I was in the process of raising my children. I’m not even the same person today that I was thirty years ago. Today, if I had the energy of my twenty-seven-year-old self and was given another child to raise, there are a lot of things I’d do differently. Then when those twenty years of second chance parenting were finished and this time I was sure I’d done it perfectly and trained my children to be as near perfect as I could make them . . .

They’d still live life on their terms, not mine.

I don’t want my kids to be my clones. This temperamental cake isn’t done yet.

I want them to live life in the same freedom God gave me. Free to be themselves in a complicated world, able to respond to life’s challenges with their own varied points of view, and completely assured we’re on their side.

Thank God it was never up to me to decide who my children should be or how they should live. It’s always been up to the One Who loves them perfectly and never should’s on them.

Look at that. I think I just grew up a little.

Sunday, April 24, 2016


“Run, Tully, run!” the woman on the bleachers yelled.

No, it wasn’t me hollering—she had a Kentucky accent and I was at the fence taking pictures. But somebody in the stands wanted her to score a run as much as the coach did. My five-year-old granddaughter picked up her petite little legs and ran for home like her life depended on it.

“Safe!” the umpire yelled, crossing his arms in a fluid “x” at the same time Tully jumped up and landed, planting both feet on the white triangular base. It was like he was pronouncing a blessing on our little Dodger, ecclesiastically.

She made it home and now she was safe. I wonder if that’s why they call it “home” – because you’re supposed to feel safe there. You get to be who you are even if you’re covered in dirt and your ponytail is messed up. After all, everyone else on the team looks about as put together as you do. That’s part of being a team.

But some homes don’t run according to teamwork. Heck, they can’t even spell ‘teamwork.’ It’s like everyone is trying to cover their bases all by themselves and spend most of their time playing defense against their own team members. That’s a pretty good way to lose the game. And the team.

Don’t we all wish there was a safe place where we can be ourselves, even if our socks are smelly and our hands are dirty? And if there isn’t a safe place, at least we’d like to find a safe person to pour our hearts out to. Somebody who knows how to listen without judging and especially without breaking our confidence.

Those are rare people. Of all the people I cross paths with every week, or every month, there are about four or five who I feel ‘safe’ with. And when I describe someone as ‘safe,’ I mean I trust them enough to be myself with them. They make me feel accepted and won’t sacrifice me to the other team to make themselves look good.

Wisdom reminds me to watch what I say and who I say it to. I have to protect myself in case I let something slip in the presence of someone who’s not safe. Maybe it’s not their fault. Maybe no one ever cheered for them while they tried to make it home. Maybe home never was a safe place for them. Maybe they believe that honesty is the best policy even if it wounds one of their own team members and takes them out of the game.

Tully made it home because the coaches and her teammates had her back. If they’d booed her from the bleachers or chewed her out while she was up to bat, she’d have never even made it to first base. But they all did their best to support her while she did her best. That’s teamwork. That’s safety.

When you're running like your life depends on it, you need a safe place to land. 

That's home.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Engine Trouble

I’m pretty sure in a former life I was a ’29 Ford. Or a Volkswagen. But probably a Ford.

People didn’t use to drive Fords very hard back in twenty-nine. I think. I wasn’t around yet, but since the top speed back then was something like twenty, and the number of interstates was something like none, I think it’s safe to say that’s the reason you can still see ’29 Fords on the road today. Because nobody has ever driven them very far.

I, on the other hand, have been practically driven into the ground.

We have a Chevy Tahoe that currently boasts 183,000 miles on her odometer. She came to us with 19,000—all the rest of those miles are our fault. But still our mechanic thinks she’s good til at least 300,000 and only needs regular oil changes and tire rotations between now and then.

I wish I was a Chevy Tahoe. They last forever.

“I’m fifty-seven,” I whined to my husband today, “and I’m starting to feel like a car on its last legs.”

“Cars don’t have legs,” he said dryly, screws clenched in his teeth as he balanced precariously on a ladder and installed new window shades in the guest room.

“Well, it feels like my chassis is coming apart and everything under the hood needs to be replaced. My locks don’t lock and my upholstery is sagging. My windshield is cracked and my headlights are out.”

“I love it when your headlights are out,” he said.

I don’t think he understands how serious this is. I got my second ever MRI two weeks ago because my lower back is too tight. My chiropractor, who ordered the test, was so concerned about the results when they came in that I had to track him down to read them to me. He’s young enough to be my son and smart enough not to point that out. So he told me what was wrong and didn’t blame my Starbucks addiction for any of it. Nor did he mention the number of candles on my last birthday cake.

“There’s nothing really bad that showed up on the MRI,” he began. My spine stiffened some more. “There’s a little bit of arthritis going on—I gave you some yoga stretches to do, didn’t I?” he said.

Yoga. I tried that once and wound up in his office afterwards.

“So, let me clarify,” I said after he finished converting the technical stuff on the report into Dr. Seuss style explanations, “all of this is normal for a woman my age?”

“Well,” he responded slowly. I hate slow responses. Because I can think, deduce and worry at the speed of light, nanoseconds before he finished his sentence I’d already written my own obituary.

“I’m never happy to read the words “disc extrusion” on an MRI,” he went on. And then he followed that up with words like “on the mild side of significant” and “minimal” and “the worst thing you can do is bend over and touch your toes.”

That’s when I felt like my windshield wiper fluid was about to overflow. Geez. Toe touches are my favorite thing to do.

So, here I am, an aging luxury coup with missing parts, a rusty frame, a fading paint job and high mileage. I’m going in to see that mechanic in a couple of days so he can show me how to keep my gears working without torquing my drive shaft. Or something.
Oh, I guess I should be grateful that my engine still starts every morning, even if I have to warm up my axles before I get rolling. And I may have to be a little more careful about taking the corners too fast and putting better oil in my system. But since I didn’t wake up in a junkyard today, there’s still plenty of life left in this old girl.

Maybe not as much as a ’29 Ford, but now that I think about it, I’d rather be a Volkswagen anyway. They’re not much to look at, but they’re still classics. People say they’re fun, are bigger than they look, and their galvanized steel bodies are as tough as they come.

That’s pretty much me in a nutshell. Just ask my chiropractor.

Thanks to Danzil Raines for the graphic that caught your attention. For more great posts from his site, go to  https://www.flickr.com/photos/26675187@N03/5466523803/in/photolist-j1fZE-4kmf48-BFyWvL-8qhXVK-dwggLT-q5rcn4-k8dMzJ-aCLKnV-pNeFuH-ptjB2R-9vmppR-pMYVFa-ndE8Cq-8zFStW-6mSczu-bCbWsM-q5AQJp-78dasp-7e6vqu-p8Pp1y-8vNiyb-fiXcTr-96TSK6-76MQ2M-qSBc2p-cow63J-9k7sBL-qM9B9E-oLSBk2-qCR8Ec-4A6aur-cE9giy-9k7pNG-5QqXkA-5S8bvj-czodCs-pHToct-3nsvt-9k4n5p-bF7cyR-dwmNgQ-8g4xU-q3vxcd-77bswo-7eJ9J-4qxYjX-4kmeG6-poPSZp-9A9XPE-dwgpHz