Wednesday, June 30, 2010

It’s fascinating to watch reactions and responses to life. Three different people can see the same situation in three different ways. I once heard this illustration: Three friends are falling from the Empire State Building. The pessimist says, “We are dead.” The realist says, “We are falling to our death.” The optimist says, “So far so good.” If they had time, these guys could probably get into a good argument about their situation.

Generally opposites attract and then we proceed to make each other crazy. If you stop to think about it, in friendships, business partnerships, and marriages there are usually temperament mixes. I think we naturally seek out those who can balance us out without even knowing it. In all strong relationships the parties involved have learned to value each other’s point of view. Where trouble begins is when we refuse to look at a problem or situation standing in someone else’s shoes seeing things from their vantage point.

Add to our personality differences, when backgrounds and male female differences are thrown in the mix, it’s a wonder any of us get along. Because I’m basically a realist, seeing things as they appear to be, I can thwart the creativity of an optimist. Because Jim Brawner is the eternal optimist, I can start to develop a twitch hearing all his new ideas and plans. Over the years both of us have had to learn to listen without reacting. I have figured out he likes to oral edit his ideas and that in all probability we aren’t moving to a foreign continent and he has learned to let me make my plan and try to work it.

It’s taken a lot of years for us to get to that point. Over time he’s learned in some situations we might be falling and I have learned to frequently say, “So far so good.”

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Have you ever gotten up in the morning and wondered, “Why did I bother going to bed?” Half the night is spent dreaming bizarre screenplay type scenes and the other half staring at the ceiling tying to figure out if you might have a mental disorder because no sane person could formulate such stuff. Last night was one of those nights for me.

In one dream segment I was locked out of every door I tried and when I finally found one open it was to an outdoor party where people were sitting around in lawn chairs sipping drinks with long colored straws. They were all a bit odd looking, some with really long faces and some with big eyes. As strange as they looked, they were very kind and concerned that I might need some help. I’m sure there is a hidden meaning somewhere in all of that.

Have you ever had a reoccurring dream like showing up at a party in your underwear or being able to hit a golf ball 400 yards with ease? I used dream of getting stuck in an elevator between the 6th and 7th floors. The doors would open and I would see the concrete floor and steel framework then the doors would close. It was frightening, so consequently in real life I’m not a big fan of elevators.

About 10 years ago I was visiting Jill in New York City. I was staying in an older boutique hotel right in Times Square. We got on the elevator with a young couple who had just arrived in the US for the first time from London. Everything was fine until the elevator stopped between the 6th and 7th floors the doors opened, I saw the concrete and steel then the doors closed. It took me a minute to realize I was awake. I had a meltdown and Jill laughed so hard no sound came out.

I got on the elevator phone in a near panic and called for help. Jill was still laughing. The young couple just stared in disbelief. Suddenly the young man, sensing my out of control fear, said in his British accent, “I hope the lift doesn’t drop to the bottom.” Then he grinned. I didn’t think his attempt to make me laugh was at all funny. In my claustrophobic state I hadn’t even thought about the elevator falling.

Help arrived via the elevator next to us. The maintenance guys opened the side of the elevator and we had to climb though the shaft into the next car. It was like a scene from a Tom Cruise movie. What’s really strange is I’ve not had the elevator dream since the actual episode.

Dreams are interesting part of sleep, but can wear me out. Surely tonight I’ll be so tired all circuits will shut down and I’ll get some dreamless sound sleep.

Monday, June 28, 2010

My first introduction to genetics was in 10th grade Biology class. Mr. Berry, one of my all time favorite teachers, taught us more than we really needed to know about fruit flies. The only thing I clearly remember is they came either short winged or long winged, similar to short or long eye-lashed in humans I suppose.

Several vials of my fruit flies died. I don’t think I was really cut out to be a fruit fly farmer. But I did save enough for my results and report. What I did learn the most about was drawing the little chart to check genetic probability not only for fruit flies but for humans as well. It fascinates me.

So when I started having babies, thanks to Mr. Berry’s teachings, I knew the chances of hair and eye color and important things like the probability of them being able to roll their tongues. Jason and Travis look like Jim and Jill is definitely my daughter. And it’s beyond the boy/girl thing. Sometimes the way genes line up in a family, biological children look nothing like either parent. It’s like hidden recessive traits float to the top of the gene pool and suddenly surface.

When Jill was pregnant with Vivian in my mind she would have a little blonde who looked like her mom. To my surprise she has auburn hair and David’s navy blue eyes. I squint to see things clearer, but she still looks like her dad. When David is holding Viv it looks like David and mini David with a dress on.

God’s design for each of us is so precious. We can draw those little charts all we want, but the way the genes line up are His decision. Vivian is her daddy’s girl for sure. I’m only hoping she didn’t get his gene for size 14 feet.

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart ...”
Jeremiah 1:5

Sunday, June 27, 2010

My last few weeks have been a little chaotic so I flew to Virginia to sit down for a while. Jim dropped me at the St. Louis airport on his way to Cincinnati the other day. With all the airport delays and changes I could have driven to Richmond quicker than I flew. It was a long day, but, that night, for the first time in a very long time, I slept. I mean really slept. It’s as if I left all my responsibilities in Missouri.

It’s nice to visit Jill, David and Vivian’s world because I don’t have a car and they let me know what each day’s schedule is. I’m in charge of nothing. It does make me a little antsy and concerned. I’ll get over it.

Yesterday we went to Shabbat at Tikvat Israel, a Messianic Jewish Congregation. The only Hebrew I know is “Shalom” so I was a bit lost. The service was beautiful and so rich with passion and tradition. Afterwards we had lunch at a museum then wandered through the exhibits without a timeline or deadline.

Today after church were having lunch with some friends and tonight dinner with some more friends. I’ll just tag along and smile. The best part is I don’t have to think or plan anything. My only decision is what I am going to wear. It’s almost like I’ve gone from high gear to neutral. The biggest challenge is to fight off the guilt of not doing.

I’ll idle for another week before I face the real world again. I know it’ll still be there waiting for me when I get back. Meanwhile, I’m sitting down in Virginia.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Four college room mates visited a neighboring school for an end of year fraternity party. They returned to their own campus late Sunday night. Much to their horror the 7am alarm didn’t go off and they missed the 8 o’clock final in their ethics class. The professor was a stickler and accepted excuses only in extreme cases. Oversleeping wouldn’t get them any sympathy, so they decided as a group to say they had a flat tire on the drive back home. Then they would ask if they could take the test the next day.

Much to their surprise the professor gave them a make up test time of 1pm the following day. They arrived refreshed and ready for the exam. The professor sat the guys in the four corners of the room with the test paper face down. He explained he was leaving on a trip the next day and didn’t really have the time to grade a lengthy make up test so there was only one question. “Take your time,” he said, “and put your paper on my desk when you are finished. Grades will be posted tomorrow. You may begin.”

Each of the room mates turned over the paper and were horrified to see the one question ... Which tire?

And this was an ethics class. I heard once, “If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember which version of the story you told. The pressure to remember details is off.” These guys were busted. If they had told the truth in the first place, the professor might not have let them take the exam and they would have gotten a 0. But, they made up a story and they were going to get a 0. Looking back, I’m sure they realized telling the truth would have been easier.

The truth always floats to the top. It may not be for a long time, but it eventually does. The problem with “little white lies” is they tend to grow darker and larger with time. What sometimes starts out as seemingly innocent can roll into something very deceptive. So a lie is told to cover a lie.

When you’re tempted to stretch things or create a story for what you think is protection, ask yourself, “Which tire?” The truth is so easy to remember.

Friday, June 25, 2010

How many times have you heard, “You just don’t understand”? There’s a lot of truth in it when the conversation is between a parent and teenager. Parents’s don’t understand because, thank goodness, they have forgotten what it’s like to have ninja hormones attacking their brains. Teenagers don’t understand because they don’t realize the parents are only trying to protect them from making the same dumb mistakes they made. The misunderstanding basically is age difference based.

So why does the same “You just don’t understand” conversation go on between a husband and wife who are from the same generation? I heard the best explanation ever the other day listening to Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. It was so simple and basic. I’m a simple and basic kind of a person so I guess that’s why it made to much sense to me.

Consider that women wear pink sunglasses, pink earphones and use a pink megaphone. Men use all the same equipment in blue. So when a pink megaphone speaks, pink earphones understand. Sometimes a blue megaphone can say the same thing a pink megaphone says to a set of pink earphones in a different tone with different body language and an explosion is set off.

A girlfriend can tell you the black pants are more flattering than the white flowered pants and no one skips a beat. Why is it your husband says the same thing and you are hearing him say you are fat? You are listening to a blue megaphone with pink earphones. It’s like two walkie talkie’s trying to communicate with one set on the X band and one set on the Y band.

Now does considering the earphone/megaphone idea make communication any easier? Probably not, but for me it put a little more understanding into the “You just don’t understand” type conversation.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

I’m a confessed HGTV junkie. I really have to be aware of time when I click the remote to channel 42 because three hours can evaporate before I realize it. The new show Buying and Selling New York, fascinates me. One million dollars equals one hundred thousand in midwest money. Homes on Homes features Mike Holmes, the tough guy who fixes the messes shady contractors have made. He’s no nonsense and it riles him up when innocent people get taken. I think in real life he must ride a Harley and surely has a pit bull named Oscar.

I think my favorite show has to be Hidden Potential. Home buyers are shown properties most people wouldn’t bother to take a look at. Some of the places are nasty and don’t seem to have any hope, but the designers see past the mess and present the possibilities.

I’ve always been a fan of the before and after of anything where something so plain and even unattractive can be transformed to where it’s almost unrecognizable. I think it’s so encouraging to know there’s hidden potential in everything and everyone. So much of the time we don’t give a second look or a second chance to peek past the obvious and search for the hidden. Oh the things we miss out on.

Susan Boyle stunned the world with her performance on Britain’s Got Talent. A plain looking Scottish woman clearly proved the cover doesn’t always show the contents of the book. It was hidden potential at it’s finest.

How differently we would see people if we only could visualize them as a bundle of hidden potential. There is a before and after just waiting to happen.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I recently listened to a woman fret and fume about her daughter’s parenting skills. “She has no idea how to handle things. I can’t believe she’s doing this and saying that. Her daughter is going to be a mess. There are no boundaries and when my granddaughter comes to my house she screams and throws things when she doesn’t get her way. It’s only going to get worse the older she gets. She’s turning into a four year old terror. What should I do?”

I asked if she really wanted to know what I thought. If someone truly wants my opinion I’ll gladly offer it, but I’ve learned people don’t really, especially when it comes to parenting. She said she was at her wits end and any suggestions would be appreciated. I was concerned she wasn’t going to like what I was going to say, but she asked.

“First, this little girl is your daughter’s child to raise. If your daughter and son-in-law feel the screaming is her way of expressing herself and they don’t want to squelch her creativity, that’s their prerogative, because she is their daughter. I agree with you, they are going to be in for it if they don’t gain some control. The hardest thing to do as a grandparent is to keep your mouth shut unless advice is asked for. On top of dealing with an out of control child, you may put a wall up between you and your daughter if she is at all defensive about her ability to be a good parent.”

“However, when the child is in your home, you can calmly and matter-of-factly explain to your granddaughter your house rules don’t allow for screaming and throwing. I assume you didn’t allow your daughter to behave that way when she was growing up and you can say the house rules haven’t changed. The only reason to scream and yell is if the house is on fire and the odds of that happening are slim.”

The woman looked at me blankly and said, “Thank you. I’ve never thought of it in that way. I’ll give it a try. It is my home isn’t it?”

I smiled relieved she wasn’t upset, “It is and things are a little different when you’re on your turf. You’re the one in charge at your house, not a four year old.”

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

“When the mind goes blank, turn off the sound.”

Have you ever noticed when we don’t know what to say, we say really stupid things. I think it’s partly because silence makes us nervous. The affliction seems to peak when we’re trying to find the words to say to someone who’s going through trauma.

It’s probably not best to say to a friend who’s husband has been caught in an affair, “Oh, he’s a jerk anyway. You are better off without him. You deserve better.” Is that supposed to be consoling? What if she and her husband repair their relationship? When someone is facing bankruptcy it’s not comforting to say something like, “Oh you’ll rebound.” Easy for you to say.

I’ve learned so much by watching how people have responded to the loss of my brother-in-law and Dad, one right after another, to cancer. I’ve realized it’s not necessary to repeat what someone already knows .... “At least he’s not suffering. He’s in a better place. God will get you through this.” We tend to offer those lines as if it’s news to the suffering person. Are we expecting a response of, “Oh gosh, thanks. I’ve never thought of that!

I know I’ve said those very things, but I won’t anymore. The simple notes and messages are so meaningful: “Thinking of you. No need to call back, just know I’m praying for you. I’ll be thinking about you today.” A knowing look, a hug and a listening ear are the most precious things we can offer to someone who’s hurting.

My takeaway from any circumstance is usually how not to do something. I think I learn backwards. So now I will just hug and listen. Hopefully I have learned how to be a better friend.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Here is an unsolicited bit of advice: Don’t go to the Dairy Queen in a small town on Sunday night just about the time church lets out, unless you’re not in a hurry. I was out of town town trying to meet a time deadline, so I thought I would drive through the DQ. So did everyone else for miles around.

I decided counter service certainly would be faster. I parked and went inside to find the rest of the community there. The line snaked around to the door and folks were trying to figure out where to stand without breaking in line. They had just left church so everyone was being real nice.

Men were shaking hands over kids and women were talking about the upcoming church bake sale. I felt like I was from another planet trying to act like I fit in. I started to just jump in and say I was bringing a chocolate sheet cake. I figured we could be best friends by the time we got our food.

Every time I moved forward the lady behind me stepped a little closer. My three feet of personal space had been squeezed down to one foot. The woman and her daughter at the counter couldn't decide what to order. Honestly we had been standing in line for 10 minutes but when the girl said, “What can I get you,” they were still wavering between chicken strips with French fries or onion rings. I wanted so badly to say, “Go with the fries!”

They finally decided on fruit cups. Suddenly I realized the space invader behind me was breathing on my neck. I tried to move forward, but was blocked by a very large woman holding two frozen ice cream cakes that said, “Happy Birthday Roy Dean.” I turned to the Lamaze breathing I learned 30 years ago.

All of a sudden I realized I was the only one who was fidgeting and it wasn’t speeding anything up. So I mentally rescheduled my self imposed deadline and relaxed.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

For me nothing is quite as much fun as planning a vacation. In fact, the research and organizing part can be as exciting as the trip itself. Right now I’m in the middle of information gathering for an end of summer family vacation. It takes some deep thought and consideration to organize for Brawner party of 15.

We have found a time slot that works for everyone. That’s an amazing feat alone. Year before last just the adults went to London to visit Jill and David and five years ago, when there were only two grandkids, we rented a home in Palm Springs. This will be the first trip with everyone with us; three adult kids and spouses, two 7 year olds, two 4 year olds and three babies not yet a year old. I’m quite certain by the end of our second day the hotel staff will roll their eyes when they see us coming.

All three of our kids are travelers and I’m sure their kids will be too. We put family vacations together accumulating hotel points and airline miles, attaching vacation to work trips and searching for super deals. We did whatever it took because we felt it was important. As my friend Gary says, “You are guaranteed to have something go wrong on a family vacation, but it creates memories and it’s a bonding experience. However, it may take a couple of months for the bond glue to dry.”

I read several articles this morning about Father’s Day and it seems the theme this year is, “Important Things I Learned From My Dad.” One of the most important things my dad taught me was to take a break and go on vacation. It doesn’t have to be a long, far away, expensive, trip but maybe just a weekend away. We all need to take time and step away. He called it “one more round of pleasure.” He’d say, “God rested on the 7th day, Suzette. Slow down.” The older I get, the more I understand why.

When I was growing up we had a Huckleberry Hound bank sitting in our family room. The first thing Dad did every night when he got home was put all his change in Huckleberry. It was our vacation fund. It’s surprising how it adds up. Jim and I have a Tupperware box we toss our change in. I guess that’s another important thing Dad taught us.

This is my first Father’s Day without Dad. It stings and I miss him, but I know our vacation at the end of summer would make him smile ... one more round of pleasure.

Happy Father’s Day!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

“Sitting on the porch is not a place, but a state of mind.

Porches are possibly one of the best inventions ever. They are such an American thing. Originally the front porch was designed to sit on for shade and to catch a cool breeze before every thing was air conditioned. The back porch was usually screened in and was used for sleeping in the sweltering summer. Now we have little stoop type porches to Gone With The Wind porches. However big or small we still tend to congregate there.

The front porch is sort of like the transition area from the outside world to the more private world of a home. So much happens out on the porch; business deals are agreed upon, political discussions heat up, secrets are told and first kisses stolen. It’s a part of the house that belongs to everyone. No one can be locked out of the porch.

When we moved five years ago I traded my screened back porch surrounded by woods for an open air porch facing the lake. We live in a town home, so our back porch neighbors are close. We’ve borrowed sugar and shared coffee over the railing. We’ve also learned how to be respectful of porch privacy.

Our back porch is my favorite place of the house. I sit out there for a few minutes every morning to read, have coffee and stare at the water. It’s better than therapy. The porch is also the best place for long phone conversations.

I sat on the back porch and talked to my sister-in-law, Rayanna, the other day. She has been in a face to face battle with breast cancer. We talked about how perspective changes when your life is threatened. Nothing changes, but everything changes. The importance of parts of life intensify while other stuff is totally disregarded. There’s no longer time for the ten cent conversations. Everything becomes more meaningful. Porch conversations are the best whether in person or over the phone.

There is just something comforting about the porch. It really is a state of mind. And the porch has such a connecting factor. Notice the next time you drive through a small town ... people sitting on the front porch always wave.

Friday, June 18, 2010

I went to the garage the other day to look for the swimming pool toys for the kids. The first of September every year I vow to put summer things away in a reasonable order. They end up being like Christmas decorations though, I’m tired of looking at them so I stash them wherever there’s an open space in our very crowded garage.

We do have room for both cars, but that’s about it. The walls are lined with shelves overflowing with mostly things I don’t even know I have. Why do we all have so much stuff? So I thought while I was in there, I would clean out a little section as I was hunting for the pool toys.

Under the bag of plant fertilizer I found three dog brushes and a dog food bowl. Our dog died three years ago. Hanging off one shelf was a lanyard with a name tag Jim Brawner wore at a convention four years ago. Sitting next to three bags of clothes I sacked up last summer to take to the Pink Ladies hospital auxiliary thrift shop was a box overflowing with pictures. I couldn’t resist.

After sitting on the garage floor looking through the box for 30 minutes, my cramping leg brought me back to the present. I jumped up trying to walk it off convinced I had ADHD because I couldn’t stay on task. After the cramp was gone, I realized I had forgotten what it was I was looking for in the first place. Then I was really worried.

I stood in the middle of the garage and closed my eyes like that would rattle my memory. It didn’t so I went inside to get a Dr. Pepper. Maybe the heat had gotten to me. The phone rang. It was Jill calling to tell me she'd signed Vivian up for baby swim classes. Ah, ha! Swim toys.

That’s why garages look the way they do. It’s just too frustrating to try to organize them. And why even try when you can push that little button and it’s all hidden.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

I sometimes run against conventional expectations. Most women reach for sweets, particularly chocolate, when the life puts on the choke hold. Instead, I would rather have salt. I’m not quite sure why, but a McDonald’s fish sandwich with fries is my comfort food of choice.

I first have to scrape off two-thirds of the tarter sauce and get the perfect blob of ketchup on the sandwich paper to dip the fries in. Then I’m set. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more upsetting than to bite into a cold, limp French fry. I’m not one to send back food in a restaurant, but much to my family’s dismay, I will return fries. No way am I going to eat that many calories and fat grams without perfection.

I learned recently fries didn’t originate in France. The Belgians cut long slices of potatoes to fry when the lakes and rivers were frozen and they couldn’t catch fish. Fried potatoes eventually made their way to France and during World War I American soldiers stationed there started calling them French fried potatoes. Maybe fries were comfort food for them too.

As typical for Americans, we have developed a list of choices for the deep fried potato; manly sounding thick cut steak fries, curly fries, spicy or plain, crinkle cut fries, shoestring fries, or fries slathered with cheese and chili. But, for me, the McDonald’s French fry is hard to beat.

So if you see me in McDonald’s by myself with that perfect blob of ketchup and my hot French fries you’ll know I’m regrouping to face the world.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The “you are almost out of gas” light was staring me down. The rest of my family flirts with running out of gas, but I’m a chicken. Even though I was squeezed for time, I stopped at the Kum-n-Go to fill up. Because I hit all the green lights and there was no waiting at the pump, I had a couple of extra minutes. I parked the car and dashed inside to take advantage of the 59 cent, 32 ounce summer drink special.

I put my Dr. Pepper on the counter and dug for change. I thanked the clerk, said goodbye, and turned around and was staring into a face that didn’t move. I had a choice; walk around the guy or engage in a stare off. I walked.

First of all, he was 20 years younger than me. Didn’t his momma teach him a little respect? I bet he throws trash on the ground too. Obviously he didn’t understand the three feet of personal space rule.

I don’t know why that bothers me so. It’s as if the person crowding me is taking up my breathing air. Maybe it’s a grade school carry-over of fearing cooties. Why do people crowd your space? Did the Kum-n-Go guy think it would hurry me up like thinking tailgating is going to speed up a slow driver?

The worst is at the grocery store or Target in the check out line. I always get a cart so I can put it between me and the person behind me like a lion tamer with his stool. I’ve most likely read too many warnings about protecting your debit card pin number. I put my hand over the key pad so the nosey people behind me won’t run off to Bora Bora and drain my account. Actually St. Louis is a far as they would get.

As tempting as it is, I’ve not said what I want to say to space crowders. Then again, I’m pretty much a chicken.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Wouldn’t it be handy if there was a computerized inventory of things we run out of at home? Maybe the system could have a gentle beeping warning signal to alert us when the toilet paper supply was running low or when there was only enough cream for two more cups of coffee. I don’t know, Droid probably does it for me and I’m not aware of that particular application.

Yesterday everything ran out at once. So I made a list, forced a smile and headed to the Super Center. I’m determined to remain calm when the sliding doors swish open because most people are a little on edge at the Super Center. Maybe because they know they are about to spend a chunk of money, or they’re in a hurry to get out, or they’re dragging around three kids pushing and kicking each other.

I marked everything off my list and as I walked toward the checkout I hoped my popsicles wouldn’t melt in the slow moving line. After reading my email on Droid and catching up on the latest according to the magazine covers, I realized I was still standing in the same spot. I excused myself, backed out of line and pushed my cart toward the express line hoping I had 20 items or less.

I had exactly 20 things in my cart if the two bunches of bananas counted as one. I started loading up the counter when the cashier put up the “Checkout Closed” sign behind my groceries. I smiled and said, “I’m so glad I made it to your checkout before you closed.”

She looked at me blankly and said, “I turned my light off three customers ago.”

“I am so sorry,” I said staring at the loaded up counter. “I didn’t even look at the light. I always look for the sign.”

“Don’t worry,” she sighed. “You aren’t the only one that doesn’t notice the light. You won’t believe how angry people get when I put up that sign so I wait until there is a little break and sneak it up here. We have the worst job ever because people are just testy.” She went on to tell me mean people stories as she scanned my things.

As I listened adding “Oh, no!” and “Really?”, I tried to remember if I had been short at the check out lately, vowing to myself to be extra kind from now on. As I put the last plastic bag in the cart I thanked her and said I hoped the day went smoother for her.

She smiled, thanked me for listening. I was again reminded how important it is to simply be kind.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Going to a movie is a tiny vacation for me. It’s a momentary escape from the real world. Movie theaters are like hotels; it’s more fun to go to a nice one. Trying out a theater when you’re out of town is similar to getting a haircut from a strange barber. You never know quite what to expect.

One time I wished I had a newspaper or a toilet seat cover to put on the velvety theater seat before I sat down. It was hard to concentrate on what I was watching because I just knew something was going to run across my feet at any moment. As we were leaving my flip flop stuck to the floor and I walked out of it. Then my foot stuck to the floor. I do more research now before buying tickets online.

For me, half of the movie experience is the popcorn. It’s the only time it seems acceptable to eat that much butter. The Dr. Pepper at our local theater is the perfect syrup to carbonation ratio. And only at the movie theater would anyone pay that much for a snack.

Over the years, screen play writers have offered some of the best one liners from “Frankly Scarlett....” to “Show me the money!” One of my favorite movies is The Holiday. Kate Winslet’s character, Iris, has befriended an elderly screen writer and has taken him to dinner. He asks why such a lovely girl is spending the holiday alone halfway across the globe. She begins to cry as she explains she is trying to get away from someone who has broken her heart.

In his wisdom, he explains to Iris in the movies there are the leading ladies and there are the best friends. Then he asks, “You are definitely a leading lady. Why are you acting like the best friend?”

Then Iris says, “You should be the leading lady of your own life!” That is brilliant.

We all should be the leading lady or man in our own lives. An attitude change is all it takes. It’s your life ... starring you. Act like it.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

When the time came for Owen to put down the pacifier, Kari went to the mall. She and Travis had talked to the little guy about that day for a long time and now it had come. Fully expecting angst and drama Kari really didn’t enjoy her alone time. Moms are not out-of-sight out-of-mind kind of people.

At home Travis told Owen the time had come to say good-bye to the pacifiers and asked him to gather all of them up out of his room. He explained after they were all thrown away everyone would have ice cream. Owen brought all five pacifiers into the kitchen and lined them up. Travis sat the trash can right beside him. One at a time Owen picked up each pacifier and took one last suck and said, “Bye-bye, Paci,” as he threw it in the trash. After the fifth one hit the can he turned to his daddy and said, “OK, ice cream!”

And that was that. He made that transition with unexpected ease.

Change and transitions take place for all of us through out life. Some we breeze through like Owen did, and some we struggle with. I guess the sometimes struggle is part of the process, like a butterfly wriggling out of a cocoon. It takes a nuclear plant worth of energy and it’s exhausting. But it’s what it takes to move on to the next phase of life.

I gave up one of the hardest things ever yesterday, the keys to my dad’s apartment. We spent two days clearing out and digging though a lifetime. Closing the door for the last time and handing over the keys took more strength that I thought I had. However, I did it.

Like Owen, I knew the time was coming, but I just wasn’t ready. So as, Linda, my sister-in-law says, “I’ll lean in a little closer to Jesus today.”

Saturday, June 12, 2010

One summer we were away from home for four weeks. Not understanding the importance of temperature control, we turned the air conditioner all the way off to save on electric bill. A friend mowed our lawn and checked on the house every Tuesday. The third week he walked inside the 90-degree house and was literally attacked by the sand fleas that had invaded the house. He said the top half of his white socks turned black with fleas. It still makes my head itch thinking about it. After several exterminator treatments and hundreds of dollars, we finally were rid of the fleas. So much for saving money on the electric bill.

Corrie ten Boom in her book The Hiding Place describes the flea infested straw mattresses she and her sister, Betsie, slept on in the Nazi prison camp, Ravensbruck, in 1944. That image has me reaching for the Benedryl! The fleas were so bad the prison guards stayed away from their cell. The blessing of it was they could read their smuggled Bible without being caught and possibly beaten.

When dogs have fleas they scratch and keep on going. We exterminated our fleas and it was an expensive inconvenience. Corrie and Betsie ten Boom thanked God for their fleas in bona fide affliction! Do you have aggravation fleas, inconvenience fleas or bona fide affliction fleas?

“Be joyful in hope patient in affliction and faithful in prayer.”
-Romans 12:12

An excerpt from the book in progress, Dogs Just Know.

Friday, June 11, 2010

I sit fascinated every time I order at a restaurant and the server, without writing anything down, smiles and says things like, “Would you like mayo or mustard, sweet or un-sweet, medium or well done,” then walks away to punch it into the computer. I’ve often wondered if a mini recorder is hidden somewhere.

Jim Brawner can tell you phone numbers and addresses of grade school friends and dates of important happenings for the last 40 years. He amazes me with how he can remember names. A trip to the grocery store without a list is a different story.

Stage actors commit pages of script to memory. They do have a little wiggle room in case they forget a line or two and leave out a word because the audience doesn’t really know the difference. My friend Joe White has chapters and chapters of scripture memorized and recites it with emphasis and emotion. It amazes me.

Memorizing comes easier to some than others. There are countless programs to improve skills. I’m sure I could find one for $19.95 to try. Honestly unless I write it down, it’s gone, never to be recalled until someone reminds me. I slap myself on the forehead every time like it will jar something loose so I won’t forget again.

My 10th grade English teacher had memorizing poetry high on her list of important things for us to accomplish. One day a week she would give us a list of short poems and by the end of class we had to recite at least three to her. If you could knock out more she gave extra credit. Thursdays made me a nervous wreck. Becky and I were the only girls in the class of thirty, which was intimidating enough, but she was a good memorizer. I felt like the cheese who stood alone in Farmer in the Dell.

Once we had to memorize a classic poem and I chose “If” by Rudyard Kipling. I can still recite the first four lines, which for me, are the most meaningful: “If you can keep your head when all about you, are losing theirs and blaming it on you; if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too; ...

I can trust myself with a lot of things, but memorizing is not one of them. That’s why sticky notes were invented.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

If left to our own wants and ways, I would guess most of us wouldn’t venture out of the arenas we are most comfortable in. I think the ease and familiarity of operating in what we know best gives us a false sense of control and power. We actually have neither, it just feels like it.

When life calls for us to step out of that invisible comfort zone is when things can get sticky. Some move more gracefully than others. For me, I mostly have to fake it.

Funerals, memorials, visitations, and cemeteries aren’t anywhere on my map of what’s easy to handle. I think being a person with borderline control issues, makes it even more challenging. In reality I should drop the borderline. Jill said to me the other day, “Mom, I’m here to help but until you relinquish control over some things, there’s nothing I can do.” That stung, but finally instead of clenching everything so tightly, I put some stuff down and began let others help.

So today I have to face a mountain of things I don’t do well as we say good-bye to my dad. What’s keeping me from going to bed and covering up my head is a gracious community of family and friends whose kind words and actions have kept me putting one foot in front of another. Hopefully I can learn from this whole experience and when someone else is in the same situation, I’ll be able to come along side of them and offer some kindness and love. Thank you all for walking with me.

“A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity.”
-Proverbs 17:17

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Life is full of unexpected. Sometimes it’s a pleasant surprise but unfortunately there are some things that cause a big “OH, NO!” For me running in to a friend at Walmart when I'm not in a hurry, finding a $20.00 in the pocket of a coat I haven’t worn in two years, and thinking the McDonald’s cup of sweet tea is empty and realizing it’s still half full, fall into the make-me-smile category.

Recently I bought a book written by Neil Pasricha, The Book Of Awesome. It’s a collection of situations that make you say or think, “awesome!” when they happen. Some of them are; finding French fries at the bottom of the bag, tripping and realizing nobody saw you, and laughing so hard you make no sound at all. I wish had a couple of hours and a large Dr. Pepper and I’d sit on the back porch and read and laugh.

Sometimes if you choose to laugh instead of getting all tangled in a knot, the “OH, NO” unexpected are the funniest of all. Running out of gas when it’s pouring rain, realizing your wallet is on the kitchen counter after the cashier has just rung up $145.72 at the grocery store, and not having a change of baby clothes when your daughter has a major head-to-toe blow-out at a nice restaurant are in the are-you-kidding-me category.

I think the secret to laughing at things that make you say "OH, NO!" is knowing they happen to everyone. No one is exempt. It’s just so much funnier when they happen to someone else.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

English is said to be the most difficult language to learn. Those of us who speak it as a first language probably don’t even stop to think about how confusing we sound. My friend Billy Ong speaks seven or so languages. That would be way to conflicting for my brain to process. I wonder what language he dreams in, talks to himself in, or even thinks in.

What’s even more challenging about understanding English is all the slang, accents, and dialects. I grew up in Arkansas. I think there’s a language there in itself. We tend to make even tiny words have two or more syllables. Someone asked me once how Jim became Gee-umm. People laugh because I call him Jim Brawner like a person I just met. There were so many Jims on the freshman football team at the University of Arkansas, I called him Jim Brawner to keep things from getting confused. It seemed to stick. There’s still never a doubt which Jim I’m talking about.

People from the South just sound so warm and kind. My first trip to New York City left me very nervous and concerned. Everyone is in such a hurry and they seemed to all yell at each other. It took me a while to understand they weren’t mad, that’s just the way they communicate; holler in your face, wave their arms like you might get punched, then kiss you on both cheeks before parting.

I made the mistake of asking a street vendor for a sack. He abruptly stopped what he was doing and stared at me like a cow at the wrong gate. It made me a little uneasy because those people keeping moving and never make eye contact. “A what?” he frowned. “A sack to put these things in,” I said almost like a question, hoping it was an okay thing to ask for.

He laughed. “Like a potato sack? What you mean is a bag,” he said as he handed it over the counter. “No, what I mean is a sack,” I smiled as I took it and walked away ... quickly.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The first time I spoke at an event with a language interpreter I was a bit thrown off. The interpreter sat in a glassed in room like a sound booth and the people she was speaking to wore earphones. Before we got started, I assured her I didn’t talk really fast and I didn’t think she would have any trouble keeping up with me.

About three minutes into speaking, the crowd laughed. Then 10 seconds after they were quiet, there was a second wave of delayed laugher. I smiled thinking someone in that section of the auditorium said something funny. The second time it happened, I honestly thought either all the slow reactors were sitting together or I had lettuce in my teeth that showed up on the big screen monitors when I smiled.

As it turned out, I was the one who was slow. I had forgotten those listening with the head phones were getting the message a few seconds delayed. I also know translation is generally not word for word, so there’s no telling what I said to that group. When I watch heads of state from foreign countries talking with the president I wonder if ever a war has been diverted because the interpreter softened the message between the two.

Maybe if an interpreter came with a marriage license the divorce rate would drop. Conversations between men and women are similar to two people trying to communicate in two different languages. Have you ever been in conversation when suddenly the person you are talking two says, “Oh, that’s what you mean!”

Even though you know what you’re talking about, assume the person you’re talking to is absolutely clueless. On the flip side make sure you understand what is being said to you without making assumptions. You might be able to divert a war or two without an interpreter.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

I remember my first Brownie camera. The roll of film had to be threaded through a slot and the back of the camera closed tightly not to expose it. Then the knob was cranked to get it started. I never could tell if the film caught on the teeth of the roller, so I always opened the back of the camera to check and ruined some of the film. Flash bulbs were needed for indoor shots and there was always so much trash. That’s back when green was just a color in the crayon box.

The camera I have now scares me. It has setting for everything. I know I could almost be professional if I only understood a few of them. Occasionally I take an outstanding picture, purely by accident. It probably would help if I took an hour and read the instruction book.

I have thousands of pictures. I’m digging through boxes of them today to put together picture boards and a video for Dad’s memorial service. How do I choose which ones to use? I get so distracted and my memories wander. It’s wonderful and sad all at the same time.

Sorting through several generations of snapshots, I’ve realized our lives are made up of our memories. The older you get the more you gather. I’m so grateful to sit in the middle of the floor surrounded by reminders of how blessed I am.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A couple of days ago my Dad’s caregiver, Kathy, was feeding him some very thin soup. “Fred,” she said, “you’re going to have to get better so you and I can go out for a cheeseburger.” He turned toward me and said in a loud whisper, “It looks like I’m trying to rob the cradle.” With raised eyebrows, he grinned. Typical, ornery Dad.

That was the last verbal communication I had with him. Then it went to hand squeezes and eyebrow lifts. My Daddy went to heaven yesterday morning.

In my head I understand he’s not hurting any more, but I just wish my heart could catch up to my head. I’ve lost my mom, my brother and now my dad. As strange as it sounds, I think I know kind of how an orphan must feel. So, now I’ll be looking for my new normal.

Here’s to you, Dad, for a life well lived and for the legacy you left. I love you.

Friday, June 4, 2010

One of our family’s favorite movies is Christmas Vacation. We watch it every year some time during the holidays. I’m not really sure why we laugh so hard, as if we’ve never seen it before. Maybe it’s because every family has an Uncle Eddie or Aunt Bethany. However, we’ve not had anyone recite the pledge of allegiance when asked to say the blessing ... yet.

For me, the best line in the movie is when both sets of grandparents show up, unexpectedly, for the week. Clark Griswold assures them, “Come on in. We have plenty of towels, plenty of everything” behind his plastic smile.

The year after we moved to Branson we had a summer-full of Clark Griswold moments ... sure we have plenty of towels. It seems like all I did was wash sheets and towels from the end of May until school started again. I actually kept a running count of all the company we had. Looking back, I wish I’d had a visitors sign in book.

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day there were 14 nights we didn’t have house guests. Ten of those nights I was out of town. It was a tad bit out of control. It got to the point, after a group left, I’d categorize them somewhere on a scale between easy keepers and high maintenance. High maintenance basically expected to be entertained and fed. Easy keepers were happy to hang out and were thrilled with Cheerios for breakfast. My mom used to say fish and company begin to stink after three days. I think it depends if they’re high maintenance or easy keepers.

I did learn a lot that summer. Buy towels and soda when they’re on sale and keep the freezer full. And it’s absolutely socially acceptable to say, “I’m so sorry it’s not going to work out for you to stay with us. The stomach flu has been running through the house.”

Thursday, June 3, 2010

I called one of my long time friends who lives in another state just to check up on her. We try to catch up at least three times a year by phone and what we do mostly is laugh. Everyone needs a friend like that. It’s cheaper than therapy.

I filled her in on my last few crazy months then it was her turn. “How’s it going?” I asked.

“Well, we’ve made it through a wedding and a funeral and now I’m trying to assist my mom and mother-in-law with doctor’s appointments and such. I’m also helping my daughter with her kids this summer,” she explained.

“That makes me tired to think about,” I laughed.

“You’ll love this, Suz. The other day I was explaining to my mother-in-law the process of working out a three-way schedule for the summer, she patted me on the arm and said, ‘How nice you have something to occupy our time, honey.’ I almost choked on my Dr. Pepper.”

“Occupy your time?” I said stunned. “Are you kidding? Does she think you are bored? I think the last time I was bored was the summer between fourth and fifth grade. I could use a little boredom, couldn’t you.”

“I don’t remember the last time I woke up and realized I had absolutely nothing I had to do that day. I don’t even know how to be bored. I almost had a panic attack the other day thinking about the whole summer and how I was going to handle it.” She sounded so tired and the summer has just begun.

After we hung up the phone an hour later, I looked up the word bored and this is what Webster’s said: “Feeling weary because one is unoccupied.” I guarantee the majority of us have some of that weary feeling, but it’s not from being unoccupied.

I came across this quote from author E.L. Doctorow: “Writing is like driving a car a night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

I wonder what it would be like to break our busy lives down that way. If we know the final destination, we don’t have to worry about what we’ll pass along the way, or sometimes even which direction we are going. Instead of letting it overwhelm us, we could take it one little bit at a time. All we need is to see three or four hours out in front of us and we can make the whole day, the whole week, or the whole summer that way.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Years ago I met with a pastor friend when I was struggling with a tough decision. It wasn’t one of biblical proportion and there really wasn’t a right or wrong answer. That’s what made it so challenging.

He shared some of the very best advice I’ve ever received. “So many of us spend intense time trying to discern the will of God for our lives. We tend to complicate things looking for a lightning bolt and three trumpet blasts before we can make a decision. I’m not saying to take lightly big decisions, but I think four words can peel back several layers of the process,” he explained.

“Wow. It’s that simple?” I asked as I leaned forward not to miss anything. “What are those words?”

“If in doubt, don’t.”

“That’s it?” I asked, thinking it was a joke. I wasn’t sure if this was the punch line where I was supposed to offer one of those obligatory laughs.

“Seriously, that’s it,” he smiled. “If you have that nagging feeling of doubt that just won’t leave you alone, it’s best to not ignore it. It may be something as simple as the timing not being right. You also have to sift out if you’re only scared of making a change or if the nagging is a prompt for your decision. That’s up to you. No one else can figure that out for you.” Great advice!

Sometimes when I get overwhelmed, I stall or go into neutral and just stand in one spot trying to sort though what to do first. My friend and mentor, Spike White had another four word decision maker for me once when I was in a floundering neutral mode. “When in doubt, sweep,” he said. “Things always needs to be swept, you accomplish something and it gives you time to sort out what’s stalling you.” More great advice.

So today I might just pick up a broom and think about that nagging tug on my heart. When in doubt don’t or sweep. You’re really safe either way.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

It was only a small spot on the garage floor, but then it grew. At first I thought it was condensation from the air conditioner, but water dripping from the car isn’t usually black and slick. Immediately I had a $1,500.00 bill rung up in my head for repairs to a cracked whatever or worn-out something.

When Art himself from Art’s Automotive called later that afternoon I was relieved to learn a $12.00 bolt had to be replaced. All the car needed was a simple adjustment instead of the major overhaul I had conjured up in my head. Why do I instantly think the worst?

So many times things that seem dreadful, only need fine tuning. When a washing machine makes that horrible noise because the load gets heavy on one side, moving just one towel usually stops the whomping. A new printer that spits out blank paper may simply be out of ink, not broken.

A day may start off just fine, but then the dishwasher overflows, a key employee calls in sick and the dog throws up on the new wool rug. Everything looks disastrous, but it’s really three inconveniences that happen to hit all at once. None of those things constitutes an emergency, but piled up it sure can play with your attitude.

Chuck Swindoll once said, “I believe life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” So when things start to go south and your attitude looks like it’s about to follow, think about that. Consider most of what we let send us into a tailspin is junk that can be simply stepped over without letting it slow us down. Remember trials are inevitable, hissy fits optional. Besides, all that’s probably needed is a minor adjustment.