It Is A Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Indeed!

The Irish Sea- she's a hoary bitch

The Irish Sea- she’s a hoary bitch

Five years ago today, my sister Lib had to cancel her annual St. Patrick’s Day party.  Our hometown always has a big parade, and her apartment is right on the parade route, the perfect location for viewing and celebrating.  She couldn’t have the party that year, because she and I were on our way to Ireland.

We got a great deal by traveling on St. Patrick’s day, and we arrived in Dublin in time for the national hangover.  I started blogging as a travelogue of our adventures for our family.  If you’d like to read all about it, start here. **Warning**  The posts are longer than the actual trip, at least according to my loving family.

Three years ago today, we had to cancel the annual St. Patrick’s Day party.    We gathered around Lib’s hospital bed, instead.

Lib was out of town and I came home to help host the party at her apartment.  My sisters and I were at the grocery store the night before the party, when we got a call.  Lib had suffered a seizure and friends rushed her to the hospital.  CAT scans revealed a shadow on her brain.  My sisters and I made arrangements, packed bags and all hit the road, arriving at the hospital late at night.

It would take weeks of testing before the doctors were sure of their diagnosis; she had a brain tumor, a nasty piece of work called an oligodendroglioma.  The same type of tumor that killed our brother, Pat.

Today, Lib is recovering…from too much celebrating at her annual St. Patrick’s Day party.   I wasn’t able to make it home this year, but I’m sure it was fab.

Lib has been living with cancer for the past three years.    Surgery isn’t a good option for her, so she first did an extended chemo treatment.  She completed a course of radiation less than 2 months ago.   I’m thrilled to report the tumor responded well to the radiation, showing significant shrinkage.  Yeah!

She’s a little worn down by the treatment, but she’s back to work and, most importantly, able to host great parties.  She has her ups and downs, but she’s playing the hand she was dealt with grace and humor.

Next year, I’m sure the annual St. Patrick’s Day  party will once again take place.  I’m volunteering right now to make the beer run.   I like my Guinness fresh, so it’s best to get it straight from the source.   Who’s up for a beer run to Dublin?

Happy St. Patrick’s Day – sláinte!

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Is It My Bad If I Feel Bad When My Bad Isn’t Very Bad?

balloon artist courtesy of Wobbles The Clown

balloon artistry courtesy of Wobbles The Clown

Ungrateful, angry, discontented…I’m sick of dealing with people with these lousy attitudes.  But how can I avoid myself?

My friend Deb at The Monster In Your Closet got me thinking.  She does that a lot, and I wish she’d knock it off.  This time Deb got me cogitating about gratitude and attitude.  It’s a topic I struggle with, and it’s getting worse as I get older.

I have a ton to be thankful for.  I know it.  Really and truly I do.  And I am grateful.  I have an embarrassment of riches that I have done nothing whatsoever to earn.  Although I don’t think earning enters into the equation.  We don’t deserve good things any more than we deserve bad things.  Stuff happens.  It happens to everybody.  But there’s a hell of a range on the stuff-o-meter, isn’t there?  That’s my problem.

When stuff happens to me, even little, stupid stuff, I want to kick somebody.

Life gave me snow recently, and I made snow cones out of it, blogistically speaking.   Funny, right?  But I wasn’t laughing at the time.   I was fuming.

As my hands were trying to dig my car out of a mountain of snow, my brain was compiling a list of all the lousy things that had happened to me in the previous 12 hours:  “Top 10 Examples Of How Unfair Life Is To Poor Me.”  I was consumed with righteous anger, as if getting stuck in the driveway and waiting 1/2 hour for a salad at a restaurant were tragedies worthy of a Greek chorus.

It was nothing. NOTHING!  What the hell is the matter with me?

It’s not just unreasonable anger; I get swamped with unreasonable despair, too.

Three beloved family members are battling cancer.  My sister Lib, brother Bill, cousin Moe  – all are carrying their crosses with a faith and courage that leaves me shaking my head in helpless admiration.  Yet even as I admire them, the thought of their suffering threatens to overwhelm me at times.  They are moving forward, despite their struggles, and I am getting bogged down with worry about those struggles.  Huh??

I think the best antidote for excessive self-absorption is to look outside oneself.  Since my kids have left home, I volunteer at church, am a tutor for immigrants learning English, and help out a couple of times per month with my husband at the homeless shelter.  That sounds so Braggy McBraggart it makes me cringe.  But I’m telling you so you will understand that I am trying.  And so you will understand the self-congratulation/condemnation see-saw I’m constantly riding.   Because I’m just not feeling it.

I don’t want to do any of those things.

Oh, I fulfill my obligations.  I go to the shelter and serve food, wash dishes and do other busy work.  But I’m not blazing forth as a chatty, cheery ray of human sunshine.  Part of that is distaste at the thought of coming off like condescending Lady Bountiful dispensing charity to the less fortunate.  Part of it is because that sort of thing is out of my comfort zone.  Bottom line: I don’t want to.

This is how uncharitable I am.  A 12-year old kid and his mom have been at the shelter for 5 months.   How tragic is that?   Of course I do whatever I can to help, right?   Help the lad with his homework, rap with him about Pokemon and such, right?  No.  No I don’t.  I’ve never been good with kids of that age, and this one is hyper, loud and annoying.  I serve him dinner with a fake-but-trying-to-be-genuine, pasted-on smile, and otherwise try to avoid him.

It’s tough enough to be totally honest with others, but it’s even more difficult to be totally honest with myself.   I’m not fishing for reassurance that I’m a good person – don’t go there.  I just want us to discuss a couple of things:

  • Do good works offset a lousy attitude?
  • Is increasing negativity a function of age?
  • Am I the only one who has to give herself these same gratitude/attitude pep talks over and over again, because they don’t seem to take?
  • If we are immeasurably blessed compared to others, are we unforgivably ungrateful to let anything bother us?

To whit…

             Is it my bad when my bad isn’t too bad, but it still makes me feel bad?

Guess I’ll keep plugging along, with frequent “notes to self” to count my blessings.  And if I can’t help throwing myself the occasional pity party, I’ll try to make it a small one.  Just a little cake and ice cream, no gifts, and absolutely no clowns crafting balloon wiener dogs.

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I’ll See That Wheelchair And Raise You One Prius

Nowadays you have to be a member of a special interest group to park in the same county as your final destination.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge the bits of concrete reserved for people with physical problems.   But the concept has been expanded to the point of absurdity.  This was brought home to me spectacularly at the local community college.

The college just finished construction of a state-of-the-art addition.  Even more exciting than the new building is the fact that it has its own parking lot, right next-door.  That’s a rarity here.

Whoever designed our community college was obviously not from our community.  If the architect had ever experienced a Midwestern winter, with its bone-chilling winds sweeping mountains of snow across miles of fields, he would never have set it up the way he did.

The campus is located in the middle of acres and acres of Illinois cornfield.  Long, low buildings are scattered artfully among the gently rolling hills, said hills courtesy of a fleet of bulldozers.  We don’t do rolling hills here, we do flat.   The parking lots are sprinkled even more artfully than the buildings, and they are nowhere near one another.  In the winter, the journey from car to building is usually best accomplished via dog sled.  Is it any wonder I was eager to see the new and improved design?

Now I know for sure that the architect is not from around here.

There were plenty of open parking spots right up front, I saw as I drove into the new lot.  When I got closer, I noticed the first 7 parking spots in the first 4 rows had “reserved” signs.

“This school must have more than its share of physically challenged students,” I mused.   Then I cruised close enough to read the signs.

These spots are not reserved for the Handicapped.  Nor are they for Expectant Mothers.  They are reserved for neither Mothers With Young Children, nor Senior Citizens.  Not the College President, not even the Employee of the Month.  None of these worthies is allowed to park in the hallowed spaces.

Who gets to keep their tootsies warm and dry on the short hop to the building?  Who is allowed to park in the 30 closest spots?

Reserved For Low Emission Vehicles Only

You will be relieved to know that they have a row of handicapped parking spots shunted over to the side of the building.  I didn’t measure, but it looks like the first Prius spot is closer to the door.

I guess this makes sense to some folks.  That kind of thinking is not the norm here in small-town, middle America.   We think close-in parking spaces should be reserved for those with medical issues.  And we regard being sanctimonious as more a character flaw than a genuine medical condition.

phone 11-13 to 3-14 068

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Sinners & Tiaras

Some of you know my guilty secret of eternal shame, that I love the show Toddlers & Tiaras.That should clue you that I like a little bling.  Sometimes I have trouble balancing my love for the sparkly stuff with my desire to do the right thing, especially during Lent.

What do you mean?

Those not familiar with Christianity can be excused for thinking that Christmas is the most important day on the Christian calendar.  Au contraire.  Easter is the big kahuna because it commemorates Christ’s resurrection.  Just as it wouldn’t be smart to run the Boston Marathon without a little training, Christians get ready for Easter with a prep period called Lent.  The kick-off for Lent is Ash Wednesday, and that is this week.

At church on Ash Wednesday they smear the sign of the cross on your forehead with ashes.   This is a reminder that our earthly bodies are going to turn back to dirt when this life is over.  Sometimes you can’t even see the mark.  But if the person with the ashes has a big thumb, or is especially zealous, you wind up looking like one of the chimney sweeps in Mary Poppins.

Now that we’ve got the mini-catechism out-of-the-way, you’re probably scratching your head and saying “OK, but what does any of this have to do with Toddlers & Tiaras?”

I’ll tell you.

When I was a kid, whenever we would have to do something we didn’t want to do (like baby-sit our snotty-nosed siblings), or when we couldn’t do something we DID want to do (like watch Dark Shadows, which we weren’t allowed to watch because it would corrupt our morals or something), there was bound to be some complaining.

My Mom’s favorite response to any and all such whining?  “Offer it up cheerfully.  You’re storing up jewels for your heavenly crown.”

I always liked the mental picture of a crown, because I like the bling.  But I get the impression that if I’m prancing around in a big, good-deeds tiara here on earth, I won’t get the heavenly crown.  It’s a now or later proposition.

Where do outward displays of generosity and piety fit in? 

The bible is pretty clear that I’m not supposed to stand in the break room at work and moan, “I’m so weak I can barely stand up because I’m fasting.  Did I mention I’m not eating any of those donuts because it’s Lent and I’m fasting?  Because I’m holy – at least holier than most of thou-all in this break room.”

This is where we swing back around to the topic of Ash Wednesday.  Thanks for sticking with me.

The dilemma I always have, is what to do with the ashes.  Do I wear the cross all day to help others remember that this is an important day of reflection and repentance?  Or is that boasting?

If I swipe the ashes off as soon as I get out of church am I hiding my light under a bushel basket?  If I don’t wipe them off, am I bragging?  If I get a reward of warm and fuzzy feelings here on earth, do I (this is the important part) forfeit the jewels in my heavenly crown?

What’s the proper balance here?

Years ago, Ash Wednesday rolled around soon after I had landed my first job in a big corporation.   I ducked out at lunch and went to mass.  I was talking to a co-worker later that afternoon when he gestured to my face, said, “You’ve got some dirt there.” and reached up to swipe it away.   I jerked back like he had boogers on his fingers.

“Oh, yeah.  Um, well…it’s Ash Wednesday and all…” I trailed off.

“Oh, yeah!  That’s right.  I forgot!”  We both turned beet red.  I don’t know who was more embarrassed.  Probably him, because he felt compelled to launch into a big explanation of why he didn’t go to church anymore because (insert excuse here) – blah, blah, blah.

I nodded and smiled, but what I wanted say was, “Hey, I’m nobody’s spiritual guide.  I’m just a girl trying to get through this right.”

I guess that is the answer to my question.

All any of us can do is try to get through it right.  Life, I mean.  I need to keep reminding myself not to focus so much on buying the rhinestone tiara of the here-and-now, and put more effort into adding big diamonds to the crown I’ve got on layaway.

 

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My Life Is A PERT Diagram

stairwaytoheaventoilet6

com·pul·sion noun \kəm-ˈpəl-shən\
2:  an irresistible persistent impulse to perform an act (as excessive hand washing)

I have a little behavioral quirk that I call Hyper-Efficiency Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  You might call it Weirdness.

Here’s a recent example.

A television show I particularly wanted to watch started at 9 so I headed out of the living room at 8:55 for a quick trip to the bathroom.   Our first floor powder room is closest, but I had to consider the upstairs bathroom option as well.

There were several compelling arguments in favor of the second floor.

  1. A pair of jeans I had mended was on the banister waiting to be carted upstairs and put away.
  2. I could see that the humidifier on the stairs landing was almost empty.
  3. The book of short stories I was reading was upstairs on my bedside table.  The  powder-room reading material was the same old, dog-eared Calvin & Hobbes anthology.
  4. I had peed in the upstairs toilet earlier and had not flushed.

If I went upstairs I could grab the humidifier reservoir on the way, put my jeans in the bedroom closet and get the book, then read at least 1 page while taking care of business in the bathroom.  Maybe more than 1 page, depending on how things shook out.  When done I could dispose of 2 operations with one flush.(*see Note)   I could then wash my hands while refilling the humidifier and put the reservoir back in place on the way down the stairs.   I would wait until the first commercial break to get my sewing supplies and a drink of water.

All this pottying cogitation took place in the 1-1/2 seconds needed to cover 20 feet of territory between the living room and the powder room.   I made the obvious choice and detoured upstairs.

These mental gymnastics were not deliberate.   I wasn’t even aware of my own thought processes until I was back in my Barcalounger and found I had missed the opening of the show.   “Self” I asked myself, “how could you have been late for a program you were looking forward to so eagerly?”

Applying the bright light of conscious inquiry to the convoluted operations of my own brain was a bit terrifying, I admit, but I wasn’t surprised by the results.  I’ve mentioned my squirrel-in-a-cage thought processes before.  In fact, those who have been hanging around this blog for a while may think I have a particular fetish for deep thinking in and about the bathroom.

I’ve been obsessed with killing a whole flock of birds with one stone for most of my life.  It’s a game to me.

I always have a book on CD going so I can “read” when my hands are busy. I reconcile my checkbook while waiting in the drive-through. I plan my errands by calibrating right vs. left turns, probable traffic patterns for the time of day, placement of various destinations in relation to one another, all factored against weather conditions.   Columbus’ journey to the New World was  a toy boat floating in the tub compared to the convoluted planning I put into a routine trip to the grocery store.

The downside of trying to accomplish as much as possible in the shortest amount of time is that I’m late for everything.  It’s multitasking run amok.

The first time I remember thinking about this topic was when I saw the (original) movie Cheaper By The Dozen on TV as a little kid.  Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy were efficiency experts with 12 children.  One scene showed the father instructing a child on the most efficient way to take a bath while listening to foreign language lessons on a record player.  This struck me as a very elegant use of time.

This conviction was shored up by a class I took in college that introduced me to the principles of project management.  I’ve been living life as a series of boxes in a PERT diagram ever since.

Despite these “nurture” influences, I think such quirks have more to do with “nature”.   Scientific study (defined as observing my own kids) confirms that we are born with these tendencies.

One daughter used to hold her breath between the telephone poles on a particular stretch of road on the ride to school.  The other counted steps on regularly traveled stairways so she would always end up with her right foot on the last step. Maybe this proves nothing more than that the OCD apple doesn’t fall far from the uber-multitasking tree, but I don’t think my family is alone in this.

Humans are hard-wired to try to make sense of a complex world by creating patterns and developing rituals.  Our quirks reach the level of true OCD only when they interfere with our ability to function effectively in life.   Up to that point, I figure whatever makes you feel good  is OK…unless it keeps you from getting to the bathroom in time.

What compulsions or rituals do you practice?

(*Note) Re: our home flushing policy. Don’t judge.  We have a well and it has run dry several times.  Unless you have experienced the gut-wrenching feeling of turning a faucet and getting gurgles instead of water, you are not allowed to feel superior or disgusted about our 2-pees-to-each-flush-when-there-are-no-strangers-in-the-house rule.

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I Am Not Jennifer Tucker

Not me.

Not me.

Jennifer Tucker wears Manolo Blahniks.
I wear Easy Spirit Fun-timers

Jennifer Tucker shops at Saks.
I shop at Big Lots.

Jennifer Tucker is first in line on the day they have the latest iPhone.
I am first in line on Black Friday when they have the $5 blenders.

Jennifer Tucker only carries Coach.
I only travel coach.

Jennifer Tucker goes on whirlwind trips to Bali and Paris.
I go to the craft show at the mall.

Jennifer Tucker’s motto is, “Let tomorrow take care of itself.”
My motto is, “Listen to that fable about the squirrel who played all summer instead of gathering nuts.  Come winter, he starved to death.”  I realize that Jennifer Tucker’s motto is catchier than mine.

I have had the same phone number for about 10 years.  Yet every couple of months I get a call intended for the person who must have had this number before me.  The callers are often from a far away country, and they are usually reading from a script.  Sometimes they want to sell me something, but mostly they want something from me.  More accurately, they want something from Jennifer Tucker.

Money.

I pay cash.
Jennifer Tucker doesn’t pay.

Please, please, somebody at the International Federation of Credit Cards, Loan Sharks and Debt Collectors, make a correction to that big, all-knowing, all-seeing data bank in the sky, and drop my number.

I am not Jennifer Tucker.

p.s. If anybody sees Jennifer Tucker, tell her to give me a call – I have a couple of messages for her.  She knows the number.

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Did You Get Your Songfluenza Vaccination?

I’ve been humming the theme song from “Gilligan’s Island” all day.  This brain worm reminded me of the time I got Songfluenza so bad, I barely escaped with my life…

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I’ve picked up a nasty virus.  It’s just getting started, but I’m already fuzzy-headed.

This is the worst case of Songfluenza I have ever had.  It’s an especially virulent strain involving “The Lonely Goatherd”.

One rarely knows how these things are contracted.  The latent virus may be lying dormant for weeks or months.  Something triggers it, and without warning you’re breaking out in “lay-ee-odl-lay-ee-odl-loo”.

In this case, though, I can pinpoint the precise moment I caught it.    A co-worker passed it on as he walked down the hallway whistling the infecting tune.  Bill is known to be a chronic carrier.  You would think our employer would do something, but their hands are tied.  They are afraid of a lawsuit.  I am not blaming Bill, poor guy.  But why don’t these people just stay home when the virus is active?

At first I didn’t even know I had been infected. I was at the copier and another co-worker said, not quite meeting my eyes, “Um, did you know you’ve been humming that song from the Sound of Music?   Like, all day? Over and over?  ALL DAY?”

If I had just the melodic strain, it wouldn’t be so bad.  But I always get hammered with both music and lyrics.  I cannot concentrate.  It is like having a hole in a tooth that your tongue won’t leave alone.  My brain feverishly puzzles; is it “Soon her mama with a pale pink coat heard,” or “Soon her mama with a gleaming gloat heard”?

The fear, of course, is that the strain will mutate.  Then it is just a matter of time before you’re battling Soundus Musicus.

What if it crosses over to the dreaded Yodelus family?   Granted, such cases are rare nowadays.  But it wasn’t that many years ago that sufferers were institutionalized, poor bastards.  This was both to prevent contagion and to protect them from angry mobs.

We are bound to see more outbreaks with this cold weather keeping people indoors.

The Centers for Disease Control report the Mileyus variant is knocking over victims like a wrecking ball.  But they say there is no cause for concern.  That strain, although annoying, is short-lived.  As with most of the Pop Musicus genus, it runs its course in about 15 minutes.   This is not to minimize the danger.   Some sufferers have been left permanently disfigured, their tongues coated with mange and subject to uncontrollable spasms.  This is a condition the medical community calls “twerking,” and it can be cyrious.

mileytongue

How this poor young lady must be suffering.

Modern science cannot truly eradicate the menace of Songfluenza.  There are, however, steps we can take to lessen the spread.   The most effective is to avoid others when contagious.  If you have to go out, be careful.  For example, when I feel an “odl-lay-ee-hoo” coming on, I cover my mouth with the crook of my arm.

Prevention is especially important when dealing with the most vulnerable in our society – those whose immunity has been compromised by participation in musical theater.

I am trying to look on the bright side.  This bout should boost my immunity to Soundus Musicus, and possibly the entire Rodgers & Hammersteinus order.

For now, there’s nothing I can do but let it run its course.  Maybe I should just go home.  I’m sure in a few days I will be as right as rain.
Rain.
Raindrops.
Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens….

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