Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Slogging through the store aisles populated by a harried mom pushing an over-filled cart from which children dangle precariously, a man standing like a deer in headlights in front of the jewelry counter seeming in search of the perfect gift for "her", children standing awestruck and full of hope as they gaze at the latest hot-ticket item that every kid who is worth anything will have waiting under the tree in another few days, I plastered a big smile on my face trying to manufacture a feeling of joy and anticipation of the upcoming Christmas holiday.  It isn't that I am not looking forward to it - it's more facing the holiday with a new life circumstance. Things are not the same as they used to be.... thank goodness.  So, everything seems sort of new and foreign this holiday season.
As I threaded my cart through the masses, I noticed something kind of weird.  Every now and again, I would run across a post-it note plastered to the floor in the midst of the detritus of a Midwest winter.  Each had something written on it - some of the messages were tentative, some emphatic, some cryptic.  On a bright blue one - DON'T FORGET THE COD!  A Day-Glo orange note sported "Aunt Sue's top secret banana cream pie recipe.... the rest was blank..  Green quietly listed the following - light bulb, turpentine, ironing board cover, oreos - ?  A pale yellow stickie added this to the mix:  PGU 2235 - check parts.  There was even a rather plaintive "help me!". 
As I went down aisle after aisle that stocked nothing that was on my list, I experienced a feeling of expectation. What would I find next?  The smile on my face was no longer forced  I didn't see anymore notes until I was leaving the store.  On a pretty beat up looking post-it, written in very precise, intensely legible script:  Chase Bank, Account Number ########### , PIN - 73564 - deposit $2000.00.  Feeling the milk of human kindness flowing through my veins, I picked up the note, tore it into little pieces and tossed it in the garbage can just outside the door. The Christmas Spirit appears to be taking hold.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

It was a dark and stormy night.....

The winds shrieked like a woman who has just learned her beloved is a germy cheat. The forecast had called for flurries, but looking at the white-out conditions from the dining room window, she was pretty sure someone on the "storm team" should be fired - or worse.  It felt decadent to be so cozy and warm, snuggled into the too-big sweater that was pulled out for all manner of occasions calling for comfort - feeling punky, getting over a heartbreak, not wanting to pay the gas bill for frivolously turning the thermostat to 68 degrees.  The slipper socks with the faux leather soles purchased at Kohl's were a nod to her mother who used to knit slipper-socks rather like them for her to wear in cold weather. Sipping  a cup of hot cocoa  she looked around the dining room - at the papers scattered across the table, bills, to-do lists, requests for donations to find a cure for cancer, feed the hungry, stop violence, run crooked politicians out of office, etc....  Did anything ever really get done?  No matter how much she tried to keep this all in check, it seemed to multiply two-fold for each thing she actually got done.  Very discouraging.  She picked up one of the marshmallows sitting next to the cup of hot cocoa and popped it in her mouth.

A sharp rap on the front door brought her out the chair she was sitting in at the end of the table - one of the chair arms bit into her thigh as she moved toward the door.  She couldn't imagine who it could be at this hour. She glanced up at the wall clock and saw it was only 7:30 p.m.  Reaching for the door handle, she was startled by a second hard rap on the door. She stepped back from the door, absentmindedly rubbing the sore spot on her leg.  There were windows in the door with glass that let in the light but distorted the view of what or who was on either side of it.  She hadn't turned on the porch light when it started getting dark, but she could see there was someone or something very large standing on the other side.  The third knock was hard enough to rattle the glass and she finally just grabbed the doorknob and pulled open the door to find a large man holding a shovel and looking cold and miserable.

He looked a bit comical wrapped up like the mummy against the weather. "Can I .... ?" She could almost see the words being ripped out of the air by the punishing gusts of wind.  Huh?  "Can I shovel your walk?' he said gruffly looking a little annoyed.  Is he kidding?  The blizzard was keeping most of the snow pressed nicely against the side of her house, the side of the car, the sides of everything.  The walk was surprisingly clear. The cold was cutting through her sweater and she wanted to slam the door to keep the house at it's normal constant 64 degrees.  What was this guy thinking?  She started to say "Thanks, but no" when she noticed that in the space of time she had taken to determine she didn't need this guys services, he had adjusted his stance and was now poised, shovel over his head appearing to look straight through her.  She yelped a pathetic sound and ducked, at the same time trying to shove the door closed with her slipper-shod foot, as she saw him begin to bring  the shovel down rapidly toward her head.  There was a thunderous sound as the shovel hit it's mark....

She jumped almost out of her skin as the shovel crashed down on a spot just to the left of where she was standing. She tried to swear at the mummy man, but it was hard to get even a word past her pounding heart currently lodged in her throat.  On the floor, under the blade of the shovel, was a small, spreading pool of what looked like blood - very grisly.  Looking up the handle of the shovel, up past the big hands that held it and the arms the hands were attached to, she locked eyes with the would-be sidewalk clearer. He looked expectant - perhaps waiting for a thank you.  With comically raised eyebrows she asked, without words, what the heck had just happened.  He raised the shovel off the floor and dunked it into the snow at the side of the porch.

Just inside the door there was now a puddle of goo and unidentifiable material.  What was it?  The man no longer appeared menacing and was standing looking at the floor too.  Her lips pulled back in disgust, she slowly bent down to get a better look.  Her knees crackled as she got down to a squat and she had to put a hand on the door jamb to steady herself.  Peering at the floor she suddenly burst out laughing.   The victim of the shovel attack was the toy she had bought for her cat a while back.  It was a big rat on wheels - wheels hidden so that when the thing moved across the floor it had an eerie life-like quality.  It had scared the cat and he would only deign the interact with it long enough to knock it away from him - which he must have done tonight in the midst of the goings on at the front door, sending the toy boldly into the line of fire and to it's doom. The unexpected guest at her door had acted the hero.

Now looking at the carnage, she became aware that the still spreading puddle was some sort of dark, thickish fluid filling in the toy that made it all soft and rodenty  She laughed again. Her laughter appeared to have an impact on the man on the porch.  He looked perturbed and unappreciated.  She stood up, crackling and popping,  explained her mirth and thanked him for his gallantry.  His face, previously pinched with irritation, broke into a warm smile and he let out a great gust of laughter that was quickly cut off by another intense blast of wintry air. After a moment's consideration, she invited him to step inside for a cup of hot cocoa and to warm up a bit before continuing his evening.  He accepted and as she started toward the kitchen to get something to clean up the mess, she rubbed the sore spot on her thigh, turned briefly and said, "leave the shovel outside."

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Things I worry about in church

When I attend services at my church, I always go in with the best of intentions.... I am going to get there early so that I can really meditate on the presence of God in my life, I'm going to say all those prayers I keep meaning to say, I am going to be good and holy and - hmmmm, is that someone talking very loudly in the confessional?  Alright, get back on task. Plug your ears and start being holy.  I browse through the bulletin in hopes of getting my mind right.  A man comes in and sits down in front of me and I start noticing the lint in his hair, the frazzled edges of his suit coat, the faint smell of cigarette smoke and booze wafting off of him... Focus!  Then there is the cute little girl  two rows ahead of me with her index finger buried two-knuckles deep in her right nostril - Wow, she going to pull out gray matter.  She's very hard to look away from and I find myself making faces at her and trying to get a reaction.  She's seems dedicated to her task - maybe there's a lesson there for me.  I shake my head as if to clear it and start looking at the iconography around the church.  It is beautifully crafted and draws me in and I find myself back on the sainthood track. My inner voice is telling me that if I can just sustain this moment.... and then, in walks a woman with impossible shoes on.  I am at once immensely impressed that she can remain upright in the things - they must have 4 inch heels and enough straps and buckles to qualify as some sort of torture devices and greatly concerned that she will not make it through the service... please, please, please help me to stop being so distracted by, well, everything.  If I'm going to be pulled off task, can't it be for something selfless and charitable. 
I wonder if anyone notices that I always sit in the exact same spot (mostly out of anxiety and the need to know what to expect).  I marvel that I have been coming to this same church for lots and lots of years and there are still people I know by sight but couldn't tell you their names to save my life. I worry about whether I will fall or find out I have a big hole in my pants when I get up to go to Communion, what if something really goes wrong.... and then I get concerned about being concerned because I am not supposed to worry, I am supposed to trust in God, and I do, but...
I always feel such a sense of accomplishment and relief when services have concluded.  Like I made it though a firing line and while I may have some shrapnel wounds, I'm alive.  The goofy thing is, this is not exclusive to attending church services.  I experience much the same thing, leaving the house for work, going to the grocery, showing up at a restaurant to meet someone, etc... Life is beautiful and a lot of work. I'll be two rows up digging unselfconsciously in my nose.

Hopping on a float in the parade of life

Someone asked me recently "if life is a parade, why would someone want to hop onto your float?"  HUH? I was struck dumb which may have been the desired effect.  I not only couldn't come up with an answer to the question, I got all caught up and nervous about what my float would look like, and would it have to be visible to other people, was it going to be graded, etc....  I remember stammering and trying to organize my thoughts quickly enough to come up with some clever, self-deprecating response.  Nothing.  The person asked me to just think about it for a while and get back to him. 
Having considered the question for almost two weeks now, I am still at a bit of a loss.  If life is a parade... Well, I guess it sort of is. Everyday you get out and march into the world to do your thing, whatever it is, being who you are. Maybe the better question is "if life is a parade, why would I want to stay on my own float?"  I've spent a good deal of time in this parade jumping off my float and pretending I'm embarrassed by it, feeling like it isn't really all that and being grateful when I'm invited to hop on someone else's float.  On other's floats I have invariably found that what looks very attractive and inviting before I hop on turns out to be a artful, carefully constructed facade .  When you're up there, you see all the glue, feathers and crepe paper, all the underpinnings that help produce the desired effect.  I'm sure my float is no different to others up close.
When I make the decision to jump off one of those floats or when I get kicked off or crowded out, I am initially reluctant to get back up on my own.  It seems foreign - all scary and weird and, just like with other people's floats, I am much more aware of all the draping, soft lighting and other screens I've used to create it. It isn't perfect but when I get myself  back on it, I realize it's pretty okay in spite of the visible dents and dings and the attempts to cover them. It's mine and it's home.  I'll have to spend some time thinking about the first question and maybe reflect a bit on who it is I'd like to have hop on my float in the parade of life.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Snow days

I wish adults got snow days.  When I was a kid, one of the best things about snowy weather, aside from going out and playing in it, was waiting by the radio on a cold, snowy morning wishing so hard to hear my school name being rattled off with the rest of the schools that would be closed that day due to weather conditions.  If it wasn't, I felt life was very unfair - like I'd been cheated out of something. If it was, there was such a sense of relief.... whew, don't have to bother with that today... what am I going to do with this found time? Almost certainly I would not use it to do the schoolwork I had already put off far too long.  Why waste a perfectly good snow day?
As an adult, I notice that, when the weather turns snowy, icy and windy, still I have a sense of anticipation that perhaps a snow day will be called. I don't think it's ever happened yet.  It's not that I am a doctor or a street department employee. It's that my employer apparently expects me to make an adult decision about whether I can safely get to and from work every day.  If I determine that I can't, my employer expects me to make appropriate arrangements to get the work rescheduled for a day in the near future when the weather is less potentially lethal.  What a concept! Perhaps I'll get a snow day after all.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

My computer is listening to me...

Imagine my surprise the other day to find out that my computer has a speech recognition software program on it.  I was deep into making excuses to my writing coach about how it would be easier for me to write if I could just say the things I wanted to say and have someone/something take down the words so that I could edit them later.  In the midst of this brilliant excuse for not being able to write, the coach tells me to type "speech recognition" into the search bar on the start menu of the computer.  Lo and behold, up pops proof that my last lame excuse for not writing has just been blown out of the water.  It turns out the software is a standard part of Windows Vista. 
I cautiously clicked the link to open the program and was greeted with an option to enable it.  I did.  The software assured me that before I could do anything of any consequence with this program,  I would need to have a microphone, preferably a headset for proper boom positioning.  After a series of clicks and whatnot, I was directed to a tutorial that would teach me how to operate the program so that I could become the writer I had always told people I was.  There was much info about how to train my computer to listen to me, recognize to peculiarities of my speech patterns and even anticipate what I might have meant to say when it couldn't understand me.  At the end of the tutorial, an ominous message blinked letting me know that it was important to be aware of the settings for the program.  If I was not careful, "the computer will listen to everything I say".  Holy cow!  I wasn't too concerned about this because I didn't even have a mic yet.
So while I was laughing with my coach and trying desperately to come up with some other reason I couldn't possibly write, I heard a "blip" - I looked over at the computer screen and there at the top was a little box with a message..."Listening...."  EEP.  I think I might have screamed or at least gurgled in shock. That's when I found out that the computer also comes equipped with a mic.  Probably not as sensitive as the headset with proper boom positioning type, but sensitive enough apparently. 
We figured out how to put the computer to sleep (ostensibly it could not listen to me while it was sleeping) and then I whispered to my coach... "I think to make is start listening, I have to say (tone lower still) 'start listening'."  "Blip" .... again with the little message at the top of the computer screen "Listening....".  Terrifying.
That's a pretty good mic.
I spent the next couple of hours training my computer and messed around with using voice commands to open and navigate within a variety of applications/programs.  It was very cool and before I went to bed, I made sure the computer wasn't just sleeping but was off. 
Then, today, I started writing.

Beautiful people at the grocery store

Woke up this morning at 8:00 and tried desperately to go back to sleep.  The dog wasn't having any part of it having divined during the night that it had snowed and there were fresh tracks to make.  I let her out and was standing patiently in the kitchen waiting for the kettle to whistle so I could make a cup of decaf instant.  While I was standing there, I recalled being at the grocery yesterday in the midst of the "pre-storm rush" - the phenomonon brought on by local weather people announcing anticipated snowfall and everyone and their brother racing to the store to buy up all the essentials (bread, milk, eggs, etc...) - and really being struck by the variety and beauty of the human being.
As I walked down the chip aisle (I wasn't there for the pre-storm rush), a very dapper man of about 4 feet, 5 inches was loading his cart with Mountain Dew and pretzels.  His hair was whitish-gray and carefully styled. He wore a camel colored walking coat - long.  I am pretty sure if he had spoken, he would have had a British accent. The Dew was pretty high up on the shelf and I was going to offer him a boost, but he had already figured it out.  He braced the cart next to shelf, climbed up the back of the cart and collected his carbonated beverages.  Very graceful.  I remember wondering if he was going to need dip for the pretzels because the store stocks that pretty high up too. 
In the canned foods aisle was a group of teenagers - about three of them and probably siblings.  They were cute - dressed in goofy stuff that is stylish right now - baggy pants, bright red shoes, too tight shirts.  The impression I got was that their mother had sent them to do the shopping.  They had a list, but the conversation revolved around convincing whomever had sent them that much of what was on the list wasn't in stock and coming up with ways to explain the overload of Hostess Snack Cakes in the grocery bags ... "They are on sale 5 for $5 and they do have dairy in them, I think".  I was going to nod encouragingly but they had moved to more promising areas of the store. 
Making my way up to the check out lane, I was cut off by a woman with wild hair - it was every possible color or seemed to be, and stuck out it all directions.  She was dressed in shredded jeans and a black leather jacket fringed with faux fur around the collar.  She seemed so confident I could hardly be upset at her almost taking off the toes of both my feet with her cart.  I felt like I should apologize for getting in her way... and I think I did.  She turned the cart into one of the check out aisles on two wheels and stopped it abruptly about a millimeter from the person in front of her in line, plucked one of the rag mags off the rack and started flipping through it like she was at the doctor's office.  Wow.
While I waited in line to pay for my things, I noticed the people at the register -about two people ahead of me.  The clerk was being very pleasant and helpful with them - it was an older woman, maybe 60-ish and a man who could have been her husband or son, it was hard to tell.  They were both grizzled looking.  She had a scarf around her head and her complexion was grey.  She was heavy set and had used one of those motorized carts to get around the store. She paid the clerk and sat back down on the laden motorized cart.  The man was gaunt with heavy whiskers on his face - long greasy grey curls of hair hanging out from under the edges of the fur lined hat on his head.  He was wearing a parka that looked like several other people could have fit in with him and he just kept shrugging his shoulders at something the woman kept saying to him.  They stopped at the lottery machine on their way out of the store and bought a ticket.  Hope it's a winner.
As the clerk was ringing up my stuff, she asked some questions about my day, the weather and if I'd found everything okay.  She's very good at her job, big smile on her face for whomever she was waiting on and polite.  She gracefully rang up the items, told me my total, bagged everything all without seeming to have moved at all.  When I signed the slip and held up my credit card so she could compare the signatures, she said, "Aw honey, I know who you are."  For some reason when I walked out of the store I felt pretty happy - like I belonged.

Friday, December 3, 2010

What goes "hahaha plop"?

Someone laughing his head off.... I don't know why, but that joke still makes me laugh like an idiot.  I think I first heard it as a child - probably from one of the little prizes out of a Cracker Jack box.  It's been my personal crusade since to keep it current - ?  There are usually one or two reactions to this joke:  1) a low groan usually followed by a hastily mumbled excuse for needing to be somewhere else right away, or 2) a genuine laugh that brightens the immediate area a little or a lot.  Such a simple and pretty silly joke.  No cuss words, no sexual innuendo (at least not that I ever noticed).  Just pure silliness.  I have found that some of the least amused have been the age range between about  12- 17 years closely followed by parents/teachers/bosses/etc.. these are people who tend to be very serious and who frown upon silliness.  Silliness is underappreciated.  Perhaps my new crusade will be champion silliness in general instead of just  this joke.