Sunday, December 27, 2015

The state of things

So this is it: the new normal. Awake by 4:30a, checking the clock periodically before finally admitting defeat and rising in the deep darkness. Not a nightly occurrence, yet. Often enough, however, that I discern a pattern.

Could it be my own fault? That glass of wine last night, imbibed well after the safe time of early evening? Perhaps. Or it might be that helping of leftover broccoli salad that I enjoyed far beyond the dinner hour (unless I am suddenly Spanish and regularly dining late in the evening... but I'm not, and we don't.) I could blame the endless-but-finally waning holidays, too—Lord knows I've blamed them for everything else these past few weeks... Or the oddly warm weather, necessitating far fewer bedclothes than is normal for late December, causing too-warm discomfort.

But the uncomfortable truth is that I wake in wee hours even when I don't indulge myself foolishly in the ways I just mentioned, even when there are no encroaching holidays, and even when the weather is utterly and predictably seasonal. I still jerk into awareness at odd times, lie there, fret, pray, fret again. I am afraid that this frequent occurrence is the new normal. Middle age, cultural concerns, lingering health situations and relationship issues with family--all of it has wrought its resulting and most unwelcome wakefulness in my little world.

I am unhappy about this, to say the least.

I take a tiny bit of comfort in knowing that it happens to others, as well. Cranky conversations with people close to me reveal that they, too, suffer the same frustrations. I am not the only person tossing fitfully, over-thinking situations, attempting to calm both irrational and rational fears, trying to hear God's still, small voice amid the rush of restless thoughts in my ownskull. But mostly? I wish this didn't happen to any of us.

I have never excelled at sitting still, and age has worsened this twitchiness. I can clearly see how that makes the night-time wakings so painful; I can't effectively distract myself with any real busy-ness at that hour, not if I want to be a considerate housemate. I can't clean our home with gusto, I can't clomp up and down stairs with baskets of clothes and towels, I can't sing along with music to take my mind off of the sobering thoughts that spin themselves in my weary, woolly brain: I am old. i am too heavy. I am impatient; I fail daily at basic kindness and compassion, at not gossiping, at playing with and showing patience with my son. I am not as well off as I imagined I would be at this age; I don't have enough money reserved for retirement. Our house is too small, our cars dangerously old, my love too weak and my faith watery thin.

Did I mention that all those thoughts are compounded exponentially in the middle of the night?

Mostly, the sleepless hours remind me of my own powerlessness and helplessness; at all times, but especially at that hour, I am awash in the fact that I can control nothing—except how I respond to any given situation. Even this current uprising, my body's and brain's determined mutiny against me—all I control is how I react.

Not my favorite season. I miss true rest. In the meantime, I think I'll make some coffee to accompany my frets and prayers.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Crazy chair lady

My husband and son think I'm insane with my craigslist addiction, my need to scour the listings for things I must have. Our tiny home bursts at the seams, trying to hold all of my fantastic finds. Oh, for a storefront, to help other [literally] poor, wayward home-shoppers find just the right items to make them smile each time they gaze upon their own abode.

But it's the chairs that really break my heart, people. The chairs.

I am a crazy chair lady. I cannot pass the sad, abandoned pieces on the roadside without a deep sigh, or (if they look promising) a quick-as-I-can U-turn to further peruse the cast-off.

I cannot tell you (and would be too embarrassed to tell you, even if I could) the number of times I've tried to save homeless chairs. I truly cannot help myself; it is an illness. I acknowledge this. Our home has been an ongoing parade of ever-changing chairs, from my single days onward... But I can't leave them, alone and unused. It's a crime to me. Even if I merely play the part of deliverer, hoisting them into the trunk of the Honda, where they hang out halfway, bungie-corded into submission, whilst I drive them to the "chair rescue" (Goodwill)... I drop them off in hopes that someone else can finish the mission I've begun.

What is it about chairs? Especially small ones—those petite resting places, so hard to find in modern furniture stores, where the entire showroom floor is awash in gargantuan, overstuffed monsters that wouldn't fit through our front door. Those diminutive forms, the ones that hug you when you sit down? Those are my chairs. When they rock or swivel? I sigh with delight. The low profile styles are my favorite. Even sweet wood dining chairs, or stools, the precursors to poufs... All of them make my heart go pitter-pat.

And I am sickened when I think of them languishing in a landfill. Why?! Why do I care so much? They are not alive. They have no souls, no feelings. But it breaks me. Secondhand stores, flea markets, yard sales–in each one, there hides a sad assortment of haunch holders that have been left behind in the rush to clutter our homes with chairs-and-a-half. What body could possibly need more than a single chair? No one will sit with you in that spacious, oversized mockery! Even if they did, what would it matter? Real intimacy can only be found when close proximity is chosen within a tight space.

So, my life's work has been reduced to this: save the chair. The cute little boudoir chair, the darling mid-century slipper chair, the dear barrel chair, the unaccompanied desk chair... All alone, all still full of purpose, some with weary upholstery but sporting those fabulous bones, and begging for a bright new interpretation.

Won't you join me? Better yet, for cryin' out loud: won't you be my patron? My kingdom for a storefront!

Friday, October 23, 2015


I've been in a strange season for the past year. Longer than that, actually—but the last 11 months or so have been the strangest thus far. I'm not alone in this season; others, mostly family members, are in it too. We're waiting for the other shoe to drop. Have you experienced a season like this? Where you cannot escape the (to coin a double entendre) "terminal awareness"? Where your thoughts constantly hover between the facts that our lives are finite, and that you can never, not for a moment, escape that reality?

I truly hope that it's not the new normal for me to wake each night, while the little world around me sleeps, and lie in bed pondering all the terrible potential scenarios of my own life and the people closest to me. I'm hoping that the night frets are just part of this *#!&?$ season. I suspect they are going to stick around for a long time, but I'd happily be wrong about that suspicion.

Either way, I haven't been up and out of bed really early for quite some time. This morning, though, I rose while darkness was still settled over our home. I poured a cup of coffee, began to do dishes, and noticed the overflowing recyclables container on the floor by the garbage. I'll take that out, I thought.

When I unchained the kitchen door and stepped out on the side porch, my eyes were instantly drawn upward, to the deep midnight-blue sky hanging above. I carefully, quietly deposited the items in our recycling container, then simply stood staring into the heavens. The night had been clear; stars stared back at me, some bright, some dim and twinkly, representing galaxies that were light years away.

Words to a church worship song popped into my head: "You made the stars in the sky, and you know them by name." I studied those hand-placed balls of fire and considered the power behind such arrangements. I thought again of my mortal nature here on Earth, of illness, of worry, of broken hearts and homes. It was still so dark outside.

And then, over the trees at the tip of the hilltop, a flash, a quick arc of light, there and gone in a fraction of a second. A shooting star. Not a star at all, but a piece of something, meteor, chunk of planet, whatever—being burned up. Dying. Ending.


And I thought to myself, that is the message for me today: that God is in this—even this.

I have to be reminded that God is in all things, not just the lollipops and unicorns of life. Not just the sunny days, not just the happy healthy moments. In all things, He is God. (I especially need this reminder in mid-winter. Bleeeech.)

I always get annoyed at people who say, "If we didn't have winter we wouldn't appreciate summer." I suspect, however, that there is some truth to that sentiment. My son had to read Tuck Everlasting, so I read along with him, about a family that accidentally drinks water from an eternal fountain. They can't die. And it's a burden to them, to be everlasting in this messed-up world with their human emotions and needs and pains. The book, while not my favorite, made me consider how pointless would be a life without end in this setting.

That's really all I have to say right about that. Oh, and this, which happened to turn up in my Daily Bread for today:

The Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. Isaiah 49:13

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Trusting in a season of loss

The past seven days have brought much loss—many endings. Some expected, some unexpected. All painful.

Summer (the school-free part, anyway) ended. My long stretch of no illness ended (thanks, stomach flu from hell). And on a more serious note, a few lives ended here on Earth. We lost an older woman my husband knew, mother to a close friend of his who preceded her in death, at 41, from cancer. I'm hoping he was there to greet his mom on her arrival. Another friend left us unexpectedly, of a heart attack. He was only a few years older than I am, and left a wife, children, and parents who never thought they'd outlast their youngest.

When people die at an old age, we can take some comfort in the length of their lives. When people die young? Suddenly? When widows are bereft with children still at home, and the one who is gone leaves big, gaping holes in many lives? There is honestly no comfort then, none that we can find here. It is tragic, and awful. No question.

I waver between acceptance, and argument. Why? I ask God. Why are evil people roaming, healthy? Why are sick, tired elderly clinging to life while elsewhere a young family mourns Dad?

There is no reply. I must return to acceptance: Acceptance of my place in this universe (quite lowly); acceptance of my gratitude that good people are among us at all, and I've been blessed to know them; acceptance of the fact that I have created nothing, and therefore have claim on neither the extension nor the snuffing out of life.

I know in my heart there is a Creator. I know He is great; I see His works and His wonders. I know the Holy Spirit is real, because I have heard that voice inside me, so sure and true and clear that it cannot possibly be attributed to any other source. I know that this world around me now is not a good one, that it is fueled and ruled by a force that wishes me to be discontent, depressed, disconsolate, and doubtful. Lastly, I remember who I was before I knew that Creator and his saving Son. She was a miserable girl, and I don't miss her.

So, I trust. I think of this hurtful place, in time and space, as a stop on a longer ride to my true destination. I will visit here, and find good here; I will try to be good here. I will also try to hold tight to promises of salvation, and an eternity of pure love and worship so fabulous that I cannot imagine it with my small, pea brain.

Sometimes faith, like contentment, is a choice.

Thursday, August 13, 2015


Always leave while you're still having fun.

That's it. Honestly, that's the mantra. So simple. And yet, so hard for some people to do.

I guess it began in the "early summer" of my lifespan, when I was venturing out at night with friends, winking at occasions and locations that skirted the edge of "trouble," and partaking of legal libations in said situations. I began to see that sticking around, late at night, usually resulted in my wishing I'd departed earlier. I had some friends, too, who never quite absorbed the truth of this realization—those people who never knew when to quit. Eventually, our different philosophies caused some tension at times... And then, we simply got older, and/or parted ways due to unrelated circumstances... and over-staying night-life events became a non-issue.

But I still fall back on that mantra. It's my own, it has served me well—and it's still true today. Although nowadays, we're not talking about clubs or parties. Now, it applies to family life: vacation, Kennywood, school events, picnics, canoe excursions. Leave while you're still having fun. Leave so that the good memories prevail, instead of being erased by memories of tempers flaring, or crowds surging, or sunburn and bug bites overtaking all else. Leave while you're still wide awake to drive home, before you overeat, or injure yourself pretending you're still youthful. Leave the park before you become nauseous from one more ride; depart the lovely beach before you have sufficient time to grow weary of sand in your undergarments. Be decisive, be disciplined, be a leader, and declare a finish time. Then, stick to it within reason.

Since I am the ruiner of fun in my home, this forthright task usually falls on me. Most of the unsavory tasks do. I'm at home more; it's inevitable. But I resignedly don my bleak crown.

Does this mantra work in all things? No, of course not. You can't apply it to marriage; there would be very few marriages remaining! You can't apply it to jobs, at least not on a daily basis. (However, I do believe that for those of us with choices, you can apply the mantra in a bigger way when you see an emerging pattern of unhappiness, dissatisfaction, or poor management in a workplace). You can't apply my fab mantra to family, either. You're sort of stuck there. I've learned the hard way, too, that you shouldn't apply it to church life within short spans. Some folks do, skipping from place to place each time they are bored or offended... only to find that other churches are full of flawed people, too. All of them.

I have found, though, that the melmantra makes sense for excursions of all kinds, and for hobbies and pastimes. My family grows weary of hearing it. I tire of repeating it. Yet, I think back on times when I did not apply it... And I press on.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Night-time patio writings by moonlight

In summer months, I ponder oft
Cuisines that I adore the most.
Fair Italy's tomatoes soft
And salty, rich on garlic toast?
Or olives dripping brine, so fine
Adorned with mozzarella roast?

Yet South America's spice, so bright—
The nutty, toothsome pop of corn
That with a bean, and pepper's bite,
Will many happy plate adorn?
A tomatillo green, so keen
To make its cousin red, forlorn?

How could I choose when both are best
Depending on the harvest's cull?
Whichever type of plate I've messed
Most recently is all in all,
Because it's clear that both are dear!
All day could I this subject mull.

It matters not; I'll love them both
When golden sun is high and hot.
For winter, bring on stew and broth,
Those remedies when cold is caught.
But icy gale? The sting of hail?
These things, my favorite foods know not.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Diplocat

So, our cat... Yeah, the one I mentioned in this post. She's become quite naughty of late. Little "surprises" have been left for us. She's done it before, but never with regularity until recently. (Let me say here that none of my past cats have ever partaken in such rudeness. Sigh.) Anyway, at first we thought it was a health issue, so we had various tests run; all was well. She's been put on various expensive cat foods, is now gluten-free for crying out loud, but to no avail. She is, quite simply, a very nervous and temperamental beast, but she's perfectly healthy.

Yes, she has an extra litter box. And yes, I clean it at least once daily. Sometimes the prizes she leaves are in very deliberate places, such as in front of her favorite person's workbench... or in my son's Croc sandal. Niiiiice. That makes me think she's letting us know when she's angry or hurt. Not that it makes her actions acceptable, mind you. Not at all.

I've thought many times of re-homing her. Of hurting her, even. In rage, as I spray yet more Resolve and pet scent remover (she never defecates in the same place twice), I've had fantasies of releasing her into the wild... And then, just as I ponder her unfortunate fate, she behaves herself again; she's incredibly cute and sweet, she rubs her scent on us, she shares a rare purr. I never forget how bad she is, but I do let it go and try to hope she'll stop her obnoxiousness. Until inevitably, she is obnoxious again.

I have declared, vociferously and repeatedly, that she is the last cat for me.

Except I keep meeting other cats that do not disappoint. Take my parents' awesome cat, for example: a delightful female who found them by appearing under an outbuilding one morning as a tiny kitten. That incredible cat hunts, stays outdoors, and never leaves inappropriate piles in places where someone is sure to step (unless you consider dead rodents to be inappropriate...) She's a great cat.

The most recent wonderful cat showed up at my son's piano lesson. As I sat on the "waiting couch" to read while my dude played for his teacher, here came a huge, solid-looking orange tabby with light green eyes. He jumped immediately onto the couch with me, proceeded to climb onto my lap, and then, oddly, he sat up and placed his two front paws over my left shoulder. Then he looked at me, imploring me to give the feline species another chance. I asked his name (Mozart—he does belong to a music teacher, after all), and we all chuckled at his very forward behavior. Mozie stayed with me for about 5 minutes, hugging my shoulder, gazing at me meaningfully while I rubbed the top of his head and neck. After a bit, he settled his heavy self next to me on the couch cushion, and napped while I read and the music played. I remembered that not every cat is as ungrateful and ill-mannered as mine. I felt a bit of the bitterness toward our own awful pet leave me, as the weight of that diplomatic orange fellow lifted from my shoulder.

She's still the last cat, though.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Jagoffs and jackaninnies

Driving in our fair city can be rather trying. In even the idyllic suburbs, well beyond Pittsburgh proper, it's quite clear that post-modern driving skills continue to decline rapidly. I'm not sure how some of these people were legally granted driver's licenses... Alas, they were.

I am not proud to tell you that my personal battle-of-the-potty-mouth is waged most strenuously when I am behind the wheel. (Hey, I'm not a sailor's daughter for nothing! It's a constant struggle.)

Lately, other drivers have been even more lax, more rude, and more self-absorbed and distracted than normal. So, I've come up with a whole slew of other words to use in place of the vitriol that springs to my lips after I am cut off yet again, or watch a person cross the center center repeatedly only to find upon passing them that they are texting illegally, eating a meal, or fixing their hair...

Jagoff is always a nice word to swap in, being specific to Pittsburgh and rather enjoyable to utter. Jackaninny works well, as does asinine person or simply "big git" (thanks, H. Potter, for that one!) I won't lie, though; none of these substitutes can deliver the same mean satisfaction that the true bad words offer... However, these weaker word choices also carry less guilt than the "real" words.

That is, they used to carry less guilt. Then, we were re-reading the big commandments in Exodus. The one about murder. And the other one about lust. And how even just thinking about such acts was pretty seriously bad.

Which took me to Matthew 5. There are various references therein about how out of the heart come evil thoughts, and how to look upon a woman with lust is the same as committing adultery with her... Which, of course, translates to the concept of speaking about a fellow driver with murder in my heart... Yep, even when I use my cutesy little psuedo-swear words, God knows what I meant. He knows my heart—and therefore knows the word that I was thinking when I subbed in a less offensive moniker for that other driver.

There goes my awesome plan to stay verbally pure while driving.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Excessively bitter tirade (EBT), and the new American dream

So, I've confessed many times that I'm a craigslist junkie—no need to revisit that point. I'll try to keep the rest of this post short, so as not to rant for too long.

I always look at the freebies on craigslist. It's how we landed our awesome couch, and a handful of other goodies. People are wealthy, or comfortable, or in a sticky situation that requires immediately unloading items that still hold value... For whatever reason, folks sometimes choose to simply give away perfectly good stuff. Craigslist is a treasure trove for cheapskates like me.

A few days ago, I saw that someone was giving away cooking magazines on craigslist, exceptional publications that mirror and complement a fascinating, high-level cooking show on PBS. I can't watch the show, as we don't have cable and we live at the bottom of a hill. I also can't justify ordering the publication because, frankly, I never follow the recipe anyway... Plus I have lucked into free, cast-off copies of this very magazine from friends who did subscribe... But then, they changed their subscription to an on-line version. Sad for me.

Alas, though, this someone on craigslist was unloading a bunch of the very same magazines! More recent printings, to boot. And the map showed that the giver was located very close to my favorite grocery store. Huzzah! I wrote a note, the giver responded, and the next morning on the way to shop, I swung by to pick up the magazines. There they were, on the spacious front entry of a stately brick home in a nicer section of our neighboring hamlet. I snagged the mags and went about my errands.

Later, as I unloaded my trunk of the car, I first put away frozen items and then quickly sorted the magazines by year. There were a bunch of them, not just my desired publication but also many other foodie mags, the pricey, glossy-covered seasonal editions that catch your eye at the checkout; most of them looked as if they'd never been opened. As I separated the items, I was shocked to find a couple of pieces of mail stuck between covers. One looked as if it might be a check, the other appeared to be an electronically generated pay stub for automatic deposit, and a piece of junk mail, too. I will drop this mail off at the correct house in the next few days, when I find myself in that area again. I will leave a note explaining where the pieces came from. Hopefully, the person will learn a valuable lesson about craigslist anonymity and how it's wise to remove personal items from anything you give away to strangers. (Duuuhhhhh.)

But then, as I emptied one bag of mags completely, I found a receipt. From Giant Eagle, one of southwestern Pennsylvania's prominent grocery chains. The receipt contained a few items: lunch meat, name brand kid drinks, that sort of thing. And I couldn't help noticing that the items had been paid for with an EBT card. I also couldn't help noticing that the card had already been used to purchase an alarmingly expensive amount of food, because (who knew?!) the receipt prints the card total used thus far in addition to the total for the current purchase. I'm guessing it's a per-month stipend, but I am not certain.

Okay, I know what you'll say. Perhaps this receipt, stuck in the bottom of a used plastic grocery bag, perhaps it got there by accident. But how? If those bags are reused, it's by the person who originally had them, yes? And if you do recycle plastic grocery bags, you take them to a recycle container at the Giant Eagle and shove them in there to be sent away to a plant and made like new. So how did that receipt get in there? I must conclude (perhaps wrongly I know, but let's be serious here) that the person who gave me the items was the same person for whom that receipt was generated. There is a very good chance that is the case. My assumption isn't ironclad, but it is likely.

In which case, I am left wondering how that can be. That nice big home, in a good neighborhood, and all those expensive magazines, ordered and purchased... then given away. It doesn't add up.

I have long been a supporter of separate purchasing facilities for recipients of government assistance. Maybe that sounds mean, but the fact that all stigma has been removed from the hand-out culture contributes, I feel, to the abuse of that culture. Requiring assistance here and there is human, but an able-bodied person requiring it as a lifestyle is ridiculous. If this person needs help with food costs, why don't they begin by shopping where I shop? I go there because it is cheaper. And maybe cutting out the name brand items would keep costs down, too. Name brands are not required for health and physical prosperity.

Then I argue with myself. Maybe that particular Giant Eagle store is the closest grocery to that person. But if the card-carrier is the person in that home, then my theory is not true. We live in Suburbia, for cryin' out loud—there are grocery stores handily located in every direction. And the grocery store that I frequent doesn't even HAVE those shiny magazines by the checkout.

Maybe I'm wrong, maybe that EBT receipt ended up there by some fluke. But if it belonged to the giver of all those magazines, purchased by someone hanging out in the fancy-shmancy Giant Eagle, buying name-brand items and spending over two times as much on food per month as we average here in our eat-in household? Then my suspicion that all these helpful systems are being abused is confirmed tenfold. I know abuse occurs, even without this proof. I have personally seen people qualify for WIC, over-buy, then give away the excess milk and other items so their allotment won't be reduced because of under-consumption. It is sickening. Needless to say, I have not yet accepted the handouts, from either abusers or the government.

I read an article about the death of America: the day that Oblamma was re-elected. I didn't want to believe that this great country was over, even though the statistics prove me wrong, as the contributors are now out-numbered by the receivers. Each day, however, I am being forced to accept the truth of this situation.

My only hope now? That my little family can achieve the new American Dream: finding a secluded, undesirable plot of land somewhere far from a city, and hiding out to live our quiet, low-cost life. We'll try to find a little community of faith wherever we end up, will stay in touch with family, will try to make friends with like-minded people, and we'll support those people in need and pray that they return the favor when the time comes... because that's the superior help system that preceded Big Daddy Government. That's who we would go to now, if need be; if I am forced to ask for help, I'd much rather seek it from people whom I know and respect.

We've enabled and trained up a majority population of lazy, helpless luxury-lovers. God help us.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Close calls, awful weather, and relativity

Most women have had a scare of some sort. My most recent fright came in a phone call yesterday, as I drove from errand to errand. I'd had a recent mammogram, (or as my friend calls it, the "#!* sandwich"—I'll let you fill in the blank with your choice of fitting words). I'd made it through; I'd been pinched and squeezed, told not to breathe, and oh so happily had been released into normalcy with the all-clear diagnosis.

And then. That phone call. My doctor had compared the current image with the last one from a few years ago... There was something new. Maybe harmless, maybe not. It required a closer look. My heart was pounding, blood rushed through my veins too fast, and all the while my son sat in the back seat of the Honda, listening, his presence forcing me to keep calm and control my voice. I would need to call the appointment maker back when I had my calendar handy, I said.

We arrived early at our last stop of the day, my son's orthodontist. Thankfully, they were able to fit him in quickly; while he met with the doc, I made the dreaded call back to the imaging office. Should I be worried? I asked. The woman attempted to talk me off a ledge while still not committing to any real answer... It was a tad discouraging, even though I could see her point of view. She simply wasn't able to promise me that all was well. That wouldn't have been realistic. We set up an appointment for the very next day. I don't know about you, but once I have a possible disaster looming over my head, I want the damned hammer to fall already—no point delaying impact. That's just how I roll.

We left the orthodontist's office; my son, who'd overheard the end of my appointment set-up call, began to lament about our family and its many medical needs. I immediately tried to set him straight. Whoa, I said, We do all right. What if one of us had cystic fibrosis, or asthma? What if breathing treatments were part of daily life? Or what if one of us were paralyzed, or an amputee? What if we had life-threatening allergies to something? Don't you think that might require a whole lot more medical care and doc visits? Well, yes, concurred the boy. We were pulling into the driveway by then, and the conversation ended.

The requisite "closer look" on the following morning turned out to be nothing. I am able to breathe again, while feeling new empathy toward the folks I know who received a different answer and piece of paper than the one I was given. Everything can change in a heartbeat. We get spoiled, living with and within normal; it's so much more pleasant to be oblivious to what might be lurking or what could have been. And by "we," I really mean "I."

Now, knowing that things are all right in there for today at least, I feel lighter than I did earlier this week. And that's a good thing, to feel lighter, because this horrid cold and snow has absolutely robbed me of all my natural vigor and buoyancy. We have been trapped inside, often at home, trying to be patient with nature, with each other, while we await a break. Spring, or temperatures above 10 degrees Fahrenheit, whichever comes first. Both would be met with great rejoicing at this point.

I guess getting a clean report at the imaging office is sort of like comparing our winter situation to Boston. Hey, look what we avoided, this time at least. Let's be thankful for what we have. Not the most upbeat perspective, I know—but sometimes I need a rather dramatic comparison in order to be able to view my situation honestly. I need to see my trial relative to what others are facing—and since I am a human, and therefore self-centered, my eyes work best when my personal comfort is threatened or removed. Again, for better or worse, that's how I roll.

All right, I'm finished waxing optimistic now. Remind me of all this after the next snowstorm, would you?

Friday, January 9, 2015


This incident happened several weeks ago, at the beginning of the height of Christmas shopping season. I have been mulling it over for weeks, and in light of what happened in Paris this week, I feel compelled to "go there."

I was in a Target department store in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. It was crowded, a Saturday I believe, and I was looking for a children's book to purchase as a gift. The books are located near the back of the store near the CDs, DVDs, and electronic gadgets, as you might know; I was perusing some titles, trying not be distracted by the 20+ televisions all playing in unison, when I saw a woman in full burqa coming past the TVs toward me.

I'm still rather surprised at myself, but I honestly freaked out. Truly. My heart began to pound, and I felt hot and cold all at once. I didn't want to stare, but I could see her easily without trying to, what with all that billowing black and all—I'm assuming it was a she, since I honestly had no way of knowing—and then I saw a fellow with her, dressed in regular American garb of course. Because he's a he. Yeah.

I can honestly say that I wanted nothing more than to get the hell away from them both. I'm not proud of this response; I certainly never expected to feel such a strong sense of absolute revulsion in the presence of a burqa, but I did. I could not move quickly enough to another section of the store.

As I walked with purpose toward the front of the building, every terrorist situation in my personal history came swirling to the forefront of my brain. The recent case of a man dressed as a burqa-clad woman, following an American into a bathroom in the Middle East and cutting her head off as she begged for mercy. Another woman, a grandmother leaving her factory job in Oklahoma, beheaded with a kitchen knife by a self-proclaimed muslim in the parking lot. Train bombings, attacks on innocent soldiers, bombings of marathon runners, machete-wielding crazy people targeting and executing journalists, suicide martyrs in the same black garb I'd just seen who walked into crowds of innocents and then proceeded to explode themselves and everyone near them.

I was ashamed for a moment. That isn't fair, my open-minded self thought. Maybe that burqa-clad woman is perfectly kind and placid; perhaps she is one of those peaceful Muslims I hear about. But I'll never know, because I was so absolutely repelled by her appearance and her man's presence that I fled. I didn't leave the store, but I separated myself completely from them because I didn't want them near me.

The more I thought about it, the more confused and conflicted I became. Should I have tried to meet her gaze just to see what sort of reaction I would get? Did I hurt her feelings when I immediately changed aisles? But even as I played through this brief memory, I was angry at the same time. Why did she wear that thing? Why did she have to be completely unrecognizable? Was she forced to do so? Threatened with violence if she did not comply? What sort of man would ask this of a person he loves? How can any human ask this of any other, even one they hate? Would I have even been allowed to speak to her without his permission? Who wants a wife or partner who's been dehumanized by the removal of any individuality, of any personal physical characteristics? And why were they in Target? Could they possibly find a store that better represents the "evils" of Western culture than Target?

The whole thing was so preposterous, and so unexpected, and so revealing of something in me, that I couldn't shake it off for days. Weeks.

Then, a few days ago, I had a revelation. I was thinking about the real-life burqa sighting (my first, you might have gathered,) and I'd just had a really good discussion with friends about the Holy Spirit. I suddenly wondered if that had been the Holy Spirit in me, reacting to that woman's outfit and situation. I pondered the possibility that the Holy Spirit, God's own interpreter and PR guy, had reared up in me and made it clear that this is a baaaaad thing—that the dehumanization of any person is wrong. It made sense to me that God, Who gives us free will even though He knows it will cost many their salvation—that same God might be offended by a severe religion that takes away freedoms and lives. After all, woman was made from man–not by man. I suspect that a God who loves each of us individually and equally, who died for us to be saved when we ask Him into our lives, would object to removing basic human rights, as well as removing the right to not choose a certain set of beliefs. He died for us to live, not so we could squash and murder at will any who are under us or do not agree with us.

I'm still not sure why I felt so strongly about her outfit. After all, it's just a big, dark, extremely concealing outfit. I only know that I reject any belief system that asks women to surrender everything they have and are to a man, including personal identity and rights—and I reject any religion that kills so freely, even its own members who do not perfectly align. (Do some research: many of the attacks are on fellow muslims.) I don't care whether that was my personal bias in Target, or the Holy Spirit; I want nothing to do with that code. I want it to stay far away from me. But I don't think it's going to cooperate.

All in all, it was a very disturbing image of America's future, and my own place in said future...

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


I'm no stranger to outbuildings. You know what I mean: sheds, of course. Or little barns, perhaps. Any extra structure, usually smallish in nature, erected away from the main dwelling place, would fit the description. The outbuilding might hold hand tools or mowers, animal feed or fertilizer (the bagged or boxed type, or maybe even the fertilizing critters themselves...) An outbuilding can hold hobbies, like a wood-working shop, or a mechanic's playground. Perhaps it houses an old project car or motorcycle; it might host a child's pals or collections, plastic bins brimming with memories. It holds things that won't fit in the house but that need to be kept safe.

My husband built a shed at our old home, a beauty, nestled in the lovely garden that he'd also created. The shed stood proudly, a sturdy 8x12 building that briefly contained all his yard goodies and a handful of mine. More recently, it held all the overflow from our home—the extra stuff that made our small house appear smaller, and which the realtor advised us to hide so that potential buyers would be fooled and would make offers on our spacious dwelling... That realtor was smart, because her plan worked and now the wonderful shed (a selling point!) is likely being thoroughly enjoyed by the current owner of the house. Sigh.

My childhood home sported two outbuildings while I was young, and each was unique in purpose and style. The "shed," aptly named, was the favored home of my father's gadgets and noisy machines, plus old toys, a cot from Grandma, our bikes. It looked like a small house, with a real door and windows; it was roomy, had rudimentary loft space above, and was crammed full (it still is). The other building was "the chicken house," because that's the purpose it had once served; this little gem was often stacked full of hay bales, to feed the hungry cows and then, later, two spoiled ponies. It also housed a round bin of grain, as well as various litters of kittens, stashed by their mothers in impenetrable corners, and likely an occasional lazy black snake.

These buildings at my parents' home have since been joined by yet another shed-like structure that lives behind the large cement-block garage. (Come to think of it, the garage may also count as an outbuilding, because it is separate, and playing home to the family Jeep is only half of its job.) I don't even know what's in this newest little shack, and I don't need to, because it's not mine. It is my father's.

(My father—both my parents, in fact—like to hold onto things. I try to shake off this tendency and intentionally migrate toward minimalism, although I can see validity in the opinion that just because you don't need something right now doesn't mean you'll never need it again. I suppose that if times change in America, and I am no longer able to easily and cheaply locate more copies of whatever I cast away in the past, then I'll need to find some outbuildings and begin clinging to as many items as possible. For now, I will keep trying to make regular trips to Goodwill and its many cousins in the charitable store world.)

I'm pondering those useful shacks because of what they do: they hold all of someone's extra stuff that won't fit within the normal perimeter of space. They are specific to the owner. What's contained within can be shared, or kept secret. A little building like that can remain locked for years, or be perused on a regular basis; it's personal and practical.

The reason I'm thinking about outbuildings, though, isn't just because I want one for our yard. I do. But my brain has been feeling too full of upsetting facts and feelings, and I could use more space somewhere to store it all. I don't need a physical realm in which to pile stuff; I just need an emotional outbuilding, where I could store all my extraneous upsets and worries and frustrations and unanswered questions. If I could get them out of my regular storage space, then maybe I could improve my day-to-day functions. I could address freelance work, a commissioned painting, my son's school and shopping tasks, all without accidentally knocking down the shelf where I store the thoughts about the world, my family, illness. I could pay bills without having to rearrange the pile of concerns about ISIS; I wouldn't have to stop working so that I can re-order the now-confused observations about where America is heading. I could take all those extra burdens that are slowing down my processor (brain) and place them in neat, tidy, compartmentalized outbuildings for my head. Then, I could go about my business and stop being reminded of all that mental clutter because I accidentally bumped into it while looking for necessary information buried in the gray cells.

I don't have Dumbledore's pensieve, and therefore I need a thought shed, or two, or five. And I need locks on them. And loads of space inside. If only I could purchase something like that at Lowe's.