Living on the fringes of sorrow…remembering Columbine…

bouquet of dandelionsI stood in the shower with water streaming over my suds-filled hair when the garbage cans that line our home’s outside wall pinged and rattled. The noise sounded like a clattering tambourine and lasted a few seconds. I thought a bold creature was rummaging through our trash–in daylight. With my fist, I banged on the wall and shouted, “Get out of those cans.”

The clatter stopped. My stern command had sent the creature fleeing.

A few minutes later, equipped with rubber gloves, I checked the cans. I was prepared to pick up strewn trash and look for signs of the scavenger. Bear? Cat? Skunk?

No mess. No signs of a creature.

Eventually, my daughter messaged, “Did you feel the earthquake?” Continue reading “Living on the fringes of sorrow…remembering Columbine…”

Celebrating National Grilled Cheese Day and creating memories for people we love

Grilled cheese sandwich

Tomorrow (April 12), on National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day, you may wonder: when is Dill Pickle Day? (November 14) And where do I get a decent dill pickle anyway?

Or, to celebrate National Grilled Cheese Day, like I did this week, you may pull out and relive your first grilled-cheese-sandwich related memory.

When I was a girl, about 10 or 12-years-old, on Friday evenings, I used to go with my mom to the Safeway grocery store in our town to buy groceries.

I wanted to push the cart, but more often, I was assigned to trot the lengths of the aisles for a dozen eggs, a bag of sugar, a box of corn flakes, or to backtrack when we’d reached canned goods in aisle four, but needed a bag of carrots from aisle one, produce.

Sometimes, before making our way through the aisles with our cart, we’d eat supper at the in-store sandwich bar. And that’s the experience I remember so clearly. I remember a long formica-topped counter which was rimmed with a metal strip. I liked sitting on one of the establishment’s bar stools. They swiveled. While I waited for my food, I used a toothpick, which I snagged from the toothpick holder which sat next to the napkins and condiments, to trace the metal strip.

From my stool, I could see, on the other side of the counter, the large flat griddle on which the cook, who deftly maneuvered the large metal spatulas, flipped burgers, rotated hot dogs, or chopped meat and potatoes into small pieces. I could hear the clang of the metal spatula on the grill and the sizzle of meat or melting butter.

When I think back and explore the thoughts of my little girl self, I remember feeling so happy to sit on a stool at a lunch counter and swivel.

Because I long to create happy memories for the people I love, I decided to explore the features of that memory.

What made that experience so special?

For starters, the grocery store held a special aura for me. I had heard that some people traveled there by boat. They’d float up to the dock, tie their boat, hop out and go grocery shopping. I don’t think I would have been more awed if I’d been invited to finger the crown jewels of three countries.

When it came to ordering supper, I got to choose what I wanted from the menu which was posted on the wall.

These days, I’m required to make so many choices, I’m often overwhelmed—somebody pick for me!  However, last week, while visiting with a homeless lady who I’ve met while doing some volunteer work, I was reminded: choice prompts joy.

While my homeless acquaintance is  usually morose or caustic, last week, she chattered, almost in song, because she had been invited to live in two places. “I have choice,” she said again and again. Her joy was fueled by choice.

My choice for supper at Safeway was always a bacon and grilled cheese sandwich. I rocked on the swiveling stool and savored that tasty sandwich. The crunchy outside. The soft flavorful inside.

Sometimes, I took so long to eat that Mom started shopping without me. I loved it when she left me at the counter alone. I felt so independent. Important enough to accompany mom on an errand, and grown up enough to sit alone at the lunch counter.

As Mom shopped, with her list and limited budget, did she wonder where her helper was? Or was she glad for moments of peace and quiet to roam the store alone? Did she feel like she should hurry to get back home to her husband and three other kids? Was she ever so tired she just wanted to get in the cart and have me push her around (sometimes I felt that way when my kids were young).

One thing for certain, Mom had no idea of the range of positive emotions that soared through my psyche. As a kid, I wouldn’t have been able to describe the feelings that I now attribute to that outing.

And here’s another thing: in my memory those trips to the store on Friday evenings with my mom happened routinely and often. The positive feelings evoked for me were the wallpaper of my inner life at that time. I felt happy. I had choices. I knew I was important.

Recently, I asked my mom about the trips. She doesn’t remember them. She didn’t arrange the trips to create a positive memory for me.

Something similar happened to me with one of my (now adult) sons. Phillip told me recently, “I just loved it when I was 5 and we moved to State College and everyday we’d ride our bikes to the Uni-mart and buy some snacks and then we’d go to the Boalsburg Military Museum grounds to play.”

I know, for a fact, we did that activity at least once. Maybe twice. We didn’t do it everyday. But I’m glad that it became one of those wallpaper memory type experiences for him.

When I asked him what made the experience special, he said he loved getting to choose his picnic lunch at the convenience store, and while he played at the park, he remembers feeling adventurous and independent. He’d climb on the tanks and pretend to be a soldier. “I couldn’t go in the tanks, so I had to imagine what was inside.” That created an aura of mystery.

So we have two adults with vivid memories from childhood that are inaccurate, but positive and treasured. The memories include a sense of adventure, the joy of choice, and a sense of independence. How does that happen?

I googled how are memories created and how was national grilled cheese sandwich day settled on? Results for both searches are inconclusive.

So here’s some advice you can’t get from Google.

To create memories for the people you love: arrange opportunities for new experiences that include choice and imaginative play, and prompt a sense of independence. But don’t try too hard.

As parents, we don’t always know if kids are going to welcome us into their pretending or push us away.

When my daughter was about four, I remembering peeking into her room where she played with a disheveled herd of toy horses.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m playing with Susan, the trick rider.” Susan was an imaginary friend that Cara shared with her cousins. Susan was really good at riding horses.

I went downstairs and made some grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. I set three places at the table and called Cara.

She came down, looked at the set table and asked, “Who’s eating with us?”

“That place is for Susan, the trick rider.”

With a look of incredulity, Cara declared, “Mom. Susan is pretend.”


Happy National Grilled Cheese Day! If you find yourself wondering how to celebrate,  spend a few minutes enjoying one of your favorite childhood memories.

Think about creating memorable experiences for your kids, but don’t try too hard.


Over the years, I’ve had many grilled cheese sandwiches. I use white bread, wheat bread, sunflower bread, and multi-grain bread. My favorite bread for grilled cheese is rosemary bread.

My favorite cheese is, well, almost any kind except pepper jack. I like cheddar, Swiss, provolone, cheddar, Colby, and Munster. While the grilled cheese sandwich owes is origin to the creation of American cheese, I don’t like American cheese in my sandwiches.

I’ve experimented with additions to grilled cheese like ham, mustard, and poppy seeds.  Once I had a lobster grilled cheese (to die for). I’ve added tomato–I like to add mine after the grilling–avocado, and mayo. But bacon still my favorite addition.

Scroll down to tell me about your favorite grilled cheese sandwich!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A secret to aging well

My Great Gram–who taught me a secret to aging well long before I needed it. I was forty before I realized I needed it, and, just recently, I’ve learned to practice it.  

At a restaurant in our town, birthday guests are invited to celebrate their special occasion by culminating their meal with a silly act. They are invited to sit on a saddle which is mounted on a rolling sawhorse. When the birthday person sits, servers and guests clap and shout birthday cheers.

Last spring, when my husband Steve turned sixty, because he likes their steaks, he chose this restaurant for his birthday meal. “You’ll have to sit on the saddle,” I warned.

“I won’t,” he said. Continue reading “A secret to aging well”

How I stop blaming myself

Please don’t share this confession with anyone who will agree with me, but sometimes I find myself asking, “What kind of idiot am I?”

This morning, I pulled a pair of sunglasses from the bottom of my book bag and realized that for the second time this year, my carelessness in stowing them had resulted in the costly, polarized lenses getting scratched.

I rummaged in the bag until I found the special square cloth the optometrist office provided with the glasses. I polished the lenses with intensity. I peered through them. The special cloth had not wiped away the scratches. I was forced to conclude that, yet again, the scratch is in the center of my field of vision.

Apparently, I am the kind of idiot who will make the same mistake two times in a row even though I have repeatedly determined not to.

I’d like to share a little of the blame with the companies make sunglasses. Why don’t they make scratch resistant lenses? I’m sure that with all the technology at their disposal, they could.

Speaking of blame, last week I wrote a post in which I told parents of troubled kids that they aren’t to blame for their kids’ circumstances. Some readers asked, “What helped you move past the blame?” Continue reading “How I stop blaming myself”

When kids break bad, or sad, who’s to blame?

A few years ago, our young-adult son was fighting anxiety disorder and depression, and losing big-time. My husband Steve and I knew something was wrong. But we didn’t know about the overwhelming panic or the stifling depression our son felt.

He drank so much alcohol, so often, that we considered problem drinking his main problem, and I worried that he was driving drunk.

I asked him. He denied it. He said he’d never drive drunk, but my persistent, nagging suspicion didn’t diminish. I didn’t know what to do.

One night, I heard him drive into our driveway very late—two hours after his shift at a local restaurant ended and right after bars close.

The next morning, I called a local police station and asked to speak with an officer in the alcohol and drug addiction unit. During our conversation, I squeezed back sobs. My throat felt like it was closing up, and I could barely squeeze out words that I never, ever thought I’d say, “I’m worried that my son drives drunk. What should I do?” Continue reading “When kids break bad, or sad, who’s to blame?”

Would you make this sacrifice?

Steve and I had our yearly daylight savings time disagreement Sunday morning. He thinks that when we spring the clocks ahead, we should spring our kitchen clock one hour and four minutes ahead. He claims that setting that clock a few minutes ahead of the actual time will help him get to work on-time.

I think that setting our kitchen clock ahead of the actual time by four minutes would be a nuisance and necessitate daily intricate arithmetic. For me.

Remember story problems from elementary school arithmetic? My story problem would go something like this: Faith needs to get to work at 9:00 in the morning. Driving to the parking lot takes 15 minutes. Walking from the lot to her office takes 20 – 25 minutes, depending on the weather, the beat of the music streaming to her headphones and the weight of her book bag. If she gets behind people who saunter slowly down the sidewalk, she will need even more time. (Even after all these years, she’s unsure about the etiquette of passing people while walking down the sidewalk, so she prefers to stay behind.) Add 5 minutes.

Calculate: what time does Faith need to leave home to get to work on time? What time will the kitchen clock read?

Plus, I always set my target leaving time 15 minutes earlier than my actual leaving time. To compensate for a clock set ahead, I’d have to subtract 4 from 15 to determine my target departure time.

It’s just too many numbers.

I’ve thought about ways to resolve this conflict between Steve and I. We could compromise. We could set the clock ahead by a small amount, like two minutes—I wouldn’t notice, so there’d be no need to solve the story problem. But two minutes is not enough for Steve.

We could get his and her clocks. But I like every clock in the house to be set at the same time.

Maybe we should remove all clocks from the kitchen and both use our phones as private clocks?

A few years ago, I addressed the problem by buying an atomic clock. The atomic clock used some kind of quantum science (way beyond my comprehension) to synchronize with The Main Clock that ticks out the time for our entire time zone. I really liked knowing our kitchen clock displayed accurate time. A bonus: setting the atomic clock four minutes ahead is impossible—even for mechanical wizard Steve.

However, our atomic clock is now so old that the synchronizing function doesn’t work.

That’s how many years we’ve disagreed about setting the clock.

Sometimes, Steve says, “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

But I’m not a fan of unspoken conflict and I say, “None of that silent treatment.”

I know that, spoken or not, conflict is conflict. And unspoken conflict gathers power and, when the harborer lets down her guard, explode.  Been there. Done that. It’s hard to regroup.

The best resolution to conflict, of course, is authentic self-sacrifice. But would you make the sacrifice?

I’m not clear on who should make the sacrifice. Do we measure the degree of self-sacrifice the act requires, compare and then designate according to degree? This act takes less sacrifice for you, so this time, you sacrifice.

Or, this act takes more sacrifice for you, so you sacrifice and get bonus points?

Speaking of sacrifice, I recently noticed on social media that people are posting sacrifice challenges for the forty-or-so days of Lent. Some people are giving up Facebook. Others are fasting from types of food. The challenge that caught my interest was de-cluttering. The goal is to get rid of one item each day during Lent.

I determined to tackle the challenge.

As I sort through my clutter, I’ve mused through my clutter-related memories and have one to share.

When I was young, our family occasionally drove from Canada to visit our New England relatives who had what they called a Fibber McGee closet. We’d ask our aunt where something was and she’d say, “It’s in the Fibber McGee closet.” The closet’s name came from an American radio comedy series. In the show, Fibber McGee’s closet overflowed with an unorganized variety of remarkable items. My aunt’s did, too.

We’d open the closet doors, hold the contents in the closet with one hand, and use the other hand to rummage and find what we wanted: Tennis racquets. Tennis balls. Chalk. Softball gloves. String.

As a kid, I so wanted a Fibber McGee closet at our house. But my mom said that we couldn’t have one because we moved a lot. And people who move have to get rid of clutter. They can’t keep it in a closet.

As an adult, I remembered the Fibber McGee closet, and realized Steve and I  have lived in the same house for two decades, and we have two Fibber McGee closets, a Fibber McGee attic and a Fibber McGee garage.

While I think every household should have one Fibber McGee closet, I believe we currently have too many Fibber McGee areas.

I’ve decided to get rid of more than one item each of the 40 days of Lent and I’m gearing up to convince Steve to declutter, too.

For us, the de-cluttering argument is like that daylight savings time disagreement. We have it periodically.

So I am preparing for it.

When I try to throw something away and Steve objects, “I might need it someday.”

I’ll say, “Yes, that’s true.”

Often, I get rid of something and later I realize I want it. On day one of my Lent de-clutter challenge, I got rid of a decade’s worth of old glasses frames. Today, I thought, “A decades worth of old glasses frames would make a cool picture for today’s blog.” Still, I’m glad they’re gone.

Plus, in our current disorganized mess, we can’t find the things we need. Better to have a few things organized than many things so haphazardly stowed that you can’t find what you need.

Sometimes, Steve objects to my throwing things out because, “Someone somewhere needs this.”

I think relinquishing the item to a thrift store so that person can find it is our responsibility.

The reason for not parting with something that is most difficult for me to counter is: this item was given to me by someone living. Or dead. I keep many items because through them I feel tied to a loved one. But sometimes the tied feeling grows stronger than the love memory.

I own a serger that a friend gave me before she died more than a decade ago. I have never used the machine. As cumbersome as a tombstone, it sits in my closet. Recently, another friend pointed out that people in heaven probably don’t care what we do with their things.

I think I can remember my friend fondly with out the serger. I’m getting rid of it (message me if you want it) and all my other clutter.

While I’m good at recognizing and congratulating myself on my sacrifices, even I realize that I’m enjoying de-cluttering way too much to consider it (as I originally intended) a Lenten sacrifice.

I’m positive that coercing Steve to de-clutter doesn’t count as self-sacrifice, for me, either.

Maybe my Lenten sacrifice should be to let Steve spring the clock ahead one hour and four minutes. Maybe I should agree to setting the the clock his way. The daily mental arithmetic can be my sacrificial act. Would you do it?

Problem is–and you can check my calculation–in 40 days, when I’ve completed my Lenten sacrifice and I re-adjust the clocks, he’ll be 8 minutes late for work.

(scroll down to comment)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forced to wait for it?

Recently, while I was getting my hair cut in a hair salon, I overheard a woman say, “I don’t mind slow Internet. I’m not in a hurry when I go online.”

And you’re thinking: Said. No one. Ever.

That’s what I thought. But, again, she loudly declared her on-line patience to everyone in the room.

The stylist who was cutting my hair had my chair turned, so I couldn’t see the woman.

Was she a relic? Facing future embalming and delivery to the Smithsonian?

Or should she be protected as the only remaining member of a species quickly becoming extinct?

I wanted to get a good look at her.

When the stylist put the scissors down, I swiveled my chair. I was careful not to gawk obviously, but I had to see this rare creature.

She looked like a regular woman with foils in her hair.

But I certainly didn’t consider her perspective normal.

And I think I would have been less incredulous if the woman had said, “I don’t mind when I get a parking ticket.” At least parking tickets can be paid quickly. Continue reading “Forced to wait for it?”

Anxious? Depressed? Love someone who is?

a few beans

“I’m not sure that I feel good,” a friend recently told me over the phone from 350 miles away.

“What do you mean? What doesn’t feel good?”

“The right side of my face feels numb. I have trouble walking and I can’t write.”

I have a sliver of medical know-how which I gained during one shift as a 15-year-old volunteer candy striper. When the shift started, as I stepped off the elevator onto the hospital ward in my red-and-white-striped uniform, I felt filled with purpose and joy; however, in ten short minutes, I found that oozing body fluids and tubes connected to bodies disturb me. Feeling queasy and faint, I ran to the bathroom and hid for the rest of the shift. The next day, I turned my uniform in.

But even I knew my friend was experiencing stroke symptoms. I told her, “You need to get to the hospital. Now.”

I haven’t always been so adept at diagnosing medical conditions.

Sometimes, I misread a situation and choose to do nothing when urgency is called for.

Once, my husband Steve came home from playing pick-up basketball feeling uneasy. “I feel strange. In the middle of the game, I got dizzy and then I lost my vision for about a minute.”

With a wave of my hand meant to diminish his concern, I said, “Happens to me all the time.”

I have never played pick-up basketball. I meant the dizzy feeling. “Why don’t you take a nap? And eat a sandwich. Yeah, eat a sandwich. Your blood sugar’s probably low.”

A few days later, almost past the lifesaving window of opportunity, a neurologist showed me pictures of Steve’s torn carotid artery and mentioned the life-threatening possibility of a blood clot catching on the flap. Urgency and a panicked oops swelled within me. I didn’t offer the neurologist a sandwich.

Then, we went through years during which our young adult son’s life was falling apart.  He often stayed in bed in a dark room with the covers over his head. All day long.

He rarely spoke. He never responded to my nagging: write a list of activities and do them. Check them off one by one. And smile. Smiling doesn’t hurt anyone.

I thought his behavior was a choice. He’s lazy. He’s unmotivated. He’s really grumpy and downright hostile. He can choose between right and wrong and he’s choosing wrong.

When he sat on the back porch, stared into the yard and smoked cigarette after cigarette, I said: stop sitting. Start doing.

He didn’t.

He consumed large quantities of alcohol and some drugs. The police arrested, charged, fined and told him to stop.

It took eight long years and our son attempting suicide before we learned his behaviour pointed to medical conditions called major depression and anxiety disorder.

Now, I recognize mental illness when I see it. Not only do I recognize it, I know to seek medical help.

Also, I know the challenge of loving someone who struggles with depression and anxiety.

I often meet people who face that challenge. An encounter that sticks with me took place in December 2010. I was visiting tent cities near Port-au-Prince, Haiti with a medical missions team. Because, as I mentioned earlier, my medical expertise is limited, my job was to serve food (peanut butter sandwiches on white bread) to the hundreds of people who lined up to see the doctors and to hand out crayons and coloring pages to the kids who came along.

At one location, when our supplies were gone, I walked in the tent city with one of the interpreters who assisted our team. We walked on dirt paths between rows of small dwellings. Some were tents emblazoned with relief organizations’ names and others were make-shift structures cobbled together with corrugated steel, cardboard and blue tarps.

Plants

Near one tent, some scraggly plants grew. From them, a woman picked beans. I stopped to chat with the interpreter’s help.

The woman held a few beans in her hand. She said they were supper.

“How many people will you feed?”

a few beans

“Myself. My husband. My three kids.” She motioned to three little kids who played nearby in the dirt.

“Your husband? He’s?” I wondered where he was.

“He’s in the tent sleeping. Since the earthquake and our move here, he can’t find a job. He looked and looked and now he sleeps. He sleeps almost all the time.”

I remembered my son and how, when he was depressed, he slept all day long with the covers over his head. My best efforts to rouse him failed.

In my mind, I listed the symptoms of depression:

  • sleeping –a lot
  • persistent feelings of sadness and worthlessness
  • an inability to engage in formerly pleasurable activities
  • low energy level
  • trouble concentrating
  • thoughts of suicide

I wanted to say that I recognize depression. I have lived the long, hard years, trying to pick up the slack, beside a depressed individual.  It’s not easy.

The woman, the interpreter and I stood in silence for a long moment.

The afternoon was hot and dry. I felt sweat coat my forehead. I wiped it with my dusty hand. I was thirsty. I looked around for water. I wondered how she watered her small garden.

My glimpse into her life revealed that she faced a situation that would sideline most people.

I don’t know what our stand in silence meant for her.

For me?  I had no words to acknowledge the extent of the challenge she faced.

She’d fled from an earthquake that left large portions of her city in piles of rubble. Ten months later, bodies remained under those piles. She’d lost her home and moved temporarily to a dusty hillside. There was no running water. No electricity.

Her three kids played in dirt. Her husband faced lingering unemployment and severe depression that interfered with his ability to function.

Yet, she’d planted a garden. And harvested food to cook for her family.

I hoped in some small way that our moment of silence was a tribute to her: queen of resilience.

And I wanted to help. The peanut butter sandwiches that we’d been serving at the clinic were gone.

I dug in my pocket. I found a crayon and three American dollars—not even enough for a Starbucks’ coffee.  A dismal gift in the face of her need, I thought. But I handed her the money. “Could you get some rice to go with the beans?” I asked.

Tears streamed down her face and she hugged my neck again and again.

I didn’t learn her name. But I resolved to never forget the challenge she faced. And to someday contribute to getting resources to people like her.

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Depression and anxiety are a huge and growing problem all over the world. In the United States, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, these disorders interfere with daily functioning for 40 million American adults. The disorders often go undiagnosed and untreated

Depression is also a big problem in developing countries like nearby Haiti. Experts say that people in developing countries have a lot to be depressed about like scant food, limited resources and few opportunities.  Experts say that in most developing countries, there is about one psychiatrist and one psychiatric nurse per 100,000 people.

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If you face mental illness or love someone who does, check out these resources:

I’ve written a book called On the Loving End of Crazy:  Our Story Told to Equip You to Live Yours

If you are interested in learning more about the book, go to the coming soon page. 

You’re not alone. You can find help. Additional great resources:

National Alliance on Mental Illness   http://www.nami.org/

Fresh hope http://freshhope.us/

Mental Health Grace Alliance http://mentalhealthgracealliance.org

Amy Simpson http://amysimpsononline.com/

Amy’s awesome books:

Anxious: Choosing Faith in A World of Worry

Troubled Minds:  Mental Illness and The Church’s Mission

http://amysimpsononline.com/books/

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If you know of other helpful resources, please share.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I drove the streets in a pink van with a name…

So the pink van that I mentioned in last week’s blog stirred some reader interest and prompted memories for me.

“That van is so tacky, it’s awesome,” said one reader.

I understood what she was saying. I’ve reacted that way to lawn art. I can take or leave an occasional garden gnome or a metal flower. I say a firm “NO!” to large, colorful, wooden backsides placed in the flower bed, but show me an overstuffed armchair upholstered in succulents (which I saw at the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh last year ) and I’m thinking: that’s so tacky its irresistible, I want it for my yard.

For about a decade, I drove the streets in that pink van. The van had a name.

Do you name your vehicles? Some quick internet research revealed that about 25% of Americans name their vehicles. Researchers say that people name their vehicles to establish a bond with their driving machines. Maybe I named the van because, subconsciously, I was trying to bond with the beast or maybe because I recall my mom referring to her cars by name. Usually, she called them “Betsy.” Which, I learned, is the country’s most common car name.

Last week, for a few hours, I couldn’t recall the pink van’s name. Continue reading “I drove the streets in a pink van with a name…”

I married the wrong man…

In 1982, when my husband Steve and I met, I knew we were soulmates. We liked the same outdoor activities—skiing, biking and hiking. Together, we tended a small garden and canned the produce. He worked on my car and I cooked in his kitchen. We attended the same small, church and eagerly contributed to the church community. He helped with building repairs and maintenance. I taught Sunday school.

After dating just over a year, we married, bought a house, and had three kids.

We’d been married awhile, maybe, a few years, when I realized our vast differences must mean that we were actually not soulmates. I worried that I just might have married the wrong man.

Continue reading “I married the wrong man…”