Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Soul Surfer

I'm pretty sure it is going to take at least a week before I come down off the high of being blessed by the movie Soul Surfer.

It will take equally as long for the puffiness under, around, and above my eyes to get back to normal. This is a movie that should come with a personal-size pack of Kleenex when you pay for admission.

Originally, when I took advantage of the Groupon that allowed us to get into Studio Movie Grill for $5 (ticket AND drink--do you smell the bargain here?), I was thinking we'd go see HOP. After all, it was Easter time, the bunny is cute, and the movie seemed almost as cute as the rabbit. Except for that pooping the jelly beans bit.

HOP came into theaters about the same time as Soul Surfer. And, while HOP was getting ho-hum reviews, Soul Surfer was eating it up.

Critics loved this story of a surfer who looses an arm to a shark attack. And that fact was what made me question whether or not the kids should join me and Mike at the theater. After all, I didn't want them to be scared around water for years, like Jaws managed to do to me in the 70's.*

So, what to do?

We decided the story itself would trump any worries we had about the attack. Off to the movie we all went in the family truckster.

And, by-golly-by-gosh, did we make the right choice!** The attack happened so fast that, if you happened to look down at your drink, you might have missed it.*** I actually think the build-up to the shark was worse; I was wondering, from scene one, "Is this the time she gets attacked?"

Bethany Hamilton is an amazing witness. She is perseverance, persistence, and faith rolled up into one big ball. She is a force to be reckoned with and I expect we'll be hearing a lot from her after all the exposure from this movie. I, for one, am glad there is a young role model for my kids to look up to.

A big, happy shout-out to the people who made Soul Surfer, and chose to leave scenes depicting church services, mission trips, a father reading the Bible, and scripture quotes in the movie. Anything short of this would have seemed hollow because Bethany's story is truly one of faith, getting past why bad things happen, and embracing life with vigor and fearlessness.

Now I'm salivating to see the next "Christian" movie coming out of theaters, which we saw a preview for: Courageous.**** That preview made me cry, so at least I'll know I should bring my own box of tissues.

Go ahead and call me a sap. I don't care, as long as Hollywood keeps cranking out movies that mean something and have a message I'm glad to share with my kids.

Now THAT is what I call entertainment.

*When I was 12 years old, I'd even get the heebie-jeebies when swimming in our above-ground pool. Even today, I'm still a little wary in the ocean. I just know that dang shark is coming out of nowhere to get me.....

**I think that's time number two, since we've had kids, that we made the right choice. WOOT!

***Now, of course, the aftermath is readily apparent for the rest of the movie and there is blood, so factor that in when considering for your own kids.

****From the makers of Facing the Giants.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Joy of Cooking

I have a love besides Mike in my heart which I rarely admit to anyone: cookbooks.

I can take a book of recipes in my hands and caress it like a newborn baby's skin, admiring all the beautiful pictures and wonderful ingredients that would bring such joy to our kitchen table.

Then, I come back to reality because I realize we are adrift with food allergies, hatred of certain foods, and tastes that vary as far and wide as the Sahara Dessert.

Admittedly, most of the books on my shelves have been given to me over the years by people who know I love to cook.

There's the hardback, authentic Italian tome given to me by my college roommate when I married my first husband.

The "Joy of Cooking" that is falling apart was a gift from my beloved Grandma K.

Oodles of church cookbooks litter the shelves, some from friends, some I purchased, many gifts from family. I cherish the one that has recipes from Mom and Dad Huber, especially because Mom took the time to highlight her name under all the recipes she had submitted.*

Now, if that were my only other heart love, we'd be cherry. But, no.

For years, I took Gourmet magazine**, purchased at-the-register Bisquick and Betty Crocker seasonal magazines, and destroyed every copy of Ladies' Home Journal and All You, for the sake of pillaging recipes. So, on top of books, my cabinets are brimming with torn or cut recipes ranging from homemade dog biscuits to chocolate tortes.

Knowing how much I love recipes, you can imagine my dismay when I realized it was time to do a thorough cleaning of the cabinets that housed everything foodie.

I've known for a very long time now that I had too many books. I've also known I had enough single recipes, cut from magazines and newspapers and printed off the Internet to help start the next Aggie bonfire and keep it going until The Babe graduates from A&M.

So I started this project by pulling out all the contents of one cabinet. And there they sat on the counter, for two straight days, staring at me every time I went into the kitchen. I couldn't stand to pass judgment on them.

When I finally began sorting and making copies of tested, beloved recipes so the books could leave our house, I realized this was actually therapeutic. It felt GOOD to be getting rid of stuff I hadn't fully utilized. I even idealized the concept that someone, somewhere, might just be missing the perfect New York Style Cheesecake recipe and would only find it if I gave up one of the books.

I also learned a lesson in letting go, a lesson I long ago was introduced to in the Bible, but I just needed some real life experience to grasp: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6: 19-21)

Far too long my treasure has been these books and recipes. I worried far too much about making "perfect" meals, morning, noon and night and was upset when my family didn't respond with gratitude and kudos.

I've had nights where I actually thought about a tornado or a fire destroying our house and how much I would miss all the recipes that are "tried and true".

I've had a real problem because my thinking was "If I toss a cookbook given to me by someone I love and who loves me, it is rude and wrong. ESPECIALLY, if they are no longer alive."

I've learned that giving up things is far different than giving up the person. My treasure is the person and my memories with them. I don't have to have the recipe or the cookbook they gave me to remember them and smile with fondness, or cry with sadness, or laugh with joy.

In freeing up shelf space, I've learned so many lessons; lessons in giving up, giving back, cleaning out, and living with an eye on Heaven.

Not bad for a few hours worth of spring cleaning.

*In the process of going through these books, I really missed Mom and wondered to myself, just before running across the book, "Where are all the recipes Mom used to make for guests?" Now I know. Thank you, Lord, for that gift.

**What was I thinking? If you are married with no children in your future, this is perfectly logical, because you might actually have an "adults-only" party and need fourteen recipes for the perfect date/blue cheese/fresh thyme/bacon-wrapped appetizer. With kids? You need on awesome recipe for mac n cheese and you are set for life!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Brunch

I have been slightly off-kilter all week because we are hosting Easter brunch and I went and did the unspeakable: I created a "non-traditional" menu.

Generally, we'd be having ham, green bean casserole, and crescent rolls. Instead, we're enjoying crab quiche, grilled chicken/pasta salad, and two types of sliders.

In other words: I've branched out, in a culinary sense, but it has been HARD.

I've worried about what everyone will think of these new recipes I'm trying, even though they've all commented "GREAT!"

I've worried about getting everything ready, from the house to the flower beds to the food, when all I've wanted to do is write and go shopping for pool toys and Crocs for the kids.*

I've worried that I've invited Mike's side of the family and Dad's new bride and her family and "What if they don't get along?"

And, I've realized, if I just had determined that we were having a traditional meal, that I would feel so much less stress. While I dearly love to try new things, when you add a dozen extra people to the mix, all trying that new thing too, it makes my stomach lurch.

So, I'm having to pray myself off the proverbial ledge and get busy listening to God, who is reminding me even now that the important thing is family, not the food or the flower beds or whether or not I'm able to corral all the dust bunnies and contain them.

I'm being reminded that Christ is the reason for the day. And the worst that could happen is we have to ditch our funky fixin's and head for the local Luby's.**

And, in the end, if we have a memory of the food, it will only be because it was great or horrible. Either of which will make for a good blog post later.

What I really, secretly want is a houseful of laughter and conversation and gratitude. So, Lord, please bless this Easter Day in that way. Help me forget all the peripheral things and make this all about the people. And, at the forefront of all of our minds, may you stay. Today, tomorrow, and always.

Happy Easter all!

*Some body's got spring fever. Doo da. Doo da.

**At least, this year, we shouldn't come home to realize our refrigerator isn't working properly and $200 worth of groceries are gone. Yes, that was a joy.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Big 2-0

Men? Just hang it up. Today's post is about female health issues.

Go grab your Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and forget about this blog today. Trust me, if you forge ahead, you'll just wish you'd taken my advice.

This year will mark the 20th anniversary of the first time I had a mammogram.

Mutli-colored balloons will descend from the ceiling, followed closely by ticker tape and confetti. It will be the event of the year, if I have anything to do with it.

As I accept the award as the youngest person in the waiting area AGAIN (and the other women suspiciously look at me because they figure something MUST be wrong for such a young princess to be wearing the coveted easy-access, pink-ribbon patterned, cotton shawl), they will hear me say:

"I consider it an honor to have been chosen to have a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer* and I accept this award for all the thousands of women, just like me, who carry the weight of wondering 'Am I going to die before my time because of one little genetic abnormality?'"

Yes, this is most definitely my least favorite event of the year, so I approach it with sarcasm as thick as winter-tapped maple syrup.

But, since it really is a banner year, I thought I'd make it extra fun by seeing what you all think I should do to celebrate. I'm not going to give you any ideas because I want YOURS.

The big event is scheduled for September, after the kids go back to school, so the world is my oyster during the day. I'm sure the weekends will be a little nuts with soccer/football for the boys, but I could fit something in there, I'm sure.

So, how crazy should I go for this milestone? Do you want to join me? Not while I have my sensitive tissues squashed, but in some fun activity afterwards?

What would you do to celebrate 20 years of breast health?

Come on, let's see what you've got!!!

*In case you are wondering: my birth Mother died of breast cancer, which led me to have BRAC testing done. That testing showed that I carry a genetic marker that puts me at a higher risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer over the years.

I also think that gene is responsible for the enourmous amount of sarcasm that flows through my body on a daily basis.

Friday, April 22, 2011

You Want to ZUMBA?

Zumba. "Ditch the Workout. Join the Party!"

I have to admit that my interest was at least a LITTLE peaked when I overheard a group of late 20's/early 30's Moms jawboning about this latest craze in fitness squarely aimed at women in that same demographic. They couldn't get enough! They LOVED ZUMBA!

Likely, that was around two years ago because I've since started working out elsewhere and the craze that started in smelly gyms in YMCA's* across the universe has since gone viral. You can buy your own Zumba clothes, DVD's, fitness equipment, bumper sticker. I hear rumor that you can even get a licensed Zumba tatoo in places that would make your Granny blush.**

I never caught the disease. Never darkened the doors of a class. Never got THE FEVER. But, lucky for me, a Zumba infomercial was on TV the other day, when I was trapped in the bathroom getting my face dolled up and hair done for a date with Big Daddy Mike.

I watched in the mirror as the girls gyrated their six-packs, tans, and perfect, stick-like legs across the well-appointed fake gym. All the while, smiling, with teeth so white that satellites picked up the anomaly and the engineers looking at the footage asked "What's that blazing white streak coming from that dance studio in L.A.?"

Oh, and, of course, there was the token male in the audience, placed there to convince the poor, whipped man who was drug to his girlfriend's/new wife's Zumba class that "YOU BELONG HERE, TOO!"***

Then I got to thinking: "This looks a little like another craze I remember. Wait a minute, has it been thirty years ago? My gosh, it has. It was called A.E.R.O.B.I.C.S."

And, truly, the bubble of Zumba was burst for me.

The biggest difference between doing exercise with a group of women now and then is the music. Back then, we all giggled when "Let's Get Physical" came on the boom box because we teenagers knew Olivia Newton-John was REALLY talking about S.E.X. OH MY.

Now, you get to dance to rap that will tell you, with an explicit lyric warning, what the new, improved, appropriate term is for your private parts.

Don't get me started on the clothing. Back in the day, we put on tights from head to waist, put a belted-leotard on after that, strapped on a headband (and, maybe, wrist bands), and completed the look with scrunchy leggings. In the middle of Summer, you had better have remembered your water bottle or you'd get heat stroke just from walking from the house to your car.

To Zumba, apparently you find the halter top that has the shortest distance of fabric between the top and bottom of your breasts and pull that teensy thing on. If you've had plastic surgery, the bra is optional. Team that with shorts so small that some countries have outlawed them and you are ready to go. Just don't bend over very far or trouble will ensue. Or that token male Zumba dude will get excited.

In aerobics, the most sexual pose we did was a side bend. Zumba and you get to show everyone what MIGHT happen in your bedroom later that night.

So, thanks, but no thanks. I'd rather join Olivia N-J back in the 80's, rock out to "Like a Virgin", and rattle every bone in my body in ways that will cripple me in my 50's than try a Zumba class.

Let's just hope the next fitness craze involves an outfit that would rival a nun's habit and dance moves that would only make Senior Citizens blush. Couple that with Lawrence Welk music and slow repetitive movements and I'm signing right the heck up!

Somehow, I think that's exactly where I've landed at the ripe old age of 44.

*Now only known as the "Y". Because, heaven forbid, we should mention the words "men" or "Christian" or we might offend someone.

**OK. I don't know if this is true or not, but most Granny's have a word for a woman with a tattoo. But, just like Auntie Em in The Wizard of Oz, they won't say it.

***Blinding white smile and snicker after the comment, free of charge.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Valley Days

Sometimes, when you attend a memorial service, you can tell that the person who died is being eulogized in a way that is revisionist history. Literally, the person in the casket in no way, shape, or form resembles the beautiful, loving, angelic man or woman being spoken of.

I've had to attend a couple of services like that and they were, frankly, very sad. Not only did I sense that the deceased lived a life in pain, but their suffering caused a ripple effect of immense pain starting with them and crippling family members, friends, and co-workers.

Yet, this past week, I had the privilege of attending a memorial service that was so genuine and true and wonderful, that included so many amazing tributes, that I was sincerely sad I hadn't had the chance to get to know the man who had passed on.

He had given his prized, well-worn, written-all-over Bible to his pastor, who had taken Psalm 23 and used the deceased man's notes to help those of us in attendance really understand what went through his mind as he battled an on-again, off-again disorder for seven year.

One of the thought-provoking notes he had written said "What we think about God is exposed in the valleys."

That little tidbit resonated with me as gospel truth.

It's not hard to love God when things are going your way, the world is your oyster, and life is dealing you aces.

But, when the chips are down and you have no sense of peace and you are wondering "WHY?", it is much harder to sense that God loves you, much less feel love for Him.

I've had my share of "valley" moments, just like almost everyone I've ever met. Sometimes I've walked through them with bitterness and anger and hurt that was unrelenting. In times that I was more lucid and close to God, I walked through on the back of Christ, letting Him carry me, and feeling so well-loved, peaceful and cared for.

Valleys are never going away. I know that because I know the mountain-top experiences are here to stay. And, to appreciate the blessings, you must feel the times when blessing seems so far away that you think it might never return.

So, as my life comes near to the next valley I will inevitably go through, I've been inspired to think the following:

1. I never want to go back to a point of blaming God for my life's mistakes. I want to acknowledge those mistakes and move forward, instead of looking backward, knowing that the temporary pain I am feeling is a gift, a chance to move closer to Christ, and let Him teach me what I need to learn.

2. I never want to walk through another valley feeling left behind, abandoned, and lonely. I want to tangibly feel God's presence, every step of the way, because He is, after all, right there beside me, every moment of every day. Even when the diagnosis isn't "right" or the accident was my fault or I managed to botch the same thing for the umpeenth time.

3. I forever want to walk through my life's valleys feeling confident that I have done everything in my power to use those valleys for good. To take the lemons and make lemonade. To refine the carbon into a sparkling diamond. To be the one who God can claim didn't lose sight of Him, even when life was at its hardest.

I pray for your grace, God, to achieve this. Come what may, even when the night is the darkest and the valley seems long and harsh and unyielding, help me to always remember that it is during the hardest times that I can prove how much I love and trust you.

I am yours. And nothing is more important that that.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

If Dogs and Cats Could Talk

Bob: "Freakin' meow. Don't you two boneheads get it? I don't like you sniffing my butt." (Serious hiss)

Doug (wagging his tail): "Yeah? Well, your butt smells weird. So I have to get to know it about forty times daily because the odor is, well, weird."

Tex (standing behind my body, shielding himself): "Yeah. What HE said."

Bob: "Look. I know I'm the new kid on the block*, but I just want to be left the hell alone. Don't you get that? I'm a CAT. Not a DOG. Cats like alone time at least 23.99 hours of the day. I'll let you know when the .01 hours are available for us to socialize. But, if you smell my butt again? All bets are off." (Begins to walk away, figuring his work is done after the serious hiss and lengthy conversation.)

Doug (wagging his tail, moving toward Bob, because he now has a clear shot at Bob's hind end): "DUDE! Why do you smell SO WEIRD? It's like an odor from another planet. I have no idea...(interrupted by a small paw to the face and a loud MEOW.)

Bob: "I told you: NO SNIFFING."

Now, all hell breaks loose. Two dogs start chasing one cat. And the cat, smarter than both dogs put together, simply stops in the middle of the hall, turns, hisses, bats at both of them causing serious dog-back-stepping, and proceeds up the hall to his bed.

Doug: "Geez. What's his problem?"

Tex: "I dunno."

Doug: "He sure smells weird. What kind of dog IS HE?"

Tex: "I have no idea. But his food sure tastes good. Come on. Maybe Mom left it on the ironing board again?!?!"

This is a snapshot of every day in our house. I stopped trying to intervene once I realized that both dogs are scared stiff of this wisp of a claw less, tailless cat.

Honestly, once this butt-sniffing stage is over, I'm going to have another battle to fight: once Bob realizes Tex is finishing off his leftover food, the can of whoop-ass Bob opens up is going to be monumental.

I have a feeling I should have the video camera ready for THAT interaction.

*"OH, OH, OH, OH, OH. OH, OH, OH, OH. OH, OH, OH, OH, OH. The right stuff!" (Couldn't resist).

If you don't understand, you're too old/young to appreciate NKOTB anyway.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Amazing Lessons

So, during the time that Nickels was grounded this past weekend, we had him write two papers, one on lying and the other on stealing.

Without getting into specifics about why these were the topics, let me just take a moment to tell you about how "hard" lessons can actually turn out to be the best ones in town.

At dinner, I asked each of the boys for the best part of their day. Nickels said, without an ounce of hesitation or a bit of sarcasm, that writing those papers was it for him.

I could have dropped my entire glass of wine on the ground in that moment. SERIOUSLY? An assignement for two, one-page writings, complete with three sentences of "how-to" instructions from his English-teacher Mom, including "must reference two Bible verses on the topic" and a lesson in how to use a Bible concordance was the BEST part of his day??? WOW.

I was so awed I felt the need to ask him about this again at bedtime, when it was just the two of us, and I felt I could cut through the bull and get the real story.

Again, he was unwavering. It was, indeed, the best part of the day, he declared.

In short, he had found his way to completely letting go of the sin of the deed, had asked everyone involved for forgiveness, had proven to himself, through scripture, that his deeds were wrong, had offered true repentence and discovered that he was free. No more need to feel bad. No more need to dwell. Just a need to move ahead and remember this lesson for future reference, when times get tough and the tough get weak.

He made the most brilliant analogy I'd seen in awhile about sin: "It's like that blood pressure thing at Walmart.* It keeps squeezing you, like guilt, but when you tell the truth, it releases."

Tonight, during prayers, we said a prayer to Jesus, admitting sin and asking for His complete forgiveness. It was a sweet moment, a time we'll both remember when he's older and has learned more life lessons and remembers the very first time he took missteps to Jesus and felt better for doing so.

I'll forever remember this small victory in his walk with Jesus. This time when Nickels learned that his actions affect those around him and separate him from the most important relationship in his life, that with his Christ. This time when he learned that true repentence brings about true forgiveness, if only we make an admission and ask for that which we are totally unworthy to receive.

Thank you, Lord, for this boy who is growing up way too fast and learning lessons that are shaping his character and soul for the work you have coming his way. Thank you for letting me be his Mom and, for once, feeling like I did something the right way. Amen.

*In our Walmart, by the pharmacy, there is a blood pressure machine with a built-in cuff, that allows the user to check his/her bp on the spot. Nickels is fascinated by this machine and begs to use it everytime we go. Sometimes, I say "yes".

Monday, April 18, 2011

Not Your Usual Summer Book List

Here's Part II of my goodness-only-knows-how-many-part series on "Lenten Promises", wherein I was challenged to write on about four bazillion topics, all deep and wide and easily cause for anyone to use so many brain cells that they start to drink to ease the anxiety and, therefore, become an alcoholic.

So far, I'm only a part-time wino...but that is partially thanks to my neighbor turning 40 and needing to test wine for the big 4-0 party.

And, since I'm ALMOST past the halfway mark of finishing all the "test" bottles, I feel like there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But, I have no idea if my writing will suffer whence I'm finished drinking. You can be the judge of that.

In the meantime, I'm tackling topics from easy to hard. This is topic number two on the easy scale.
I get perverse pleasure out of reading books that appear, at the outset, to be only for people who wish to dive into the real meaning behind the words.

This explains why I love the Bible. It is rich with meaning on the surface and meaning below the surface and meaning we won't know until we are face-to-face in glory.

I thoroughly enjoy getting together with a group of people and hashing out WHY something should be taken this way or that. Sometimes, my opinion of what I've read is turned on its head after talking through what others think. I like to work my brain that way.

Part of the reason why I haven't written THAT novel, the one I've been talking about incessantly since I was a teenager, is that writing in such a deep way is hard work. And I'm kind of not into work that is that hard. I find it difficult and painful and unyielding. Kind of like stretching any muscle in my body.*

Put in another context, up to the point of my Mom's illness a few, short months ago, I felt all I could write was shallow, meaningless, and full of trash. Somewhat like a romance novel, my most hated form of "literature".

I don't like quotes such as "meaty glory" or "torrid sweat" or "after glow of love". That type of "literary genius" sucks brain cells out of reader's beanies at astounding rates of speed. And, frankly, any woman who has been married long enough knows that more appropriate terms would include "love handles", "a smallish knock at the door and a pronouncement of "barfed in the bed", and "learning curve". Those are much more appropriate to how TRUE love works.

So, as you read this list of books, keep in mind that if you don't like thinking or learning while you read, you should consult another source. Reading off this list will only serve to piss you off and make you hate me. And, neither of us wants that, do we?

1. "The Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka. What can I say about a man who wakes to find he has turned into a hideous insect? This is an analogy about family and career choices and becoming the very thing we fear and loathe and worry we might have already become.

Written in 1915, this is an amazing story to explore and look at with wonder: how would our own family recoil were we to make such a magnificent, physical change? Would we embrace that change or reject it? Does love keep us alive and hate kill us?

2. "Riddley Walker" by Russell Hoban. This is the only novel I've ever read that was written phonetically. Yes, you read that correctly. The spelling, therefore, is not "proper" and some words cause you to stop and re-pronounce them over and over again before you can grasp the meaning (hy for "high" is an easy example). At times, that makes reading this book a labor of love.

I'm not sure this is a "traditional" thinking man's book as the meaning is pretty easy to scratch at from just a millimeter below the surface, but this post-apocalyptic look at life is fascinating. It is high-brow science fiction at its best--not generally my genre of choice--but a treasure to be sure due to the nature of the writing.

3. "The Inferno" by Dante Alighieri. This story captivated me when I knew little about the Bible and wanted desperately to believe there is a place for those who commit egregious acts against one another. In other words, I liked "The Inferno" for a very shallow reason: it is the piece de resistance when it comes to written works on revenge. Today, I could just love it for its well-written style and excellent symbolism.

Now that I'm a little more grounded in the Bible, I realize a side-by-side study of Revelation/other chapters of the Bible that reference Hell and "The Inferno" would be a really good idea. I believe Hell exists; but I also believe Dante took it a step further and went to great lengths to figure out appropriate punishments for exacting specific revenge on those who committed sin.**

4. "HE" by Katherine Anne Porter. This is the only short story on this list, but it may be the most powerful piece of the four.

I remember reading this the first time in my twenties and practically cringing at the Mother's remarks. And feeling for the second son. And crying stinging tears as the end moved closer and closer. And wishing it would turn back and not end the way I knew it would.

Oh my, is this powerful stuff. I've never read another of Ms. Porter's works, not for lack of desire, but for lack of trying. I wasn't sure my soul could handle reading anything else she wrote.

Upon finding my copy from "Social Issues in American Literature II" again, I found myself catapulted back to the emotion of it all. I'm not sure, in all my life, I will read so few words that are so filled with meaning and clarity about who we are as people.

Honestly, if you tackle even two of these readings, you'll need a break from literature for awhile. But, if you decide to try, let me know what you think. Leave your comments about these titles or tell me what books have inspired you.

Happy, THOUGHTFUL, reading!

*Have I mentioned that I'm the least flexible person I know? I cringe watching Cirque De Soleil because my body would snap in half put in any of the positions those talented folks take for granted.

**Today, I know that God has His eye on every act of every person and I don't worry about what so-and-so does or doesn't deserve. That doesn't mean I don't fight for what is right. It simply means that I don't worry about people gettng what they deserve in the bitter end of it all. I take forgiveness at its word--an absolute way out of sin for those who have accepted Christ as their own. And I truly hope that all who leave this world have found their way to Him before their death.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

"Jack" and Jill

Interesting fact: in all the time I've been writing this blog, I haven't had a single comment go to my SPAM comment folder.

I'm one of those bloggers who thinks every one's comments are important, relevant, and worth reading. EVEN IF they are diametrically opposed to my opinion. So, at the outset of my blogging, I didn't set the filter that causes comments to wait on my "approval" before becoming visible.

In other words: I'm not afraid that someone might expose the truth and prove that I was stupid, ignorant or thoughtless when I wrote something. If that happens, AND IT HAS, BELIEVE YOU ME, I will back peddle like the fool I can sometimes be.*

So, imagine my surprise, when I found a comment that had, somehow, automatically ended up in the SPAM folder this past week.

It was signed by "Jack". A fellow blogger.

Jack has one post on his blog. From April 2011. Something about being scammed by someone who has used four different names (at least) to bilk people in the Raleigh (NC?) area out of money.

Try as I might by clicking all the normal buttons on his blog site, I couldn't find any personal information about Jack. Nothing about him owning dogs or being married or living a double life.

The spam comment on my blog contained a direct link to another yet blog site. I clicked on it, looked at all the content, and then did something that I routinely do to see if the person I'm reading commentary from is worth salt: looked for the source of the writing. Once again, just like Jack's blog, there was zilch.


This led me to believe that 1) Jack is a Charles Wang employee 2) Jack is an insider at Smile Train and MIGHT have the true story or 3) he is REALLY Jack Bauer and the much-anticipated "24" movie is almost done. And the whole Smile Train/Operation Smile merger is the plot line. And since I've lived vicariously through this whole, stupid thing, I won't have to pony up a gazillion dollars in tickets and concessions to see it play out on the big screen.**

In the interest of fairness, I'm posting the commentary below. For your edification, as they say, is the "other side of the story".

Yet, for once in my life, I'm siding with the liberal journalism of The New York Times, who has no pony in this race. I do truly believe that this entire merger was poorly thought out, a grab for money from Charles Wang, and that my beloved charity has fallen into the hands of a person who doesn't deserve to be serving at the helm.

Sure, he may have co-chaired the beginnings of Smile Train and ponied up $30 million, but, sadly, it looks like greed has taken over Mr. Wang since. Only God knows if that is really true, because He can read the heart of the man, but evidence supporting this theory seems to prove it to me.***

I'm reminded of the King Solomon story as I write this, where two women claim to be the true mother of a baby. Only after the wise King says he'll split the baby in two, does the REAL Mother say "NO!" and the liar is exposed.

I, for one, believe the real parent in this situation, Brian Mullaney, was forced out by Smile Train.

And, as a consequence, we are withholding money from our favorite charity until Mr. Wang and his other board members decide the decent thing to do, to save the charity they supposedly love, it to walk away.

Sadly, I see Mr. Wang telling Smile Train's contributors "Split the baby, if you must, but I want what is mine!"

So, read on. Decide for yourself.

And, Jack? Please do comment again. I'd love to know who you are and why you are so passionately opposed to the version of the story I believe.

My own little fantasy is that, somehow, some way, I've ended up in the "24" script and I'll finally get my chance to hug Kiefer Sutherland's neck.

"It is high time that people stop believing everything they read and start looking at the Truth about the Smile Train Merger. The fact is that people love to stir the pot and more importantly they love to help themselves. In the case of this merger, there were people who were not happy that their personal agendas might have to take a backseat to Smile Train’s Mission, which is very specific. There are 2 facts that need to addressed here about Smile Train, Charles Wang and The Legacy Fund. Fact 1 - Charles Wang and Smile Train Mr. Wang was the founding donor of Smile Train, providing over $30 million. This money allowed the organization to make its claim that "100 percent" of donations were going to programs, as this was the start-up grant which afforded Smile Train the ability to claim it was the "most effective charity." Mr. Wang has been the Chairman of Smile Train’s Board of Directors since its inception, and an active fundraiser and recruiter for the organization, bringing others into Smile Train who have contributed more than $65 million, as well as providing introductions and support in China and other countries. These efforts have contributed greatly to the organization's growth and ability to identify and service the hundreds of thousands of children with clefts around the world. Fact 2 – The Legacy Fund It is a standard feature of non-profit mergers to create a temporarily restricted fund within the new organization. Its purpose is to segregate certain assets to ensure the preservation and transition of historic programs post-merger. That is what the Smile Train Legacy Fund was designed to do. The proposed Legacy Fund structure was to have five members of the merged company’s Board lead its oversight. Four of the proposed members were to have been previously associated with Smile Train, including Mark Atkinson who requested to be on the Fund’s oversight committee and subsequently voted against the merger. These directors were the most familiar with Smile Train’s programs and understood the importance of preserving their legacy. Mr. Wang was not going to have oversight or control over the Legacy Fund, nor was he going to serve as an officer or director of the merged organization, nor would he have had any voting rights on the Board of the merged entity or on the Smile Train Legacy Fund Committee.

*If you don't believe me, you haven't been keeping up with this blog long enough. I've eaten my share of crow, thank you very much.

**SIGH. I'm still reeling from losing President Palmer.

***Even Mike knows the HORRIBLE environment that reportedly existed at Computer Associates. None of his friends would even apply there, it was so bad. Seems that environment might have descended on ST.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Teenager In Training*****

When I was an emotionally-fraught, brainless, teeny-bopper myself, I cherished sleep. I stood at the altar of zzz's and said alleluias.

I did what every teenager around me did: stayed up until the wee hours of the morning watching "Friday Night Videos", drinking Diet Coke or TAB, and then sleeping until noon on Saturday. UNLESS, and only unless, I had an early shift at the Burger King. In which case, I rolled out of bed at the unseemly hour of 8am.

Nickels, on the other hand, isn't quite a teenager and isn't gainfully employed. He went to bed at 9:30pm last night.

He has been grounded for the weekend, banished from the 5th grade Father/Son camp out, can't play with brothers and/or friends, must write two papers as penance for an act that we consider a deal-breaker, and generally is bored out of his gourd because he can't have any contact with screens.**

So, you understand that going to bed was just an act of desperation to keep Nickels from going incredibly crazy under the pressure of being "Bored. I'm so bored."***

This morning, the rest of the house, meaning everyone but Mike and Nickels,**** was up at 7am. Ready to eat. Ready to enjoy the sunshine and cooler temps outside. Ready to tackle the day by its ankles.

Nickels? He was in bed, covered little-toe-to-tip-of-his-head by his comforter, in a big heap with the fan going on HIGH, with temperatures rivaling a meat locker.

The dogs, mushed together in their cage, looked at me like "RESCUE US! WE DON'T HAVE ENOUGH FUR TO SURVIVE THESE IDITAROD-TYPE CONDITIONS!"

7:30am passed. 8am came and went. 8:15 was looming on the horizon. So, I entered the cold tundra, exposed Nickel's ear, and whispered "Your eggs and sausage are hot right now; come eat."

I think bodies in morgues respond more affirmatively.

Finally, 8:30 arrived, and the dead walked. To the kitchen. And stood in front of his breakfast. And announced "I'm too tired to eat." In response, I said "Well, then. Go back to bed."

Since his head had sunk almost to the level of his plate, he had to straighten up to say "That sounds like a good idea to me." And he turned around, went directly back to bed, didn't collect $200, and took about 20 more minutes of snooze time away from Mother Sun.


AND. OH.MY.GOSH.PART.DEUX. For the first time in recent memory, my son took my advice! MIRACLE.

I think this is a vision of things to come. Late mornings, difficulty dragging Nickels out of bed for even the most exciting of events, half-open eyes at 11am.

And I consciously, knowingly, happily went into this parenting thing? I intended to get pregnant, realizing I would eventually have hormone-laden, zitty, emotionally-screwed teenagers. Seriously?

Somewhere, in the distance, I hear The Universe replying "SUCKER!"

*AH, yes. My first job besides babysitting. Ran the drive-thru most weekends. That experienced proved to me that it is a GREAT idea to further your education if you intend to eat something besides ramen noodles in your twenties.

**Which means no TV, DS, video games, IPOD, or looking in a mirror for more than a milli-second.

***That was about 30 minutes after arriving home from school on Friday, the beginning of the weekend of Hell--for me and Mike.

****Those two are peas-in-a-pod. The rest of us are up, happy-snappy, when the rooster crows and the coffee is brewed. Those two? Just hitting REM mode.

*****The fact that the acronym here is TIT is not lost on me.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Dedicated to One I LOVE

I am what you might call a "late bloomer". I've done everything the hard, painful, scab-and-scar-creating way.

I've attempted to make people Gods and God an idol. Both failed miserably.

I've tried to be perfect. That failed worse than making people my idol.

I've tried to not care if I'm not perfect. That fell flat.

Name a situation and, likely, I've been there. And lived through it.

I first hit rock bottom at 19. It was the most painful, miserable year of my life. I gained considerable weight, almost failed out of school, and thought my life was over. I was confused, scared, worried, angry and a range of unhealthy emotions that no 19-year-old should be able to cobble into one sentence. I was a walking "Bless Your Heart" in action.

Then came my late 20's. I was skidding through life in a lightweight car on ice in the driving snows of Alaska. There was no traction. There was no hope.

Once again, I thought my life was over. Hope left the building and it was dark and damp and scary and overwhelming. And I was so, pitifully, alone.

At 19, I solidly rejected the thought of God. It wasn't that I disliked or didn't trust Him as much as He and His teachings were inconvenient to me having "fun".

In my late 20's, I couldn't find Him. I didn't know where to turn. It took everything not to follow the voices in my head to "hit that concrete barrier head-on and it will all be over." But, God knew that there was more to come from my life.

At the time, because it was the only thing left I hadn't tried, I cried to God, not because I knew He would help, but because there was no one else I could turn to. I was so unsure, I didn't even know if He even cared anymore.

Turns out, He did.

When it came down to nothing but a primordial scream that only God could possibly hear, I realized that all along, it was just to two of us working through this. Those who had hurt me had long forgotten the sting of the wounds they had inflicted. Or they were too ignorant to care. Or I was too scared to express myself for fear that I might just snap and one of us would end up in the morgue.

And when I realized God was all that mattered and I truly asked for Him to take away the guilt and shame and pain and hurt and all those things I couldn't seem to shake, that was when the healing began.

And, to this day, so many, many years later, the healing is still taking place. Events that remind me of who I once was can catapult me back in time and paralyze me for a period if I'm not careful. If I take my eyes off the prize. If I forget WHOSE I am. And that I was bought at a very steep price.

I don't think there will be a day in this world that I don't experience healing of some sort. Each time I think "WHEW! I'm sure glad THAT is over" I seem to be catapulted into another gigantic abyss of pain. And, even though I often wish it would just end, I realize this is what draws me closer to God and more to the person He created me to be.

Bottom line: all along, there was God. He was there through my rejection, my suffering, my loneliness, my depression, my divorce, my worries. He was there for everything. I was the one who was absent.

He reminds me of the faithful puppy you see lying on the cold concrete of Chicago next to the homeless person he calls "friend". Even though that pup can't rely on his friend to provide a solid meal every day, he doesn't hesitate to walk wherever that homeless man goes. He'll stay tied to the post outside the shelter overnight, in the bitter cold, waiting. In the dead of the Winter when the blizzard warning has driven everyone off the streets except for the pup and his friend, you can glimpse God.

God, just like that puppy, wouldn't leave you if his life depended on it. There is no weather forecast, no approaching storm, no temperature extreme that is going to make Him leave. He knows you; He's known you since before you were even known to your very own Mother.


He wants the best for you. But, only you can decide that the time is right. Only YOU can reach out for Him. He's been wooing you all these years. Is it time to call out in the dark, even if you aren't really sure He's there, and ask Him to help?

I sure hope so. I sure pray so. And I sure know He does, too.

Monday, April 4, 2011

That's Amore

Cheapskate tip of the week: Take your happy bootay to Maggiano's!*

Yes, that Frank Sinatra infused, red-and-white-checker table clothed, I-think-I-gained-50-pounds-just-by-breathing-the-air-in-this-joint, wonderful dark wood and dimly lit Italian spot.

And order off their "Classic Pasta" menu. For grins, get their House or Caesar salad as a side dish for about four clams more and ask for a to-go box when the entree arrives. Because believe you me: you're going to need it.

The piece of lasagna that arrived AFTER the fresh bread/olive oil and salad rivaled the circumference of a six-month old's partially bald head. This thing was ENORMOUS.

I ate around the outskirts of PLANET LASAGNA, which was mostly meat/saucy goodness and took one bite, one morsel, of actual pasta and I threw in the white linen napkin. I simply couldn't eat another bite.

So, out came the box.

Literally, I have eaten three meals off that one serving of lasagna.

Here's the kicker: when the bill came, both Mike and I were given the choice of another classic pasta, to go, ON THE HOUSE.

Now I had TWO Planetoids of goodness to carry out the door. And, probably the first and only arm workout of the year, compliments of the handled bag and the weight of the food.

It is now day three since our visit to Maggiano's. So far, we've polished off the first piece of lasagna and about half the complimentary one. For Mike's ziti dish, we've eaten the restaurant serving and a little of the one we brought home.

Tally: dinner out for 2 on Friday, lunch Saturday for 2, dinner Saturday for 2, and lunch Sunday for 3. And, there's still enough for lunch for two for tomorrow!

It's the gift that just keeps on giving!!!

Gluten-intolerant? They've got a pasta for that! Need whole wheat pasta to keep the system running right? Gotcha covered. Want the old-fashioned, not-so-good-for-you-but-tasty-as-hell version? Right on, brother! That's their specialty.

I HIGHLY recommend this deal. For two, you'll end up spending about between $43-$47, depending on whether you are a cheapskate in the tipping department.

And for all that? You'll get a romantic night out on the town, great atmosphere, and more food than you can even imagine eating over four days.

But, trust me, you'll give it the old Nowell try.

Buon appetito!

*I'll take my payment for this glowing review in lasagna, Mr. Maggiano.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Meet Bob (and Witness History*)

This is Bob.

Notice "no tail". That's not genetic; that's amputated. Which, in my opinion, adds to the considerable charm Bob generates when he enters a room.

Our latest animal rescue is courtesy of Petco and the "Dallas Cat Lady". No joke. She exists. And she isn't as crazy as people would like to make her out to be.

Bob weighs a hefty 12 pounds. Doug and Tex, at three times that weight, are scared stiff of this little feline.

If either of the dogs is in the same room and Bob makes even a peep of a noise, such as a sneeze or a purr or a low hiss or meow, they back off at least five feet. Tex usually exits stage right.

They learned all about cats by meeting Tigger, our friend's cat who lives with two greyhounds and one dachshund puppy. If you guessed Tigger ran the roost, you'd be spot on.

Bob will steal your heart, so we hope you come and meet him soon.

Just come before he is so spoiled that he refuses an audience with anybody who doesn't come packing Albacore tuna, mouse-flavored treats and Perrier for his water bowl.

*This is the first post in which I have posted a picture. Can you believe I figured out how to push the "Add Image" button and download a picture ALL BY MYSELF? Me, either.