Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year . . . Again

I don’t believe in writing New Year’s resolutions.  Usually.  Resolutions are things you should be able to keep. But most people’s resolutions are so unrealistic, they abandon them all by January ninth. Which is tomorrow. So far, I still have time.

I decided to take my own advice and be realistic this year.  So here’s my list of guaranteed-to-be-successful resolutions for 2018.  Feel free to borrow anything you like.
1.      I resolve not to waste my time finishing a movie that I knew was a clunker in the first ten minutes just because it might get better.  Life is too short.

2.      I resolve not to hate my neighbors for shooting off fireworks at seven o’clock at night on New Year’s Eve.  I’m only able to keep this one because I’m a grandmother, not a mother of sleeping babies.  If I had sleeping babies, I’m pretty sure I’d be hunting down whoever it was that set off a cannon in the street just now. 

3.      I resolve to do my part to aid in the economic recovery of America by continuing to support my local Starbucks.  It’s the least I can do.

4.      I resolve to stop trying to figure out what is wrong with people who can’t tell time and continue shooting off fireworks at eight fifteen on New Year’s Eve.  On the plus side, if they use up all their ammunition before midnight, maybe we can all get some sleep.

5.      I resolve to give up multi-tasking. Even though I am a woman and I excel at it, my husband doesn’t believe anyone multi-tasks well, based on a recent news expose to the contrary.  I also resolve to give up letting him watch the news.

6.      I resolve to personally work to end the careers of politicians who recently voted to make fireworks legal in this town.

7.      I resolve to write a new blog every day I'm not also working on that book I've been writing for three years. Next year I resolve to never again write another book. 

8.      I resolve to give up cigar smoking, riverboat gambling, and algebra.  Wow. That was easy.

9.      I resolve to stop putting all my eggs in one basket, not to count any unhatched chickens, and to find out if wooden nickels are worth taking.

10.  I resolve to give up horror flicks in favor of Dick Van Dyke reruns.  Okay, I did that when I was ten. But it worked out so well, I’m sticking with it.

11.  I resolve to be out of town this Fourth of July.  There’s no need to celebrate it twice in the same year with the same people.

12.  Finally, I resolve to practice forgiveness.  Just as soon as I set off fireworks tomorrow morning at eight and return the kindness to all my hung-over neighbors.
Happy New Year. May all your resolutions be as realistic as mine.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Lovecraft by YaYa, Or, I Played Arkham Horror With My Son And Still Don't Know What Happened

I took a voyage into the Other World at my son’s house last month. 

I’ve avoided this for years.  Ever since he took up role playing games and told me they’re fun, I’ve prayed for him daily and sent him Yahtzee games at Christmas.  I thought one dice game is as good as another, and maybe he could be distracted by a version without demons.
This was the largest board game I’ve ever seen in my life.  It was three feet long and two feet wide, barely fit on the dining room table, and had no fewer than three hundred game pieces and six hundred rules—twenty-seven pages of instructions. 

That’s not a game.  That’s a dissertation.
My son understands all six hundred of these rules.  He spent thirty minutes giving us the condensed version and when he was done I understood two things—dynamite blows up monsters and if I went to the diner I’d get blessed.  Or get food poisoning.  It depended on what card I drew and if I could roll a five.
I got holy water on the first deal, as well as a .45 automatic.  I bought dynamite as soon as I saved up six dollars because it’s worth eight points, but I couldn’t use my gun as long as I used dynamite because somewhere in the fine print it says you have to have both hands free if you’re gonna use dynamite against monsters.  Well, that’s just stupid. I’m pretty sure if I was in a dark wood with monsters chasing me, I could light all those sticks of dynamite with matches in my teeth and shoot my Colt .45 at the same time.  I’m a mother.  I’ve carried a playpen, purse, bottles, diaper bag and a baby in one arm while unlocking the car with the other. 
Monsters are no match for a mother.
When my turn came around again, I had “the power”.  It was an elder sign which they made me pay five dollars for and which dropped me into a planet in the Hyades, which might actually be a constellation.  I think it meant I had to stay in the Great Hall of Cellulite for two days and if I made it out without cankles or high blood pressure, we could all go to bed and dream of monsters taunting us at midnight with chocolate cake. 

At that point I realized I might be losing focus.
See, this is the reason I’ve never tried any of these games—I didn’t think I could stay awake through one of them. And I didn’t want my kids to play them because I was afraid they’d be drawn over to the dark side.  That concern flew out the window five years ago when my son became an Anglican priest.  I’m pretty sure Anglican priests are not living life on the dark side. It begs the question, though - how many other Anglican priests spend Saturday nights passing a lore minus one parenthesis two check to gain four clue tokens?  I have no idea what that sentence even means, but I’m pretty sure that, like me, most Baptists would take offense to it.
My husband suddenly had the opportunity to bless me with a gate trophy and pray me out of purgatory.  I wished someone would pray me into a Starbucks.  I’d like to point out that there’s no Jesus in Arkham Horror, even though I did have a holy water card and there was a nun hiding in either the library or a stack of purple cards.  I rolled a five and then a six and won an expert occultist card.  Seriously creepy.  My daughter-in-law rolled a card that put her in a house with rats—then she rolled a speed check in order not to be lost in time and space. 
What makes people come up with these games, I wondered.  Too much to drink? Too much caffeine? A close call with meningitis?
Once again I was forced to take a turn.  I had to seal a gate which is way better than just closing a gate because now evil can never come through that gate again.  I didn’t even have to fight anything because I had the elder card.  I just had to give up one of my four sanity points and another of my six stamina points.
“I don’t see why I had to give up some of my sanity to use the elder card and seal the gate,” I complained.
“Because the elder card is messed up and full of creepy fighting with horrible creatures in the other world.  So you lose some sanity in the battle.”
“I rebuke that in the name of Jesus,” I replied. 
On the next round, strange lights appeared on campus.  The library admin building had to be closed til the end of the next turn and my son was kicked out to the streets.  I chose to fight a monster.  Then I got to beat up a cultist. 

Finally something I understood—I’ve wanted to do that for years. 
Eleven thirty p.m.  Three and a half hours into the game and we started getting slap happy.  My son rolled five dice, and without even pulling out his gun card, blew up the cultist.
“Oh, look at that,” he bragged, “I took him out without even pulling out my weapons.  I kicked him and he fell over dead.”
“You sneezed and he died,” his sleepy wife offered.
“I killed his face off,” he agreed, stacking more cards and preparing for ultimate victory as we were about to seal the final gate and go to bed.  
“Can you imagine how hard it is for all the players to have enough gate trophies to defeat the giant beasties of doom?” my son summarized. I couldn’t even come close to imagining such a thing.
“If I roll a five on my move with nine dice, he’ll be dead and we’ll all win,” he explained. Whatever it takes to be victorious, I thought numbly.  If he rolled a six, I was gonna pull out Yahtzee.
Finally, he put me out of my misery by rolling a five and saving the world.  I guess it was an impressive roll, but since the point of the game was for all of us to be a team and wipe out the monsters together, I wound up being more impressed with my daughter-in-law than his masterful roll of a five.

She saved the world, too, but she did it all with a sleeping infant in her arms.
I told you monsters are no match for mothers.

Photo courtesy of Moore Memorial Public Library's photostream

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ensenada Madonna

I’ve seen eyes like hers before, but never in person. 
There were so many faces to see that day in the dirty, crowded city.  Surrounded by noise and people, our senses overwhelmed by new sights and smells, our excitement was tempered by the reality of visiting a foreign country.  You have to keep your guard up. You’ve gotta know where your wallet is at all times and stay on the main road.  And most of all, stick together.  Stragglers are targets.
There’s a lot that can happen when you travel, especially at Christmas. The weather can be bad. Roads may be detoured. One winter we drove for miles in a surprise snowstorm before we found a motel that hadn’t filled up yet with stranded families.  It’s not all Currier & Ives or Hallmark when December 25th rolls around, you know. You’ve got to be smart. Plan ahead. Cross your t's and dot your i's and keep AAA on speed dial.
After covering hundreds of miles to get to this town, we spent the day exploring shops and navigating past beggars of all ages. And just as we began to cross the street for the last time, I broke the rules.  I became distracted and separated  from my group in a foreign country.  It was the most surprising thing I’d done all day, but I couldn’t help it.
I was compelled by the look in her eyes.
At first I took in the tiny scene and glanced away.  “Feet, keeping moving,” I thought to myself, “there’s nothing to see here.” But my heart told me otherwise.  A small, dirty child toddled around her, unaware of their poverty, while her mother sat on the ground looking up at me imploringly. I’m not the person who caves at every busy intersection, paying grown men and women to hold up questionable cardboard signs at freeway on-ramps. I’m skeptical and cautious and rarely accused of generosity.  I don’t trust strangers much. This could have been a set up—after all, I was a tourist.  A sucker ripe for the taking.
But in that moment when I turned around to look into her eyes, I was transported. I saw back two thousand years ago to another homeless young woman, herself in an unfamiliar town. Rejected by her family and responsible for a baby, she must have felt the weight of the world on her shoulders. She was probably about the same age as this one when she had to tell her fiancĂ© she was carrying Someone Else’s child. It was a terrifying position.  The culture was strict.  He could have had her killed. But, instead, he was the only one who believed her story. Against all logic, he married her and delayed intimacy until after his virgin bride gave birth.

There’s a paradox for you.
In the last days of her pregnancy, they were forced to travel to a distant, crowded city much like this one, sleep in a dirty stable, and welcome her Son into the world before an audience of smelly animals. You don’t get more base than that.
I'm captivated by the courage of that young woman—the only person on the planet who knew beyond all shadow of doubt that this Baby really was the Son of God. Today, as many canvases bear her image as her Son's. But in every one of them, it’s always her eyes that draw us in and make me wonder—how does a teenage girl raise the baby Who is her own Creator?
What did she do with all those things she weighed and pondered in her heart the night the shepherds came? And years later, after that horrible day at the foot of a cross, how did she transition from brokenhearted mother to follower of Christ—her son and yet her Messiah? Who else could have kept their sanity in circumstances like those except the woman who knew the Truth from the very beginning?
Amazing, isn’t it? God took “what the world calls weak to put the strong to shame. He deliberately chose what in the world is lowborn and branded with contempt . . .”*  In many cultures, that’s how women are treated—only as valuable as a piece of property. But God elevated women and trusted Mary with His very Life, His Only Son. Through her He gave us our Savior, Jesus.
He was a Man of Sorrows. Born of a woman of sorrows. At this moment of my vacation, I found myself staring into a sad woman’s eyes and remembering another woman whose sorrows gave birth to Hope. Impulsively, I dropped a piece of currency into the cup held out by this Madonna of Ensenada. She never said a word, but just looked up at me with those dark, pleading eyes. It was a sobering moment as I contrasted our two worlds separated by a common border. Two mothers staring into one another’s faces. 
One a reflection of hopelessness.
The other one rescued by Hope.

Why lies He in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian fear; for sinners here the silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, the Cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail, the Word made flesh,
The babe, the Son of Mary!
So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king, to own Him,
The King of Kings salvation brings . . . the babe, the Son of Mary!

*(1 Cor. 1:27-28)
What Child Is This? Words by William Chatterton Dix

Friday, December 14, 2012

Lightning Never Strikes

We’re kind of like a dream team, he and I—dreaming of what lies around the next bend or what we want to do when we retire. Hours cooped up together on cross country road trips can do that to you.  I love to dream of clean bathrooms.  He loves to point out potentially fabulous homes that look a lot like abandoned gas stations. 

Just what I need—contaminated ground water for my grandkids to play in.
One man’s daydream is another woman’s nightmare, I’ve discovered. He says he could live in every town and excuse for a town that we pass through on our way to real destinations, but I know he’s just messing with me. After all these years, I’ve learned to recognize the symptoms.  His delusional attacks usually begin with a friendly, off-the-cuff comment like, “There you go, honey.” And the next thing I know, he’s telling me we could fix up some cute little three sided shack sitting beside the railroad tracks and live there happily ever after.
“Come on, babe, think of the possibilities!” he gushes.

I did. I think there’s a possibility he could wind up living there by himself.
He doesn’t mean any of it. He just likes to get my goat.  He thinks it’s funny to insinuate he might want to sell our house and buy a derelict hotel for us to live in instead.  In Amityville.  Then when I give him the emotional reaction he’s looking for, he never apologizes for playing mind games with me.  A reaction is the point of the game I never win.
Maybe I’m a poor loser, but isn’t that called mental cruelty?
Here’s the thing—we don’t know how to fix up houses.  All we know how to do is change light bulbs and . . . no, that’s it.  Well, I can jiggle a toilet handle. But that doesn’t make us house flipping material. He can fix plumbing every time hell freezes over with no other options, but if his choices were to fix a broken pipe under the kitchen sink or go through a colonoscopy, I think he’d rather let a doctor examine his plumbing than try to repair ours. 
So the odds that I'll agree to buy a handyman special in need of an exorcist are about as great as the chance that we'll win the lottery. And statistics say it’s more likely we’ll get hit by lightning in our own kitchen than win the pick—but that doesn’t stop us from buying a ticket.
Some people call the lottery the poor man’s retirement plan. And for a while, we tried to invest in that 401K.  We even came up with a winning strategy no one else had ever thought of before—numerals that represented family birthdays. We had just enough people with just enough dates to fill up six numbers.

Genius, right?
And then something went wrong—the Powerball threw in an extra number at the end of the normal series of six, but none of us had a birthday on the forty-third or the fifty-seventh of the month, so we didn’t know how to pick a seventh number. 
We don’t play the lottery anymore.  They screwed up our winning system.
Last week, I was sitting outside a Starbucks on a beautiful, balmy fall morning, slurping my coffee-flavored iced half and half, and catching up with a girlfriend.  Across the patio from us sat three men talking and drinking their morning caffeine as well.  Suddenly, one of the men stood up, walked over to some nearby bushes, and pulled out a piece of currency from under the foliage.  He saw me watching him, waved his bounty in the air victoriously and, with a big grin, yelled to me, “It’s my lucky day!” 
“It sure is,” I answered with a laugh.
“Guess I’ll go buy a lottery ticket!” he declared.
Wow, I thought. You’re so stupid. And I nodded in resignation at the delusional man.
Overwhelmed by the bitterness of my coffee and the quirk of fate I’d just observed, I threw out my venti cup and crossed my arms in irritation.  I should have been the one seated next to that oleander.  I’d have used the cash to support my local Starbucks instead of donating it to the closest Circle K. 
Lotteries just may be the biggest scam ever foisted on an ignorant public.  Wasn’t it Will Rogers who said the best way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it in your pocket?  And have you ever read what the Bible says about get-rich-quick schemes? Proverbs declares that “whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.”  When I read about the ruined lives of lottery winners, all I can think is that winning is the punishment.
So now we’re back to dreaming.  I dream of becoming an author and my husband dreams of ruining our marriage with the purchase of abandoned silos.
“Hey,” he said to me just now as we drove past a sign for St. Robert, Missouri.  “We could live here! There’s a Starbucks here!  We could live anywhere as long as it has a Starbucks,” he said.
Well, there’s a thought.  If we ever drive past an abandoned Starbucks, I just might consider buying it. 

As long as it has a clean bathroom.

(Photo courtesy of Bo Insogna's photostream at

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Up In Flames

He's the one with the moustache.
I married a fireman. 

Thirty-eight years after he first wore turnouts, he retired as a battalion chief, but I still think of him as a firefighter. Our kids grew up climbing all over real fire trucks when we visited their dad on shift. They had the most expensive playground equipment in the world.
My husband was cut out for his job. He’s calm, cool, and collected under any circumstance. It takes a lot to get his feathers ruffled. He understands how to build a good fire and he knows how to put one out—there’s very little that gets the best of him. 

I, on the other hand, can barely spell calm, cool and collected.
We were spending a weekend in an old, family cabin one October.  Okay, it was more like an ancient mobile home with an attached family room. The kitchen’s vintage gas stovetop had been reduced from four to two working burners, and a third had attitude problems. The pilot light was non-existent.  Weekends in that trailer with its gas appliances was one of the few things that made my firefighter husband twitch.
One evening, I turned on a knob for the stovetop, lit a match and held it to light the gas below the burner.  In horror, I watched as the flame lit and followed the gas line back to the knob itself. I needed to shut off the gas to the defective burner, but the knob was also engulfed in flames. There was only one thing to do—alert my local fire department.
“Rob!!!  The kitchen is on fire!!!”  I screamed to my husband who was busy in the other room trying to start his own inferno in the fireplace. Then I ran back and forth across the kitchen, holding the burned out match and trying to remember where my jewelry and kids were.
My fireman wandered into the kitchen where I grabbed him, pointed to the flaming control knob, and cried,
“What are we gonna do?!”
He summoned all the years of training and experience he’d stored up as the best firefighter in the world, took a great big breath, and—blew out the flame on the knob. 
Big deal.  I could’ve done that.  If I’d thought of it.
A firefighter’s wife is her own kind of special hero, too, you know.  She runs the household all by her little lonesome one third of the time, making her a single mom without recognition or tax breaks.  But when there’s an emergency, she knows who to call, how to tell them to show up (code three—lights and sirens, please), and where to find her on-duty husband.  

It’s a miracle that they can run a whole department without her expertise.
We rented a tiny one bedroom house on the gulf coast of Florida for the first couple of years we were married.  You wouldn’t think it ever gets cold enough to require a heater there, but it does.  Orange groves freeze there all the time, and I remember one Christmas morning when the thermometer wouldn’t budge above nineteen degrees. See?  You need a heater when that happens.
But our house had an old southern-style unit which ran off of fuel oil.  Most of the South has gone modern now, and people warm their homes with gas or electricity.  But this little rental had its own hundred gallon tank of fuel oil propped up on metal stilts outside the back door.  The oil ran through a small pipe into the house and around the back of a four-foot-tall cylindrical heater that sat in the corner of our dining room.  When we needed to warm up, we turned a little lever at the back of the cylinder—in the poorly lit paneled room—and waited a few minutes for a puddle of oil to appear in the bottom of the giant heater.
For step two of the heating adventure, we tore a piece of paper, threaded it into a slot on the end of a long metal rod, lit it on fire and lowered the burning flame deep inside the heater’s dark abyss.  There it shone on the glistening oil, and set it all on fire if we did it right.  Then a tiny little fan attached to the back of the tank by the landlord blew heat from the giant flaming missile throughout the house, and we called that whole endeavor "central heat and polluted air."
One night when my husband was on duty and I was home alone, a cold front blew south from Tampa and right through our house, taking the flame in our heater with it. In a matter of minutes, the temperature dropped ten degrees in our uninsulated living room.

But I am a fireman’s wife.  I knew what to do.
I ran the drill. I made sure the oil was turned on, lit a paper scrap, lowered it into the bottom of the tank, and watched to see it catch fire. It didn’t.  I didn’t see any glistening oil inside, either. Anxiously, I turned the knob controlling the oil so more would flow. Then I lit another paper and watched it burn out inside the tank without igniting anything. By now I was convinced that the oil tank outside had run dry and I would freeze to death overnight in my own bed.  For five or ten minutes I tried to start up the heater and, on the last try with the lever opened full, my flaming torch revealed what I’d been hoping to see – sort of. 

There was indeed oil pooling at the bottom of the heater.  About a gallon of it.  And I saw it glistening a split second after there was any hope that I could retrieve the torch of death.  The swimming pool of black gold caught the flame like an outfielder in Yankee Stadium, the oil went up in flames, and I backed against the wall waiting for the house to blow up.
The heater stood its ground, huffing and puffing like a menopausal woman with hot flashes.  I began to panic.  I was certain I’d heard of a tank like this turning a bright shade of hellish red just before melting down and oozing volcano-style down the hallway, through the living room and out the front door, taking every living thing and a lot of glass knick knacks with it.
I wasn’t taking any chances.  I grabbed the telephone with the long, long cord attached to the kitchen wall, and stretched it out all the way to the laundry room around the corner while I phoned the fire department—just in case I had to make a fast exit out the side door of the house.
“Fire Department,” the professional voice on the other end of the line answered. "What’s your emergency?”
“I turned on the oil to my heater and caught it on fire and now I’m afraid it’s going to explode,” I answered breathlessly.
“Your house caught fire and exploded?” she questioned.  “M’am, did you leave the house before making this call?”
“No, the house isn’t on fire yet.  I just think it might be on fire soon.”
“So you don’t have an emergency?” she queried.
Why was this so hard to understand, I thought in frustration.  Don’t oil heaters blow up at least once every winter?
“Look,” I told her carefully, “my husband is on duty with the fire department tonight.”  Then I told her his name.  “I talked to him an hour ago—he’s outside playing volleyball with his crew.  I don’t want him to panic when he hears our address over the loudspeakers and finds out you sent a fire truck to our house.  Could you just have someone go tell him quietly that there’s too much oil burning in our tank and we’re probably fine but I’m just being cautious in case it catches on fire?”
“There’s an oil tanker on fire?” she asked tensely.
“No! I turned on the oil to the heater from the oil tank and then I lit it six times before the oil caught on fire and now my heater looks like it’s having an asthma attack and I’m afraid the house is going to blow . . ..”
“M’am, calm down,” she interrupted.  “We’ll send a truck over to check it out.” 
“Okay,” I said in relieved frustration, “but tell them they don’t need to use lights or sirens or anything like that.  You know, send them code two.  And tell my husband out on the volleyball court that I’m fine but I just want someone to come tell me if I need a bigger truck with a fire hose to cool off this tank because the house is getting really hot and . . .”
“The truck is on its way,” the exhausted operator told me.  “I told them not to use their sirens.  Have a nice day.”  And she hung up.
She also lied.
In a better than average response time, the fire department shrilled a loud, “The cavalry’s comin’, the cavalry’s comin’!” across time and space, complete with air horns and wildly screaming sirens and flashing lights. Assuming they were coming to my house, I let out a big sigh and headed for the front door.
It looked like a Christmas parade outside. Engine No. 1 had the lead, followed by an EMS truck, the battalion chief and the chaplain. All we needed was Santa Claus throwing candy from atop the ladder truck. Flashing lights lit up the living rooms of every home on our street. A minute after that, my father-in-law showed up in his take-home fire chief car and behind him was the associate pastor from our church who recognized the address from his fire scanner. In three and a half minutes there were seventeen people in my front yard and another half dozen in the cramped dining room warming their hands by the glow of my overfed oil heater.
I cut through the crowd until I reached the scene of the crime, hung my head in embarrassment and asked timidly, “Is it gonna blow?”
“No, m’am,” one of the firefighters grinned.  “You just need to let the oil burn off for a couple of hours.  Open some windows to let cool air in and you’ll be fine.  By the way,” he added over his shoulder. “Rob said to tell you his team won three sets of volleyball.”
“Woo hoo,” I answered lamely. 
It takes a lot more than a burning oil tanker to unnerve that firefighter of mine.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Secret to Happiness

I usually try to save up all my bad luck and blow it all at once in one long day.  It’s kind of like getting immunized against the flu, the mumps, the measles, the chickenpox, and the plague in one big old mother of a shot.  I figure after that I should be good for a couple of years before another wave of wonderful heads my way.

Here’s the problem—I’m not in charge of Trouble.  And Trouble has a mind of its own.

So what’s the crisis this time?  Another expensive car repair. We took our truck in to the mechanic for a little ol’ brake job and some routine maintenance.  He said it should be two hundred dollars less than it ended up costing us. And I responded, this check should be good at the bank.  He didn’t even smile as he handed me the keys to our gold plated Chevy.

If we weren’t mechanically challenged, we could handle things like this ourselvSes and save the cost of labor.  But the love of my life and I have something in common—we don’t know how to fix stuff. We’ve tried, believe me, but we gave it up years ago for the sake of our marriage. I’m no good at fixing busted things (I don't even like to sew buttons back on), and my husband resigned as part-time handyman after I asked him if we could afford for him to make any more repairs.  I had to give back my Wife of the Year award after that.

When things break down, I break down.  Okay, I panic.   

Like that time when we smelled smoke in our house.  My husband is a fireman.  It’s a really bad idea for a fireman’s house to burn down—it’s so embarrassing.  We had no idea where the burned wiring smell was coming from, but I was pretty sure it was something electrical. 

That narrowed it down. 

I ran back and forth through the house, trying to think what to grab if the whole place suddenly burst into flames and came up with . . . pretty much nothing.  It was late evening, and I was more worried about being bra-less than homeless, so I put one on under my jammies, grabbed my wedding rings, and ran outside with a flashlight. I had no plan, but I was clothed and bejeweled. 

The Rock of Gibraltar under pressure—that’s me.

Once, years ago, the dishwasher broke and, as gallons of water spewed out from under the sink flooding our whole kitchen, I stood in fascination—completely paralyzed—waiting for the water to stop of its own accord.  When it didn’t, I began running back and forth from the front door to the kitchen with my head in my hands moaning, “I don’t know what to do! I don’t know what to do!”  My teenage son, meanwhile, went outside and shut off the water at the main valve, and my daughter grabbed towels to mop up Noah’s flood.  Together, they singlehandedly shored up the dam.

At least I raised smart kids.

I am worthless in a crisis, I tell you.  If it wasn’t for the doctors in the delivery room, there’s no telling how long I’d have stayed pregnant before doing the intelligent thing and giving birth.

I’ve discovered the root of the problem, though. It’s that little phrase, should be.  It sounds so harmless.  But don’t be fooled.  It’s not. It’s as deadly as a two-year-old with the sniffles. Just cozy up to that little bit of innocence, and you might as well cross two weeks off your calendar right now, cuz you’re going down.  And it’ll be ugly.

Things are never as they should be.  If things were as they should be, chocolate would have no calories, clocks would have no faces, and good novels would have no endings.  Gas would cost us pennies, houses would be self-cleaning, and teenagers would all be grateful.  Government would be intelligent, nothing would be clearly ambiguous, and mornings would always be good.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve fallen under the spell of unrealistic expectations.  That’s where disappointment comes from.  Not from your husband. Not from your wife. Not from learning the truth about Santa.   

Disappointment comes from unrealistic expectations.

The secret to happiness is having realistic expectations.  I don’t usually know what those look like—reference Paragraph One above—but I’ll try to take a stab at it.

Realistically, you must understand that everything you need to get to work on time is going to break down at exactly the moment you pull out of the driveway.  That’s Murphy’s Law—if something can go wrong, it will go wrong. My husband says that the law of our house is that Murphy was an optimist. But you know you’ll get through it just like always, so stop running back and forth with your head in your hands crying, “I don’t know what to do!

In other words, don't be like me.

Does this mean we shouldn’t hope for a brighter day?  Nope. All this means is that I had a bad day today and then I came home and whined for twelve hundred words at your expense because I ran out of chocolate.  Writing has fewer calories than chocolate.  But chocolate has fewer readers.  And, it’s possible, that after you finish reading this tome, I will have fewer readers, too. So let me leave you with these words of wisdom written by a bunch of cowards too afraid to take credit for them. 

Keep smiling, and one day life will get tired of upsetting you.”

Well, that’s just stupid.  Life lives to upset you.  Let’s try again. 

Always ask God to give you what you deserve and not what you desire. Your desires may be few, but you deserve a lot.”  

Are you kidding me??  He’s not Aladdin’s Lamp, you know.  And do you know how nice He’s already been to me?  If He gave me what I deserve, there’d just be an oily spot on the ground where I used to be. That’s the last thing I’m asking for. Where do they come up with these things?  One last try. 

Life is like a kaleidoscope, you get lots of views. So forget what people say and cheer up.

Well, I don’t even know what that means.  Forget what people say and cheer up?  Because life is a kaleidoscope?  That’s what you get when you listen to strangers on the internet. Nothing but nonsense. Thanks, but I’ll just wing it from here.

I think when life gives you lemons and then knocks over your pitcher of lemonade, you just go get a mop and clean it up.  You don’t have to break down.  But in case you do, don’t beat yourself up for feeling disappointed.  And stop listening to folks who keep trying to should on you.  All you need to be happy again is to do what I do. That's not the same as being like me.  Don't be like me.  Just do what I do. 

I climb inside my gold-plated Chevy, drive up to my favorite barista's gold-plated window, put five bucks down on the counter and repeat this mantra:

 I’ll have a cafĂ©-mocha vodka-valium latte to go, please.

I’ve said it twice this morning.   I feel better already. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


It sits on the corner of the garden tub I never use. I bought it at Hobby Lobby one afternoon because I love its short sentiment:  Breathe.  You wouldn’t think you’d need a wooden plaque to remind you to do that, would you?  But there are days when I do.
Today was one of those days.  I’m pretty sure it’s not a good idea to get political here—no one seems to appreciate the passion of a conservative—but let’s just say that if you do the math and today is the day after election day 2012 and I’m more of an elephant lover than half of America’s population—well, it’s a sad day for those of us who don’t think much of donkey politics.
On top of that, I’ve had a toothache the size of Hurricane Sandy.  Which, by the way, may have had something to do with the washout of the east coast’s support for a certain. . . elephant. Not the toothache.  The hurricane.  Just saying.  Plus, we have repair bills to cover and a retirement plan to adjust to and taxes that are going to rise in January thanks to, well, never mind, and we didn’t get our rye grass in this year in the front yard.  Or the back yard.  So now the dried up back yard is going to be in my family room every time the dog comes inside from her potty breaks. It was my money saving idea, so I only have myself to blame. I’ll try to remember that while I vacuum. And when the HOA complains.
Then that toothache got in the way of my funny bone and now I’m two days behind in my challenge of writing fifty thousand words in one month.  Christmas is coming and medical expenses this year tied our budget up in knots so now my stomach is doing the same thing.  Every day has trouble of its own—and then some.
It’s enough to make a person forget to . . . breathe.
“Just breathe.”  I love that advice.  The first time I heard it was in the movie, Hope Floats, with Sandra Bullock, who just may be the funniest, best actress on the planet.  Her character was a gal who’d been rejected despite her best efforts to be perfect.  What a drag, huh?  The thing you’re trying to avoid by being everybody’s best friend turns out to be the thing that brings you down. 

It’s an illusion.  It’s a goal that’s moved every time you almost reach it.  Kind of like those poor greyhounds who run forever in circles after a stuffed rabbit.  If they ever caught the thing they live to win, they’d wind up with a mouth full of stuffing and a stomach that’s still aching.
Our dog loves stuffed animals.  We don’t make her run in circles for one—we just make her go get a bath at the groomer’s and then we reward her with a squeaky hedgehog.  It’s a five dollar bribe to put up with a thirty dollar bath.  Dogs sure are expensive.  But that poor hedgehog always gets the worst of the deal.  His lifespan is shorter than that of a mayfly, which is only thirty minutes.  Clinched in the jaws of our mighty mutt, DestructoDog, a stuffed hedgehog has been known to expire in just under five minutes. 

At least it’s relatively painless.
Nothing lasts forever.  Not toys.  Not presidencies. Not even bad days.  Who said it?  Oh, yeah, one of my favorite musical philosophers, Bryan Duncan.  “If there’s one thing you can count on, things are gonna change.”  It’s pretty easy to pinpoint change.  Every week the prices at the gas pumps change.  Babies change. Even faster than gas prices. Just one month after my son and daughter-in-law brought home their second daughter, their seven pound angel had already gained a pound.  Now that’s fast.  She increased her size by one-seventh in four weeks.  If I did that, I couldn’t fit in my Lazy Boy.
There’s plenty of proof all around us that nothing stays the same.  But for some reason, I default to the idea that if I could just get all my eggs in one basket, keep all the plates spinning, and give the dog all my dust bunnies so she can chase them instead of me, that would be perfection.  And perfection would finally make me happy.
It’s not true.
I read excerpts of a king’s autobiography* just now. He had so much money he did absolutely everything he wanted to do without any guilt at all. Kind of a lottery roller coaster ride. He had no debt.  He had no political fear.  He owned everything and everyone.  And he was a nice guy.  But after he achieved his own little State of Utopia, he wasn’t happy.  He asked himself, “What’s left to do after you’ve been king? That’s a hard act to follow.”  And he ended up saying that he hated life.
I think he forgot to do the most important thing of all.  With all his wealth and women and liquor and parties and real estate and power, he lived so fast and hard and easy that he forgot the one thing we all need to live.  He forgot to breathe.
It’s the hard things in life that force me to take time to breathe.  When life gets tough, I get tense.  My wrinkles get wrinkled. My worry wart shows. And just at the moment when I fear I’ll fall in failure, I run across that reminder again:  Breathe.  Then I fill my lungs full, exhale my stress, and let go of that suffocating obsession with perfection.
Life is good.  Even in an off year of politics.  Even in the dentist’s chair.  Even with a stack of bills.  Life is good.
I just need to remember to breathe.

(*Ecclesiastes 2:12)