Thursday, April 28, 2011

Late April in my world

I ventured to the nearest Target store earlier today, and was highly entertained by the different outfits that fellow shoppers sported.

I followed a woman from the outer parking lot where we were parked near each other, and I couldn't help noticing that she was wearing her winter coat. A real, quilted, white coat with a hood. The hood was down, not over her head, but still, there it lay in all its fur-edged glory. This made me chuckle to myself because as I followed her in my light jacket, my feet made the telltale slappy-slappy sound of my slip-on plastic sport sandals, which I adore. I proudly donned them without socks this morning. Ah, ex-toe-sure.

It got better: as we neared the entrance, we passed a younger woman who was standing by her mini-van and attempting to wrestle her toddler daughter into a jacket. Which would fit neatly over her sundress with spaghetti straps. The child was fighting the extra layer and insisting it was not necessary—this as a brisk breeze further chilled the air to high-50s. A middle-aged couple scurried past, the woman dressed in heavy hiking boots with thick socks hugging her ankles over some leggings.

There were we all, juxtaposed in the strange and seasonless world of Southwestern Pennsylvania in springtime. Two days ago, it was 82. Two weeks ago, I was pelted first with hail, and then with wet snow. Nature doesn't even know what to do with a month like this. Over-eager daffodils leap out and are often flash-frozen into wilted brown blobs with hanging heads; lilacs take the chance and either amaze or depress admirers, depending on whether or not the buds were adequately shielded by a larger, tougher neighbor. The grass in our yard and most others is a strange blend of brown patches, mad dandelion growth, and tall spindly greens...with a less-than-scenic swamp lurking in every low spot around.

Sometimes I ask myself, Why do we live here? Then I watch the news, and see that we've been spared awful tornadoes thanks to our crazy hills and valleys. I hear of desert droughts and wonder why construction continues there. I remember that farther north, some folks go months without sunshine; I recall giant bugs in tropical places, higher concentrations of poisonous creatures, hurricanes that hurl things, cities that get so cold their sidewalks lie underground...

Southwestern Pennsylvania: my own little chunk of soggy, blowy Heaven.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sunrise memories

My childhood worship place sat upon a tall, round hill surrounded by ridges and high meadows. It sits there still; my cousin was married at the church several years ago, and I was stunned to see how crowded the pews felt now, how dark was the interior. Was there really only one little bathroom? Around back, where many church dinners had been served out of the basement kitchen, the patio by the door didn't seem as spacious as I'd pictured it in my mind. Growing up ruins things sometimes.

But the view from outside the church? It was every bit as astounding and awe-inspiring as it had ever been.

The church is rather old, with a requisite cemetery situated next to it. Those graves stretch across the hilltop quite a ways and a small road runs through them. All around you, as far as you can see, are similar bluffs and high places, some distant buildings, a variety of fences, and occasional stock grazing; you feel atop the world. It's a perfect place for walking, for thinking, for simply pondering the awesomeness of our Creator. When you're alone, the only noise is the wind, which depending on the day could probably seem lonely or friendly. When you're there with others, voices are lost on the breeze, and it's necessary to speak up or shout when you're not near to the person you're addressing. It's a really peaceful place for pondering.

What I've been recalling about that church lately, though, is one particularly early morning attendance. The church used to feature a real "sunrise" service on Easter morning, and my family attended that sermon on several occasions.

We'd rise before daylight, and my sisters and I would first check our Easter baskets to make certain they held goodies, even sampling some sweets (always at least one bite more than we'd been granted!) Then we would don our Easter dresses, which had been laid out the night before or had hung temptingly in our closets for days. Over the pretty dresses went heavy jackets, of course; Easter weather is rarely warm, and churches perched on hilltops are colder still.

We'd climb into the family truckster, usually a station wagon, and off we'd ride, down our road and then upwards on twisting, sometimes lurching single lanes. At last, our stomachs turning from the drive, we'd see the red brick building rising up ahead of us, and we'd ascend the driveway to park with all the other simpletons who'd chosen the same pre-dawn path.

Easter was especially fun because the songs we sang that day were joyful and uplifting, which would not be my adjectives of choice to describe some of the more traditional hymns of a typical childhood service. Our church was stoic and serious, and the hymns could take on a dirge-like quality at times...or perhaps it only seemed that way to me, being young and easily bored. Two songs that were nearly always featured on Easter morning were "He Lives" and "Up from the Grave He Arose" (or at least I think those are the titles). We'd sing out the powerful phrases with increasing vigor, and by the time we got to the end, that little building was as close to rockin' as it would ever get:
Up from the grave He arose
With a mighty triumph o'er His foes!
He arose a victor from the dark domain
And He lives forever with His saints to reign!
(Another song that's stayed with me is "Rise Again," but I think that was mostly sung on Palm Sunday.)

Just as we were rounding out some verses celebrating our resurrected King, the stained glass windows in the church would begin to glow, and light would shine through them with steadily increasing strength. On a cloudy day, it still lit the place gently, but on a sunny day, those colorful, translucent images came to life.

Afterward always involved chatting, happy Easter wishes, a leisurely exit into the bright day. Sometimes the air would have warmed a bit, and heavy coats could be shed so that fancily clad kids could be admired and teased. Then homeward, for a once-a-year diet of candy and ham.

They are sweet memories, those early Easter mornings. It's still easiest for me to picture Jesus stepping out of that tomb when it's new morning and the air is chill, and especially when I'm singing about that incredible moment. I truly hope that this coming Sunday, Resurrection Sunday, will be a day of joy and gratitude for you. You know which songs will be playing in my heart.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tough decisions

I'll bet you think I'm talking about something really important when I say tough decisions: where to live, what to do with my life, which job to pursue, whether or not to adopt a child, etc.

Well, I'm not talking about anything that serious. I spent some time this morning going through my closet. I was trying to determine what still fits, which garments can live happily and well beyond their decade of origin, etc. But what I was really trying to see is what still feels right on a 41-year-old's body.

I got rid of some items. I ended up devising a short list of checkpoints to help me decide which pieces just don't work anymore. Is it more than an inch or two above the knee? Ditch it. I have short legs; I don't need to be fretting about whether or not my chubby thighs are hanging out. Is it an unflattering color that I could get away with ten or twenty years ago, but now looks desperately youth-driven? Toss it. Is it apt to move around too much, thus requiring constant adjustment (pull-downs, straightening, pinning of straps to bra straps, etc.)? If so, lose it. Life is too short to spend it re-adjusting and tugging. There was a time when I was willing. Now? Not.

Then we get into the simple, common-sense checkpoints. Is it comfortable? Do those cute jeans dig into my belly and leave strange hieroglyphs on my skin? It's time for them to go. Does any part of my lower undergarments show? It should not. (Undies shouldn't show on anyone, really; I've never bought into the mentality that finds a glimpse of skivvies charming in any way. But on an over-40 person? Most definitely unforgivable.) Do the shoes or boots cause immediate foot cramps? Then they must walk away.

I don't have to spend much time pondering any sort of gauzy material. Must I wear a camisole or some similar item in order to get away with the rest of the outfit? Sorry, those days are over. I don't want to bother. Into the "out" pile it goes. Any top with a band around the bottom? Gone-zo. I don't even think I had any of those to begin with, thank goodness.

I guess what I'm trying to avoid is making a mockery of my younger self. I want to steer wide and clear of becoming one of those women at whom I used to snicker. You know the ones; I won't even bother to give specific examples because I don't want anyone I know wondering whether I mean them. Just imagine a middle-aged woman who is trying in some (or several) aspects to look younger than she is. It matters not the means she uses; it's just not wise. We can tell she's not 25 anymore. The plan is not working.

I will cling to the classics, the styles that stubbornly refuse to identify themselves as "stylish." The way I look at it, I'd much rather try to have style than simply be in style. Fashion comes and goes; style remains.

Maybe it's motherhood that's caused me to confront my true age. I long ago stopped worrying about whether I embarrass Todd (tee hee), but I really don't want to make my son feel awkward. I have to shake my head at the moms who show up for classroom parties with cleavage bared; what are they thinking? And when the kids are teens? You don't want to try to compete with your daughter or her friends, and you certainly don't want to try to attract your son's pals. That's just wrong.

Anyway. Motherhood. Below is my latest creation. If you need a Mother's Day gift, check it out here! And if the mother in question cooks or bakes, you can even get the same design on an apron. How's that for original? Okay, now I'm finished hawking my wares.

The great thing is that if you're reading this and thinking I'm a fuddy-duddy, it's a free country and you are entitled to think whatever you want. You can even go put on a completely inappropriate outfit and parade around the street in it. Isn't America awesome?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Must you be my neighbor?!

Mr. Rogers would not be proud of me this week.

We've been having some minor neighbor issues lately. Someone a few doors down from us spent last summer constructing a giant, 2-story, multi-car garage. The family already owns a professional garage not even a mile away, on the main business road below our neighborhood. Guess what they specialize in? Hot rods. Antique ones. Yep, the super-loud, throaty-engined, characteristically fussy and high-maintenance cars of the ever-immature. Oops, there goes my opinion sneaking in there again... And the grown son drives these boisterous beauties past our home at all hours; I'm not sure what he does for a living, but it often requires a 5:30am start and/or a near-midnight arrival. Rumble, rumble, growl, putt-putt.

But anyway, the eldest family member is now much more immobile, so I figure the family is doing all they can to bring the garage to him.

Which is nice. For him.

On the first beautiful, warm day of the year, I got to watch a somewhat steady parade of beautifully manicured 50s-era trucks and cars revving their way up our street and around the block. Sometimes they drove farther, but often, the obnoxious music of over-tuned, under-muffled engine never got out of earshot before it came back to me full force.

People. This is when I dream of 40 acres, a mule, and myself planted squarely in the middle. With razor wire surrounding the whole compound.

I know that sounds awful. I guess it is awful. Because, even as I bite my lip to keep from cursing at that fool behind all the sets of wheels, I have this niggling little thought in my head: God loves that person, too.

Mumble, mumble. No, I didn't say anything.

And with that, I introduce to you my first Zazzle store attempt: a little bag to help illustrate why I can still look forward to Easter with true joy.

I do know the Good Shepherd, which is handy for me, because as you can see I need Him very, very much. Do you know the Good Shepherd? If there were ever anyone to know, it is He. This sheep knows him, too—which is why she is pleading with her eyes for you to think hard about this.

Everyone keeps telling me how easy it is to create Zazzle products. That has not yet been my experience, but I did finally get this one set up, and you can buy it for just under $10 if you go here. Zazzle also has a huge number of other products, like mugs, keychains and T-shirts, to name a few. If anyone has a sincere interest in getting this image and wording (or some other wording) on a product like that, just email me and I can try to set it up. You purchase right from the Zazzle site, I get a cut of the cost (I think it's 10%), and I put the cut toward Todd's upcoming missions trip to Kentucky in July. Mostly, the cost will be to cover his lost wages while he's out of town.

In the meantime, I'll try to eat my humble pie while the hot rods roll past. I'm finding that it tastes a lot like crow.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Climbing out of a funk

The best ways I've found to escape a bleak funk? Painting and singing, without a doubt. Cleaning and organization are also effective methods of escape, but they require infinitely more effort, energy, and motivation to begin. So I've chosen the more artistic outlets of late, and I think I'm finished with the funk now.

This little sheep makes me want to own sheep. Don't worry, that's not an easy impulse purchase to make, so I don't think I'll be picking one up anytime soon. I'll enjoy the pictures of Granny Miller's sheep* (that's who this little lovely belongs to) and I'll find some good music to keep me moving.

I think we're finished with snow... so I am planning to attempt an outdoor cushion retrieval from the attic. Wish me luck, and if I disappear for a few weeks, you'll know I stepped through the floor and into the living room below—thus resulting in traction. I'll be careful.

I hope, at some point, to make the sheep image into some cute items on Zazzle, a reportedly awesome site that lets you place your own images on products like shirts, bags, etc. So far, I'm having no luck getting my items onto the products... but I'll keep trying. Stay tuned.

* I did ask Granny for permission to paint her sheep, which she granted; otherwise, I would not have done so. Thank you, Granny!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Kisses are Y-U-K-E

Wow, last weekend turned into a sickly one. Come to think of it, this entire late winter season has been sickly. And, in turn, it's been really expensive, since our "for-the-purpose-of-staving-off-medical-emergency-related-bankruptcy" crap plan isn't covering much. Thanks, Highmark. You healthcare people make me want to start smoking and gain plenty of weight, so I can push my prediabetes over the edge and become disabled like everyone else.

Anyway. People here were sick again last week. And I won't even mention today's wet, hideous snow. On April 1st, for cryin' out flippin' loud.

So. Sickness. Bills related to sickness. And TAXES. And then, snow. Good times.

But this post won't address any of those things. Frankly, talking those points deeper into the ground would only further foul my mood. Instead, I'll address why kisses are yucky.

Because that's what Y-U-K-E means. It's the Marcus spelling for yucky. Kisses haven't been cool here for awhile, but they've recently crossed the threshold into really undesirable territory. Marcus is 6 now, you see. He's quite grown up (unless he loses at a game, in which case he resorts to 3-year-old behavior again). And he has these little guy pals, among whom no girls are allowed. Even the recent birthday party was a boys-only club. They're quite tough, this crowd of swaggering, running, jumping, playing 6-year-olds. And kisses—well, they're barely tolerated by my son most days, and often merely mentioning a kiss will send the child scurrying away at top speed. (It does serve me well when I want him out from underfoot.)

Hugs are also spurned, unless the boy initiates it. Which, thankfully, he sometimes still does. But it's becoming less and less frequent.

That's why I saved all those little notes he made me last year when I was away working, and why I save the occasional note that I get these days. There's a tote bag full of them hanging on our linen closet doorknob, and there it will quietly stay. Eventually, I'll probably have to remove it and hide it somewhere; the bigger and tougher he gets, the more fearful I'll become that he might just find and destroy all those darling, misspelled mementos of his once-strong love for me.

I'll keep them safe. How could I not, when they'll be so perfect for his embarrassing teenage moments?