Sunday, June 28, 2009

Pressing on, seeking joy

Even in face of bad news, there are things to celebrate.

Like amazing, almost alien-esque garden spoils (these are far more pretty than they are tasty, I think--but Todd likes 'em).

Or backyard visitors of the slightly wobbly, spotted kind.

The fun to be had with a small swimming hole and a garden hose.

The ability to paint a pink flower for a friend.

Turns out that, even in the face of uncertainty, there are still some certainties—and life is still pretty sweet.

Carpe diem, flawed though it may be!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Double whammy *

What lovely weather we’ve had! And tonight for dinner I was able to make haluski from the beautiful cabbage we’ve grown in our own garden—delicious! Marcus frolicked in his new little swimming pool shaped like an alligator. And my husband came home early from work yesterday.

Can you guess why?

Go ahead, I’ll give you a minute. We’ve been through this drill before, haven’t we? Remember?

Yep. We’re unemployed again. The new employer, after a ridiculously short trial period, decided that Todd is not a good fit for the position. They told him how much they like him, admire his work, wish they could use him, will keep him in mind, etc. And then they asked him to go home and not return.

In truth, he had misgivings from the start, even before he accepted the position. He hasn’t enjoyed the work at all. He’s told me time and again that it’s hard to learn, the environment is rushed and unforgiving, the people who offer the tiny bit of training available are set in their ways and inflexible about the current, problematic systems… I am figuring out now that he really hated it. So, I compared it to a bad love relationship. It wasn’t working. Someone had to speak up, to call it what it was, to cut the cord. But boy, the timing surely does suck. And can you imagine how demoralizing for my poor guy? I really can’t. I just can’t.

I was “let go” from my very first job at a grocery store when I was 17. I failed as a cashier. I can just barely recall the numb feeling I had when the manager called me into her office and told me it wasn’t working out and I need not come back. I’ve blocked most of it from my head, but the whole experience really messed with my confidence. How could I be fired from such a simple job? I was an honor student! Yet it did not matter. I wasn’t the best cashier, I know—I got rattled with long lines, made some mistakes with the scanner, did not memorize the codes for produce… but I only worked about 8 nights before they ditched me. This sort of feels the same way; we’re dazed, confused, mystified as to how this whole experience fits into the big picture of our journey. And perhaps, just perhaps the judgment that came down was premature? Not that it matters.

Whatever the reason(s), this is the place where we stand right now. And I feel a little panic, yet I also feel a little reassurance. God is good. He is faithful. Maybe we misread His will. Or maybe there was some reason my hub had to be at that place for almost 2 months, and we’ll never know what it was. Perhaps there’s a really great, appropriate position that will use all his amazing talents and it just wasn’t available until now. Maybe God wants me to go back to work instead. (Please excuse me while I go throw up now.)

I don’t know. I guess I don’t need to know. I just need to keep pressing on. To continue to take steps. To believe and trust and pray.

Hope you choose to join me in that venture. Thanks for listening.

* If you're a regular reader, then you'll know what I mean by this title.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Why I shun txtng

The whole technological world is texting, it seems. Everyone keeps encouraging me to join the movement. Why don’t I text? I can send messages to people and they’ll respond even if they never answer their phone! My friends and I can exchange notes during big events, we can confirm arrivals and departure and such without having to speak a word, we can communicate all the time, about anything!

Well, that doesn’t exactly sound too good to me, a self-described introvert who, since embracing motherhood, has lost all semblance of time alone—my precious, jealously guarded time alone. I don’t know if I’m in such a hurry to participate in all those (often meaningless) exchanges. I could be finishing a thought. Or reading. Or painting. Or something.

And when communicating is so easy, it’s equally easy to make mistakes. Example: Recently, I spoke to someone who relayed a sad story to me. She’d been texting a person after they’d had a bit of a tiff, and the recipient responded curtly via text to the sender...and then said recipient foolishly dashed off another unkind, foul-mouthed message about the sender which was intended for someone else. But by mistake and in a hurry, thanks to modern texting technology, that still-ticked recipient also sent that second message to that same first person who’d angered her. Oops. Bet that wouldn’t have happened if they'd been talking in person, now, would it.

Regarding that whole emotion issue, that’s a problem too. When communication is quick and painless, it’s all too probable that things will be said that shouldn’t be. That’s my main complaint about email as well. Sure, it’s a great tool, they both are, but they’re so fast! If you’re a good typist, you can say something mean and inappropriate in writing faster than you can speak it aloud. How many inane, fired-up conversations have you had via speedily typed and sent messages? If you’re anything like anyone else, probably a great many. Texting enables poor emotional control and fiery temperaments. It does nothing to teach conversational discipline and maturity.

The fact that you can reach anyone, anytime, isn’t necessarily a good thing either. We as adults really shouldn’t be excited about the fact that many texted exchanges read a lot like a transcript of the conversations I had with my high school gal pals on the good old home telephone. We repeated ourselves, we giggled, we talked about some silly stuff and went on and on far longer than was necessary. We talked about the mundane, about the unimportant, about anything and everything. Is this an activity we should pursue for life? Hardly.

Remember, too, that I majored in English. (If you didn’t know that, now you do.) How could I possibly support any form of communication that further butchers the language that I love? How could I uphold a verbal means that has its own abbreviated, horribly misspelled code? How, I ask you? I can’t.

So, there you have it. Face to face is still my preference. You know I’m all about getting to the point and telling it like it is. I realize it is likely that eventually I’ll end up texting like the rest of you people, and then you’ll just call me a texter-come-lately. But I’ll hold out until there is no choice. Just like bill-paying, which I still do by mail unless forced to do otherwise thank-you-very-much, I will be the stubborn person clinging to the old-fashioned way. The more I learn about progress, the less interested I am in playing.

P.S. Want a chuckle, and a twist on the theme of avoiding progress? Visit this site and love it. Then go buy a box of Shredded Wheat.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

They DO make 'em like they used to...occasionally

Movies: The very fact that we, as a nation, have such a wide variety of fantasies from which to escape reality is kind of embarrassing. There are people in this world to whom the mere notion of watching predominantly fictional people living mostly fictional lives on a big, flat screen would seem absolutely ludicrous. It really is kind of silly, when I think about it. But it's fun, it's lucrative for many folks, and it is a means of learning about things and people we might otherwise miss in our little spheres of existence.

I'm not a movie aficionado. I make an effort to eventually view the titles that seem to impact Hollywood positively, and others that just sound somewhat appealing or come highly recommended by people I respect and with whom I share some basic values. And speaking of values, modern film is such a different animal from what movies used to be. Cinematography has provided history, news updates, opinions, even experiments. I think that these days, as has been the case for some time, the main purpose of most movies is definitely entertainment. You really can't even compare old-style movies, and old television too, with current releases. Both have much to offer, but they're almost separate entities from each other. I guess I've always been a fan of the drama genre, regardless of whether the film is old or new.

A recent flick, Doubt, really made me think about how we as people reflect our own fears and shames onto others. The movie was a bit slow at times, yes, but definitely well-acted and very thought-provoking. Fairly new movies dealing with the theme of sacrifice have stayed with me, too--The Kite Runner and Seven Pounds were quite impressive. Even the incredibly foul-mouthed characters of Gran Torino have continued to prod me for weeks after viewing them, prompting thoughts on not just sacrifice, but also stereotypes and disadvantages. These films were well worth the time spent watching—and pondering.

But the title of this post has to do with a nice, quiet little movie that brought me back to my childhood TV and movie memories in its innocence and simplicity. It was called Love Comes Softly, and I suppose it would be classified as a Christian movie. It was recommended by several people on Netflix who were frankly surprised that they liked it as much as they did, and that was enough for me; I placed it on my queue and warned my husband that it might just be pretty darned corny.

And it was a tad corny. It was overly simplified in its portrayal of many life lessons, I'm sure. Also, there's no way a frontier woman could be so clean and pressed...and I'd point out more inconsistencies with reality, but it would ruin the movie for you. In short, it's a good story, fairly well acted, and honestly, I could have watched it alongside my 4-year-old without a single qualm. I recall seeing Michael Landon's son's name in the credits, which probably explains why it reminded me of "Little House on the Prairie" a bit. It featured some recognizable names, among them Katherine Heigl from the show "Grey's Anatomy;" Corbin Bernsen shows up as someone's husband, although I wouldn't have recognized him. But my main point is that while the movie glosses over some dirty, unpleasant realities of tragedy and daily survival in the developing western U.S., it was interesting, pretty believable, and I cared about the characters. I wanted it all to work out. When it was over, I had hope in God's ability to turn horror to happiness, in the strength of human beings, in our ability and need to help others survive and thrive.

I was also pleased that such a well-known actress had lent her talents to a project of this ilk. I'm sure it was no big budget film; I don't believe it was ever released in theaters, for that matter. The fact that a well-known young woman would act in a movie of this sort gave me even more hope than the film itself had; perhaps not all of Hollywood has been brainwashed to thirst for sex and violence in a leading role? (And to embrace Marxism?)

Anyway, those are some notables that've flickered on our screen of late. (Note: Definitely, only that last one I mentioned is kid friendly.)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Amazing. Just amazing.

Is it possible to be too good at something?
Is it legal for a kid to smile this big?
Is it wrong for me to feel no pity for Hossa?
Has there been a better year in my adult lifetime to live in the wonderful, fabulous, sports-blessed 'Burgh?

Decidedly, no—as illustrated by that smiling boy and his jubilant teammates. At least, it is not possible until Obama gets ahold of the NHL and evens things out—gotta spread the wealth of talent, you know.
Yes, it is legal. Just barely.
Perhaps I should feel a little tinge of pity. I'm searching. No, no. None.
No, there has never been a better year to live here. Not since I was a kid—and they were still clearing out the smoke and filth at that point. So, no.

Another parade tomorrow!!! Congrats to those incredible, odd-defying boys of winter!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Kids will be kids

The folks next door have a young granddaughter who’s just a week older than Marcus. The two have occasionally played when she’s been visiting, spontaneous playtimes that happened because they and we happened to be out back at the same time and we encouraged the two children to interact. They’re usually shy with each other at first, and then start giggling and running around like little buddies.

These days, they’re both a bit more outgoing, so when we stepped onto the patio recently, there was the little girl (I’ll call her Arlene) swinging in her little swing, waiting for some fun. She hollered out, “Hi, Marcus!” And he looked back at me, a shy, embarrassed smile on his face. I told him he could go ahead and say hello to her, and he did.

“Do you want to go over there and say hello?” I asked him.

“No, not right now.” But he kept looking down at her to see what she was doing.

“Do you want to ask her if she wants to play in the sandbox with you?”

“Okay, but you come with me.” I agreed and we strolled down the slight hill between our yards toward the tree that houses the swing. Arlene had obviously been hoping he’d come over to chat, and she slid out of the swing and took a few steps toward him. She’s a pretty little thing, a slim miss with soft brown hair and lovely hazel eyes; as soon as Marcus put the invitation out there, she said yes and started over toward our yard.

“Arlene, why don’t you let your mom know where you’ll be so she doesn’t worry when she doesn’t see you swinging?” Arlene hurried up the back steps to alert the adults inside. A minute later, she popped back out, followed by Grandma, who looked concerned—had she been invited? Would she be a bother? No, no, we’d asked her to come over, I assured her.

The two of them began playing in the sand, then with trucks, then chalk, and finally they were riding around like mad on two of the bevy of huge plastic riding toys that have infiltrated the perimeters of my home. She stayed for nearly an hour, but then we needed to eat lunch. I thought of inviting her to stay, but decided that the excitement would be too great and Marcus wouldn’t touch a bite—not good, since we still had more visiting to come later that day, and I needed him to get some food in him. We walked Arlene to her grandparents’ door and explained that we were eating lunch now. We thanked her for visiting and said we’d see her later.

Of course, Marcus turned shy again and, after lunch, declined to go outside even though he could see Arlene on the swing, patiently waiting for more fun. When Daddy popped outside for something, I heard her immediately ask about Marcus’ whereabouts. Was he coming back out? Daddy explained that Marcus preferred to stay in just now, but perhaps he’d come out later. I let Marcus know that Arlene was hoping to play again, and that I wanted to go out but I knew she would ask about him… After some wheedling, the boy finally agreed to go back out. He decided he would take the puppets that he’d been playing with.

As soon as he was out the door, he yelled down to Arlene, “Wanna play with puppets?” She nodded vigorously and ran up to the back door, out of our sight, to again alert parents and grandparents. And then, she did not come back. And she did not come back. He waited, and watched for her return, and began to set up the puppet show, all the while glancing over. “Wonder where she is?” he asked. I explained that perhaps she had not been allowed to come over. Maybe they were eating now. Maybe there were other folks visiting who wanted to see her. Minutes passed, and no Arlene appeared.

And then I heard giggles, kid voices. He did too, and we both looked over at the house, but to no avail—no child in sight. “That was probably the other neighbors down the street,” I said. He agreed. As he manipulated a puppet, I stood, grabbed the broom, and began to sweep the patio, simultaneously attempting a covert look over at the neighbors’ yard. What?! I saw a flash of pink three doors up from us. On the other neighbor boy’s swingset. I quickly averted my gaze so as not to arouse interest from Marcus. I changed the subject, too: “Maybe you could use the back of the patio chair as your puppet platform? Then you can hide behind it?”

While he tried that out, I continued sweeping, moving closer to the patio’s edge to find a better view. That smidge of pink was Arlene, all right—the little minx had gone three doors up to see the boy with the full-size swingset and slide combo. There they were, sliding and swinging away, while my sweet, unsuspecting child played puppets all alone. Even as they frolicked just out of his view, he turned to me and motioned with his head and eyes to the house next door: “Probably asking her mom if it’s okay to come over.” He had no idea she was a traitor; he was giving her every benefit of the doubt.

I wanted to weep a little. I smiled instead, and said, “Probably.” And then I hunkered down to play puppets with him. And I thought, Oh Lord, how will this look 10 years from now, when he’s got a crush on the traitorous little girl? What will it be like when it’s his best friend who’s having another pal sleep over, or going with a different buddy to get pizza? How will I handle all his disappointments to come? After awhile I didn’t hear any kid noises, and I assumed the coast was clear, while he assumed aloud that his friend had not been allowed to come over to play. Life went on.

I wish I could protect him—from reality, from little and big hurts, from the inevitable letdowns of friends. But I can’t. I suppose it’s only going to get rougher from here on out.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Straight outta Seinfeld

There are many aspects to Pittsburgh area living. There are disadvantages and disadvantages, opportunities to grow and learn as well as opportunities to have your purse stolen or be harangued by a crazy person. You can drive past the theatre (that’s “re” at the end, not “er”—as IF) and be surrounded by the cultured and privileged few in furs and heels, but you can also drive past a pyrohi festival or a bunch of people tailgating somewhere and see the very common masses.

Saturday was a day for the masses, I’m afraid.

I planned to meet my gal pal and take a nice, long walk after lunchtime. We consulted our schedules, consulted various other schedules (OK, no baseball game, we’re safe), and decided the North Shore would be an optimum place; it’s in the middle, there’s a fairly new bike and walking path, the views are lovely but we’d avoid the nonsense of parking too close to the big arts festival.

We confirmed the time and I began the short drive. Why so much traffic? Boy, was the arts fest really this popular? We always go on weekdays… I continued on my trek, and then the cell phone rang. My friend was sitting in the Fort Pitt tunnel, not sure why… We decided to keep the plan but see what developed. Five minutes later, it all became clear to me. People were partying in the stadium parking lots, grills going full tilt, country music blaring, there were hundreds of Y108 signs (a local country station—no, I’m not a listener)… It suddenly hit me that there was a B I G concert today. I had a vague recollection of seeing Kenny Chesney’s name in the paper that week. Bet it’s him, I thought.

I called my pal, who still sat hopelessly in the bowels of the tunnel. I told her the sad news while she watched the other, non-concert-bound lane move past her, and we made the revised decision to hit the South Side instead. North, South, who cares? They both have trails now, and on Saturday, only one neighborhood featured a bunch of sweaty, scantily clad people drinking heavily and singing along to a country crooner.

(On a side note, I’m biting my tongue here because I could easily write an entire column on the hideous nature of many concert-attendee outfits. I saw far too much flesh that should not be revealed in the light of day. I saw cute ensembles that had to be 2 sizes too small for the unfortunate people wearing them. I saw sizeable portions of female rears peeking out, and enough cleavage to swallow a small town, and orange-peel skin gone wild. I won’t go on—there’s no need—but much of what was exposed in those hot, sunny lots was darned unpretty. Sadly, no one there was peddling any shame.)

So, on I drove, south this time, crossing two more bridges and finding my slow but steady way to the new meeting place. A-ha! A parallel parking place, with time left on the meter—I snagged it, slapped sunscreen on my pasty arms and legs, and scurried to meet the friend. We hit a restroom (always a must after 45 minutes of car time) and then found trail access and got moving. It’s a decent trail, albeit a tad hard to follow at times and poorly marked; we talked and visited and stepped out of the way of the hundreds of mad bikers speeding past us like the slow-moving scum we were. After what seemed like a mile, we surmised we were close to the busy part of Carson Street. Hey, let’s leave the trail for a bit, hit Carson, and get a water. What a great idea!

We came up right by Bruegger’s, and popped in to accomplish our simple task. Not so simple, apparently. Three people were in front of us in line to pay; they were together, had their order on the counter, and the front one, the only fellow among them (I use the term loosely), was throwing a hissy fit right there. Yes, I mean hissy fit. I was more masculine than this guy. He and his two older female companions were dark-skinned, probably Hispanic; as his voice rose, his accent became more pronounced.

“I am going to make a scene and be rude as s*** because he threw a pickle at me!” This spoken in the petulant manner of a wronged man-child. “I’m not paying for this sandwich because I didn’t want the pickle and he put it on there anyway!”

Now the manager (a.k.a. alleged pickle-thrower) stepped up to the cash register and stood next to the girl who was cashing folks out. “I'm the manager, and you cannot use foul language here! That is unacceptable and you need to leave the store! Please leave here right now.” What made the whole exchange so comical was the fact that as effeminate as the tantrum boy was, the poor store manager was every bit as much so. One was dark and street-wise; the other was slight and fair and, at this point, absolutely indignant at the behavior exhibited by the Mexican thug.

“You need to apologize to me for throwing the pickle!”

“I did not throw a pickle at you! You’re crazy!”

As they continued to shout at each other with increasing emotion, the other folks in the store looked around in disbelief, and my friend and I looked at each other, stifling laughter at the absurdity and wondering silently if we should take our water search elsewhere. The cashier had stood without comment next to the manager, but now she motioned for us to step forward while the argument went on. There we stood, paying for a bottle of water while the crazy border family stood right next to us. It was an awkward moment; I could sense the acute embarrassment of the two women. Finally, as the girl made change for us, the ladies turned and left the store, minus their sandwiches and their spoiled girly man. We followed them shortly, and as we exited, the crazy Mexican guy tried to coerce us into involvement in the bedlam. “He just admitted he threw the pickle. Did anyone hear him admit that?”

I could feel him looking at us as we passed, and I said, “No.”

He began to rant again, and the thought crossed my mind that perhaps he was unhinged or armed or something, but by then I was reaching for the door handle and we were stepping into the bright, logical sun. As we made our way back toward the trail, we started to talk about the ridiculous scene we’d witnessed, but my observant friend hushed me when she saw we were walking right past the two women who’d fled the place in shame. There they stood, waiting at the car, avoiding our gazes just as we avoided theirs.

Yet the beautiful day took away our need to rehash the silliness. We talked briefly about how thankful we were that we don’t have that kind of anger, what a shame it is that young, green people end up in management positions and have to deal with such moments, and—most of all—how amazing it is that God loves everyone. And then, we were back on the trail and moving on to better, more productive topics of conversation.

You see how multifaceted this city is? Where else could you get stuck in a huge city traffic jam but be surrounded by people wearing ten-gallon hats, micro-minis and boots? Where else could you park in front of BCBG Maxazaria, then practically get knocked to the ground by people zipping along on bikes in outdoor gear? Where else could you walk past picnics and filch blackberries from wild bushes while gazing across the river at giant coal barges, expensive sport boats, and jet skis? And where else could you step in to buy a bottle of water and instead experience the drama of witnessing two flamboyant young men shout at and threaten each other over what may or may not have been a thrown pickle?

Quite a day, all in all. And the weather was wonderful—thankfully, it was only stormy in that bagel shop.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

My favorite quote of all

I’m prone to jotting down what my kid says because, like all kids, he comes up with some real gems that are worth remembering. The funniest statements are always off the cuff. Now that he is beginning to understand the power of humor, he tries to make me laugh with vaudevillian efforts—but honestly, while his performances are ludicrous, they’re almost never as amusing as his spontaneous silliness.

But back to the quotes: I’ve recorded some of the recent goodies here, along with what I hope is enough background information for the comment to make sense.

One day as we sat at the table, post-meal, I was singing and decided to show Marcus how you could feel your vocal cords rising gradually as your voice rose in pitch. He watched my throat, and I coerced him into placing his fingers on my neck so he could feel the progression upward, which he found fascinating. Then his dad entered the room, hence this quote: “Hey Dad, wanna feel my vocal cords?”


We have a shoe tray by the front door, to capture wet, messy shoes and boots (I have yet to put it away for summer). Because my husband has the biggest feet, his shoes tend to take up more than his allotted share of space on the tray. More than once, I’ve commented how Daddy leaves every pair of shoes he owns stacked on that tray, crowding the other family members completely out. One day after I’d dramatically removed Daddy’s shoes from the bin into his closet, Marcus realized that at that moment, he held the majority of pairs placed on the bin. His proud, vociferous exclamation? “Guess who’s crowding the shoe tray now!”


Marcus loves to build little towns and neighborhoods, be they zoo- or fire station-centered, or mired by road construction. Inevitably, he’ll get the whole thing perfectly arranged, and then either the cat or one of us big, clumsy oafs (a.k.a. adults) will put something askew as we attempt to walk through the room (how dare we). On this occasion, his dad was the instigator, stepping over a bunch of Duplo buildings and causing a couple to be tipped over. The boy’s indignant comment? “Dad, you’re messing up the neighborhood.”


At our most recent restaurant visit, the establishment kept a steady groove of very danceable songs pumping through the sound system. As he polished off a kid-sized pizza, the boy boogied in his booth seat; several other children were doing the same around us. When we finished our meal and exited the restaurant, a light rain was sprinkling. My boy sashayed out the door and, noting the weather development, sang out jauntily, “I can even dance in the rain!”


Often, I blow off steam about things to Todd. One recent rant was based on upcoming church developments, which are heavy on change and even heavier on member involvement at every level. I was blabbing about how the minute a group becomes organized, it assumes the organized group mentality—which means that people become, among other things, either “doers” or “pretty people.” On and on I went to Todd, explaining (in my best the-boy-is-listening-and-may-repeat-what-I-say code) that the doers are the ones who step up and take care of everything, and when folks attempt to convict the beautiful people to get more involved and contribute, they totally miss the message. Or they get the message, and then beat a quick retreat to an exit in order to find another place that appreciates their beauty without expectation. (My friend had a similar concept about workplaces, only she named the players worker bees and delicate geniuses… Yup.) SO, the boy was listening to me going on in my roundabout way, and he interrupted to say, “Mama, what are you talking about?”

I said, “Oh, Honey, I’m talking about how some people do things, and some people get the privilege of just sitting around looking pretty.”

And my quick-witted boy? He replied, “Oh, the pretty people who don’t do anything?”

Yes, those would be the ones.


We were brushing the kid’s teeth. He’d been especially demonstrative that evening, I’m not sure why, and had hugged me several times and proclaimed his fondness aloud. As I supervised his brushing, he removed the brush from his mouth, looked me in the eye, and said sincerely, “I love you so much, I think about you even when I’m…” He paused, to measure his words. “When I’m—not in this house.” It was one of the sweetest moments of my life to date.


I’ll let you decide which of all these quotes is my favorite.