Tuesday, November 11, 2014

On Veterans and Service

I have come to realize something, as I've progressed well into my 4th decade... And it's a frightening realization, a sobering one: I almost became a liberal.

Yes, it's true. I was wooed by their idealistic, unsupported course for awhile in my blooming youth; I flirted with the possibility of heading down that circuitous path. I'm not proud of this. I admit it. But that was the greatest threat to me in my post-high-school and early working years. It was not my parents' fear that in college, I was becoming a pothead (I wasn't even close) or that I was having a bit too much fun (well, that one was sort of true)—no, the greatest threat was that I'd go over to the dark side.

Then I spent a few years maturing. I gained a bit more knowledge about history; learned the difference between rights and privileges, and became more adept at managing money responsibly; and I figured out, with help, that true charity doesn't come from government, but from individuals and faith in God. I even spent some time discussing military service and the philosophies behind it with people in the know. Eventually, I straightened out. Becoming a Christian secured cautious conservatism for me... which is odd, because for some people, that same act ensures their liberalism. Weird.

Anyway. I wanted to take a moment to ponder the symbolic veteran of any armed service. There was a recent article on Facebook (why do I even bother with FB?) about how we Americans are over-revering our servicemen and women, people in uniform everywhere, and how those folks are actually terrible people who harm civilians for fun, take advantage of their power, and sexually abuse each other with abandon. And this article made me livid.

People are people, not black and white but all of us gray, and of course there are those among every rank, everywhere, who will wield their power for evil purposes. But people—isn't that the very reason we need armed services? Because sometimes, those people who allow themselves to be ruled by evil instincts are quite attractive? Charismatic? Great speakers and motivators? Don't you think Osama bin Laden had some charms about him? How else would he have inspired such evil acts in his name and the name of his cause? How about Hitler?

People are low-down and messed-up. That's why I became a Christian: because we desperately need a savior to stand in our lowly place come judgement. And when there's a void in a soul, something will always fill the void. Just like the story in the Bible, about the freshly swept out little home that was quickly re-infested because it stood empty (Matthew 11:24-26), desperate people, even well-intentioned ones, will join up with insanity to fill their void. Gangs are popular for this reason; there is even a handful of completely foolish youth from around the globe who are going to stand with ISIS for likely this same reason. There's a void, and they'll fill it with something that gives them purpose, even if there's a chance down the road that they might be asked to behead someone...

Long story short? There will always be people who choose to do bad, and they will often amass a huge crowd of [weak-minded] people to help them. For that wrong force, we need an opposing force of good. And people? A good majority of military people and police officers is good enough for me. There will be exceptions; I can live with that, much more easily than I can live with the ostrich mentality of "can't happen here." WWI and WWII happened. Ho Chi Minh, Rwanda, Darfur—they aren't made up. They're real. Terrible things happen, because of bad people, when good people permit the terrible things. If movers and shakers of those terrible things are unchecked, they will become stronger and even more terrible. Then, if they're not already there, they will visit you at your home.

I do believe that God can change hearts, but only if and when they are willing to be changed. Man has been given free will, and honestly, we do an awfully inept job of employing it wisely. Enter the soldier for the side of what is right. And even if they're not all perfect, American soldiers (and domestic law enforcement, too) of recent history have done a lot to check and/or stop evil people from doing more harm. They've suffered, died, fought, been injured and maimed and mentally haunted for life. They have preserved rights and freedoms by accepting unspeakable assignments. Anyone who sits in a peaceful country, in relative wealth, who's never set foot in danger for the sake of others they probably don't even know—that person does not have the right to speak ill of a soldier. If they sit drinking fancy coffee and typing their litany of complaints on their laptop, while scrolling through messages on their highfalutin phone, that's even more annoying. The "flag burners" need to put up or shut up. Or, they can go live in those places where they tell us our soldiers aren't needed, or are perceived as invading disrespectfully.

The sad truth is that there are bullies in this world of ours. And for the bullies who can't and won't allow their hearts to be changed, there is the American soldier. If I sound patriotic, I'm all right with that; I understand that the word patriot isn't synonymous with terrorist OR idiot. Thank you, veterans, for doing the dirty work so I don't have to.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Quiet madness

That title doesn't really cover it, though. I'm trying to capture what happens most nights for me, sometime around 3 or 4:30am. That's the time I usually jerk awake. The house is still, my husband is breathing slowly and evenly next to me—and like an unwitting inverse correlation to his calm, I can barely catch my breath. I wake from bad dreams at times, but most often I simply open my eyes, feeling immediately anxious, worried about everything under the sun.

Why do I worry? It's pointless. It's unbiblical. It's a sign of weak or absent faith. I know all these things, consider them truths, yet there I lie, silently freaking out. Ebola will continue to spread thanks to unpreparedness in the United States, my family will be struck, some of us will die too soon... ISIS, having penetrated our borders, will begin systematically killing and capturing Americans in random places and the culture of sheep will permit it out of fear of offending someone... Our government will become even more corrupt and the society will crumble into martial law when bankruptcy must be faced and handouts are ended... And those are just the outside-of-our-home concerns. That's not even touching on the hours of darkness spent agonizing over illnesses and injuries, poor decisions and resulting chaos, and general mayhem and angst in the lives of people we care about. Not to mention the fear about my husband's job disappearing, the position replaced by a smaller team or simply deleted because the work has become obsolete, and then I will find that too many years out of the professional realm have rendered me stupid and archaic and worthy of only menial positions... (Thankfully, my dreams about my son disappearing seem to be diminishing.)

I'm driven by logic and reality. I know better, now, than to fill my mind with creepy books and movies about killers, and monsters, and sick-minded individuals—when I used to do that, I had awful thought and visions about those stories. Since I've sworn off that sort of thing for the most part, though, now my fears are always real. I can't easily discount them, especially not after midnight when there is no distraction from my own busy, disturbed brain. I pray, try to focus on other things, try to go back to sleep, and many nights it's all in vain.

I wish I could find solace and escape more easily. At least I think I do. Maybe I choose to be this way. Do we all choose to be the way we are? Happy? Somber? Thoughtful? Selfish? I do believe that sometimes we can influence our focus, but can I ever become a woman who wakes in the night and feels only peace? I want to be that woman. God wants me to be that woman. Becoming that woman is so much more challenging.

That's why I haven't written much lately. My skittering thoughts are still ponderous, albeit fast-moving. I don't know how that's even possible, but it is. And the older I get, the less important it feels to share them. To say anything, really, seems more and more futile.

Sorry for the downward spiral; it's fall, leaves are spinning down on my head, a harsh winter awaits, and I'm just being real. To quote a good friend, "it's part of my charm," you know. Carry on.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Spoiled, and lazy

I haven't posted anything for awhile. To be quite candid, this time of year is a bit of a downer for me. I love summer, love the simplicity of it, love the long days. School starts, and I suddenly find myself drowning in a deep pool of melancholia. The kid's getting older. I'm getting older. The world is in sorry shape, the economy continues to founder in spite of what MSM tells you, and I'm pretty much expecting that in my lifetime, my homeland will be overtaken by hostile forces.

So. You'll see why I've been biting my tongue. Nobody wants to read that sort of thing. I'm the kind of person who sends others scurrying away from the water cooler when I approach.

I'm still in that low place some days, but I had an enjoyable moment recently when I was re-reading an old classic from high school. George Orwell's 1984 is just as appalling and brilliant as it was when I was 16. I was inspired to read it again, along with some other old titles, because I've run into some pretty common, unimpressive books lately. Some have been freebies on my Kindle, so I guess I should have expected substandard sentence structures and flat characters. But still... Somebody, somewhere, published these books. They can't all have been self-published. One of them was so flagrantly incoherent and non-cohesive that I was tempted to look up the author—and was smacked in the face by review after review (by readers, for what those are worth) that sang the praises of this particular woman and her various self-centered, narcissistic memoirs.

Really? I mean, she wasn't absolutely terrible, but she skipped around, she didn't develop anything fully, the order of events was difficult to follow and often left matters unresolved... It wasn't good writing.

I started dissecting other recent books that had disappointed me... and then I gave up because I'd figured out the problem: I'm a former English major. I have taught some of the most amazing authors, after having been immersed in them, and likely because of that I began years ago to expect greatness from the written word. That's not to say I loved all of them, but constant exposure to true talent caused me to raise my standards across the board, regardless of writing style, point of view, or syntax. I'm not a fan of Tolkien, but I can appreciate his flair for description. I never liked Poe, but he could create a macabre setting better than almost anyone. Steinbeck's characters have stayed strong in my mind for decades. Welty painted a warm, slightly uncomfortable picture of the South.

My point is that the classics have become classic for good reason—at least most of them. Those guys and gals could write. They were masters of the language, and they understood that every aspect of writing matters. It isn't enough to be emotive; fantastic word choices won't save a poor plot. Characters I find to be unbelievable will become characters I don't care about enough to finish reading the book.

So you see why I've been spoiled. Poor literature is beneath me. Life is too short. And the lazy part of the post title? I've reached middle age now, and I've grown more choosey about how I spend my time. I've always been a believer in reading a book I love many times instead of trying to read as many different books as possible. These days, I feel even more strongly about that. My favorites? I've revisited them over and over. Some of those more recent releases? There are some great ones, but a whole lot of them are pretty shallow and temporary, and I'm decided that I don't have the energy to bother finishing them once I've determined that they're lacking. Which, according to my way of thinking, doesn't make me truly lazy—just discerning and decisive.

I suppose if I'm going to be spoiled, then this is a more desirable form of it than most.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Thoughts that crawl and climb like ivy

I have been a terrible blogger this summer. Appointments have cropped up, weddings and parties, weird weather, visits with friends and family—all have been speeding past me until my head is spinning a tad.

Then last week, somehow, I was struck by dreaded poison ivy. And I don't just get a happy patch or two, heck NO—I get bumpy, itchy rashes all over my body. Apparently my skin reacts to the oil, then all the rest of my body reacts to that bit of skin... Fun stuff. And then, the rash stays, and stays. Sometimes the redness dies down, and I get excited and think that perhaps, the urushiol oil is finished binding to the proteins in my skin and has begun to break down. But then, as I said, white bumps start to show up everywhere else... and I realize that the suffering isn't over yet.

Knowing this pattern, and my skin, I gave up fairly quickly after discerning the problem and I made a doctor appointment. I alternately scratched and applied calamine lotions for 36 hours, then drove to the doc to beg and weep for a steroid of some kind. I hate to be a quitter, but honestly, I'm going to let myself off the hook this time. I have washed every item that could possibly have housed the awful oil. I have threatened husband and son who may have brought it into the house. I have directed countless hairy eyeballs at the neighbor's side yard, which was littered with the stuff until just a few days ago. And I've been taking steroids, which are working, although not without other issues: sleepless nights, restless days, fingers and toes I can't keep still, stomach yuck. But I'm not scratching myself raw, so that's something. Right?

I keep thinking about the experience, though, and a few thoughts stand out. I think, not for the first time, of how different this rash might have looked for some poor pioneers who set out and had to clear trees and woods in order to do pretty much anything else, even just move forward. If I've been miserable, I with my lotions and air conditioning and comfy light fabrics—then how much more must they have suffered with long, heavy clothes, perspiration, and relentless heat beating on them. I wonder if they knew of the devilish green poison, if perhaps some of them knew where to find aloe or jewel weed to ease the irritation. I wonder if any ignorant newcomers, city-folk perhaps, touched the terrible plant, or (worse) burned it... and then scratched every part of themselves, thus spreading the horror. I wonder how long it took for people to get smart and recognize the cause. Or give their oil-bearing dog a bath. Or whatever.

(I think about older cultures often; I thought of them constantly after having a baby. I think of them when I do laundry in my easy-peasey washing machine. I think of them when I drive a car and arrive in minutes instead of hours. How lazy they would likely think us all. No wonder there's an obesity epidemic.)

I've been pondering, too, just how remarkably easy it is to be unaware of suffering and torment unless it is your own. I know other people with skin issues, far more serious conditions than a temporary redness. With constant pain, even. So I itch for a couple of days and have a mini-breakdown... Pretty pathetic. Our son woke up last week with a pinched nerve in his neck, and for a day had trouble turning his head one way, and it was so awful—yet we know someone who has that trouble daily, and on a much more serious scale. Even my 9-year-old recognized the teachable moment by commenting that now he understood better what life must be like for that friend of ours.

We are all such self-centered creatures for the most part, and then our shallow, me-first culture further ingrains that sort of thinking until it is quite easy to avoid considering, especially in depth, what others around us are suffering. My prayer today is not just to be grateful, but also to have more sensitivity to whatever the people around me are enduring. Whatever their troubles are, I know that to each of them who carry the burden, that trouble is heaviest. We are all shouldering something, but we can help each other, notice each other, connect personally, and most of all? We can take our burdens to the Savior. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes and hearts, and Jesus invites us to accept His mercy and share it with all.

This was a rather meandering post, wasn't it? Back to the rash, I think this is officially an item on my "questions to ask God someday" list. Why poison ivy? It'll show up slightly above or below the "why mosquitos?" question, depending on the timing of my most recent ivy outbreak.

Wear gloves and spray on some Deet, then go in peace.
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. -John 14:27 (KJV)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Diatribe, or die tryin'

My goodness, I certainly have been an absentee blogger, haven't I?! I didn't realize just how many days had passed since my last post. It's been a loooong time. This might be my new record for blog neglect. Alas, the hiatus has ended because I am moved to write.

I finally caved and became a Facebook member; I'm sad to report that it is often as pathetic and pointless as I feared. Yet. It seems to invite people to become at least partially informed, if you happen to be friendly with informed people who post meaningful links to factual information. Facebook is responsible, at least in part, for my need to express myself today.

Why am I writing? I suppose that I'm at my wit's end with clueless people. I'm frustrated by the general lack of interest most Americans display. I'm embarrassed that my fellows would rather follow the World Cup than the immigration crisis and its mealy-mouthed managers. I want to shout at the masses, to expound upon the reasons why we even had all those picnics and fireworks last weekend. Did you know that an alarming amount of Americans don't understand the point of Independence Day, let alone how and when it came to exist? They know the finalists on the latest television talent show, but they don't know about the recent Supreme Court rulings that had conservatives celebrating a tad.

When did apathy become fashionable? And more importantly, when did the land of the free become the land of free? How quickly we choose to be distracted from bad news, from violence and murdered children, from evil marching across a country with intent to destroy good. If it's not our country, or our children, we turn the channel. It's disheartening how quickly we disconnect from everything that does not directly affect us.

But what happens here will affect us, you see. Because we're a united group of states, under Oblamma's inept leadership and tutelage. We're like the separate systems of the body, which also function to create one large being. And we all end up impacting each other—just like all the water eventually gets mixed with all the other water, rain and storm drain and purified sewage and chemical run-off. One drop must be affected by the rest. We are not exclusive.

And what happens in our high levels of government affects us all, in time. What happens in other countries and their economies affects us, in time. We're all globally interconnected. But I can't even touch on that whole mishmash of ignorance about world affairs. I'm too concerned about ignorance at home.

People came to this country years and years ago because they were desperate. They wanted freedom to pursue the things they valued: God, jobs, family, community, food and homes. They wanted to start fresh in a place where your rank in society paled in comparison to your work ethic. Equal opportunity was intended to mean access to opportunities, not assured success and acceptance. The home of the free was aptly named because people exchanged tyranny and control for opportunities to work and earn, to climb from poverty on a sturdy ladder that would not sway or snap when the government changed hands.

The land of the free isn't supposed to offer everything for free. Capitalism believes in competition. That is where opportunity truly lies. And everybody in America will never all be completely equal. Some people are smarter or richer, some are destitute or unattractive, some had a great childhood while other scraped a living out of garbage. But the opportunities still exist for everyone to grow, to learn, to change their story. That's freedom. It's not government-dictated equality. People will share when they have enough to do so, or when they are moved by their faith in someone bigger than themselves to help them multiply what they have to help take care for others. Charity and generosity of spirit can't be mandated without resulting bitterness and hard feelings.

Hobby Lobby is not telling its employees they cannot seek an abortion. Hobby Lobby is not denying its employees the opportunity to end an unborn life. It's not even forbidding them to use birth control; in fact, it's still paying for some of those prescriptions. Hobby Lobby's offense? It's simply not interested in paying for the more gruesome forms of that "choice" to terminate a pregnancy. Isn't that the right of the employer? If I owned a business, and had an employee who drank loads of hard liquor daily, then came to me and wanted me to pay for a life-or-death kidney transplant, I'd have a problem with that. The condition, after all, was caused by choices that person made. That's why people created this country—to have choices. Isn't it? Why is a bakery being forced to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple? Isn't that the choice of the bakery? It's certainly the choice of the people in love who are shopping for a cake to go where they want. That's why competition works, people. Because there are choices. If someone bakes horrid cakes, no one goes there. If someone bakes great gay cakes, then word gets out. Right?

Choices. We must uphold the ability to choose in this country. To choose. Period. Our self-appointed king and his big-mouthed wife can tell their own children what to eat for lunch; I'll make that decision for myself and my own family. And citizenship? Yes, it's a choice, and an opportunity. We will never be able to make all those helpless children into comfortable citizens. Even if we do? By the time they're grown, the term "citizen" will have no meaning, and the greatness of the country that drew those people will have fallen to unrecognizable standards that no longer even resemble our forefathers' Republic.

Those first true Americans weren't perfect. They were determined, and they had an opportunity... and ultimately those were worth more than any hand-out. Don't let their hard work slip away. Watch, read, learn, and speak when informed. It's still your choice.

For now, at least.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The place to be

Last Saturday, I fought the road construction, the latest "fundraising walk of the week" road closures, and the general mayhem and confusion that is driving in downtown Pittsburgh. I fought it because by God, the kid and I had decided we were going to visit the Ft. Pitt museum and learn about old-fashioned Pittsburgh leisure activities.

We headed toward town, ended up being forced off the parkway thanks to lane restrictions, then (thanks to stadium lot closures) found ourselves in a no-way-back trek northward in the HOV lane (no, we did not want or intend to head north), and then finally came back down to town... where we paid too much to park near Point State Park. In addition to Ft. Pitt Museum's throwback leisure day (where I kicked my child's butt at lawn bowling), there was an outdoor festival happening simultaneously—lots of kiosks and stands dedicated to encouraging people and families to get outdoors and climb, hike, ride, explore, etc. It was quite inspiring, and less than stellar weather did not slow anyone down. Youngsters climbed a wall, my son tried out a 3-wheeler intended to rehabilitate folks with lower-body injuries, and we indulged in the most expensive soft pretzel ever. (Luckily, it wasn't bad...)

But we were at the Point. And short of a torrential downpour, floods, tornadoes, or black ice, one simply cannot visit the Point without making the walk to the Big Fountain. It's impossible to resist. The foaming tower of water, the hordes of humans milling around its base, the fantastic scene that unfolds before you in every direction—it's a favorite destination for a reason. Everybody loves it. You feel bigger there, and yet smaller, too. You are surrounded by manmade grandeur, yet also steeped in history. You're not far from that primitive little blockhouse, oldest structure in the 'burgh, but you're also staring across the water at a submarine, a football stadium, the science center cone, and one of the two inclines that crawl up and down the face of Mt. Washington. You're standing where original city settlers stood, where Frenchmen made a stand, where native Americans came aground. You're positioned right in the midst of Lewis and Clark's starting point.

A lot has happened on that piece of property.

And a lot is still happening there, albeit perhaps on a different scale. As we walked toward the fount, a park worker offered to take our photo. (He must have pitied us, as we attempted a somewhat-centered dual selfie while perched on a rock.) We accepted his kindness, posing, then chatted with him. He shared a funny story about a recent visitor to the park. A smallish fellow had come walking on the very same path we were exploring, had struck up a conversation with this gardener. They'd talked about how the fellow was staying uptown near the Consol Center, and eventually the visitor's identity became clear: Kenny G. Yep, the Kenny G. He was strolling anonymously through the park before his big concert performance. How cool is that? Our new friend shared how friendly and unassuming Kenny had been, how'd he'd laughed at the suggestion that he should be exploring the fair city with an entourage.

Even Kenny G likes Point State Park, and wanders through the shady greenery while gazing out at the massive waters that flow past.

If you can make your way around that vast fountain, and observe children giggling in the spray, and watch lovers adoring each other as they whisper sweet nothings in the clamor of the tumbling waters... If you can hear the tugboats alert each other as they pass, and trains send their high-pitched whistle skyward—if you can take all that in without smiling, then you're a rare human being... and quite possibly a joyless one.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Yellow car syndrome

Someone came up with this funny phrase to describe a sudden hyper-awareness of something that you really hadn't much noticed before. For example, you buy a yellow car—and then, over and over, you are amazed at how many other people drive yellow vehicles, too. (We here in our home call it the "super-old Chevy Cavalier station wagon" syndrome... Or, we would call it that if we ever saw any other old Chevy wagons...)

I'm experiencing the yellow car syndrome myself these days; in the past few months, I've become extremely sensitive to the aging, frail population around me. I had already known that Pittsburgh was way up there on the list of cities with unusually high numbers of oldsters; I remember fretting about it in my single days. Yet suddenly, everywhere I look, I am visually accosted by the elderly, many of them struggling to complete simple daily tasks.

Now, I realize that this is partly because I have free time during weekday mornings in which to run errands, do shopping, and complete other household tasks. Of course I'm going to see more retired and infirm people then. (Weekends, on the other hand, are the time when you are inundated with babies and toddlers being dragged from place to place.) But my awareness isn't just age-related—it goes deeper. I am noticing crippled and gnarled fingers, bent-over spines, and people with walkers and canes. I even find myself counting the walkers, noting without trying just how many people around me require walking assistance. I am frequently arrested by just how many of the handicapped spaces are taken—sometimes all of them. Without trying, I notice a delicate white-haired lady at the grocery, trying desperately, with swollen, bent fingers, to open the clear plastic bag in which to put her produce. (Yes, I helped her.) It seems that everywhere, overnight, people have begun moving slowly, painstakingly, with difficulty.

And it's not just the older folks. I am suddenly, by way of association, aware of young people with physical limitations,too. We know a few people who have ongoing physical conditions, and now I find myself making note of similar symptoms and movements that would indicate that same or a related condition. I recognize the expression of pain on someone's face, the stiffness of joints that necessitates careful, gradual movements.

I'm sure my heightened sensitivity is related to my mother's failing health. I'm equally certain that my own advancing age, well into middle years at this point, might also be bringing home the point that these bodies of ours aren't meant to last forever. They are weak, and breakable. They can mend themselves in our youth and well beyond. But then? Those so-called golden years? Nature demands that we begin to deteriorate.

The most heartbreaking scene for me lately was a perky older woman pushing a younger lady in a wheelchair through Michaels craft store. There I was, inwardly kvetching about the traffic, and how I wasn't getting everything done that I'd hope to do, and how the sun wasn't out, grouch, groan. At that moment, the woman rolled her wheelchair-bound companion slowly past me, talking gently as she went. She reached for something on the shelf for her friend, placed it in her lap, and the recipient offered a barely audible, hardly decipherable word of thanks. I noticed how lovingly the elder woman responded, the kindness in her voice, the unhurried way she helped the other. I felt very small, and spoiled, and shallow.

It is good to be aware of this sort of thing. Good, because I can act when I see a need. Good, because I will appreciate my health, my body that still mostly does what I ask it to do. Good, because God has opened my eyes. I pray I will remember to be His hands to this growing number of opportunities. I hope I will remember to be thankful, and to act with gladness and obedience. Any of the folks I've been noticing could be, likely will be, me.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Game changer

Knowing how these extended holiday weekends shake out (very busy, lots of running and distractions), I thought I'd better jump on here now. Better early than absent, eh?

Everybody thinks Christmas is the big Christian holy day. But Christmas means nothing without the climax of the resurrection.

Don't let Easter Sunday slip by without watching this.

(I haven't a clue who's behind it—just stumbled upon it, and consequently was lifted and encouraged.)

Happy Easter to you!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Aw, for cryin' out loud...

Snow? Really? On tax day??? We've all had quite enough, thank you very much. Everywhere I went, people wore sour expressions with narrowed eyes. The neighbors even went so far as to stage an impromptu protest. Of course, they quickly became distracted by some new, chilled grass niblets... (See photo.)

There's something so wrong about admiring a blooming magnolia tree through a veil of icy flakes. SO wrong.

Alas. It is what it is. I guess I'll give up, put on some socks, and hold my kvetchin' tongue.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Not everything is awesome

This'll come much later than the what-was-big-and-now-is-past release of The Lego Movie. I haven't yet seen said movie, because when my boys went on opening day, it was a Daddy/Son event and I was not invited. Wahh. (It's all right, really—I'll see it on vid.) After they returned, though, our home was filled for the next few days with a catchy yet increasingly annoying little ditty called "Everything Is Awesome."

I don't know if Tegan and Sara wrote the lyrics; I was never a huge fan of theirs to begin with. I guess it really doesn't matter; some adult wrote them, likely. The words are sung very quickly, especially the "rapping" (talking) sections of the song, where men's voices are heard speaking the lyrics at lightning speed. Even sung quickly, however, most of the words are easily understood.

After a few [tens of] times hearing the song, I couldn't help feeling disgruntled by the lyrics. They're brainless. I clearly grok that this song is not intended to be a lasting contribution to the world's collection of meaningful compositions. Yet. A lot of the words are inane, and some of them? Downright lies.

Have you heard the news? Everyone's talking
Life is good 'cause everything's awesome
Lost my job, there's a new opportunity
More free time for my awesome community
I feel more awesome than an awesome possum
Dip my body in chocolate frosting
Three years later wash off the frosting
Smelling like a blossom, everything is awesome
Stepped in mud, got new brown shoes
It's awesome to win and it's awesome to lose


Blue skies, bouncy springs
We just named two awesome things
A Nobel prize, a piece of string
You know what's awesome? Everything!
Trees, frogs, clogs they're awesome
Rocks, clocks and socks they're awesome
Figs and jigs and twigs that's awesome
Everything you see or think or say is awesome

Okay, I took out all the touchy-feely parts of the song, where the girls shriek about how it's awesome to be part of a team, and we should all party forever... It's basically harmless, I suppose. This song is not a terrible song, and it's certainly not the first popular song to feature pointless, random lyrics (although it might be the only song I've ever heard that talks about frosting—no, wait, there's that awful MacArthur Park song from the 70s...)

But the line that broke my straw was that last line. The one I marked in bold. It's crap. It flies absolutely in the face of every Biblical tenant about mankind. So, I had to go and get all serious and address this with my kid. We've seen poverty, and illness, and people abusing other people, I said to him. We've seen car accidents, and arguments. Are those awesome? No, answered my son. And God tells us that thinking a sin is as bad as doing it, right (Matthew 5:27-28)? That's right. And the tongue? God calls is a fire, full of deadly poison (James 3:5-8). Not such a ringing endorsement for what we say, eh? And my boy agreed.

Obviously, this Lego song is not meant to deliver serious, meaningful messages to kids. Still, they're all walking around singing it. Not as much, now that it's not so new... but the lyrics are being written on kids' hearts. Those lyrics are being learned, internalized. Do the kids who hear and sing them also believe them? I have to think that some of them do. And that disturbs me.

Here is something that I'd rather hide in my heart, and my kiddo's heart. This is what I'd rather remember and refer to in times of confusion:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:8-9

Friday, March 7, 2014

Sunnier scenes

I thought I'd better lighten things up a bit, since my last post was so darned dark.

I bring you "After the Baling," an original painting by Mel. If I could step right into it, I would. I sort of did step in, in my mind at least, while I was working on it. I created this from a photo my husband took while visiting a nearby farm last summer. Can't you just smell that wonderful hay? (Allergy sufferers, can't you just feel your sinuses contracting and rebelling?)

This one's for sale in my Etsy shop. Thankfully, there is real sunshine today, as well as imagined. Enjoy it.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Signs of these awful times

You know it's been a long winter when the temperature peaks at 46 degrees Fahrenheit, and you see people golfing.

I'm not kidding. I witnessed just that scene last weekend.

This is the time in our cruel winter season when I ponder the purchase of stock in some heavy-duty skin cream—a time when suddenly, I begin to find greater merit in anti-depressants and sun lamps. Moving somewhere far, far south becomes an increasingly attractive option.

I read recently about a new condition described as "snow rage," or explosive behavior swings caused by a relentlessly cold, wintry season that drags on longer than some people can bear. Except what can I call it when I'm still experiencing the symptoms but there's no snow? My son suggested "salt rage." I'm thinking that plain old rage would cover it some days...

Adding to my rage-cum-depression is the fact that I've been to the mall more in the past 7 days than in the last year. The weather's made me do it. I loathe the mall on principle, yet it provides ample, warm, un-slippery walking space. So I've headed there a couple of times recently, and I plan to do so again before the week is up. It's a safe, free way to raise my heart rate without risking my neck on ice or causing our small, wobbly living room to quake violently while I jiggle and gasp to an exercise beat.

What's so depressing about a mall, you ask? Well, it functions as a cultural outsider alarm for me. Nowhere else do I feel so removed from our twisted vision of modern suburban America. All of my denials about how sick we are as a nation come crashing down on me when I'm walking through a shopping mall. It's sort of like standing near young, lovely, slender girls. I don't enjoy doing that, because it heightens my awareness of just how little I share with those pretties these days. And the mall? Man, do I feel like an interloper there. I'm surprised they let me in.

I stride along those wide, polished floors, past window after window of mostly naked women, young smooth-chinned lads embracing other handsome and hairless boys, flat-chested young females pouting at me with hooded, come-hither glances... We certainly do groom these innocents for tawdry and sultry, don't we? It's not just the over-saturation of sex that appalls me, though. Nearly every store is selling a lie: our furniture will help you relax more completely; this hand soap will transport you to an island getaway. And these pretzels will make you think of an elderly relative who cooked with far too much butter yet so much love. But wait, here's a new gadget with a flashing screen, and it's newer than yours... Do you have high-heeled, open-toed ankle booties like these? Never mind how hideous they are, you need them to complete your designer duds.

The whole place is designed to entice, to beguile, to mislead, and ultimately to separate you from your money. It's all crap, and it deflates the heck out of me.

I really hope the stupid weather improves; I'm about ready to pull a serious groundhog, people.

Friday, February 21, 2014

On sacrifice

I've been thinking a lot about it, sacrifice. It's a heavy topic. It has so many layers... and almost none of them appeal to base human nature.

The ultimate sacrifice is Jesus Christ: Died for us, thus allowing us eternal life if we accept the gift of His life. Salvation is a gift, so I think I am safe in saying that His offering it is a gift, too—and sacrifice was the form in which it was offered. So, could I say that sacrifice is a gift, no matter the giver? Is that a safe blanket statement?

Sometimes sacrifices are made out of a sense of duty, but is it any less a gift when it takes the dutiful form? Sacrifice is difficult at best. Even Christ Himself asked if there was another way (Luke 22:42).

The part I keep revisiting is this: that the gift was given to the unknowing. The penultimate sacrifice was done for all, not just those who knew and were grateful. In fact, probably no one knew and understood, at the time before His crucifixion, what was being done for them. Disciples tried to talk Jesus out of it; they attempted violent intervention (Matthew 26:51). We like-minded recipients, grateful though we are down the road, often don't even recognize the gift when it is first offered, let alone referenced.

We, too, are to be sacrificial in our actions; we are to love others, and to offer up ourselves on their behalf. I grasp that sacrifice is to be performed even for all, including the unknowing. Jesus was sacrificed for our sins, and the gain for us is salvation and eternal life with our Creator.

But what of the earthly, man-offered sacrifice where not even the recipient benefits? When, if ever, does sacrifice become foolish and misguided? In the same way that tough love must sometimes be enacted for the greater good of the recipient, might not sacrifice be suspended for the greater good of all involved when no one is the better for that sacrifice? When is the right time to withdraw sacrifice? When must an honest man or woman examine the situation and change directions completely? Must death be the deciding factor, or are their lesser factors that bring about the same need for re-examination of purpose and result? Do the defining actions of sacrifice change when eternal life is not at stake?

These are the ponderous, burdensome thoughts in my troubled mind these days. I pray for clear direction, for myself and those around me. I pray and I pray, and still I do not pray enough. I know there is so much more to say about this topic, yet I've fought a migraine all day, and to research the topic further would require deep reading... which would, in turn, heighten the migraine. Thus, I am deterred.

Therefore, I leave you in a swirling fog. But you are not alone there.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Happy, non-controversial distraction

I share my latest painting with you—to prove that I do, indeed, spend time in pursuits other than profiling my fellow grocery shoppers. (If you're confused, then you might want to refer to my previous post.)

Stay warm. Unless you're reading this from a balmy, sunny place. If that's the case, then please send my plane ticket—pronto.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

A lot of unknowns, a lot of questions—and too many freebies

I endeavor to keep this blog friendly and mostly unoffensive. I really don't want it to turn into a place where I share vitriol for political parties, or air my fears about society's deterioration, or spread my own hostile opinions. But I'm a realist, as you likely know by now, and sometimes I just can't get something out of my mind until I get it off my chest.

I went to ALDI yesterday. I really appreciate ALDI's sensibility and pragmatism in a world of advertised lies and innuendo. They're just plain cheaper than everyone else, yet the quality of their grocery items is very high. I've been a proponent for years now. And I'm not alone. Often, the store is packed. Especially prior to an impending winter storm (ANOTHER one). This last visit to ALDI was no exception: there we all were, buying bread and milk and toilet paper per the usual Pittsburgh-area snowpocalyse-driven purchase requirements.

I got in line with my cart and my bags, along with several other people. I was behind a couple that I'd seen in the store as I shopped: two dark-haired young people who were well-groomed and appropriately dressed in attractive, modern styles. They weren't glamorous or out of the ordinary, but they also appeared to be far from destitute. Their cart was piled high, and they were swiftly transferring the items to the belt for processing.

I became aware that neither of them was speaking English. I couldn't identify for certain what language they were using; I have some guesses, but since I'm not positive, I'll keep those guesses to myself. What I couldn't help noticing was that the order came to over $100 (not hard to do when food shopping, I know)—and that all but $7 of the order was paid with an ACCESS card.

I covertly studied the two of them. Fashionable. Young. As far as I could see, perfectly able-bodied. Speaking a foreign language. And paying for the bulk of their order with someone else's money. And I bristled at the situation. I'm sorry if you think that makes me unfair, or that I am unsympathetic, or that I don't want to help people who are trying to help themselves. No, wait—I'm not sorry. I do feel that way. I'm allowed.

Granted, this twosome had filled their shopping cart with mostly genuine, simple, un-fancy food, like potatoes and milk and items that could actually be turned into meals with some homemade efforts. (Sadly, their cart looked unlike the typical ACCESS users I end up following, who buy expensive meat and name-brand junk food. But I digress.) And to be honest, I do not know the couple, nor their situation. Perhaps they had good jobs and one or both was recently laid off. Perhaps they are students somewhere, studying for advanced training that is best found in America... in which case, why would they have that card? I studied here, and I didn't have that card—I had, instead, an overabundance of ramen noodles. That is all.

It was the middle of the day, on a weekday. If they needed jobs, why wasn't at least one of them seeking work? If they shared a vehicle, why not use the extensive public transportation system? They knew how the free food card worked, and how to pay the difference in cost with a debit. They knew to bring their own bags to ALDI. These were not confused, fumbling foreigners.

I thought to myself that I would like to follow them out to the parking lot. Perhaps with more time, I could identify their language. And mostly? I wanted to see the car they were driving. If I had to guess, based on their outfits, I'd probably assume that the vehicle was a fairly recent model. Maybe I'd be dead wrong. I'll never know, because my turn in line came, and the intriguing shoppers bagged their items lightning-quick and got out of there. But I kept thinking about them.

I don't really mind buying second-hand; I find satisfaction in a good bargain. And truly, I don't mind driving old cars; we own them, and they'll never be re-possessed in hard times. I like to cook, and we have some dietary concerns to factor in, so making our meals at home is fine with me.

What I do mind? A lot? Knowing that healthy young people who don't speak our native language are shopping for food here for free. I object. Strenuously. If I went to a foreign country, would I ever have that option? No. If I venture out of this overly generous country, I must be prepared to pay my own way. In every way. That's the deal. There's a good chance, I suppose, that the couple I observed were U.S. citizens, and had every right to be here, and have just experienced recent hard times like so many others. I truly hope so. I pray that there weren't 3 or 4 free cell phones in her capacious handbag.

I know there is fraud. I know there is abuse of a well-intentioned, sick system that is meant to help Americans in need. I don't know if those two were guilty of any wrongdoing. But even if they weren't, the whole scene felt wrong to me. Very wrong. Are Americans paying attention? Do they realize where tax money is going? There's no way we plebeians can track it all, and no way we can be certain that the people who are accepting assistance truly need it. That concerns me greatly. If you've ever worked and paid taxes in the U.S., you should be concerned, too. Even if I misinterpreted what I saw at ALDI, I know that the system is broken and getting more decrepit every day. All over the country, a similar scene is repeating itself. Sometimes, the able-bodied offenders are Americans who may (or may not) need a healthy dose of pride and a revised list of wants vs. needs.

In short? That whole incident at ALDI reminded me that I'm weary of the whining and scrabbling of entitled receivers. If you cannot afford your lifestyle, then change your lifestyle. It is not up to the government to help you maintain the old standard. And if you come here from a faraway place? I sincerely hope you've come with an expectation to contribute—not to further bleed the working class.
“Let us never forget this fundamental truth: The State has no source of money other than the money people themselves earn.” ~ Margaret Thatcher

Monday, January 27, 2014

The restless beast is stilled—momentarily

I believe in sharing. In theory, anyway. Which is why I'm barking at everyone I talk to today, why I'm muttering moody epithets to myself as I stomp around the house completing jobs, why I have been unsurprised to find myself visibly scowling each time I passed a reflective surface. I'm just sharing my cranky state. The weather stinks, it's mid-winter, I panicked this morning and canceled plans thanks to overly zealous weathermen, and now I have probably missed a perfectly good, sunny afternoon when I might have been out gallivanting... Huff, sigh, groan, growl.

It's been that kind of January, hasn't it?

Anyway, since I've been so eager to share my annoyance, frustration, and irritation with anyone who's willing to tune in, I should (on the flip side) also share something positive and delightful, to make up for my curmudgeon-ness. So, I will.

I had an absolutely fabulous time yesterday afternoon, in spite of snow and slush and icy gusts. My best little guy and I had a date—at the symphony.

Now, we don't go there often, although I'd love to. We've enjoyed the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra several times, because it's fun and inspiring to see youngsters playing those instruments with such skill and aplomb. Plus (perhaps I should mention this little tidbit) the PYSO performances are usually free. Yep, gratis. That's double-plus-good for us.

But yesterday's show was a special treat, one that we'd been hoping would come around someday. You see, my son and I are huge John Williams fans. Yes, the John Williams who writes movie music. The true deserver of the moniker America's Composer. I love Copland too, people, but I think JW has him beaten. I do. Who cares what motivated the composition? Does it really matter that it was written to accompany scenes of a film? To me, that makes it even more awesome in a way. I know how it feels to paint a picture that I have chosen to render—and how much more difficult the task becomes when it must be made to order for someone else's preferences...

Anyway, when we heard about this show, even my husband looked pointedly at the two of us JW admirers, and suggested that we go. It was decided. And since my best big boy would be coming back from a weekend out of town on the day of the matinĂ©e performance, we decided that only Mom and Son would partake. Then, my charming kiddo stepped into the amazing kid arena by declaring he'd contribute allowance money to the seat purchase so we wouldn't have to sit in peanut heaven. So—I knew without a doubt that he really wanted to go.

We bought the tickets online, and waited for the big day. Which was yesterday, as you know. Even before we got inside the venue, we were met in the lobby by a brass ensemble's swelling performance of the Superman theme, and the music just got better and better. The concert was commanded by resident conductor Lawrence Loh, a gifted, youngish fellow who is also a self-proclaimed JW junkie. He was a perfect choice for the day, introducing each piece or even particular scene with gusto, background information, and an occasional prop or outfit. Loh morphed into a Jedi knight with light saber in hand for Star Wars; then, Professor Dumbledore himself used his "wand" to lead the symphony in selected Harry Potter musical selections. Loh was a fantastic master of ceremonies and maestro, and the perfect choice for such a rousing collection of memorable, heartwarming, bewitching tunes. He made no excuse for Williams' soundtrack niche, acknowledging only his greatness and genius. That gorgeous music filled Heinz Hall's soaring arches and intricate corners, and not a single classical music snob could be found. The adoring audience thanked both conductor and composer with rapt attention, roaring applause, and not a single peep from a cell phone.

The best part of the day occurred to me halfway through the first half, as I sat alternately wiping the corner of my eye (the opening notes of Jurassic Park) and grinning foolishly (Hedwig's Theme): I realized, with quiet shock, that I was sitting perfectly still. I wasn't wiggling a leg, or drumming a finger, or twitching my knee. I was just sitting. I was completely in the moment. Maybe that doesn't sound like such a big deal to you, but for me? A B-I-G D-E-A-L. I cannot sit still easily; long car rides are torture, meetings used to make me alternately yawn and weep, even long movies have become challenging. It just feels like a waste of time, my mind wanders, and my body yearns to move busily about, engaging in restless activity after restless activity.

But yesterday? That music washed over me with a physical presence, a calming aspect that I haven't experienced for months. It was splendid.

And now it's a precious memory. I wish I could have bottled the moment, the scene itself—not just the sounds, but also the smells and sights of that wonderful snapshot. And I wasn't alone. Everywhere around me, people were smiling. I haven't seen that for a long time.

Thanks, Lawrence. Thanks, John. For those two hours, I was completely at home right where I was. What a rare treat.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Embracing the ides of January

I've been flying rather high since I survived the holidays. And look at that calendar—it's the middle of January already! We've been comfortably busy with normal life such as school and related functions, church activities, and even the highly likely sale of one of our old cars. Just enough excitement for me. I feel alive, but in a good way; I'm not drowning in fattening, befuddling festivities. I am thankful.

Here's the latest painting, created from a photo that I took of (what else?) cute animals from North Woods Ranch. I needed a rest from dog paintings, which were—happily for me—popular as commissioned Christmas gifts. (Piggies are for sale in my Etsy shop.)

The days, they're gettin' longer! (Say it with me, in an affected Scottish brogue. Wasn't that fun?)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Less is best

I think I'm finally feeling almost normal today. Christmas holiday, New Year's, extended vacations for my son and my husband, then a ridiculous cold front that caused more unplanned time off—all that mayhem has meant no time for me to enjoy the silence and build up my introvert reserves. Even today was tarnished by yet another school delay. I love my son, but when we can't even step outside for fear of frostbite...? Enough.

At this moment, at last, I am flourishing in stillness. The swish of the washing machine in the basement is the only sound to accompany my tapping on the keyboard. Blissful. Soon, the symphony of rushing heat from the vent will start again, offering a variety in my minimal auditory stimulation. Perhaps I'll turn on some music in a little while, but not yet. Not yet.

I visited Macy's recently (an item to return, an unused gift card—these are the things that are required to get me into the mall). I stood in that vast space dedicated to consumer culture, and I gaped at the innumerable items around me. Modern, classic, work-out, work-wear, young and hip, old and proven. And that was just the petite section of women's clothing. Are you kidding me? How's a person supposed to choose from such a plethora of options? I don't have the energy to narrow down the categories. At least, I don't want to expend my precious energy doing something so pointless for very long. I know I've written about this before, the ludicrously large number of choices we have when purchasing anything, and I'm still wound up about it. More and more, I love thrift stores. Now I can add this reason to the list: fewer choices to have to make. Limited options simplify my life; too much of anything is not pleasing.

I can carry that argument back into the Christmas season, which finally limped out the door while I kicked it and hollered with glee. I love Jesus, yet I despise a lot of Christmas. And you know why? Because there is too much of everything. Think about it. Too many parties, too many dinners, too many cookies, too many responsibilities and gifts to buy and people to remember and time off and even too much red wine. Excessive revelry, even excessive fellowship, makes me antsy and short of breath, eager only to retreat.

So, I grasp with new depth why I steer clear of Macy's and places like it, and why I sing joyfully to myself as I take down the Christmas decorations. It's not just a new year, or even a new start that lightens my heart.

It's the promise of LESS.