Sunday, September 28, 2008


When I was a kid, there were two ways for regular people to talk to each other: in person and by telephone. This absence of options made parting with someone either a) sweet sorrow, or b) relief. Sorrowful partings were usually followed by a brief communication hiatus and then more contact, typically via telephone. And the relieved partings? They were followed by a lightness of heart, the knowledge that your duty was temporarily done, and further contact with that person was unlikely for at least awhile.

Along the way, cordless phones emerged, and the power of unfettered technology intrigued gizmo lovers everywhere. Those who could, did purchase the first ridiculously expensive cell phones as soon as they were available—huge, awkward contraptions especially when compared to their corded counterparts. But as people used and adjusted to them, distrust and fear of the new gadgets subsided, and the phones themselves became smaller and cuter. Then their techie accomplices, accessories and “improvements” came on board to form an army of accessibility: Blackberries and Bluetooth, IM and ipods, texting and twitter, and internet and photos via cell. Suddenly, I am capable of blogging from my phone. (Well, not from my phone—I don’t have enough bells and whistles on the equipment itself or my plan. But I could if I so choose to upgrade!) I could send messages during a movie or a meeting—I could check email as I simultaneously picnic in a meadow. I could tell people exactly what I’m doing every minute of my life. I could broadcast myself sleeping. And I could watch and listen and blab blab blab with the rest of the world while everyone else does the same thing.

The question is this: Why would I want that? I bought my first cell phone in order to get rid of my more expensive landline. My initial and enduring attraction with email and the web is still the same today as it was at the beginning: I can use it at my own convenience, in my own time, and it doesn’t necessitate face-to-face encounters. I haven’t been labeled as introverted for nothing; I need my space. Why would I want to take advantage of all these tools when they take away my precious space?

Always accessible. Incessantly in touch. No mystery remains. All this technology and its popularity directly reflects the “out there for all to see” tone of our society. Reality TV? Tell-all gossip channels and magazines? Tattletale biographies? Online surgeries? Even the increasingly revealing, often unflattering fashions of the day highlight the fact that we are a culture that hides nothing—including ourselves. What's so bad about privacy? I like it. And why is it a tragedy to find yourself in a dead zone? Being unreachable gives me a sense of that old relief I used to feel when I happily wrapped up a telephone call that was sucking the life from me.

I guess that’s why I feel more and more like an interloper in this world: because there are plenty of times when I want, and need, to hide. I think I’ll just stick to email and the blog; they should serve me well. If you want to comment here, that’s great—and if you want to talk, just give me a real, old-fashioned telephone call or stop by: those are still the best means of chatting most of the time.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

In homage to the Honeycrisp*

Among all apples, thy allure
Must surely be a thing of lore;
Thy rosy and explosive flesh—
With every palate, it doth mesh.
Such juicy sweetness ‘twas not real
Until my teeth did crunch through peel
And taste of Eden’s finest fruit.
Is it the best? Such quest is moot.

* Many thanks to Dave Q, apple master and the one who introduced me to this delicacy

Friday, September 19, 2008

"You can't handle the truth!"

Involvement with people brings inevitable conflict and frequent disappointment in human nature.

It’s happened to me over and over, in every kind of setting. School, workplaces, friend groups, families… You start out, and everything is great. The people are kind and friendly, they help you and make you feel welcome, the general mood is harmonious and lovely. And then, time passes. You become more deeply involved. You get to know these people better…and you begin to see tiny fissures in the infrastructure.

Eventually, you can no longer ignore the noticeable foundational cracks. You cannot avoid the reality that people bicker, that there are disagreements and tensions and favoritism and inappropriate competitions. It’s revealed more and more frequently in subtle behaviors, in murmurings, and the next thing you know, the truth slaps you right in the face: In its own way, this group of people is as screwed up as any other you’ve ever been part of.

It’s horrifying. You feel disappointed, deflated, and isolated. How could you have been so naive?

I received an indirect slap in the face this week. By my church. They didn’t slap me per se, but they delivered a slap to someone whom I know and genuinely like and respect. The slap felt undeserved, unjust, and plain wrong to me. It feels like a personal blow, because—in contrast—this church has been a wonderful place for my family; we’ve grown as Christians, as humans, as servants. The leaders there have been a great example of how to make a wonderful difference in a community, how to stimulate positive change in people’s lives, how to seek God’s will and move forward while maintaining that goal. The church was so together and influential and inspiring that for a while, I forgot it is made up of people.

And people stink.

And this situation stinks a bit. It will pass in time, but there will be lasting, reverberating ramifications for everyone—and the more deeply involved they are, the more this issue will ring in their ears. Because that’s how it is—diving below the surface reveals so much more than swimming, blissful and ignorant, on top of the water. It’s the reason I fear deep involvement in any setting. Once you dip your head underwater and take a look around, it’s just a matter of time before you see something unsavory floating nearby—or swimming straight toward you.

So what’s the truth that I can’t handle? That underneath the prayers prayed, the songs sung, the teachings taught, the church is a business. Nonprofit, yes—but a business nonetheless. Knowing that doesn’t diminish my faith in Jesus one bit—but it doesn't make me feel all warm and fuzzy, either.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


This morning? It was much like any morn.
The boy and I, we ate our breakfast meal,
But something new was brewing on this day:
We dressed in nicer clothes, put on our shoes
And hurried out en route to a small school.
The place was bustling—squirmy kids, moms, dads,
And each one headed straight up to the door.
My sweetest boy and I walked hand in hand,
His steps uncertain, brave, determined, and—
A teacher saw us there, called him by name,
Applied a sticker to his little shirt,
And gently took his hand away from mine.
I called to him, “Your photo, don’t forget!”
He took the picture from me, one last look—
Then turned, climbed up the stairs, and went inside.

I swallowed back a big lump in my throat,
And made the long walk to the empty car.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Tough love for the storm-embracing masses

So, another hurricane has blown ashore, to the tune of much devastation and destruction. And, as is typical, a mix of hardcore storm-survivors and invalids have remained in the storm-ravaged area…where they now require rescue.

I have a tumbled sea of emotions about those who chose to stay. An evacuation was more than recommended for them—it was mandatory. Galvestonians were ordered to leave their homes. They were warned of likely death if they remained. Those who chose to stay were instructed to write names and social security numbers on forearms in permanent marker.

How much more clear can a risk be?

I realize some unfortunate souls are too poverty-stricken to flee multiple times each season. I acknowledge, too, that it would be difficult for handicapped people to leave town on short notice. (Although, part of me thinks that the whole hurricane scenario is sort of an assumed risk for anyone who chooses to dwell seaside… maybe if you’re not highly mobile and do not have some disposable income, you shouldn’t live there???) But I’m mostly talking about the stubborn folks—the people who willfully remain behind to “ride it out” when a mammoth hurricane is swirling toward shore... How much responsibility do we have to these folks? Honestly?

I am torn because this situation, to my way of thinking, is similar to those people who take ridiculous, unnecessary risks for thrills: climbing mountains, skiing down sheer cliffs, hunting for game among ravenous predators, etc. If fools choose to scale a mountain, is it really our responsibility to save them when they fail? If some silly photographer decides to get killer shots of an erupting volcano and takes preposterous chances for the perfect image, must we come to his aid when his life is inevitably endangered? Often, the rescue is more dangerous than the initial risky activity—not to mention incredibly expensive.

If we are all to learn true responsibility for ourselves, maybe risk-takers should be held to a higher standard. Perhaps instead of encouraging people to leave via dump truck, Galveston officials should have forced the stubborn multitudes to sign a form that released all responsibility to rescue them if they made the foolish decision to remain in the onslaught of Ike. Perhaps there could be a formal natural disaster release form, something that makes it legal to leave these people as long as necessary in order to first aid those who at least attempted to heed the warnings that were issued. Or to simply leave them.

I realize that sounds cold, cruel, harsh. But before you think me a heartless animal, consider our world: we’re living in the mess created by a nation that has encouraged no accountability for a few decades. Even the current economical crisis—or the government’s reaction to it—is an indication of how unaccountable we’ve become as a nation. In trouble? The government will bail you out. Over-borrowed? It’s okay. Financed some folks you shouldn’t have? We’ll help you. Giant corporation floundering? Work out a deal with the feds, or find somebody more successful to buy you.

I want to be supportive of help for those whose dire situations cannot be traced to their own foolhardy decisions. But at some point, we all have to bear the brunt of our actions—and some people just don’t act very wisely. If there’s always someone to bail us out, then we’ll continue to make those same unwise, proud, ego-driven decisions; we’ll never "heed the warning and flee the storm" if we don’t have to. What’s the motivation?

And that is by far more frightening to me than a sagging economy.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Evolution of a neighborhood

A flattering tribute to any street, I believe, is when folks move into the neighborhood and never move away. I am happy to say that our street is sort of like that—or has been for many years. We purchased our home from its original owner, an elderly woman who’d been here ever since she and her husband got married in the 50s, and our neighbor across the street is an original owner, too. A couple of other homes right around us are owned by single men—men who just happened to purchase the house from their grandmas. There is one rental nearby that I can’t quite figure out, but it’s a covert rental, and I suspect that the people in it are in the process of slowly buying the house from the landlord in one of those “rent to own” situations…so they’re likely not going anywhere, either.

However, when people love a neighborhood and stay long enough, they eventually begin to be forced from their homes by circumstance.

Earlier this week, Marcus looked out the window and asked me what the big fire truck was doing up there. Sure enough, a large red truck—paramedic rescue, not a fire truck after all—was parked at a neighbor’s home at the top of the hill. We know the woman’s last name just because it’s on a nameplate in the yard; we’ve never met her. But she is a neighbor. And she was coming out on a stretcher, looking not so good. It was big excitement for my son, because playing rescue is his favorite game—but a more sober moment for me. This is the third time I’ve seen an ambulance on our street, and each time someone was taken in one, it amounted to the last time I saw that person.

The original owner who remains across the way is the one who said it first: “Everyone who used to live here is dead.” And he should know: Until this week, his dear wife was the last person I saw carried out to an emergency vehicle—and she did not make it back home again.

It’s a bit unnerving to me, having grown up in a more rural area where you’d likely never notice an ambulance in someone else’s driveway because they’re a quarter-mile away. Perhaps many streets are like this, and I’ve just been protected from the harsh truth. But we’ve only lived here 2 years, and I even missed an ambulance farther down the street about a year ago; that means there have been 4 ambulances on our road taking people away. As in away, not to return. And this is not a long street. One of those ladies went to live in a nursing home, but she’s not coming back to her old ‘stead—because it’s been sold to a new gal with a little dog. And the woman who sold us this place? I hope she’s not planning to leave assisted living and move back, because she wouldn’t find anything the same—we’ve changed it all.

I like the fact that people don’t want to leave this little slip of a ‘hood…but it makes for some inevitable solemnity when you realize that slowly, surely, the face of this street is changing completely, and an entire founding generation will cease to exist here.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Last gasp

It’s about this time of year that panic blooms in my heart: what? What day is it? It’s SEPTEMBER?! The pools are closed already? I should have gone swimming more! How can it be so late? Why didn’t I drink more iced tea? And sun tea!? I never made sun tea, not once all summer! And we still have green tomatoes! How did this happen???

I felt a hint of panic earlier in the week, when I was forced to turn the page on the calendar. But the panic intensified on Wednesday, when I awoke with a weird feeling in my throat; the rest is history. Apparently, cold season has begun early in our house. Each time I hack and wheeze until my chest is raw and my eyes are weeping, I am cruelly reminded that not only is my favorite season coming to an end soon, but also the horrific sickly season is nearly upon us.

You all can have your crisp autumnal days, your brisk nights, your lovely leaves floating down with every stir of the breeze. I prefer summer. I prefer sandals to boots, and tank tops to electrified sweaters. I want to leave the house with only a cold drink in hand, to pack a windbreaker for my little boy knowing he won’t need it. I want to sip coffee outside in the early morning of another splendid balmy day—no heavy robe needed, no slippers thank you very much, my bare feet are just fine.

I want to travel light. I want to see green. I want uncomplicated errands, meals outside, and dew instead of frost. I want to be warm all the time, not just when I’m wrapped in blankets in front of the heater.

The only good thing about all this? Once I stop coughing, I can start planning what I’ll bake. Cold weather is good for that, at least.

Thursday, September 4, 2008


We’ve been going through a detoxification period here for the past few days. Marcus spent some time around other kids recently, and he’s paying the price of having learned a few of their tricks.

My sweet little boy, my boy who thought the old lady down the street who sold her house had “turned into” our new younger neighbor; my innocent little child who mistook the word barricade for bear cave, and was trying to stop traffic with bears… My little son told me the other day, when I offered to help with potty functions, that I was the one who needed help—and he told me this in a very rude tone.

My little boy. Where did that come from?

And there were more events, more rudenesses, a mention of killing, a couple of tantrums when we haven’t had those for quite some time. He even stomped his feet! Repeatedly! OBNOXIOUS! I couldn’t make heads or tails of it at first. And then we realized what had happened: Exposure to other children who don’t behave.

I am seriously rethinking the preschool that begins next week. Is this sort of detox what will result? Will I be unteaching my sweet child all of those horrible lessons gleaned from precocious brats? I know socialization is important, but by golly, he’ll see other kids at church a couple times a week. And yeah, I was looking forward to a little bit of “me” time—but not if it will cost me the efforts I’ve been making for over 3 years now! What is me time worth if the price is losing my child to the world?

I know every kid is bratty sometimes. And I know, truly, it’s often not the kid’s fault. I was a teacher long ago—I remember how many times the troublemaker made absolute sense to me after meeting his or her parents and/or talking about home life. I know that huge numbers of children in this country suffer from benign neglect and over-abundance; instilling courtesy and respect and healthy doses of fear is time- and labor-intensive. It really is easier to raise brats, to give them too much to compensate for time not invested, for attention not granted; it is honestly simpler in the short run to park the kids in front of the TV regardless of what’s on. But my husband and I have tried to go a different route, and now I fear we’ll be steered onto that wide, undisciplined road of “everybody’s doing it” because we won’t be able to escape it. It’s such a big road, with a strange magnetic force that pulls children onto its surface. I can see through most of the lies and filth that the road prominently markets, but my child can’t. He’ll just soak it all up, and bring it home, and spew it inside our walls.

It’s downright depressing. And it’s not going to get any better. If we’re successful in our house, then unlearning will become a constant and lifelong process, just as it is for us adults. And if we fail? That big, wide road gets a wee bit more crowded.

Monday, September 1, 2008

In stitches

If you ever require some humbling, just try a new hobby for which you have no natural inclination whatsoever. That ought to humble you. It surely did me.

I decided to try my hand at sewing. And I literally tried my hand, because we don’t have a sewing machine, nor do I yearn for one. I got out my cutesy little basket with needles, thread, seam rippers, pincushion and pins, etc. and I attempted to make a little critter using a simple pattern I’d found online. I won’t go into detail here, because if I am able to improve my technique then I just might make some of these for Christmas. Suffice it to say that my husband and child got the first attempts, and they were less than impressive.

My husband, good sport that he is, thanked me and admired my crooked little accomplishment and then promptly deposited the stuffed thingamajig on top of his dresser. But my little boy admired his dad’s thingamajig so much that I made him his very own the next day. And he carried it around, and loved it, and it became friends with his dad’s little critter, and it was very sweet.

I have long expressed my preference for homemade—food especially, but also other items. Anyone who knows me is aware that I enjoy baking and that I fall back on baked goods as gifts quite frequently. Some of my favorite possessions are homemade: a rag doll stitched by an elderly aunt no longer living, an apron one grandma made for me, a ragged old quilt that another grandma sewed painstakingly, a pretty basket woven by an aunt. These are so special, so meaningful, because I can picture those women planning and working to create that artistic endeavor; the items mean more to me because I know that those treasures were formed with their hands. When they were made specifically for me? That's even better.

The worst part of trying to sew that little creature out of scraps and thread and fluff was knowing how much better my more gifted seamstress ancestors would have done it. But the best part was this: the next morning, I had awakened and gone to make coffee when I heard my little guy showing his hand-sewn critter to his dad: “Look Daddy, did you see this? Mommy made it for me.” And I almost wept because my little boy, small as he is, had grasped the gesture—someone made it for him. Just for him. He watched me make it, was a little frustrated when it took some time away from my car play, and was amazed when I turned the project inside out and he recognized a form. But most of all, he realized the importance of homemade. Even if he forgets about it, never plays with it again, I’ll know that for a brief moment he appreciated the time and effort it took.

Perhaps someday he, too, will treasure some homemade somethings.