Saturday, December 29, 2012

My Best Days Really Are Ahead of Me

I used to get annoyed with people that talked about the power of believing in yourself, or the power of positive thinking.

I figured they'd never been through the things I had, were probably born optimists. I couldn’t get away from those types fast enough.

Hitting rock bottom was the best thing that could've happened to me, with nowhere else to go but up, and nothing to lose by espousing to a little faith.

That lesson hit me hardest while sitting in a debt relief counselor’s office, feeling like a total loser. A single mom with very little money, I stared at the mountain of credit card debt I’d run up in order to buy groceries, keep the lights on, and pay medical bills from a child’s accident. I couldn’t even begin to negotiate with creditors, since there was no money to negotiate with.

The counselor, a kind-faced, middle-aged man, went through the usual paperwork and procedures. Then he put the papers aside and talked to me like a human being.

“One big thing to remember,” he said, “Is that all is not lost. Situations change every day. It could change tomorrow.”

I thought about it as I drove home, crying most of the way, frustrated and embarrassed that I’d had to meet with a debt relief counselor. My pride was badly dented.

A month later, I came into some unexpected back child support. The month after that, I got a bigger tax return than planned. The month after that, my tiny business secured a large contract job that paid well and on time.

None of these windfalls were expected; yet, three months later, I was miraculously out of debt. This might sound Pollyanna, but please know this comes from a former pessimist and non-believer that historically has not had ‘lucky’ things happen.

A tiny grain of belief got planted in my psyche by that debt counselor. It took root, then it grew into a small plant, then a shrub, then a tree. It’s still growing.

Your circumstances can change. They can turn around in as little as a day. All you have to do is believe that they can.

For tunes to go with the attitude, click here.

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And Facebook.

Chocolate Cake Forever

When I was growing up, my mother made us breakfast almost every morning.
Although certain regular menu items were more palatable than others, nevertheless, like the rising of the sun, breakfast was always there.

Sometimes, as a mother, I was great about getting an a.m. meal on the kitchen table.
Sometimes, I was not so great. It all depended on the circumstances of that day, month, year. When I was a full-time, stay-at-home mom, I did pretty well. When I worked a part-time job, a.m. cooking became spotty. When I was a working-full-time single mom, the offspring got cold cereal more often than not. If I put a good hot breakfast on the table during that phase of my life, I got downright prideful about it, and the children made shocked comments like, "What, breakfast? For me?"

Son Two built an entire comedy routine around the theme.
"There's this cool new thing, Mother, it's called breakfast. We should try it one of these mornings..."

At times, I did actually pull out the stops. I made almond/apple encrusted french toast, southwest-style scrambled eggs with homemade salsa, sharp cheddar, and seasoned sausage, nutmeg and cinnamon-infused pancakes, fruit and cream-filled crepes. Meat/egg/potato farmer's platters. When I'd get going, it was all there.

Regardless, we have Bill Cosby to thank for our favorite breakfast. On a summer road trip I took one year to Salmon, Idaho, as a fifteen-year-old, I stayed at a family's home that loved the video, Bill Cosby: Himself." Within the video was the secret of life, or so I thought at the time. Mr. Cosby talked about feeding his children breakfast. Milk, flour, eggs...chocolate cake. He argued that chocolate cake was a perfectly balanced breakfast, with carbs, dairy and protein. This left a deep impression on me.

Fifteen years later, I was reciting this food rationale to my smarty-pants children, who weren't at all buying it. They and I both knew what a chocolate cake breakfast really was.

The 'Bad Mother' Breakfast.

Now more honestly named, we got creative. Brownies, cookies, last night's pizza. As long as it got sloshed down with a little milk, we were good to go. Nutritionists would be horrified. My own mother would be horrified. But years later, after all of the breakfasts I've made for my kids (and some of them were really pretty fabulous), guess which morning meals we all remember the most? That's right. You won't catch my son saying, "Hey, remember that one ridiculously delicious omelette you made me once? The omelette with the crumbled bacon bits, baby spinach leaves and the feta?"

Nope.They remember the 'Bad Mother Breakfasts'.
They remember the breakfasts that made the memories. 

*For breakfast ideas (in case you're fresh out) click here.
Or, let them eat cake.

**You can follow my random thoughts on Twitter @Amy_Larson
Or donate a like on Facebook.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

It's Been Fun

This might be my second-to-the-last day on Earth.
Nothing makes a person wax philosophic like their second-to-the-last day on earth.

All in all, it's been fun. I've made a lot of friends and experienced a lot of things. I'm not sorry that I tried sushi, swam with the sea turtles, or wore that hair color in the 90's. It was all a part of the ride.

Who's to say whether I'll wind up having a soft-as-a-cloud body pillow to play my harp on, or be the proud owner of a fiery island, situated within a lake of fire and brimstone?

Weighing the evidence, I'm not entirely sure at this point, myself.

While not getting to harvest next year's garden tomatoes for your famous home-made salsa might seem like a bummer, let's just take a look at the bright side. There are plenty of things that, should the world actually end, you won't be required to do:

You no longer need to get your oil changed.

You no longer need to feel bitter about your lost retirement fund. No one else is getting theirs, either.

Gas prices have just become irrelevant.

Suddenly, those friends who have their mortgages paid off are beginning to look a bit like suckers.

Calls from telemarketers during dinner are a thing of the past.

You no longer need to search out and destroy those awkward middle-school pictures your mother insists on keeping that are unfit for the public eye. (Not that I have any of those.)

You no longer need to worry about being struck by either lightning or a meteorite.

For the next two days, you can eat whatever you want, and it won't really matter.

You don't need to pay that parking or speeding ticket after all. (Heaven knows you never deserved it, anyway.)

There will be no more bad hair days.

You can rip that mattress tag right off, without any fear of serving prison time.

No one's going to ever find your secret diaries. Guaranteed.

All of those things you've been putting off? Good call.

No one, male or female, will ever have to suffer through another bout of severe P.M.S.

Even the end of the world might not be the end of the world.
Whether it's that fluffy cloud, a little harp music with a tray of divinity candy within reach, or front row seats by the fire, should the worst happen the above list is a sure bet.

With only a few days left to live, it's nice to know we have something to look forward to.

P.S. On the 20th, you might want to avoid phrases like 'See you tomorrow,' 'Catch you later,' or 'I'll call you back in the morning.' Just sayin'.

*IF we're still here, for more random thoughts, visit me on Twitter and Facebook. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Reading Between the Signs

The cardboard sign.

We see them on community corners every day, held by those desperate and bold enough to ask for something they feel they need.

And so we wonder: Are they drug addicts? Do they have a mental disorder? Or are they just so afraid they won’t be able to pay their rent this month, that it’s come to this? Is the power shut off at home, with their young ones huddled together under a few thick blankets for warmth?

I wonder about these things; I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t.

It takes a lot to get someone onto a street corner with a piece of cardboard. There’s no doubt about it, publicly begging takes guts, guts I know I don’t personally have. Maybe the sign-holders’ parents once held signs, too. Maybe this is a cultural or generational thing. No matter, the experiences that went into making this okay were not few and were of no small impact for the current sign-holders.

I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering what they really need. A fix, a meal, rehab, who knows?

Some come right out and write the words, “Who am I kidding? I need a beer.” I’ve been known to donate a dollar or two in this case, not for the beer but for the refreshing honesty.

What would it be like, though, if people held up hastily-made cardboard signs that said what they really, truly needed?

“I need encouragement.”
“I need someone who will look past my appearance.”
“I need to feel like my parents wanted me.”
“I need to be told I can do it.”
“I need help, and I don’t know where to get it.”
“I need to believe I am worthy of love.
“I need to know I’m not a loser.”
“I need someone to tell me that it’s all going to be okay."
“I need someone to care about me.”
“I need to know that I matter.”
“I need to know I’m not alone.”
“I need my mom.”
“I need a hug.”

“I need…hope.”

If we were humble enough to openly ask for such things, we’d all be holding the cardboard sign. In the case of the above items, we’re all beggars, really. Has there ever been a time when we didn’t need one of these, for our very survival?

May God grant us the wisdom…to read between the signs.

*Please visit me on Twitter and Facebook.

Monday, December 17, 2012

With You All the Way

On the early morning of a sleepless night, two spirits had a talk
“Please remember I love you, remember you were wanted, no matter what happens next.
Today is the day that I give you away, though the last thing I’ve wanted to do.
Everyone’s saying that this is so right, that adoption is best for you.

But I’m your mother, God gave you to me, and it’s so hard to step away.
How will you know how very much I care?

Whether with me or not,
Near me or not,
I’ll be with you all the way.”

A young man threw on his backpack, preparing for a long trek.
His mom said her goodbyes with tears in her eyes, and hoped he’d take one more look back.
“Today is the day that I give you away, though the last thing I’ve wanted to do.
Everyone’s saying that this is so right, that leaving is best for you.

But I’m your mother, God gave you to me, and it’s so hard to step away.
How will you know how very much I care?

Whether with me or not,
Near me or not,
I’ll be with you all the way.”

Another child didn’t know what to do, torn from the very start.
Awkward to have both present this day, this is where divorce leaves its mark
‘Don’t come, Mom,’ he said, ‘I want this for Dad,’ with words leaving her in the dark.

She struggled and cried, just empty inside, hadn’t she been a good mom?
In quieter moments, she reached out for help, for comfort in the early dawn.

A hand reached back, marked and scarred, yet tender and warm to the touch.

“I’ve been hoping for you to come to this place, I’ve been wondering when you’d feel this much. 
Many moments I have yearned to be part of your life every day.
You wouldn’t, you couldn’t, let me into your heart…
But I’m your brother, God gave you to me, and it’s so hard to step away

How will you know how very much I care?

Whether with Me or not,
Near Me or not,
I’m still with you all the way.
I’ll be with you all the way.”

*For more of my thoughts, visit me on Twitter and Facebook.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

(Off) Season's Greetings

It's not a new idea, having that Christmas spirit in your heart year-round.
We've heard this all before.

What with the plates of goodies being brought to our residence (which within 24 hours are reduced to mere crumbs), I can't help but have this thought again:

-What if we did this off-season?

I've lived in my neighborhood for a total of eight years. I bought a house here, the very first one constructed in the subdivision, and literally watched the creation of a community happen. The next home built was that of Betty, two blocks down and in line with my front picture window. She's older, drives a truck and a four-wheeler, and likes to hang a lot of chimes on her tree. We went to visit her with a plate of welcome cookies.

Next there was the gray house at the end of the street, a young couple with one beautiful dark-eyed, curly-haired baby girl. They invited us over for New Years' brunch with one other couple. I remember them joking that one of the husbands stopped mowing the lawn, because he could never do it to his wife's specifications. Funny the things that stick.

Along came the older couple in the cream-colored house with cranberry trim. The wife, Darlene, liked to work out in her yard. She always had whimsical items out for display, something I appreciated and grinned over many a time. We never had a big discussion with them, but they always waved.

Every home, at first, received a plate of cookies and a welcome. Then the builders really got busy. As a result, I could no longer keep up with them. My cookie project fell by the wayside, pretty much permanently.

A couple of years later we built a home out in the country, moved, got divorced, and then fate landed me and my offspring right back in the same neighborhood after six years. A lot of the people here are the same ones from six years ago. I greet Maricella, Jaime, and Jaime Jr. as they drive up or walk down the road. I see Lee out in his yard tending the flowers that grew (he says) voluntarily, and wonder if he's still as involved with the congregation at his church as he used to be.

The thought tickles my brain every so often: What if I picked up the cookie project again?
Our neighborhood now contains 65 residences. What would it be like if I went to them, off-season, one by one with a plate of cookies? Would my feelings for the people with the loud, continuously barking dog shift? Would I begin to like the teenagers who habitually speed down the main road for reasons unknown?

I wonder if serving my tiny community would spark more of a feeling of belonging. I wonder how doing something like that would change the way I view where I live.

Something to think about, with all of these Season's Greetings occurring.
Perhaps I'll cook something up...for the off-season.

*Please visit me on Twitter and Facebook. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Name Game

What's in a name?

I can write about this topic with rather extensive authority.

My parents wanted to name me Deanna, after a beloved relative.
Grandma talked them out of it.

It seemed she had a distant cousin, an etiquette specialist in the Chicago area who had never married, never had children. Grandma, an only child herself, had been one of the only people in the family to keep track of her, and had a soft spot for the woman. She implored my parents to name me Amy.

Happy with the first name, no problems there. Who wouldn't like being given a name that means 'beloved friend' or 'a woman beloved'?

Technicalities came in with the last name, which I'm going to tell you right now won't be recorded here. Beg all you want, I'm not divulging. Sufficeth it to say it was a doozy of a surname, in the category with Pigg, Butt, and Burpo. While I had nothing to do with the choosing of it, and it was certainly not fair, I was stuck with the thing on every school paper, name tag, and worst of all, every darn daily roll call.

Insecure junior high math teachers that doubled as wrestling coaches who hoped to score points with the team found great delight in calling me exclusively by my last name, just to hear the boys snicker. I felt this was particularly immature on their part, and tried to let them know with my killer dirty looks (which were ignored).

I longed for a prettier last name, something inconsequential, something that blended in. Our small pioneer town had a lot of 'sens and 'sons in it. Amy Larson, one of the girls at my high school, who never had any trouble with getting teased. We shared the exact same first name, but that last name was where all of the issues were. Life can be cruel.

I had to work on what I could change, which was my sulky, victimized, adolescent personality. I got creative. I developed my language skills. I wrote, I painted, I became the family's expert hairstylist, I cracked jokes....until one day years later, I did the unthinkable. I married a Larson and was given the very name I wished for in high school. The former Amy Larson is probably married now, with a new last name (unless she chose to keep the old one). We switched places, just like I'd magically longed for at age 13.

Whereas I once stood out like an orange in an apple orchard, nowadays I can blend in. There are tons of Amy Larsons, many of them artists, doctors, photographers, 911 truth chalk message makers and the like.

So which Amy Larson am I?
The one with the very unique personality that, in hindsight, probably goes far better with the former last name.

Go figure.

*Please visit this Amy Larson on Twitter and Facebook. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Living in a Pressure Cooker

I'm about to use a pressure cooker for the first time, and I'm not gonna lie.

I'm afraid.

Our mother told us terrible stories about people who'd had pressure cookers blow up in their very faces, a nightmare of a cleanup.

Ten years ago, I bought a pressure cooker. It sat in our garage for the longest time. I read the instructions, yet still felt incompetent to give it a go, with the violent images Mother placed in my head dancing center stage. I don't even know what happened to that cooker, it got lost in a move, I suppose.

Sitting in my office in a cheerful yellow box is my brand new pressure cooker, purchased just last week. Do they have to make the box a cheerful color for fraidy cats like me, who view the cookers as a possible eminent demise? I wonder, since they do the same thing with fast food logos.

Although...I know plenty of people who've canned and lived to tell. Those with pressure cookers have spaghetti sauce, chicken noodle soup, taco-seasoned meat, and last summer's salmon canned neatly on shelves in their pantries. And they're all still alive to enjoy it, too.

Admittedly, Mother wasn't always right about various things.
As adults, my siblings and I can now laugh about a few of the MomMyths that have proven false:

You actually can kiss someone without giving birth nine months later.

You can preserve salsa and jam without it killing off your entire family.

Not everyone at the grocery store is after your purse.

Not all people who are out after midnight are of the devil.
Some of them are nice.

If there is any black ice on the roads, you might not die.

That the phrase 'coffee tastes terrible' isn't altogether true.

Taking a shower during a lightning storm is sometimes done, and without certain electrocution.

I think I'll give the pressure cooker thing a shot.
If you don't hear from me within forty-eight hours, you and I will both finally know that Mother was right. For a change.

*Please visit me on Twitter and Facebook. 

Merry (Dragon?) Christmas!

"I just love this drawing you did when you were little," I told my son Jared as I hung the Christmas artwork I'd hung every year since he'd given it to me at age six. "Such a cute decorated tree..."

Jared, now an adult, said, "Tree?" and began to laugh, "That's a dragon!"

I said, "Dragon? What are you talking about, I thought it was a tree. I've hung this every year around Christmas time!"

He then showed me the lake of fire beneath the dragon, (I thought that was an accompanying orange tree, complete with decorations) and the fire shooting from the green dragon's mouth. (I thought it was a tree that was curiously surrounded by orange and rather artistic yellow ornaments.)

"Yeah, I always wondered why you hung that up," said Jared. This was followed by raucous laughter from both sons as they mocked me to great and (I thought) unnecessary extent.

Merry Dragon Christmas.

*Please visit me on Twitter and Facebook. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Steps. In Four Easy Steps.


Not as easy as they look.

We used to live in this cool older home that had three sets of stairs, one leading from the basement to a landing, then four more steps into the kitchen area, then eight up to the master bedroom.

As the young offspring ascended these each morning, the sound effects were telling. Step, step, step, step, step, miss-bang-'Aw, dangit!'

They had bruises on their shins weekly, due to those four middle steps. The basement stairs got their rhythm going, the upstairs steps were never a problem, but those troubled middle four...unnavigable. 

I'm an evil parent to admit that I laid in bed laughing. The kids laughed, too, in an 'I'm in pain once again, but it's funny' way. It was the family joke that none of us could go up steps. Going down was never a problem, only on the return.

The children came by it honestly, poor dears. I initiated the family pattern by soundly tripping up a set of steps on my wedding day. What was to be a grand entrance for this bride didn't turn out too swell. I remember trying to smile radiantly as the frantic thought, 'Holy cow, there's a lot of relatives on his side,' went through my mind. The last thing I thought was, 'That must be his Cousin Rick, the one he grew up w---' and then I was falling, falling, falling. A mad stumble, but I didn't eat floor. Recoverable? By no means, the wedding throng saw it all.

We now live in a home without steps, so the possibility of gauging where we're all at with the family curse is slim. Put us in a cabin with a staircase for a weekend, and within an hour it would be evident. My daughter claims a stepping disorder at her high school some days. My sons, now adults, no longer mention any missteps to the general public.

And me?

I just take the elevator.

*Please visit me on Twitter and Facebook.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Plant Anyway

I’m not always great about relaxing; that’s why I need friends who are.

My friend Jeanette encourages me and my family to get away every year around the beginning of Spring, and more often than not she provides a venue for that, usually in the form of a luxurious vacation home up in the mountains. Our families get together to play, eat, and be merry, and we all have a great time.

Being so far removed from my household duties, cares, and the hustle and bustle of town puts my mind into a better place. For me, it takes a full three days to be officially un-wound. Add a couple of days of soaking in a hot tub, cross country skiing in the fresh pine-scented air, and sleeping in every morning and you’ve got the perfect combination for a singular experience.

Mine happened, almost predictably, on the third day of vacation.

I had this uncanny dream in the wee morning hours that I haven’t been able to shake the feeling of, even a full year later.

In my dream, I was back at my former mother-in-law’s country house, the one she’d sold after her husband died, out behind the hill where the creek flowed. As dreams go, this was all sort of surreal and ethereal…pieces and parts of things as a conglomerate that I immediately understood and recognized, although were I awake it would have made no sense at all.

I made my way around the familiar hill, the one my first husband and I had hiked out to during my introduction to his childhood home and acreage on one of our initial dates. It had been so important for him to introduce me to his mother, and to share this beloved playground with me. In my dream, all of that had still seemed like yesterday, but right along with that there was the knowledge of the sweet and the painful, the good and the bad, the marriage and the divorce.

I was completely alone now, but I sensed my daughter’s presence somewhere in the background, as if she were aware of me, observing me from afar…as if watching for an example.

Beyond the hill I was surprised to find my car, hood open, with beautiful lush green plants growing out of the engine. For a fleeting moment I was upset about this, because I assumed that I would still need my car. How could this stationary object be useful now? And with the plants…who was going to clean all of that off my engine? How would I ever drive it again?

Surrounded by my car were other stationary items. Coffee tables and end tables…all strangely familiar to me, like ones I’d had in some of my homes throughout the years. Each had plants growing out of them, the greenery draping over their edges. It was then that I began to notice that the plants were growing out of the smooth surfaces without the benefit of any soil. It was as if they didn’t need it.

Each plant was healthy, hearty, and the perfect deep, rich color.

Looking around, I began to not only comprehend that I was surrounded by plants, but that each plant was one I’d put in the ground at one time in my life, attempting to cultivate. There was the one that Grandma had called the Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever…I’d placed them in the yard of our first home, right beneath our picture window. I’d loved the two-toned green and white of the leaves from the first time I’d seen it and had been determined to find some for our place. It was probably still growing at that old first home of ours, sold long ago.

The philodendrons that had been my houseplants. All there. Not replicas of, but I was somehow made aware that these were indeed the very same plants I’d planted ages ago, matured and thriving.

I had never been a green thumb, although I’ve given it a mighty effort. In my waking hours I often joked that all I had to do was look at a plant and it would shudder and begin to brown. Every year I planted a garden. Every year it was hit and miss.

I’ve very much felt that my life has been that way, too. A huge frustration was nearly twenty years of marriage with all of the toil, happiness and heartache that goes into such things…ending badly. At the time of this dream, I’d been ruminating over what it was all for. I’ve never been able to believe that a loving God would set me up for failure, to have me put so much effort into not just my marriage but jobs, homes, friendships, finances…only to have them dry up or become lost. While the character-building part of it was probably worthwhile (I suppose), why all of this plant and wither, plant and whither? Now middle-aged, I was weary of it. I’d even lately shied away from a few friendships, ventures, and the added effort that I’d have been much more willing to put in at a younger, more na├»ve age. What was even the point?

Being surrounded by every plant I’d ever planted, many of which I’d completely forgotten about, from well over twenty-plus years ago…that drove the ‘point’ home very clearly. The impression I was getting in a very strong way, so strong that I could both feel in my heart and hear in my mind was this:

“Nothing you’ve planted was fruitless. Everything that you’ve ever put your hands to had an effect; a result, even though your own eyes can’t see that. Everything you do matters; everything you do will eventually bear fruit in the end.”

I awoke to the sun streaming through my window and the smell of Jeanette downstairs frying bacon…and I wept.

I could finally give a respectful nod to decades of effort. Building relationships, building businesses, raising children and hoping they turned out well. The fighting and the making up and the fighting. Finances gained, finances lost. The sleepless nights and the nights roasting marshmallows in the backyard around the firepit. Jobs, (and people) that I gave my all to, and still got let go anyway, in the end.

None of it was for nothing. Every bit of it was a seed planted that would grow and never die. Perhaps it wouldn’t grow where or how I’d planned…perhaps it would turn out, like those glorious plants…even better than I could ever have imagined. I had perfect confidence that I would see the fruit…if not today, then someday. I’ve viewed things differently since having that dream. It’s not an all-or-nothing deal anymore…I’ve experienced more of a wizened, contemplative feel for things. If I don’t see what I wish I could see right now, all I have to do is be patient. It will all work out, in good time. The seeds have been planted and cultivated; the rest is purely in God’s hands.

I can wait.

*Please visit me on Twitter and Facebook. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

What's Your 'Why'?

I've been reading 'The Barefoot Executive' by Carrie Wilkerson. In it, she says, "The 'why' of what you do should make you cry."

Here is my why:

Why is it vital for me to help others feel important? Because I grew up grounded to a bedroom without windows for months on end, and once was even locked in an outside doghouse on an icy cold winter's day until long after sundown. I wasn't allowed to speak my mind or, often, to even defend myself or my loved ones. I felt invisible, unimportant, and alone countless times.

It took years to realize that the message 'you're nothing'
was a big lie, told by people who didn't feel solid about themselves.
Certain situations might momentarily trigger those feelings once again, but they're short-lived.

If there is anything within my power to do to help those around me feel visible, important, and above all vital, I am going to do it. Through my speech, through my writing... using whatever means I have.

No one is going to feel insignificant on my watch. Everyone I've ever encountered is a celebrity and incredible person in their own right. My 'why' is to make sure they know and never forget it. And, if they do, I'll remind them.

That's my big 'why'.

What's yours?

*Join me on Twitter and Pinterest.
And Facebook. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

When Irish Eyes...

I first met Aunt Betty when I was very young. I remembered the bright red hair and the lilt to her voice. She was short, round, and had a Minnesotan accent. She was darling. Whenever we'd go to her house, we filled up on hard candy that she insisted we pick out of her special glass dish.

I hadn't seen her in many, many years. But when I moved to Arizona to live with a cousin for a short time at age eighteen, there she was. Her husband, Uncle Don, had died and she'd lived somewhere in the vicinity of our cousin and her family ever since.

Aunt Betty was their "Nana", and they knew her much better than we did. What we thought were cute little phrases, the grandkids viewed as annoying. What we thought was a lovely casserole called "Wednesday Night Special", the grandkids viewed as gaggy, and the 'same thing every week.' Their parents, (their mom was my cousin) got Aunt Betty set up in a nice little apartment in Mesa. Once a week, the younger set would drive over there to spend some time with her. Teenagers only was the rule. She wanted to know all about us and would have the cheesey, potato-y casserole with the crumbled potato chips on top waiting.

Whenever she needed a ride to the store, she'd try to buy me something, a tube of lipstick or a hair product I used. Sometimes I'd have to insist that she didn't spend her limited money on me. I adored this lady.

To me, Aunt Betty was larger than life. She'd been my father's favorite Aunt growing up, and I'd heard so many wonderful stories about her. I felt happy to be able to be around her so much while I lived in Arizona. But it was explained to me by a teenager or two that Nana used to live with them, before she got her own place, and that since they had to deal with her every single day, it wasn't always 'fun'. Nevertheless, I still viewed her as somewhat glorified in my eyes. She was just a cute, spunky, red-headed little lady with a great sense of humor. She called me "DollBaby" and bought me stuff and made yummy food for me once a week.... What's not to love?

My favorite memory of Aunt Betty was on her birthday. She was Irish to the core, and in honor of that, her daughter and son in law took her out to dinner. The rest of us joined them. We went to an authentic Irish restaurant there, Aunt Betty's favorite. She laughed and her eyes twinkled, and she had herself a beer. It was adorable to watch how much she was enjoying herself. But the best moment of that evening was when they presented Aunt Betty with a beautifully wrapped box, large silken bow and all. As she removed the paper and took the item out of it's box, it was evident that she was already touched, no matter what it was. You could see the, "For....ME???" in her eyes. But the kicker was when she figured out exactly what the item was, and the thought meant behind it. It was a ceramic of an Irish-type dwelling...that was also a music box. It played "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling", Aunt Betty's favorite song.

She immediately began to cry.

So did everyone at the table. Because even though she was Nana and she bugged them, and she didn't get around very well anymore, and she made the same thing every Wednesday night for dinner....she was their mother. She was their grandmother. And she was my great-Aunt. Her phrases and her chronic Wheel of Fortune-watching, her piles of magazines in her apartment, her nicknames for each one of us, and her some-times annoying ways....were all a part of her. And she'd been a part of us for a long, long time. An integral piece to the puzzle that was our lives. And none of us could imagine our days without her.

She played that music box more than once before we even left the restaurant.

It's been twenty-four years since that birthday. My cousins moved from Arizona and went to San Diego, a place they'd always gone for vacations. They took Aunt Betty with them, and it was said that she was not doing so well. I worried about her and wrote her a few letters.

A couple of years later we got the news that she'd passed away. I later learned that she hadn't been in very good health when we'd all lived together in Arizona...she'd actually been in a lot of pain then; I'd had no idea. She never griped. All she did was make casserole, watch Wheel of Fortune, and buy stuff for loved ones, whether they wanted it or not. Never heard her complain once, the dear soul.

So when I hear that song, "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling", I'm suddenly back in that little Irish pub, watching Aunt Betty drain her beer, and then seeing her open that treasured music box. Her Irish eyes not only smiled that night; they glistened, too.

Here's to you, Aunt Betty. I'm sure you've found your pot of gold by now.

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An Encounter With A Leprechaun

(A post from a couple of years ago, unearthed).

Saturday is our grocery shopping day.

Last Saturday we had the Bonus Grandkiddies and Sis with us, so there was a Party of Five. Two shopping carts. Sis pushed one, Husband pushed the other, and I was an independent agent. Not a bad deal.

I parted with the group to dive down the crowded bread aisle. About halfway down, I saw a little old lady that looked...I'm not kidding... like an elf. Red hair, pale skin, almond eyes behind thick glasses. Given that it was closer to St. Patrick's day, she may have even been a Leprechaun (do they come in the female version?...of this, I am uneducated...). She suddenly hollered to the tall man standing nearest the shelf.

"Hey, YOU! Right behind you is the dark rye! Grab that for me, wouldja?"

He did.

Then she said, "Thanks.......I'll pay ya back in Heaven!"

He said he'd see her there.

She said, "All righty, I'll be waitin' for ya! I'll meet ya right there at the pearly gates!"

They laughed and parted ways. I was still grinning. I couldn't help but turn around to face her, telling her that this was one of the cutest things I'd heard yet.

"Well, @#$%!" she exclaimed, surprising me with a rather boisterous oath, "I'm four-foot-ten! I've had to learn to boss people around!"

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Valentine's Essay That's Not What You Think

I'm thinking about love today, and not for the first time.

I have no problem singing other people's praises; there are some fascinating individuals out there. Most are, in fact, if you take the time to get to know them. In my 'middle years', though, one thing's become apparent; If I don't learn to love myself, I'm never going to be able to give it to others.

I can compliment and I can smile, and I can laugh and say interesting things, but to love someone...truly love them from my core...requires that I love myself, too. There just isn't any way around that.

So I've been thinking about love. The thought that keeps forming, and I'm not even sure if it's a love thing, maybe more an this:

Others' assessments of me weren't that far off.

Before you start thinking that I've absorbed far too many insults and have taken them to heart, let me explain:

People say interesting things to us during the course of our lives. Some of it is very kind. Some of it is not. Some of it is neither; it's just thoughtless, is all.

These are some of the things I've been told:

"Grandpa always did like you best. I don't know why, though." (From an adopted 'Grandma', shortly after the adopted 'Grandpa' had passed away. I was four.)

"You have no personality." (Heard as a pre-teen)

"You just take things too far." (Found in a note from a junior-high friend, who ditched me a week later but thought it would be cute to explain all of the reasons why beforehand.)

"You make such a big deal out of things."

"You always were a drama queen."

Due to the 'adopted Grandma's' comment (she later became un-adopted), I repeatedly began to ask myself why someone would actually like me and came up with some pretty solid answers over the years. Even though I was never able to show her what made me special, I was able to look for that which was special in myself.

Being told I had 'no' personality did two things. I put more effort into developing what I had already, then assessed the that needed me to appear dull, complacent and in the background in order to feel more important. This taught me that many times...most of the time...the comment is more about them than it is about the subject they're commenting on.

Taking things too far and/or making a big deal out of things has led to a tad bit of trouble here and there, but once I learned how to use it to my advantage, it wasn't such a problem. A person that takes things too far is the perfect type to become an advertising content writer. I take it just as far as it needs to go to sell the point. In the words of a fellow professional writer, it's the 'spark' that sets us apart from the others. Nowadays, I'm 'taking things too far', and for pay.

Putting 'drama' and 'queen' together by way of a description wasn't altogether an insult. I have an empathy for most people and have no problem showing it. I cry easily, I laugh easily, and I'm prone to the heart-to-heart conversation. As for the royalty part; you bet. I came from a God that bows to no one, so why as His daughter should I?

Think about the hurtful, thoughtless things that have been said to you in your life, and be glad. Those words have shaped you. The loving yourself part is when you take whatever words are flung your direction and you turn them into your personal plusses. When you can do that for you, you can easily do that for others, too...until they can learn to do that for themselves, and then the cycle continues on indefinitely.

Love thy neighbor as thyself.

Now. Go and do thou likewise.

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