Tuesday, August 30, 2011

One Per Customer

Get a life.

Hmmm. How often have we heard that one, or even told it to someone in jest, or in a not-so-jesty way? Guilty as charged over here.

Been thinking a lot about life lately; how it almost seems easier to lose your life than to get one, or to fully appreciate the one we’ve got, and those lives around us that we’ve been given.

Twelve years ago, I ran a little daycare in my home. I was separated from my then-husband, had three children of my own, and was panicked and pre-occupied about money and the future nine-tenths of the time. Two of my daycare kids, Taylor and Rebecca, were siblings. Their mother always paid on time, often brought me gifts, and was a dear friend. Taylor and Rebecca were the type of well-adjusted, well-loved kids that just blended right in with any group. They rarely had issues, and my children enjoyed being around them. Rebecca, or Becca, was only two when she came into my home. I watched the children for about a year, then reconciled with my husband and stopped doing daycare.

I didn’t see the kids or their mother for a long time. On occasion I’d run into them at a random yard sale or at the grocery store. FaceBook changed that for me, though. (Thank you, FaceBook.) When I thought about my friend the daycare mom, I looked her up and got current on what she’d been up to. Had I not done that, I might have never known what became of that family. Only a month or so after I’d ‘friended’ this lady, the urgent, all in capital letters message came onto our pages, “PLEASE PRAY FOR MY CHILDREN! THEY’VE BEEN IN A TERRIBLE CAR ACCIDENT!”

That was the beginning of a saga that was heart-breaking to follow, but I felt I had to. Both children had brain injuries; only one lived. We lost Becca. Taylor lived, but it was a pure miracle. He is still recovering from his brain trauma.

I wondered why the family waited for four months before they had her Celebration of Life service. I understood when I attended; it was Rebecca’s fifteenth birthday. People told stories of what a loving person Becca was; how she really seemed to care and was always there for friends and family. They told us how she didn’t like to go too far from her mother throughout her life; it was almost as if she knew that their time together would be shortened. Her brother stood and shared that he never got to tell his sister how incredible she was, and that if there was anything he’d learned over the past few months, it was this: Tell the people in your life that you love them every day, because you may not get that second chance.

I re-wound, back to the days when I combed Becca’s hair after a nap, or fed her mac and cheese for lunch, or helped her with her potty training. I’m sure, in my daily stress, that I wasn’t always as patient as I could have been. She was a cute little girl; there was nothing difficult about watching either Becca or her brother. Had I known that the same curly-headed little child that I held sometimes, or whose hair I combed, or whose tummy I fed would wind up dying in a car accident at the tender age of fourteen, almost fifteen….I can tell you I’d have done things very differently.

I’d have given more hugs. I’d have been more deliberate in the way I told her I approved of her, in my praise of her. I’d have paid more attention when she was trying to tell me something in her cute two-year-old voice. I’d have taken more time, had I only known.

Becca’s mother had us all take a Chinese paper lantern home, and at 9:45 pm we were to light them and release them, in honor of Becca’s favorite movie scene in Disney’s Tangled. When we did this, we saw several other lanterns from all parts of the valley joining ours in the sky. I was sorry that my children, who were at a sports game, were not there to see that. When my son came home, I told him all about it. He stepped outside to see if maybe, just maybe, he’d get another chance to see a lantern. I doubted it; it was well past the appointed time. We stood there for a moment, looking. And then it happened.

One lone lantern came from seemingly out of nowhere, flying low, and lingered right over our house for the longest time before drifting away to join the rest somewhere. It was uncanny how long it stayed right there, as if just for us. It might sound funny, but I almost felt like that was a gift from my Becca…or maybe more like a message.

Stay. Linger. Take your time. Enjoy things before they burn out and float away.

Getting a life.
It might be easier than we think, when we realize just how easy it is to lose one. If we viewed a person as if it were their last day with us, how would we treat them? Would we slow down? Would we linger? Would we make eye contact for longer, touch more, or be more tender?

I know I would be.

In the movie and book, “Tuesdays With Morrie,” Morrie Schwartz, a real-life character says, “When you learn how to die, you learn how to live.” He also said that the Buddhists believe in the little bird on our shoulder. We are supposed to ask our little bird, “Is today the day?”

Keeping that thought in mind might sound morbid, but it might also save us from a whole lot of regret.

To my little Becca: I wished I’d taken more time. Thank you for the lessons you are teaching me. Thank you for helping me to change the way I see others. During your life celebration, a letter was read that your brother had found in your notebook. You said in it that you wanted to change the world for the better; that you wanted make a difference in the world.

You have, Becca, you have. Thanks for being our lantern.

*Used as an article for http://igotmompower.com/

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Friday, August 12, 2011

WishGranters of Idaho


*I recently had the opportunity to interview Doug Raper, founder of WishGranters, Inc., a non-profit that grants wishes for adults with terminal illnesses. Here’s what he told me:

I’ve granted wishes to children for over twelve years with Wishing Star, and also with Make A Wish. During that time, I knew there needed to be something more for adults and their families. We’d get calls from people, adults with wishes for their families, and we couldn’t do anything, because we were a children’s organization. So a year ago last June, I decided it was time to do something about it. We became an Idaho non-profit organization in July of 2010, and became a 501c3 in September of last year; we did our first wish in December.

We’ve now finished fifteen wishes. Number fifteen is actually out on a wish right now, and we’ve got twelve more that we’re currently working on.

The very first wish we did was for a gentleman with Lou Gehrig’s disease, which is a terrible, terrible disease. I think it’s worse than cancer. His wish was to go on a helicopter ride with his wife and two sons, and we set that up for him. We lost him two weeks after the wish, but that family has a memory of that time with Dad that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

The second wish we did was a gentleman with cancer. He wanted new carpet for his home. It was really a wish for his family; you could tell it wasn’t for him. He got to pick it out, and he saw the first of it laid down before we lost him.

Some of the other wishes we’ve done: A couple of trips to the Oregon coast, we had a gentleman get back just this month from a Nascar race in Sonoma, we had a gentleman and his wife get back from a trip to New York, it was a great, great time.

We had a gentleman who used to love to go out and work in his backyard, and he couldn’t do that anymore; he’s in a wheelchair, and can’t get down on his knees to do that. He wanted three-foot high planter boxes that he could wheel in between with his wheelchair to work on the plants. We were able to get three, three by four planter boxes that are thirty inches off the ground, which is where he wanted them. The day he got them, he planted everything because he got seeds and plants and all that stuff for him, and he’s just really enjoying that.

We’ve got a gentleman who’s got brain cancer that wants to take his kids to Disneyland, and we’re trying to get the funds for that. We have another gentleman who also has cancer that wants to have his backyard re-done, and we’re working on trying to get somebody to help us with that. We’ve got another man with cancer that wants a new fence around his backyard; that’s all he wants. Pretty simple. We’re going to start on that Thursday of this week and then be done by Monday.

The wishes are not extravagant, although we’ve had a couple of big trips. Last Thursday I got a call from a lady at MSTI with an emergency wish. With all of our wishes, time is a major issue; that’s why it’s so important to raise the money we need to be able to do the wishes. If you have it in the bank and a family member or a doctor calls, we can go to work on it immediately and get it done for these people. That’s easier said than done, but this was an emergency wish, and they take priority over anything else we’re working on. The lady with terminal leukemia had just been told there was nothing more that could be done. Her wish was to go to Maui with her husband and two ten-year-old children, twins. They’re there right now. We had them on a plane Sunday morning. We got the wish Thursday, and Sunday they were gone. They’ll be back on the next Thursday. I told them I wanted pictures!

There’s just lots of stuff. We did a wish for a gentleman with Lou Gehrig’s that had a ’67 Camaro. He bought it in 1969; the same week he bought the car, he met the girl that ended up becoming his wife, so it was a pretty momentous week. He didn’t realize it at the time, but it was. The Camaro became the family car; they took the kids to school, they went to the grocery store, they did everything with this car, and he wanted it restored. We were able to get that done for him. He saw the work start, and we lost him before it was finished. He never got to see the finished product, but his wife, two daughters and son were there when we rolled it out. It was a very big moment for everybody, for the guys that did the work…they were so proud of this, it was kind of like their baby. The family was thrilled.

We rely on the goodwill of the community, to be able to do these wishes, whether it’s an in-kind donation, like a hotel room like the one in Hawaii, and the rental car place there was donating a car; they don’t have to do that, they don’t know anybody in Boise, Idaho, but they did. Same thing with the New York wish, the hotel was donated there, right on Times Square, big beautiful hotel they donated to make room for the family.

You get more no’s than you get yes’s, always. You have to have kind of a thick skin and keep after it.

The weekend after next we’re doing something kind of special for some of our families; a Baptist church camp up at Warm Lake donated their facilities to us for a weekend, so our families will come up to hike, fish, or just sit and do nothing for the weekend. We couldn’t get all of the families up this year, we had to cut it off, but we’re going to do it again next year and just start where we left off.

We were staying up near this facility a while back, and I just walked up to them one day and said, “Hey, have you ever thought about donating this facility to a non-profit for a weekend?” And the guy said, “No…but nobody’s ever asked us that before.”

I said, “Well, I’m askin’”. And they did, they took it to their board and they donated all these cabins. So the families will be coming up. Some of them have lost folks already; some of them have not.

It’s always exciting to see the wish come true, no matter if it’s for a child or for an adult, but it’s a different world with adults. When I was helping kids, we always asked for three wishes, so if for some reason we couldn’t do the first wish, we could do the second or third. Kids have no problem coming up with thirty wishes. They want lots of stuff. Adults have a harder time. When you say, “What do you want more than anything in the world?” that’s a hard question. I’ve never thought about it; could you just come up with it, I don’t know…

A big part of it is that they’re more givers than receivers. I have a hard time getting more than one wish out of these folks. Except…for one gentleman. He gave us the three wishes, then he was still giving more and his wife said, “No, all they asked for was three!”

I do ask the families, too. Some of them don’t want to. The gentleman we’re doing the fence for; his wife didn’t think he’d have a wish, but she asked him and he immediately said, “Yeah, I want a new fence for the backyard.” Immediately. He knew. She was amazed; she called me back and said, “Yeah, he’s got a wish!”

That’s what he wanted; every time she looks out the back, she’s going to see that fence. He’s…he’s not doing well, he doesn’t have much time.

We have a Board of Directors, they institute policy. As far as rules, there’s some things that we don’t do. We don’t do international travel, partly because of the cost, partly because the medical care in some countries is not very good. We don’t pay medical bills; we don’t give cash.

You’re looking at the whole staff. I do it all; take the trash out. Fundraising, wishes. I have to be constantly fundraising. You have to. I have twelve wishes I have to fund. I don’t have enough money right now to do twelve wishes, but I’m hoping that I will. I try to make it personal when I meet people; I talk about the wishes, what these folks want, what we’ve done, and what we have coming up that we’re trying to fund. I want people to understand that without the support of the community, those wishes aren’t going to happen, we’re going to lose these folks without being able to grant their wish. That just isn’t something I want to do. It’s part of reality; we’re going to lose some folks before the wish happens. Sometimes they go so fast. Sooner than the doctor or the family expects.

We had a gentleman with Lou Gehrig’s that wanted a rolling shower, so that he could actually take a shower. He wasn’t able to stand up anymore, and couldn’t get over the edge of the tub to take a bath, so his wife had to help him. He wanted a roll-in shower. So we went to work on that, trying to find some people that could help us, and we lost him before it happened, in fact it was just days before it happened. The day that we lost him, this was the most amazing thing I think I’ve ever seen, we had a referral for another gentleman with Lou Gehrig’s who wanted a roll-in shower. We were able to use it. That second man had his wish granted immediately, that wish is done.

We cover Ada and Canyon counties. Eventually we’d like to cover all of Idaho, but we don’t have the funding to do that now. There’s a million organizations that do wishes for kids all over the country; there are very few that do wishes for adults and their families.

A lot of these folks that are terminal have been givers all their lives, and I’ve had a few of them tell me that, they they can’t ‘do that’, they can’t ask for anything. I tell them, “I’m asking you, you’re not asking me.”

The fundraising: it’s a constant battle to have that money coming in. When I was doing wishes for kids, we were doing a radiothon up at a mall in Spokane. This guy walked up and emptied some change from out of his pockets, saying, “That’s all I have.” I looked at him, and I believe it was all he had, he gave it all. It seems that the people that can’t give much give everything, and---although this isn’t true in every case---but some of the people that could give large amounts---a lot of them---don’t give anything. It’s hard for me to even be able to talk to them, much less get a donation.

*Doug told me that he’s seen some really tough people cry from tender emotion, and that he’s seen miracles happen by way of people’s generosity. WishGranters could use any size donation you could give, even if it’s just a pocketful of change, like the man at the mall.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Enjoy It

One day I was struggling with my three young offspring at the grocery store. One was in back of the cart on a blanket, one was in a baby car seat attached to the front of the cart, and one was a toddler, commanded to hold onto the cart's handle as if his life depended on it.

I awkwardly lugged a second cart behind me for the actual groceries.

A middle-aged woman who'd been observing us approached, and with sincere expression and tone, told me:

“Enjoy this time. It goes by way too quickly.”

I laughed inwardly, naive to what she meant. How was I supposed to enjoy the endless diaper changing, feeding, and bottle-making? I hadn’t had a full-night’s sleep in ages, and my days were nothing short of insanity. This I should enjoy? Easy for her to say, I thought, she looked like she was in empty-nester phase.

My children will most likely all leave home within the year.

The grocery store woman's words haunt me now. ‘Enjoy it,’ she’d said.
I didn’t always. But I cherish those times when I was wise enough to absorb her advice.

Were I to rewind, I would have held my children much more. I would have read to them more. I would have gotten up earlier to make them a homemade breakfast more often, versus just stocking the pantry with cereal and leaving them to their own devices. I would have listened more intently, and longer, instead of worrying so much about getting dinner on the table, or the laundry folded, or how I was going to pay my bills. I cringe at the thought of how many times my back might have been turned to them while they attempting to share something with me.

But there were moments. Moments I’ll never regret, when household chores were put aside kids were loaded into my car, and we just spent the day at a park with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Or when we spontaneously drove up to the mountains and practiced sledding downhill on snowsuit bottoms, since we didn’t bring sleds. Staying up late and sleeping outside on the trampoline with them. Lazy days at the Lake where they taught themselves to swim.

I remember busting them out of school on Sex Education day. We went skiing instead, and had our own discussion about something that important.

Hanging out in the living room, doing nothing on a Friday evening. Late night runs to the fast-food restaurant for pure and unadulterated junk food binges.

‘Enjoy it.’ What wise words. I wish I’d heeded them as completely as I could have. I will cherish the time I have left with them in my home, and send as much love as I can to the them when they're gone.

Though my time of having children in the home is coming to a close, how blessed I've been to have experienced it at all. I had the privilege of having three incredible individuals come into my home, via my own body, and dwell there for nearly two decades. Lots of people do the parenthood thing, yes, but common or not, it's still an honest-to-goodness, flat-out miracle, isn't it?

It's sad for me, now that this phase of my life is coming to a close, but I find such joy in the knowledge that it happened. That I got to have this for a while.

As the song, ‘Omnia Sol’ says:

“Remember when, and let your heart be staid.”

Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.

*For more information on becoming an empty-nester (it's inevitable), and being okay with it (eventually) click here. 

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Water Works

If you're not one to grin when you see a couple of heads being knocked together now and then, arms and legs flying in all directions, and hands hanging on for dear life to the handles and rope of a big inner tube being pulled across a large body of water by a fast boat; well, you might have something wrong with you.

Because that sort of thing is just plain funny.

Especially when it's a bunch of squirrelly young boys from your church, around the age of thirteen or fourteen... and one of them is your nephew.

None of them wanted to fall off. All of them seemed to have something to prove. To who? We don't know, because not a person I've seen can possibly keep their dignity on such a craft. Cheeks flap. Hair whips around your face and beats you to death. Uncontrollable screaming, laughing, and other things happen, much to our horror. You're better off just to let go of your pride at the exact moment that you board the tube, and forget you ever had it. Those that don't are sorry in the end.

It's the reason the adults go to so much trouble for these sorts of activities; to get the kids to loosen up and to stop being so into themselves for a few hours. It's then that they're reachable. It's then that they're more likely to open up if they have problems. We see sides of the kids that we've never seen before, like the boy that didn't want to get on the boat much, he just wanted to wear a lifejacket and float in the lagoon for hours on end. We'd see his little head and think he was going out too far, but none of us wanted to 'reel' him in, either, respecting his time alone. When I thought about it, I realized that he lived in a home with a lot of people entering and exiting, and that the solitude might have been his version of Heaven. Well, let him have it, then.

Kids that won't even look you in the eye in the church building on Sunday are suddenly all smiles, once you take them out of the same old setting and throw some water and sun into the mix. This makes every penny in fuel and food spent well worth it.

Personalities are more easily observed from a lake than from a pew. The lanky blond kid that lives down the street never even came in off the boat to eat, and he never stopped smiling, either. With three boats going, he just went from one to the other to the other in order to be in on the non-stop action. Most of these kids didn't have access to boats very often, and Nate was making the best of it.

We mommies spent a lot of the time under a tarp, out of the sun, which was not my preference, but to be social I felt I had to join them in the shade. Before long we were cackling with laughter like a bunch of old hens. I was told someday this would happen to me. My preference was to be in the water, however.

I talked one of the younger ladies into trying out the lake, and being a very 'game' sort, she went in with me, followed by another more mature woman, who was worried about the 'ickies' in the lake. I must confess I wasn't helping her out with that; I was adding to the list of possibilities of what all could be in there, enjoying the process until I decided I'd better stop or I'd perhaps get dunked.

"We're washable!" I finally stated, and left it at that.

Later in the day, we would find this woman who loathed the 'icky' liquid on water skis in the middle of the lake, it having been years since she'd done that sort of thing. Her daughter, on another boat, would see her mother going by behind the craft and be joyous for her mom. There is just something very beautiful about an adult at play. We need it as badly as the children do.

Soon one of our boats came in, and the driver offered us a ride on it. The younger lady, who was his daughter, and I took him up on it, hopping into the front of the boat and finally getting a chance to stretch out in the sunshine with the gleaming water under us.

The vessel was teeming with teenage boys, all scrambling for their turn on the huge tube. First there were only two boys on the tube, my neighbor being one of them. The driver, Mr. Stark, gave them a wild ride. I was amazed that they could stay on at all, the way they were being flung around the lake.

When two girls got on the tube, I realized that the style of Mr. Stark's driving became very different. There were a few bumps here and there, from crossing over a mild wake or two, but nothing too extreme. The girls rode differently, too, in that girls are not afraid to touch on a tube; they interlocked arms and shared tube handles for a better grip, working together. You will rarely see a bunch of boys doing that. They were having an exciting ride, in their form of 'exciting', and it was all good. Mr. Stark went very easy on them and didn't try anything that might alarm them or scare them away from the sport for the rest of their lives. When they were done, they unloaded delicately and boarded the boat once again, refreshed and happy.

Then four boys got on the tube.

It was an unwritten rule that to fall off was a shameful thing. If any of them could help it, they weren't going to go over the edge.

Too bad the skinny one "Jason", didn't fight for a middle position. To be hanging out on the sides was a big mistake. Especially when someone twice his size was right next to him. It was going to be bad.

I have to hand it to him, he put up a stupendous fight. So many times as they were flying across the water, we'd see the bottom half of both of Jason's legs, dragging in the water behind the tube. His face would disappear from sight as he slowly lost ground from the front of the tube, to the back. But then, miraculously, he'd suddenly reappear on the next corner, right up front again. I imagined that he was using the bigger boy next to him for leverage, and crawling up his back to a more secure spot.

Proof of this came to light when the two of them, skinny and husky, went flying off the tube. When we circled back around to get them, Jason waved us off and climbed right back onto the tube, but the huskier boy was hesitant.

"I lost my shorts!" he yelled.

Jason, in his determination to stay on the tube and desperate for something to grip, chose the wrong item, apparently. He de-pantsed his friend.

Not one to miss out on the fun, due to the wrong wardrobe, the husky boy, figuring he had one more layer left, hopped back on the tube with the other three guys. The spectators in the boat applauded over our laughter, and Mr. Stark resumed pulling them around the lake once more.

Meanwhile in another boat of our's, my daughter and her friend commented as the boys went past them on their tube that 'one of those shorts was not like the others'....and they figured out the situation pretty fast, and began to laugh, too.

The husky boy told us later that he didn't mind losing those shorts; they were old and had been getting a little to small for him, anyway.

"Not small enough!", had been my comment.

The boys got out for a moment and squished into the front of the boat with us. All but one. My nephew hung back. I realized why very quickly...the only space left to sit was right next to me, his aunt. Instead, he stood. Even when the boat was moving. He stood right in the middle of the front, apparently relying on his good sense of balance.

"SIT DOWN!!!" Mr. Sharp finally yelled at him, because his body was directly blocking his view and he had to be able to see.

Nephew looked worried for a moment, and looked from the space beside me, then back at his feet....and then he....hunched. Right between the space where the windshield ends and there is a corridor. With his back against one side, and his knees against the other, it made a ridiculous picture. This discomfort he would rather do than to sit next to family and lose a portion of perceived 'coolness'. Oh, brother.

"Okay, I'll tell you what we're gonna do," said Mr. Stark, "My group needs to head back to get home. But before we do, we're going to have us a little contest. The last one on the tube wins."

Four teenage boys, including the Neighbor, gave a hearty 'YEAH!!!' from the tube. They were up for the challenge.

He didn't go easy on them. They flew from one side of the boat to the other, flying over wakes, banging heads and body parts together. You could tell they might have screamed otherwise, but dignity and a boat full of watching spectators would not allow that. Their eyes told the story, however. Big as frisbees. Sometimes all four mouths would form a perfect "O" at the exact same time.

Mr. Stark, who I had always thought was a mild guy, was a passive aggressive. When he'd see the boys bonking together on the tube in his rear view mirror, he'd grin and toss his head back a bit in this funny little laugh. Not evil, mind you...but dangerously close. When they were airborne, he'd do the same. When they were barely hanging onto the tube with all fours, he outright smiled, showing almost all teeth. So much for the humble image I had of this man with his suit and tie at church. He was enjoying the torture of these guys. Very much so.

My neighbor, on the other side of the tube, started off not even hanging on. He would frequently hold up his hands for those in the boat to see, as if showing off that his balance was such that holding on with his mere hands would be overkill. A stark contrast from our friend Jason on the other side, whose arms and legs flailed non-stop.

The 'contest' went on for quite a while, with some impressive boating maneuvers from our driver. He knew every trick. That the boys held on as long as they did was commendable. But it was time to go.

With one quick yank of the wheel, which led to a yank of the tube....three bodies went flying.

And the one left?.....Would be the last person who, personality-wise, needed another sports victory. That would be my cocky little neighbor. Who we promptly applauded. Applauded, that is, until his held up his one pointer finger in the air, to signify that he, indeed, was number one. We 'little people' knew it, and so did he and the entire free world. He was the one to ride with no hands. He was the one that never fell off. He was the one that was left on the tube to laugh at his friends in the water. He was......

In one deft move, Mr. Sharp gave the Neighbor a brisk little wave, then jerked the boat forward without any warning to the boy, who still had his one hand and pointer finger in the air, making it impossible to hang on....and sent him flying several feet back behind the tube, in a tremendous, sprawling, and very fumbling SPLASH.

"I thought he was getting a little full of himself," Mr. Stark said simply.

The memory of that moment will live on in my mind for a very, very long time.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Your Immeasurable Worth

Click Here.

No, really.

I wish I’d heard this song during my post-divorce cleaning business days, when I felt very much like a washed-up Cinderella.

Fact: Each one of us has immeasurable worth.

I took my children to the Mall one weekend. We didn’t go there to spend anymore; we just needed an outing. We walked along storefronts, window shopping. I remembered the trinkets I’d once bought from the elegant stores, and the kitchen gadgets I had planned to buy at one time from the gourmet cooking store, when I was living a different life.

After perusing the entire mall, we stopped for a snack at the food court. As we sat with our victuals, I became keenly aware, possibly for the first time in my life, of the cleaning crew. They were everywhere, amongst the people dining at the tables. They wore colors that blended in; blacks and grays, with sensible shoes. The women wore their hair in ponytails, or cut short to keep out of the way. A half dozen or so of these helpers were clearing trays that had been carelessly left behind, and wiping off tables. One was on her knees, cleaning up a spill that no one had bothered to deal with. I knew her expression all too well. For a second, she looked up and our eyes met. I gave her a warm smile. She quickly looked away. She didn’t know me in my fancy wardrobe, with my silver hoop earrings and my Italian boots from my one of my long-gone trips to Europe. She didn’t recognize me at all, though…that I was a cleaner, too. That I was her sister.

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Monday, May 9, 2011

He Gave Me More

Consider this. That nothing is ever really lost; it just changes.

Granted, this might sound funny, but I am just as happy in my second marriage as I was at the highest points of my first one. It is a different type of happiness, with a different person and totally different dynamics. The level of happiness is similar; it’s like the comparison between chocolate fudge cake and a root beer float. I like them both in their own right.

In the movie, ‘Under The Tuscan Sun’, the older diva tells Diane Lane’s character about having chased the ladybugs as a little girl. She had difficulty catching them, when she was determined and she was trying so hard to chase and grip them in her clutches. She wanted the luck they were sure to bring. Then she laid down in the field, exhausted, and took a nap. When she awakened, the ladybugs were crawling all over her. In the movie, Diane Lane’s character, Frances, gets everything she said she wanted, but in completely unexpected ways.

I had never envisioned giving up my firstborn for adoption. The thought never crossed my mind. Yet, that’s what happened. Bad timing, poor circumstances, and even worse support put me in a place I never thought I’d be.

Four days ago, my birth daughter’s adoptive aunt hugged me and whispered in my ear, “Thank you so much for making that hard choice. If you hadn’t, I never would have had her in my life. Thank you.”

Twenty-plus years later, the lovely person I gave birth to and I are coming full circle. We were apart for a time, and now our families know and love one another. In the end, we haven’t lost at all…we’ve gained.

In life, there are a lot of people that will let you down. In my case, that was parents and an ex-husband, and a few other stragglers here and there. But guess what? They’ve been replaced, and with the most fascinating mix of individuals that have come right out of the woodwork. Our paths have crossed by what seemed to be nothing but pure chance, and yet? Here they all are. A foster mother that took me in and hasn’t let me out of her embrace for over two decades. An Australian lady I’ve actually never met that contacted me through a blog and gives support daily, calls me ‘Princess’ and often sends me little gifts in the mail. Friends that feel more like sisters. A father in-law that calls me ‘his favorite daughter-in-law’. A Canadian gentleman that I’ve known for years who sends hugs through my email and lets me call him Papa.

Tell me, what is it that I have ‘lost’?

Absolutely nothing.

Not one single thing has turned out the way I’ve envisioned or planned. I wanted to be celebrating my 22nd anniversary by now. I wanted to stay in my spacious home out in the country. I never wanted to have to break in a new bunch of in-laws. I wanted biological parents that loved me and would do anything to protect me. I never wanted to be a second wife, or a stepmother. I wanted it all done my way.

God had other ideas. He never once gave me what I wanted.
He gave me more.

*Please visit me on Facebook and Twitter. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Buggy For The Parade of America, Courtesy Vern Carpenter

Vern Carpenter has a project.

While the name Vern Carpenter may not sound familiar to the common Canyon county resident, it means something to all who’ve traveled via the school bus within the county’s boundaries. Vern is the former owner of Brown Bus Company.

When visiting Vern, he first showed me the latest item, stored in the back of his pickup truck. It was an ornately upholstered black bench, very vintage-looking.

“It’s going into my Amish buggy,” Vern said, “It’s a buggy like those old-time doctors used to ride in around the countryside.”

“Like Doc Baker’s on Little House on the Prairie?” I asked. He nodded, then moved the tour to his warehouse of impressive antiques. One of those treasures was the Snake River Stampede wagon, which I have always wanted to get a closer look at. Vern, who is on the Snake River Stampede Board, even let me climb inside. He showed me an old hardware wagon and his aforementioned Amish doctor buggy, which Vern himself had restored.

We went to the repair shop, the home of Vern’s latest endeavor.

He first got the idea while visiting the museum in Baker, Oregon, where there was an old-time, horse-drawn buggy that took children to school, back in the day. Vern thought it would really be something to build one. When his son heard of Vern’s idea, he encouraged his dad to hurry up and build it, then enter it in the Parade of America on May 21st. Each year Brown Bus Company has a couple of entries: one is their sleekest, latest-in-technology school bus; the other is a 1937 Chevy school bus. They thought it would be meaningful to have Vern’s school bus-buggy lead the way, showing the progression of student transportation.

Vern, now retired from Brown Bus Company, is putting in lots of hours to get that bus- buggy going. Having taken pictures of the buggy in Baker from every imaginable angle, and then using those pictures as his guide, he is recreating what he saw. He has never built a buggy from the ground up before, but thinks he can, engineering pieces and parts and putting them where they belong, like a large puzzle. Although he’s done most of the work solo, he says he’s had a bit of help here and there with welding and other things as May 21st looms.

I asked Vern what made him want to do such a thing. I was expecting perhaps a sentimental answer, possibly a poignant story from his childhood.

“I just like buggies,” he told me.

He also said that he liked taking something old and making something new. I asked if he would make his deadline for the Parade of America.

Vern Carpenter’s reply was classic.

“I’m going to give it a heck of a try.”

Thursday, April 28, 2011

You're Not Alone

If you were abused as a child or as an adult, you are far from alone. There are a lot of non-celebs and celebrities alike that are making a difference in speaking out.

Tina Turner. Gloria Steinem. Mary J. Blige. Sally Field. Jane Fonda. Erin Gray. Charlize Theron.

They’ve all bravely let the world know they've had abuse in their past…and why not? Having been abused is not a shameful thing on you. It is not your fault. You’ve been made to feel that it is, that’s exactly how an abuser gets some of their power.


Sela Ward. Maya Angelou. Martha Beck, Oprah Winfrey and writer Virginia Woolf. Mo’Nique. Jewel. SARK. Hilary Swank. Amy Tan. Meg Tilly. Halle Berry. Fern Michaels. Iyanla Vanzant. Christy Brinkley. Elizabeth Gilbert. Emily Post. Elizabeth Taylor.

Did these people hide in the corner or ultimately back down? Not on your life.

I toured a Women’s Shelter with a group recently. Several people spoke with us about the work they did there. While walking beside a very poised and regal shelter employee, I told her I’d been impressed with her matter-of-fact way of speaking about something as sensitive as abuse. It was as if she weren’t at all afraid of it. This polished and very put-together lady looked me right in the eye and said, “I’m one of the four.”

This is what a victor looks like.

It wasn’t anything she did. The shame was not hers, nor did she choose to wear it in any way. She simply stated a fact.

I know that abusers will tell you there are reasons for what they do or have done, and that you're right smack in the middle of most of those reasons and causes. That’s garbage. Immature beings blame. Mature adults own up to their actions.

Immature beings call names and point fingers and can be pretty good at making you believe it’s all your fault. This has a dual purpose: To cast blame away, and to keep you quiet by making you feel like the 'bad' person. But stay with the feeling you get when they’ve finished talking…that point where real truth begins to seep in. You know wrong when you hear it, don’t you. Everyone is born with a ‘Right/Wrong compass’, and we know this innately; unless we choose to ignore the many indicators.

Abuse is wrong. It should never happen. Think you have to stay down and stay silent, just because you were once a victim? Think again. All of the people listed above didn’t. In fact, in many cases, the abuse was their springboard for later accomplishments. They brushed it off, stepped on it, and elevated themselves far beyond it.

Those listed above are well-knowns, but many others wear the victor’s crown. They’re all around you, those ‘one in four’.

You are definitely, definitely not alone.

I grew up with abuse, too. In my forties, I finally told the right people. It resulted in a court case, with my abuser present. He now has a record, and a civil protection order that has followed him around for many years. He's the restricted one now, while I'm the one that's now free to live my life without the harassment. If he violates the order, he'll go to jail, period. No more explaining or discomfort on my part, something I lived with for decades. Telling isn't the 'tattling' we might have been constantly warned about as children. Telling is, simply stated, telling the truth. And the truth will set you free.

Remember, it's the abuser's history, not yours. They're the only ones that get to feel shame and remorse for what happened. That's their history.

Be free.

*If you've been a victim of domestic violence, see this link.

*If you were sexually abused, for a way to speak your silence that will help yourself and many others, see this link.

**Please visit me on Facebook and Twitter. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

They Love Me/ They Love Me Not

"They do not love that do not show their love." - William Shakespeare

That solves that mystery, does it not?

How many times I've put my efforts into those that are a puzzle to me...do they or don't they?

It stands to reason that if I have to ask the question...I already have my answer.

I have wasted so much time on those whose ill opinions of me will never falter, and never change. Far, far too much.

It's the season to put my energies into places where they can do the most good. That's a part of respecting and loving myself. Why beat my head against a brick wall, hoping for a door to appear, when I could simply just....find a door? (This is an idea borrowed from Coco Chanel).

Others would absorb our attention and affection it like a dry sponge. Why not go find them?

We have something to offer that is precious...our love, which we should place in a sacred spot, not where it will get trampled on and disregarded. When we make that shift, we can focus on those who need us the most.

*Please visit me on Facebook and Twitter. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Friendly Neighbors Club

On April 5, 1928, a group of mom-types formed a club, aptly named ‘The Friendly Neighbors Club’. They could not have known then that their small community organization would outlive them and their children.

The Club formed of necessity; in this pre-PTA era, Lakeview’s one-room schoolhouse’s need was urgent: hot lunches and helping hands to assist the two teachers. As time went by, the Club reached beyond essentials. Last Day of School Picnics, purchase of a new furnace and hot water heater, presents for teachers, janitors and cooks, eighth grade graduation ceremonies and so much more.

The Club began to look for other places where they might be needed. They made curtains for the Hall, donated holiday turkeys, brought gifts to clients at the State School on a regular basis, and sold baked goods at the Marsing Disaster Fundraiser each year, giving the proceeds right back to the Fund. For more than a quarter of a century, the Club has donated to over a dozen local and national charities without fail.

Hundreds of women have been listed on the Club rosters, kept meticulously since 1930. Many of the names are recognizable; of large country families, but not all. Some were simply transplants from out of state, needing friends, and the Club was there. “It made me feel that I belonged,” said a member. The ladies loved their community, families, and each other with an uncommon steadiness. They threw parties for one another, mourned losses and celebrated gains. If anyone was ill or down, they were sure to get a card, and sometimes a plant, flowers, or a casserole. They worked hard, but they knew how to play, too. The books give accounts of stunts, riddles, games, contests, and practical jokes on their husbands.

Since children were allowed at the meetings, the members’ young formed a tight bond, having grown up together. It was their children, after all, that had gotten the Club together in the first place, and children were never left out, nor were the helpful husbands, who were often well-fed as a reward. A tragedy occurred when the Lakeview School had a fire in 1967, but the children, although bussed to different schools, mainly stayed in touch.

Over eighty years since its formation, the Friendly Neighbors Club lives on. The members are generally older now. When unable to donate time, they donate their funds. They still do good works and are still finding ways to meet a need. Once a month they gather, and continue to celebrate the Club’s anniversary each year, on April 5th.

“It’s a matter of being welcomed by people. People who feel like family; people that you can count on,” said a long-time member. When asked about the hey-days of the Club, she continues, “It’s a lost time,” but then thoughtfully added, ‘But nothing ever really ends; it just changes. We still need to know who our neighbors are. Not knowing might be all right in New York, but it’s not all right here.”

*This article was the Idaho Press Tribune's essay winner for it's annual Cavalcade Magazine in 2010.

**Please visit me on Facebook and Twitter. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Conquering the Hill

For Jared

Some people

have to climb

the highest heights

to achieve a summit

in their minds.

"You don't conquer the hill; You conquer yourself"

But I can conquer myself

just as well

at the base camp

When I've at last


that the hurdle

is Myself

Every mountain peak

Appears to be,

In contrast,

Far too


*Please visit me on Facebook and Twitter. 

The Real Message

He walked into the chapel

Ebony among so much ivory

He sat alone, and that bothered me

I was getting ready to suggest

that my husband leave our family

to befriend this man sitting alone.

The congregation prayed together.

When I opened my eyes, a tiny towhead

had made his way to our new friend's row

and greeted him

far better than any of us could have.

The little boy reached for his face, wanting to touch

and be touched by this man

Who turned back to the toddler's mother as if to say

"Is this okay?"

Then scooped him up and had a buddy for the rest of the service.

There they sat

Dark and light

Old and young

Unaware of any differences,

One because of his innocence; the other because of his wisdom.

I did not hear one word the pastor said; the real message was

right before my eyes,

impossible to ignore.

Amy Larson

See the other 999 posts at http://1000speak.wordpress.com/2015/02/19/compassion-is-in-our-nature/

*Let's connect on Facebook and Twitter.  #1000speak


Theres is no

such thing

as feeling


Numb is



One Small Day

Who knows

but that

this one tiny


won't change the course

of your



and that of

those who


Panama, I Presume?

I am an official Word Nerd.

This has its roots in my early education, at a very forward-thinking grade school in Pennsylvania. We were not permitted to say 'ain't', or to use poor English at all, for that matter. For this we were severely and publicly reprimanded. The students of Grandview Elementary took pride in their mastering of the Language. So I am picky, when it comes to the written or the spoken word. I like it to be right.

When I hear something pronounced incorrectly, I cringe. When I discovered that I had been saying the word 'commute' with the emphasis on the wrong syllable for YEARS, and no one had bothered to tell me; well, let's just say that I was horrified.

My older sister, Lauren, went to the same school as I; but it appeared that she may have missed a few small items. When she says a word incorrectly, I can't help but call her on it. She, being well aware of our privileged education, and not wanting to appear in error, tries to pull the old, "Well, I only pronounce it that way because that is the CORRECT way. OUR way is different than other people's out West...it's because we're from Pennsylvania...we speak much better English." While this method might ring true for words like 'creek' and 'crick', or 'roof' and 'ruff', or 'syrup' (sirrup) or 'syrup' (seerup'), it just never did jive for whichever word she would be slaughtering at the moment.

I tried not to get after her too often; I'm well aware of my O.C.D. that way, and that it could be obnoxious...but when we got to the late 80's, I was subjected to the worst sort of verbal torture. The band Van Halen came out with a song called 'Panama'....(pronounced 'pan-em-maw'). THEY sang it correctly (Thank you, Van Halen.) Lauren did not.

"Panemuh...." she'd sing. "Panemuh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh, PAN-EM-MUH!"

I thought my head was going to burst. Over the music I would be yelling like a crazed English professor, "PanamAH! It's PanamAH, not PanemUH!"

And she would argue with me that SHE had the correct pronunciation, because SHE was from Pennsylvania. And besides, when we lived there, she'd been in the grade above me, not below me, and she'd always been the straight A student and I wasn't, so that, of course meant that she'd retained more. That also meant that the word, my Dear Younger Sister, was 'PanemUh.'

Every time I heard her sing that song, I was in my own private little pronunciation hell.

Years later I was minding my own business, watching the news, when a newscaster from one of the networks dropped the same bomb on me. 'PanemUH', he'd said, plain as day. Suddenly I was doubting; could I possibly have been wrong all of these years? I ran for a dictionary. Nope. Pan-em-maw....I was still right, phwew.

But it made me feel badly about getting after Lauren for all of those years, and just not letting it slide whenever she made a language faux paux...this word stuff isn't for everyone, after all...So I called her just to tell her that a newscaster had said 'Pan-em-mUH', and that perhaps there might have been differing, yet equally correct ways to say the word. (Hey, I can at least give her that concession). We chatted for a while, it was a pleasant conversation. I was glad that I had called. When it was time to go, she asked me what I'd been doing before I called her. I told her I'd just been watching some tv. She thought that she would try out her newly esteemed vocabulary.

"All right, then," she said airily, " You may return to your former activity.....You may.... 'presume.'

The Bathroom Battle

I came home from my class at the community college, anxious to use the facilities... and attempted to use the kids' bathroom. I could not bring myself to do so. Worse than the public restroom at the park after the Fourth of July; I was apalled. Wastebasket overflowing. Toilet bowl growing algae. Seventeen almost-empty bottles of shampoo and conditioner in the shower. Also of note was the fact that whoever used the hairspray in there appeared to have been missing their actual head, and for quite some time now. I had to draw the line at the sticky goo buildup reaching a third of an inch in thickness on the floor.

Hey, the Health Department would have shut it down, had it been in a restaurant or hotel. Why not do the same? I locked the door from the inside, closed it from the outside, hid the key in my husband's desk and posted a sign that said, 'THIS BATHROOM IS CLOSED. GO OUT BACK. FACILITY WILL NOT REOPEN FOR USAGE UNTIL CLEAN. - MANAGEMENT.'

One by one they came home from their various locations of employment or education, bladders bulging, and were more than a little disappointed.

We were happy to allow the three teenagers the use of our master bathroom; for a small fee. Our oldest son,the Passive Agressive Rebel, just walked out the door and drove downtown to the library to use the restroom and grab a book. The two younger teens didn't fare so well; they picked the lock and cleaned the offending areas; while they did so I could hear them whispering back and forth to each other, 'what's the deal with Mom, she's never done this before...?' and, 'Don't know. She's crazy.' Nevertheless, crazy Mom or not, I once again have a spotless master bathroom. There is indeed a method to my madness.

My mother used to say, an exhausted tone, 'just wait until you're the mom'....followed by a pitiful sigh. Once again, she was right. Except for the sighing. This is actually turning out to be a lot of fun...

Change Your Plates!

My Mr. and I are avid license plate readers. We are constantly trying to figure out what L84DNR or some such thing might mean. Being the Word Nerd that I am, I usually solve the puzzle first, much to my satisfaction.

Yesterday we had a car driving ahead of us, that was switching back and forth from one lane to the other, thus cutting us off and making my Mr. have to step on the brakes. He exclaimed in an irritated manner that the driver did not know if he was going east or west!

We had to laugh as we passed them; we both saw their license plate at the same time. It read, 'MAPS'.

A Cut Above the Rest

Hope Broomhill needed a lawn boy.

Hope Broomhill needed a lot of things; she was a Church Lady...not quite a widow, but getting there. Her fourth husband, Blade, was in the nursing home these days, suffering from dementia....and she was very lonely.

Hope was an interesting character. She demanded attention, and got a lot of it from my sister-in-law, who lived just down the street. Breck was the type to jump at the chance to give service to others. Her deceased mother was also that way; I'm sure that's where she learned it. She put a lot of time into seeing to Hope's never-ending needs. Inevitably at a family dinner, her phone would ring and she would try not to roll her eyes while saying, "It's Hope, " to the rest of us. She would then try to explain to Hope that it was not a convenient time for her to talk at the moment. Frequently we'd hear Breck saying, "Well, Hope, I've got to go...my family's all here." And then, "Okay, we'll see you later then, Hope," and later, "Listen, it's been nice chatting, could I call you back later?"

Most of these large hints were ignored by Hope, who simply wanted company and wouldn't take 'no' for an answer. Eventually Breck took to inviting her to the family parties, also....since she interrupted them so often, she might as well attend.

Husband and I made the wrong move of walking past her house once while she was out in the yard. It cost us a good forty-five minutes. Our fatal mistake was entering her home to 'see something'....what we'd later find was a trap of sorts. Hope stood in the hallway between us and the door and made it very technical for us to try to escape.

I get the impression that Hope was quite the looker in her day. She still stands with the posture of one who had it and knew it. A one-time Joy Bra saleslady, she related stories about fitting the most difficult of shapes...and living to tell. It doesn't ever matter if she's in mixed company; the bra adventures are told far and wide...even when there are youth about. It's comical yet unnerving, all at the same time.

Hope still tries to apply makeup like she did way back when....large amounts of lipstick on lips that are not longer pouty...these have turned rather thin, if not non-existent. But not to worry; they can be drawn in the way they were before. The only 'draw back' is that later on in the day, that orange-red lipcolor bled into the deep cracks of her lips, taking it nearly up to her nose and down to her chin.

"Just try to guess how old I am," Hope would say to anyone niaiive enough to bite, "Go on, just guess."

None of us were brave enough to try. We just waited until she couldn't stand it any longer.

"I'm eighty-six!" she'd announce proudly, "Don't look like it, do I?"

We would all shake our heads no. And she didn't, really. Good for her.

We went through the same thing every time we saw her. Guessing her age. Stories of her father being related to Pancho Villa. Her work as a Rosey the Riveter type. All of the Very Important People that she'd met. Same thing. Every time.

Not long ago she asked us to pass out the 'Neighborhood Newsletter' in her subdivision, which was adjacent to our's. My husband volunteered us. I wouldn't have done it otherwise. Usually, Hope said, she'd do it herself, but she was going to be out of town that day and it HAD to be passed out that weekend....(or something terrible was going to happen, I guess, like in the chain emails?)

So, we passed out the cheerful-looking flyers. Yellow in color; flowers here and there all around the wording. But as we walked along, Sis and I began to read that wording.




---Things like this. I looked at Sis and Sis looked at me, and we realized that we were accomplices of Hope's...she was sending out hate letters. As the President of the Home Owner's Association...she was the equivalent to that show 'Bewitched'....their 'Mrs. Kravitz'...! And now WE were guilty by association! Thanks, Hope!

It became more apparent as we'd see neighbors in the yard and would hand them thier happy little letter.

"Oh, GREAT!" they'd moan, "Another one from the Nazi!"

Sentiments like this were common among the residents. We would openly apologize and say we were just roped into doing a favor for an old lady friend. I don't know that this softened the blow any. No one appreciates the messengers. Who could blame them.

And now Hope had her eye on my son Jordan to mow and care for her lawn.

"Run, Jordan, run!" was my comment to him. I advised him not to take the job. Or, if he did, not to feel obligated in any way, and to quit whenever he'd had enough.

But Jordan grinned with that characteristic slow smile and said he'd be fine. He thought she was a nice old lady. Nevertheless, I was worried about him. Nice old ladies have a way of crushing egos.

He signed on, and did his usual meticulous job. Hope's lawn looked glorious. However, many a time we'd have to rescue him from a four-hour-stint. When Jordan went out the door, I'd glance at my watch and begin to call him from the two-hour mark, on. He would need a rescuing, I'd imagined. Hope could talk a person's ear right off. I didn't want Jordan to be trapped.

"It's okay, Mom," he'd tell me when he finally would get home, "She's all right. I don't mind talking to her."

That put a lump in my throat for my son. He really is a nice kid.

Three or four different times we tried to cut his visits short with Hope, to be helpful. We waited an extra hour for him at one family party at Breck's, just down the street. He wouldn't be rescued, though...he didn't want to be rude to Hope.

The trouble started when he tried to switch days on her. He told her he could show up each Monday evening. But every Saturday around 7:45 a.m. Hope would call Jordan's phone and ask him if he would be 'showing up'. Jordan would then explain that he would be there on Monday, as agreed upon. Then Hope would hang up on him, without saying goodbye.

Monday would come, Jordan would mow Hope's lawn, stay for a multitude of hours, tell her he'd see her next Monday, and all would be well....until Saturday morning, when Hope would call, bright and early, asking Jordan if he still wanted a job or not. He would then tell her he would see her on Monday, as planned. She would again hang up on him.

This happened three weeks in a row. Jordan assumed that she was just getting old and forgetful; that she meant no harm. On the third Saturday she called very early in the morning, and cackled to Jordan, "Do you want to work or don't you?"

He was polite and thought he once again worked it out with her to come and help on Monday. But Sunday rolled around and there sat Hope on her traditional pew at church, wearing her usual little smirk with the orange-red lipstick embedded in it.

"I hired your replacement yesterday," she said to Jordan, while still smirking, "I didn't want to do it, but I had to. Sorry." She said, still wearing that impish little smile.

Jordan came around the pew to where I was sitting and told me that Hope Broomhill had just fired him. He was grinning from ear to ear.

Somehow I don't think he's too 'cut up' about it.....it was a very high maintainence job, after all.

I Love A Parade

I love a parade. There is one in our town every year that I don't miss. The American Parade.

We didn't get to town early enough, so we had to drive down Main Street right before they blocked off the road. Crowds were already lining the streets, in their red, white and blue attire and sunglasses. I saw a lot of shorts and white legged folk; it being the first true warm weekend of the season. At last that blasted wind has stopped blowing, the one that had been making everyone crazy for the past several weeks. Today we had calm breezes and blue skies.

I saw Deal's head, towering above the other people. My brother in law is well over six feet tall. Sure enough, there were his two little sons, and my sister in law #4 with the curly red hair. I could spot that hair anywhere. We hung a right and parked on an side road, hauling canvas chairs and a canvas bag full of snacks and cold water. Deal and Sister #4 were happy see us, and introduced us to all of their friends from the new church they were trying out. They seemed like very nice people.

Once seated, we coached the nephews on how to gather candy for us. I'd brought a big bag, too, so I practiced how I would hold it out to the candy throwers passing by. Older Nephew thought this was a great idea. Husband tried not to feel embarassed.

The parade was starting. The colorguard that contained the American flag stopped right in front of us. I felt that it was wrong for us to be seated while our country's flag was right there before us, so I stood. I noticed that the nephews and their little friends were standing, too. One nice little boy put his hand on his heart. I did, too. Other people around us began to stand up, and one by one old and young alike had their hands on their hearts. It was the right thing to do, after all. It put a lump in my throat to think that 'a little child shall lead them'. Indeed this one did. Any shred of decency would suggest that we honor what we have left of our patriotism...and for the noble men and women that have fought and are still fighting for our freedom. In God We Trust.

I looked around and saw a few, very visibly refusing to put their hands on their hearts. That made me sad. They, undoubtedly, were disillusioned with our country and our government.

What I salute is the original ideas. The Constitution. The Founding Fathers. The Promised Land. The sacrifices that went into preserving it for this long. I pray that it might be preserved for years to come, for my children to enjoy.

This was a solemn moment.

When the Veterans car went by, we stood again and applauded. Talk about a lump in the throat.

Then the bands from our three different high schools, followed by the politicians, most of which I've met with recently through the paper's editorial board. I have my own opinions on these candidates, and for the record I think I'm a great judge of character. I have my favorites. But when the gynormous motor home, the one that we've been seeing all over the state for the past couple of years...to the point of pure nauseum--this is including right smack dab in our parking lots at our places of worship (parked by the road, for all to see), the one with HIS face and name plastered all over creation went by....I lost my cool (if there ever was any to begin with).

Surprising even myself, who had never so much as booed at a sports game, I put my thumbs downward as he passed by. Then, not being able to stand the spectacle of it, I stood up, turned around, and put my hands over my eyes. I realized that my heart rate was up, even. Such a strange reaction to one small person.

This guy comes from Big money. Big family name in the small town I grew up in, on the other side of the state. Big heads. Entitlement. Generally rude, the lot of them. And now HE wants to be the governor. I could hardly stand it. So much so that I acted without a shred of manners. Shall we say this struck a.... chord? I hate that it did; and am actually contemplating writing an anonymous letter of apology...just to clear my conscience.

On with the parade. Right after the politicians came the horses...and the manure. Lots and lots of it. I counted the seconds before the nephews took their minds off the candy long enough to notice and to say the inevitable...."EWWWW! LOOK AT THE POOP!" But Sister #4 beat them to it, and loudly pronounced that the manure on the street was DISGUSTING! That amused me so much more than if the kids would've said it. Sister #4 is a germophobe...so that made it even funnier. She was truly uncomfortable, having those mounds front and center, as it were. She no longer knew where to look.

I wondered who planned for the politicians to be followed by the manure....and if the parade committee perhaps had a great sense of humor this year.

Dave and Ann went by in their white 1960's Suburban. Ann is always involved in some community something or other. I yelled hello to her, and she waved back with her pretty, squinty smiling eyes. She's looked that way for years....smiling and happy and full of mischief. She yelled back at me, "WE RAISED EIGHT KIDS IN THIS CAR!" I loudly replied, "Wow, does Health and Welfare know about that?"

She didn't hear me....a shame. Ann would've enjoyed such a joke.

The nephews were doing a great job keeping us in candy. Husband and I discovered that we preferred the Tootsie Rolls over other offerings. The older nephew, a well-trained child, said a sincere 'thank you' to every candy thrower that contributed to his growing stash. That kid makes my heart melt.

Many sunburns and a couple of hours later, thousands of weary parade-goers made their way back to their cars on side roads, and inched their way through stop-and-go traffic to return to whatever it was they were doing that day. Soccer games. Grocery shopping. Yard work.

But for a couple of hours, our community came together to eyeball some creative floats, singing puppets, Elvis impersonators, beauty queens atop borrowed cars, manure-dropping dancing stallions, lying (sorry can't help it) politicians, and one stellar couple within the community that raised eight children in one white Suburban. And the majority of us stood together, with our hands on our hearts....for the flag.

I love a parade.

The Legend of the Last Day of School

The last day of school. The stuff legends are made of...at least, many of our's were.

These Westerners, I thought, really knew how to celebrate such an event; it bordered on barbaric. Once we left the school grounds, we were a walking target for water balloons. As we got older, we made sure to either be driving our own car or to catch a ride with a friend on that day, just to be on the safe side. An attack was inevitable.

No one could have been more surprised than I on that first year after we moved Out West...to Perfectville. I had my little yearbook and my backpack with me while I walked my usual route up the hill to my home. Main street was teeming with pickup trucks, with their beds filled with water to create their own portable swimming pools. The passengers (all in the back) were either dousing each other, or taking aim at unsuspecting pedestrians. Being previously drenched did not spare a person; it was only an invitation for more. If you looked like a drowned sixth-grader it was all the better for the festivities. I, initially, was furious. Did they not see my yearbook? Did they not see my backpack with important papers? Had these people no compassion?

There were, however, no boundaries; for this was a day of freedom in all its various forms. I was rather startled at the apparent loss of mind the natives were displaying. I had never seen such things where I'd come from. We'd been taught proper English, to mind our manners, and not to throw projectiles.

They were serious about their weapons, too. I never knew that a surgical hose could be used as a regular yet portable hose for water. The natives went to the local pharmacy and bought it by the yard, filling them with a special nozzle and then wrapping them around their arms, waist, and necks. That small town pharmacist must have been joyous once this was discovered; he was making a killing on product. I have to admit I bought my share of surgical tube down the line. A word to the wise; the wrapping of a filled surgical hose around your neck is NOT a great idea.

My sister Lauren discovered this on another last day of school. We were once again being cornered by the same neighborhood group of boys that drowned us out every year. Lauren was on the ground in our backyard where Jeff Parker had her trapped. As he sprayed her with water from his surgical tube, which was wrapped several times around his neck, she was choking and screaming for mercy, which was not granted. Until.....she heard a strange gurgling and realized that Jeff had emptied most of his tube, forgetting in the excitement to remove the shrinking surgical tube from around his head as it collapsed. Purple-faced, Jeff staggered off, jerking at the tube as he went, and eventually succeeded in freeing himself from certain strangulation. As I said; bad idea. But Lauren said it was one of the funnier things she'd ever seen, peril or no peril.

What had caused the 'freak out' in Perfectiville that was the last day of school? I think, personally, it was way too much inbreeding among the locals. But that's another story. More than likely, it was the weather.

Weather, you may ask? Yes, the weather. Inbred or not, these were a hearty breed of folk. The first winter we spent in Perfectville, it dropped to minus forty degrees. That's forty below zero. Which is pretty darn cold. Unluckily for us, the only time the school district would cancel school was when it was forty below; at that point, the diesel fuel in the busses froze and the busses would not start up to ship the students to and fro. But in twenty below weather, we still had to attend class.

Many a time as I was walking to school in the morning would my damp hair freeze solid. Many a time I had to peel a top eyelid from a bottom one, because my eyes, in the blinding wind, had teared up and frozen together as if it were crazy glued. Oh; and that's another thing...the wind there is impossible. It never, never, ever lets up. Even in the summertime, there is a gentle breeze. It's always a-moving, though.

I read in Alex Haley's 'Roots' about how the wind had affected the village he wrote of. There was a 'wind season' there in Africa; it lasted for a few months. Suddenly the wind would kick up, and it wouldn't stop. It made people crabby. Husbands and wives were seen moving out of their huts, to go back to their parents' places. Siblings fought. All of the village inhabitants were downright irritable. Then, months later, when the wind ceased just as suddenly as it had begun, husbands moved back in with their wives, siblings began to play together, and everyone once again got along.

The wind never went away in Perfectville. It never stopped, it never died down, and it never took a holiday. It was always there; as much a part of our everyday lives as breathing. When I was much older and moved to another town in an area with a milder climate, I was stunned my first winter to see snow falling vertically. I could not remember seeing it fall that way before. It had been horizontal or, on a particularly vicious day, horizontal.

I'm willing to give the natives the benefit of the doubt; if it wasn't the fact that cousins had married cousins, it was undoubtedly the wind that made them a little......nuts...from time to time.

If anyone deserved a rowdy party at the end of the school year, they did. In time, I joined in and became a vicious thrower of water bombs myself. Hey, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.


The Green House

Our worship congregation was changing.

What used to be country and farm houses with several acres was fast becoming suburbia; farmers were selling their fields in exchange for big money from real estate developers. It was either struggle for the rest of their days to make ends meet, or take frequent vacations and live in a big house. The latter often won out.

Such was the case with Appleside Park. I watched the plowed fields go to weeds, then get re-worked into smaller sections, then become distinct lots.

Right in the middle of the real estate party, it seemed everyone with money wanted in on the well-marketed, prestigious subdivision.

I walked by each day, starting from my country cottage a mile down the road, pushing a double stroller containing my two sons. I observed every phase of the new neighborhood's process.

Homes emerged one by one, each one more upscale and intricate than the next. Eaves, gables, false windows, bric-a-brac and ornate stonework were abundant. The only thing I thought was lacking, being an artist-type, was color. They'd certainly missed it on the color.

Here were over a hundred homes, each built for a specific buyer. Yet when they had a golden chance to give it the crowning touch of tasteful hue, each had defaulted to beige or gray. It left something to be desired. The intricate landscaping helped, but in my mind wasn't any real substitute for what might have been.

People moved in. Our nearby church was soon bulging with folks from the new neighborhood. They all seemed like very nice people. I went to dinner with some, attended cultural events, made friends. Our children played together. I'd been a little concerned that they would be a problem blending country and city cultures, but for the most part, those fears were unfounded.

Until the paint episode.

We didn't have Home Owner's Associations out in the country. If you wanted to park your ancient Chevy out back, go right ahead, it's your land. Your nearest neighbor is acres away, and from that distance can hardly see it. If you have a few weeds here and there, join the club. So what.

But life's different in a posh, new subdivision. There are rules. Rules that must be followed to the strictest degree. The homeowners are paying hefty dues each year to make sure everyone gets kept within the ordered bounds.

The President of the Association is around to enforce these rules. I'd heard of extreme cases where some will actually measure the length of the residents' grass, checking to see if it's within regulation guidelines. If not, there could be a citation. Rules were rules, after all.

Appleside Park had a little problem.

It seemed that one of the residents had chosen an 'unauthorized' color for the trim of their home. Who knows, something might had gone awry at the paint store and gotten mixed incorrectly. Not knowing anything was amiss, the painters did what they were hired to do and applied the paint.

It was a much brighter green than was planned. Think leprechauns and St. Patty's Day plastic hats.

The owner loved it.

Perhaps there was a bit of a rebel in her. Perhaps she was tired of being told by others what she could and could not do with her trim, or her house, or her life. One might never know. At any rate, she decided the green would stay.

That got the neighbors talking. It wasn't like they didn't talk before, but now they were all talking about that hideously-colored trim on the lot in their midst.

Some of these were the professed Christians that had begun to attend our church.

In the months to come, sometimes when I went for a walk with some of them, we'd round the bend and see the green house. There were frequently comments on how the color either gave them a headache or made them slightly nauseous.

"What is her problem?" They'd say, "Why can't she just paint her trim and get it over with?"

I secretly admired the woman's spunk, whoever she was. That the trim color and all it represented was growing on me more each day.

The unhappy neighbors' outcry grew to ridiculous proportions. They had the HOA President send a notice of non-compliance to the 'green' trim lady. When a few weeks later there were no visible changes, they sent a warning. Still nothing. Weeks later they sent an even more stern warning.

No response.

Residents gathered to discuss this very serious problem of 'non-compliance'. The 'green' house lady was not invited to the meeting. Hours were spent trying to determine their next method of attack, discussing how they could get this rebel woman to conform to their beige and gray world. It was making the HOA Committee crazy.

All the while, the church-going HOA members continued to say hello to her, brought her cookies, and behaved in a cordial manner. I'm sure neither party was naive.

The episode escalated to the point of a petition, which the cordial, cookie-bearing neighbors signed, demanding that the woman change her trim, once and for all. The message was fairly clear: We, your neighbors, are bugged by you, your trim, and your outward rebellion.

One woman in that subdivision spoke out. Refusing to sign what she called the 'silly petition', she knew only a little of the green house lady's history. She said the woman had saved to build what had been her dream house, and that the woman had worked hard all her life, and deserved every square foot of it, green or not.

"If she likes her trim color," said the dissenter, "Then I say more power to her!"

This didn't sit well with the rest of the group, when shared. There was a momentary pause in the gossip, then the griping continued.

Months later, the HOA filed an actual lawsuit against this woman.  After what must have been an exhausting ordeal, she very simply sold her dream home and moved to another location. Probably one that allowed for some creativity when it came to the selection of her trim. Who could blame her?

The infamous Appleside Park HOA had succeeded in driving another human being out of their midst. Now, that's worth the dues they paid, isn't it.

The Green House Lady story taught me more than just how to choose my trim color. It taught me how to choose my battles.

*For ideas on how to be a great neighbor, click here. 

Just Say No

My mother would never approve of this one. Which is exactly why I'm writing it.

I have a one-hour bladder.

Try having numerous kids, being only 5' plus a couple of inches, and bearing entire human beings out of a tiny frame...and just see what happens to your innards, why dontcha. They get mooshed, that's what. Mooshed.

Once you're mooshed, you're pretty much toast for good. Oh, sure, surgeries and things can remedy the situation for a while...but after a couple of years gravity takes its toll, and you're right back to square one, minus a few grand for the procedures.

So, you make friends with the Ladies' Room. When you enter a place, you are scoping out the lay of the land...in search of that little door with the bald lady in the skirt in silhouette on it....Your salvation.

This is exactly what I did when I was meeting Lillian and John for dinner one lovely evening. Husband and I exchanged greetings, Husband got himself seated at our table, and I excused myself to go to the 'Jane'.

Now it needs to be said that I was heavily medicated that night. Not because I am typically medicated, but because I'd just had surgery a few days before and was taking some pain pills....the good kind.

I dizzily made my way to the louvre and quickly did what people do there. Then I found my way back to our table. I'm sure that I would not have passed a sobriety walking test.

We had an eventful meal; it always is with Lillian and John and the Husband. They are each colorful people and can tell a story like nobody's business. We laughed a lot and gossiped a lot and ate a lot, too. About a third of the way through the meal (sixty minutes into it on the dot, I'm sure), I felt the urge to visit my favorite room again, and excused myself once more.

Once in the ladies' room, however, I began to realize how incapacitated I truly was. I could've sworn that room had stalls on the other side....not where I was located at present. I had no recollection of having ever been in that particular restroom before....creepy.

I noticed that I was not alone when I saw a pair of rather large, sporty-looking tennis shoes in the stall next to me. Just an awareness, nothing that really registered.

When I emerged from the stall, I was surprised to witness a poor older fellow coming into the Ladies' Room. I smiled kindly and explained to him that he was, in fact, in the wrong bathroom. He smiled kindly back and pointed to the urinals on the wall next to where I was standing.

I fled.

Frazzled, I hurriedly weaved my way back to our table and noticed one horrifying thing right away; John was gone. I guessed that shortly after I'd left to use the restroom, he had decided that was a good idea for himself, as well. I shrunk to think that I was going to have to face him in mere moments. No sooner did I have that thought, than John came around the corner, shaking his head in disbelief and grinning.

"Where you just.....in the MEN'S ROOM???" He asked, unsure,"...I thought I heard your voice in there!"

He had....he'd heard me telling some poor man that he was in the Ladies room...where I should have been.

I started to confirm that yes, it had indeed been me, when he threw his head back in uproarious laughter.

"I was in the stall next to you!"

(I somehow thought those tennis shoes had looked familiar!!!)

One more reason to 'Just Say No' to drugs.

Waste Not, Want Not

I've always been intrigued with the concept of picky eaters.

I was thinking about picky eaters yesterday as I was dining solo at one of my favorites, the Bamboo Garden Buffet. Tons of protein; hardly any carbs. That's my kind of food, being beef-deprived at home as we are (my husband could eat nothing but chicken every night for the rest of his life). Sometimes I just need some shrimp, pork, and most of all, beef. Mmmmm. Makes me want to revisit the place again today.

While I was dining, I was reading a little book I'd picked up from the Library entitled 'The Ultimate Personality Guide' by Jennifer Freed and Debra Birnbaum. The cover says, "Forget the shrinks. Forget the psychics. ANALYZE YOURSELF!" So....I did. Or I was, right there in that corner booth.

My particular profile declared that I was a picky eater. I laughed as I glanced at my plate....which would have been the ExMan's nightmare. Since I don't like to have to make two trips, I wedge everything onto the plate all together like one big happy family. The tastes blend pretty well, for the most part, and I don't mind. Some of you may be cringing right now, but may I remind you that this was MY lunch; not yours. So I guess the book was wrong. I'm not very picky at all.

I've always been fascinated, as I've said, at those of us that are very nit-picky about our food. When I was first married (the first time), I went to make ExMan a sandwich. I was generous with the mayo, as my mother had always been with our sandwiches. He, who unbeknownst to me was closely supervising the 'help', grabbed the spreading knife out of my hand and proceeded to re-do the masterpiece, sighing and shaking his head the for the duration.

"Like THIS," he said, lovingly yet sparingly spreading the mayonnaise. With wrinkled nose he removed the spread that had...well, spread...over the sides of the bread and made, I kid you not, the perfect square-like shape of mayo on the slice. I marvelled at such precision.

"THIS is how you spread it onto a sandwich," he declared. He let me know that he expected all of his sandwiches to be done in the same manner, from that moment on. And from that moment on, I made the sides look neat, and put a big blob of goo right smack in the middle for good measure, and he never knew the difference; he being such a fast eater, and all.

His sisters used to ask me with a giggle if I had to 'seperate' his food. The word was that when he was a child, up until about age thirteen (possibly older but they weren't going to tell me that), he had to have a special plate at all meals, to keep his food apart. He didn't like his food 'touching' each other. He understood the science of where it all went, but it was the presentation that he couldn't get past.

I found this to be rather curious. Funnier, still, that he married the girl that always mixed her peas with her mashed potatoes, poured gravy over the whole thing, stirred it up and ate it. The same girl that loved to stir up her ice cream, so that whatever was mixed in with it was even more mixed in, and it was more of a smoothie. Must be that 'Opposites Attract' deal. And how....!

Once when I was pregnant, I ordered a shrimp and pineapple pizza. The girl taking my order wrinkled her nose, and actually said the word, "Ewwww!" to me. I reminded her, as I did in a previous paragraph, that this was not, in fact, her meal. The combination sounded just right to me at the time....and as I recall, it was delicious.

My lovely Ex-Mom-In-Law was blessed in her lifetime with not one, but two picky eaters. She came by the second one in the form of a step-grandson, Junior. Junior, who was seven, had Papa John wrapped around his little finger. Whenever they had Junior on a Saturday, they had to make a stop at Dairy Queen to feed him. Why, you may ask? Because little Junior would only eat chicken strips from Dairy Queen, and nothing else would do. Even when he got said strips, he went through a ritual of touching it, poking with his finger to see if the tenderness level was acceptable. Then he picked it up, turning it over to make certain that the color was consistent. If not, that piece would get set aside. Then he smelled it, putting it up to his delicate nostrils to make sure it would suffice. If the texture, color, and aroma met with his approval, only then would it be considered for consumption. Items that actually made it to the stomach had to pass the taste test, as well. Chicken strips that were made an hour ago and kept under the heat lamps did not pass the test. Junior could TELL. Many a Saturday found ExMomInLaw and PapaJohn cruising to Dairy Queen, in an effort to feed Junior. Sometimes the venture was successful; sometimes not.

The argument still holds that no matter how the texture, color, or if one food item is touching any other food item....it all ends up the same place, to turn into the same thing.

In my world, it was eat or starve. Those were the only two options my parents ever offered. I was not offered Dairy Queen. I would have fallen over if they'd offered me Dairy Queen. If I committed to eating whatever the Meal du Jour was, however, I was darn well going to eat the whole thing. They weren't into waste.

Speaking of waste...I am reminded of the bleary-eyed bakers that I used to work with in the local grocery store's bakery. Five a.m. found them slinging dough onto the baker's bench, sneezing and coughing from the flour dust. (My friend's son, who was a baker, had a dough ball removed once from within his sinuses that was said to have been as big as his thumb....but that's another story). At any rate, the guys weren't happy to be there. And it was inevitable that somewhere along the line this conversation had to happen. We were all thinking it, anyway. Someone just got the nerve to finally say it.

"Why are we doing this?" asked one of the bakers, "What is it all for?"

The others just nodded, still a bit numb from having to get up way too early, five or six days out of the week.

"I mean....think about it. We make these donuts, or cakes, or muffins....what happens to them? They get eaten, that's what..."

The rest of us nodded again, certain of what was coming next.

"....And THEN what happens? Where does it go? It turns into (waste), that's what. People eat it, it turns into (waste), and then they (waste) it right out."

More nodding, and a long, thoughtful pause.

"We are literally making (waste) right now. For people to (waste) right back out... And we're not paid (waste) to do it.....what is it all for, anyway?"

Smiles around the baker's bench, and more nodding. The theme was catching on.

"Hey, Hal...hand me that can of (waste), so that I can make this (waste)..."

"....So that someone can eat the (waste) and (waste) it out..."

A few got carried away and started calling each other (waste)-for-brains, etc. They were really getting creative.

All day long I could hear them saying, "Hey Bud, we need five dozen more loaves of that french bread, there..." and Bud, of course, would reply cheerfully, "What for? It's just going to turn right into (waste)!"

Later in the day, I was constructing a multi-tiered wedding cake for a customer. My manager, Terry, stopped to observe. With a little grin, he began, "Why are you spending so much time on that cake, anyway? It's just going to get eaten, you know. And do you know what's going to happen to it after that? You do, don't you....!" I already started shaking my head in an effort to ignore him...but he continued on..

"That fancy cake is going right down the toilet, that's what. Right down the old crapper, the sewer system, the...."

"...I see your point! All right, already! Go play elsewhere...Sheesh!"

"....Nice cake!" he said, in parting, "Too bad it's just going to be (waste) here in about the next twelve-to-twenty-four hours!"

You can see that this day had a very definite theme.

Strangely enough, there is a lesson to be learned here. Sometimes, no matter what we put in, or how carefully we prepare it, present it or display it...it all winds up the same. We have the choice to be picky about it, or not. In the end (no pun intended), it makes no real difference. We are sure funny how we spend so much time on things that make no real difference....in the end, that is.

It's all the same (waste), after all.