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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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
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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.

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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.

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