Category Archives: Memories

The Big Wind-After

The Big Wind-After

May 20th,  2013 is a benchmark day, one we’ll mark time by from now on. They’ll say “It was the month after that second F5 tornado hit Moore.” or “Nothing will grow in that spot since the F5.” and “He was born the year of the F5.”

 

When I report to the volunteer center in Moore I assume I will be assigned one of the cushier duties, organizing donations, distributing meals and water or making boxed lunches.  I am not the most robust appearing individual. But no, they take one look at me, thrust a shovel toward me and announce “debris pick-up”! I don my work gloves and sun visor, exchange the shovel for a rake, and get the debris bags ready. I am assigned to work at Little River Park in Moore.

As I step down off the bus I stare out over the terrain and a feeling of utter hopelessness pours over me.  We all feel it. How can the little we are able to do possibly make a difference? We stand and survey the landscape of splintered trees, bricks, metal, tattered clothing, insulation, broken furniture, boards, dirty toys and broken glass. With miles of debris ahead; there is nothing here that resembles a park.

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Except for the large plastic jungle gym rising out of a massive mountain of rubble no one would recognize this as a place where children played the week before. Every tree is splintered; every home in the surrounding area is in ruins. No one is there now.

I rake piles of rubble, fill my big bags and deposit them onto one of the enormous piles of debris that line the landscape. This debris is so embedded, sticks, boards and metal sticking upright out of the ground, just layers and layers of it, some of which I can understand.  But, I get the feeling I am raking layers from the 1999 tornado also.

I choose to think that our group and others like ours will be of help; I keep raking. Something shiny catches my attention; it is a rearview mirror. How far did this tattered mirror travel? Whose was it? What did its owner endure? And, did they make it? We’ve learned not to stay in our vehicles, but to get out and take cover elsewhere because a vehicle not only fails to protect you, but can kill you in a tornado.

I keep raking and something that looks like pale dirty flesh tumbles out of the pile. It’s a fatally injured Barbie.  I know this is sacrilege in this part of the country, but I’ve never been a fan of hers-you don’t want to hear my rant.  Seeing her here though, headless, her skirt torn and dirty, and missing a leg, I feel sadness for the little girl who wonders where she is. Maybe a tad of empathy for poor Barbie too.  Most everything else here is hard to recognize.

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These victims must start over in the most basic way.

Can you really grasp not having any clothes to wear or even a coffee for the next day?  No cup to put it in? In 1985 I all but burned my condo down and the next day I had no clothes to wear. I do know how this feels. I remember the sinking feeling of wondering how to put my life back together and make a living at the same time.

Mother’s day at church our guest minister spoke of her childhood.  Each day as she left for school her mother would shout out after her, “Mary Kathryn, go out and find your greatness!” Her mom knew small steps each day yield a river of strength and resilience. There is a time that each of us must reach down into the rubble and find our greatness. It waits there for our courage and resourcefulness to grasp it. These victims are reaching down to the bottom of their endurance.

Can you feel the horror and ache of families missing loved ones for days?  A few years ago my beloved cat, Hootie, was missing for five days.  I lost my mind.  He was a cat. I cannot begin to know the heartache of that father whose child was taken from him while he prayed. Natalie Grant’s lyrics say it best, “This is how it feels when the sacred is torn from your life and you survive.” Yes, this is how it feels-and you are different from then on.

Hope is often born of suffering.  One news reporter showed us a huge pile of twisted rubble and metal; on closer inspection it proved to be multiple twisted vehicles-unrecognizable.  Inside one of them a light still burned several days later.  Sometimes greatness is just a flicker.

Oh God, we thank you for the gifts in our lives.  Open our eyes to see them more clearly and help us to be willing to extend ourselves for those who have lost theirs. Move us from our comfort zone to do some good today. Wrap your arms around those sad families; hold them until they know it is you. Amen

 

 

Waiting for the Big Wind

Waiting for the Big Wind

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”  ― Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn by Living

It is incredibly hot, I am sweating profusely, and I am afraid. My muscles are taut and my back aches from the strain. The sweet little dog in my lap senses my anxiety and stares at me with a knowing look. Our storm shelter is very crowded but eerily quiet; all the adults are praying.  The fear is palpable.

I’ve been in this shelter built under our garage floor before, but this time is different. This time the sweetie is with me, his first time to be in the shelter. Typically he is working twenty seven miles away so I tackle the ice storms, blizzards, earthquakes, 80 mph straight-line winds, destructive hail storms, and the horrific tornadoes that wreak havoc in central Oklahoma.

Another reason this time is different is because this tornado is two blocks from our home, and we can hear it howl.

You gain new respect for your own personal space when you are in a metal box underground with three other adults, four children under the age of ten, (two of whom are crying) an 80 pound Labrador retriever, a 24 pound terrier who has left a gift on the floor, a trembling Chihuahua, and one very nervous cat. Did I mention she still has claws?

It was not our turn this time, but tornadoes strike so often here you feel that sooner or later your number will be up. Tornadoes have begun their yearly rampage through my state; it’s practically a rite of passage. This is something I loathe, dread, and take damn seriously.

Oklahoma City is the epicenter of “tornado alley” in this country. Yep, just south of OKC, in Norman, the Oklahoma University School of Meteorology and the National Storms Laboratory pioneered state of the art tornado forecasting and tracking.

We have storm chasers reporting with moment to moment updates like nowhere in the world.  When I was in England I met a man from Spain who asked where I was from.  When I said Oklahoma he replied “Oh, you have big spinning wind?” Yes, that would be us.

May  is different here. We huddle in front of the TV frequently in the spring; glued to the screen waiting, watching, and listening for news of a new mesocyclone descending with the potential to leave devastation in its wake.

We totally get the meteorology lingo; we know what the “dry line” is, what “PDS” means, what a “sink drain” refers to, and the difference between an F-2 and an F-5.  We surely know a wall cloud when we see one and we keep an eye out for circulation.

And, we know precisely what that moment feels like when you must make a decision about what you will do, where you will go.  You have about fifteen minutes to gather yourself, your family, and pets.  It is not a drill;  it is the worst reality.   We central Oklahomans do this over and over again in the spring.

The meteorologist points to a graphic showing that at 6:30 the tornado will be four miles away, at 6:45 it will be three blocks way, and at 7:00 the stupiddamnshitty thing will be on top of you! So you gather the pets, wallet, water, boots, bike helmets, blanket, iPhone, iPad, flashlights, and head for a windowless room to put as many walls as you can between you and the funnel.

Before we got the storm shelter I would announce (despite Sweetie’s protests) that we were packing it up and heading to Baptist Hospital. Under Baptist there is a long underground tunnel locals take shelter in during tornadoes. There you’ll find people of all ages and their pets lining the halls, waiting, listening and wondering what will be left of the life they have built when they emerge.  Just a typical spring day in Oklahoma City.

These non-relenting tornado strikes are like episodes of atrial fibrillation that keep knocking the breath out of you time after time. Folks show the stress; they now have that post-tornado face. Locals know the look; these are the faces of grave loss, whose lives are forever changed. They go through their days unable to come to grips with what has blown their lives to bits. Whether or not your home is hit, the big wind opens a wound of uncertainty in your spirit.

We never dreamed that horrific 1999 scenario would be repeated May 20th, 2013 to practically the same degree, same location, and same sad path. In-ground shelters are selling like hand warmers in the tundra.  And, the brand new neighbors who just moved here from Hawaii and shared our storm shelter last Sunday—-they have already installed their own underground shelter.

 

“…I’d been caught up in some wild cyclone, like Dorothy throw into Oz, with not a good witch in sight to save me.”  ― Sarah Dessen, Keeping the Moon

Celebrate Me Home

Celebrate Me Home

Our home was in the country, my families’ livelihood came from the country, our nurturing was grounded in the country and part of my soul lingers there still. —Valentine, K
Sitting alone in the woods with the two monastery dogs, Banjo and Oriole, I gaze out in the distance, they are good company and seem to have taken a vow of silence like me. From the hill I look over the tops of the trees attempting to show their early spring radiance. I can see Lake Keystone as the sun beats down on the back of my neck reminding me that it won’t be spring for long. Before you can say “hotter than hell”, it will be.

Hiking and climbing over the huge boulders I do something I have not done in a very long time, I smell the earth.  It takes me back to a time when I was much closer to the earth, the land, the country, and I am grateful for my awakening senses. For a while I am home.

I country grew up in the country.  Not so much in a small town, although that was part of it, but most of my time was spent out in the country.  Our home was in the country, my families’ livelihood came from the country, our nurturing was grounded in the country and part of my soul lingers there still.

The country is inclusive, and extends solace to all.  It’s gifts are the  healing sight of pastures and farm ponds, the touch of green grass, a soft blanket of needles under foot through the pines, the smell of freshly cut hay,  the whiny of horses, and the feel of a humid  breeze on your face.  And nothing occludes the stars from your vision when you are in the country, a tonic for city worn eyes.

The end of the day did not find me with friends at the Dairy Freeze when I was in school; I was in the country feeding cattle.  My brother and I had a little cattle company when we were kids, the “M&K Cattle Company”.  I’m still pissy that it wasn’t named the “K&M Cattle Company”; after all, I was older and infinitely wiser. (my version) This joint venture provided biology lessons, finance 101, daily workouts, precious time with a treasured sibling, and opened us to the dire truth of forgoing something we liked for something better.

In the country folks just drop in when ”y’all come round” is extended. And you better have coffee and pie ready too, they never turn it down.  They just sit mostly, and talk. Some want to walk quietly around the pond and skip stones across the water, or sit on the bench under the trees and smell the honeysuckle that lines the fence row.   Or, go out to feed the horses some hay, and stand on the corral fence to get a better look at the cattle down in the pasture. You can tap on the fence that extends into the pond and the catfish know it is feeding time; they skim along the top of the pond, huge mouths wide open to scoop up chow.

There is something about the expansiveness of the countryside that makes you feel free in a way nothing else can.  The absolute wonder, beauty and simplicity of the land, the animals, the sunrise, the night sky-even the air bristles with unique enchantment.

I’ve lived in the city now for years and love its rhythm, its convenience, the melting pot of faces, cultures and cuisines, its opportunities, the city lights when it rains, its anonymity, the seasonal events, the synergy of liked minded spirits, and the life I’ve nurtured here. But I sometimes feel a deep longing and know I’m missing that part of me I left in the country. Nowhere can I hear better God’s invitation to sit and talk.

I remember years ago coming to myself, realizing that I was smiling for the first time in about four months. I was out in the pasture, just walking in the country. I was home.

God made the country, and man made the town.  ~William Cowper, The Task

 

Head in the Oven?

Head in the Oven?

“They don’t seem to understand, I’m too far gone to try. Now these lonely memories, they’re all that I can do. And I’m down to seeds and stems again too.” –Bill Kershen

Sometimes life is difficult. Days stretch out ahead with unrelenting demands, some you care about, others not at all. Somehow you will yourself to put one foot in front of the other and keep trying. I have the urge not to.

Drained from years of striving I want to sit right down and refuse to do anything, it’s too much stupiddamnshitty work! You know other people do it-give in to consuming weariness and forget how to try. I want to fall in the floor and whimper like a four year old who’s been told they can’t have McNuggets. This is not the same valley I always crawl out of but a deep trench that has me trapped.

While I’m at it I’ll stop choosing to keep myself emotionally stable. It’s my turn to go round the bend, just veg for a while, refuse to communicate, live in my own self-absorption. I’ll stop digging down to the bottom of my soul to find something worth salvaging. Get in the car and go-just anywhere! Other people go that route, why not me?

I won’t vacuum either; I loathe vacuuming. You push a heavy, deafening, incredibly awkward metal sucking machine around until you jerk your arm out of the socket and ten minutes later the floor looks just as it did before you sacrificed your rotator cuff. I’ve run out of parts to injure. Maybe things are looking up.

Weariness strains your endurance repeatedly to combat a new symptom, new syndrome, new injury, or another body system gone awry; unwept tears flow unrestrained. Coming so frequently that your lashes fall out, you are truly the bluest girl on the block.
“The tide you never valued has gone out.And you are marooned on unsure ground.Something within you has closed down;And you cannot push yourself back to life.” –John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us

Life has not been a tidy pleasant picture. It’s been the full catastrophe complete with struggle, omissions, grand mistakes, fear, poor judgment, lies, resentment and anger. But, for twenty two years now I’ve come out swinging time and again if only in the twelfth round. Why? Because of the gifts.

Living with years of unrelenting physical pain gifts you with tender gratefulness for good days. Loss of control gifts you with reliance on God. Years of heart breaking physical struggle gifts you with uncanny empathy for the struggles of others. Inability to continue treasured activities gifts you with new talents. And shared feelings shine the brightest light on those who truly love you.

Years ago after a painful back injury I cried (whined actually) to my ever supportive loving sister that no one understood my physical problems. Her response was one of the best gifts I have ever been given. She said “I want you to start at the beginning and tell me-all of it. Don’t stop till I understand”. I did.

Those who reach the finish line in a car or on cycle do not earn the distance walker’s lessons. I am blessed, not everyone gets gifts like these and there is no short cut that allows it-just suffering.
‘Meg’ Magrath: “Why’d you do it, Babe? Why’d you put your head in the oven? Babe: “I don’t know … I’m having a bad day.”— (Crimes of the Heart, 1986)

Culinary Nirvana

Culinary Nirvana

“I read recipes the same way I read science fiction. I get to the end and say to myself “well, that’s not going to happen” ― Rita Rudner

It started as far back as junior high school. My brother and I baked a cake for Mom for mother’s day; we chose angel food because it looked easy. When it began to rise we were horrified, would it run over the pan getting gooey cake all over Mom’s oven? We would surely incur her wrath for that, so we took a fork and pushed the cake back down into the pan-hard. For those of you who have never done this, I can tell you that it produces a white rubbery disc that doubles as an bowling ball. We all knew the sad truth then, I would never be admitted into Le Cordon Bleu.

Besides, kitchens will hurt you-damn near every time you go in. Before Sweetie and I got together the kitchen and I had an agreement, I would use it only for storage and it promised never to hurt me. After thirteen years together my kitchen terror has lessened, but I still don’t trust those sinister jagged objects! I typically emerge with a singed hand, scraped knuckles or sliced fingers and to add insult to injury, there is something very wrong with everything I make. I was quite content when the items in my refrigerator consisted of a few containers of yogurt, fruit, nuts, vegetables, wine, milk and cookie dough! I’m no Donna Domestic, but I got along quite nicely—until I met Sweetie.

The dilemma is, my husband is a chef. He insists I didn’t cook a thing for him for six months after we met. He’s probably right, I was panicked to cook in front of him much less FOR him! There is no end to the litany of culinary disasters! It is soooo much less expensive to dine out- when as much goes into the trash as into the tummy!
I don’t get it; my Mom was arguably the best cook in the county. My entire life the woman was stocked up for impending famine; she could have fed the entire Lewis and Clark expedition crew at a moment’s notice. People from everywhere called her routinely for culinary advice. My brother is a super Cajun cook, my sister performs one culinary feat after another and my nieces and cousins are great cooks too-evidently the cooking gene is recessive and not uniformly passed down!

It aggravates the snot of out me to hear “Anyone can follow a recipe!” Folks, I am living proof that everyone cannot! I try to emulate Mom’s cooking skills using her recipes, follow each step and focus. To my chagrin these efforts produce miserable concoctions. It seems to be cyclic; for a couple weeks I am totally frustrated with my efforts and resolve never to cook again. Then I’ll rally, channel Mom for a few weeks and cook five or six things in a row that don’t give us indigestion.

All this commotion does not go unnoticed by the Sweetie. He is very tolerant of my culinary inadequacies and God bless him, he’s appreciates the effort. But the man has actually eaten some absolutely dreadful things, like enchilada pie that tasted more like wet tortillas and tomatoes. There was the Key Lime pie that produced an instant pucker the minute you put it to your mouth. And, then there was the time I cut the end of my finger off. I started with a large Band-Aid, progressed to several Band-Aids with gauze and ended up walking around the house with a mini pad taped to what was left of my finger!! You can’t make this kind of thing up!

When it comes to culinary arts, yes to some degree you can acquire skill. But for the most part it’s like boobs, either you got em or ya don’t. Well, I guess you can procure those too. So it’s more like singing, which I can do quite nicely, either you have the chops or ya stink. In the kitchen, I’m as stinky as they come.

“I ate her cooking for eighteen years,” he whispered. “You get used to it.” “Oh yeah, when?” “I think it happened around the seventeenth year,” Henry said.” Michael Buckley, The Everafter War

Close Your Eyes and Think of Me

Close Your Eyes and Think of Me

We met at school over on the rock ledge when we were kids, new friends who had surprisingly known each other forever.

She gave me then what she offers to all-an open heart, she meets you where you are.

She rubs up against life hard and often, and it hurts her. Authentic always, when her days end she will have the grace of knowing this.

As enthusiastic as she was in younger years, there’s a gleam in her eyes as she shares her plans for the summer. Her weeks stretching into years, she does not want an idle life and has never had an idle mind.

She is such a talker, not one who relishes silence. Even the chatter is worthy your attention, this is an intelligent engaging woman.

In a world choked with indifference she illuminates what needs to change in our world. She starts with herself.

A deep loneliness dwells within her and really always has-but even more so now.

Her trust in me shines through her kind eyes; I am blessed. She knows she is safe with me in all circumstances, and I with her.

What she gives to those she serves is remarkable; she has a vision they can’t have for themselves. They are lucky recipients of her perception, attention and action.

A lover of animals, she protects those she can, giving her time and love to them. She mentors others about their care.

Heart on her sleeve; her wounds are plenty and relived. There is no debridement; the scar tissue seems to multiply.

Deep friendship is her talent, her gift. She’s not as good at casual friendship-always wanting more. Never cunning to conceal her love, she is effervescent in the presence of friends and family.

Bearing gifts from everywhere she brightens a mediocre day-just when you really needed a little surprise. And, she seems to have no idea the sweetness of this.

If you are lucky enough to know her well you have a partner for pizza, a confidant on the phone at two am, a warm honest hug when you are weak, straight forward words when you’re a fool, her prayers when you are lost and the most beautiful smile when you were sure there wasn’t one to be found.

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh?” he whispered. “Yes, Piglet?” “Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. “I just wanted to be sure of you.” ― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the Pooh

Interstitial Anxiety

Interstitial Anxiety

“Mattie sat at the table, obsessing, orbiting around herself. She was sick of her worried, hostile mind. It would have killed her long before, she felt, if it hadn’t needed the transportation.”  ― Anne Lamott, Blue Shoe

I could be having a sweet dream about Jude Law right now, but no. Instead I’m lying in bed wrestling with an unwelcome visitor, worry. I’ve about reached the grand mal hissy fit level-over things that will resolve without this trauma. I feel like I’ll spontaneously combust. There is no word in the English language that adequately describes how I hate this sporadic reoccurrence. Evidently there is a genetic predisposition in the Valentine clan for my reaction to this; it was also passed on to my eldest niece. When she was little Gramps bought her a tiny dapple Shetland pony whom we named “Hissy Fit” in her honor. Is it just me, or some manner of collective anxiety passed down to me through generations, or passed down to women, or to Americans?

Each time I wake in the night and worry myself into heartburn, headache and enough generalized anxiety to warrant a high dose cocktail of anti-anxiety meds I ask myself, why are you doing this? Again? What we give our energy and attention to grows, multiplies. If we study something we are interested in most likely our attraction to that subject will increase as our knowledge of it does. Similarly, if we dwell on problems they will take on lives of their own. Unless you are extremely fortunate and your life has been a bed of roses or you are the grand puba of peace and all things spiritual, you know what I mean. Worry raids our quality of life, steals our moments, makes us ill and complicates our relationships.

Even as a grade-schooler I had the worry cloud over my head at times. I remember our speaker at sixth grade graduation saying “The past six years probably went by very quickly for you. The next six will go by even more quickly and the six after that even faster.” I think I’ve obsessed about how I use the time I have on this earth since then. There is a condition that affects the bladder causing tremendous inflammation called interstitial cystitis. This occurs when the area between the cells becomes inflamed. I believe many of us have interstitial anxiety, worry that creeps in between the fabric of our lives, between our thoughts, between our moments.

But how do we move past this habit of worry? I use the word “habit” because I do think to some degree our brains become trained to worry. I know this because when I wake in the middle of the night unworried my brain seems to search the database to FIND something to worry about! Jesus, who was spectacular at cutting to the chase, said “Therefore do not be anxious about your life. . . but seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:31-32)

In 1998 through 2000 I gave particular time and focus to deepening my spiritual life; I placed this above everything else in my life. About this time I had a dream that I was seated upon a huge pile of paper and wondering what to do with it all. As I sat there I realized I was seated on a stack of worries! It finally dawned on me that they were just paper and I could burn them.

What do you think happened during this three year period? Worry just about ceased and life fell into place in astounding ways. I know this, lived this and still fall into old habits. I don’t mean to channel Pollyanna; my life has not been without tremendous struggle and this process is not easy. But if we heed the advice of Jesus and keep refocusing on God, the nights and the dreams can both be better. I’ll see you on the other side Jude.

What’s Your Binky?

What’s Your Binky?

“I took that smile and I put it right where the hole in my chest was. It was better than coffee, or chocolate, or a perfect pirouette. I clutched it and held it tight.” ― Cecil Castellucci, Rose Sees Red

Mom believed a hot bath could cure any ailment and ward off the most virulent pestilence. Newly diagnosed with a rare disease? Dale would say, “Go take a hot bath, you’ll feel better”. Get bucked off your Dad’s spirited mare and have eight new stitches in your chin? According to Dale a hot bath was the panacea. Did your husband run amok with the girl next door? For heaven sakes take a bath; you won’t care anymore! I swear I saw the woman take three baths in a day. The steaming hot tub soothed her achy arthritic joints, provided a place of solitude and rekindled her spirit as the worries of the day floated away from her.

Cookies are my comfort, and one of the few things for which I will darken the door of the kitchen. The pièce de résistance is the “Ultimate” chocolate chip cookie with extra brown sugar, pecans, a smidge of coconut, a bit crunchy on the outside and a tad chewy on the inside. I make a batch, cook only a few and freeze the rest of the dough. This keeps me from eating fifteen at once and guarantees the warm elixir is available at a moment’s notice should Sweetie find me curled up in the fetal position at the end of the day. You can’t eat a warm cookie and not begin to relax. That first bite of warm melted semi-sweet Ghirardelli chocolate and browned to perfection cookie with crunchy southeastern Oklahoma pecans transforms me from Bellatrix LeStrange to Ginny Weasley. A lot just from just a cookie, huh?

For Gus the wonder dog there is only one solace, T-O-Y. The moment he awakens he goes on house patrol to find the T-O-Y. Toy in mouth, he then goes outside to do his business, never dropping the thing. When no actual toy is available he substitutes with anything he can find, acorn, pine cone, wallet or bra! Gus loves his toy like fashionistas love the garment district in NYC. He left the sane world of simple comfort long ago; he is now livin large in full blown obsession. And he’s a talker, “Where’s my toy, where’s my toy, where’s my toy?” You don’t have to speak canine to translate. This is a guy who has his priorities in order; comfort first, the rest of the universe later.

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As Babe Magrath explained in “Crimes of the Heart” when asked what she did right after she shot that good-for-nothing husband of hers. “Well, as I recall I went on into the kitchen and mixed me up a big ole pitcher of lemonade. You know, just like I love it, with lots of sugar.” Evidently all the woman needed was a little southern comfort.

The grand repository of all that represents comfort however is the man cave. Only the male of the species dare enter this grand palace of consolation. There one will find accoutrements for any activity known to man! Into fencing? You will purr with content, fitted with the perfect sabre and mask. If you are a marksman you can chose from any caliber including air pistol or rifle. Feeling weak and need resuscitation, just grab a cool brew from the man cave refrigerator. Later you can try a around of Bocce ball or load you own ammo. Perhaps you feel more like golfing or snorkeling. And if none of this blows your fly fishing waders up, we can take you home on the Harley.

These simple pleasures ground us, comfort us, enable us to transcend the perils of everyday life and sometimes help us remember who we are. And, give us a particular comfort people can’t. Whether it’s a page turner that keeps us up till the wee hours, a magnificent cookie or a jog around the lake, we all have a binky to turn to for comfort. I can only hope that next time I relapse my stash of binky is safe and sound in the freezer!

 

The Battle of Little Valentine

The Battle of Little Valentine

I have a “carpe diem” mug and, truthfully, at six in the morning the words do not make me want to seize the day. They make me want to slap a dead poet. ~Joanne Sherman

Years ago my brother and I were having pizza at Promenade mall in Tulsa when he gave me a long curious look and said, “Sister, I’m not sure if I trust a person who can eat just one piece of pizza!” I understood our difference. Our fellow homosapiens exhibit behaviors that baffle and sometimes annoy us. WC Fields said he didn’t trust non-drinkers. The Sweetie looses it when he sees someone back into a parking space. For me, it’s the stupiddamnshitty morning people. Waking up with bright eyes, a smile on your face and feeling rested falls into that dodgy not-quite-human category as far as I am concerned. A roommate I had in my late twenties began chirping at 6:00am before her feet hit the ground! I wanted to slap her. The number of times I have awakened with enough clarity to make a complete sentence is about five.

My Dad is a morning person and so is my sister; I’ve wanted to beat them both a time or two also. In fact when I was a kid my Dad was hell-bent on transforming me into a morning person; he thought I was just lazy. We lived in a wonderful three story house in South Dakota (the tundra, not so wonderful) and my room was upstairs. Dad and Mom grew weary of trekking up and down the stairs in failed attempts to wake me for school so they launched a full blown tactical assault.

Dad’s initial campaign consisted of a slapping me on the butt and flipping the bright lights on. Yes, this did wake me at least for a while and pissed me off considerably, but I fell right back to sleep. It then escalated to threatening me with spanking, grounding, and loss of privileges. When I weighed my options, typically I chose to go back to sleep. The next strategic maneuver dad tried was a chicken. Yes, I did say chicken. No, it wasn’t live but may as well have been. It was this huge plastic rooster which produced an absolutely ghastly crow-which he placed right by my head. Yes, this woke me up, pissed me off and I went right back to sleep. Then he bought a cow, same principal as the rooster. Pumping the tail of the cow generated a blood curdling MOOOOO, which woke me, pissed me off and I was right back to sleep. We were at a stalemate until Mom and Dad bought walkie-talkie telephones- yep, just like the army. This was in the day before cell phones you remember. I had no efficacious exit strategy; I was disarmed. Dad kept calling me on the walkie-talkie phone until I surrendered and finally peeled myself from the warm bed. They did not resort to water boarding; the hateful walkie-talkie campaign was successful.

When a child has such strong aversion to waking up in the morning- parents please realize that they just have a vastly different circadian rhythm! God did not make all of us morning people!! Really. I actually used to put my clothes on for the next day under my pajamas so the getting ready for school process would not be so taxing. That is until Mom came in one night to check on me and thought I was burning up with fever because I had on so many layers of clothing. At this juncture I should admit that I have NEVER out-grown this aversion to mornings. Even my career reflects my inability to rise and shine. I’ve been an account executive in sales all these years for a reason. When you office in your home and set your own schedule you can start the day more or less as you want. There is still nothing shining about me in the morning, nothing!

But, I do recognize the gifts of morning; the fresh undisturbed air, the clean slate waiting to be written, the quiet uncluttered dawn, the sunlight beginning to glitter on the wet grass and the precious gift of one more day. The morning seems to take shape best when I consciously intend to have a good day. To set those intentions, I spend some time each morning in the silence. Somehow God finds me there, knows I’m dumb as a rock in the morning, speaks to me anyway, and loves my company.

Gifts From the Road

Gifts From the Road

Make your own rules or be a slave to another man’s.” ― William Blake

There is a song on Bonnie Raitt’s “Nick of Time“ album called “The Road’s My Middle Name”; it journals the joy and difficulty of a musician’s life on the road. I like this song because as I work and travel the state of Oklahoma it tells my story also. Back when I worked for Random House Publishing I traveled five states. I remember waking up one morning in yet another motel, and for a while I genuinely had no idea where I was. Finally I recalled that I was in exotic Camden Arkansas; I turned over and went back to sleep. Well-meaning friends and family member ask with concern “Don’t you want to find a job that doesn’t require travel?” What they don’t know, is that I not only love the freedom being on the road affords me, but I love the sights and the seclusion.

I’ve stood on the mountainside outside a tiny elementary school in Brushy Oklahoma, listened to kids on the playground and looked down the hillside at a magnificent stand of red and golden trees as fall leaves topple down the hillside. And, I swear I can actually see the hot harsh central Oklahoma wind on that stretch between Okarche and Kingfisher as the shafts of wheat wave back and forth on late spring days. Driving from Sand Springs to Enid on highway 412 I stop the car by the lake, roll down the windows and let the smells-and the allergens come on in. I pay for this later, totally. Working in an office I would see no horses and colts grazing in the spring, no cattle going to feed in the late afternoon, no buffalo actually roaming, no lamas and farm dogs. And I would miss the most beautiful sunsets anywhere.

The other thing I love about being on the road is enough time and quiet for contemplation. God will always speak to you if you actively listen and focus so you can see what you are being shown. Last week I came upon an eighteen wheeler headed east to Tulsa. It was pulling an unusually long flatbed that seemed to be carrying stacks of something like roofing shingles in flat packages. At first I hardly noticed the flatbed, the packages it carried only stood up a foot or so. But as I drove closer I saw that it was no ordinary load this trucker was carrying. You could see the pride he had in it before you even got close. Right in the middle of the flatbed was a brand new small shiny blue bicycle, the streamers on the handlebars riding high in the wind and the glittered fenders sparkling like crazy in the sunlight. He placed this tiny bike right in the middle of that huge flatbed and tethered it down on both sides; the bike was so small that it would have easily fit inside the cab. But no, this trucker wanted to make a proud statement and a treasured child would see immediately how important she was to the gift giver!

To the degree that we can, we should cut our own paths through this life; make conscious choices born of intention instead of fear. Boldness sure doesn’t come easily for this introvert, but shyness is such a sad place to reside! My niece Jessica took me to the Ballet recently. In amazement we watched a petite ballerina fly through the air as she was tossed back and forth by two male leads in the dance. She had faith in them! They made difficult maneuvers look simple because of her boldness.

“The key to happiness is to own your slippers, own who you are, own how you look, own your family, own the talents you have and the ones you don’t.” –Abraham Verghese, “Cutting for Stone”