Posted in Life As I Know It

Notes to My 17-Year-Old Self

I’m trying to rebound from some bug I was blessed with yesterday and not feeling full of ideas to write on, so forgive me if I pick a familiar theme to dwell on today.

Well into my 40s, I am still a major work in progress—not even close to being “finished,” which I don’t think is even possible—at least before the grave. As I share on my About page, I’ve learned a bit late in the game that being broken open is better than keeping everything sealed tight. At 17, I wasn’t about to let anything get close enough to even risk a crack in my facade.

Boy did I (and do I!) have a lot to learn.

Here are some notes I would share with my 17-year-old self:

Stay away from perms. They are not your friend.

 

Poodle Pic

 

Embrace your body—it deserves more credit than you give it. In years to come, you will look back and shake your head at what you once considered “fat.”

Know that several of the friends you cherish now will still be in your life in years to come. Let them in more than you do. It won’t kill you. In fact, you’ll be glad you did. But you are stubborn, and you won’t learn this for many more years.

 

friendsC

 

There are certain people in your life you will never be able to please. Stop trying so hard. It’s more than okay for your life to be a little bit about you.

Those internal battles you face? Those struggles that mess with your head? They have names. They are called anxiety and depression, and once you understand that they are truly things that you can strive to manage—and it’s not just you—the world will start making better sense.

There is such a thing as being loyal to a fault. You will wish you knew this now rather than later.

Love Dad even more…get as many hugs as you can. He will be gone in a mere four years.

 

new mexico 87

 

You’ve got such a tight lid on things that you don’t even know the depths of this, but you are a mess—not messy, but a mess—and that’s okay. Really. It will take many years for you to realize that there is no merit in acting or thinking otherwise. And many years for you to embrace your messiness and realize that this is one of the best things that will happen to you.

You will walk many different paths in life. Each will lead you to the next right step, even though it is not obvious at the time. Please don’t feel the pressure to find that one calling in life that defines you. You are meant to live your life in chapters, and each one will have merit.

Brace yourself: you are not in control of things. You will learn this lesson (time and again) through a number of twists, turns, and crises that “you” did not plan. But it’s life. Let it happen. Give over the control you never really had. You will not understand how God works. Which is perfectly okay because if you did understand everything about God, he wouldn’t be God. Surrender to that. Surrender to him.

Let love in.

Start with yourself.

You have and are going to have some really awesome people in your life. You are blessed. Remember that when the really crappy people pull you down. Don’t let them grab hold. The Awesomes will not be defeated.

And, finally, you are a lovable knucklehead. If you could be brave now and learn to be vulnerable, life will be much different for you. Instead, you will wait until you’re a much older woman to face that challenge, and it will be harder to teach the old dog new tricks.

But you are one resilient kid. You’ll figure it out…eventually.

PS—invest in these things that are up and coming called “personal computers.” You won’t be sorry.

Posted in Life As I Know It

Don’t Duck, Goose!

While I was in the bathroom yesterday morning, my son came knocking with a, “Mom! What do you feed a baby goose?!” Of course, I wondered why this question was of such urgency, and he informed me that there was a baby goose in our front yard.

I’m sure most moms know the next line of this script: “I’ll be right out,” I told him.

 

purple cropped_tag

 

In the couple minutes it took me to get to the yard, our little feathered friend had moved to the next yard over—which was being mowed by big landscaper mowers. My husband pointed me in the right direction, and I could already hear the little one’s cries over the white noise of the mower.

The landscaper knew we were trying to help the little bugger who, for simplicity’s sake, I will now refer to as Gus. Gus the Goose. He wasn’t quite a baby goose, though, more like a toddler or tween (beyond “gosling”—and I don’t mean Ryan—I am not up on my goose terminology). So the landscaper scooped up Gus, who was ensnared in some tall weeds, and gently set him down on our side of the fence.

Little Gus freaked.

He cried and ran around, well—for lack of an appropriate goose cliché—like a chicken with his head cut off.

No matter how slowly we moved or sweetly we cooed to him, he wanted nothing to do with us. The trouble was, he couldn’t fly, and unless he wanted to live in our yard until that day where his wings would lift him, he needed our help.

Unlike the wonderful nature shows filled with men and women who are extremely knowledgeable about wildlife, our little group’s best instinct was to offer water and some sunflower seeds along with some calming and reassuring voices.

Shockingly, Gus did not speak English. If we approached two steps, Gus frantically waddled seventy.

Eventually he resigned himself to his panic and fear and the seeming futility of it all. He waddled to the corner of our house by the glider door, nestled down, and ducked his little beak under a row of siding.

 

Vito and Gus

 

Our dog, Vito, as you can see, offered up a welcoming committee that Gus denied.

Here he was, needing help, having people want to help him, and all he could do was poop on our deck.

After he rested a few, we planned to pick him up and put him over our fence to set him free.

Still not speaking English, Gus freaked again.

He ran to the far corner of our yard, which has a compost hill, and climbed it. It wasn’t tall enough for him to make his escape, though, and while my husband moved in to scoop him up, poor Gus just jammed his head through the hole of the chain-link fence—as if maybe if he tried hard enough, his whole body would pop through.

He pretty much looked like a tween goose in the stockade.

 

Vito close_tag

 

But while he was in his own self-imposed stocks, my husband scooped him up and set him out of our yard.

Now he had his freedom, but…what would that mean? Little Gus on his own? My son and husband jumped the fence to follow Gus and make sure he could find his way to our nearby lake.

Within minutes, they came back and shared that they hadn’t made it to the lake because on the way, there was a group of adult geese that Gus ran into. It didn’t seem like his family, they said, because the geese didn’t exactly welcome him. No, first…they pecked him. I guess there is actual meaning behind the term “pecking order”! And once they pecked him a couple of times, they let him stay.

Now, I don’t speak Goose, just like Gus didn’t know English, but I’d like to think that that was their way of saying, “You can stick with us, just know your place,” because my guys said that after that, they all just kept on waddling.

 

bird feeder_tag

 

It was time to exhale. Our little Gus had found his adoptive family, or at least picked up with a group that might show him the way back home.

After all of the excitement, I got to thinking—how many times had I, like Gus, been unable to see the helping hand extended to me? How many times had I ducked my figurative beak into a wall and hoped the problem would go away?

Gus was offered help all along—from the kind landscaper to our clumsy family—but he was too scared to be able to trust the offer. How many times and in how many ways have I been running around squawking and essentially running away from help, just like our little goose?

Someday Gus will make it to flight stage. He will be able to soar and swoop and see the world in a whole new way. I doubt that he’ll remember that before he could fly, he needed a little lift from a family of strangers…but I’d like to think that somewhere in his birdbrain he does have a little less fear and a slightly better understanding of the world around him.

Just like me.

Posted in Soapbox

It’s Not About the Burgers

flag star
A star from my father’s flag.

It’s that time of year where we speak of “the kickoff to summer,” as we celebrate a long weekend and fire up the grill…

But it’s not about the burgers, is it?

Of course, it is a great opportunity to hang out with family and friends and enjoy time together–but if we don’t stop to remember why we have this day off, well, then…we miss out. Memorial Day isn’t just an arbitrary Monday off in the US.

It’s so much more than that.

Since I post to this blog on Mondays, I knew that there would be a post of mine from last year’s Memorial Day. In looking back at it, it still pretty much says what I feel about this day, so I’m going to share it here again. I hope that you will find it worth a few minutes of your time. And I hope that you make the time to remember this day for its true intent: to honor the fallen who gave their lives so that we might be able to live ours in freedom.

[To the international readers who grace me with your visits–thank you! And I hope you can understand and appreciate my focus on today’s American holiday of Memorial Day.]

 

On This, We Can Agree

Originally published 5.27.13

Most people recognize that today’s America is extremely polarized. Hostile camps are set up on pretty much every issue, to the point where our government can’t even work together to solve very solvable problems, and our population is all too comfortable denigrating one another’s views. But on this—I hope, I pray—we can agree: we thank and honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. And we are grateful to all those who serve.

crosses at cemetery on Memorial Day
Thanking and remembering ALL.

Memorial Day was created after the Civil War to honor both Union and Confederate soldiers who died in that war. (And, of course, it has evolved to honor all Americans who have died in military service.) But perhaps its origin should be a lesson to us today—that extremely opposite sides can come together to honor the sacrifices made for this blessed country of ours.

I don’t mean to be simplistic about this at all. War is certainly not just good vs evil. Sometimes it is not even right. But no matter what the gray areas are of any given conflict, we must always remember that we have people who say, “I will risk my life for this”—and the “this” is ultimately the freedom we Americans enjoy—warts and all.

My dad served in World War II. My father-in-law was present at the Cuban Missile Crisis. I never got to know a cousin of mine because he died in Vietnam when I was just a baby. I have friends and neighbors who bravely serve and have served. Hundreds of thousands of people who don’t even know me are taking care of business on my behalf.

Thank you all.

I pray that as a country we strive to be better people every day, and that we grow in acceptance, respect, and love for one another. To me, anything less is a dishonor to those who have given us their all.

Thank you.
Thank you.
Posted in Life As I Know It

I Should Have Asked for a Horse

horse 2Though I don’t get sick a whole lot these days, I definitely did as a kid. The kind of sick where I would have to miss a week or two of school. It wasn’t very fun at all.

Thankfully, with the help of immunity boosters, I eventually grew out of it, and by my sophomore year of high school was ecstatic that I received my first perfect attendance certificate. My friends thought I was nuts to be happy about that, but I knew how wonderful it was to have that many days of health in a row.

But let’s get to the hamsters.

During one of my bouts of illness when I was about seven or eight, I needed to go to the emergency room because I wasn’t doing very well. While lying on the hospital bed, I watched my mom and dad talking to the doctor, and when my dad looked over at me, my little arm went up and a weak little finger wagged him over.

“What is it, Honey?” he asked. And in what must have been an awfully endearing yet pathetic moment, I mustered the energy to whisper, “Dad…can I please have a hamster?”hamster 3

“Baby, you can have anything you want…” and he kissed my forehead and went back to the doctor. Though I was happy to have gotten the “yes” I wanted, I thought to myself, “Anything? Shoot, I should have asked for a horse!”

But it was the hamster I had asked for, and my dad kept his word.

Once well, we went to the pet store and picked out two hamsters—one for me, and one for my older sister.

They were just adorable—and so cute in their little Habitrail home and bubble ball to roam in.

habitrail

But then the bloodshed came.

My sister’s hamster killed mine one day while I was at school. My mom took the remaining one back to the pet store and announced “I have a murderer in my car.” The clerk said he would take that one home and care for it while he replaced both hamsters for us.

We were back in business.

(Let me just make a side note and say that this wasn’t the first time my sister’s pet kicked the crap out of my pet. Before our hamster days, we had two dogs that “went to the farm” because her dog wouldn’t stop attacking mine. Hmmm. But that’s for another day.)

Back to the hamsters.

Our two new ones were off to a great start—until the male ate the brand new babies one morning. That was absolutely awful to find their chewed up little pink carcasses in the corner.

Who knew there was so much to learn about these little furballs?

After that episode, we read up on what to do when the female gives birth and then they had a successful litter. It was hard finding good homes for all of the hamsters when the time came, but it was a good lesson, too.

hamster 4

I guess you could call this the blissful period of our hamster days.

As time went on, the male died, and we only had Tinker, the mama, remaining with us. All was well, until one day when she just wasn’t moving. She appeared to be dead.

My dad felt awful as he realized that he had used an oil-based paint nearby where her Habitrail was, and that the fumes had probably killed her.

With great solemnity, he wrapped her in newspaper, placed her in the garbage, and told me about it. (Had I been the one to discover her, I would have fought for a proper burial!)

Late that night, my mom was reading the hamster book when she read that hamsters sometimes go into hibernation.

Though it was the middle of July, my mother and father dug the hamster out of the garbage, started a fire in the fireplace and placed her stiff little body near it to warm her and bring her back to life.

And they waited.

And waited.

Let’s just say little Tinker was in permanent hibernation.

This concluded the hamster chapter of our lives.

Yep, I should have asked for the horse.

Though the housing would have required much more than a Habitrail, I’m pretty sure that these other horrific occurrences would have been avoided, and I would have been riding free through the meadows of life.

horse

Well…a girl can dream, can’t she?

Posted in Life As I Know It, Wit's End

A Time Coma

Attributed to http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Alain_rHaving spent my freshmen year of college at a Big Ten campus where parties abounded, I had no need for a fake ID—there was always something going on somewhere. But sophomore year led me to living on campus in Chicago, where tons of wonderful establishments needed an ID for entry. On my first night out, though, I didn’t need one. Here’s why.

My new co-ed friends told me there was this “must go” all-ages party at a bar called Frankie’s—no ID needed—so…come on! And I did. But when we got there, sure enough there was a bouncer at the front door. Some of my new friends were 21, and the rest had IDs that said they were…I was the only thing in the way of all of us having a good time. Well, hell, I wasn’t going to let that stop us! So I walked up to the bouncer and handed him my driver’s license that showed I was 19.

I had no idea how I was going to play it.

He looked at it. Then he looked at me. Then he looked back down at it again. Finally, he raised his head, squinted, and said, “Uh…this says you’re only 19.”

“I know,” I replied. “…I was in a coma.”

Now, I don’t know where this came from, but out my mouth it flew. Like somehow time doesn’t count on your license if you’re unconscious?? This made no sense. If this wasn’t a sure way to get pointed to the curb, I don’t know what was. Apparently, though, my cocksure way of saying it threw the bouncer, and he looked at me and almost challenged me with his next words of wisdom. “Oh, yeah? For how long?” he asked, studying me.

What? Was there still a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel?? “I don’t know,” I said with irritation. “I was in a coma…”

My friends were off to the side watching in quiet amazement wondering what could possibly be the next round in this goofy volley of words.

I’m not sure what was going through this guy’s head—confusion, bad math, or what—but he gave me one more intense look and said, “Well, okay, but…just this once.” And…he let me through. My friends and I went on our merry way to have some serious fun, and the story lived on as legend.

After that experience, I realized I needed an ID if I wanted to continue going out. After all, how many times is the “I was in a coma” line going to work?!

[Side note: kids if you’re reading this, please know that a fake ID is not a good choice to make. It’s kind of actually illegal. There’s plenty of fun for you to have in other ways. (And they make driver’s licenses way too hard to alter these days!)]

But this story is not about my fake ID. (Maybe that’s for another time?)

Indulge me for a moment as I touch on something metaphorically here—and pardon me if I go Existentialist for a few. In thinking about this story, it made me think how we can sometimes let ourselves slip into a time coma.

clockTime flies…in epochs, really. Perhaps it is because I am getting older and life is posing so many different kinds of challenges that I feel that the swirl of life is becoming a black hole.

Chunks of time just go…and I look back and think what am I doing? Where did the lost time go? Where is life taking me? How do I wake up and slow things down so that life doesn’t get sucked back into that damn black hole?

Okay. So maybe that’s a bit of a heady extrapolation to take from my silly story. Maybe I should have just kept it at sharing the tale and hoping you got a kick out of it.

But if you ever feel like the swirl of life is really more like a vortex, I hope it helps you to know you are not alone. Let’s be time coma survivors together.

Posted in Bits & Pieces, Frabjous Friday

The Day Harper Lee Wrote Back

Harper Lee 2
Harper Lee in 2007

The idea behind my Frabjous Friday posts is to share something joyful–or at least something that will make you smile. Today’s post was a very joyful moment in my life, and I’d like to share it with you. It happened 17 years ago almost to the day. It’s a little longer than my typical Friday post, but I hope you’ll find it worth your time.

Back when I taught high school English, my freshman class read To Kill a Mockingbird as one of our core novels. I loved that book as a student, and I treasured it as a teacher. So many layers to explore and think about all delivered in a wonderfully descriptive and even suspenseful way. There was no greater joy for me as a teacher than to see a student come alive within the pages of a book, and Ms. Lee’s one and only published novel kindled that time and again.

One of the activities that we did after reading it was to send notes to Harper Lee. The first time I did this and told the kids we were really going to send the letters, they were stunned. Really? In junior high they did the activity frequently, and it was just for “pretend,” as they called it. I told them why wouldn’t we send them when she is still around to receive them? This made them take their own words a little more seriously. A real author–one whose work many had grown to care for–would be reading it, after all!

I showed them all how I put their letters into a big manila envelope and addressed it to “Harper Lee, Monroeville, Alabama” with the proper zip code. Since Harper Lee was a recluse, this was the best I could do. I figured the town knew her whereabouts.

The first year’s letter writing experience had been positive enough that I did it again the next year, with much the same response from the students. As a teacher, it was satisfying to know that the kids realized their words were being delivered. It mattered.

I just didn’t know it mattered to Ms. Lee, too.

One day, a few weeks after the second batch of letters had been sent, I went to my teacher’s mailbox. Inside was an envelope the size of a thank you card, and I could see that the return address had “Monroeville, AL” written on it. My hands started to tremble. Was it possible that one of the nation’s great authors had written back to us?

Why, yes. Yes she did.

Harper

I couldn’t believe it. How kind she was to let my students (and me!) know that she had read every letter with “great care and enjoyment.” My students were giddy with excitement–and it’s not often you see 14-year-olds giddy about anything. It was a tremendous validation for them–and for me as an educator. Words matter. Thought matters. Kindness matters.

I hope my former students think back on that experience with joy. I know I do. Ms. Lee’s letter still graces my office and makes me smile every time I see it.

17 years ago Harper Lee wished me and my students a Happy New Year. How cool is that?

Happy New Year to all of you, too!

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view–until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” ~Atticus Finch