December 16, 2014

They Make Me Laugh


 

My stomach hurts from laughing so much and so hard.  My grown children have families of their own but they are still "my kids"!  Best yet, they are the funniest people I know!

We are planning a five-generation family portrait. We're talking color-coordination, inside/outside options; you know, photographic basics. Epic!

The photographer is my daughter, Nicole. Her portfolio is awesome not to mention her Photoshop skills.  In fact, I'm hoping she can "svelte-me-up" by erasing my double chin or, better still, pose me as chin-solo!

Nicole and I as we iron out the basics. We decide that each family will choose one color to wear, not matchy-matchy but coordinated. She chooses the color options that will blend beautifully. Then she informs me that one of my sons stated that he absolutely refuses to "dress up" for holidays. His belief is that holidays are for being comfortable.

"He'll probably show up in one of his Superman t-shirts!" she tells me.

"Cool!" I answer, "maybe we should assign his family the color blue."

"No way!" she insists, "We can't dictate or there will be dissention! Every family should choose their own color."

We agree. We message the whole family, date, color options to choose from; the look we're going for!We ask them to choose the color they most want for their own family.

Several dozen messages later the Five Generation Portrait has gone from classic, lovely, full color photo worthy of enlarging, matting and framing and hanging above the mantel for years to come to a full-on everybody in jeans and Superman shirts of various types.

Capes are clearly out but there is a bit of anarchy regarding black smudges on our faces from saving the world all day!

Superman t-shirts on my 86 year old parents, my husband and I, our children, grandchildren and great-granddaughter and I'M OKAY WITH THAT!

I'll still enlarge it, frame and mat it and hang it above the mantel because it will be the most accurate portrait of our family. Every time I behold those smiles and t-shirts, old and new on the old and new,  I will smile. I'll remember the messages that almost immediately busted into total anarchy making  my belly ache with laughter. I'll remember my grandson looking down at his phone as it went crazy with beeping notifications that the family was at it again.  After reading two dozen messages, he looked up at me and apologized for "leaving the conversation"!

"Nothing worse than 'non-sensicle' adults!" he smiled as he turned his phone off.

I'm looking forward to Superman day. I'm going to wear my best earrings and smile big for the camera.

I'll be counting myself lucky that we will not be dressing up as Storm Troopers, Tardis's or Sherlock Holmes. With this wonderful family it could have easily gone in any of those directions!


December 15, 2014

Ten Days

Christmas! I have a love-hate relationship with Christmas, but not the Jesus and Manger and Bethlehem part of it, just all the rest of it!

I want everything to be perfect. The perfection I speak of would include to give the "perfect" present to each of my grandchildren, for the tree to be glorious, for dinner to be delicious for 19 different palates and various food allergies.  I want the house to be warm and inviting even though 10 minutes after everyone shows up it looks as if I haven't cleaned in a year!

Is it wrong that I just want to tell all the grandchildren that we have adopted a family-in-need in their names and given them food and presents for their children, order 5 pizzas with various toppings, sit around the fire in our best pajamas (and by "best", I mean the oldest, softest most comfy, even if the butt is worn to paper thin!).

Can we play charades and talk and share our memories of the past year and our dreams for the coming year?

Can I decorate a wall with lights in the shape of a tree so that a beautiful noble fur doesn't have to donate it's life to "fill us with joy" for three weeks?

On the other hand, I can't wait for everybody to get here. I can't wait to see my granddaughters all dressed up, my mom and dad surrounded by their grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great granddaughter! I can't wait for family portraits and listening to my kids and their spouses joking around with each other or in serious conversations.  I can't wait for the giggles and guffaws.

I can't wait for the margaritas, the turkey and mashed potatoes.

Okay, mostly I love Christmas. I'm 85% Santa and 15% grinch....what can I say?

December 12, 2014

Finally....Rain

Storm of the year came in yesterday. Not storm of the year for the world or even the United States. We didn't get 6 feet of snow in 8 hours, our rivers didn't over flow their banks, nor did large sections of houses fall into holes.

We just got a lot of rain and a lot of wind.

My folks saw the river from their patio for the first time in a couple of years. It was the opposite bank which is low and stretches out. Their bank is steep and the water line is not threatening in any way. The did get a little flooding in garage from the deluge and they were without power.

Scary not being able to get in touch with your aging parents during a big storm. The phone was finally answered and my mom joyfully announced that she could see the river. For them, seeing the river means there is water in their well again! Worried I ask how it was without power; how are they now?

"Oh, honey," she says, happy that I asked, "We are eating warm rolls fresh out of the oven, drinking our coffee and watching a movie!"

On the other hand, I don't live on a dangerous river in the boonies. I live in a neighborhood protected by a couple of tall hills. In spite of the protective cover, I lost about 35 feet of fence.

Two of my dogs discovered the downed fence before I did. They decided to inform the rest of the neighbors before sharing the important information with me.  I tracked them down, eventually. Bless their little souls, they went in two different directions and stayed off of the sidewalks, choosing to stay in the muddy passages. I don't blame them, sometimes I choose to do the same, though not in 40 mile an hour winds and driving rain. They brought some of the mud home with them; most staying on my car seats rather than accompanying the boys into the house.

Luckily we have a supply of lumber on the side of the house. I waded through the puddles and mud into the neighbors yard (they weren't home) and stood the fence up, bracing it with 4x4's and 2x4's here and there.

Do you know how much a water sodden fence weighs?  Do you know that I have two young football players living with me. One offensive lineman and a defensive lineman, both in the 300+ weight category and both bragging just the night before about how much weight they can lift and bench press! Guess who wasn't home when the fence needed lifting?

Looks like the roof suffered some damage too, at least, the shingles in our yard match our roof better than the houses on either side.

Good news is. Found the dogs, Mom and Dad are cozy and dry and I get to buy a new pair of shoes. Does it get any better?

Epiphanies Over Tuna Sandwiches

My friend is leaving for about a month to visit her parents in Ohio. I'm kind of the psuedo-housesitter while she is gone.  Her neighbor will be keeping his eye on her place. He will also have my phone number in case of emergency. He will probably file it under Bogus Caretaker!  There is nothing to do. Everything is automatic or unplugged or timed.

This morning I stopped in to get my "briefing" and pick up a key. That part of the conversation lasted less than it took to take the key and put it in my pocket.

The rest of the conversation lasted 3 hours, then we went to lunch (good conversation stimulates appetites) and talked even more.

I have known Julia for over 30 years. She was my divorce buddy about 35 years ago and my Maid-of-Honor 30 years ago. She has always been my best friend, confidant and, in the old days, my drinking sidekick. We actually had other associates who drank with us, but no one who could keep up!

One of the most wonderful things about her is her depth, her insight and how eloquent and articulate she is.

We can be speaking of the ordinary things of life and I may express a certain reaction that I may have had or thought that occurs to me that tweaks my mood. We might dance around the subject for a moment or two. I perchance will even rephrase the original statement or complaint.

She then asks questions, makes comments and digs....really digs, and, more importantly, she forces me to dig. Like a balloon popping at a kids party, a burst of cerebrum sagacity! I get it!

She raked back the leaves molding in the lawn of my mind so that I might scan the landscape unencumbered. There behind the cement quail with busted beak and the garden gnome is a throbbing lump in the soil. The clod may be 10, 20 40 years old, but there it is....hot, throbbing and very much alive. The Core Issue!

Core Issues! Whoa. Got any of those?  Julia doesn't have a road map to get to them but I can attest that she knows the directions and she is not afraid to use them.

Every time we talk, over coffee, wine or tuna sandwiches, I learn more about her, more about me and more about the world. Now that is what I call a good friend.

December 10, 2014

Neophilia

As an artist and photographer, I tend to observe people, look for shapes and textures in the mundane and focus on color, shadow and contrast.

Having said that, I have to admit that I am also an accomplished day dreamer. Someone observing me might think I am staring at a subject when I am actually climbing the steep trail to Machu Piccu in my mind.

My husband and a good friend are toddlers in adults' bodies. Like youngsters, they have serious cases of neophilia. They are walking, talking observation decks! Sighting "something new" floats their boats.

Spotting a new species of bird sizzles my husband's bacon! Discovering a new "photo-op" cocoas his cola!

Finding a new kayak-worthy tributary or lake for my friend really toots his horn! If you want to butter his biscuit, introduce my friend to a new word not already in his consummate vocabulary.
(sorry, couldn't help myself...at my weight it's hard to stop when I'm on a roll).

Most of us are specialists in tunnel vision! Don't deny it! When was the last time you drove down your street and noticed the shapes of houses or patterns in the pavement?  Even those days when you decide to take a different route home, are you really noticing the "newness" of the journey or just patting yourself on the back for climbing out of your routine (and it it really a new route or is it your go-to alternative?)

I was sitting in a parking lot yesterday, a shopping center lot that I have parked in a hundred times.  The building is long, holds a large grocery store, a big-box store and maybe 10 small businesses. The building leans on the yellow side of beige. When I looked up I realized it was a maze of triangles, squares and several rectangles. If the gaudy neon signs and the "For Lease" flyers were gone it would be pretty...in a beige kind of way.

Go outside today and look around. What have you seen so many times that it has become invisible? Visit your living your and rediscover the unobserved! If cob webs reveal themselves to you, don't knock them down until you notice their rhythm as the hot air rises and cooler air falls in the room.

Who knows what you might find! And, yeah, you could probably take a dust cloth with you...I know that I am.



Purging

Gal pals and I had a wonderful conversation last night about purging and editing! Though most people, hopefully, are in a constant state of flux and change, the four of us seem to be going through some major changes.

We are all editing our lives. Somehow, we have all been approaching closets, drawers and boxes tucked here and there with an overwhelming emetic spirit.  We are dumping the excess.  Those journals that have lost their importance but still tucking away the ones that continue to hold an important place in our lives. Sorting through our books, tossing some and keeping the meaningful ones and the ones we tend to read annually, (Little Women, Gone With The Wind, As I Lay Dying, Their Eyes Were Watching God). Clothes that were specifically for work; you know, the skirts, blouses and pant suits that smell of rules and regulations and time cards, are tossed into bags and boxes for the Women's Rescue store.  

My pals are even tossing out shoes that were meant for the office. I am saved from that chore due to the diligence of my two pit bull pups who have eaten at least one of every pair of shoes I own except the pair on my feet. Yes, I put them under my pillow when I sleep, what's the big deal?

We still find little mementos of events that we are not ready to part with; maybe next year or maybe never.

Even our personal boundaries are fluctuating. We have found that many boundaries are sorely in need of editing. Some are so tight that we are strangling ourselves in anxiety, some have been too lose and some are non-existent. And to quote Goldilocks, some are "Just right!"

Have you ever seen any of Michelangelo's unfinished sculptures; the figures appear to be climbing out of the marble. Each of us, in our own way, seems to be stepping (and sometimes clawing) from the stone that life's experiences and our own choices have motivated us to reside in.

It's good to see the rocks being chipped away and know that you are not just witnessing the freeing of my friend's but that are seeing the shards of marble fall away from me.

Thank you my friends for being part of the process. I don't know what I would do without you!

Playing With Fire

My kids grew up with wood stoves for heating. We have had years of practice building fires.

There was a couple of years that I worried that any one of them might become an arsonist.  They were accomplished fire starters from a very early age. Their expertise for emptying ash from wood stoves was not as proficient.

There is a knack to gently shoveling out the ash without sending clouds of it out and about the room and clothing. It takes patience. Patience is not a general endowment for people under the age of 20, especially if you are cold and anxious for some heat.

Then there would be those small trails of ash on the dark green carpet and various partial gray foot prints leading across the ash trail here and there.

It's funny to watch members of our family when camping or vacationing and a fire needs to be built or stoked.

We downed five of our trees last year so are heating house with fireplace insert, though, at the moment, it needs ashes removed!  Manana!

Every time I bring in wood or start a fire, I think of my kids. I see them standing by the old wood stove or fireplace warming their backsides.

For more years than I can count my sons would stand together, taking the chill off after coming in from outside-boy-stuff.  My oldest son was taller than my younger son every winter. Then, one winter, younger son was taller! He had grown 7 or 8 inches in one summer!

There was the winter that the glass doors of the fireplace imploded and we all laughed our heads off!

Christmas is coming and all the kids and grandchildren will be here. Our parents and great-granddaughter will be here, too. Five generations gathered around the table. Five generations talking about old memories and making new memories.

You can bet I will have a fire going to make the picture complete. 

December 06, 2014

Who Knew?

A good friend is considering producing a show in which he would interview homeless persons. What are the back stories for these people? How did they land on the street?  Knowing that most children do not grow up dreaming of growing up and being cold and hungry. No kid that I've ever asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" has ever answered, "I'd really like to homeless and invisible."

We live in a town where the population of homeless is huge and growing. We see them wandering the streets day and night, living in the parks and doorways, panhandling on every other corner. These poor souls are the visible homeless.

What about the invisible homeless?

There are two young men sleeping in other rooms of my house as I type this. They are students at a nearby college. They came to our town to be on our football team. Their families are hundreds of miles away..

Two months ago we discovered one of them.  He had been living in stairwells, benches and occasionally on one of the other team members couches or floors.  He was surviving on Top Ramen and warm water from the college cafeteria. He tried to hide his homelessness from his coaches and teammates. Finally, he confided in one of his coaches. He now lives with us.

He was extremely quiet the first week or two that he was here. He was almost embarrassed to share meals with us. We had to convince him that it was open season on the snacks in pantry and fridge; no license required to consume.

"Maybe he wants Top Ramen!" I thought, after several times of asking him what his favorite foods are and getting a shoulder shrug for an answer, after all, he is only 19.

I bought several packages of the stiff sodium-packed noodles and left them on the space we had cleared for him on a shelf in the pantry.  The next morning I noticed that he put a pair of socks and two packs of ramen in a plastic bag, then dropped the bag into his backpack. It made me feel good that he was probably going to eat the ramen at lunch.  Slowly the packs of that ghastly dehydrated soup disappeared.

A week before Thanksgiving he brought a friend home with him. They were both leaving for home on the bus at 1:00 a.m. for Thanksgiving break.  He asked if his friend could spend the night and go to the greyhound station with us.  They were gone for two weeks.

When they returned, they hung out with us in the evening. We ate a late dinner, so asked the friend to spend the night on our couch.  He seemed relieved.

The next day, he returned to school but was at the house doing homework at the table when I got home in the evening. He ate dinner with us again and slept on the couch.

That next day we discovered that he was the reason our first roommate took the clean socks and ramen to school.  They had both been homeless while attending college classes and playing on the team. The second young man had dropped out of football because he found that his studies were slipping. He couldn't play ball and keep up his classes when he was barely sleeping at night in stairwells.

They had been sleeping in the area around the college until the warnings that a mountain lion had been spotted on campus...four times. That's when they moved into stairwells and cafeteria seats.

He carries a 3.1 and his classes are tough.  He'd won a Division I football scholarship in his freshman year and attended a four year college. The tough part of being a freshman in a Div I four-year-institute is you get a lot of bench time.  He also found that his fellow students and team mates were pretty bigoted. Hard stuff when you are away from home for the first time.

How can this happen?  How many other students are sleeping in the park, stairwells or the mountain lion infested campus? How many kids are afraid to call home and ask for help, not wanting to add to the stress of their parents?

What's wrong with me that I never imagined that there are kids out there, working hard on an education and sports, that are homeless. I know about the hungry part. I remember my own son telling me when he returned home from school that he would sometimes lay on his bed as still as he could to conserve energy. He had a job, an apartment and full-time classes but still didn't call for help because he didn't want to stress us out.

These two students are warm, clean, well-fed (but don't serve them anything with sun-dried tomatoes) and have a place to stay. They will both be returning to their families for Christmas, the families that they didn't tell about their situations because they didn't want to make it a hardship on parents still trying to support younger kids; parents struggling in this economy. Next semester they will take online classes. Next year, our newest kid, will be returning to play football. He will be playing for a Pac 12 school.  He will be graduating with a degree in Kinesiology and Physical Education.

Maybe one day he will be coaching a college team and will remember to check with his players, to make sure they have a place to rest their heads at night.

When we look at the visible homeless, we need to remember, they have a story, but we also need to be aware of the invisible homeless and ask, "What can we do?"

My husband and I have really grown to like these two kids. The energy in the house is nice. We will truly miss them when they are gone. 



December 04, 2014

Breaking the Plate

A man entered the church to see the priest. He held his head down in sorrow.

"What is wrong, my son?" asked the priest.

"Father, My words have wounded someone and I am so sorry. What can I do to make it up?"

The priest thought for a minute, because this man has used words to wound others before. What could he do to help the man use kinder gentler words?

"Today, my son, I want you to go to Farmer Smith and buy a chicken from him. Pluck the chicken's feathers and throw them to the wind. Then return to me tomorrow."

Looking confused but repentant, the man did as he was told. He purchased one of Smith's hens, plucked her down to the pin feathers, tossing the feathers into the wind. The wind swept up the feathers and off they flew.

He returned to the church the next day.

"Father, I am here and I did as you instructed."

"Today," ordered the priest, "You must go back out to the road, gather up the feathers and return them to the chicken."

"What!!!" exclaimed the man, "That will be impossible!"

"Yes, my son, you are right! The feathers cannot be put back. Our words are much like feathers, once thrown to the wind, can they ever be recovered?"

December 01, 2014

Red Flags are Red Flags


A couple of days ago I wrote about the kid who took the butcher knife to school and was hiding in the hydrangea bushes by my garage. The kid, who the "professionals" are advising  be in a residential treatment center for psychological help and guidance but his mom insists that he will be well supervised at home.

Saturday, I was backing out of the driveway and saw the the young man on his bike. He saw my car,  made a quick u-turn and hid behind a large motor home parked a couple of doors down. His head was peeking out from behind the vehicle as I drove down the street. I stopped at the intersection and sat for 10 minutes watching through my rear view mirror. He continued to hide and occasionally peek out to see if my car was gone.

I had an appointment in Bella Vista for a photo shoot but was worried that I had left our three dogs in the backyard. I didn't want the kid teasing or taunting them.

I tried calling one of the neighbors to ask them to keep their eye out for "anyone" harassing or teasing the dogs.

The photo shoot took a little over an hour in a pretty isolated little valley. My cell phone didn't have any reception. Heading home, I turn onto the highway.  My phone goes a little crazy; one call from scary-kid's mom and three calls from my grandson just seconds apart. I pull over and call grandson back.

He is at my house! Apparently scary-kid and his brother were agitating the dogs and one of the dogs broke through the fence. Dog only went into yard next door but there are so many "what ifs" that I don't want to think about. What if dog got out in street and was hit by car? What if dog got lost? What if boys had fallen in the yard and been hurt?

This kid is supposed to be under his mother's supervision; he lives about 5 blocks away! His mother cannot see him nor supervise him around two corners and five blocks!

So, all you psychology-types, I need your advice!  What do I do?

I will be calling his mother this morning to tell her that it is unacceptable that he come to my house, especially because he was so overtly devious in his approach. I changed my wifi passwords so he can't sit in the bushes playing games.

What about the kids in the neighborhood? What do we do to protect the kids and pets in the neighborhood?  If he found the butcher knife his mother felt she had to hide, will he find them again?

If he was so excited to be on the television news, like the kids he saw who were famous for killing others, will he stop before he makes the six o'clock news?

Red flags are red flags...he needs help before he hurts someone or hurts himself.

November 29, 2014

Addiction

Do you remember Grey's Anatomy? The prime-time drama that launched Denzel Washington, George Clooney, Sandra Oh and Patrick Dempsey? Somehow, I missed it. Don't know what I was doing that decade, but it wasn't watching the baby docs and senior baby docs do life! I have worked in the medical field so maybe I just didn't want to take work home!

I've been hanging out with my grandson, his girlfriend and baby, Brinley, for the last couple of weeks.     Together we watched several episodes of season 1. The next day, they had jumped on to season 2 episodes and I watched again. Addictions can sneak up on you!

Netflix! Those first couple of episodes were the gateway drug to my addiction. There should be warnings!

I can't get enough of those characters...hell, I wouldn't mind some Dead-Denny hallucinations! The kids have me hooked on the happenings at Grey Sloan Hospital! 

I WILL get even with them...as soon as I finish the last three seasons!


November 24, 2014

Time Bomb or Over-Reacting?

Many of you who know me personally know that a close neighbor has a son who is a pretty violent kid who suffers from a mental illness. Apparently, it is politically correct to say his problem is on the "autism spectrum".

We have seen him kick, bite, shove his mother with no consequences. Many years ago, after he screamed at his mother that she was "ruining his life" because she told him it was time to go home and before he had been diagnosed, I told him that we don't speak to each other like that in this house. I also told him that he couldn't come back to this house until he could treat his mother with respect. He has let me know ever since that he does not like me.

He has been kicked off the school bus and suspended from school for hitting, biting and fighting; also for screaming threats to bus driver and teachers. He is now taller than his mom and dad and quite strong.

A few weeks ago he saw a documentary on television about violence in young people. His mother found him watching the show and turned it off but not until he had seen a couple of mass shootings and the two teenage girls who had tried to stab their friend to death.

A week or so after the program, his mother found employment but she had to be at work before the boy got on the bus for school.  She asked a neighbor to make sure her son got on the bus. Before going to work, my friend hid all the knives in the house in a place she thought would be hard to find.

She and her husband were called shortly after the school day began. He son had been arrested and taken out of the school in handcuffs, screaming and yelling and threatening. He had pulled a butcher knife out of his back pack at school.

He has been expelled from the school. He was taken to the hospital to make sure he wasn't on drugs. The professionals at the hospital advised that he be admitted to a residential school where he could get the psychological help he needs. His mother fought to keep him home. She won. After the doctors left the room, he asked his mom, "Am I going to be on TV like those other kids?" He was pretty excited about the probability of it! Do you have goose bumps yet?

"Why did she hide the knives" you might ask. Why did he search for them?

Her son is now attending another school in town but not very happy about it. The kids at the school he attends now have taught him some pretty foul language and are older, so are really bullying him.

His mom promises that she will be cautious and supervise him well.

It is Thanksgiving break, school is out.  I just drove up into my driveway and saw a strange bike on the far end of the lawn. No one was around. As I stepped out of my car, the young man steps out from the bushes up against the garage.

"Hi!" I called out to him.

"I was just getting ready to leave," was his response. But he just stood there, looking at me.

Keeping the car between him and me, I waved, told him to ride his bike safely and slipped into the house.

Now, I don't know what to do. Do I call his mother and tell her he was here, hiding in my bushes? What if she yells at him, tells him not to do that again and he gets angry with me?  Do I put extra locks on my gate? 

His mother hid the knives. The professionals want him in a residential program for his safety and public safety. He has a record of violent behavior and he is unsupervised.

I am mad and I am scared and I am mad and I am scared and I am mad! What do I do? Am I over-reacting?  Do I plant poison oak between the bushes in my front yard? What about the kids he goes to school with?