The Forgotten Element

Accompanying this man was a blast. He was a professional.

Accompanying this man was a blast.  He was on loan from the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.

A few years ago, I took a little job accompanying for a Suzuki strings studio.  It’s challenging, but learning so many new pieces, and polishing my accompanying skills is so much fun.  So this week, as I’ve been practicing for hours each day in preparation for the big recital, I remembered my own accompanists from years ago.

In college, I never truly appreciated how much an accompanist does.  Being a typical singer, I would forget to count half way through the long notes, and fudge a bit (for breath-sake) on the odd rhythms.  Tricky entrances were my worst fear.  I also chose the songs with the most difficult accompaniment because they were the most beautiful.  And somehow, they kept up with me and never complained.

Little did I realize the possible headaches and eye rolls that my poor accompanists held back for my sake.  And now that I am the one sitting at the piano most of the time, I have learned a few things.

  1. Turning pages is hard and sometimes impossible if you don’t have a nifty assistant beside you.  Although frowned upon, I use the spread out copies method for the most difficult, long pieces.  I’ve also learned the folded corners trick and the memorize-the-first-measure-of-the-next-page trick.  Who would’ve imagined that practicing flawless page turns sometimes takes more practice than the actual song?
  2. A good accompanist must be all-knowing.  Your part, the soloists part, everybody’s part and be prepared for them to mess up.
  3. When they do mess up (not if), you must use mind-reading techniques to decide how they’re going to react before they do it.
  4. You must learn the piece at every speed imaginable.  Child A studied diligently and learned the piece at the perfect speed, Child B takes it a bit too slow because the fingerings are tricky, and Child C thinks that this is a roller derby (fast, lightening speed, and haltingly slow).
  5. You Tube can be your best friend.  Are you bad at multi-tasking on those more tricky pieces and humming over your piano part doesn’t work?  I am.  That’s why I type it into You Tube and listen to 3 people butcher it before I find a decent recording.
  6. Trying to convince a parent that his/her child is not perfect is not a good idea.  I have one parent in particular, that each year, while I’m accompanying for her child, thinks that every mistake is mine.  Not a big deal until she refuses to pay me because there is no way it’s because her daughter hasn’t learned her piece well enough.   Again, if I could mind-read her child, this would be no problem, but alas, I cannot.
  7. If you do make a mistake, everyone will notice and likely remember.  If you don’t mess up, few will notice that you played at all.  It makes me laugh, but it’s completely true.

This is my heartfelt thank you to my accompanists (Tim, Tim, Dishon, and Roy) for not killing me during college.  You really showed me the grace of God.

2013: A Year of Unexpected Gifts and Blessings in Disguise

Hiking

Gift #1—Keeping Hope Through Disappointment

2013 was a trying year.  In May, I began to feel as if the mono, that I had been dealing with for 2 1/2 years, was finally subsiding.  For the first time, I felt well. I was so happy and relieved, that when I started feeling badly 2 weeks later,  I was just thankful for the window of respite.  This time around though, the illness was different. There were similarities (fever, headaches, and fatigue), but this one was scarier because it involved my heart and intense pain at unexpected times.

In August, I was assigned a heart monitor.   Let me just take a moment to describe to you what it’s like to wear a heart monitor.  First, there are two parts to the heart monitor.  There is the one part that is worn on a lanyard and hangs where most women would have issues with cleavage and is attached to five wires.  The five wires are clipped to the diodes (these sticky little circles on the body) in five specific areas.  The other part is an ancient looking cellphone that must be worn close to the monitor.   At the end of the month though, I was sorely disappointed and frustrated to learn that the heart monitor only worked part of two separate days in that entire month.  Every “episode” that I tried to record, didn’t go through.  After it was over, the red, itching, and raw circles on my skin from the diodes took two months to heal. There was no way I was doing that again.  The ordeal was…unfortunate.

Next up was an infectious disease specialist who sent me for chest x-rays, CT scans, and a cornucopia of blood work.  After months of testing and nothing showing up, he ended by saying, “We’ve done everything to find the source of the fever, but I have a feeling that you may be the 1% of that people that have an extremely rare form of an infection in the heart.  Knowing your history,” he said with a laugh, “you might be someone that is featured in the medical journals.  However, the only way to know that for sure is to do a somewhat risky procedure that I don’t want to do unless your fever is higher and stays that way.”

So, it’s the next year and I am back to where I started.  Only this time, I have the nifty catch-all label of “Fever of Unknown Origin.”  I am currently feeling much better in many ways. I still run a fever most days, have headaches, and am tired but less often, and overall, I don’t hurt as much nor as often.

I know this was a long way to say that through all of this, I’ve learned that it’s okay to just let other people help you carry your burden.  I’ve always been such a fiercely independent person that it is very hard for me to even ask for prayer from others.  My family, church family, and friends have done this for me and I am so extremely grateful.

  I’ve also learned that sometimes, it’s okay to trudge when you can’t run.  I mean this both literally and figuratively.  Sometimes when I ran, I felt okay as long as I ran slowly enough.  Other times, I would barely be running and feel as if I was dying.  Now that I’m feeling mostly better, I’ve been able to run faster and feel better than I have in nearly 3 years.  I don’t know why this is, but I am so thankful for it.

Gift #2—Becoming a mother without the title (again…sort of)

After making the promise as a teenager to care for my siblings if needed (see previous post), it finally happened.  My youngest brother came to live with us.  He was having trouble at home and at school, and Ethan and I both knew that God wanted us to have Nicolas come and live with us.  We became his legal guardians in September.

Since he’s come to live with us, I’ve come to know what a special young man he is with so much potential, but with so many old bad habits and heartaches that are difficult for him to face. (I know that I’m biased because I think that all of my siblings are the most wonderful people in the world, but trust me, they are).  At times, like the last 3 weeks, I’m reminded of how human we both are and why I need to be in constant prayer.  I’ve come to learn just how difficult trying to teach a 15 year old how his actions affect others is, when he has been in survivor mode his whole life and self-protection is all he knows.  It’s very much like adopting a 15 year old orphan.

And yet, there are those random moments when he opens up and I can see how beautiful a heart he has.  He is creative, has a great sense of humor, is kind to people who are having a hard time.  During Advent, he was my secret buddy and helped out with all kinds of chores because he knows that one of my love languages is service.  These are the moments that I try to remember when, in months like this one, he’s letting out years of hurt and frustration on those closest.

I’m so thankful to have him here in our lives.  I’ve learned so many things about myself, Nick, and how Ethan and I work as a team.   Life is pretty different now, but I’m glad.  I look forward to what 2014 will bring.

The Best, Worst, and Most Thought-Provoking Books of 2013

Picture by tubagooba CC Some Rights Reserved

Picture by tubagooba CC Some Rights Reserved

Have I ever told you how much I love fiction and memoirs?  I love them very much.  Why? Because fiction (as well as memoir) is like seeing reality portrayed in a stain glass window.  The story is condensed into its most poignant scenes, but the more subtle elements are there if you know how to look for them.  It’s colorful, the characters are complex and sometimes exaggerated.  But what makes this stained glass mean anything is the light of truth that shines through it.  If that truth isn’t there, then the story is useless and if it has no different color, its a plain realistic window.

The best of books are able to do this without obscuring the truth too much, but the worst books are the ones written by authors who are either unsure about how to tell the truth or not out to tell truth at all.  They are there to sell books.

So, as I’ve read quite a few in 2013, I’d like to share with you my mixed bag.  Suggestions of things to read, things to avoid.

Best Fiction

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

What can I say?  I’m not quite finished with this book and I already love it.  As with his previous books, it’s full of artistic stories with plenty of reality mixed in.  It reads like someone telling you a bedtime story, and that’s exactly how the book begins.  Warning: I was cautioned ahead of time that because there are so many intertwining stories, one needs to keep a character cheat sheet handy.  I haven’t needed one, but it might be because I knew in advance that if I didn’t pay close attention to names, I might get confused.  So since I was warned, I figured you should be too.

 

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

It took me a bit to really get into the lingo of this book, but once I did, I could not put it down.  It is a story about a very dysfunctional family.  For me, this book hit very close to home, and many times, I had to set it aside because it made me so angry at the predictability of some of the character’s choices. Warning: If you’ve lived a relatively charmed life, you will find this book terribly disturbing.  If you can relate, read it.  It might help you understand your childhood a little more.

 

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

There are three authors that I love for their writing styles: John Steinbeck, Cormack McCarthy, and Jack London.  They have the unique ability to use as few perfectly placed words as possible to tell a very powerful story.  For a long time, I avoided reading this because its…about a dog or wolf or something.  But let me tell you, this is so beautifully written, and is such a good story, you can’t not read this.  And in full disclosure, this book actually made me tear up in one part (I rarely cry, so I know it’s a moving story if I do).

 

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

I enjoyed this book.  It was highly imaginative and fun.  And at several points, I kept thinking, “He must’ve done a lot research.” Warning:  If you listen to it as an audiobook as I did, make sure that you are not running a long distance in the heat of summer while listening to the part where he is thirsting to death.

Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card

This was a fun sci-fi/fantasy book.  It turns time travel on its head and really is just a fun, quick read.  I enjoyed how it begins with a small story, and begins to unfold into a huge story by the end of it.  It’s great for teenagers and young adults.  Warning: It is part of a series of which the second book is not as good, and the third book is not out yet.

 

Best Memoir

Night by Elie Weisel

For many schools, this book is required reading and rightly so.  It’s the brief and gripping firsthand account of one Holocaust survivor who lived to tell his story about life and death in Auschwitz.

 

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

I checked this one out of the library on audiobook, knowing nothing about it. Warning: This book is laugh-out-loud hilarious.  I began listening to this while at the gym and kept bursting out laughing.  I’m pretty sure that the man next to me was about to call the paddy wagon.  If you have a parent that idealizes growing up in the 50’s, this will make you laugh all the more.

 

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

This one makes me smile every time I think about it.  This is a book for which the word nostalgic was created. If you’ve never read it, you must.  It will make you laugh, smile, and wish that you too could ride in an unreliable car in jolly old England.

 

Thought Provoking

This is the category I’m using to say that although I didn’t love the book, I’m glad I read it.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

For years, I’ve seen this on the best of sci-fi lists, but since sci-fi isn’t generally my favorite, I kept putting it off.  Heinlein is creative, preachy, and highly opinionated.  Spoiler Alert: It was interesting, and the Christ-like death of the main character was predictable from midway through the book, but it was interesting.

 

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This book really stuck in my head.  After being sorely disappointed by the cliched and angsty treatment of Greeks gods in The Lightning Thief, I was really looking forward to this one.  It did not disappoint.  It was not predictable, the characters were fascinating, and the story drew me in.  Warning: There are several “uncomfortable” scenes in this book, if you know what I mean. *clears throat*

 

Dune by Frank Herbert

I really don’t have too much to say about this book.  I was told that I would love it, but I didn’t–I liked it.  I found it interesting with some wonderfully creative ideas, a wonderful plot, but I think I just really disliked the authors writing style as well as all of the characters.  They all seemed completely devoid of hearts.

 

Worst

This is Our Faith by Michael Pinnock

Other than most chapters beginning with old e-mail forward jokes and stories, the book was as thrilling as staring at a blank wall.  I’ll take the wall.  I’m not ragging on this book because it’s a Catholic book, just to keep it clear.  It’s just that it’s terribly written.  It’s for those who have grown up in the Catholic church, and not for Protestants wanting to know more.  So, to really learn more about the Catholic faith, I bought the Catechism–it was much more informative.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Let me begin with the one positive thins about this book: it was very well written.  Okay, now to save you some reading time.  There are four things to say about this book: drugs, alcohol, arrogance up the wazoo, and poor choices.  The characters were all rich jerks, the narrator wanted to be one of them, and they all killed people.  The end.

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riorden

This.  This was awful.  Perhaps it’s because I’m not 10 and I’ve read other books and I have an imagination.  There was so much potential, but every time that an exciting turn could be taken, nope.  Riorden had to keep it as boring as possible.  How do you make a book about a boy finding out that Greek gods are real and that he’s one of their sons, boring?  Honestly, I would think it would take more work.  And if an impressionable 10 year old did read this, they might come away with a terrible attitude problem like the main character has.

There you have it.

Conversations with a Teenager

July 4th with Daniel and Nick.

July 4th with Daniel and Nick.

It’s been a few months since my last post.  Life has become a bit more busy since becoming an “insta-parent” to my 15 year old brother Nicolas.  He has been living with us for about 2 months now.  It’s been wonderful to see how he’s constantly evaluating things and figuring out what he believes.  And because he’s constantly questioning, it leaves me in the spot of giving parental sounding reactions that I never thought I’d give.  Here are a few such conversations on the important things in life.

Religion:

After Nick told me that he identifies himself as an agnostic, he asked what I thought.

“I think that is fine. Because even though you’re not sure if God exists, he’s sure that you do.  And I think that at some point in your life he will make himself known to you.  It might be years from now, but he will.  Eventually, you will have to make that choice of whether or not you will deny His existence.”

 

Politics:

After hearing a short piece on the radio about immigration reform, Nicolas said, “I think that we should help the people who are immigrating to the US.  They just want to work and make a better life.”

“I agree,” I said, “but I also think that they should work towards citizenship so that they can vote and pay the same taxes as everyone else.”

At this he frowned.  “I think that when I turn 18, I’m not going to vote.”

“Okay,” I said. “But never complain about who’s in office and how you don’t like what they’re doing.”

“I just don’t think it matters.”

“That’s exactly what a ton of other American’s think too.  And guess what?  Even though most people show up to the big presidential elections thinking that it is the important one and that every vote counts, those votes don’t count nearly as much as in the local elections.  I work the polls every election and know that it’s the 40 people that bother to show up that control this township and the however many die hard voters that control the county.  No one thinks that those elections matter until their property taxes spike or their school district is failing them because they’ve got a crappy school board.  Then the non-voters start complaining and that’s just a waste of perfectly good air.”

“Oh.”

My Brothers Keeper

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I’m going to be honest.  This post is not humorous or uplifting, because I’m in the midst of a wrestling match:  my selfish nature vs. God.  This post is real with nothing to sugar coat it.  So if you were hoping for something light and comical, read one of my fiction pieces and steer clear of this one.

“Yield your rights to God.” This was a catch phrase of a fundamentalist group that I grew up in.  In theory, it means that you are giving up your own selfish desires so that God can work through you.  A good thing, right?  In reality though, it many times meant that if you felt violated, angry, or taken advantage of, it was really your own fault.  You needed to confess your selfish desires and repent and “yield that right to God.”  This made it easy for people to take advantage of those who really just wanted to do the right thing.

As a child and teenager, I was one that let people take advantage of me because I thought I was doing the right thing.  I thought that being used and abused by people was okay.  I refer mainly to the relationship with my parents at that time.  I know that it is frowned upon to speak ill of the dead, but it’s true.  And in defense of my father, he is a very different man now than he was then.

My mother suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar.  The best way to describe her is to say that she could be the most kind and caring person one moment (and I think this was who she really was) and immediately turn verbally and sometimes physically abusive the next.  It was as if two people were constantly warring within her and no one knew what would set her off.  Accidents–like spilling your bowl of cereal–in our house meant spankings, yelling, and sometimes a good hard slap.  At other times, she would laugh.  You never knew which it would be.

As a child and a teenager, I thought that I was doing the right thing by becoming the buffer between my mother and my siblings.  I would work from morning to night, caring for the kids and the house because if I didn’t, it meant very bad things for them.  Whenever something bad would occur, I was the one who comforted people and picked up the pieces.  I remember many times finding a quiet room to cry in after taking some sort of brunt for something I didn’t do.  I wrongly thought that I was being heroic and yielding my rights to God.  I firmly believed that to “forgive and forget” was the way to love the offenders.  And if I purposefully put things out of my mind for long enough, I did slowly forget.  I didn’t realize then what I know now; that even if the details of a situation are forgotten, the remnants of the feelings that you felt then, still haunt you.

At the time, my father was not much better. I was about 16 at the time, and was working a part time job, working through high school, homeschooling my siblings, and caring for the 3 youngest who were still toddlers and babies. One evening, I made dinner and both parents came home from work (my mom took a temporary job) to eat.  I set the plate in front of my father who took a bite and spit it out, pushing the plate away from him.

“This is disgusting,” he said. “Can’t you make anything other than chicken and broccoli?”

It made me angry, but I didn’t say anything (yielding my rights…).  A few minutes later, Mom was yelling at my brother who was a toddler at the time.  He wouldn’t obey her, so I told him to do what mom was asking and he obeyed me without a second thought.  At this, she became irate.

“How dare you usurp my authority!” she yelled. “Who do you think you are? You’re not their mother, so quit acting like it.  Stop trying to turn them against me!”

I don’t remember if I said anything, I just remember thinking, “That’s it.  That’s the last straw.”

Up to that point, I had in the back of my mind that I would run away.  I had read about an island of wealthy people off of the coast of GA.  I had saved up enough money for a train ticket.  I would buy a train ticket to somewhere in south GA, and because I knew that trains went very slowly through Savannah, GA, I would jump off the train there so that my parents couldn’t trace my destination.  I would go to the island and apply to be a housekeeper.  I had my resumes ready.  While I was marking up my map, God stopped me in my tracks.  “If not you, then who will be your brothers keeper?”

I had plenty of reason to leave, I told him in my head.  The first being, they’re not my children.  The second being, I had taken care of them since I was their age.

“What more do want from me?” I roared aloud.

A similar dialogue went on for three days.  At the end of three days, I stopped fighting.  “If not you,” God said, “then who will show them that they are loved?” I knew he was right.

“I will be my brothers keeper,” I said, and meant it.  That was my vow.

From that point on, I remained true to my vow.  I didn’t think that I would ever go to college or have my own life.  As things turned out, though, I did have the chance to go to college, to get married and live my own life for nearly 7 years now.

So what has this to do with a wrestling match now?  Well, as a side note, I will say that for nearly 3 years, I’ve been sick with different ongoing illnesses, the last underlying illness of which is yet to be identified, and I’m tired, literally. Physically, mentally, and spiritually, tired.  I feel like I have nothing left to give.  That is where I’m at.

And now, my vow has returned to me in the form of becoming the legal guardian and caretaker of my youngest brother.  I love him and am excited that he is coming to live with us.  Our plan was to begin the adoption process this year (of some kids internationally), but that and other plans will have to wait.  Putting my life on hold, brings back my old feelings of losing my freedom.  And if you don’t know how it feels to give up your freedom, it feels like you’re grieving the loss of a dear friend.

I know that God gives the grace we need at the moment.  It’s just not an easy moment.

Passing Out in a Public Place: The Lifetime Art of Fainting

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Each person in my family has at least one fainting story.  We also have some amazing IBS stories, but I’ll spare you those for now.  The following lessons are ones that I learned through trial and error.  These are only a small percentage of them. Oh, and this post is not for the faint of heart (pun intended).

 Lesson #1–Never skip a meal.

I was 9 years old when I began my fainting legacy.  It all started with the Homeschool Field Day where I was signed up to run in the 50 yard dash.  I was so excited that morning before we left, that I forgot to eat my usual bowl of Raisin Bran and banana.    My only goal was to beat my arch-nemesis Sarah (because she was mean and bossy and a know-it-all). I ran my little heart out and placed 3rd.  Much to my chagrin, Sarah placed 2nd and was all too happy to remind me of that months later.

After the race, I started to feel sick to my stomach.  I started puking and told the nearest adult who assured me, “You’ll be okay honey. You’re fine.  Go find your Momma.”  So off I went.  A few steps into that journey (that felt like a lifetime), I learned what it felt like to go unconscious for the first time.  Five more blackouts and two pukes later, I was crawling army style, drenched in a cold sweat, to my Mom’s feet.  Knowing full well that I was the least dramatic of her children, she immediately whisked me back home.  She was a nurse in her pre-children years, so I’m pretty sure that any medical situation that arose made her feel alive.  And as a side note, being a nurse and having 9 children, go hand-in-hand.

Lesson #2–Fainting is not “as seen on TV.”

When I imagine people who faint, I imagine fragile-looking southern belles holding fans, and placing a delicately gloved hand to the forehead whenever something gritty occurs.  I also imagine the little sigh that always accompanies the TV faint.  This, I assure you, is not the case. Fainting, is an ugly business.

Lesson #3–If you pass out and happen to be skinny, people will assume that you’re anorexic.

I was about 17 and had just passed out in the middle of a 2 hour choir concert, wearing an oversized black sequined robe (it looked like a sequined tent).  A man caught me and brought me backstage where a woman gave me orange juice, saltines and an excellent lecture about how anorexia kills people. Had I eaten today? Yes?  Well, obviously not enough to sustain a wren. Oh, and Jesus loves you for who you are on the inside…

 Lesson #4–Scratch what was learned in Lesson #1

I once fainted while visiting my friend Heidi in the ICU (earning me the eternal nickname “fainting girl” with her family).  That one was a really bad one.  I had just eaten lunch moments before we entered her room and after about 10 minutes, I passed out.  A very good-looking male nurse picked me up and placed me in a chair in the hallway.  It took me about an hour going in and out of consciousness to fully come around.  I didn’t even get to visit Heidi.

Lesson #5–Fainting mostly occurs in the most embarrassing/inconvenient places possible.

The most recent one was last night.  We were having dinner on the river walk in San Antonio.  It was a lovely balmy evening. We had finished dinner, and I knew something wasn’t right.  As the minutes dragged on, (and according to Ethan and my face became paler), our dinner companion began telling a gruesome story about having his back stapled after an accident.  Normally, not a problem.  Last night, however, big problem.  To me, that’s the worst thing about fainting.  Everyone thinks that it’s because of something they said or did that set you off.  So, I waited until he was done with his story to whisper to Ethan “I’m going to pass out.”  Ethan knew what that meant and prepared himself in case I fell.  Our dinner companion thought I meant I was tired.

It always starts with ringing in my ears, tunnel vision and voices become unintelligible.  So, I lay my head in my arms on the table, and began the vomit/swallow routine (I refuse to puke in the middle of a restaurant).  By the time I felt well enough to raise my head, all of my hair and clothes were soaked through with sweat as if someone had just thrown me in the river. Our dinner companion seemed a little freaked out.  And to me, that’s the worst part.  It always freaks people out.  On the other hand, it sort of reminds me of superhero movies where the hero is secretly battling the enemy who is trying to gain mind control or Super Man, trying to hold up against kryptonite. Haha.

So there you have it.  If you ever faint, and feel embarrassed, think of me 😉

Reusable Shopping Bags and the Art of Conveyor Belt Strategy

Die look

(This is my impression of the cashier’s “just die” look.)

Today I bravely took my reusable shopping bags to the grocery store.  I didn’t take all of them, just eight.

Normally, I go down the street to the ghetto market that shall not be named, grab a cart, plunk my bags inside and nod to the armed security guard who stands at the doors.  I pick out my items and find my way to the registers.  I’ve learned, at this unnamed store, that I must first put my reusable bags on the conveyor belt before the groceries; otherwise, the bagger and cashier will “not notice” the bags in a large pile in front of them and will “accidentally” only use the plastic bags.

There is a definite strategy for placing things on the conveyer belt.  Here are the three golden rules to follow:

  1. Do not piss off the cashier right away.  Fruits and vegetables have PLU codes that must be typed in or looked up should never go first.  They should not be left for last either as this gives the cashier an impending sense of hopelessness.
  2. Do not piss off the bagger.  Grouping like items beforehand is a must. If it is smashable, breakable, or in some way fragile, make sure that it is following the fruits and veggies or its own clearly defined pile.  Never, under any circumstances place fragile items after frozen or refrigerated items.  They will not make it.
  3. Do not avoid weightlifting.  If you have ever used reusable bags, you know that to try and please you, the bagger–out of both spite and accommodation for your green anal eccentricities–will load the bag up as much as possible.  Therefore, one bag will be 50 pounds and the other 3.  If you do not hit the gym regularly, consider measured piles.

The problem is, I had to learn these rules through trial and error.  I should have realized sooner that it was my reusable bags that made the baggers suddenly scatter to the winds every time I plopped them there.  I finally became aware of my errors the time that I was the recipient of the unmistakeable “just die” look that the cashier gave me when her baggers disappeared and I handed her the bags.  To drive home her point of temporary hatred, she made sure to place all of the canned foods on top of bread and tomatoes, and the jug of milk on top of the eggs and bananas.  This certainly taught me a valuable lesson.  Never expect anyone chewing gum in an ill-fitting vest to do her job.   Who would have ever thought that being environmentally conscientious would be inconvenient?

From this lesson, I have learned to announce boldly before the bagger darts away “I will bag it myself.”  This method has proved great results.  The baggers still leave (now thinking I’m anal, but happily bowing out), but the cashier smiles at me and doesn’t throw all of the fragile stuff around.

Fast forward to last Thursday.  I brought my 8 reusable bags and headed to Giant.  It was refreshing that when I came to the counter, not only did the bagger do a great job and was very friendly, the cashier was nice and I got a discount for each of my bags.  They also had a raffle for anyone using reusable bags.  It was nice to not be punished for trying to do something helpful.

And to top it all off, the cashier very thoughtfully asked, “Hey, do you know you have something white on your face?”

“Yes,” I replied. “I have poison ivy.  The white stuff is supposed to be there.”

“Oh, okay.  I thought maybe that was it.”  She shrugged.  “But you know how you want your friends to tell you when you have broccoli in your teeth?  That was what I was trying to do.”

I bet at the unnamed store, the cashier would have just kept stealing sidelong glances and said nothing.

Poor Lillian

Everyone knows what that look means and Lillian Crandenburg was an expert at detecting it.  You see, Lillian was a plain thin woman (bless her heart) with dish-water brown air and dull grey eyes.  She never struck anyone as anything more than your stereotypical recluse librarian.  And that, in fact, was what she was.

Every Tuesday morning, on her way to the Piggly Wiggly, she walked past “Trish’s Hair Salon.”  As if by some blessed miracle, this was when Trish’s place just so happened to be fully booked.  Filled with makeup wearing women sporting large unmoving hair and french manicures, the place was buzzing with life–not good life necessarily, but life nonetheless.  Now, if you’ve never experienced the talk that goes on in a hair salon, you’ve never gossiped.  It’s the kind of gossip that your Sunday school warned you about as a child and the kind that the preacher admonished yearly from the pulpit after some small scandal erupted from such talk.

“Oh, here she comes,” said Bertha-May in a half yell, half whisper so as not to be heard by Lillian but of course by everyone in the salon.  These women loved three things: games, gossip, and tradition.  And when the three could be combined, something close to perfection was at hand.  So, as always, a scrap of paper was drawn from a fish bowl to determine the name of the lucky woman in the shop who would then bestow upon poor oblivious Lillian, the newest, most creative and wild hairdo she could imagine.  Many times, this included complimentary accessories and clothing that would accentuate her new do.  From teal mohawk to purple spikes, everything was tried.  This fine tradition was now on its sixth month and still going strong.  Normally, this assessment would usually last for at least fifteen minutes, if not more.

This particular morning, providence smiled on Rita Fischer.  “I think,” she said thoughtfully, “that a nice mahogany hair color would bring out her eyes–you know, make them sparkle. And maybe some makeup would help too.”  Everyone turned towards her in disbelief and Trish gave a small gasp.  Never before had anyone put forth a good idea.  After a quick moment of awkward silence, Trish spoke up.

“You know, Rita, you’re raght.  She needs a makeover–a real one. What da ya say she becomes our liddle project?”  Most of the women excitedly nodded in agreement and a few clapped in jubilation; some skeptics held out for a couple of moments, hoping that Trish was being sarcastic.  One after another, women shouted out ideas and tizzied around the shop devising immaculate plans for the new and improved Lillian Crandenburg.  That’s when Mrs. Mauricia L. Myers graced the shop with her presence.  Everyone froze in silence as if Saint Mary herself had just walked into the room and stopped time.  She raised her right eyebrow (well plucked, penciled, and arched I might add), opened her mouth to say something as if about to inquire what was happening, and closed it again, realizing that she did not care to know.

“Can I help you?” Trish managed from across the room.

“I’m here on behalf of the women’s auxiliary. I’m wondering if I might give you a brochure to let your–” she paused for a moment glancing around the chaotic room, seeming lost for words. “–patrons know about the fundraiser and charity auction in two weeks.  It will be held at MacIntire field at two ‘o clock in the afternoon and will go into the evening.”

For the first time in her life, Mrs. M.L. Myers felt out of place.  No one around her was talking, and they made it obvious that she was the current focus of their attentions.  This was precisely why she made it a point to only give her business to the salon down the street–they practiced social etiquette.  She hurriedly stuffed a few flyers into Trish’s hand, raised her lovely eyebrows, turned and walked out the door before anyone had time to explain the silliness.  As the door shut, the noise once again rose as the women got back to planning.  Poor Lillian; she was really in for it this time.

 

A few days later, the well-meaning women with too much time on their hands and too little to think about, put their devious plan into action on Lillian’s behalf.  By some kindness of fate, Bertha-May (as oblivious as always)–while spying on Lillian from behind the grapefruits in the grocery store–noticed that Lillian was thoroughly engrossed in a romance novel.  After reporting this to the ladies, the vote to send Lillian  mysterious love notes was unanimous.  Thus, Bertha-May took it upon herself (with the occasional grammatical and spelling help of Rita) to write these love notes.  She always liked to sign them Your Secret LoveI know this is cheesy, and if other women had known, they would agree, but Bertha-May thought that a little extra effort was needed in Lillian’s desperate case.

After a week and a half of love note sending, Bertha-May grew frustrated that every time she had “accidentally” run into Lillian, Lillian said nothing about the “Secret Love” nor did she mention any odd mail. This exasperated Berth-May to no end.  And being the tactless woman she was, decided to straight up ask her.  Thankfully, right before she was able to blow her cover, she was interrupted by Mr. Lawson asking her about something.  To this day, she still doesn’t remember what he was babbling about.

Now it was two days until this charity auction was about to take place and the girls’ plan was in full swing. Bertha-May had sent the last note from the secret love which was the most imperative of the letters.  I never read it myself, but I heard Bertha-May and Rita brag about their collective genius many times afterward.  It read something like this:

 

My Dearest Darling Lillian,

  Although it has not been a long time that I have written you, I feel as if I must meet you and reveal myself to you face to face.  Since I have been so open with you, I must meet with you in person and know if you feel the same way towards me.  If you are willing, meet me at 3 o’ clock at the charity auction this Saturday.  Wear a red dress with a yellow flower pinned to your left lapel.  I too will be wearing a yellow flower.

I hope to meet you there.

Sincerely, 

  Your Secret Love

 

Now this is as cliched as the dickens, but the ladies thought it to be a fine piece of work.  A few days prior to the note, Rita had contacted her sister’s college roommate whose husband had a cousin who was a former Abercrombie and Fitch model who was older now and desperate for work.  Plans were set and ready to go, and now all the girls had to do was dress and groom Lillian.  Rita took it upon herself to invite Lillian to a free makeover session at Trish’s on Saturday afternoon before the auction.  She made sure to drop a few names of other homely women in town that would serve as props to make the scene look a bit more authentic.  She thought Lillian seemed excited–she raised her eyebrows slightly and made a slight grimace, which Rita took to be her smile.

To the surprise of the women, Lillian arrived at exactly 1:30 at Trish’s on Saturday.  All of the women tried to act non-chalant as they brimmed over with pure elation at the site of Lillian being dolled up.  And to think that they had done such a good deed for such an outwardly unexcited person.  She did get “all prettied up,” as the women like to say.

Trish gave her that mahogany color that really did make her eyes sparkle and the makeup that made her prettier.  Some of the women later admitted they were glad that Lillian didn’t look this good on a regular basis, because if she did, they would have to be more careful about the watching of their husbands.

The last and most crucial part was the dress.  Lillian had come not only homely because of her face and hair, but because of the ugly sack she called a dress.  It was red but only in theory.  Ten years ago, it might have been a nice shade of red, but as it was, the dress was tired and worn and really, very ugly.  The only glimmer of hope came from a small yellow flower clumsily pinned on her left shoulder.  Rita thought it best to get Lillian to spill the beans about the love letters and she would happen to solve Lillian’s problem of the ugly dress for her.  Yet, as Lillian would have it, she never once mentioned the letters nor of her reason for getting beautified.  Finally, Rita just said that all the women could go and pick out a dress from the consignment shop next door.  She helpfully steered Lillian right to the dress that had already been picked out for her.  Lillian kindly tried on the dress (didn’t like it), but pretended to like it for Rita’s sake–she just seemed to like it so much. Rita was envious.  She wondered why this woman didn’t normally wear something to show off her nice thin figure.  People like Lillian were just plain wasteful and ungrateful.

The women walked with heads held high as they slowly followed Lillian.  The couldn’t imagine what she was thinking.  Was she excited?  If so, she surely didn’t show a bit of that excitement to them. Was she nervous?  She couldn’t be with the way that she carried herself with such calm, defiant dignity.

Once at the auction, Lillian stood alone as the women purposefully dispersed themselves amongst the crowd.  At exactly 3 o’clock, a voice came over the loud speaker announcing that the auction of good-looking men would begin soon.  Everyone made their way to the stage, excited to see these fine specimens.  When Mr. former model stepped on stage, all the women were silent–knowing that only Lillian was allowed to bid.  Lillian stood motionless for a moment, and noticing that no one else was bidding for this man with the yellow flower, bid a dollar.  After winning, she nodded at the women and escorted her budget-friendly prize away.  Where they went was anyone’s guess.  The women were indignant at her ungratefulness.  They assumed that she didn’t even realize how hard they had worked just to make her feel socially accepted.

An hour later, the Secret Love (named Ralph, for those curious) resurfaced without Lillian.  The women figured that Lillian was bored by him, paid him a little sum and had left him to spend it at the charity auction.

The funniest part to this whole story is Lillian’s secret that only I knew.  The silly plotting of the small town women played perfectly into her own plan.  She had waited a long time for this, and now she had gotten what she wanted–and no one even knew–except for me, of course.  I could never tell them though, I would become just like Lillian: the center of a small town’s world.

Pets, Introversion, and Adoption

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We got a cat about a month ago and named her Koshka (the Russian word for ‘cat’) because naming a cat ‘cat’ makes me smile.  We would’ve gone for ‘dog’ for complete irony, but ‘Sabaka’ is too long a name 🙂

Pre-Koshka, I never would’ve labelled myself as a “cat person,” but I’m coming to see that I was just always in denial.  This doesn’t mean that I go around using my exaggerated baby voice calling her my “Fluffykins, or Baby-poo,” but it does mean that I like having her as a little companion.  She’s very friendly, independent, quirky, and just a tad bit mischievous as all cats should be.  Did I mention that she’s independent?  (This is very important).  Ethan says that I like her because she’s the cat version of me.  Hmm…

I’m very happy that I got her, but honestly, I was extremely hesitant to get any kind of pet after last year’s dog-sitting fiasco.  The worst part about dog-sitting this shih-tzu was not that it immediately ran into a busy road as soon as I got it to my house, or that it peed wherever it felt like, or even that it barked all night long for 3 consecutive nights (0% exaggeration).  The worst part was, it never left me alone for a moment.  I felt as if this little dog was invading every last inch of my life; it followed me EVERYWHERE and whined when it couldn’t.  Yes, I felt violated by a little shih-tzu.

So what’s the big deal, you ask?  Out of that list, you choose that as the problem? Yes, because you see, I am an introvert working off a deficit of never being alone.

For most of my life, growing up as the oldest girl in a large home schooled family meant that I was constantly caring for young children and as any caretaker of young children knows, they rarely leave you alone unless they’re getting in trouble. Also, in our house, although 10 out of 11 of us are introverts, being alone was considered by my mother to be both unneeded and very selfish.  We had no locks on the doors, and all of us shared rooms: there was no place for personal space and privacy was non-existent.  Eventually, all of us found some way to be alone.  I played music and started running–because no one wanted to run with me.  All of my brothers found different ways to be alone: some through gaming, others through spending time in the woods. I don’t say this to put down large families, simply to explain why I have such a great need now to be alone.

For me, I can only be creative when I’m alone.  Having my alone time is not imperative every day, but if I’ve had several without ample alone time, I am physically and mentally exhausted.  Life would be much easier if I was an extrovert.  I’ve many times wished I was one (it would make parties much less awkward).

Teaching piano and voice lessons on a schedule that I create, helps me to plan in time to be alone.  It’s ideal for me. I have time to be creative, to reflect, write, compose and whatever else.

All this to say, my need to be alone plays a very important part as Ethan and I are discussing the possibility of one day adopting kids.  I’ve done a good bit of child-rearing and it seems that alone time is not part of parental vocabulary; especially not for a woman.  For those mothers who are introverts, what are your strategies for being alone while child-rearing? 

On a slightly different note, this is a wonderful TED talk on the subject.

 

Gym Reflections

One of my more matching outfits while being beat by Amos.

One of my more matching outfits while being beat by Samuel the Amish guy in a 5K.

During the winter time, I’m a wimp so I go to the gym to workout rather than running in the cold.  Normally, I choose hours that only coincide with the 70+ crowd because the place is quieter, the people are more fun to chat with and it fits better with my schedule.  But on occasion, I find myself as part of the 25-40 gym rat group that is going there to hook up or to impress everyone around them.

On a few occasions, I have gotten the obvious look over–not to be mistaken by the non-obvious look over out of the corner of the eye, or the obvious look over after the girl has already walked away to see if the legs and butt match the face. No this is the one that’s right in front of you with eyebrows and the up-down head movement followed by a smile or some sort of tongue movement.  It is then accompanied by oily “hello” or some kind of dumb question.  If it’s a dumb question, I give them a matter-of-fact answer and walk away.  If it’s a “hello,” I go into what I like to call my dead fish phase.  It’s the “hello” in response but with the unfocused eyes, not quite looking at the guy and keeping the rest of my face slack with the excitement of a dead fish and then turning and walking away as if cousin to a zombie.  I know. I’m mean, but let’s be honest, a girl needs to have some sort of plan for sleeze.  I figured out long ago that saying “I’m married” means nothing to the men who are acting like this.

Once in awhile, you meet a guy who just doesn’t get the hint.  To him, I dedicate this letter.

Dear Male Gym Rat:

It’s flattering that you think I want to know your name and all about your job.  It’s amusing that you think I’m there to “check you out checking me out,” but that is simply not the case.  I dress in the shorts, one of the oversized 5k T-shirts that I’ve amassed over the years, bandana, and non-matching shoes because I am there to work out and not to look good doing it.  I’m not there to impress anyone.

I’m red-faced, sweating more than three of the matchy-matchy girls behind me and I probably smell too. I’m glad that I look like I’ve been working hard…because I have. You might have better luck with the matchy girls who are wearing makeup, have cute and perfect hair and whose shoes match every part of their outfit.  As a bonus, they don’t sweat–they glisten.

Also, it does not win you extra brownie points to tell me how many times a week that you are at the gym, what you lift, and how far you run.  Since you “happened” to choose the treadmill next to mine, I know that I run faster than you on my bad days (and I’m no speed demon).

Sincerely,

The girl who doesn’t look good when she runs

 

So now that spring is right around the corner, I’ll be happily doing the outdoor thing.

Anyone have some funny gym stories?