Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Last Straw

What does the last straw look like?

It looks just like the first. Small, lightweight, no big deal. Blow it off with a puff of air and attitude. The second one looks identical. Then the third and thirty-fourth. Gradually it gets worse. Pretend you’re in the middle of a cyclone at a hay farm. Aside from a lot of sneezing, everything seems fine. This is the only normal you’ve ever known so you don’t realize the danger you’re in. 

After all, you still have a brain. 

But let’s say you get stuck there, right in the center of that hay field. Now it’s so windy it makes Tornado Alley feel like a summer breeze. If you’re resilient, you can handle it. That’s what all those child psychologists say, anyway. But maybe they didn’t grow up standing in the middle of an alfalfa farm like you did. Maybe resilience isn’t the antidote to suffocation. Just look at you. You’re completely covered up by a mountain of chaff, as if you’d been tarred and feathered in a hay field, barely breathing. If you’re very careful, you can still inhale a little oxygen through tightly closed lips, though.

That’s when it happens. The last straw.

Though a tiny, little piece of you can still be seen through the beige decoupage which silences your voice, it’s obvious that speaking up is out of the question. All you care about now is remembering how to breathe.

“If I stand very still,” you think to yourself, “the chaff will fall off on its own.”

That’s when you’re glad you can’t talk, since anyone hearing that comment would think you didn’t have a brain.

“Surely the wind tunnel I’ve always lived in will blow this stuff away . . . eventually . . .” 

But it doesn’t. It’s as though straw is magnetic and you’re the Tin Man. It’s heartless.

Sorry. I couldn’t help myself.

You have become a living mound of straw. Not because you love the feel of it. Not because you deserve it. Not because you are afraid to escape it. But because it is bigger than you. Survival is your only option. Breathing your only luxury.

Until the last straw. The final nail in your grassy coffin. The piece that found your only connection to the outside world and covered it up, covered you up, threatened to smother you.

But you. Brave little you. You refused to be suffocated.

For a minute there, you thought you were a goner. Everybody did. Everyone thought the last straw would be the most powerful piece, the one to take you down, shut you up, bury you. Instead, the last piece was the one to inspire you to speak up, push back, dig your way out, and refuse to stop breathing.

That's when the wind blew harder. But now you knew what to do. You turned around. You faced the other direction. You kept your back to the wind and watched the straw blow past you as you walked away from the hay field where you once were stuck. 

It took a million little pieces to glue you to the ground. It took one last piece to set you free.

Thank God for the last straw.

Thanks to Karmatosed for the photograph at the top of the page. Love it. You can view the original at

Sunday, July 9, 2017

How To Bribe A Dog

I took my dog, Brody, on a date to Starbucks this morning. He knew what was coming the second he stuck his head out the car window at the drive through.

“I’ll have an iced venti decaf four pump peppermint whole milk no whip mocha,” I told the invisible barista who frantically searched her register for the tweaks I was ordering on my overpriced addiction. For the record, most addictions are overpriced. That’s the first way you can tell you’re addicted, you know. And if you didn’t know, now you do.

This one was free, though. I earned it by spending too much money and too many calories on a lot of earlier mochas. To be perfectly honest, that’s also proof of my Starbucks addiction—I’ve bought so many personalized, iced indulgences there the cups now come with my photo on them. This could be the reason our fixed income needs to be fixed. Talk about a budget bender.

But this morning, instead of focusing on guilt and condemnation, I chose to be delighted in the “make it as big as you want” option on my free beverage. “Venti!” I declared in my best Italian.  Brody wagged his tail enthusiastically.

I don’t know what Rob is going to say when he finds out what I’ve done to his dog.

Brody was my Christmas present last December, you may remember, but he’s definitely playing favorites with my husband. Sell out. Just because Rob takes him outside to throw a ball to him in 110 degree afternoons while I prefer to stay inside where the thermostat registers a sensible 76.

I think Rob’s dog is an opportunist.

This morning, though, my husband put on his celtic kilt (great knees, that guy has) to go play his drums with his bagpipe band at a Diamondbacks game where they don’t allow giant white dogs on the field. So Brody had to stay home with me—the woman allergic to summer in Arizona.

“Want to go for a ride?” I asked my turncoat Christmas present.

His tail went into ballistic mode and he jumped three feet into the air with rapture. Twirling in jubilation, he bounced with joy beneath the hook where we keep his leash. He doesn’t know where we’re going or how we’re getting there, but if I use the word, “ride” and reach for the leash, suddenly I am his new best friend.


We jumped into the truck, I rolled down the windows, cranked up the air, and down the road we went—a giant, white dog with his ears flapping in the breeze and a fake redhead at the wheel with the a/c freezing off her face. It was heaven.

Finally, it was our turn to pull forward in the line of drivers too lazy to get out of their cars to go inside for fancy drinks, rolled down my window, and reached for my order. The barista glanced at Brody’s beaming smile in the back seat of our Tahoe as she handed the cup to me.

“Would you like a Pupaccino, too?” she asked with a twinkle in her eye.
A “pupaccino!” Oh, my gosh. That’s either going to make you want to gag at the indulgence of our culture or grin at the cleverly generous gimmick they’ve come up with at my favorite coffee shop. I thought it was hilarious!

So the date was a total success. Brody went after his tiny cup of whipped cream and demolished it before we got out of the drive through. The barista enjoyed our delight, I enjoyed my peppermint mocha, and—just like that—Brody became my dog again.

For a minute.

I don’t care. He knows who’s tough enough to exercise him in the heat with a tennis ball. And he knows who’s cool enough to take him on a Starbucks date. If you ask me, this dog has it made.

Who’s the genius now?

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.