Reindeer Are Evil

Not Santa’s reindeer, silly!

I am referring to those white, wired sculptures with lights and small motors attached.

Some of the reindeer do not have motors, but the ones that do are called “animated”.  Well, yes, they certainly make me animated.  Have you ever tried to put these abominations of holiday cheer back in the box?  Holy son of Rudolph…

On Thursday, Jan. 5, being the well-intentioned suburbanite that I am, I decided it was time to pack up our reindeer back into their cardboard stalls to wait until late November 2017 when they will once again be set free to roam our front yard as purveyors of Christmas-time peace on Earth and goodwill toward men.  Well, they are not exactly “set free”.  They are actually staked in the ground, which if they were real reindeer, would constitute animal cruelty.

Now, let me make one thing very clear, after a morning spent corralling these demons, I assure you, understanding reader, they are not purveyors of any kind of goodwill and they deserved all the cruelty I put them through.

The carnage began at 8:45 am.  11:55 am was my finish time.

3 hours and 10 minutes it took me to lasso these 7 (SEVEN) rangifer tarandus into their boxes and back to the attic.  Our 7 sculptures of frustration will hang out with wreaths, lighted spiral trees and a 10 foot tall blow up polar bear, who, by the way, gave me no trouble at all about going back into his box.

So, here’s to a happy New Year.  Here’s hoping for good health, happy families and a world where peace and grace can expand to reach everyone.  And you know what?  Come Jan. 5, 2018, I hope to do every last bit of wrangling, lassoing and texting all over again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Answers

I am ashamed.  I feel lame and weak.  I am inadequate.  I feel I am not quite a good enough human being.

In June, just after 8 pm, while walking at Liberty Park, I noticed a man with 3 suitcases walking through the park toward a bench.  The man appeared clean, shaven, wore khakis and a clean, pressed blue dress shirt.  The man did not look homeless, yet it was obvious he was going to spend the night on the bench.  He was a black man who seemed to be between 25-35 yrs. old.

Just after 8 am the next morning, the man was at the bench changing his shirt and packing his suitcases.  There was a young woman walking ahead of me.  As we passed by, the man, as he was buttoning up his shirt, said something to her.  I did not hear his words, but I got the impression it was rude or inappropriate by the way the young woman tried to ignore him and steel herself by fixing her gaze straight ahead and tightening her shoulders.

When he was finished packing his items, he slowly walked through the park and lingered in the parking lot.  His lingering apparently made another woman uncomfortable, because she called the police.  By the time the police arrived, of course, the man was gone.

The 2 policeman came near the walking path and told me the woman said the man “wrote down her tag number and was rude to her.”  Maybe so.  I did not see any of that as I was walking the half-mile loop around the park.  “He is not homeless,” one of the policeman told me. “He has a home.  We have had problems with him before.”

The woman who called the police appeared to be a middle-aged lady.  Her car was a white, newer Mercedes SUV.  After a short consultation with the police, she got in her car and drove away.

I have been back to Liberty Park to walk in the evenings many times since this “incident”.  I have not seen the man again.  I have seen many people playing Pokemon Go, though!  Even though I have not seen the man again, I have thought about that evening/morning often.

I suppose I have been trying to reconcile, in my own middle class and middle-aged way, homelessness, mental illness, class, race and equality.  That is a whole lotta issues for one walk in the park!

I do not believe there is one big answer to stopping homelessness, aiding the mentally ill, closing the divide between class or race or promoting gender equality.  I do believe there are many little answers.

When my daughter was in middle school, she participated in Upward basketball.  During the season, the teams would have a food drive for the local food bank.  One year it was macaroni.  Another year it was ramen noodles.  When Anne Marie and I drove the donations to the dock of the food bank building, 2 men quickly unloaded the back of my car.  “That’s it?” she said.  “That’s how easy it is?  No one should be hungry if that’s all you have to do.”

Our drive home was spent discussing how if every household would contribute just a few cans of food, the food bank would always be full and there would be no hunger.  Out of the mouths of babes…  Yet how gratifying would it be if the simplicity of Anne Marie’s idea was all it would take.

Kohl’s Dept. Stores has what I consider a unique and engaging corporate donation program.  The Associates In Action program works like this:  If 5 Kohl’s associates give 3 hours of their time to a non-profit in their community, Kohl’s will donate $500 to the non-profit.

The AIA concept is a win-win for all concerned.  First, Kohl’s associates are engaged in a community event.  Not only will they feel a connection to their own town, they will feel the satisfaction that can come from giving back.  Second, with every Kohl’s store participating in local non-profits, the company is able to touch nearly every area of the U.S. as Kohl’s has over 1100 stores nationwide.  Third, the non-profit gets $500 and Kohl’s gets goodwill and probably some tax write-off, but I do not know a thing about corporate tax code.

Just days after my encounter with feeling lame, weak and inadequate, I called the Salvation Army to see if they needed any volunteers.  I began helping with the weekly food box program.  Each Wednesday, for just a couple of hours, I help fill between 40-70 boxes with non-perishable food that is distributed on Thursday morning.

I believe in the power of the individual.

I believe in volunteerism.

I believe I am still inadequate and not quite good enough.

But I also believe that all the many little answers to all the many big problems of homelessness, hunger or race relations lies in each of us.

We are often insufficient, feeble and failing human beings, but we still wake up to a new day, and we need to ask:  How can I help?

 

Buttons and Birthdays

If I read (and believe) correctly, Ron and I have an exceptionally low risk for divorce.  We did not live together before marriage.  We are white.  We are very close in age.  We are college educated.  Our parents were never divorced.  Our child was born after we were married (way after, 7 years), and our income is over $50,000 per year.

Good for us.

Forty to fifty percent of marriages will end in divorce.  I read it on the internet, so it must be true.  This percentage has hung around for at least 28.75 years, which is the length of time I began thinking about sustaining a marriage.

My brother, Dan, married us.  “Love is patient.  Love is kind.  Love does not count wrongs,” I heard Dan say.

And, in a blink, we were married.

And I would really be tested on the patient and counting wrongs part.

Now, I am not kidding, when a family member marries you, it will often be in the back of your mind that you owe them a success, too.  If my marriage was failing, I feel I would owe my brother an explanation.  To me this seems like it would be an uncomfortable conversation, best to be avoided, if at all possible.

So, I have worked hard on being patient, kind and not counting things.  And, while I am sure I am practically perfect in every way, I am fairly certain Ron has worked hard, too.

Ron and I have developed an on-going saying:  “Anything for you, dear.”  We laugh as we say it.  Some times we are more sincere than other times.  It is a twenty-eight year old  tongue-in-cheek nod to compromise and understanding.

“Anything for you, dear,” because we are better together.

Arguments about Christmas lights are better.
Jokes about how awful you speak French are better.
Movies about time travel are better.
Dog walks in the dark are better.
$700 car repairs are (almost) better.
Breakfasts watching the cardinals and chickadees on the deck are better.

“Anything for you, dear,” because surely I will sew that teeny tiny button on the collar of your favorite dress shirt at 5 o’clock in the morning.

Because surely you will text and call me at least 5 times before I board that plane by myself.

Because surely I will bake you a chocolate cake with peanut butter icing for your birthday every July.

Because surely you possess, and probably always will, the ability to admit you were wrong much easier than I ever will.

“Anything for you, dear,” because I often still see you as 23, not 53.  You are strong and vulnerable, devoted and optimistic, and still way too responsible.

Good for us.

 

November 30, 2016

 

The house creaks in the wind.

I wonder what the rafters feel.

One night during a fierce storm, lightning all around, Ron shares his observation that our house is the tallest house in the neighborhood.

It is not the largest house square footage-wise, but undoubtedly has the tallest peaks.  This fact is not exactly comforting during a lightning storm.

Our conformist, suburban, white brick house has, however, up to this point anyway, provided shelter.

The wind travels down the road and buffets the facade.  Yet, the house seems to lean in, at the very least, stand resolutely.  And the rafters creak.

The dog and I look at each other.  Alone inside, like the wind outside.

*****

The house creaks in wind
Wonder what the rafters feel
Alone like the wind

Wind storm all around
Not exactly comforting
And the rafters creak

Conformist brick house
Lean in  Stand resolutely
Alone like the wind

Suburban white brick
Undoubtedly the tallest
And the rafters creak

Provide a shelter
Not exactly comforting
Like the wind outside

Worried dog looks up
Spirit companions at home
Alone like the wind

 

Nancy Drew Could Run A Marathon

 

My 10 year runniversary is late April 2017.  I do not know the exact date.

My first 5K was August 18, 2007.  I won first place in my age group.  I was the only runner in my age group.  I was, in fact, completely, walloping, way, way last in the entire event.  Yet, I was so proud.  Uh huh, I was hooked on this running thing.  I mean, “how hard could it be?”  I mused, “I came in last and still won a trophy.”

My 43 year writeaversary has come and gone, I suppose.  I do not know the exact date.

I have written poems, essays, stories and letters since fourth grade.  When I was in fourth and fifth grade, I was reading Nancy Drew mysteries by Carolyn Keene.  Like many girls my age, I kept track of the numbers on the books to see how many I read.  I had an entire dresser drawer full of those yellow spined books, all in numerical order.  #43 was “The Mystery of the 99 Steps,” my favorite.

Those covers still look spooky and mysterious.  They draw me in, and with a smile, I remember a little girl who could not wait to start a new book about her heroine.  Nancy Drew was glamorous, tenacious, independent and confident–  all the things my ten year old self longed to be.

Running helped develop these traits.  Well, except for the glamorous part.  Uh, I can not find too much glamor in being so drenched in sweat it takes a contortionist to pull your bra over your head.  But the other traits, being tenacious and confident, yep, running has helped me be both.  Nancy showed me what being tenacious and confident looked like, but running helped me be both of them.

I found I could set a goal and slowly, methodically work toward achieving it.  First, the goal was to run around the block without walking.  Second, the goal was to run a 5K before my forty-fourth birthday.  For a couple of years I was running at least a race a month.  Distance did not matter.  I ran 5K’s, 10K’s, half and full marathons.  (Have not run an ultra yet, but not to worry…).

Each completed race gave me confidence, and the finisher’s medal was concrete proof I could set a goal and achieve it.  Whatever the race distance was, that experience, was all mine.  No one can finish a race for you.

I have two older brothers, fourteen and fifteen years older than me.  My brothers were outstanding high school and college athletes.  They played football, basketball and were offered baseball scholarships.  You name it, they could play it.  My brothers were popular, athletic and good looking.

By the time I came around, I think my parents were tired!  Tired of all the traveling, sitting on bleachers, and for my mother, doing laundry, athletics was not a topic even introduced, let alone promoted, to me.  Besides, I was a girl, not competitive by nature, but bookish and introverted.

“The parents we had are not the same ones you had,” my brothers tell me.

But my oldest brother gave me a gift one day.  He does not even know it.  After I completed my first marathon, he said, “Well, you have done something no one else in the family has done.  You have the right temperament (read stubborn) to run a marathon.”

finally did something (athletic) my brothers did not do.  It still makes me happy.

I loved Nancy Drew so much, I started writing Patty Colbrook mysteries.  I remember sitting at the dining room table trying meticulously to fashion Patty into a Nancy, as much as a fourth grader could, I suppose.

I grew.  Patty left me, of course, but writing did not.  This summer I submitted an essay on running to a writing contest.  The piece fit the “rules,” but did not fit the audience.  I knew the mismatch when I pressed “send.”  Rule no. 1 (or so), know your audience, but the words came out of me, and I guess I did not care enough about the contest to change them.

I am grateful for Nancy and Patty.  I am grateful for my parents not promoting sport to me as I was able to, in my own way and time, find myself and the sport for me.  I am grateful for words and brothers and all that carries me most assuredly forward to another run.

 

Someone So Smart

I write because my mother did not.

She read and read and read some more.  Ten novels a week was not unusual.

My mother spent hours a day in that kitchen chair drinking coffee.

Sometimes, if I was not in school, I would sit with her.

Sometimes we talked.

Sometimes we were silent.  My family was comfortable with silence.

Mostly introverts, we were more comfortable in silence than conversation.

Yet I would sit there in our kitchen wondering what she was thinking.

So I write, trying to will a gift, at least a token, to my daughter.

She will know what her mother was thinking.

There are family members that wonder why I do not stay at a job.

They think I am not contributing.

Why does someone so smart just stay at home? And my mother-in-law would shake her head.

Tsk. Tsk.

I never colored in the lines.

I never made more than $27,000 a year.

And I breast-fed for 14 months.

I am viewed as not forming opinions.  That I am apathetic at best.

They sometimes think my silence is arrogance.

They sometimes think my words do not hold weight.

Honestly, I could not have chosen two worse past-times for people to understand.

Writing and running.  Or running and writing, depending on my mood.

If you speak about writing, the conversation quickly trickles down to “that’s nice when you have absolutely nothing else to do” (including things like setting fire to your hair or murdering puppies).

If you speak about running, especially long distances, there is no conversation at all.  They look at you suspiciously out of the corner of their eye and simply walk away.  If you are lucky, you get their jaw to drop and a grunt comes out.  At least you know they heard you.

Well, hear me now.

know what my silence means.

I know why I write.

And know where I am running.

Keurig and Santa

Wednesday night I dreamt that when I pushed the handle down on the Keurig coffee machine to poke holes in the pod, a podcast would start.

This was either a Divine message to stop drinking so much coffee or to start listening to more podcasts.

*   *   *   *   *

In 1988 I was a bank teller.  One of my customers was Santa.  Really.  When he walked up to my window, he gave me his business card and was proud to be Santa at Thalhimer’s Department Store in Richmond, VA.

Santa ate breakfast at Perkins this morning.  Really.  I should have taken a pic. of his red Jeep in the parking lot, but I was too busy telling my husband to “be good,” because Santa would be watching.

From our booth,  I observed that everyone who walked by Santa (he was wearing Levis and a blue shirt, by the way) said “good morning” and shook his hand.  “See,” I earnestly said to Ron, “everyone wants to stay on the Nice List.”

I believe in Santa.

I believe in magic cards, too.  Even though both my husband and the guy selling them firmly told me “no, it’s not real magic,” I still believe.

I believe in puppies and love and happily ever after (but not in unicorns).

I believe in rainbows and dreams (maybe not the Keurig/podcast one) and in that electricity when you hold hands.

I believe in tenderness and hope and “when you wish upon a star.”

I believe in the patient, tolerant smile my husband gives me when I tell him I believe in all this stuff.  Puppies and love and rainbows and tenderness and dreams and electricity and the Keurig– Ron is the reason I believe in all those things.

So, he better be good.  Santa is watching.

 

Anyway. In The Woods.

Ron and I went to the movies Friday night.  We went to the 8:30 showing of “The Girl On The Train.”  I wanted to see this movie, because I read the book.  I read the book, because I knew the movie was coming out.  Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  In this case, the book.  Or, let’s face it, I had simply succumbed to marketing.

Anyway.

It never ceases to amaze me how people can arrive 10-15 minutes before the movie begins, yet decide they need to get up to use the restroom 30 minutes after the movie starts.  First, the wife left.  When she returned, the husband left.  When each had returned to their seats, ostensibly, I hope, more comfortable, the other would fill him/her in on what had occurred while he/she was missing.

Oh, and there was a text that needed to be shared, as well.

Anyway.

The aforementioned restroom visiting couple were seated in the row in front of us.  Let me tell you about the two ladies directly across the aisle from Ron.  These 2 splendidly proper, moral and sensitive women made my $10 ticket and the 112 minutes of “The Girl On The Train” so ridiculously worthwhile and absurdly amusing, I actually wished I had thanked them.

Let me tell you right now, up front, I am going to Hell.  I am in line heading to Perdition for what I was thinking about these 2 ladies, but damn, they made it so easy.

Anyway.

Rather than feeling annoyed with these delicate hen’s fretful babble and protestations, I embraced them.  First, they arrived 5-10 minutes after the movie began (who knows, maybe they were in the restroom opting not to wait until 30 minutes into the story like the other couple).  Their butts were barely in the seats and the one begins asking her friend questions about what is going on, what does this or that mean, how come this or that is happening, why would this or that be said, when did this or that happen, etc., etc., etc.

“Oh, this is going to be fun,” I thought as they blathered nearly continuously.  This or That.  Rachel or Megan.  Whose baby.  Whose husband.  Where is the train.  Why is she drinking.  What is she drinking.  Scott or Tom.  Kamal or Mac.  Their exchange went on and on.  Until…

“Oh my God!” the Questioning One blurts out in an ear-piercing bellow.

I couldn’t help myself.  I really couldn’t.  I didn’t even want to.  I began to laugh.  This.  Is.  So.  Good.  It seems Questioning One is quite unnerved by sex in the woods.

Hmmm.  Poor Questioning One.  I see now that “The Girl On The Train” just is not what she thought it was going to be.  “Poor Questioning One,” I thought.  Sex in the woods was pretty good except for some errant mosquito bites.  I mean, wait.  It probably might be, could be good.  Just watch out for mosquitos.  Maybe.  If you are in the woods.  Not that I would know.  Just saying.  Poor vexed and distressed Questioning One.

Anyway.  I told you I was going THERE.

Blessedly, after that aforementioned 112 minutes had passed, the credits rolled and the theater lights began to come on.  Our 2 plump, gray haired contessas began their attempt to descend the stairs, which was no easy feat, as they were balancing purses, XL sized sodas and the burden of pedestrian indignation at what they just chose to sit through.

In the lobby, the pair happen upon a couple they know, who, as you would expect, ask how the movie was.  Questioning One exclaims, “I have never heard the F-word so much in all my life!”

Heading out the door of the theater,  I was still laughing.  This.  Was.  So.  Good.

But, then, so was sex in the woods.

Anyway.

Way More Nouns Walk Into A Bar

On a Wednesday afternoon in late July at a Burgatory in a suburb of Pittsburgh, PA it became clear that Burgatory is the nucleus for unruly or peculiar fortunes.

The benefaction was not for me this time, though.  The fortune(s) were bestowed on my husband.  THREE.

3 of the same fortune, which must portend a particularly sincere prophecy.

3 has always been significant.  A triad– beginning, middle and end.  The world– heaven, earth and water.  Or being human– mind, body and spirit.  Plus, there is always, “the third time is the charm.”  There are the 3 primary colors of red, yellow and blue.  These are the only colors that can not be made by mixing 2 other colors.

Now, unlike my “fill in the blanks” fortune, my husband’s kismet was pretty clear– some guy “over there” thought he was cute.  Hmmm…there were not a whole lot of people in the restaurant and our table was against the windows on the patio, so we only had 3 sides to deal with.  There were 8 people in our party.  We could not collectively agree on who the fellow might be, although we did not try too hard.  8 mortals, each with a fortune, is a lot of predestination to deal with in one afternoon.

Since there did not seem to be any overtly reliable candidates ready for instantaneous fortune completion, I got to thinking.  While the fortune seemed to be in the “immediate tense”– “that guy over there”– as in “over there” now,  maybe not.  Conceivably one of the little slips of fortuity was for the now, one for the past and one for the future.  To my way of thinking (indulge me), this most assuredly fulfills the significance of 3.

That the 3 slips tucked in that one folded cookie can represent the past, present and future is all well and good, but what of the guy(s) hanging out in some sort of purgatory or abeyance?  Here is a quote from Abraham Lincoln:   “The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time.”  Yep.

So I figure those guy(s) better be ready whether they are in the past, present or future.  We better be prepared, too, in case we find ourselves a part of someone’s fortune. Whether in a Burgatory in Pittsburgh or anywhere else, please be aware, be kind and persevere, because the future is only a day away.

 

 

Two Nouns Walk Into A Bar

On a Saturday evening in mid-June at a Burgatory in a suburb of Pittsburgh, PA the most remarkable fortune ever was astonishingly bestowed on me.

Now, maybe, at the time, I thought this was so magical, because it came after a Morty’s Steakhouse burger, a margarita and an Eclair Don’t Care hard shake, which was waaay sweet and I would probably not order again.  Full disclosure:  I have had more margaritas than meat in the past few years, so perhaps I was meat drunk.

Or not.  Because I still think this was a way cool fortune sans margarita or meat.

An explanation should not be necessary as to why this fortune was so remarkable, astonishing or magical, but just in case you missed it– because I get to fill in my own blanks.  Now, spare me the “we make our own destiny” crap.  Please, let’s not get into a self-direction/freedom discussion.  This was magic.  This was power.  I was the tyrant, the dictator, the ruler of…myself.

I know God gave us free will.  I know Karma may accumulate and things will happen.  I know the Magna Carta allowed freemen to have peaceful and free “privileges.”  And I know the U.S. Constitution allows us to pursue happiness and free speech.  Yet this “fill in the blanks” fortune has some sort of mystical power given by an unseen, omnipotent oracle none of us Earth-bound mortals will ever understand.

Just so you know where I’m coming from.

But, holy crap, what about those blanks?  I needed a verb, an adjective and two nouns.  Two!  Four blanks– all mine.  Who knew owning emptiness was so wonderful.  I was fully embracing these blanks, gaps and voids in my future.

You will find a warm spirit under your smile.

You will build a strong love under your soul.

You will foster a kind heart under your love.

You will create a steady loyalty under your direction.

You will remember a sweet memory under your heart.

You will work an amazing miracle under your conduct.

You will keep a hidden secret under your gaze.

But the winner is:

You will witness a kinder world under your attitude.

It is all in your (my) attitude.

Be kind/get kind back.  And if I do not get kind back, be kind some more anyway.

Be tolerant/get tolerant back.  And if I do not get tolerance back, be tolerant some more anyway.

Smile/get a smile back.  And if I do not get a smile back, smile some more anyway.

A kind, positive attitude can be hard.  It can be scary.  It can be emotionally draining.  But then one day you may go to Burgatory and realize you get to write your own fortune–

how do you want that to be?