Friday, May 30, 2008

Summer snapshot

In honor of post number 100—yes, that is correct, 100—I am penning (figuratively speaking, of course) a real, true memoir. I’ll begin to type it as soon as I recover from the shock of realizing that I’ve now sat on 100 separate occasions and confessed to a keyboard what I’m thinking and feeling. What a bizarre world we have created for ourselves.

All right, I’m over it now.

A hazy, idyllic memory:

Three little girls, all in pigtails, on a very steamy summer’s day. Likely a Saturday, since the little girls’ father is there with them, and he wasn’t a man of frequent days off. The pigtailed girls are all fairly young, no teens among them yet, and they are innocent as the sky. They’re all wearing bathing suits, and they’re all tailing with giggles after the dad, who lugs a large and awkward piece of aqua blue plastic.

A pool liner.

Oh, the girls have a pool? No. Then why the excitement? Why are the little pigtails all aflutter? Why the bathing suits? Keep watching, now; you’ll figure it out.

The patient father, followed by his gaggle, drags and then positions the ungainly liner over a small footbridge constructed of 4 x 4 posts. The girls try to assist him, but in reality they are likely more of a hindrance. The small bridge that’s being covered crosses a small creek, maybe a foot at its widest point. It’s a shallow little creek, nothing impressive about it. Even after storms, it doesn’t do much raging.

And yet. That bridge rests above the creek by a good two feet. And it’s a deep creek, cutting a gash in the back yard through which it runs. And when a waterproof pool liner is positioned just right over the top of the bridge and into that gash of a little creek, water begins to collect there. And more water.

And suddenly, there is a rather substantial amount of water pooled before the bridge.

It is not swimming pool water. It is creek water. It’s cloudy, even muddy depending on how much activity is occurring in the “pool,” but that’s not the most important thing to know about it: It’s beyond brisk. It is cold.

The creek comes from a natural spring, far up the hillside; sometimes it contains runoff from a reservoir on that same hill. This is the 1970s, before mine subsidence had diminished that stream to a trickle. And whatever the source of that water, deep in the earth, it’s kept to a rather bone-chilling temperature. Even on a hot, hot day, it can take away a little girl’s breath.

The pigtails watch the water accumulate, dip their toes in, gasp at its frigidity, giggle some more, and wait. It’s halfway up to the bridge, it’s rising. It’s nearly to the same level as the bridge! It’s so deep! Or at least it seems that way in my memory.

I’m the youngest girl, around 6 or so, and all I can think about as I watch that water level rise is the creepy crawly wormy things that may or may not be collecting there. After all, I can’t see beneath the clouded surface. There might even be a snake in there, some confused and angry reptile that’s just waiting in his frustration for a small body to bite. But it’s so hot. And I’m so hot. And I don’t want to be the only one who doesn’t get in.

The water is high enough to merit our entrance now, and we gingerly step into the cold. I seem to recall one sister plunging in boldly. I am the cowardly one, of course, picturing earthworms and slimy things and many-legged critters swimming ‘round my toes. But the chilly wet is intoxicating and addictive, and soon my fears are banished and I get in to my neck. If you sit right beside the bridge, the pool is a couple feet deep at least, plenty deep enough to immerse yourself if you so choose. And it just feels so good to be in that cold, with the relentless sun reflecting on the muddy surface and a balmy breeze in your face and hair. It’s not a swimming pool, but it feels like a distant cousin of one to these country girls. We splash each other and laugh and drink it all in—not the water, but the moment, the all-encompassing, shivery joie de vivre.

My mom is there too, although I don’t recall her actually getting in all the way. My dad might have gotten wet, but he is even these days remiss to wear shorts, so if he did submerge any part of himself, I’ll bet it was only for a moment. We "swim" and the pony across the fence watches us, bemused, swishing his tail and shaking his head at the endless onslaught of flies. It’s quite likely he is jealous of our bliss.


There’s a photo of this event. It’s in an album at my parents’ home—the same home where we swam in that fancy pool. The ponies are long gone on to a better place; the creek has dwindled and sometimes, after a dry spell, it’s completely absent. I wonder how much of that day I really remember, and how much I’ve created in my mind. I still have an inexplicable fear of earthworms; would I have the nerve to climb in that icy, muddy water today? I like to think I would…if the day were hot enough.

Happy summering to you.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Nothingness and what it teaches

Here’s a glimpse at the latest painting—a bit of a diversion from my typical farm animal subjects, but I’ve been feeling rather typecast lately and wanted to try something different. Already there’s a benefit: I finished this in about a half hour.

What is the painting OF? Well, it’s nothing. It’s a place I visit in my mind when I need respite; it’s a perceived moment of retreat. We live in a rather tempestuous society, with lots of noise and even more flashiness; a person can start to feel sensuously saturated very quickly in America, and I’ve never even been to NYC—I’ll bet I’d just pass out from the overload.

I’m a person who seeks quiet, who usually doesn’t feel at ease in the daily upheaval that is most of our lives—to the point that I can be a bit of a loner. I’m afraid that I’ve passed this tendency on to my son; even in crowds of other children, it’s not uncommon for him to be playing by himself in the midst of the chaos, perfectly happy as long as there are plenty of trucks and some imaginary people and emergencies for him to attend to.

And that concerns me a bit, because I want my little guy to be able to hang with the crowds. But I do want him to appreciate quiet, too—and not just audible quiet, but also visual quiet. I believe that all kinds of quiet can be good for the soul if not overdone. Whereas sensory overload can dull the senses, sensory stillness can refine them, sharpen them. Quiet can remind us of our place in this order of things: “Be still, and know that I am God...” (Psalm 46:10.) Be still, and know that you are my child. Be still, and know that I am in control. Be still.

The painting—creating it and then looking at it—is a way for me to be still. Years ago, in another life (or it feels that way, anyway), I traipsed across the country with a tent and much innocence; I kept a journal, and years later was surprised to re-read my own writing which declared Utah as my favorite state. Utah? Why Utah? I thought back over it, and I can only conclude that it earned such honors for its absolute quietude. Big, rosy cliffs, lots of flatness, rugged country, and a sky as open and unencumbered as you could ever hope for. Just as big as “big sky” country in breathtaking Montana, but different—because somehow, in that complete and total nothingness, you felt even smaller than when surrounded by mountains and peaks. There were no distractions. You could notice even the smallest details, could appreciate a slight breeze and a single bloom that you wouldn’t even detect anywhere else. I haven’t yet made it to Arizona, but I imagine it’s pretty awesome, and pictures of New Mexico make me suspect I’d feel quite still there as well.

Nothingness helps me uncover quiet, which helps me achieve stillness. Not an easy feat these days, but highly beneficial. Stare at the painting, close your eyes, and go there. Try it.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Remembering those who have fallen

I’m yet another clueless American in many ways. I had to go find some information online about the fast-approaching holiday. This page was pretty informative:

If you feel clueless, I encourage you to go to that page and read it through. Although, I found the below quote from that URL slightly annoying:

It [Memorial Day] is now celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday in May (passed by Congress with the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 - 363) to ensure a three day weekend for Federal holidays), though several southern states have an additional separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead: January 19 in Texas, April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina; and June 3 (Jefferson Davis' birthday) in Louisiana and Tennessee.

Must a 3-day weekend for federal employees be a deciding factor when determining the calendar day of observance? (Yes, I just lower-cased “federal” on purpose.) And you can always leave it to the southerners to cling to their own ways longest.

Another interesting little tidbit from that page was the fact that a woman inspired the wearing-of-the-poppies, and ultimately the Buddy Poppy programs that have supported disabled vets for decades.

I also had to check online so as to be absolutely sure about how to hang the flag vertically; I’m just never certain, and I don’t want to be the fool who displays it wrongly. There’s a veteran living across the street who’d likely shake his head with disbelief if he saw it hanging backwards.

And I’m sure I’ll be disappointed once again this year, when I see a noticeable paucity of American flags all around the neighborhood. Remember how they flew with pride after 9/11? All of a sudden, the flag was cool again. And now, already, so many have forgotten. Lulled by picnics, barbecues, and yard maintenance, the real meaning of the holiday has been tabled once again…until the next disaster, when the country will be reminded to be thankful for all we have. All of which we have because other people gave their lives.

One thing we can all do is this:

To help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the "National Moment of Remembrance" resolution was passed on Dec 2000 which asks that at 3 p.m. local time, for all Americans "To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to "Taps."

And if you’re one of the folks who think the holiday should fall on May 30th regardless of which day of the week, you can sign a petition on that same link I referred to earlier.

You can also add a quote here on melmoirs, something related to Memorial Day; include it as a comment. I’ve already started it off with a couple; check out the quotes I’ve listed as comments, than insert a quote comment that you think sums it all up.

Thanks for tuning in, and have a meaningful Memorial Day.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Just keep swimming

Okay, so I’m a self-admitted Mel-come-lately, and I recently viewed Finding Nemo for the first time. Yes, I know, it’s very old news. It’s for children. It’s beyond yesterday. So sue me.

I loved it.

I might have bashed Disney at some point in the past—if not, I’m certain I’ll do it in the future—but for this moment, my impression of poor Walt’s twisted, overly commercialized dream is pretty sweet, thanks to my viewing of Nemo. It wasn’t perfect; it had its obligatory potty humor moment (“Nemo touched the butt!”) and parts that I thought were a tad too frightening for a G rating (the inevitable Disney parent death, the huge, blood-thirsty shark pursuit, the dark-sea-dwelling toothy fish pursuit, even the giant scuba diver mask rising out of nowhere to kidnap poor Nemo…) But it was, to put it plainly, a great flick. Disney (and graphics giant Pixar) got it right. The frightened dad was believable as an understandably overprotective parent. Nemo felt real as a kid who is ready for challenge and wants to be brave so his dad realizes how big he is. The lesser characters—the other kids fighting over one youngster’s shell, Gill the fish tank dweller who’s also gimpy and also hails from the ocean, Nigel the soft-hearted pelican, even those ludicrous seagulls chanting “mine, mine, mine.” It worked. It really worked.

And afterward, I kept thinking of Dory, the scatterbrained but very likable fish voiced by Ellen Degeneres. She was my favorite, so sweet, so silly and forgetful, so hapless. I felt like I knew her. I loved that she couldn’t give reasons for her instinctual hunches—I mean, how many of us can, really? I loved that moment as they sat on the verge of death inside a whale, ready to tumble back in the giant’s throat to a seemingly certain demise; she was telling Marlin to just let go, the whale said it’ll be okay, etc. etc., and when he asked her why he should, she said, “I don’t know!” And that moment resounded in me, for all the times I’ve felt something, felt the need to do or say something that I couldn’t explain—actions or statements that I occasionally felt sure were being prompted by God. And nearly every time, I wasn’t absolutely certain about the instinct or the prompt. Often, I didn’t know why I should do it (other than obedience, in the God-prompt situations); I certainly didn’t know what results it would bring. I am Dory.

But my favorite part? The line I couldn’t get out of my head? “Just keep swimming.” The precious scuba mask, Marlin’s only link to Nemo’s kidnapper and his location, has slipped into the deepest, darkest crevasse that Marlin’s ever seen. The mask drops farther, farther, and farther out of sight. He tries to retrieve it, only to suffer a fishy anxiety attack as soon as he’s immersed in the blackness. And there comes Dory, and she’s chanting that line with such cheery determination. In fact, the whole exchange cracks me up (I found it online):

Dory: Hey there, Mr. Grumpy Gills. When life gets you down, do you wanna know what you've gotta do?
Marlin: No I don't wanna know.
Dory: [singing] Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim, swim.

The best part is that while she repeats the mantra, they swim deeper and deeper into the great unknown and are ultimately successful in finding and decoding the lost mask.

Oddly enough, there’s a whole web page dedicated to quotes from the movie ( although I would guess there are countless web pages dedicated to quotes from every remotely decent film ever made, since we humans seem by and large to prefer unreality to our own tedious existences. But our sometimes tedious existences are the very point of Dory’s line, aren’t they? “Just keep swimming.” Even if you’re tired, or lost, or unmotivated, or don’t care for your swimming partners and teachers and the underwater growth around you… because that’s reality sometimes, if we’re being frank here. And although I’m always Mel, I’m also pretty darned good at being frank. Life can be dull. It can wear you down and make you weary, teary, ungrateful, and filled with ennui.

But it’s up to us, whether we just keep swimming, or float around expending energy in complaints and concerns. I even had my kid saying those words for a few days after we viewed the movie: “Just keep swimming.” It seemed appropriate, as I pretended I was a fireman for the 40th time that day, or carried more clothes to the washer, or cleaned up from yet another meal, or paid bills and watched one more paycheck slip away. Just keep swimming.

Just keep swimming. Because you can, because you must, because it’s better than being buffeted by the tides. And because the very fins we flutter, gimpy though they sometimes are, can deliver our greatest blessings if we hold them dear and use them to our best ability and with the intent of glorifying our maker. Even the tides can be blessings, if only we can learn to flow with them and not against them.

Maybe it’s a stretch for a Disney movie; maybe I’m reading too much into it. But I’m still going to say it to myself whenever I need a reminder to persevere: Just keep swimming.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Time passages (with respect to Al Stewart)

Today, I finally got around to programming my uncle’s cell phone number into my cell phone’s memory. He let me know that his old home number is now defunct. Well, not defunct, because it will eventually be reassigned to someone else living in the vicinity of his home. But for my purposes, it’s defunct.

And that’s weird. Because for many years, my uncle has lived with my grandma—the only grandparent I can clearly recall: Ma-Ma. The spitfire who almost made it to 100. Perhaps you’ll recall my mentioning her previously. For as many years as I’ve been able to use the telephone by myself, I’ve had reason to dial xxx-xxx-3547. That was Ma-Ma’s and my uncle’s number. It’s ingrained on my brain. Even recently, when I haven’t called it as much, I knew it by heart and it lived on the cell phone under Ma-Ma’s ID.

And now, even if I leave it programmed into my phone (which I did), I’ll never actually dial it. It's no longer my uncle’s number—and of course, it’s no longer my grandma’s number. It hasn’t been. And now, it will belong to a stranger.

It made me think about how I store all those old numbers from my past in a special place, where time never passes, where information and settings remain stagnant. My old phone numbers and old street addresses, for example: now they’re the facts of someone else’s life. My past apartments themselves fall into this stagnant-memory category, too: when I imagine them, they’re either full of my stuff or completely empty. No one else can dwell there; that would be a violation of sorts. My old college apartment, my first real independent home? I was horrified when I returned for a visit and saw, upon passing the ancient structure, that someone had begun to paint it red instead of the Pepto pink it sported when I was a resident. How dare they? How could they paint “my” house red?

All those numbers and places, no longer important and precious to me, now in someone else’s wallet, cell phone, or address book. Even our prior house has slipped into this category: I keep in touch with an old next-door neighbor, and I’ve learned to not even glance at our old place when I’m visiting her. It’s too disappointing; the new folks have let it go. It needs care, and love, and attention, and it’s not getting any of those things. I can only imagine what they’ve done to the inside, to our pretty floor that Todd installed himself, to the cheery paint colors we chose. I can’t think about it. The old neighbor told me they keep birds in the living room. BIRDS. In MY living room. The nerve.

And I will certainly never glance at the windows of Ma-Ma’s old apartment when I happen to be passing. I don’t think I could bear to see someone else’s curtains hanging in her place. I don’t want to see that she’s not sitting there, sheers pushed aside, looking out.

I wonder who would answer if I called that old phone number.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

“C” is for spectacle

So, last weekend, the little family and I had to travel through the “big city” (that’s what Marcus calls it) to attend an outing. There we were on Saturday, around 11:00 a.m., making our way, when we noticed that a large portion of the downtown area was completely closed off: a plethora of orange cones, police vehicles in bulk on every corner, confused-looking pedestrians looking up and up… What the—? There was a helicopter hovering above us, not directly overhead but darned close. Even more odd were the mammoth letters that appeared to be partially attached to the utmost, tippy top of the USX Tower: the letters “U” and “P.”

U. P. Hmmmmmm. What local monopoly of a health-care company could those letters possibly stand for? I’ll let you ponder that question for a moment.

Picture it: a huge chunk of our fair city, blocked off. Policemen and women as far as the eye could see. A helicopter, burning fuel and spewing noxious byproducts—and likely piloted by a highly skilled (i.e. highly compensated) person who can be trusted to fly so near to tall buildings with lots of windows. How much could all this be costing?

The kicker was that as we drove to church Sunday morning, I couldn’t help looking across the lovely river and into town…where yet another helicopter was hovering next to USX. This one was proudly sporting a huge “C.” And the wind was kicking up, and the clouds were rolling in. And the “C” was swinging, swinging, ominously swinging.

I don’t know if the task was ever completed; rain was falling when church ended and the kid and I left. No copter was in sight, which was probably wise considering the grayness and breeziness that had gripped the area while we worshipped.

And all this was being done for a big, fat, wealthy university/hospital conglomerate.

If that doesn’t make you a tad distrustful of big healthcare business, you must have been born this morning.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Maybe the yardeners were right

Last summer, in a period of self-righteous neglect, I coined the phrase “yardener” to describe the countless folks around us who constantly comb and feed and seed their yards as if Home and Garden were scheduled for a photo shoot. I shared my new word with Todd, and we chuckled as we grilled many dinners, watched some pretty sunsets, and noticed—with some disdain—a few harmless weeds poking their ugly heads up. We smiled slyly as various lawn care companies pulled up in various small trucks and hosed our neighbors' grasses, thus eliminating any budding evil growth from the golf-green-worthy lawns (funny how those lawn care fellas always made certain to steer a wide berth around our weed-riddled field). We pulled the weeds by hand when they got too awful, and we ignored a lot of them. Our neighbors had lovely, manicured yards with carefully shorn bushes—and those yards sat, empty, because the inhabitants were so exhausted from perfecting them that they wanted nothing more than to go sit in the air conditioning and rest. Or so we smugly assumed.

This spring arrived in similar fashion. Once again, we shook our heads with know-it-all grins when the work began, watched the chemical sprays in action, observed the weeding and feeding as the "toilin' o'er the green" hit full swing. Ah, a pity that they’re so obsessed with poor little weeds. Such a shame that they can’t just roll with the punches like us. They’re slaving so hard, and for what? A beautiful spread of green that they’re too tired to enjoy. Tsk, tsk.

And then, the dandelions hit us.

Now, I never minded dandelions, not really. As a kid, I wondered why they were such a big deal. They’re pretty, right? They’re flowers too, just like any other flower. And the crayon called dandelion is actually my very favorite color. Why do people hate them so? Yeah, they get a bit ugly and leggy and they spread like crazy. But they’re not that bad, really.


They are detestable and vile. They are a plague akin to those of ancient Egypt. The locusts themselves could not have revolted me any more than the sprawling, white-rooted aberrations that fill our yard. Their disgusting, octopus-like stems reach far beyond any normal plant growth range; the sight of their wormy arms groping hungrily for yet more grass-space in our nice, sunny yard (a.k.a. dandelion farm) is enough to drive me to my weed-pulling tool time after time. I crab around on the ground, trying to pry them out to the core; often I fail, but I persist. Many minutes later, with sore back and permanently clawed hand, I am surrounded by pale, dead piles of the abominations. And yet, it makes no difference. They've managed to spread even whilst I wrested them from the earth.

I haven’t made a wisecrack about the yardeners for a couple of weeks now. I think I’ll keep my mouth shut. Perhaps, just perhaps, I’ve brought this hideousness upon myself.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Just wrong

Here’s a quick list of things that are just wrong as far as I’m concerned. Wrong with me? With the universe? With humanity? You decide. And if I missed a biggie, feel free to set me straight with a comment.

• Drivers who are seemingly unable to park between the lines. There’s no excuse, short of life-threatening emergencies that demand an abandoned vehicle. I dream of my next career as a parking authority who brandishes tickets sporting huge fees; I’d slap one on so many cars, trucks, and SUVs that your head would spin.

• Going to bed with cold feet because even thought it’s warm enough during daytime to paint your toenails and welcome spring, the nights are still so cold that sleeping merits socks…which you cannot wear because you’ll mess up the toenail polish. (I know, I know, I just lost any male readers I had.)

• Fat free cake. What the…? Why bother? One of my friends calls decaf coffee “why-bother coffee.” I’m tempted to borrow the phrase for any dessert that touts itself as a healthy alternative. Short of adding some oatmeal or nuts, all attempts to healthify dessert items should be halted.

• Going to purchase a wedding registry item and finding that your non-cooking, kitchen-dummy, restaurant-loving friend has registered for various expensive cookware and/or overpriced dishes for “formal meals.” Huh? Why? This is just absurd.

These are the wrongs on the top of my mind. I’ll stop here.

Oddly enough, I posted this to the background music of a special on Aretha Franklin (PBS, of course—why watch cable when I have WQED?) Ah, Aretha. In a world of things gone wrong, she is STILL so right. How anyone can hear that woman sing and not recognize a gift from God is beyond my comprehension.

As you were.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Making the best of things

Just about everything I ever really needed to learn, I learned from poor examples.

There’s no nice way to say it, but it’s true. I could regale you with the intricacies of those sometimes-painful lessons, but I’ll bet you’d have a number of your own stories to tell. Many of those life lessons were acquired in unhealthy relationships, and I’m not just talking about romantic interests—I’m referring to all relationships: with fellow workers, friends, mentors, family members, everyone. And a lot of those lessons about how not to behave have been learned during trials—my own and other people’s.

Now, the Bible is pretty clear about identifying trials as blessings (James 1:2-3 and James 1:12 address this). I’m usually not able to embrace that interpretation, at least not in the midst of the trial itself. But I have to admit that after the fact, a broader view of what’s occurred sometimes minimizes my tunnel vision; then I can begin to see blessing woven into the disappointment, shortcoming, or even heartbreak. However. I have a long way to go in this “trials are blessings” department; most of us do.

Why am I addressing this? I’m not really in the midst of any trauma right now. But I have a friend who was, and has now begun to emerge on the other side—the victorious side. Watching her face a family member’s illness with unflagging grace and trust has been quite a lesson for me, and for everyone else who’s been privileged to witness their struggle.

And it’s such a joy, to learn from a person I admire. This woman and her daughter, God bless them, are one case where I’ve had to eat my words. I’ve had to admit that their honest but shining example has been far more instructive than all those negatives that preceded them. In my adulthood, I've seen ineffective and insensitive teachers, abusive and neglectful parents, lazy and careless co-workers… There's an ocean of people who will happily illustrate the wrong way to do things—but they all pale in significance when held up to a loving, faithful woman of true Godly character.

So, kudos to Shirley, and her daughter R. I wish you only great health and blessings to come. You’ve been through the valley; now feel the sun. Well done.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

How to advise others

In a word: don’t.

No one wants to hear it. No one is seeking your wisdom. No one believes you can really help them. And if they ask for your opinion? Confirm this: make absolutely certain they really, truly want your opinion. Then, refrain from giving it to them.

Most of the time, people don’t want another opinion. They want a voice, other than the one inside their heads, and they want that outside voice to agree completely with everything they’re saying or doing or thinking.

And I can’t blame them. I’m the same way. When people advise me, of anything, my gut instinct (once I’ve confirmed that they don’t agree with me) is to tune them out until they’ve finished imparting knowledge. What could they possibly know? They’re not me. They’ve never felt what I feel. Besides, they’re wrong, about everything. And so, I blunder on in my mistakes, holding tightly to my own weird thought system that keeps me bound in my current messes.

And we’re all that way. I heard a saying once that went something like this: “People do whatever they want to do for their own good reasons.” Meaning, they won’t do anything for my good reasons—only for theirs. I have to remind myself of that daily.

So, when I see people heading down the sure path of regret—bad decisions made but not yet realized, poor choices not yet played out, foolish investments just before the big crash—I simply bite my tongue. No one would listen anyway. What’s the point of creating all those hard feelings? The people I want to save are not eager for my two cents, and in truth, I’d probably be about as receptive as they are if I were in their boat. Even if they ask for my thoughts, I try to keep said thoughts as bland and meaningless as I can.

It’s taken me nearly 40 years to learn this truth, and I’m still learning it. My big mouth has cost me some friends; it may cost me some more before I really get a strong hold on it. But if I know anything, I know that in addition to having far too many opinions and predictions, I’m a pretty poor liar; if I can’t say what I feel, I’d better not say a word. Besides, if someone’s always asking for another opinion, chances are he’s not too certain about his own. More opinions coming that person’s way can only further confuse him.

One nice lesson learned is that every now and then, I’m completely off base. I clearly recall, a few years back, vehemently advising a gal pal to “dump the guy—he’s a loser.” She didn’t listen to me, thankfully; now, they’re happily married with a sweet little son. I don’t mind being wrong in a case like that. : )