Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Daily Practice of Happiness

I met a woman recently whose family is concerned about her--she's in her late 80s, slipping slowly into Alzheimer's and a little confused, but still with life and personality in her eyes. She really likes people. I had met her before, but didn't thik she would remember me. Her face lit up, and she said,"Oh, I've missed you! Where have you been?"

Her family adores her. We talked for awhile, and it struck me, and it had before, that this was a woman who has been happy all of her life. She looked for the goodness in her life throughout, and she found it. She's had plenty of cares in her world, but she has focused on the good things going on in her life.

And I began to wonder, is happiness a gift or a talent? I think we expect it to be just given to us. We don't expect to work to expand it, to make it grow, to sustain it. Every day, though, our attitudes, our expectations and our focus have a great deal to do with whether that day is happy or sad.

Sometimes, life is just sad. Several decades ago, I was terribly sad for a spell, and I started a habit of waking up in the morning and writing down the good things I expected to happen. I remember one day all I could think of was, "the sun came up." Every evening I would review my list and write down any additional good things that had happened. And there always were some. Every single day. I learned to look hard for those things.

If happiness is a talent, then some are more gifted at it than others, and I believe this to be true. Some just excel at it. I had to practice, because I have a melancholy streak that rises periodically--but as the years have passed, learning to focus on each day's blessings has helped keep maloncholy at bay. No matter what, these days I know with certainty every day will have good things happening in it. No matter what.

I plan to pratice happiness, and keep getting better at it on a daily basis.

This old woman I talked to is fading now, but she is retaining the central essence of her personality, I believe, through long practice. She is happy. She is kind. She is loved.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Magic of Thanksgiving

Around the holidays, we do get magical. Can't help it. This, for me, is a magic story.

A couple of weeks ago, I visited a longtime friend in East Texas. For you roustabouts who don't know anything about the very large state of Texas,this means a 100 miles or so east of DFW Metroplex.The sweet gum were coloring. So were the oak and maple. The sun was blooming for the first time in a week.
But the weather was so mild the flowers, particularly the roses, were still blooming.
My friend has a beautiful home in 11 acres of gardens, trees, meadows and stock tank. Wow.

Along with the superb coconut creme pie she made from scratch, she showed me her favored china. She opened the door, and asked, " Do you remember this?" She pulled out a blue serving plate rimmed with gold trim, with six matching plates.

My face convulsed. She was alarmed. She said ,"You can have it back if you want to," and I am proud to say only for a moment did I want to.Because when I got all my gandmother's china, when I realized what she had, I realized it was too much. I sold a lot of it. I lost some in storage, and I gave some of it away. Ultimately,
I lost it all. But I gave some of it to persons I loved. Anita was one of them.

When I visited Anita and saw the plates, in a way I had never acknowledged I realized what I had lost, and what I had gained.l saw that I inherited, never owned, my grandmother's china. At the same time I realized by giving these few plates away,I had them forever, in the home I gave them to.

No wonder she had trouble reading my face. I am so proud that once upon a time I don't even remember I gave them to her. I don't even remember it except peripherilly. But at least I knew even then that she was important. I gave the gold-gilded plates to someone I loved 40 years ago. And we still love each other.

Well, she will have her Thanksgiving and so will will I. I don't know what plates will be used in either place. We don't own them, y'all. We simply use them while we are here. I still own the memories of my grandmother, my father, my mother. The plates bring them more to mind. But I don't need them to remember.

That is all. Thanksgiving is hope for the future. I have been blessed. How about you?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happier Kid Without a Dad

Followup to the boy who broke my heart. I've seen him every Wednesday for the past two weeks. And learned more.

He stays from 6:30 am to 8 pm four days a week with the young woman who brought him. She has a really healthy, two-parent home with three sons who love each other and are rambunctious. It is a very good place for him to be.

Turns out he is four. Very limited ability to play or interact with other kids. His mom calls him a loner. At four. His father is an alcoholic who told his son these damaging words in a pity party when his wife told him she could no longer support the family and his habit and he had to leave. The boy seems happier. He still doesn't know how to play with other kids, or much about play at all.

I am new in this community. And most folks just think all he needs is stability and love, which he is getting. In my professional (ret) opinion, he should go to the play therapy clinic with sliding fee scale at the nearby university. I will suggest it. I doubt the outcome. But he has his mom three days a week--hopefully--and a healthy, happy family with three boys around his age four days a week.

As I say, I would like to make it still better. But I am glad it is as good as it is. And his mom was brave to do what she did.

Mistaken Identity with Cell Phones

Do I believe safety issues exist when drivers talk on the phone or text while driving? Oh, yeah.

Funny thing is, 97 per cent of Americans, in a recent poll, think the rest of you are dangerous. A majority, on the other hand, thought they personally were safe.

Not me, by golly. I wasn't polled, but I would be one of those saying, "I'm about as safe behind the wheel with a phone to my ear as I would be in rush hour traffic with three shots of Wild Turkey on an empty stomach."

So I always pull over, and if a pullover place isn't immediately available, I probably won't answer before the phone quits ringing. Which creates a distraction of its own. After trying several times to snag it out of my purse while driving a stick shift in rush hour stop'n'go a few years ago, I wisely decided not even to try till I was safely stopped. Even though my current vehicle is automatic.

Oh, I have coordination, of sorts. I can walk and chew gum. The problem is when I try to talk and do--almost anything else. When transporting foster kids all over creation and North Texas on often unfamiliar byways, I missed so many exits while in conversation that my kids expected my cheerful rejoinder to "you just missed the exit" that we were again taking the scenic route. I am pleased that it became a point of camaraderie among us. At least, I thought so.

And that was with an actual person sitting beside me.

Cell phones, however, factor more than just on the road.

I play Yahzee with three friends every week, where we play all six games at once. This results in scores usually over 7,000, and I prefer to use my calculator. (Two of us add in their heads faster than I can with my calculator but I forgive them, and they forgive me.) I got a telephone call on my cell the other day and after the call I brought it back to the table with me. My cell and my calculator are approximately the same size. I was talking to my friends while deciding to add a column, and had punched two musical digits before it occurred to me I was trying to add on my cell phone. Yes, I know I actually can do that, but I wanted to use my nifty sun-powered calculator which I've had since the 80s. They didn't notice.

So of course, I confessed. And was ribbed unmercifully. And then a friend confessed she had been watching tv last week when she decided to make a call and absentmindedly picked up the TV remote and tried to dial. Wasn't she good-hearted to share that?

I'm the woman who had to train myself to hang up my car keys each time I entered the house after one nerve-wracking morning when it took us 30 minutes to find the keys in the refrigerator. And when we did, I remembered how that happened. But when I am thinking about something else, my hands do things I hesitate to take responsibilty for, although ultimately I must.

I once knew someone who could read while driving 80 mph down the highway, simultaneously carry on a conversation, watch tv and read--although with delayed reaction times--and never miss a lick.

Me, I can walk and chew gum. Oh, and I can cook and talk at the same time. Definitely not write and talk. Drive and talk a little bit--although I can listen with better driving concentration.

Fortunately, the computer and printer have discrete functions. Else I might never post.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

When a child breaks your heart

I took my grandchildren to a midweek church function. A young woman I know showed up with a little boy, about 3.

He was clingy. She left him with the kids who were playing games. And he began to cry. Someone who didn't know him asked if his mom or dad was there. He cried harder.

"I don't have a daddy anymore," he sobbed. He's only 3.

I asked for him. Hugged him. Whispered he was safe, and he was loved. He cried.
He cried with all his heart, full force. Kids do that, when they stub their toe, when they bump their heads or when they are so sad they can't find any comfort.

The woman came back and said this was his first day staying with her. I whisperered what he had said. and she said yeah, that was the truth pretty much. She offered him a chance to go talk to his mom, and he nodded and went with her. He came back with her, having talked to his mom at work, and somewhat relieved.

I've separated kids from toxic parents numerous times. I've offered comfort. When parents are so toxic, the grief is less for the kids. But I held this boy, and as he cried, I began to cry too.

Is his dad really gone? or is this what a furious, hurting mom told her baby boy? I don't know. I just know a baby told me, "I don't have a daddy any more."

He's safe. He's cared for. But at 3, he hurts. How does he deal with it?

I am older now. I really feel the pain. Literally.
I wish I could make it better.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

When Different Can Mean Happy

Visiting a friend in the hospital recently, I approached the volunteer desk to double-check the room number. One of the women was about my age-in her case with smooth, lovely skin, pretty features and simply cut silver hair. Pretty. Not pretentious. Not particularly conscious of her "presentation", wearing her volunteer jacket and serving her shift. Oh--and her clothing? Ordinary.

We fell into conversation, and she mentioned her husband is 97, blessed with good eyesight hearing and an active mind, but with declining knees.

"We are blessed," she said.

I grinned. "He must have done some cradle-robbing to get you," I said, because this lady was nowhere near her 90s. (Although lately, I've been fooled a few times).

She gave a rowdy laugh. "He sure did! He's 31 years older than me. We've been married 33 years."

Here smile reflected contentment and pleasure at the unexpected longevity of her marriage.

There's a story there. A good one. She was in her 30s, he in his 60s when they married. A love match. She may have been dropdead gorgeous, but she just doesn't have the moves of a woman who counted on it or traded on it. She still loves his personality, sooooo? Maybe he was, or is, very rich. But she was out in public not dressed like it.

I remember the couple I approved for an adoption where she was 26 years older than he. I remember neighbors with the same dynamic. In both cases, the relationships involved equable relationships. Really good ones. Like this woman and her much older husband.

Individuals still defy the cookie cutter systems of categorizing.

I'd love to know the story of the hospital volunteer. I don't need to, though. It's validation everytime I hear about folks who are leading good lives outside any mass demographics. The more we get along with different lives and voices, the better. In a chorus, it's called harmony.

"They" don't all have to be like "us", thank gooness.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Chocolate for the Soul

There is a woman in a small church who attended a chocolate festival sponsored by a Methodist church in Norman, Okla.

That was two years ago.

She dreamed of doing the same in her church, and she convinced people. Now, I believe most humans seek a spritual part of their life. Some by hunting. Some by camping in nature. Some by praying in temples. Some by joining a church. She joined a church.

And she admits, the first thing that occurred to her was, this is a great way to earn some money to do some good. But then, the church supported a young woman who went to Africa to do good works. She worked with an orphanage. These kids felt lucky even to be alive, and the church came through with beds, mosquito netting, etc. They came to know the kids. It made it personal. So doing something for missions became a spiritual thing. Because doing something for others without any reward is exactly that. Oh, it can be just be a good thing, and feel good. But she saw more, and that's allowed. We can do good works and feel a God component. And so she did.

The festival is Saturday.

It is a church I belong to. The proceeds will go to missions around the world. We ignore the benefit churches contribute but I suspect they are greater than foreign aid. Church stuff goes directly to the people. And I think that is good.

So. This woman set up the festival for our church. She got T-shirts. She talked to us. She begged for volunteers to get vendors and sell tickets. She worked and worked. We didn't join in. I'm not a salesperson. I know that. I got her some newspaper publicity. Sure enough, that doesn't help much these days. This is a really nice church. But it doesn't have salespeople or promoters in the congregation. Really doesn't. No wonder it feels spiritual and not corporate.

But still.

She talked to us last Sunday. Her voice was ragged, her timber low. She talked about the journey of faith this has been. And it has been a tough journey. It has become not about money but about service. Took her awhile to get there. But she is there. She talked about the good this could do. And how far we were from success. She called an emergency meeting.

After church, I went over to my son's and played a game for an hour with my granddaughter and a friend. We had fun. Saw my other granddaughter brought in with a cut foot. She's doing well, but she won't be so quick to go barefoot again. Then I went to the meeting.

All women.

So, we set up things to do. There are old women making old recipes for bonbons--you young folk may not know what those are. They are trouble, and time consuming and oh man, they are good. Others making fudge. white-chocolate raspberry cheesecake. Regular fudge. Nutella gelato. Chocolate baklava....really? Chili-chocolate snacks. Fantasy fudge with real butter and walnuts. Brownies. chocolate mints. chocolate cream cheese mints. chocolate bread with tiger butter.Cherry fudge. more, more, more. And yeah, the guys are making some of it.

And we've tried to set up some publicity. That's what we need, and what we apparently are not good at.

In all, this little church has close to 5,000 samples of chocolate, all homemade. Tickets are 6 samples for $10, 12 samples for $20. Recipes for a dollar apiece. Soft drinks, water and milk available. Recipes, too, a dollar each.

All this work. I haven't baked. Instead, I've tried to be the gofer between folks facilitating communication and completed tasks.

Will people come? All that work. So many hours of work. Will people come?
They will be happy if they do. Delicious.

Will they come? We'll find out tomorrow. So many folk working. So many hours. So much yet to do. So much. This is a volunteer project. People have led with their hearts, their pride and their industry. It happens with every volunteer activity in the community. The folks putting them on always have a bigger vision than giving you some fun. Always.

Will people come?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Virtual and Real Exposure to New Things

My first effort with a digital camera went very well. In 11 days, I shot 370 photos, including at least 3 rather nice ones from 30,000 feet on the plane. (The one shooting down at Mt. Hood was particularly good.) They are downloaded on my computer. But I haven't learned the simple process of scanning into my blog, and talking about Oregon without pics is kinda like, well, like salt-free potato chips.

One reflection. When I lived in New Mexico, my dad, an avid garderer, had a velvety lawn of close-cropped blue grass and clover, a delight to bare feet. We had rattlesnakes, black widow spiders, potent desert scorpions and vinegaroons (if you scare them, they let out a smell like someone spilled maybe a gallon of strong vinegar), so we were careful where we stepped. But we didn't have chiggers. I learned about those in the 60s, when I moved to Dallas. And every now and then, I would forget and end up with a number of unbearably itchy bumps.

Then, in the 70s, fire ants reached the Metroplex and life changed forever. No more gardening without heavy socks over my jeans and long sleeves and gloves even in mid-summer because another queen might have landed in the tilled soil, undetected. The thing about fire ants, they run toward the disturbance, not away, and they all sting at the same time. And they leave painful bites that develop pus before subsiding. Not life threatening, but very unpleasant. So we all automatically became extremely conscious of where we stepped. Or sat. Lying down? Outdoors? Ha!

I hadn't realized how accostomed I am to this until I saw people Sleeping On The Grass in Oregon. My kneejerk reaction was concern, even alarm for them. Unsafe! Unsafe! but of course it is perfectly safe there. They don't even have poisonous snakes. That added a lot, I think, to my relaxation in the environment. Here, one stays a little bit vigilent outdoors, always. But it was a noticeable shift for me. Where we live is our norm. We interact without even thinking about it. When it changes, we notice.


I want to recommend two books I've read lately.

The first is "Julie and Julia" by Julie Powell, the story of a blogger who won the lottery, i.e., wrote a book based on one of the first blogs in existence, and sold the movie rights.It is tremendously funny--her writing reminds me in some ways of Crystal's style--and I found myself laughing out loud.

As most folks already know, this non-cooking picky eater set out to cook--and also eat--every recipe in Julia Childs' first cookbook. Crazy. I shudder at some of the things she ate--pounds and pounds and pounds of butter, kidneys(I think I could eat them but I don't think I could cook them), and brains (no, thank you. ick.) Oh, and turnips. This woman didn't even like carrots and raisins when she started. I am bemused. You have to say she was anal-compulsive or she wouldn't have finished the project, but she is so full of life. Hugely full of life. It's a good read.

The seond book is "Banana" by Dan Koeppel. The bananas in the stores today are Cavendish, which may be doomed in the next 10 to 30 years...read to find out why. Still, many varieties of bananas exist throughout the world, some with seeds, most cultivated ones without (plants are grown from cuttings, so are clones of each other) He goes into ancient history, segueing into the rise of the tremendously profitable U.S. fruit companies with holdings throughout the world. (O.Henry coined the phrase, "banana republics" in 1905.) He also covers the genetic manipulation of this fruit and general produce in easy to follow prose about a complicated and tedious process.

He's an excellent writer and obviously an exhaustive researcher.

In the last year, I have made it a practice to pick out a couple of non-fiction books each time I go to the library. My only requirement is that it has to be something totally different. It has added a lot of enjoyment to my life.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Seminal Oregon

Huh. When I wrote for a newspaper, I had 150,000 readers. Now I am concerned by the expectations of 15 or so per day.

And that is good. Maybe I need to focus more on the fewer rather than the more.

I haven't written about Oregon. I wrote about my expectations. I suppose one would suppose that since I haven't written about it, the experience failed my expectations. Far from it.

It was seminal, and yes, I just looked up the word to make sure I was using it accurately. It changed my world view in a major way.

As beautiful as the west part of Oregon is, that was only a part. As wonderful as the friends I stayed with are, they are only a part. But maybe a bigger part. They gave me so much. So much. And I think, before in my life, I couldn't have accepted it. But now I could. And it was so wonderful.

It was so wonderful spending 10 hours with the childhood friend I hadn't seen in 49 years. We just picked up where we left off, because we were always in tune. We have been through a lot we still haven't shared fully--but the music still plays. And I love the tune.

I couldn't do some of the things I wanted to do because of my RA. And for about two minutes, I wept. Then I focused on the positive, and what I had and was experiencing and doing. And it was OK. Better than that. Blake made biscuits from scratch and omelets with wild mushrooms, and then we set out. It was great, whatever I was able to get to. Oregon has so much, even us impaired, hobbling folks can partake.

In 11 days, I can truthfully say I had NO negative experiences. No one person rude. No one person it wasn't pleasant to talk to. No view that wasn't beautiful, and worth going 2,000 miles to see.

See why it's so hard to write about?

But I will, for me if not for the readers. I need to see the words and in some ways, grow from it. It was the vacation of a lifetime.

And I hope there will be more.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What makes a survivor instead of a victim?

I was assigned a sexual abuse case where the girl was doing well in a foster home in a small Texas town. She and her dad both agreed he had only touched her breast once. She had an older sister, better endowed. Reported untouched. She had younger brothers.

She was a young teenager when the abuse occurred. Laws were different then. She was removed from the home. She seldom saw her mother, who stuck with her husband. He was placed on deferred adjudication and forced to attend an abusers' group each week. He hated it.

This was back in the '90s.This girl''s father was not bright, nor capable of enlightenment. Periodically, he would show up at the police station with a few pair of tighty whiteys and a toothbrush and toothpaste in a paper sack, and say "I can't stand it anymore! Send me to jail!"

And the police and I would chuckle. Comic relief, right?

The girl wasn't comic She was tragic. It took her years just to be alone in the same room with any man, years to start wearing clothes even approximately her size. In a town as small as she was in, boys and girls got engaged, even married, before graduation. Not her. And her grades were exceptional.

We had her all set up with a scholarship, a career that would pay well, that she said she wanted. And months before graduation, she threw it all over to go with a married man with abuse flags all over the place, but no accusations, and she was 18. We could do nothing.

Now we come to last week's story of the woman missing so many years, who has lived a horrible life for 18 years and has two children by her abuser. Apparently, she was so submissive she has stayed voluntarily, even as an adult. Stockholm syndrome? People tend to think that when something like this happens, the victim is inevitably broken beyond repair.

But there are exceptions.

Several years ago, I went to a foster home to interview another girl with good potential ( how I came to dread that phrase) who was a teenager. And her foster mother, young, with two small children and a loving husband, told me she had been kidnapped at age 9. Because I thought the information was private at the time, I did not keep notes.

The young woman's family had just moved here from out of state when she was snatched. She didn't know anything about Texas, and she was kidnapped from her bed and taken to a shack in the wilderness where she had no landmarks she recognized. She was miles from her family. At first she didn't try to escape because she had no idea which way to run if she did get away. So she was isolated and abused for three years. Finally she saw her chance. She ran. She waved down a man in a car on the road and asked to go to the police. Needless to say, they were pretty disbelieving at first. But she persisted, and she came back to her loving but astonished family who thought her dead. They had taught her independence and decision making from birth. They were strong people, and apparently did a great job of teaching her to be, also. They loved her deeply.

She not only survived, she flourished.

Then she decided to try to help kids who had been abused but didn't have the family resources she had. She was a strong advocate. Most of her foster girls finished high school, and a number went on to college. Because when "her girls" said recovery was "too hard," she could look them in the eye and say, "I did it. And you can too." And she put her whole being into helping them do it.

What makes the difference? I don't know. I do think individual character is a part. I think a stable, loving home is a part. I think teaching your kids how to think and believe in themselves is a part--and there's not enough of it out there. But there's a good bit.

And that's good to know.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Goin' On a Jetplane

"Goin' on a jetplane....weeooohee, goin' on a jetplane......"

I'm heading out for the Northwest Monday. Less than 4 hours to get there. Window seat so I can see the mountains and stuff we pass over. Meeting good friends in Portland. For 11 days. Yeow!!!

I've never been there. Always wanted to. Visiting good folks I've loved for 35 years. Get there about noon: sightseeing begins immediately.

So much to see and do. They have set up trips to cover Oregon. Three days on the beach at a time when tides are low and we can inspect the tidepools. Forests. Mountains. Seafood. Falls and rivers and falls. Their family. A visit with my best friend from second grade whom I haven't seen since we were 17. Relaxing in their hot tub in the evenings when we are tired and sore after a day of sightseeing and feasting on grilled fresh tuna right off the boat. Oh. And visiting a winery or two in the Willamette Valley.

Got a good sales price on a Nikon digital camera with a 1,000-pic memory card. Should be enough....

Purchasing a last-minute pair of dressy bermuda shorts (thought that was an oxymoron) earlier this week, my jaw dropped when the saleswoman offered me coupons good from Aug. 9-20. I refused politely, saying I would be out of town.

"We're national," she replied. "You could use them where you are going."

"Going SHOPPING?" I protested. "On VACATION?"

Well, maybe. I do intend to stimulate the souvenir Tshirt economy some.

And I definitely won't be blogging till I get back in a couple weeks.

I'm going on a jetplane. And my spirits are higher than the plane's altitude will be.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Afternoon of the Roadrunner

Question: and I don't know the answer--when the pioneers moved west, what did they call the bird we all affectionately call the Roadrunner? For that matter, what did they call a lot of things? I know bluebonnets were buffalo clover, but not much else.

Last summer my neighborhood was inundated with skunks. This year, thankfully, it is roadrunners all over the place. There is one that comes within two feet when I sit on the porch, cocks his eye, and walks or trots on. Sometimes he announces himself with a sharp sound like a half-broken buzzer. Sometimes I see three at a time--absolute riches of roadrunners.

One recent afternoon, a single bird was walking around, eyes peeled for tasty insects, when a white butterfly fluttered by (and yes, I like the old name flutterby better, I think), about three feet above the grass. The bird and I spotted it at the same time, and he took off, running like an Olympic sprinter with a clear track ahead, legs straight, each step a little faster than the last.

The butterfly saw him at the same time and took off in straight flight at maximum speed.

The bird ran even faster. The butterfly was pulling ahead. The roadrunner launched himself into the air, wings beating, neck stretched forward....and SCORE! one pretty little butterfly fulfilled its function as bird food.

Landing, prize in beak, the bird finished off the prize in about two bites. and calmly began walking around again, looking for bugs in the grass, on the bushes, in the air. The birds are a fair size, about the size of a pullet (half-grown chicken), but they don't seem endangered, and I've never heard of anyone eating them.

Could be they don't taste too good. Probably. They are great entertainment, so I'm glad they are around. For some reason, we all love to watch them run.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A young child's wish

On my way to church last Sunday, I saw two crude signs on scraps of plywood. One said parade floats, with an arrow, pointing left. The other said public parking, pointing right. The church I attend is in a small community part of the Metroplex where I live. I asked about the signs when I got to church.

Oh, that was the parade last night, I was told. If I had been watching the news on TV, I would have known.

A little girl named Raney is dying of brain cancer. She is 5 or 6 years old. She is not likely to be here by Christmas. And her greatest wish was one more Christmas.

Family lives in an HOA. So Dad called and asked if he could put up his Christmas decorations for Christmas in July.

I'm not a fan of HOAs. The regimentation home owners agree to is not my style. But this HOA came through. They not only approved the father's request, they went a lot further.

So last Saturday, his decorations, including the yard decorations, were up. So were the neighbors'. And the annual Christmas parade was held 6 months early.

No publicity beforehand, all word of mouth. It was on TV on Friday night. And Saturday, after the parade. But mostly, persons telling their friends, neighbors,extended family, by phone, email, etc.

Someone hired a snow machine for the day, so the yard was covered in snow, even on a hot Texas day. The parade was large, with many floats, 150 motorcyclists, the local high school band, etc. And Santa Claus. Now there's a sacrificing person in 90-plus degree heat.

I understand there were a thousand or two spectators, many bearing gifts.

I am told she already has lost sight in one eye. But she had a glorious day.
Her family hopes she will actually make it till Christmas, but prognosis is not hopeful.

Such a frivolous thing to do. Other than bringing a dying child temporary happiness, what did it accomplish?

Answer for yourself. I was moved, almost to tears. I wish I had known, had been there. Not just for Raney, but as a witness to community and goodwill.

We keep harping about indifference. And then things like this happen.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

I'll Run Out Of Good News Sometime


Just talked to a friend of mine. She just finished a book of 400 pages and really enjoyed it.

She's schizophrenic. She was hit with the disease when she was 32, and she hasn't been able to read for 15 years. Some of it is the disease. A lot of it is the medication. She was a librarian. She lost a lot. (understating it)

Schizophrenia is nasty. Persons with it cannot function. They have trouble connecting with others. Often highly intelligent, they can't really think. And they are aware much of the time of what is going on. Other times, what seems real is delusional. It is cruel.

She told me tonight that the medications don't really mask or cure the disease. They deal with the symptoms. Like I take Advil to deal with my rheumatoid arthritis.

But there are new medical protocols for schizophrenia. One involves the lessening of the drugs. She has gone from 16 to 3 meds a day. And now she can read. She still is schizophrenic, but she may be able to work again sometime. If we didn't have SSI for folks like her, we would have a lot more dead or under bridges. Including her--not her opinion, but mine. She's not in Texas. Here, she would be under a bridge.

I've known her for four years. Always, she has tried to give back. She leads a self-help group, she teaches a monthly class for medical personnel about what it's like to be her and other mentally ill people so they can better be served. She says she can tell by their faces who is learning and who is closed. She hopes the learning ones are able to be more knowledgeable and caring for people like she used to be.

Because she has been functioning well. She just couldn't read. Can you imagine that for a librarian? When she told me tonight she read a whole book for pleasure, I almost cried.

I told her about a book I enjoyed. She reserved it at the library on her computer as we talked. She has a kindle. She is miles ahead of me technologically, and she has just been learning the last year.

Many human beings are just as nasty to each other as they have been for thousands of years. Others are ill and untreated. That is truth and life.

But I know her, and what I write is truth. One schizophrenic who couldn't read can read again. She is reaching out to help others. And who knows what else? I used to be a pessimist, some 20 years ago. A current friend tells me somewhat sadly today I am an incurable optimist. I like it. I'll take it.

Hope beats doom every day.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

One Tough Little Girl

Last week flustered me. I had been bumping along, writing my blog, with a few readers every day. I am not very good about self promotion and getting myself on other blogs. But I was happy, putting my thoughts out there. And then AD connected, and WHAM!

Funny. Years ago, I was a newspaper reporter for a large metropolitan newspaper. I remember being excited the first time I had a banner on the front page, but it happened fairly often thereafter so I got used to it. But it has been a few decades. and I was flummoxed.

What do I write now? I thought. I don't usually write about my work as a caseworker for Child Protective Services. And I won't write often again. But last weekend, I told my son and a friend one of my stories I hadn't told before, and they liked it. So I will try to recount. This is bitter-sweet.It has some satisfaction for those of us who take satisfaction in consequences. And some hope.

Long after the investigation, long after the official stuff had been done, I was assigned a sibling group that had been brutally raped while well under five years old.This story deals with the oldest girl, whom I will call Jody, because that is to me a strong name. And she was strong. She had been completely penetrated when less than 3 years old. She had been isolated from her siblings, as they were from her, by the threat they would be killed if they told. They all went to family who were unusually well equipped to deal with the trauma, being foster parents for a private agency in far South Texas. Bureaucracy being fiscally conservative, I went down every three months to spend a day with these kids and talk to the aunt and uncle.

When Jody was six, she began to misbehave and become increasingly disruptive and violent. The foster parents asked me to move her; they could no longer manage.
So, knowing the abusive past and the extent of her trauma, I was able to pick her up and move her to a therapeutic treatment center for young kids. As I say, she was six. I left her hiding under her bed.

Later on, her sibs joined her at the same treatment center. They weren't housed together. They couldn't be. They were too damaged. They were in separte group settings. They could go to school and perform well. All were bright. But Jody, well, she shone. She touched people both with her personality and her intelligence.

I continued to spend a day every three months. You wouldn't think it would matter, would you? But I was continuity as the years went by. I showed up when I said I would. I gave them my day, and we talked. We walked down the street to a wonderful toy store called "Toy Joy"-doubt if it is still there. It had cheap to expensive educational toys that were wonderful. I sent cards and called between visits, but still. They weren't used to much continuity. They relished my visits.

This was early to mid-90's. The kids had been in foster care for years by then. State legislation came up to define "unconstructed abandonment", when parents don't visit, do services, OR relinquish their rights. The state legislature decided such children should not languish in foster care because their parents would do nothing. In this case, it was mom's boyfriend that abused. She said she didn't know about it. Divorced father was passive. The kids were spending year after year in foster care. The state said we could terminate rights and offer the kids for adoption. (As it turned out, both relinquished voluntarily.) Later, I tried to talk to the kids about possible adoption

Jody, ever the pragmatist, asked,"How much do they have to pay for us?"

I thought about the voluntary expenditure adoptive parents paid then, about $5,000 in legal fees which they took on and the state didn't pay, and I told her, "Nothing." Because, in my mind, children aren't bought. I thought the money spent to adopt was noble.

Her face went white and her freckles stood out.

"You mean we're worthless?" she asked.

I spent a very busy hour then. I don't know if I made much sense to them. I just knew I had taken a hit on seeing life from her world.

When she was 9, Jody was at last asked to testify against her abuser.

All those years. all those years.

Well, some kids block out the memories. Jody hadn't.

She not only was able to remember what had happened when she was little more than a toddler, she was able to draw a floor plan of the house, of who slept where and whether on the floor or in a bed. Her memory was phenomenal.

She was determined to testify, although terrified. She was positive she would be killed. And she was determined to go through it anyway. Her abuser had promised he would kill her if she told She had been under 4 when he told her that. She still believed it, and she was determined to testify.

The day before, the assistant DA and I gave her a tour of the courtroom, told her what would happen, showed her the witness booth. We gave her a teddy bear to hold. We introduced her to the bailiff, with his holstered weapon. The judge had decreed she had to testify in the same room with her abuser. We told her over and over we would take care of her, that she would not be harmed. She was determined to try. And she remained convinced that he would kill her. She was only 9 years old, and she was going to risk her life to testify.

Remembering that hurts.

The next morning, a half hour before court, the defendent caved, pled and threw himself on the mercy of the court. No jury. Jody didn't have to testify. The judge sent down one of her staff to interview her on what she wanted. I wasn't allowed to be in the room. But I heard her scream, " Kill him! kill him! kill him!"

I sent her home with many hugs.

Two weeks later, a friend in law enforcement told me with a chuckle, " Well, you know the judge has a bit of a Southern drawl (she did). And when he was being booked, that is when he found out she hadn't said 4 to 5 years."

I called Jody, and told her that a new Texas law meant her abuser couldn't get out of a 45-year sentence for at least 15 years. All excited, she said,
"Charlotte! We'll be in our careers by then!"

Soon after, I transferred counties and Jody got a new caseworker.

Years later, CPS made it against regulations to check in and follow an old case, but before that happened, I found Jody was adopted. I hope it worked well. She had so much going for her. Pain or not, I pray for a good life. I pray, and I will never know. But I hope.

Monday, July 6, 2009

What One Man Can Do

I first talked to M. when I was answering phones for the receptionist. He was concerned about his kids with their mother. They were divorced. He informed me he was four days sober. I congratulated him wholeheartedly.

Just a couple weeks before, I had a two-day training on drug addiction. We had a professor who could give us the chemical and physical traits of addictive drugs and a CPS supervisor from San Antonio. We were given 4 scenarios in the course of the two days, and divided into teams to figure out what we could do. We came up with this and that, but none of us believed in any positive solution. Addicts don't change, we believed. I had been working for a number of years and had had a lot of training in this. I was quite cynical.

And then the CPS supervisor told us these were all off her caseload as a worker, and they all had positive results. And she spelled them out. Wow. It DID take an extraordinary amount of work, but I was galvanized. There was hope. Not always, but sometimes. But, she said, the difference was we had to believe.

So when I talked to M. I was positive and encouraging. He was concerned about their kids, who were still with their drug-using mother.

Coincidentally, a CPS investigation was underway (not instigated by him) and it was decided the kids should no longer be with their mother, but with their grandmother, who was her mother.

Grandmother was in a stable situation. She cooked and cleaned. Most kids of druggies don't have clean sheets or any sheets on their beds. They live in filth, which is weird, considering the amount of energy methamphetamine produces.

I asked for the case and got it. I had a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer working with me.

I had to set up weekly hour visits for each parent separately. The first time M. came in, 6'3" tall, muscular, skin lying flat on the muscle with no trace of fat, with a ponytail and hard eyes, my case aid (she and I were the only staff in the building) said, "Are you sure about this?" I said I was. By then, M. and I had talked several more times.

I knew he would be difficult. In recovery, he was sometimes volatile. He would get angry on the phone, slam it down and call me back five minutes later with a sheepish, "I'm sorry." This happened a lot. But he stayed sober.

M. was unusual. He was staying in a motel one weekend, taking drugs, and had plenty of drugs, which he used up. He tried and tried to get a taxicab to take him to a nearby city for more drugs, but noone would take him. He was high, and big, and scary. He flopped on the bed, coming down, and picked up the Gideon Bible in the drawer of the nightstand. And started reading.

He had a religious conversion. He quit using, and I believe his assertion that he never used again. He was so determined. Four days later, we talked for the first time. By then, he was actively attending AA every day. He had a job--he always worked even while addicted. He didn't have transporation, though and his mother had to pay his motel (she certainly didn't want him living with her), and he had to walk 11/2 miles a day each way to and from his construction job.

His daughters were 3 and 4. Both were already showing early signs of personality disorders. I got them into counseling with a talented play therapist. It took years. Texas has victim funds available for kids. They benefitted from these long after the case closed.

M. taught me a lot, in his recovery. He had little or no money, but he knew what his kids liked. He HAD to work a full shift, so our visits were at 6 p.m. He would go home, cook a Totino's pepperoni pizza and bring it to the visit. He always would read to the girls after, and play with them. He would bring two balloons he blew up, sneaking a dollar bill inside each for the girls to catch and break. 3 and 4? A dollar? They were rich! they knew it was magic. and they went home happy and calm, because their daddy had been a daddy and played with them and fed them and gave them each a dollar.

Their mother was more sporadic. We don't transport parents in CPS. If you care, you arrange it. Seems very fair to me. (I remember a court trial when the defense attorney asked me if I didn't agree two miles walking to the office was too much to ask. The mother was in her 20's. I replied, "It would require effort, but it isn't impossible." The attorney was asking a yes or no question and filed for a non-responsive answer, which the judge agreed to, but I think his lips twitched.) To her credit, B. was pretty good about calling beforehand when she wasn't coming. Many kids taken from a home because the situation is so bad aren't that fortunate.

M. was doing good. He was able to buy an old car. He was finally able to get an apartment.

Meanwhile, grandma wasn't supervising very well, though she was keeping the kids clean and well-fed. A couple of years earlier, she had the kids help her comb the seeds out of weed she was readying for sale, but she wasn't a big time dealer. She told an investigator once that her daughter and three men came home one night to have sex in the living room. All were high. Her then 2 an 3 year old granddaughters were sleeping on the couches in the same room. According to her report, she did not go get her grandchildren. She smoked dope to forget what was going on, and went to sleep. She told because she was angry at her daughter and thought this reflected on B. It never crossed her mind this reflected on her as well.

Sometime later, she told me in genuine puzzlement, "I don't understand why you think I am a bad person."

I responded, "I know you don't."

And I said it pleasantly, because she really had no idea. I just sighed.

I submitter my court report outlining services and describing the situation. The CASA worker submitted her report and recommended removal.
The judge went with her recommendation. I was not displeased.

There was a commotion when we got to the house. Police were called. The girls went to an experienced home where the parents were very loving and very skilled. The girls had moved around so much, been left with so many people, they settled in immediately.

I tried to work with B. who was actively using, although she was sober at visits. She was such a neat person when she was sober. I asked her, "Why would you become this horrible person on drugs when you are such a great person when when you are sober?"

She said,"When I'm high, I'm not there."

She said I almost convinced her to try. But she never did.

Meantime, M. continued to get better. Finally we allowed weekend visits with his girls. Transfer happened in the CPS parking lot. The foster parents delivered the kids, and I was there when M. got out of the car. This big, muscular guy walked up to the foster parents who were both under 5'6". They weren't quite sure how to react when M. walked up to them with tears on his cheeks amd said. "You are angels, I just want to thank you for taking care of my girls."

He threw his arms around them as they blinked in astonishment. It was kinda funny and a lot sweet.

Texas now has a law that says parents come through in a year or we terminate. That's hard on a recovering addict. M. got an additional six months. At first, I scolded M. for his presents, his trip to the zoo, etc. He finally said, "Charlotte, don't you understand? these are all the things I promised them and didn't carry through on."

I shut up. He set up a budget, put money aside, and was ready when the girls came home for good.

But B. had been the custodial parent, and we went to trial to terminate her rights. When it was over, she was impassive. M. cried.

At that time, I had 30 or 40 cases.Not counting paperwork, which is massive, I spent at least four hours a week actively working this case. M. and I agree that it wasn't my expertise,or the system that made him succeed. He says having the same worker throughout and my time and positive support with him did make a difference. We had the same goal. We became friends.

He was at my retirement party. I was at his wedding.

M. is still clean. It's been more than a decade now. He has a good job. The girls are doing well. He still attends AA and has sponsored many a person trying to get sober. You can't bullshit him, they find. He tries to help in the community, in his church. He is happy. He told me this repentance thing means you have to put the bad stuff behind you, not just sit in a puddle of remorse, or he would end up back where he started. He tries to be the best person he can be.

And he made a difference for me. Because of him, I had the hope and energy to work with so many others. Other caseworkers in the office felt the same way. We could believe because we had seen a man recover and straighten out his life and family. So we tried a little harder.

Because of M.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

No Sex-but a really good tomato

Oh, my.


Yesterday, I bought some summer sausage for the first time in years.

I brought it home and sliced a piece. I had on the counter a single Porter (cherry) tomato picked ripe off my DIL's plant a week ago. It was red then. It had been, I guess, ripening further the last week. I put the slice of summer sausage on a Wheatsworth cracker (no substitute: it is my absolute favorite), popped the perfecly ripe tomato in my mouth, and bit down on the summer sausage and cracker.
And my taste buds screamed, "Alleluia!!!"

Nothing I can remember ever tasted that good.

So I chewed slowly and savored.

I know there have been other really good things to eat. I can remember a number of them. Just not right now, with this intensity.

Sometimes, really good music does it for me. Or ballet. Music: I love classical, but the last music I felt real exhileration for was the original recording of "Classical Gas" and Manheim Steamrollers'"Joy to the World" (both, play at extreme volume.) Or almost always, voices of those I love.

Smell? A whole store full of star lillies. or a New Mexico desert after the rain. or any mountain full of balsam, pine and fir. Today, I smelled wet earth and green after a surprise shower on a really hot day. The earth smelled so good.

Best sight? too many to say. I remember daffodils, and understand Wordsworth, though daffodils last only a couple of weeks. I remember fervently a patch of clover with drops of dew on it in the sun. I remember the spring when wildflowers bloomed and bloomed and bloomed for weeks, and I said, "So this is what it is like to be rich."

Other intense joys: Seeing a family member or close friend get a fiercely happy outcome.

I remember the touch and my response to a lover I really cared for.

And then there's contentment. Which could fill a book.

I'm having a good interlude in life. Maybe as much because of my attitude about what is going on around me.

I am fated to have some really gnarly future stuff, simply because life is not static. No life is problem free. Neither is life free of joy unless I am a complete ass. Life is good. Yeah.

I stand in the sunlight and beam it back. Belly laugh. Huge, ear-splittng grin. Because oh, that tomato and the sausage and the cracker....

Life is good.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Good writing WILL survive

I blush to read that I said a cartoon had emotional depth, as I did in my last post. On the other hand, I can't remember a movie I've seen in the last couple of years that made me care that much about the characters.

I mentioned the tears to a friend who is a long-retired cartoon animator. His eyebrows went up. "You cried?" he asked, "At a cartoon?"
He thought, then said, "It must be a well-written story."

That sentence has reasonated with me since. He's right. It is well-written, and that is really different. Since everyone can write, the current fashion is to bypass paying for really good writing.

When I worked in public affairs at the University of North Texas, I had to manage and produce brochures. Now, we had some very good professional designers and writers. We didn't have Ph.D.s, true, but we were experts in our own field. And we were tough. We had to be, to wrestle a major department chairman to the ground and make him or her acquiesce to giving us at least SOME quality control over the product. Sometimes, actually often, we won 100 percent of the way. After all, the brochure was just one more thing that had to get done. We won often because of their desperation to get it done with the least possible effort on their parts.

We took the prose they submitted and rewrote the substance. And we rewrote it considerably better, and undeniably more briefly. It was kind of funny how amazed they often were when they saw the draft after we had done our jobs. It actually was better, more attractive, a better product to promote their program or department, than what they had wanted to insist we do. I didn't particularly like writing brochures. I liked writing about science, etc., for our university publications, because that was really fun. With the right attitude, however, writing brochures could be, and was, creative.

My granddaughter writes very well. Apparently that's a pity. Because unless she is very, very determined, writing well and a dollar will buy her a soft drink. Well, probably more than a dollar in the future. Fortunately, she has many other strengths and skills.

Journalism graduates this year have very few places they can go for work.And yes, I am genuinely sad about that. I think retirees have pretty much sewed up the vacancies as Walmart greeters.

I do love good writing.

Somehow, some way, I realize it will survive. As institutions disappear and laws become more illogical and the life I live changes in so many bewildering ways week by week--it is good to focus on constants. Landmarks to move toward, so to speak.

That's why I write a great deal about the mundane. The pinto bean, the satisfying cartoon, the ripening tomatoes--the people we love. These survive.

And, I am happy to hope, so will good writing.

Monday, June 8, 2009

3D AND emotional depth in one movie

Took the granddaughters to see UP last Friday. I had missed the reviews, only knew it was age appropriate and something we would enjoy.

The night before, my son said his best friend, also late 30s, had seen it and reported he cried three times. Huh? I thought. A cartoon? Well, I decided, I wouldn't cry in a cartoon movie.

And then we went. I have some extenuating circumstances I could mention, but that also would give away part of the movie. And sure enough, I fought sobs about 10 minutes in. Didn't sob. But I couldn't describe the scene afterwards without tearing up. It is a good movie. Multigenerational. Not many of those around. The kids really enjoyed it. The adults laughed in different places than the kids, and sometimes in the same places. Wow.

We got the 3D glasses, which did me no good since I have mono, not binnocular, vision. We turned the glasses back in. The kids enjoyed the 3D, but weren't that impressed, and since I couldn't see it, I wonder if our next movie --and a bunch more are coming--may be just regular 2D.

The parts that were really sad weren't so much for kids. It was a good story, and a fine afternoon.

Have to repeat one part. The old man is walking along with the Cub Scout, who is, naturally, talking,talking,talking. Ever spent time with a 6 or 7-year-old? Finally, the old man says, "Let's play a game." The kid says, "Oh, yes, I love games."
The old man says, "Let's see how long we can go until one of us talks."

The kid says, "Oh, the Silence game! I know that game! My mother loves it!"

That's an approximation of the dialogue, but it seemed like every adult in the audience laughed. Definitely including me.

Afterwards, my newly 7 grandaughter asked me, "Grandma, why did you laugh when he said that?"

And I laughed again.

I hope I gave her a good answer, but I don't remember.

We had a good day. Less memorable for them than for me, probably. The movie was part of it, but it was only a part. The rest of it was laughing, and loving, and being together.

For those of you with grandkids, I give a thumbs up. And I am glad I have them, so I had an immediate excuse to go.

Now need to go see "Star Trek" alone. Sigh. I don't mind eating alone, but I like movies with someone else, which probably explains somewhat my low TV usage. But I will go. Just not this week.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

If it ain't pinto, it ain't Southwestern

This is a paen to the pinto bean.

You see, if you are a Southwesterner, you know about pintos. The rest of you do not. Doesn't mean we can't all be Americans, here, but you are missing a prime part of the Southwestern cooking culture if you don't know about pintos.

When I read a recipe labeled Southwestern cuisine and it first says "take a can of kidney beans" I know it is not Southwestern. Those of us who are indigenous to the Southwest are a little puzzled anyone would choose a kidney bean over a pinto. We never,ever do. If further, it adds, "add a chopped green Bell pepper", we simply say, "huh?" Sometimes, those recipes can be tasty.

But honey, they aren't Southwestern.

I don't care if you add cumin, and we pronounce it "koomin" not "cuemin", or if you add garlic. In any case, you usually don't add enough, so what's the diff?

Pinto beans are delicious. When mixed with rice and/or corn, they are an excellent source of (no cholesterol) protein. Pintos have their own flavor, but when added to meat or tomatoes, they take on some of the flavor of their partner. They are done when tender. They don't have to be mushy, but always tender when done.

Many of our Southwestern children knosh slices of bean burritos sliced on their high chairs as their first finger solid, sort-of foods. Of course, bean farts and evacuations are highly odiferous, but we can handle it.

Pinto beans can be cooked by themselves with cumin and garlic, with tomatoes and onion and peppers, with hambones, with hamburger, and with chicken broth.

Oh, and when I say peppers, I mostly mean green chiles, jalapenos and habeneros.

Pintos are tasty their ownselves, but they take on the flavor of what they are cooked with. Cooked till done with a little garlic, cumin, and yes, a smidgin of bay leaf, they can be a thin, tasty soup. Cook longer, and they become thicker and can be smudged into heated (not cold) flour tortillas. Finally, they can be sauteed in a skillet and mushed into nothing with either a touch of healthy canola oil or a smidge of bacon grease and turned into refried beans.

Fry up some corn tortillas (shells are also NOT Southwestern), add the beans, add some cheddar, chopped lettuce and onion and tomatoes, and gorge. Top with salsa. Oh. and while the beans are simmering, add jalapenos and (blush) Tiger Sauce to it for some bite.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Diet Green--and I don't mean lettuce

Well, there you go.

I wrote about my simple effort to lose weight by using salad plates for portion control. A reader left a note telling me about a new product called Flavor Magic.

She refers to a website, and I went there. Who knew? I thought. Here's a whole industry aimed at making a buck off portion control. Well, of course there is. I slapped myself. For every action humans make, another human somewhere is trying to make a little dough off of it. There are diet meals, of course, but I was talking about a do-it-yourself approach. And someone has come up with a product that goes with that. Of course there is.

I am saddened. Try as I may, I don't seem to have a money-making gene. And I really wish I did.

I commented myself that if I had some marketing spin to use describing portion control, a special ingredient or special time, it would be more attractive. And there you go. I have a comment telling me about just such a product on the market. And I ams sure it can work. Does work. And she pays money for it and just loves it.

My father started a savings and loan in 1934 in the middle of the depression. It thrived, grew, and is still going strong. On the other hand, when my mother was in junior high, one year she had only two dresses to wear. Her mother washed and ironed one each day while she wore the other. The reason was because my grandfather, a preacher with a parsonage and a regular, if small income, got talked into a gold mine swindle in the 1920s and basically beggared the whole family for a year. Not too smart. I think I know which side I take after, although I do have enough of my father's sense to hold a generally stable course. Just not a prosperous one.

I like to do things for folks, or tell them about helpful things. It just never occurs to me how to profit from it. It is extremely irritating.

Oh, well, I also hate to shop. I suspect those go together. For my continued survival, that's a good thing.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Looking for a few Good Blogs

I need help. You all have helped most eficiently before, so....

I think a number of the readers of my blog find me by the labels. How do I do that if I want to find other sites? In the last couple of years, I've saved at least a dozen blogs into my favorites. Most of these are now closed or inactive. Need to look further.

I write what I remember of childhood in the 40s, 50s and 60s, about efforts to build a positive life, and sometimes about my frustrations and confusion with new laws and technology. I am Green. Fairly a-political, though I vote regularly. I thoroughly enjoy attending church. I am strongly pro-choice. About everything. I want as much freedom as I can get, and I don't want the rest of you telling me I can't do something for my own good, or because someone else might abuse the freedom. And I say this having been a conscientious bureaucrat of sorts for many years.

So please leave your advice, and your url so I can read you. Or someone tell me how to go looking. : )

Thank you.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Simplicity Doesn't Sell Without a Magic Feather

When I was a junior in college, I became quite busy with extracurricular activities; specifically, working on the student newspaper. I had a couple or three other things, two, and dated on weekends (no time during the week.)

I had read an article sometime before that said the best way to study was to read for 10 or 20 minutes at a time, for maximum retention of content. By this time, I had finished my core courses and was into my two majors. Still, this was a scary idea. But I was busy. Very busy. So I started doing it.

If I got to class 10 minutes early, I read ahead. If I were waiting for a friend to meet me, I read. After lunch, if I had 15 minutes before my next class, I read. I kept up with all my classes, to my astonishment. The promised retention occurred. I hardly had to review at all before tests, because I remembered the content.

My sorority sisters nagged at me and screamed. "We never see you studying! You are going to flunk!"

We all had observed the phenomenon of the magna cum laude students among us who went out to eat, to the movies, to party during Dead Week, when the rest of us hunkered down. They aced their tests, too.

Because that is what I did. For the first time in my life, I aced every single class. After my first two years of very average grades, my new study habits simply gave me a respectable, not stellar, GPA at graduation. I was happy. And I had had a lot of fun intermingled with the studying.

And not one person who reads this is going to try it because it worked for me.

Which brings me to my recent moderate success. I've written a couple of boring blogs about it, and I am sure they ARE boring. I lost a lot of weight. Pretty much effortlessly. Without lapband surgery. Lapband. Surgery. People! Can you get a grip?
I didn't buy some product. I didn't stick to grapefruit, steak and eggs, or cut out all the fats, or eat only fresh vegetables and fruits, or any other such thing.
And that is what is so boring. I didn't really go on a diet.

The bad news is I did it with portion control. The good news is that I started off with six meals a day. Never got all that hungry. I called it Little Plate, because I used salad plates (no, I didn't measure the portions). I ate what I wanted. If I had a craving for lasagna, for instance, I had a square. But it had to fit on the plate, no stacking, no overhanging. No bread on the side. Everything had to fit on the plate. If I wanted salad with the lasagna--and I do crave my crunchy greens--the slice had to be smaller. And if I were starving 2-3 hours later, I could do it again. Or if I had to have the bread, it had to fit on the plate with the square of lasagna. No stacking. No overhanging the sides.

First couple of weeks, I did have to exercise some self-vigilence and control, but then my body, my stomach, started getting used to the smaller portions. After all, I was eating stuff I liked. Yeah, it helps that I really like salad, fruit and steamed vegetables, because as I began to lose a pound or two a week, my decision to include more of these was, I think, understandable. It was working. Why not do more?

I never weighed more than once a week. Over a year and a half, I lost 70 pounds. Before that, I had lost another 20. I didn't do it all healthily. At some point, I cut down my eating to about two small meals a day because I lost my appetite. Won't make that mistake again. When my appetite came back with conscientious better eating, I gained back a few pounds I am losing again. Sigh. Life is always about balance. But I did NOT grow out of my new wardrobe.

The point is, I'm the one in control, not some drug or some surgeon. In tough financial times, my way to kick the pounds is way cheaper.

I find it interesting that people can get lapband surgery if they are "morbidly obese" despite few current health problems. Yet if the weight loss results in a hanging curtain of abdominal skin over the genitals (old-fashioned medical name for it was "Job's apron"), insurance won't pay for the removal because it's plastic surgery, considered cosmetic, never mind that it has to be swept away to keep from peeing on one's own skin.

No, I don't have that problem, thank goodness.

Like Dumbo, I think, we all want a magic feather to convince us that we can fly. If I told the studying anecdote and said, "But you absolutely have to study for 15 minutes after every meal" it would be more attractive. If I said of Little Plate, "Absolutely every day you have to eat--uh, half a jar of marinated artichoke hearts on a bed of greens, no dressing", the diet would seem more enticing.

Anyway, last night a new friend found out I had lost some weight. She wants to lose some. I told her I would tell her later. And sigh. It's just a nice anecdote to relate over a meal together.

More salad with artichokes?

Friday, May 8, 2009

A White Rose for my Mother; a Red Rose for my Granddaughters' Mother

A proclamation establishing a national Mother's Day was signed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914, which means a few people may have a vague memory of a time when Mother's Day didn't exist.

In the 1940s and 1950s--the primary years of my childhood--Mother's Day was celebrated at home and in church, which a majority of people attended back then, at least in my hometown.

It wasn't lavish, but it was heartfelt. Little gifts at breakfast in my family, where only my dad, my mom and I were there. Then, before church, my dad went out to his rose garden and picked red roses, pink roses and white roses. Red and pink, the stems tacked to the shoulder with a straight pin, went to those with living mothers. White went to people with no living mother. Dad would clip as many extra as he had, sometimes a couple of 3-pound coffee cans filled with water and roses, and take them to church with a packet of straight pins for parishioners who didn't have flowers in the garden. The preacher would recognize the oldest mother, the one with the most children and the mother with the youngest child. Then home for Sunday dinner with both my grandmothers and my grandaddy and my uncle. The rest of the day was relaxed and happy, and usual.

I remember the sprigs of red and white roses at church for men, women and children into the '60s, and even the '70s. Then it kind of died out.

While it is not a National Holiday, meaning a day off, it is a really popular holiday. I know a few men who get horsy about recognizing "the wife" instead of just their own mothers, but not many. The fact is, it is a joyful part of the marriage and their love for each other when men have a good wife who is also a great mother.
I celebrate my daughter-in-law, who not only is a wonderful wife but a great mother to my granddaughters. I celebrate her, and give thanks to my son for marrying this wonderful person. She deserves celebrating. Her daughters think so, too.

This year, we'll celebrate at their house with standing rib roast and loaded baked potatoes, and a friend has sent me my old recipe for kahlua chocolate cheesecake, which I will make tomorrow. My younger son will be there, too. A feast, but nothing lasting, except the memories and laughter.

Works for me.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Times Just Keep On A-Changin'

I was listening with half an ear to the radio while I did this and that a little while ago and heard about a nationwide survey of what Americans think are necessities. Wish I had paid more attention, but I was pleased that only 52 percent thought TV qualified. Fifty percent thought a computer was. And I was surprised, but a much higher percentage thought landphones are.

Looking at the country and the demographics, I would have to say a lot of folks either are busier or more discriminating about tv entertainment than most assume--but they may be tired, or bored, and sit down and watch, anyway. So, not a necessity, but used a lot. The computers don't surprise me, either. They cross all demographics you can think of. Landphones? Around here, most 30 and under have nothing but cell phones. In the Metroplex, we have excellent coverage and reception. A lot of the country still has poor reception, making landlines still a necessity.

I was amused at how few nationwide thought air conditioning is a necessity. I remember years ago when a Texas colleague was going to a national seminar in New England in the summer. She, of course, asked about the air conditioning. The registration clerk said there was none, but said participants would be comfortable.

"I don't understand," the clerk said. "The only participants who have asked about air conditioning so far have been you and the one from New Mexico."
Guess she hadn't heard from the participants from other Southwestern states yet.

Funny how our perspectives change. Or our emphases. For me, books and libraries are necessities. So is quite a lot of music, but I have tried an iPod and really dislike the music being inside my head and blocking out other sounds--or making them darned hard to listen to. I know that puts me in Neanderthal or at least curmudgeon status. It isn't my age, folks. It's just me. My BestKind of music still is live, almost any kind, almost anywhere.

The number one necessity, everyone agreed, was a car. Hmm.

It will be interesting to see how such a list reads in 10 years. But maybe by then, running a survey will no longer be a necessity.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Polio was the Feared Scourge of my Childhood

In the 1940s and 1950s, we had the polio epidemics. Hence the establishment of the March of Dimes, which to this day exists for children with birth and developmental defects. I remember those white cardboard cards at school with slots for us to slip in the dimes we brought from home. Dimes, of course, went a lot further back then.

No one was sure how polio was transmitted, except it seemed to have something to do with crowds. It hit mostly children and younger people. A former colleague of mine contracted it in 1942 while her husband was overseas during World War II. She was in her 20's with two small children. Her mother took care of the children while she went to Warm Springs for the warm water therapy that was proving beneficial. She recovered and returned to her home with a brace on her leg and a crutch that she needed for the rest of her life. She couldn't even get up at night to go to the bathroom without her brace. But she worked, cooked amazingly, had a beautiful garden and reared two outstanding children. She learned to cope, you see. Since her husband died in the war, her own survival meant her children were not orphaned, a good thing.

Seeing persons with the permanently atrophied arms and or legs used to be common. Now many of you have never seen a polio victim. In extreme cases, some few persons survived in an iron lung - an electronic, coffin-like device where the whole body except for the head was inside with the machine forcing the lungs in and out. Such persons suffered such severe paralysis, their lungs couldn't function without mechanical help. Some recovered enough to get out of the machines. Others didn't.

It was impossible at the onset to tell who would live, and with what degree of paralysis, and who would die. Doctors could do almost nothing for those infected. No, it didn't seem to hit all the children in the family, usually just one. And then, in the next epedemic, it might take another, or not.

We never had an epidemic in Alamogordo, New Mexico, but El Paso, Texas, 90 miles away, did have them. The epidemic, of course swept across the Rio Grande to the sister city of Juarez, Mexico. We had two or three victims in Alamogordo, but they mostly had been somewhere the epidemic was known to be. Our small town could not manage such serious illness, and they were transferred to the El Paso hospitals.

I remember one particular summer in 1953 when polio raged in El Paso. As a kid, I didn't really understand what the fuss was all about, but I remember I couldn't go swimming that summer, and I couldn't go to the movies. In August, when it was particularly bad in the distant city, my parents seriously discussed whether to attend church or not. Mother was a preacher's daughter. My dad taught Sunday School. This was extremely serious stuff that they would consider staying home, and it got my attention. They decided we would continue to attend, but come straight home afterwards.

It was suspected gamma globulin shots might increase immunity to the disease, so for years, I had that huge, painful shot in my buttocks each summer, even when polio was not epidemic. I know others my age who had the shots, too. It was later discovered these painful shots did not help at all. It was something our parents could do. SOMEthing. There was so little else.

Jonas Salk was a hero to the world when he developed a vaccine for the polio virus. I was a freshman in college in 1961 when I finally had the opportunity to walk over to a neighborhood school from my college room and take my first dose dribbled on a sugar cube. There were three doses to be taken, as I remember. Even at 18, I had the sense to know I really needed to get those doses, and I did.

I never knew anyone who died from it, although I heard about the daughter of someone my parents knew who was in an iron lung. I had classmates occasionally with a withered arm or a leg brace. I didn't meet the colleague with the leg brace until 1965.

Polio, however, was such a devastating disease that we were all aware of it. We feared it.

I hear 30,000 people die every year from the flu, mostly the elderly or already debilitated. I have no idea how many of these people who die have had flu shots. Certainly, some of them have had the shots, get sick and die anyway. That's said.

My impression is that one reason for the fear of the H1N1 strain is the lack of a vaccine. I understand medical people are also wary of how contagious it is, or how virulent. We still have a tough time fighting viruses. We will get these answers, and in the meantime the precautions--handwashing, not congregating, etc., etc., etc. --either seems to be working or it was a weak virus in the first place.

New viruses arise all the time. Polio is mostly gone, but AIDS is here. Medical officials around the world are convinced that, sooner or later, we will have some illness that will kill many people. That seems logical.

But I remember the hot summers when I couldn't go swimming, or to the air-conditioned movie theater for my whole summer vacation because of polio. In the United States, much of our population has no memory of deadly epidemics. For those of us who do remember, it was so long ago that perhaps we have just been jarred awake.

Life changes. Old dangers pass. New ones come along. And throughout, the basic nature of human beings stays the same.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Little Princess with Killer Shoes

I was in Piggly Wiggly the other day when I saw a little girl, about 2, sitting in the basket and wearing killer shoes. (I love shoes and would own far more than the three pair I have if my foot size wasn't extremely hard to fit and thereby expensive, and I AM cheap.) Sandals, designs on them. They obviously did NOT come from Payless or Walmart. In fact, I doubt if they came from any retail store in the neighborhood. Little girl was well behaved, a head of curly strawberry blond ringlets, and a cute toddler sundress. The woman pushing the cart was casually dressed.

"Nice shoes," I commented, nodding at the little girl.

The woman laughed.

"Aren't they just too much?" she said, patting the little girl. "My brother is 47 and this is his first child. I'm afraid he goes over the top now and then on things for his daughter. The shoes are nice though. She'll grow out of them in another month or two and they cost $70."

I nodded. That's pretty much what I figured.

She went on.

"I'm her aunt and also her nanny. I moved down here from Idaho to help take care of her until she starts to school. Her mother is an attorney and didn't want to give up her career, but they didn't want anyone but family taking care of her. This way, no one is around her who doesn't love her and will be around all her life."

"Wasn't it hard to give up your own life for this?" I asked.

She smiled. "Not at all. My brother is paying me the same salary I was making, and I bank most of it. I'll be able to get back into professional work in a few years. Meanwhile, we're family, We like each other. We all love this little girl."

She leaned over and hugged her. The child grinned and hugged her back, and then, of course, pointed to a snack she wanted and begged, "Please?"

Her aunt said no, that they would have a snack when they got home.

Huh. The Pig is in a working class neighborhood, but it is on a main street. The little girl did have killer shoes, and she and the woman were obviously affectionate.
No reason to make up the story that I can see.

An extraordinary tale to be sure. That's why I love talking to people. Someone is always doing something I would never think or or would never have the opportunity to do.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Watching the Legislative Circus

Generally, when the Texas legislature is in session, we simply try to cover our wallets and mumble a lot in frustration.

This year, there have been a coupla bright spots. Last week, Gov. Rick Perry caused a commotion by basically saying that if things keep going on this way, Texas can just secede. Presumably he was courting the far conservative right. Unknown how many of them were charmed by his statement, but he kinda sorta backpedaled, so the response he got must have popped his balloon.

As one man commented, "If Texas didn't need the United States, we wouldn't have asked for federal help when the hurricane hit Galveston."(last fall, for those who don't know or remember)

Perry also has refused any stimulus money which has both Democratic and Republican state legislators screaming, "Are you nuts?!"

This was behind the House vote last Friday to strip the governor's office of $23 million of his budgeted $24 million. They voted to add the $23 million to the mental health budget, which had me snickering. Little message there.

Political experts say his office will get the money back when he succumbs and accepts the money, which is needed for unemployment wages. Even in Texas, the costs for those laid off have skyrocketed.

And yesterday, Sen. Jane Nelson, a former teacher, made a preemptive strike. Many school districts in Texas have instituted rules that no child can receive a grade lower than 50, or 60, or even 70, even if they don't perform the work. Failure harms the children's self esteem, you see. The state senate voted unanimously to abolish this practice.

Session isn't over yet. Still, every once in a while this time around, our elected officials are doing something to make me smile, either in humor or approval.

It's been a very long time since I've done either.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Whatever they were doing, I'm glad I passed by

On a sunny afternoon recently, I passed a street near one of the universities and saw a group of young people casually gathered around a young woman fiddling with a digital camera. Two young men wore sports jackets and slacks, one with a top hat and the other wearing a black straw boater (flat top, wide, flat brim). A third young man in jeans wore a Viking helmet with one horn curled up, one down. Another young woman had a colorful scarf wrapped around her head.

I don't know what they were doing, but they were enjoying it a lot. And I thought, "I love university towns!"

I love the unexpectedness college age people bring to the community, the color, the sound, the energy. I remember crossing another nearby campus one Friday afternoon, walking behind a guy playing his trumpet, accompanied with a friend and a beagle pup that scrambled behind.

I remember a time in Forest Park in Fort Worth when those of us there were treated to a young man playing bagpipes atop one of the levees. Yup, college student, considerately coming out to the park to practice rather than in his apartment where the neighbors might not welcome him so readily. We went about our playing, and he went about his. We all enjoyed it.

Impromptu fun.

What a glorious part of life.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Time to Grow a Little More.

A couple of days ago I had a dream.

I have dreamed it three or four times in the last few years. Each time, the details change,but essentially, I dream I am in graduate school at my alma mater, Southern Methodist University. I am apparently in my late 20s or 30s, and I have left journalism to study for a master's. In the dream, my mother is alive and well in the family home in New Mexico, and she is paying for my living expenses and classes. I am single. In the dream,I am fully aware of my mother's warmth and love for me (a fortunate truth all our lives).

At the beginning of each dream, I am happy and having a fine time. I am going to class. Afterwards, I try to think where I should go next. It slowly dawns on me I have a full load of classes, and I am only attending this one and maybe one other. I can't even remember what the other courses are and we are more than halfway through the semester. Too late to drop the unattended classes and get my mother's money back. I consider going to the dean of students' office or provost, but feel overwhelmed. And guilty. So, so guilty. I decide I must begin to rectify this, and that also involves telling my mother. I dread it, but I square my shoulders.

And then I wake up, the guilt and sense of disorientation so emotionally vivid,I have remembered each dream.

After the first, I said, "Huh."

After the second, I took notice, and sat down to puzzle a bit and contemplate my navel. I decided I was ignoring important tasks or actions I should be making in my life, and I was off-balance. It didn't take much to uncover what two or three of those were, and to attend to them. And I felt better, and didn't have the dream again for a year. Then I took inventory again and corrected a few more things.

Now it has been at least 15 months, and here it is again, with some major alterations. Those I will mull awhile, but the bottom line is, my inner person is telling me I am not doing enough. I am not taking care of all my business, or using my talents to their fullest. And in the meantime, I am having a fine time. And that all is true.

But I am doing so much more than I was. Why does my sleeping self tap me on the shoulder and say, "You aren't doing enough"?

It isn't neurosis, I am convinced of that. I really believe it is the growing strength and power I am scared I don't have, but in my sleep, I know I do. My dreams nudge. Neurosis would be ignoring the push and sulking. Health means looking at the goals on my mental list and start tending to them.

One of those is truly frivolous but important to me--to ride in a helicopter. I have wanted to fly since I was 4 years old. I have taken lessons. I have been a passenger in a stunt plane. I have taken a taste of skydiving, and ridden in the Goodyear blimp. The hot air balloon and helicopter ride remain to be fulfilled. Good to look forward to, to anticipate.

There are many ways to fly. Each time I step out on what feels like thin air, trusting I will not fall, I am flying. Such tiny steps in midair. A dinner for my family. Touching and hugging just about everyone more, when I've never been touchy-feely. Opening up a little more. My honesty goes to bedrock, but I am not so open. I feel the effort to force those shutters or doors open just a little more every time I pry.

The dream is an unexpected gift, as so many things in my life. It is time to rebalance my life again to accomodate a little more, to be patient with myself when I don't progress as fast as I want. To enjoy process, and value each person in my life. That is what the dream tells me. The feel of my mother's steady love?
Oh. That reminds me to go on loving myself and forgive my imperfections. Fairly late in the semester? I'm 65. I think there's still quite a lot left.

All in all, a pretty good night's work spent in dreams.

Monday, April 6, 2009

When you can't be there in person

Don't you hate it when you call a friend who is going through physical pain, or emotional pain, or maybe both, and they say, "hey, I'm in the middle of something, can I call you back later tonight?"

And you say, "sure."

And you carry your phone around, because you don't know when they will call or if they will call, but you want to Be There if they do.

They hurt, and you wishyoucouldhelpit, but you can't.

Maybe they need answers, and youwishyoucouldhelpit, but you can't.

But you can listen. You can say, "Hey, I'm here."

It may be all you can do. It seems like so little.

But you hold the phone and wait for the call.

Because that's what friends do.

Spring in Texas gets a mediocre review this year

I have always adored spring in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, especially compared to New Mexico. This year, however, the two are pretty similar.

True, I have many a picture of my young sons in their polyester Easter jackets, shivering as they sort of smile while holding their Easter baskets full of eggs.
But this year, we are expecting a hard freeze tonight, six days before Easter, a highly unusual occurrence. I worry with proprietary interest for my daughter-in-law's tomato plants, already in the ground. With a good harvest, some of those sun-warmed, ripe off the vine babies are headed straight for my mouth. MMMM.

This year, the mesquite are wrong. Southwestern wisdom is that gardeners can relax when the mesquite bushes begin to leaf out--no more freezes. But this year, the mesquite are leafing. And here comes the freeze. Pecans are supposed to be predicters too, but I think they also have been fooled.

In the Tularosa Basin of New Mexico, fruit trees bloomed by Feb. 28, at least in the 1950s and 1960s. The pansies kept blooming, of course, and the forsythia bloomed, the daffodils eventually straggled out. Mom, who had lived in Colorado, loved columbine, so Dad planted several under the middle cottonwood tree. The duststorms came and went, ocvcasionally accompanied with rain that turned the air into mud.
Nights and early mornings were chilly. Iris waited till late April to bloom, maybe May. THEN the roses bloomd, and it was almost summer, and skies were blue, the days pleasantly warm.

In Texas,usually you have the redbud trees leading the parade, heralding the banks of azaleas exploding into bloom along Turtle Creek in Dallas and the Trinity River in Fort Worth. Pansies bloom in every color. Forsythia and japonica come out. Iris blooms. And then the wildflowers, sometimes covering whole fields with an abundance of color. Enough happens simultaneously to make it a spectacular show. But spring in Texas this year is just sort of showing up like flowers sneaking in late to work.

The redbuds bloomed, and the trees were glorious as usual, but kinda by themselves. The pear trees finally bloomed and faded. A glorious bed of purple iris outside my back door bloomed fulsomely for about two weeks, then died. The azaleas are just getting started. The white iris are just starting.

Last year, the crabapple trees, pear trees, and iris all bloomed at the same time, with roses chiming in at the end. This year, the crabapple tree out front leafed first and is only now blooming. Pretty up close. Kind of dusty looking from a distance. And the roses are thinking about it. The bluebonnets are out, but not spectacular. Other wildflowers are not up yet. Spring wildflowers are my delighted indulgence, an eye-gorge of abundance in good years. A little more rain, and we may still have plentiful color. But not yet.

And for the second year, it looks like the dress I bought for Easter last year won't be warm enough to wear. Oh, well. It is the only dress I own, and I'll wear it later. A friend's wedding in May comes to mind.

As I reflect on my love of the free show constantly around me, I wonder if that is at least partially why I can seldom indulge in a manmade luxury. I just wasn't driven enough. Oh, I like luxuries, just fine. But I guess I'm lazy. Give me nodding fields of flowers, cheap fresh asparagas in the spring, laughing grandchildren and a morning cup of strong tea with a splash of milk, and life seems rich indeed.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Kittens should be seen and not felt

I think I have stumbled on the litmus test defining whether I am a cat person or not.

Couple weeks ago, I was lying (note: I was NOT laying) on the couch, watching a video with my granddaughters. Suddenly, Oliver, their then two-month old kitten, sprang to my stomach, my shoulder and then bit my cheek. No punctures, of course, but I swept him to the floor firmly. His attempts to jump back were blocked.

I sputtered a bit and my oldest granddaughter picked him up and hugged him. He proceeded to wrestle with her hand and extend his claws and fangs, which she pretty much evaded.

"Face it, grandma, you love this cat," she said, cuddling him.

"No," I said, "I don't think I like him very much as a kitten. I'm sure I will like him much better as a cat."

I told this story to a friend who has always had several cats, but usually only one dog at a time. She chuckled and cooed, "Ooooh," in a tone that intimated he was adorable.

I told a friend who usually has equal numbers of both. "Uh-huh," she said, and laughed tolerantly. "Kittens do that, but they grow out of it."

I told a friend who has only ever had dogs. "Ick," she said.

This survey is by no means scientific, but I think it does illustrate why we individually relate to cats or dogs.

(Biting me on the face is adorable behavior? Where are you cat people coming from?)

I always knew cats found me very difficult to train, but I've had a few cats I have enjoyed a lot. Cats, not kittens.

Oliver has calmed down some since his nuts were stolen a couple of weeks ago. He really is cute chasing leaves and paper towel rollers as if they were fleeing rodents. He is almost as large as the small dog across the street and is kinda cute stalking the poor animal, then charging till the dog flees under a car and cowers there, yapping. Go, Oliver!

He shows signs of becoming a great mouser. My vet says rodent flesh is the quintessential healthy food for cats. When I lived in the country, my two outdoor cats had gorgeous thick, glossy coats and I seldom got rodents in the house.

Yep, I think Oliver and I are gonna get along just fine. But he has convinced me once and for all--I am definitely not a cat person.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Does the End Justify the Means?


Human suffering, so we are taught, and so I mostly believe, leads to enlightenment. Growth. A greater understanding of the gift of life itself.

But what if?

No hope, no enlightenment in cases like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, dementia, or a brain tumor? Something we don't know how to heal and leaves the recipient with no mental faculties, years of misery and years of misery for family, caretakers, and friends?

So we have laws, in a few states, that if a person still has full faculties and wants to end his/her life, they can do so if they can find a physician to help them. Is it merciful? Cowardice? How do their families and friends handle it? Does it matter? I am at peace with those laws. No agenda.

A counselor who works with depression once told me, "Suicide is what people do when they can't think of anything else to do."

I have a friend whose husband killed himself after years of treatment for cancer. He couldn't eat or drink by mouth, but was fully cognizant when he shot himself. It was a total shock. She almost went under in reaction. After several years of treatment herself, she is a strong, empathetic friend to have. And she is still angry about his death. Not unforgiving--that would not be healthy for her. But angry. She might have been, anyway. But HER suffering would have been less if he had gone on, and I'm sure he told himself his sudden demise would mean LESS suffering.

And then my own experience. Mother had Alzheimer's. Her body was very strong. When she was cognizant and aware (and suffering because of her awareness), she told me, "It is if I write my life on a giant blackboard as fast as I can, and it is erased as fast as I can write it."

Four years after she went into care she forgot my name. But her face would still light up when I came in. Many aren't so lucky. But I would cry all the way home. Twelve years after she went into nursing care, her autonomic system failed and she died.

Mother would never have chosen suicide. And look at me. Did I grow? Did I learn? Reluctantly, I have to say I did.

Do I believe in stopping persons from suicide? Yes, because often, it isn't their lives that have failed, but for a bit, their imagination. Is that another word for hope? I think so...

People without hope have an explosive effect on society. The fracture they create spreads out in ripples. Ask surviving victims of a suicide bomber.

Ask family and friends of a suicide.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Roots to Living


I know those are important in business, but I've never been very good at business.
Still, I have them. In each of the careers I've had, I have people I am still connected to. Stupid me. They are frequently helpful, but not one because I thought they were, or might be. Simply because I like them, and they like me. Love, in many cases.

Yesterday, I had lunch with two college roommates. One I hadn't seen for 11 years, one for maybe 35 years. We've all lived in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex all this time....except Brenda and Bill took off to live in Japan for 10 years. And Libby and Jack travel a lot.

Libby made a point of telling me I was important in her college years. And I replied she had been the same. And we both exclaimed, "I don't know how."

We all recognized each other immediately.I recognized Libby from the back, the same thin tall posture, short hair--I was seated and called her name. She turned around.

Then we both watched for Brenda, a vibrant auburn in college and slender. The hair is silver white now, but immediately Brenda. (She's still thin. At a 12-14, I was the fattie at the table) We visited. Brenda was the only one who brought pictures.

We shared college together. We share those memories. We were and are very different people.We have lived very different lives. But we are connected. Memories, for one. Brenda's brother was 13 or 14 the last time I saw him. Now he's 60. Libby's brother-in-law was in his teens when I knew him as a silverfish, happy, energetic teen. She says he still has his humor and energy and is a grandfather. But as different as we were, we clicked. And we stay clicked.

It wasn't an acopolypse. It was indeed a very pleasant lunch, with promise.
Brenda brought her camera, and we asked the women next table to photograph us. They were agreeable, and I added, "We were college roommates and haven't seen each other in years." They got excited. Heck, they were in their 30s-40s. We were living mentors.

We linked waists, and the photographer took two.

I look forward to those.

And I think about connections. We know things about each other from those years that no one else knows, at least in the context of us one on one. I think about the people in my life since, some friends, some enemies, some neutral but still important. We all know things about each other that noone else knows, at least in the concept of one on one.

Each connection is important. And in my life, each has led to something, or someone, else that has been important. Some of the imporant things have seemed like catastrophes at the time, and were, but other connections, other people,later living have proved to be blessings.

There IS a logic to life. AND an order to things. To me, yesterday was an affirmation of that.

Hope I see them both again.