Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It’s weird how things creep into our subconscious thinking. The marketing companies make billions for retailers, especially this time of year, convincing us our children would mind and we would be more beautiful if we had their product. It’s strange that the jingles bury in the deep crevices of our minds. Why does that stuff stick and the important things slide off?

I woke up last night thirsty, got a drink and tried to snuggle back to sleep and for some reason, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer started playing in my head. Remembering I had probably heard it a dozen times the day before in all the places I had been, I relaxed instead of trying to analyze. I smiled thinking about Christmas, but suddenly realized I couldn’t remember all the reindeer names. Now I was fully awake. I’m not good with names anyway, but the reindeer, how could I forget?

I had someone come up to me at a party several months ago and say, “Hi! Remember me?” That is the most unfair question that can be asked and I forbid myself to do that even to people I’d love to trip up. Of course I didn’t remember him and all I could think to say was, “Help me out a little.”

In the movie The Devil Wears Prada, the powerful character Meryl Streep played had two assistants who studied the guest list before attending a social or business function. They stood on either side of her, like two servants attending royalty, prompting her with names and how she knew them as people approached. Jim Brawner and I try to do that for each other, but sometimes both of us come up blank.

I think name tags are the greatest invention. I wish everyone understood they are to be worn on the right so when you shake someone’s hand you can catch a glimpse without being quite so obvious. I try to introduce myself whenever I can. It takes the pressure off people, like me, who have occasional brain fog.

I guess I’ll always have to work on remembering names. But as Spike White used to tell me, it’s the most honoring thing you can do, call a person by name. I finally got back to sleep last night and It wasn’t because I suddenly remember the reindeer names. I had to look them up: Dasher, Dance, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen and of course Rudolph.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Lurking in the hidden corners of us is that never quite fulfilled need for approval. Admit it or not, it’s there. Maybe since Adam and Eve messed up in the garden we’ve been on a never ending quest to make sure we’re okay ... okay with our friends, with our family, with our employers, with God, and even with ourselves. Not kept in check, it’s exhausting.

For whatever reason, some of us struggle with it more than others. It could be we weren’t affirmed as children, as adults life may have kicked us around, or we’ve simply lost ourselves over the years. All valid reasons, but what are we going to do?

We can stay stuck or make some changes. Staying stuck, no matter how uncomfortable it is, many times is easier than making a stab at change. What will the relatives say if you only have three different kinds of pies for Christmas dinner instead of the five you’ve always baked? Ask yourself this: why does it matter? Now if your sincere joy lies in baking, bake on, but if you’d rather spend Christmas Eve in your PJs playing Chutes and Ladders with your kids, pick up pies at the Kroger bakery. The thought of that may cause you to break out in a cold sweat, but that’s what happens when you break an addiction.

Who doesn’t enjoy applause and gushing compliments? Approval feels good for a moment, but it passes quickly. Then the stakes are higher to make sure your performance is even better next time. Ask any athlete or performer about the pressure to out do yourself. But then, again that’s why they’re paid the big bucks.

Why not for the next few weeks in the midst of the holiday clamor, pause to consider why you do what you do? Wouldn’t it be fun to enjoy Christmas this year?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

It’s like hitting replay every year. Jim Brawner unloads all the plastic tubs down from the attic and garage and I dig through them. Sitting in the middle of the floor surrounded by piles of tangles, I know I didn’t put things away like that in January, so how do they mysteriously end up such a mess. I stare at the bundles like elves will suddenly appear and untangle them. Then I vow and promise to do a better job after Christmas this year. One year maybe I will.

I don’t do well with tangles. They look so impossible. I remember when I was about 10 bringing a wadded up thin gold chain to my dad. In tears I whined, “It’s ruined! I’ll never get it fixed. Every time I try to get the knots out they just get tighter.”

He took it from me and said, “Let’s see what we can do.” Patiently he laid it on the kitchen table and began gently taping on each knot and as it loosened he untangled it. Ten minutes later my necklace was fixed. I was amazed, “How did you do that?”

“It takes a few minutes and you have scrounge up some patience, but you have to go after one knot at a time,” he smiled.

When life itself gets tangled and messy, I consider what Dad said. Every time I yank and pull trying to straighten things out, the knots just get tighter. Then it usually dawns on me that it’s mostly likely going to take some time and patience.

So when the plastic tubs come down this week and the elves don’t show up again, I’ll make a cup of coffee and take on the strings of lights one knot at a time.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The quote, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” actually is a paraphrase from a lengthy symposium given by the Greek philosopher Plato sometime in the 400s BC. Sprinkled with whithers and thous, he evidently was making the point, depending on how you look at something or someone and who is doing the looking, translates the depth of beauty. Without stocked shelves of products in the cosmetic aisles back then, I would imagine they would have had to squint real hard to consider some of the people lovely.

Beauty is subjective, that’s for sure, whether we’re talking about people, art, or music. How boring would it be if everyone saw beauty in the same way? That’s why some feel nothing is more beautiful than Mozart’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major while others consider In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly the most brilliant thing ever written.

I think there are most likely fewer debates about beauty when we’re talking nature. God outdoes himself over and over. Just when I think there’s nothing more beautiful, something new shows up. Fall is possibly one of the most stunning times of the year. I say that now and when I wake up to the first snow, I’ll say that about winter.

The wonderful thing about beauty in nature is you’ll never hear anyone say something like, “Oh, she was so stunning until she opened her mouth.” Mountains don’t brag, streams aren’t devious and fields always keep their promises. I think that’s why our mom’s sent us out to play. We settle down when we go outside.

Friday, November 26, 2010

I had just dozed off after one of those awake and can’t go back to sleep stints. “Mom. Mom,” Jill was nudging my shoulder. I sat up trying to remember where I was.

“I think Dillard’s has some really good sales until 10. You want to go to the mall?” I felt like she was six again.

“Well ... sure,” remembering how I had just said yesterday, “you won’t see me out in the Black Friday frenzy.”

I’m not one to jet out of bed, so I had to determine myself to kick it up a notch. With hot mugs of coffee and no idea what we were looking for but good deals, we headed out. My friend Amy, who has six kids, shops with an excel spread sheet with sizes and requests. I usually at least have a list, but I was empty handed and it made me a little anxious and I felt unorganized.

Jill took me to one of those fancy malls with the upscale stores like Louis Vuitton and Saks where most of the people act like it really wouldn't bother them to spend full price. I love malls like that, but I generally walk straight to the back of the stores where the mark downs are.

In Dillard’s there were’t any before-10am-sales, just regular mark downs. I think that was Jill’s line to get me out of bed, like we needed to hurry. Gap, however, did have everything, even sale items, half off until 10. That was a find. But, without a list, I was lost. So I bought myself a sweater.

Anthropologie was serving fresh baked cookies, which we called breakfast and Banana Republic was handing out bottles of water to the customers in the dressing rooms and the long check out lines. I suppose fancy mall equals fancy service.

We spent less than $100.00 between the two of us, but walked off some of that Turkey Day slogginess. If you were organized and shopped with a list with the throngs of frantic people, I hope you found everything you were looking for. Maybe I can get a list together over the weekend for Cyber Monday.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I’ve often wondered what the first few Thanksgivings were like. I’m quite certain they didn’t look much like the paintings with everyone smiling, and clean in their Sunday best frocks. The pilgrims had survived more than thrived their first years on American soil and that survival was likely what they were most grateful for.

Do you think the head pilgrim made assignments for who was to hunt and shoot what for the feast and who was in charge of setting up tables and keeping the fires going? Who put together the seating chart? Do you suppose most of the women were known for certain dishes and everyone hoped that’s what they’d bring, kind of like at a church pot luck.

Over time Thanksgiving has morphed into a day of feasts, parades, and football. I know, for me, the thankful part gets lost for a while in the middle of making the dressing and sweet potato casserole. All that work and money to see how much can be eaten in 30 minutes.

We’re in Virginia with Jill, David and Vivian for Turkey Day this year. There will be eight adults and three children for a late lunch. I’m curious with all there is to be done for a small group, what Thanksgiving is like with the Dugger family. They surely rent out an event hall or at least do take out from Bob Evans.

Each year I’m a little more reflective, probably because there’s more to reflect on. So much has happened since this time last year, a lot of it wonderful with the not so good and happy sprinkled in. But, I’m still grateful ... grateful for my health, grateful for my family, grateful for a gracious God. Happy Thanksgiving!

“Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart.” Seneca

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

“True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.”


Everyone knows someone who thinks he knows everything and he usually shows up for Thanksgiving dinner. It’s almost as if the turkey platter placed on the table is a cue to wind it up and talk nonstop. Let’s call this person Uncle Albert just for reference sake. Any similarities to someone with the name Albert are purely coincidental. I don’t even know an Albert.

Uncle Albert people can be women too. It’s amazing anyone is that smart. I remember when I was a kid asking an Uncle Albert person how she knew so much. She just smiled as if I had extended a gushing compliment. She had an answer for everything. I wondered if she made some of it up. Did all she do was read when she wasn’t talking?

At dinner, Uncle Alberts always have a better story to top one someone else might get to tell while he is chewing. If someone at the table just finished their first 5K run, he or she just ran their fourth marathon. If someone’s child just won a $5,000.00 scholarship, his kid got a full, four year ride. If someone starts a discussion about the rising cost of electricity, he knows everyone on the committee who makes decisions for the electric company. He will not be outdone by anyone in anything.

I’ve gotten to the point I feel sorry for Uncle Albert people. First of all, they must collapse into bed every night from all the talking they do. They may know facts and important people, but they don’t know how to listen or be kind, patient, and humble.

So headed into the holidays remember this: don’t ever try to out do an Uncle Albert, it won’t happen.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Whenever I tried to start a conversation, she was distant, aloof and cold. I couldn’t figure out what I might have done to deserve to be treated in such a condescending way. It became a personal challenge to see if I could squeeze even the slightest smile out of her. I started to feel like a kid working hard to gain adult approval and it became exhausting. I gave up.

It’s interesting, when we let go of things, to watch how solutions surface. I don’t know why I have a hard time remembering God isn’t rude and doesn’t butt in, but waits his turn with things.

The woman who didn’t like me and I ended up sitting next to each other at a party. I knew no matter what I said or did she would snip or scow, so I chose to be quiet. Me being quiet is such an unusual thing, when it happens, Jim Brawner thinks I’m sick.

The awkward silence became deafening, so I casually asked what she was doing for the holidays. I wasn’t ready for what came next. Quietly, in great detail, she emptied her heart. She didn’t even answer my question, but told me ugly, sad things about her life. Thirty minutes later she said, “I’m sorry I haven’t been very nice. It’s not your fault, but it’s intimidating because you have such a normal life. I suppose I’m mad at you for that, so I close up like a turtle in defense.”

That made me laugh. Normal? Really, what’s normal? I suppose that was meant as a compliment in an odd sort of way.

That whole situation made me consider this: How many people, who are assumed to be mean, crotchety, and rude, are only being protective? I think about a turtle without it’s shell and how vulnerable it would be. That’s most likely how they must feel.

I wish I could say that woman from years ago and I went on to become tight friends. We didn’t. What we did have was a quiet, unspoken understanding.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Yesterday, sitting at the pool looking out over the Sea of Cortez playing Mexican bingo, I suddenly realized it was the week of Thanksgiving.  I’d not only totally forgotten what time it was, I had to ask what day it was.  Today we’ll ease back in to reality. Time’s up, vacation is over like the end of a good book that should be longer.
How could I let the end of the year creep up like that?  I haven’t even ordered Christmas cards.  Last year I got so busy I sent Happy New Year Cards and if I’m not careful, this year it may be Valentine cards.  
When John Horsley invented the first Christmas cards in England over 150 years ago as a favor, he had no idea what he was starting.  Thanks John.  Now the pressure is on.
I want so badly to be creative with my cards because I enjoy getting the ones that don’t just say, “Love, fill-in-the-blank”.   Anyone can sign their name and stick on address labels. I’ll admit I sometimes come up just short of sending out of control Christmas letters. Maybe not just short of.  My friend Sharon sends one every year, but I look forward to it and when it comes I make hot chocolate and curl up on the couch to read it like a novelette. 

Last year we got a card with their family picture from friends we hadn’t heard from in several years. I thought they looked so old until I remembered they were younger than me. Then they looked great.
After the first of the year, when I take down the all decorations, I'll look through the cards one more time and read the notes again.  Sometimes I keep them in a closet for a year then throw them away.  It almost fells sacrilegious to toss them in the trash.
So strap in, here we go for the next 6 weeks.  Game on!  And, for me, it all starts with the Christmas Cards.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Lately I’ve been thinking about babies, a lot.  Maybe it’s because my two youngest grandkids, Kaylin and Vivian, are hitting the one year mark and they’re emerging out of that fresh baby stage into toddlerhood.  I’ll miss the fresh baby stage.
One of my favorite things ever is the smell of a baby’s head.  It’s kind of like puppy breath, there’s a certain newness to it that stirs the maternal instincts.  I’ve often wondered why it is women cuddle and sniff babies while men want to see how high they can throw them in the air.   And when a couple announces they’re expecting, while everyone oohs and coos, notice the woman automatically puts her hand on her belly and smiles lovingly and the man struts a bit as to say, “Yep, look what I did,” so proud of himself. 
I think God starts babies off smelling like they do so when they get to be in 6th grade and their hair smells like seeping hormones we’ll still feel protective and loving about them.  By then, even if we hit a rough patch, we’re bonded. 
When babies slobber, spit up and poo we wipe it off or wear it and go on.  After the one year mark we shreek and change clothes.  So much of what happens before the first birthday is cute then after 12 months in some odd way transforms into annoying.  It’s similar to what happens after the honeymoon, charming becomes irritating.
So I’ll enjoy the last bit of the fresh baby stage. However what I’ve learned from the older grandkids is this honeymoon never ends.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

I do my best thinking when I sit still.  It has to be a purposeful thing like making a naughty kid sit in a time.  I resist, but once I settle down I realize why I need quiet time to think, evaluate and dream.  I most likely fight getting still because sometimes things surface that jerk me around.
Since I’m very task oriented and linear, I like to follow sequences and read recipes and instructions.  It would be so much easier if life followed a program, and of course I would like to write the program.  When I realize things like that, I see how control hungry I am.  I don’t like that about me.
Maybe sometime in the next 30 years, with concentrated effort, I’ll be able to loosen my grip on what I think I have control over.  The truth is this; everything is out of my control and I just make myself tired trying to line life up to march like soldiers in cadence.  You would think by now I would whap myself on the forehead and say, “Oh, so life sometimes doesn’t really have an understandable rhyme or reason this side of heaven!”
The other day I read a quote from Pablo Picasso: “If I don’t have red, I use blue.”  It struck me that I fuss and whine about not having red and worry about how I’m supposed to color if I don’t have red.  I forget I have the other 23 colors in the box of 24 Crayolas and waste my time fretting because I don’t have red.
If one of the greatest artists in history didn’t consider himself handicapped or slighted because he might not have red why should I?  Why not spend my time using the blue or green or purple I do have.  I was like God whispered, “Relax and paint with the colors you are given. I’ve got everything under control. Just color and enjoy.”  

Friday, November 19, 2010

"We must not promise what we ought not, lest we be called on to perform what we cannot."       ~Abraham Lincoln
My first lesson in promise keeping was one I didn’t think was quite fair.  When I told my mom that, she gave me the universal answer, “Well life’s not fair.”  I wonder if that theory goes back to Biblical times.
One summer when I was a kid my neighbor friend had invited me to go swimming on guest day at her club two weeks in advance and I accepted.  Two days before our swim date another friend called and invited me to her very fancy club for lunch and swimming. It was a place where the ladies tied their sweaters across their shoulders in the summer even though it’s really hot and men showed up for lunch in their suits. I really wanted to go.  This was a much better invitation.  I had to decline.  I’ll always remember Mom saying, “You don’t back out on a promise just because what you think is a better offer comes along.”
Giving your word, I learned in 5th grade, is nothing to be taken lightly.  Why is it we say we’ll do something, whether volunteer for the church bake sale, or promise to love and cherish, but when something better comes along we change our minds?   When promises and commitments are tossed in the trash like yesterday’s newspaper, hearts are broken and mistrust creeps in like cockroaches. 
Either make a commitment and follow through or don’t promise to do something and let people down.  Disappointment in saying no to serving on the PTA is forgotten as soon as the position is filled.  The frustration stirred up by not keeping commitments, for whatever reason, takes a long time to fade.
A promise is a promise whether it’s a written covenant, legal document, or verbal agreement. We may not be capable of a lot of things, but being a person of his or her word is something we all can be. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

People find solace in different places. Sitting down anywhere by water instantly lowers my blood pressure by 10 points.  Moving to the lake is probably the healthiest thing I’ve done in the past six years.  My friend Deb prefers the mountains. Large bodies of water make her nervous. I think it all started when she saw Jaws as a child.
Retreat and solace involve calm and quiet which seem to be rare commodities these days.  Activity gives energy to some people, but the constant bombardment of noise wears me down.   Maybe my life has been so loud for so many years, I need a break.
Whenever possible, I watch peaceful people to see if I can learn how they stay that way.  By their smiles, I’m sure many of them are on strong prescriptions.   Personality has to play into the mix in some way and surely those who live in the city are more jazzed up than rural dwellers.
I read something once that said peace is not the absence of confusion, it’s finding the calm in the middle of all the confusion.  That kind of bites since it puts the responsibility on me instead of my circumstances.  
Maybe I need to take more walks.  Every time it got too noisy for Jesus, he took a walk.  And come to think of it, many of those walks were by large bodies of water.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I’m always surprised, but not really.  Deep inside each of us must be an insatiable need to be heard.  Researchers say women tend to use about 20,000 words a day and men around 7,000.  I suppose life circumstances either help people use up all their words every day or leave them with a surplus.  I ran into a man this morning who was either trying to get all his in before noon or had spent yesterday mostly by himself and had some left over.
I was heading back to the room in Cabo San Lucas after a sunrise walk on the beach with coffee.  It’s not hard to remember everything there is to be grateful for in a setting like this.  I usually take the stairs on vacation so I can justify everything I eat and when I rounded the corner in the stairwell I looked up to see a man with an excited smile, “Hola!  How’s that Spanish?”
“Good job,” I answered.  “Buenos Dias.”
“Wow,” he said seriously.  “That’s really good.”  I felt like this was a set up for Candid Camera.  
I started for the next step and he said, “How long are you here for?  When did you arrive?  Isn’t it beautiful here?”  I didn’t know which question to answer first so I literally said, “Branson, Missouri, Monday, and yes.”
I smiled and before I could put my foot on the next step he said, “We started coming here in ’04.  I was widowed for 9 years and my kids thought I would never remarry.  I shocked them.  I wish I knew an easier way to get to stay in the building we want to stay in.  If I have to grease someone’s palm with a little money then so be it.  My wife can’t stay above the second floor.  She has vertigo and migraines.  Her migraines never really go away.  She's had several husbands.  The last one was an alcoholic and she tried to help him dry out but it just didn’t work.”
I most likely at this point was in a blank stare. Trying to figure out how to leave without being rude I said, “Well you have a wonderful day and turned toward the next step.”
“Say, do you know about Villa Serina?  You go down the highway to the first place you turn over the bridge or maybe it’s the second one, no it’s the first one. Anyway if you make it to the P Mex you’ve gone to far.  Go down to where it says trailer park and restaurant and follow the signs. You won’t be sorry, the food is great.  Then there is Momma Royale’s downtown.  Best breakfast you can find.  In the evening it turns into Felix,” he said. 
What kind of a place would that be I wondered, mentally picturing a man on a ladder changing the neon sign at 5 o’clock?  “Well, gotta run. Have a good one,” he said and disappeared down the stairs.
I stood there for a minute to let my brain rest.  I had just encountered a man who had used more words faster than any woman I’ve ever talked to. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

 I usually am a tough one to be talked into things I’m unsure of. I like to evaluate, consider the risk, then make a decision.  If the unknown is greater than the known, I play it safe.  Some of my family and friends consider me conservative and smart, the rest, I’m quite sure, think I’m just boring. 
On our first trip to Alaska, a shore excursion off the cruise ship to see bears sounded exciting.  I assumed we would be with a guide carrying a big gun in case things went terribly wrong, so I agreed to go.  I should have known when my friend Norma said she didn’t really want to leave the ship, something was up.  But then again, she makes me look like the Crocodile Hunter.
Norma’s husband, Gary, and Jim Brawner planned the trip on the advice of one of our dinner waiters from the Philippines.  These were his instructions: “Take a cab to the city dump at dusk and ask the cabbie to come back in an hour. Then just wait. But remember this; don’t mess with a momma bear with a cub. There is nothing more dangerous.”  
Had I known the full extent of these plans, I would have chosen to stay on the ship and read or play shuffleboard.  Honestly they planned a trip based Philippino bear information like he was the conciegere?  Do bears even live in the Philippines?  I learned all this as the cab driver was waving saying, “See you in an hour at the bottom of the hill.”
No bears in sight, the guys decided we should walk through the dump. Looking back you would have thought I’d been drinking to do what I did.  We climbed over mounds of paper, empty containers, left over food and diapers. Still no bears. It was an odd feeling hoping to see some, but praying we didn’t.
Just as I began to relax I came up over a large hill of stuff and there was a bear, ears perked up, staring at me.  I don’t know who was more surprised, me or the bear.  I knew not to make eye contact and to not run so I backed down the hill slowly.  Jim and Gary were scrambling to take pictures while I was running a mental inventory of where I could go.  Down the hill to wait for the cab sounded good.
I inched away and began to walk slowly out of the trash heap. As I got to the road, I looked up on the ridge and there she was ... a momma bear and her twin cubs.  When I yelled to Gary and Jim she stood up on her hind legs and looked at me.  I think she knew I was a momma who understood so she went on about her business. 
Waiting on the cabbie I realized this: I was much braver than I ever imagined and that the protective mother instinct is possibly one of the strongest known forces. And I sure hoped Jim and Gary knew what to do in case of a bear attack.     

Monday, November 15, 2010

In high school, one of the requirements in Mrs. Metcalf’s class was a persuasive speech.  We each had five to seven minutes to convince the class we were right about whatever subject we had chosen and researched.  In the end I don’t know that anyone was persuaded of anything, but a some good discussions opened up and several intense arguments were started.  I think Mrs. Metcalf was really just looking to find potential debate team candidates.
I learned several things from that class, but the most interesting was during the persuasive speeches and it didn’t have anything to do with speech preparation or presentation. It had everything to do with human behavior. That was the first time I realized someone else’s opinion is likely to be just as strong as mine and that it can be extremely challenging to get someone to see things my way.
The harsh reality is this ... the harder you push, the harder someone else pushes back. No one was ever convinced with harsh words and yelling. He or she might give in and give up, but it’s because they just got tired of fighting.  However, as my mom would have said, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”  I get the point, but don’t like to think about it too long.  It’s disgusting.
Aesop wrote a fable in the early 1900’s about a bet between the wind and the sun.  The wind challenged the sun saying he could make an old man take his coat off faster than the sun.  Game on!  The sun went behind the clouds and the wind blew and blew and the old man only clutched his coat more tightly.  Finally the wind gave up.  The sun then came out and smiled kindly on the old man.  The old man eventually began to sweat and pulled off his coat.
The bottom line is this: gentleness and friendliness are always stronger than fury and force.  Many times the best persuasive speeches are delivered without words.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

There’s a first time for everything, good things and things we’ rather forget.  First kiss, first time to drive a car, first F on a test, first broken heart, first Broadway show, first time up on water skis and so on and so on. Sometimes a first might be a surprise making us say, “Now that’s a first”?
Yesterday was a first for Jill and David, their first child’s first birthday party.  As much time and preparation went into planning Vivian’s party as goes into a small wedding. Everything from the V flash card invitations, to the tulle high chair skirt, to the bubble machine and jump-o-leene was strategically orchestrated because for these first time parents, there’s only one first birthday.  The cake was like a piece of artwork and, of course, Vivian had her own personal smash cake.  After Jill and David blew the candle out, the fifty-plus guests sang Happy Birthday sounding like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  Vivian was a little confused over all the fuss.  
Everyone stared waiting for her first bite of cake.  It was like watching Neil Armstrong taking man’s first step on the moon.  Similar to when he stuck the American flag in the moon dirt we clapped and whistled when she got cake in her mouth.  It will most likely be the last time anyone cheers over her eating pure sugar. 
Lying in bed, last night I thought about how special the day had been with all its firsts and considered this ...  wouldn’t it be fun to look forward to every day as if it is a first, because, in reality, it is. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Unless adopting, we don’t have to meet even minimum requirements to be parents.  It’s a little confusing to think we have to buy a license to go fishing, and pass a test to drive a car, but don’t even have registration papers to fill out before we become a mom or dad.   If something had to be done to prove new parents were competent to take the baby home, most kids would grow up at the hospital.
Honestly parenting is a learn as you go type of job.  Books, blogs and websites keep us up on what is “supposed” to happen at certain age landmarks, but every child is different.  That’s why there’s no set recipe to follow insuring everything turns out smooth and well done.  Just as new parents think they have it figured out, another baby is born who is nothing like the first, leaving mom and dad questioning if there was a mix up in the hospital nursery.
Parenting is kind of like jumping in a lake not knowing how to swim real well. We gulp and flail a lot, but eventually get more comfortable.  But sometimes we can tangle things up along the way because we end up more focused on what the kids can do instead of who they are becoming.  
I listened to a young mom brag that her daughter was totally potty trained at 18 months and was reading entire books by the time she was three. Her number for the church kids program flashed up on the screen at church the following Sunday because her now five-year-old was out of control in Sunday School.  So what if she could read the book she was beating someone over the head with.
What would it be like if we spent less time pushing for our kids to be accepted in the primo preschool, the advanced academic programs, and the best mighty might teams and more time teaching them how to be a good listeners, emphasizing the importance of kindness, and showing them how to be patient and helpful?  In the long run what really matters?  Maybe that’s the question we should be asking new parents before they leave the hospital.

Friday, November 12, 2010

I give up thinking there is an easy and seamless way to get ready for a trip.  I should have it down to a science, but I don’t.  The unexpected and unplanned always happen and I end up overwhelmed wishing I could just stay at home.  Years ago Jill said to me, “Mom, stop kvetching!  You’ll be glad when you are on the plane.”  She was 12.  Where did that burst of wisdom come from?
She was right and now every time I get in a dither balancing suitcase weight and making sure nothing is over 3 ounces in my quart size Ziploc baggie, I stop to consider how glad I’ll be when I’m on the plane.  And the plane is so much closer than before since we now have the only privately owned public airport in the country 15 minutes from our house.
My neighbor Bob dropped me off at the curb looking like I was off on a month long safari.  I chose to pack an extra bag and pay the $25.00 additional luggage fee rather than risk the $49.00 over weight limit charge.  The girl at the counter explained since I was paying the $25.00 anyway for four extra dollars I could upgrade to business class.  I had to think about it for a minute because it felt like a trick question.
I was assigned row one aisle seat and since business class boards first, I felt like a Walmart greeter smiling at the passengers as they filed by.  As I bobbed and weaved dodging backpacks and huge carry-ons, my friend Carissa, my dentist, and Jimmy Osmond passed by.  One girl struggling with her bags said to her friend, “Someday I’m going to fly business class.  That would be so nice.”
I wanted to tell her it only cost me $4.00 and if she does, be sure to ask for a window seat.
The flight attendant asked if I would like something to drink. “A Coke please,” I said feeling guilty because other people were still trying to get on the plane.
“A regular Coke,” he asked, like Diet Coke would have been a better choice. 
“Yes, please. Regular,” I smiled. 
“OK”, he answered slowly giving me a chance to change my mind.  “And you sir,” he asked the man in a suit sitting next to me?
“Vodka and cranberry juice,” He answered. “Really,” I thought. It was 10:45 in the morning. I was trying hard not to judge him, because some folks are nervous flying.
I passed on a refill, but my seat mate had another. And another, and another and another.  He must have been really scared. I was starting to be.  I hoped we wouldn’t hit turbulence that might cause him to get sick.  
I started to kvetch. Then I thought of how glad I would be when I got off the plane

Thursday, November 11, 2010

There are a few things that irritate me to the point of ranting; wool sweaters, fingernails across chalkboards, and a lone cricket lost inside the house in the middle of the night.  Until recently, I would go ahead and buy a really cute sweater even if it was wool, thinking my tolerance level had mysteriously upped itself. It never has, so two years ago I declared a total wool boycott. Chalk board usage is down so that takes care of that and crickets now meet their demise if they are within six feet of my front door.
A few months ago I was reminded of another aggravation ... people.  No so much the tourists, the people with 29 items in the express less check-out lane, or the indecisive folks ordering at McDonald’s. I don’t know them.  But the ones we all have in our neighborhoods, or at work.  You might sit on a committee or serve on a board with them.  Some of them may be cleverly disguised as relatives.
If I’m mentally prepared when I am with people who irritate me more than wool ever could, I do OK, but when I run into them without warning, I’m totally thrown off.  Afterwards I find myself thinking through what I should have said and should have done.  It’s usually not very nice.  Sometimes breathing deeply helps and repeating, “Jesus loves them too” over and over tends to take the edge off.
Once my pastor preached a sermon about these people.  Everyone went home with a two inch square of rough grit brown sandpaper.   “Maybe, just maybe, God is using people in our lives to smooth out our rough spots,” he very plainly said.  Yikes!  That felt like a rug burn.
None of us like to have our faults exposed and it seems that sandpaper people do that for everyone.  So when you say, “I let him get the best of me,” you’re right.   What’s left after your encounter is usually your worst. 
I think I’ll add to the deep breaths, “Love is patient, love is kind” the next time I run in to someone who feels like an electric sander.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

For me, the most important two things about a car are cup holder placement and if it starts and runs.  I know to get the oil changed when the maintenance required light comes on and to buy new tires when Jim Brawner says it’s time.  Running out of gas is embarrassing so I try to keep the red bar at the quarter of a tank line and I like a clean car.  Basic accessories and information is all I need.
My friend Gloria can take a car apart and put it back together again. She knows everything from engine overhaul to how to get sticky stuff off the windshield. If your knowledge is limited it’s good to have friends who are smart.  I do keep a AAA membership current for “just in case”.  I think I’ve only had to call them once in 20 years because I locked the keys in the car.  I almost had to give them another call the other day.
The orange vested guy at Home Depot had put everything in my car in the loading area drive through when I turned the key and nothing happened.  Great!  There I sat in the middle of the driveway in my clean car with a full tank of gas and perfect cup holder placement.  No indicator lights had been on, but the car wouldn’t start.  
I went back inside explaining my car was dead and saying I was sorry for blocking everyone. “No problem,” another orange vest guy said.  “They can just pull on the outside of the drive through. I’ll go get the jumper box.” 
“Easy for you to say,” I thought.  “Just wait until one of those construction type guys come through with a big truck and trailer.”  I turned to walk outside to wait for the jumper box and sure enough, here came the big truck and trailer squeezing inches by my car to load sacks of concrete.
A guy who looked like one of the contestants on the Tough Guy Competition TV show climbed of his truck frowning, so I quickly apologized explaining my car wouldn’t start as I fumbled around trying to pop the hood like I knew what I was doing.  “The Home Depot guy went to get a jumper box,” I told him.
He lumbered over in his tank top and pushed a lever and raise the hood.  Without changing expression he said, “I have jumper cables when the box doesn’t work,” and went on to load 40 pound sacks of concrete like 4 pound sacks of sugar.
The Home Depot guy brought out a little box, attached it to the battery and told me to give it a try.  Nothing.  “Humm,” he said.  “It always works for the lawn mowers.”  
Did he really try to jump my car with something used on lawn mowers? That would make Gloria smile.
Tough Guy muscle shirt didn’t say a word as he got out the jumper cables and hooked them up.  “OK,” he said, still not changing his expression.  The Silverado big truck worked.  “Now,” he added, “head to O’reilly and get a new battery.  They’ll install it for you.”  

He went back to loading concrete.  Who needs AAA?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sometimes what seems to be a good idea should just stay an idea.  When we had the chance to take a family work/vacation to a Colorado ski resort, we jumped. It sounded so romantic ... fluttering snow, crackling fire in the ski lodge, and a family activity we could all learn and experience together.  I must have seen that in a movie.
The only snow I had experienced usually melted in four days max.  I thought I was prepared, but Colorado cold and southwest Missouri cold are like comparing junior high to the NFL.  Not only is the air cold, there’s not much of it.
The boys went to the top of the mountain.  Their trip down was how they learned.  Six year old Jill went to kiddie ski school and within three hours she fearlessly headed straight down the slopes with no poles.  Someone that short doesn’t have far to fall and getting back up isn’t a problem.  After a few instructions, Jim the athlete, was navigating flawlessly.  For me it was a totally different experience.
My greatest challenge was getting off the lift. I didn’t know an adult human could fall that fast.  All the really cool people made disembarking look so easy.  They were always so kind to scoot me out of the way as they got off so I wouldn’t cause a ten person pile up.  
After my first ungraceful slide off the lift, gulping for air and saying bad things in my mind, I finally made it into an upright position and looked up. It was then I realized why people ski.  If you’ve never been to a snow covered mountain top, put it on your bucket list. 
So much for the family skiing together.  I never saw the kids unless they whizzed by yelling, “On your left. Oh, Hi Mom!”  Jim would patiently take the two hour trip down the green slopes with me.  The boys determined I liked to ski at romance speed so it was appropriate Dad left the black slopes and take a trip with me every once in a while.
Actually skiing did turn out to be a good idea in the long run.  I did realize a couple of things: if you have the chance, learn things when you’re young, especially if falling is involved, and no matter how many times you fall the only way off the mountain is to get up and try again.  

Monday, November 8, 2010

There are few things more important to a third grader than school parties. Even though Mrs. Terrell was very stoic on a day-to-day basis, she let down her guard for holidays.  Our classroom was decorated at least three weeks before a big event and we had a countdown calendar she marked with a giant X at the end each day.  October, November, and December were totally blacked out when we left for Christmas break because we partied the entire last quarter.
For the Thanksgiving party, one of the moms made iced cookies in the shape of leaves, turkeys, and pumpkins.  Everyone stormed the refreshment table almost knocking the poor lady over as she set them down.  Mrs. Terrell instantly changed from her party voice to her stern teacher voice, “Class, Class!  Slow down!  There’s plenty to go around.”  
There was plenty, but not plenty of what I wanted.  When I got to the table, only leaf cookies were left.  I really wanted a turkey and I had to settle for a leaf and the edge was even broken off.  That was the very first time I remember feeling jealous and I didn’t like it.  I still don’t.
The term green eyed monster, originated by Shakespeare, is thought to refer to cats who tease their prey.  And a monster it can become if not kept in check.  I’ve seen families break apart and friendships dissolve over nothing but sheer jealousy. When someone else earns a position on the team, gets the raise, or lands the job we wanted, why do we take it personally as if it belonged to us and was snatched away?  Underneath it all, we’re most likely mad at ourselves.
Sometimes I struggle to cheer for someone else when they get what I desperately want and feel I deserve.  “Good for you!  That’s great!  Great,” is many times all I can spit out.  I’m sure if I did some research I’d find out the Greek root words for the term, “That’s great” are probably the same as, “I’m jealous.”
My goal is to sincerely be happy for others when they do well, achieve what they’re after, or get the cookie.  Because honestly, like Mrs. Terrell said, “There’s plenty to go around.”

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Just like family members, we don’t necessarily get to choose our neighbors. Things may look good when we move into the apartment or buy the house, but Americans like to move.  So the neighborhood may not look like the same place five years from now.
Jim Brawner and I lived in some interesting places before information could be Googled up.  We moved into brand new government housing right after we got married and quickly realized just because it was brand new didn’t change the fact it was government housing. The construction quality was not the finest.
Our bathroom medicine cabinet sat directly against the back of the medicine cabinet next door.  There was no sheet rock or insulation between the two so we learned more about our neighbors than we really wanted to know.   
Several years later we moved into a neighborhood just being developed.  We were the first house on our street, so choosing neighbors wasn’t an issue. We watched a lot happen in the seven years we lived there. Things were stolen out of our garage, the man across the street set his house on fire for insurance money and another guy two doors down was sent to prison for killing his wife.  Ironically a state trooper bought our house when we moved.  
One time when I finally met a next door neighbor I apologized for not having baked something and officially welcomed her to the neighborhood.  She said, “Oh get over it.  We are about to head into a new century.  No one does that any more.”  I never talked to her much.
Neighbors can be wonderful or unfortunate.  We all want people who are quick to lend a cup of sugar or an egg or two, but keep advice to themselves unless it’s asked for.  We want someone who is willing to give us a hand when we need it, but won’t gossip. And someone who won’t kill their spouse or burn down their house.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

There are some scenes you never forget.  For me, my mother, all 110 pounds of her, dumpster diving at a hotel on a 100 degree July day was one that left an imprint.  The housekeeper mistook my brother’s blankie for a rag and threw it in the trash.  This was life shattering for a four year old, so much so, it took Mom to extremes.
I think the resort manager was shocked to watch this tiny Southern lady not hesitate for a moment when he told her she was welcome to dig through the trash.  Thirty minutes into sorting there it was.   Some things are just that important.
Each of us has something that will take us to extremes.  I’m certain some people thought the heat had gotten to her as they watched my mother rummage in the dumpster.  What seemed ridiculous to bystanders was high priority to Mom.  
Webster defines priority as a prime concern or important consideration.  What takes precedence for one person may be low on the list for another.  And during our lifetime the priority rankings shift and change.  Things that happen to us or stages and seasons of life do that for us.
I read a story of a woman who sat down on a park bench by a man as he hollered to his son, “John, it’s about time to go.”  
“Oh please Dad, five more minutes,” the son yelled back.  
“OK son, five more minutes.”
In five minutes the man repeated himself only to hear.  “Please Dad, just five more minutes.”  
“OK son,” he answered.
Five minutes later, when the same thing happened again, the women, thinking the Dad had no control over his child, very curtly said, “You sure are a patient father.” 
The man smiled, “Last year my older son was killed by a drunk driver not far from this park.  I never really spent the time to just sit and watch him play.  What I would give for five more minutes with him.  Five minutes is nothing to me.”
Who are we to decide what’s of prime concern for someone else? Whether it’s a knotted up, ratty blanket or five more minutes, we all have priorities.