Sunday, February 19, 2012

Like A Tree Firmly Planted

Why does the willow weep?

Her face down low, hidden by a cascade of verdant tresses, she stands alone, solitary in her loveliness. Is her heart broken? Does she grieve for her loved ones? Or is she simply waiting, pausing, hoping for miracles from the Only One who can lift up her head?

Waiting in solitude at the water’s edge, she bows beneath the heaviness she wears like a cloak. It’s not the rushing currents that draw her, but rather the still, calm depths whose mirrored surfaces reflect back to her the serenity she craves.

Time stands still while she communes with her Maker. Deep calling to deep at the brink of despair. Yet she never falls in, never collapses. Her roots are established, thirst never conquers. Perpetually on the edge, she flourishes where the waters pool eternal.

It’s a mystery to the curious observer. Her presence is a paradox. Graceful, inspiring, from one perspective she appears jubilant, her plumage exploding—fireworks style—in stationary bursts of green. Perhaps she is misunderstood, and the impression of sadness is joy in disguise.

Nevertheless, her secrets belong to her, while her tears are kept safe in the depths at her feet.

Why are you cast down, O my inner self? And why should you moan over me and be disquieted within me? Hope in God and wait expectantly for Him, for I shall yet praise Him, my Help and my God. Psalm 91:5

At the water’s edge. She waits.



(Photo courtesy of Kahala's photostream at flickr.com)
http://www.flickr.com/photos/kahala/215539019/

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mogollon Monty

It’s a long drive between the Mogollon Rim near Payson, and Chandler, Arizona. Especially for a four-year-old who has to pee. But I was driving a fast car and, while I did my best to convince my young son that he could hold it, he was pretty sure he couldn’t. I had learned long before that he was the expert in that field. And since it was my father-in-law’s rental I was driving, I had no choice but to pull over on the Beeline, let my son run to the desert foliage for relief, and hope I could get back out on the two lane highway before that slower-than-dirt green Winnebago got in front of me again.

Our two men were ahead of us in my husband’s landcruiser, but with May temperatures in the desert soaring well into the 100’s, they let us have the air conditioned ride back home. And since my husband’s mom didn’t drive, I was the lucky lady behind the wheel of a really nice, very powerful car, enjoying every minute of it.

We cut it pretty close, but my little guy was a fast runner. He jumped back into the car, buckled up, and I yelled, “Hang on!” to my passengers as I floored it back out onto the road, getting up to speed and beyond, well ahead of the giant pickle closing in on our rest stop.

“I’m glad we didn’t get caught behind him again,” I said to my mother-in-law sitting beside me, who had a death grip on the armrest of her door.

“Yeah,” she answered, her Southern drawl lightly seasoned with sarcasm. “That would have been just terrible.”

With the crisis passed, she relaxed and we kept up a friendly conversation as I continued the drive home. I was well ahead of the traffic behind us, so I set the cruise control, and we settled in for the last hour of our drive.

"It should be clear sailing from here," I commented. Checking the rear view mirror after a few minutes, though, I was surprised to see the big motorhome rapidly closing the gap between us.

“Uh oh,” I thought to myself, “somebody got his widdow fee-wings hurt.”

But I was driving a fast car. And I was still ahead of him. On a two lane road.

Which was about to widen into four.

The spurned Winnebago took the first opportunity to pull into the passing lane as I moved to the right, still chatting comfortably with my husband’s mother. But as he pulled up alongside us and slowed, my keen intuition kicked me in the head, warning me not to even look out my window to find out why the giant pickle didn’t make his move and cut me off. I was pretty sure he had a message he wanted to give me that might involve gratuitous sign language, and I was determined to be illiterate.

Unfortunately, a driver’s intuition is only useful to the driver. And since I had to look straight ahead, keeping my eyes on the road and avoiding a collision with the sun-blocking rolling monstrosity on my left, I never saw the imagery displayed in full glory to my poor mother-in-law sitting next to me. I didn’t even know she was looking out my window. Not until she suddenly broke off her conversation with me and exclaimed,

“What is that. . . . .?? Oh My Gosh!!!”

Just then, the Winnebago took off like a rocket, satisfied that they had made their point and put me sufficiently in my place. They were wrong. They had put my mother-in-law in my place.

I did, however, learn my lesson about pulling out in front of gargantuan motorhomes on two lane roads.

There’s nothing quite like a full moon on a sunny day to enlighten a girl on the finer points of driving etiquette.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Call Waiting


I got my first Smart Phone last month. I didn’t want to. But my flip phone broke without warning one afternoon, and that was that. I pulled it out of the deep abyss I call my “purse”, and the industrial strength plastic around the hinges fell off. Then the phone refused to close, and suddenly I was thrown headlong into progress. I hate progress.

I had no idea which phone to get as a replacement, but there were only three flip phones in the Verizon store—rotary dial, at that—and I knew I’d have to enter the new millennium sometime. Which reminds me. Since when do we need an entire building devoted only to Polly Pocket-sized phones? And these stores are crowded! What’s so thrilling about shopping in a telephone store? I. Am.So.Old.

So I interviewed Smart Phone users. Owners with experience. Professionals. Ten-year-olds mostly. I needed to know which one of the nearly two million different Smart Phones currently on the market would meet my personal needs. The overwhelming opinion there was that I should definitely upload Angry Birds and Words With Friends as soon as the battery charged up.

However, no one told me the one thing I needed to know more than anything else—how to dial or answer my new phone. Which I now prefer to call my Smart Aleck Phone. The first day I had it, while attempting to place a call to my son, I somehow brought up the qwerty screen and couldn’t get out of it. So I texted him this frantic message: “Call me. At home. I don’t know how to answer my cell phone.” Of course, he lives in Kentucky and I don’t, so the communication gap wasn’t narrowed much, even with his help. And besides, he uses a Blackberry.

I spent the whole afternoon reading the directions tucked into my box from Verizon, as well as their shortcuts for dummies, trying with very little success to teach myself how to use my own phone. Until finally, at the end of the afternoon, I did it. I overcame the learning curve.

That little rectangle of frustration landed square against the wall in one straight shot—with no curve at all.

I may be old, but I have pretty good aim.

Monday, February 13, 2012

It's Just An "F" Key

. . . or, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

Am I the only one who’s a control freak? It seems like a rhetorical question, but sometimes it’s a hard one to answer “yes” to. Once upon a time, someone told me that there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things. And, of course, I want to do things the right way. The problem, I’ve discovered, is that everyone’s got an opinion about what that "right way" is. And if you crave acceptance, you can’t risk marching to the beat of a different drummer. You’ve gotta toe the line, stay the course, not rock the boat, follow the yellow brick road.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not as free spirited as I may sound here. Personally, I’m getting pretty tired of the sounding gong of “tolerance at all cost”. It’s giving me a headache. Even the pressure to require no absolutes is still pressure to conform to an ideology. I guess that’s fodder for another forum.

I have discovered, though, that while some tasks in life must be done, there are multiple ways to do them. If there’s a town I need to visit, there are several ways to get there, even if it does force Gabby Garmin to “re-cal-cu-late”. (If it wasn’t so helpful when we drive to have GPS onboard, we’d dump her bad attitude at the next rest area.) If I like to eat food every day—and I do—I can decide whether to indulge in Italian or PBJ. Cleaning the house is always on my list of things to procrastinate about. But when the dust bunnies threaten a coup, it’s up to me whether to vacuum or wash dishes first—or hire someone else to give it their best shot. See? Choices. I. Have. Choices.

I remember the day this first dawned on me. And it led to the catch phrase I now use as a template for freedom. I was taking an Introduction to Computers course at our local community college. I didn’t know RAM was anything but an intimidating farm animal at the time. Or that booting up wasn’t just a habit for cowboys. I knew how to type. Period.

In that one semester, I learned there are at least five ways to carry out the same task. I could use the drop-down tool bar. Or right click with my mouse. I could open the menu at the bottom of the screen and find my desired device. Or I could press the control key and another key simultaneously. The choices were nearly endless! There may be others you use all the time. And today there are still “F” keys. Actually, at the time I first learned the computer, my instructor was in love with “F” keys, so that’s what I knew best.

But my husband, who had encouraged me to become computer savvy, had a lot more experience with the machine than either me or my instructor. Pretty soon we began to have conflicts over our home computer any time we’d be working on budgets or lesson plans together. He had a favorite way to cut and paste, while I was addicted to “F” keys. Each convinced that our way was best, we finally had to agree to disagree and let whoever had the keyboard do it the way they wanted to. All roads lead to Rome, you know. At the end of the day, a cut and paste can be done five different ways, and the reader of your novel doesn’t care which one you use as long as the story makes sense.

“It’s just an “F” key” became the means to ceasefire in our house—a way to end silly disagreements. And it’s one of the most freeing principles I’ve ever stumbled across. It’s helped us avoid wasting time on insignificant differences of opinion. It’s built my self-esteem. It has actually, surprisingly, taught me a balanced view of “tolerance”.

Most of the things in life that people disagree about are, in reality, “just an F key”. Or, as I taught my kids when they were learning to drive, “If you’re the one behind the wheel of the car, you get to decide which route to take.” It’s the privilege of your responsibility.

Now if we could just get that across to our Garmin.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sting Like A Bee


It’s a fact—women get thinner as they age. Our lips get thinner. Sometimes our hair does. I know I’m more thin-skinned than I used to be. I think we’re losing weight in the wrong places. Most of the time, I don’t give these things another thought. Nobody ever asks me what size my lips are. Or if I need to fluff up my self esteem. They just stick weight loss brochures on my windshield and hope I get the hint.

But now, thanks to a few desperate housewives, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. Fat lips on females are all the rage. If somebody gave me a fat lip, I’d press charges. But these gals are paying for it! Why do women ignore their character and focus on the size of their kissers instead? Who told us that pout trout is attractive? The fishing industry? Is this some new way of seducing guys away from the lake and back to the ladies? Personally, I’d be pretty offended if somebody told me I kiss like a fish. Although I remember feeling that way about my technique the first time I tried to kiss a boy. I never saw him again. See? That’s no way to describe lips.

You know what I’m talking about, right? Bee-stung lips. The kind that look full, red and pouting. Like Lucille Ball’s, but worse. They’re not natural. These are cosmetic enhancements. Well, I got stung by a bee once. I didn’t find it very enhancing and neither did the bee. What’s so attractive about looking like you let an insect commit suicide on your face?

But for reasons I can’t fathom, there are women who love to look like they’ve had an allergic reaction to Penicillin. So they’re paying physicians—physicians! who swore on their Hippocratic oaths to administer aid to people—to change the shape of the upper lip from a cupid’s bow to an inflated inner tube.

Is there no end to our vanity? And consider the cost! The most economical way to get bee-stung flappers is by injection, each costing between $400 and $700. Real bee stings are cheaper. I’m just saying. Or, you could—invest—in lip fillers. These are surgical and can run you from five grand to an amount unknown on the internet when you throw in the additional medical staff. At least there’s an upside—the results are more long lasting. The disadvantages are the side effects, which can include swelling. I don’t think that really qualifies as a side effect. It is the effect.

I blame all of this on old school Hollywood stars, like Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. Even Lucille Ball. She started out in the 30’s and 40’s as a cover girl for Max Factor, but found her niche in television comedy, “uglifying herself with clownish makeup to enhance her physical humor”. (http://www.wornthrough.com/2011/08/16/lucille-ball-style-icon-in-spite-of-herself/

As much as I love Lucy, her exaggerated lip line was drawn on purpose in the tradition of vaudeville. It was meant to accentuate her smiles and grimaces. At the end of a long day, Lucy wiped off that smile. I’m afraid some gals today don’t know how to take a joke.

I guess that, once again, it all comes down to beauty being in the eye of the beholder. As for me, I think I’ll skip the pout trout and focus on things that really matter. I’ve spent a lot of my life hiding who I am instead of being myself. Paying somebody to do that to me now seems counterproductive.

But I might still call that number from the flyer on my windshield. A little unenhancement, you might say. I’m thin-skinned, but I can take a hint.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Hyperventilating


I have a love affair with Creosotes. Which might not make any sense if you’ve never heard of them before. Or if you’ve never smelled one. A scrubby, undisciplined desert bush, they’re usually dehydrated and not very pretty to look at.

But in the spring, after a nice steady rain, the desert finally greens up for a minute. And the uncoordinated, gangly branches of the creosote smile all over with little yellow blossoms that welcome the bees and remind me of my grandparents’ home in the desert. Mmmm . . . I take so many deep breaths on rainy days here, I nearly hyperventilate. All in an effort to smell the creosote.

Creosote is the aroma of Arizona. You can break off its tiny, waxy leaves, roll them in your fingers, close your eyes and swear that a misguided rainstorm just passed through. Even in the concrete-encroached city, the damp air after a rain shower will be heavy with the fragrance of creosote.

I read that some people don’t like the scent, but that's okay. I’m not fond of Chanel No. 5 myself. Perfume is in the nose of the inhaler. And to me, rainy creosote is the perfume of Arizona. You won’t smell it anywhere else. So now that I live in a rural farming/ranching/desert locale, I want my very own creosote in my very own yard.

But this is where Creosotes bug me—they refuse to be transplanted. They grow with abandon all over our Sonoran Desert without asking permission from anyone, but just try to dig one up and move it, and it’ll show you who’s boss. It’ll up and die on you just on principle. I love ‘em, but I hate that.

I just want one to live in my yard. I live in the desert. Okay, it’s a house in a development in the desert. But I have rotten desert dirt just like everywhere else in Arizona. Why won’t a creosote come live in my yard and let me smell it? Are they insecure? Do they hate to be smelled? Or do they hate living alone? If they need to be with their own kind, I could transplant a few more. We could have a whole creosote community here—I don’t mind.

I was convinced that if it would give me a chance, I could persuade a creosote to be happy at my place. So a friend gave me a young one from among all the hundreds growing wild behind his house. He put it in a can with its very own original dirt, and told me where and how to plant it. Then he told me it would probably die. He’s a botanist. I thought he was a pessimist. Turns out he's a realist. I think it was dead by sundown.

I just can’t figure it out. I heard desert plants thrive on neglect. And I’m a genius at neglect! I promise to stay true to myself and never water them. It seems to me creosotes and I are a perfect fit. We’re both Arizona natives. We’re both mavericks by nature. We both like to smell nice. It doesn’t want me to water it. I don’t want to water it. And for unexplained and illogical reasons, we both like the desert. I think we’re a match made in heaven.

Apparently I’m the only one who thinks that.

I get it. There’s no reasonable explanation for it. You just can’t transplant a creosote. It has its principles, after all. I guess I have mine, too. And I don’t want to move to another location just so I can have a creosote in my yard. Creosote habitats are also inhabited by snakes. And scorpions. And other critters with bad attitudes. I’m allergic to bad attitudes.


So, this is how it ends. A stand-off. Unrequited love. Nasal nostalgia.

It’s too bad, Creosote. We could have made beautiful music together, you and I.

But don’t worry. I won’t hold it against you.

After all. I still like the way you smell.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Name Game


I once worked as a secretary in a Head Start program in Florida. The hours were . . . tolerable. The children were . . . in another noisy building. My boss was . . . well, never mind. The teachers were incredible. I loved and admired every one of them. But most of all, I delighted in my friendship with the program’s social worker, Judy.

Judy was from New York. But she was as transplanted a Floridian as I’ve ever met. She could've been the poster child for New England Ex-Patriots. As much as her olive skin loved the generous rays of the Gulf Coast, her heart loved them even more. Free spirited as a tropical breeze, she blew into the room every morning with a bright “Hello!”, grabbed a cup of serious coffee and perched comfortably on the corner of her desk—an invitation to step into her office and talk a while. I never turned down the offer.

She had a million stories. Prior to being a social worker, she’d been employed for a while by the Department of Motor Vehicles, which gave her constant exposure to a dizzying list of driver names. Creative monikers. Like, “Bill Board”, “Barbie Doll”, and “Adah Roach”. That one made me spew my coffee. She knew dozens of them—sad examples of foresight failure.

My favorite name, though, didn’t come from the DMV. After graduating with her Master’s Degree, the Department of Social Services assigned Judy to an unwed teenager who was in her third trimester of pregnancy. Since the girl had no transportation, Judy drove Tashika to and from the appointments. She attended LaMaze classes with her just in case she’d need a coach. She also took Tashika to nutrition classes, counseled her on finances, and encouraged her to use better birth control.

When her water broke, it was Judy who took Tashika to the hospital where she delivered a healthy baby girl.

But when the nurses asked what the baby’s name would be, Tashika had no answer. Despite all the suggestions of friends and family, she was stumped. Fortunately, she and the baby wouldn’t be released from the hospital for a few days, so she had a little time. Each of the next two mornings, a nurse came to Tashika’s room, intent on completing the baby girl’s birth certificate. And every morning the nurse left empty handed, reminding Tashika she needed to come up with something before she and her daughter were discharged.

The third day after the baby was born, Judy arrived at the hospital to drive mother and child home. She was greeted by a jubilant, beaming Tashika, who couldn’t wait to tell her the good news.

“Miss Judy!” she exclaimed, as my friend walked into the room. “They did it! They did it for me! The nurses thought of a beautiful name for my baby!”

Judy was thrilled for her, as well as for the hospital staff who could finally file the completed birth certificate.

“See, right here?” she continued breathlessly. “On this paper? The nurses named her Femolly. It’s beautiful,” she sighed.

“How . . . unusual,” Judy began, as she took the paperwork from her client. “And lovely!” she finished, looking up with a twinkle in her eye.

“Well, it was a unique name,” I interjected into Judy’s story, as I sat listening to the ending.

“Yes, it was,” Judy said, a chuckle escaping her broad smile. She took another sip of her coffee, lost in the memory of the comical experience. Then she explained.

In the blank where the baby’s first name was supposed to go, the exasperated hospital staff had typed: Female.

Pronunciation. It's all in the eye of the beholder.