Wednesday, June 21, 2017

In Hot Water

They’re calling us sissies in the Sahara. Whiners in Wyoming. And in Florida, they’re throwing our words back in our faces. “But it’s a dry heat, you said!” 

I never said it’s better to stick your face in a four hundred degree oven rather than dangle it over a boiling pot of pasta water. I said they’re both miserable ways to spend the summer and you have to choose which kind of miserable you prefer.

Personally, I’d prefer the misery of having cabin fever in the Swiss Alps right about now.

I live in the Valley of the Sun, Arizona, sometimes called Phoenix, but other times simply called . . . well, I’m not actually allowed to use words like that. I’m not sure how we managed to corner the market on UV rays but I’m guessing it was some kind of political power play where the desert lost and Portland won. Sigh, Portland. I’d prefer the misery of a week of cold, Oregon rain right now, too.

Of course, I’d prefer that in December, as well, so that’s probably not a very good example.

So, here it is. Today is the longest day of the year—Summer Solstice. And in celebration, Mother Nature sent us a gift in the form of a high pressure air mass that confined the daytime heat here the way you trap a lobster in a soup pot. We hit 119 degrees yesterday at the official thermometer perch near our airport, but plenty of people in outlying areas watched the mercury top out at 123 just before their whole gauge exploded.

Every June I forget why I live here.

And here’s something I don’t remember dealing with while growing up in Phoenix. Don’t get me wrong. There were plenty of days with the temps running in the high teens. And I got my share of blistering sunburns trying to stay cool in the swimming pool. But I don’t remember ever needing to warn people about how hot our cold water was coming out of the faucet.

Maybe you’re a building contractor and this makes sense to you, and if it does would you please explain it to me—why do all the water lines in new construction homes here run through the attic? I used to wonder why they put evaporative coolers and A/C units on the roofs here in Arizona—arguably the hottest place for a repairman to have to charge you time and a half. No one builds a house that way anymore, so maybe unions are good for something after all.

Now it’s our water lines that are routed through the attic where they can turn cold water from a tepid seventy-eight degrees to a shocking one hundred five in less than three seconds. I know this personally because I tested every faucet in our house today and that’s what the thermometer showed.

I think that’s taking solar energy way too far.

I don’t even need to use the hot water line in our house. In the kitchen, I just put the pasta in the pot, turn on the handle for the cold, and by the time it fills up we have spaghetti al dente. Our water heaters last twice as long in Arizona as the national average because we just turn them off for the season the same time the snowbirds head home. And still, when my husband showers first, there’s a pretty good chance he’s gonna hear this loving wife yell from the master bath, “Hey! You used up all the cold water again!”

The main problem with this identity crisis with our tapwater is that we have grandchildren over sometimes. I have to keep reminding them to turn on the faucet the second they head in to the bathroom so the water will cool down enough for them to wash their tender, little hands a couple of minutes later without requiring a visit to the E.R.

Honest to Pete, I have no idea who is responsible for this temperature catastrophe or who to sue if any of us ever gets scalded by the cold water in this house. But the next time somebody in the Sahara thinks we’re not as tough as they are, I might have to throw some cold water in their face just to get their attention.

So, you there, up in Portland, if you ever get fed up with your wet, gloomy days and want to trade homes, you know where to find me—I’ll be standing here right next to the medicine cabinet where we keep the burn ointment and gauze. I'm telling you, it’s a good thing I married a firefighter.
If only he knew where to find some cold water.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

How To Survive Babies

We thought we knew it all.

Breastfeeding was old school—we made it new school. Gloria Steinem said to burn our bras and leave our kitchens—we burned her book on our way back home. Chef Boyardee was the king of canned suppers—but we planted gardens and bought Mother Earth News. Where our parents failed, we focused on perfection. “If only we’d been as smart as they are,” good old Mom and Dad might have lamented. “It’s okay,” we’d have answered. "You just weren’t as well read.”

So we swung the pendulum, ditched TV dinners, and saved the next generation from the failures of our own. Wrap our babies in Pampers? Not on your life. Cloth diapers hung from our clotheslines like flapping flags of freedom. Unscrew tiny, overpriced jars of smashed peas for our toddlers? Are you crazy? Not when we could smash veggies ourselves and freeze them in ice cube trays. Leave our priceless cherubs free to play in the backend of old station wagons while we tooled down the highway? Listen—our generation was the first to ever strap a kid down like a bale of hay while we told him to stop crying about it and eat his Cheerios.

We knew the right way to wrangle babies and weren’t afraid to enlighten the public. Just to prove it, we ditched public school and educated the kids at home.  Finally, we told our teens to kiss dating goodbye, determined to navigate them unscathed through the dangerous years of puberty.  We were on a mission. They’d grow up smart, they’d grow up responsible, they’d grow up with straight teeth. And if anyone doubted our credentials, all they had to do was keep their opinions to themselves.

But in all the back-to-nature dreams we chased—abandoning our modern culture for the foreign fields of do-it-yourself—not one trusted professional ever told me the secret that would have saved my exhausted sanity. Not even the venerated Dr. Dobson (who I listened to with the devotion today’s moms ascribe to Dr. Oz) ever focused on the family issue that threatens every single generation with extinction.

How to make a baby stop crying without spending the rest of your life in prison.

Oh, stop it. If that sentence shocks you, you’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a baby. Or you’ve never been an exhausted parent running a household on three hours of sleep garnered in fifteen minute increments over the last two days. Or a firefighter on a 48-hour shift. Or a firefighter parent with a newborn at home.

Sleep is freaking important. As are firefighters and baristas and caffeine and anything else that spells survival.

I’ve got two beautiful grown children and two amazing in-law children. I’ve been a grandmother for nine years. There are six little birthstone jewels dangling from my grandma necklace and 3,249 photos of the world’s most beautiful kiddos suspended somewhere in a cloud. I’ve been around. But last month I witnessed the answer to the burning question that haunted my childbearing years, drained the natural red from my hair, and pruned up my facial skin in a public display of defeat.

My son is a pastor and a stay-at-home dad who sometimes cares for three kids and two babies at the same time—two little girls and a seven-month-old son of his own, and the daughter and five-month-old son of a friend. He’s already got me beat in the experience department by a ratio of 2.5 to 1 with those numbers. I think. 

Anyway, my husband and I visited his home one morning just as the borrowed baby was losing his mind in the living room. I once read that the sound of a baby crying on your shoulder registers at 115 decibels in your ear, which is louder than a chainsaw. This kid was pushing the tachometer at about 225. The room was reverberating with the sound of not-silence.

My son picked the boy up, tried to work out some inner angst or inner gas or something—also a technique Dr. Dobson never discussed when I most needed it—and finally carried him back to the master bedroom. The screaming suddenly stopped. Now, I’ll admit, I was tempted to panic and resort to prayer and fasting. To my odd relief, the crying started up again only to be followed by absolute quiet after a few more seconds. Then my son came back to the living room and sat down, completely relaxed.

I was afraid to ask. But I did anyway.

“What did you do?” I questioned.

“About what?” he asked calmly.

“To make the baby stop crying?”

“I swaddled him,” he said, like it was the most natural thing in the world.

“You swaddled him,” I repeated, transfixed.

“Right. I wrapped one side tightly and he calmed down. He started to cry again and I wrapped him in the other direction. Then he closed his eyes and fell asleep. He’ll probably nap there for at least an hour.”

“You didn’t even give him any Dramamine?” I asked incredulously.

My son raised his eyebrow and ignored the admission, er, question.

“You simply . . . swaddled him.”


{swod-l} verb.  The art of creating a baby burrito for the sole purpose of comforting a screaming infant so he feels secure and will Go.To.Sleep.ThankYouJesus. Tah dah.

Fury filled my inner soul.

Swaddling??!! There were no charts on the walls in my pediatrician’s office which detailed this technique when I was in charge of babies. No exposés in Mother Earth News to enlighten the tired masses of motherhood in my generation. Dr. Dobson could have saved a lot of trees by addressing the need to swaddle babies before they all turned into strong-willed kids whose parents required his book to get them through the toddler years. For heaven’s sake, couldn’t one single pastor have pointed out from his pulpit that the Bible mentioned the swaddled Christ Child for a reason???

Swaddling. My daughter knew about it. My son knew about it. I’ll bet even you know about it. Where did everyone in this generation learn about it when nobody I hung around had ever ever heard of it?


So here’s my advice to the millions of moms and dads trying to navigate their  way through an ocean of internet opinions all intent on turning them into a twenty-first century model of parenting perfection. Let it go. Buy fake diapers. Stock the pantry with purchased baby food. Use formula if you have to. 

But for God’s sake, learn how to swaddle your baby, even if it means giving up the dream of home schooling and expensive orthodonture. The key to survival is, and always will be, sleep. Lots and lots of sleep.

I’ll bet even my parents knew that. 

I need a nap.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Ping Pong Balls

“Tell them you had a bad dream,” he said when I began to cry.  But I was taught never to tell lies.  So I told the truth. She picked me up and laughed. “There’s something funny outside,” she said, distracting me from my tears but only enough that I knew what she was doing. I was four.

“How could you tell anyone about this?!” she yelled at me. “What will people say?” So I stopped crying. I stopped telling. I stopped trusting. Anyone. And I learned to protect myself from people who fear honesty. Once taught to tell the truth, now I was told to keep quiet. I was twelve.

“Welcome back,” he said. I thought I’d feel happy, but anxiety came instead. Why didn’t I trust him? What was I afraid of? Random memories bobbed up like too many ping pong balls in a pool of water. I was only beginning to discover how tiring it is to keep them all submerged at the same time. I was twenty-seven.

I told her about being twelve and twenty-seven . . . and four. She listened quietly, respectful but without comment. I felt foolish for telling my story. For not having dealt with it all by now. My words hung in the air expectantly until they floated away, unseen. Maybe I should have kept them inside. What did I know? I was only thirty-five.

“You must forgive others for your own sake,” she said when I was forty, “so it doesn’t poison you.” I heard her say that remembering is a sin. Remembering means you haven’t forgiven. Forgiveness is required after all that Christ has done for me. I got the message. So, let’s say I was in a car accident that was someone else’s fault and I was left paralyzed. Forever. Clearly I’d never forgiven the other driver. Because if I had, I’d be able to walk again.

“It doesn’t do any good to dig up the past,” he told his son. That’s not what the doctor told me when she discovered cancer. She cut into the sickness, took it out, and saved my life. The cancer had been there for a while, but no one recognized it. No one went searching for it. Not until she did. Then I became whole again. I was fifty-five.

All these years I have believed that my feelings didn’t matter. That my instincts were wrong. I was told that I judged people unfairly and refused to forgive. They loved me, each of them, and I tried to tell them how I felt. But words failed me. Perhaps I was just speaking Italian and they weren’t bilingual.

But my feelings do matter. I can see truth because Truth lives inside me and hasn’t left me once in all of my life. I desperately needed validation. I finally found it in a few friends and a counselor. But many others were too busy trying to keep their own ping pong balls submerged.

“You will know the Truth,” He said, “and the Truth will set you free.” Isn’t it interesting He didn’t say forgiveness will set you free? That reconciling will set you free? That keeping secrets will set you free?

All along I believed this truth—that being honest is the bottom line and staying away from abusive people is as important as avoiding someone with a contagious disease. Maybe feelings are a God-given radar system to alert us when we’re in danger. And maybe choices have consequences, even if the choosers are Christians.

Now I see it’s a gift, rather than a weakness, to have a functioning intuition. To be a person who has learned to tell the truth and draw healthy boundaries instead of enabling damaged people to count me among their assortment of collateral damage.

Or maybe I’m wrong. What do I know? 

I’m not quite sixty.

With appreciation to Beth Cortez-Neavel for the use of the photograph above. The original photo can be viewed at

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Best Christmas Present Ever

“He sure does have some stinky toots,” my husband said while we played cards with friends. We all wrinkled our noses in agreement and waited for the air to clear.

“Maybe it’s his food,” I muttered later, as I walked past a dog dish full of canned organ meats. The smell hung right there in the air, all fingers pointing to our new pup’s putrid digestive system and unappetizing menu. Then I noticed the jar of freshly fermenting sauerkraut overflowing onto the counter above his bowls. I had no idea homemade sauerkraut and doggie toots smell identical.

Our new puppy, recently adopted from a pretty nasty animal control facility in the Phoenix area, got sick two days after we brought him home. I know—shocker. Somehow, surrounded by dog cells adorned with “This dog is sick but adoptable” signs, our little lab contracted a nasty case of kennel cough. But he wasn’t coughing. He just had . . . tummy issues. Which morphed into an eating and drinking fast (who knew he was a religious dog?) and landed him in two vets’ offices the same week.

“Where did he come from?” they asked us.

“The pound.”

“How old is he?”

Blank stare.

“Is he a Labrador/shepherd mix?”


As best we can tell, he has absolutely no medical history and has left no paper trail. He just appeared on a street corner on Christmas Eve somewhere in Phoenix and was delivered to the pound sometime on Christmas Day. Which wasn’t a very nice present for him, if you ask me.

But I’d been praying for a new dog for almost a year. Specifically, I prayed for a dog who needed us. It’s hard to figure out how to find a dog like that. I did have some important specifics, though.  First, he/she needed to have a kind heart.  Second, he must be allergic to the following: 

Garden hoses
Lawn chairs
Household furniture
Extension cords, and
Chocolate truffles. 

By the time our first dog dissected all of the above, my husband figured out Harmony suffered from a PVC deficiency. I discovered she loved Lindt’s truffles when I dropped one and, before I realized it wasn’t in my mouth, it turned up in hers.

I never forgave her for that, by the way.

So, how were we gonna find the perfect dog? Our last two pets were both pound puppies. They each had a history we were forced to figure out one weird experience at a time. Harmony, our redheaded beagle mix, had clearly been abused by a tall, dark man wearing a baseball cap. Either that or she just didn’t like my brother-in-law. But she loved riding in the car, especially if we took her to the junipered hills of Payson. Sound asleep for the two hour ride to the mountains, the first whiff of pines and burning woodstoves that floated in through the car vent woke her up. That’s the first time I ever saw a dog smile.

She was perfectly portable.

Our next pet, like the first, was the quietest dog in the pound. She had exotic eyes seemingly enhanced by black eyeliner, faint brown spots beneath a silky white coat, and the agility of a ferret. For her whole life, she had the playful spirit of a puppy and didn’t care whether we joined in on the games or not. But she hated the car. Was terrified of travel. Taking her anywhere spelled torture, so we stopped doing it. This afternoon I found her collar and tags and cried all over again.

See why we needed a new dog?

“Well, maybe we should find a puppy who has no history or baggage and doesn’t need a therapist,” Rob suggested.

“Yeah, a dog with a clean slate,” I said.

“Or a lopsadoodle who doesn’t shed so we can keep a clean floor,” my husband answered.

I’m absolutely positive those of you who own doodle dogs are thrilled with them and the frugal way they keep their hair to themselves. But they remind me of those little metal dog pieces in a Monopoly game. I’d have to name it Park Place or something. 

Nope. No doodle dogs.

I’d found a few lovely labs online that were so precious their breeders wanted between $300 and $2300 for them—and wouldn’t throw in food or toys for that amount. Even I choked on those prices. Which makes sense. The same way we search out new cars is the way we find family pets—used dogs with low mileage.

Puppies were definitely out. My husband is now and forevermore on blood thinners. Puppy punctures and Warfarin are not a great combination. Rescue dogs didn’t make the list, either. As much as we love our dogs, at the end of the day they are still dogs. We are not co-parents of canines with a rescue organization calling the shots. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Once again, we wound up at the nasty Animal Control facility where sixty dollar dogs are at a premium.

“I thought we preferred females,” my husband said as we peered through the bars at convict number 361.

“Beggars can’t be choosers,” I answered. “We can figure out how to cope with boy dog bathroom habits.”

“But this one isn’t a chocolate lab,” he pointed out.

“We can paint him.”

“Are you sure he’s the one?”

I was so sure. We’ve discovered that I have a talent for picking out great pups. The next day, after a lot of anxiety (mostly revolving around an impromptu raffle at the last minute for the yellow lab everyone recognized to be a great find), that brave little stray took a chance on us and became ours. We brought him home, named him Buddy, re-named him Brody, normally call him a “her” and wonder why he doesn’t answer to Body (“His name is Brody!” my husband keeps reminding me.)

Now you know why we needed a dog. We were shriveling up into old retired people.

Brody the Brave got well. And I think we’re getting younger every day he’s here. I don’t know who loves who more—the creamy young lab we rescued from the clutches of five other people who probably would have adored him as much as we do, or my husband and me who are laughing and moving more than we have in the year since we lost Sydney.

So what if he toots as bad as homemade sauerkraut? And even if, between specialized dog food and dog toys and beds and blankets and two vet bills and double antibiotics and vitamins, our $60 dog is now valued at more than ten times that much, we still saved $1700 over the price of that cute little piranha toothed lab I read about online.

I prayed for a dog who needed us, but all the while I knew what I was really asking for was the buddy we desperately needed. We found him. Maybe we found each other. 

It looks like Brody had a merry Christmas after all.