Tuesday, March 25, 2014


If you were a kid in the sixties that went to a Catholic school, then at least once a year you saw a movie about missionaries.  Those selfless, giving people that went deep into the most remote areas of the world to spread the message of God.

The films were usually shown at the end of the day, and back then they were a grainy reenactment in black and white.  Every film ended with some poor soul up to their armpits in quicksand because they didn't heed the Bible or scoffed at some foreigner trying to change their ways.  When we got a little older, the movies upped their game and would end with quicksand and a serpent because scaring the crap out of kids is the best way to get them to love Jesus.

The only way to save a person from that kind of fate was to donate to the missionaries, and I'd come tearing home from school yelling "MOM WE HAVE TO GIVE THE PAGANS MONEY!!!"

Like every other big family back then sending their kids to private school, there wasn't any extra money so Mom would say, "Look under the beds and couch cushions.  You're bound to come up with something."  I'd crawl around the floor with a flashlight and under the beds then rifle through all the pockets of the coats crammed in the closet.  The next day I would go to school and hand over my fistful of coins to my nun teacher to SAVE THE PAGANS.

I was absolutely sure that I would die in quicksand one day.  In the dramatic telling of the missionaries and their very important work, nobody ever told me that the likelihood of that happening is about 0%.

But, Lordy, I have made my own quicksand and it consists of fear and doubt.

Whether it be employment or writing I push down my passion and talent because I eventually hear that voice that says, "Yeah, ummm.....you're not that good."  I've gotten a little better in the last few years because a post-50 life comes with a loudly ticking clock, but why, oh why do I repeat the same mistakes over and over?   In looking for a job if there is one qualification that I don't have the skill set for I don't even try.  Never mind that I could rock the rest of it without a problem, I am the one who always holds me back.  If I write something that has a lukewarm response (because maybe people have busy lives and can't respond even though it may have resonated with them) then I think I should just give this game up.


I have worked with this woman over the years and in several different stores who is about twenty years my junior.  In my retail days her and I loved to tear the store apart and redo it, and in the process have the most spirit-filled, deep conversations.  To say I adore her would be an understatement

Last year we worked together again and she was managing two stores with about ten employees.  If you needed time off for anything and requested it in the "princess book" she would accommodate you.  One day when we were working together and she was trying to put this massive schedule puzzle in place (over Christmas, no less) I said, "You know I really appreciate that you do that for us, but why don't you just make the schedule and let everybody else figure it out if it doesn't work for them?"

"Because," she said, "I understand that everyone has a passion outside of this job that makes their heart skip a beat, and if I give you the time you need to pursue that you'll be a happier person when you're here."

She should be running the world, don't you think?


Recently, I actually heard a story about quicksand.  Instead of fighting against it, you should lean your back into it.  Your legs will eventually surface because contrary to what you might think there is a lot of water in quicksand.  Your fate is not sealed if you find yourself in that predicament.

The missionaries in the movies I saw never elaborated on that one useful piece of information.  Perhaps they didn't know, but the lesson I wish they taught to all those watchful eyes in the darkened school gymnasium was to stop fighting and lean back into your passion.

Not only will it save you........it will take you to the promised land.


Sunday, March 23, 2014


Many years ago, we took a trip from Kansas City to Washington State to see Mark's mom.  It was a three day trek with three kids and long before portable DVDs were the recommended travel necessity to entertain restless, little passengers.  The kids were troopers and we would do the trip two more times over the years before summer schedules and work commitments no longer allowed for three weeks off.

Mark was all about making "good" time and so stopping to see anything for longer than necessary interfered with his self-imposed schedule.  This came to a head at a motel bathroom in Wyoming when I pulled him in and yelled, "We are missing everything because of this stupid time thing you keep harping about.  We are going through the most scenic parts of this country and all we've seen is the interstate."

He saw the tourist light and the next day we veered off of I-90 West and went to Yellowstone.  Beautiful, spectacular Yellowstone.

Mark went to graduate school with several guys who have ended up at the University of Washington, and so we left the youngest two with my mother-in-law for a few days and took Maggie with us to Seattle.  On the way back to Spokane, Mark said it would be an easy jaunt to Mt. St. Helens and wouldn't that be something to see.

The jaunt turned out to be about 100 miles from Seattle to Prescott, and then the most harrowing drive up a mountain that I have ever experienced.  Or maybe my one and only mountain experience seeing as how I've lived most of my life in Illinois and Kansas and mountains are as foreign to us as oceans.

There was not a guardrail to be seen as we hugged the mountain through curves and switchbacks.  My fear of heights went into overdrive and while Mark was commenting on the scenery I was screaming, "TWO HANDS!!!!  TWO HAND ON THE WHEEL!!!"  It didn't help.  Nothing helped my anxiety and at one point I put my head down and started doing Lamaze which was just as worthless at several thousand feet as it was in three different delivery rooms.

Maggie, who was sitting in the back and has her father's sense of adventure, became the mom and tried to soothe my frazzled nerves with everything she had in her ten-year-old arsenal.  When we finally made it to the safety of the visitors center and looked out it was the most breathtaking sight.  The devastation seventeen years after that volcano was mind boggling.  Tens of thousands of trees were flattened like twigs in every direction.  The trees that weren't flattened were stripped bare of life.  There has never been a single picture I've seen of that mountainside that comes close to what it actually looks like in person.

By that time amongst the locals, things were definitely looking up.  The new growth was a source of amazement and pride and a sign that Mother Nature, in all of her fury, eventually comes back full circle with new life.

I had trouble sharing their enthusiasm because in my eyes I saw more of what was gone than what was coming up, but I didn't live there.  Mt. St. Helens wasn't my view out the window.

These many years later at home in Kansas, my view out the window remains flat and usually uninteresting, but this week I squealed at the familiar green leaves of the daffodils poking through the mud and dead leaves........

........and nature's nod of what lies ahead reveals itself to those who are looking for hope.

Monday, March 17, 2014

I Hear You Knocking

As I laid in bed the other night listening to my snoring husband, I heard a thud.  A loud, repeated thud.  I tried to ignore it and go to sleep but something sounded like it was trying to get in.  When The Big Daddy woke up to go to the bathroom, I asked him if he thought that maybe one of the cats had gotten locked inside the garage.

Knight in shining armor that he is he got up, went outside, lifted the garage door and called the cat.  "It wasn't that," he said as he climbed back into bed, and for a few minutes all was calm and quiet.

And then it started back up.  Louder and bangier than ever, and as much as The Big Daddy tried to ignore it even he knew something was going on.  "It's probably a critter hiding in the garage," he said and took a flashlight as his only weapon.

I thought it was Bigfoot and I was so scared I got on Facebook.

The Big Daddy was gone for what seemed to be a long while.

When he came in he said that the culprit had been flushed out.  A big raccoon on the roof that laid flat and still when under the glare of his probing flashlight.  Somebody's been taking life-saving seminars from the possums.

Still as could be it flattened itself against the roof, not budging.  A black and gray hump against a black and gray roof.  Move along, Mr. Homeowner.  Go back to your Mrs.  Nothing to see here.

Mark threw a dirt clod at the varmint which didn't faze it in the least.  He kept at it until he said, "I got one that broke apart like shrapnel when it hit the roof and that did the trick.  He got up and climbed up over the chimney to the other side of the roof."

My Rambo.  Swoon.

"A raccoon on the roof?  What the heck was he doing up there?" I asked when he finished telling the story.

"It looks like he was trying to eat the siding, but it ran off.  Don't worry, I doubt we'll be seeing that guy again."

And then my Rambo went right back to sleep but worrying is what I do, especially in the middle of the night.  I laid there rolling the facts around in my head.  A raccoon on the roof.  How did it get up there?  I had no idea they could climb that high.  Eating the siding?  I thought they tipped over garbage cans to get their dinner.  What if it busted through the walls and got into bed with us?  Would I have a heart attack and die?  In his loneliness would Mark turn to his new roommate for companionship?

The following afternoon I noticed the Critter Control truck at my next door neighbor's house and went over to get the deets.   "Five nights," my neighbor said.  "Five nights we've been up because of something banging around in the garage."

"Us, too," I said.  "I was up until three in the morning.  It was so loud."  While we were talking Mr. Critter Tech came out to his truck and gave her the news.

"You've got a raccoon getting in through your vent trying to make a new home.  I've set a trap so your problem should be over soon."

She introduced me to him and I told my raccoon story.  "You want me to take a look while I'm here," he asked.  Of course I did, but I was already certain my problem was far less severe than my neighbors since I had a raccoon looking for a one-night stand.  She had a stalker.

Turns out I had the exact same problem.  Mr. Critter Tech showed me where the raccoon had been busy tearing a shingle off the house and bending the grate of the vent to get into our attic space.

"Trap him," I calmly and coldly said without even asking what it cost.

It costs plenty and after I wrote the check I called my mom to tell her the story of the Homesteading Raccoon and how my husband was going to have a fit over trapping an animal even though it had specs and claws to expand our living space.

"Oh, you had to do it," she said.  'You can't have wild animals with rabies trying to get in your attic for crying out loud."

"I know, Mom, but Mark is going to be really mad about it when he gets home and I tell him."

"Tell him I said you should do it for all that's worth.  Blame me."

"I'll use that as my last resort, Mom, because I don't think he cares what either of us think about trapping a raccoon."

"You're probably right," she said.  "You know what Lou Manfredini says about keeping raccoons out of your house?"


"Lou Manfredini.  The fix-it guy on WGN.  He says if you want to keep raccoons out of your attic to play Spanish music.  He says raccoons hate Spanish music."

"I never heard of such a thing."

"That's what he says and he's got his own show.  Had one for years so he would know.  He says that when they hear that Spanish music they keep moving along.  I don't know what it is that they hate about it.  Anyhow, you get in your attic and put a radio up there.  Tune it to some Spanish station and your raccoon problem will be over."

"Well, we don't have an attic we can access.  It's the space between the garage and the roof that is problem and you can only get in through the outside."

"If the raccoon can get in so can you so find a way and start playing some Spanish music before you've got the whole family moving in."

We hung up.  I weighed my options.  Maybe Mom and Lou Manfredini were right.  I had a Frito Bandito to chase away, but was it mariachi, salsa or merengue that would do the trick?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Starry Starry Night

I can't remember the first time I met Rie.  It seems like that should be seared into my brain but it isn't.  All I know is that she became one of my favorite people to work with at my favorite job.  There are many reasons for this.  She was smart, funny, an elementary school principal during her daytime hours and gorgeous.  Stop you in your tracks gorgeous.  As the mother of three, she was also a caretaker.  It wasn't all that unusual for one of us Natties to show up for a Saturday morning shift slightly hung over, and when I was having an especially rough morning she ran to the bagel shop and came back with a huge Coke.

"This will do the trick," she said.  "Drink it up and you'll feel better soon.  It works for me every time."

Besides all of those endearing qualities she could be snarky, and Lord help the woman who agonized over a clothing purchase.  Rie spent a career working in some of the toughest schools in the city.  She had no patience for faux agonizing over something so ridiculous.  She'd seen plenty of the real kind on her job.  She even lived some of it herself.  If you had the unfortunate luck of waiting on someone like that, she'd come by on the pretense of straightening a rack and whisper in your ear "martyr" in proper, dramatic Masterpiece Theater British.

When that store suddenly closed, a few of us went to work at another equally funky boutique.  This one was a bit more structured than the last one, and our days of having a glass of wine and talking books on a cold February night when the store was desolate came to an end.

After a little more than a year, I left to work closer to my neighborhood but Rie remained.  I frequently would stop in and last year I worked there again over the Christmas season.  Over the course of seven months I got my discount back and my weekly Rie fix.  All was good in my little world again.

In a stroke of blessed karma for a deserving person, a manager's job opened up in Santa Fe and Rie jumped at the chance to change directions and start her life over.  I was invited to a farewell party for her along with many others in her circle.

Rie described her life so far in Santa Fe.  A great little adobe place with deep windowsills to put her chotchkes.  A town where she walks everywhere.  Back and forth to work and out to one of the many great restaurants for dinner.

She said that the best part of Santa Fe is looking up at night.  "The sky is full of stars," she said.  "And every night I look up at them and think of each of you."

I don't know if anybody besides me was crying, but I remember two years ago coming back from a sunset cruise in Mexico and as we headed to the parking lot I looked up at the sky.  I'd never seen so many stars in my life.  I remember when Mark and the kids and I were with his mom at Loon Lake in Washington State and up above the tall pines were thousands of stars.  I remember having dinner on the patio of a restaurant in Leawood, Kansas with my neighbors and saying, "Can you believe all the stars out tonight?"

I didn't know we shared a fondness for the night sky, and  though I don't know when, I am certain that I will cross paths with Rie again as we have criss-crossed for many years.

Until that happens I will seek out the starry starry nights in my regular life and thank the lucky ones for sending that dearie into my life.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Audition

It was with fear, second thoughts and one day before the deadline that I submitted a piece to Listen To Your Mother for the Kansas City show in May.

My inner dialog leading up to that point waffled between "it's time to do something that scares the hell out of you" to "you are out of your mind if you think you can pull this off".  The latter needed a daily punch in the face.

A few weeks later I got an email inviting me for an audition.

I was at work when I found out and wanted to shout it from my cube, but let's just say that my blog and upper management have met and the less I talk about it at work the better.  But I've got a phone and I texted and emailed my significant others on the down low with my news.

I worked on edits and practicing right up to and including that day.  Eye contact, baby, I told myself.  Eye contact and ditch the shaky voice you usually reserve for your very limited public speaking because it scares you so much you'd rather get extensive dental work than do that.

Oh wait, I have had several weeks of extensive dental work.

I woke that morning at 3:30 a.m. and never went back to sleep.  The audition was at 6:00 p.m. so I had a long day of working myself into a tizzy.  Instead, I finished painting the downstairs bedroom.  Every hour I'd stop and recite my piece.  I googled tips for public speaking and made mental notes.  I talked to my brother who said, "Remember what Dad always said.  Take your time.  Don't rush.  You'll be fine."

Oh, yeah, Dad.  He was a great public speaker.  Channel Dad.

I arrived at the appointed time, met the Church Lady who was ushering auditioners through the process and completed the paperwork.  I went to the bathroom.  I sipped water to quench my parched throat and then I started talking to the kindly Church Lady.

I talked about this long, cold winter, global warming, drought, dissipating snow as opposed to slowly melting snow, where Mark works and getting a grant these days.  I asked her how long she'd been at that church, how long was she volunteering that night, was she volunteering on Saturday.

She was not volunteering on Saturday and so I asked her if she had other plans, does she like to make a big breakfast on Saturday morning, was she a bacon and eggs or waffle kind of person.  The price of bacon lately, I said.  Aye carumba.  I asked her if she'd been to Listen To Your Mother last year.  She had.  I tried to recall every piece I heard and asked her which one was her favorite.

Remember, I said, how there were all kinds of kids down there for prom and parking was so bad.  It was awful.  The parking lots.  No spaces in the parking lots.

This took place over ten minutes and then I was called in.  All those jittery nerves I had got dumped on that poor woman and I went in and read my piece without any of the shaky shakes I normally have when I am required to read anything I've written.

I texted my sister afterwards and told her how it went.  How Church Lady got the full force assault of Chatty Kathy.

"Word vomit," my sister texted back.  "It's what we do."

All. The. Time.

Somewhere in Kansas City is an innocent bystander still trying to wipe global warming and dissipating snow off the front of her shirt.  Oh, and the lack of parking spaces that Saturday night in May.  Can't forget those.

I didn't.