True Love

This is the day Hallmark lives for. I used to live for Hallmark until Todd ruined it for me. Now I find myself rewriting bad dialogue in my head when the movies are playing out in front of me. Don’t get me wrong. I still watch. Just not as often or as freely. Now instead of watching with pure, unadulterated joy, it’s like sitting through a movie next to a person with bad gas. It taints the experience, for sure.

My first Valentine’s Day with Todd was altered by the death of my beloved grandmother in Tallahassee. We had plans to go up together the very weekend she died. We were in college in Tampa. She was in the hospital in Tallahassee. She was supposed to recover. They said she would recover. But she had a vain streak and didn’t want people seeing her not looking her best. She didn’t like the idea of me bringing Todd to meet her in the hospital. I was going to anyway. And so she died. By the Transitive Property in math (If a=b and b=c then a=c), I killed my grandmother.

Not really.
I hope.
But she did go out on her own terms. And she died 3 days before we could see her not looking her best.

So instead of us driving up for Todd to meet my very sweet grandmother, I climbed into the backseat of a Lincoln Towncar with my mom’s parents and drove to Tallahassee for the funeral. I was sad. I was terribly unprepared to let her go, because she was always my favorite. She was my beach grandmother. The grandmother that scolded my parents for cutting my long curls into an afro and for making me bail boats in lightning storms. The grandmother who thought bushy eyebrows were the bomb and was probably the reason I didn’t realize mine needed work until the year 2000. The grandmother who needed help crossing the creek in her “clamdiggers” as she slowly made her way down the beach to see her best friend, Aunt Catherine. The grandmother with the short, fat Christmas trees and the same old ornaments–some of them made of cardboard. The grandmother with a jar of full sized candy bars in her kitchen and cold glass-bottled cokes in her fridge. The grandmother whose snores were the stuff of nightmares, but who taught me to sleep through anything.

The grandmother who loved unconditionally and who always had time.

I think about her often. I even found her wallet and social security card in a box in my attic recently. I think about how much she would have loved her great-grandchildren. She would have reveled in the liveliness that trails behind her legacy. She would have adored that the second cousins know each other and get together when we can.

She would have loved my girls. I grew up always wanting a sister. Doesn’t every girl want a sister? I didn’t get that growing up, but I got the second best thing to it. I got to bring sisters into the world and watch them walk the occasionally dark path together, neither one willing to let the other stumble. Even though Lucy often says to me in exasperation, “Jenna is just the WORST person ever,” and at the time she truly means that. And even though Jenna has almost always done something the moment before that earns her that title, even then the love is undeniable. Two weeks ago, on the way home from school, Jenna looked at me and said, “I was thinking about Lucy today and I thought, I love her. I love her.” Right then and there, I got the sister I never had.

They fight. They give each other the stink eye. They each complain about the other. But they love. And I know that long after I’m gone, they’ll have each other. Not just on Hallmark days, but every day.

As much as I’d like life to play out like it does in Hallmark productions, it isn’t magical moments and bad dialogue. It isn’t throwing confetti when life is easy. Life is learning to love the sister who has injured you or the friend who just threw you under the bus or the spouse who doesn’t care anymore (general terms, people. Not my story). Love is action. And anyone can offer it, no matter the circumstance.

Maybe your Valentine’s Day included a death in the family and isn’t the holiday you envisioned. Maybe you don’t have a partner or a sister or a best friend. There’s always hope. There’s always someone who needs something. And in case you need a little extra help, Paul left a very simple, very bright formula to light the dark spaces of our lives.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (I Corinthians 13:4-8)

Even when someone is just the worst person ever.
Even then. Maybe especially then.
Happy Valentine’s Day.


Monkey See, Monkey Sue

The other night when three of us were so sick, I googled “drunk monkey” and then “monkey taking Nyquil.” One of those two searches brought up the image that I used in my post. It wasn’t my best work. Nyquil was masking the symptoms of death that had crept into my bloodstream and were slowly taking me over.

The next day, Todd texted me.

“Are you aware of the story behind that photo you used?” he asked.

Oh no. I was not aware. At the time I posted it, I wasn’t aware of virtually anything. But I was intrigued, so I did a little research.

The monkey in the photo was named Naruto by PETA. The photo was taken in Indonesia with equipment owned by nature photographer, David Slater. He had spent quite a bit of time following this family of monkeys around, but had been unsuccessful in taking photos up close of their faces. Every time he got close, they blinked. Or balked. The pictures were bad. So he taught them how to press the buttons themselves and then left his equipment in the jungle within their range.

It wasn’t long before curiosity took hold and–you know how monkeys are–they started pushing buttons. Soon he had a few selfies on his hands. Most of them were blurry or useless. A few of them were amazing. And he published them. Because it was his idea. His Equipment. His setup.

He sold the main photo and made a little petty cash. Then he published a few of them in a book he put out.

And then PETA came along and got mad. Because, in the name of Mary Todd Lincoln, NO ONE GOT THE MONKEY’S permission to print the photo. And the monkey received no extra bananas for her million dollar smile.

Where’s the justice in that?

Well, PETA will tell you. There was no justice in that. So they gave the monkey a name and named themselves Naruto’s “Next friend.” That meant that they could act on behalf of the monkey in his legal matters. And they filed a lawsuit against David Slater, the photographer, who couldn’t even afford the plane ticket to fly back to the states and represent himself. The case became known as the “Monkey Selfie Case,” or more officially, Naruto vs. Slater. Ridiculous.

Eventually, the court threw out the case and declared that animals could not hold copyright ownership. PETA appealed and in September of 2017, both PETA and Slater agreed to a settlement. Slater agreed to donate a portion of future revenues to the preservation of the endangered species, which, by the way, he was pretty much already doing. Ludicrous.

“In April 2018, the appeals court affirmed that animals can not legally hold copyrights and expressed concern that PETA’s motivations had been to promote their own interests rather than to protect the legal rights of animals.”

Utter insanity.

I find it a little funny that the photographer asserts that the male monkey of the lawsuit, Naruto, is not even the monkey in the contested photo. The photogenic monkey was an older female named nothing by nobody and she doesn’t have a lawyer. She’s off in the lush green trees of Indonesia enjoying the spoils of the American legal system.

And that’s what I get for googling drunk monkey.

PIC BY A WILD MONKEY / DAVID SLATER / CATERS NEWS – (PICTURED: One of the photos that the monkey took with Davids camera. 2 of 2: This photo was rotated and cropped by the photographer) – These are the chimp-ly marvellous images captured by a cheeky monkey after turning the tables on a photographer who left his camera unmanned. The inquisitive scamp playfully went to investigate the equipment before becoming fascinated with his own reflection in the lens. And it wasnt long before the crested black macaque hijacked the camera and started snapping away sending award-winning photographer David Slater bananas. David, from Coleford, Gloucestershire, was on a trip to a small national park north of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi when he met the incredibly friendly bunch. SEE CATERS COPY.

Where there’s smoke

I’ve heard the saying plenty of times over the years: Where there’s smoke there’s fire. If that’s a true statement, then it also stands to reason that where there’s a smoke alarm blaring, there is smoke.

These are proverbs generally referring to the fact that there is usually some truth to every rumor.

Perhaps it was the metaphor that threw me off.

Early one Saturday in October of 1981, I wandered downstairs, barely awake, to the family room of our home on Marston Road. I had two things on my mind that morning: a waffle and some Saturday morning cartoons. A kid in 1981 had a very small window of opportunity in which to watch TV that had nothing to do with PBS, the news, Heehaw, or Lawrence Welk. That window was gloriously open from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. And I was on my butt each Saturday watching TV while that window was open. I took it seriously.

On this particular Saturday, my hunger for cartoons was matched only by my hunger for waffles and I was trying to satisfy both without missing out on either. I was a multitasking 10-yr-old. So I grabbed two waffles out of the freezer and dropped them into the toaster and popped them down. Typically what would happen next is that a person would sit, watch a little TV, and listen for the waffles to pop up in the toaster. But we were not a typical family. We liked to drive our appliances all the way to the junkyard or the grave, whichever came first. We got years more out of everything than any other family I knew. Years more than the manufacturer intended, I can assure you. Our toaster no longer automatically popped anything up. The pop up mechanism had stopped working months ago. Our method of toasting had become leaning over the slots and trying to determine when an item was golden brown and then flipping the switch manually with our poised fingers. That worked well enough when our focus was on point. But on this particular Saturday, I had come downstairs just as the Smurfs were coming on. The Smurfs were new, having just debuted in September, and my brother and I loved them. So as my waffles cooked away three stairs up in our kitchen, I sat cross-legged on the carpet with a goofy grin on my face and watched Brainy Smurf try to outsmart Gargumel. I forgot all about my hunger. I was living my best life.

Six minutes into the show, my waffles were done cooking. They were past done. They were so past done, their doneness had reached the smoke alarm that was mounted in the stairwell of our house. The alarm began to beep harshly. I’m just a tiny bit ashamed to say that even when the obnoxious beeping began, I did not look up from the Smurfs. In my mind, I had decided that my safety-savvy mother was testing the smoke alarm. Again.

It works, Mom. Now fan it so it’ll stop and I can watch my Smurfs and eat my…

About this time, my mother came flying down the stairs and into the kitchen shouting for my brother and me to get on our feet and get out of the house. It was only then that I looked up.

MY WAFFLES. Whoa, there, sister. The house is on fire.

The waffles had caught fire when no finger popped them up. The paper towels caught fire from the flame of the waffles. The curtains lining the kitchen window caught fire from the flaming paper towels. The cabinets from the curtains. You get the idea. It was all one big flame when I finally looked up at the urgent shouting of my mom.

Probably not the right time to blame it on the toaster.

“MISSY! Go get Mr. Shipp!” My mom was dialing 9-1-1 and shouting instructions at us as she reported the fire. I ran next door to get our neighbor, Mr. Shipp. My brother ran out into the garage to find a way to help. Mr. Shipp came running back with me and hooked up our own garden hose to fight the fire from the back door. My brother had come running back into the house with a canvas beach raft. He was using it to beat down the flames. But what actually happened was the flames just leapt onto his raft and now we had a portable Firestarter on our hands. Mr. Shipp turned the hose on my 12-yr-old brother, and his flaming raft, and put them both out.

“You kids get OUT of the house. NOW.” My mother had slammed the phone back on the hook and clearly did not require any more help from us. So Bart and I ran out through the garage and into the driveway. To wait.

By then the fire engines were wailing as they pulled up in front of our house. Firemen went in to inspect a morning of cartoons gone bad. When they got inside with their hoses, the fire was already out. Mr. Shipp had done good work. But the damage from the smoke was done. And irreversible. Neighbors had begun emerging from their own houses, finding the lure of sirens even greater than cartoons. I stood in the street and tried to explain to the few who were asking how this had occurred.

Well, you see, it’s like this. And it all makes perfect sense. Because you had to pop up the toaster on your own. The switch didn’t work. Curtains are flammable.

It was the toaster’s fault.

The rest of that morning is fairly nebulous to me. Cartoons were ruined. Waffles were burned. I was still hungry. Insurance guys came out and determined the house to be uninhabitable due to smoke. We packed our bags. The hallway going up the stairs was black as Satan’s soul and the scariest place in that house. Scarier even than the burned down kitchen. I hated running up and down the stairs as I grabbed my things.

That evening as darkness settled around the house as black as the burn scars inside, we pulled our car doors shut and headed to the Howard Johnsons on Appalachee Parkway. We had a room above a hopping bar where the music thumped into the wee morning hours. This was what our insurance had paid for. We were hoping the renovations would be a notch above the hotel room we lived in for a month.

I found the whole adventure far more exciting than the rest of my family. The nightlife was great. Morning breakfasts before school consisted of scooting up to a long counter at Yum Yum Donuts and ordering whatever I wanted while I listened to businessmen jaw about nothing. I was able to tell my friends I was living in a hotel. I probably left out that it was a Howard Johnson’s.

In the end, I think my mom appreciated the new kitchen, but she never thanked me specifically. When we were finally able to move back home, we took a tour of the new downstairs. The kitchen floors were new. The kitchen cabinets were new, now updated to reflect the 1980s instead of the has-been 70s. The paint–all new.

Before I raced up the stairs in the freshly painted hallway to chuck my stuff into my old room, I glanced one last time into the kitchen just to make sure.

Sitting on the brand new counter, pulled all the way out from the wall and anything around it, was a brand new, automatic, double-slotted toaster, shining like a polished silver dollar and ready for a Saturday morning waffle.

Sweet.

The Ups and Downs and Ins and Outs of Famping

camp·ing

/ˈKAMPing/nnoun: camping

  1. the activity of spending a vacation living in a camp, tent, or camper.”visitors can go camping in the vast wilderness surrounding the mountains”

famp·ing

/ˈFAMPing/noun: famping

  1. The activity of fake camping, in a lodge, hotel, motel, hostile, or other shanty with subpar mattresses and pillows, electricity, and indoor plumbing. “Friends can go famping in the woods of Brooksville, FL at Lakewood Retreat.

Last night I slept on a mattress purchased in the 60s. With one pillow. ONE PILLOW. At home, I sleep with 3 pillows every night, each one serving a different purpose and part of my body. Last night I attempted to mold pillows out of bath towels and body fat and still came up feeling like I had lost a game of Twister. The pillow I did have was so flat that it did nothing to span the gap between my shoulder and the bed. It could not meet me halfway. And to cap off the whole luxurious story, my daughter’s phone alarm went off at 7:15 this morning, telling me to feed her fish. Back home.

Every November for many years, we camped with a large group of our friends at Fort DeSoto State Park. Some of us in tents, some in RVs. From year to year it varied. In ways, it was glorious. The campfire talk at night, listening to the kids laugh on the playground, walking to the ice cream parlor with friends. But let’s be honest, I spent most of that time scrubbing the previous meal from the bottom of the cast iron pot we brought with us. I’d look over my shoulder to follow the trail of laughter to the playground and see them tossing their hair as they zipped down the slide. So carefree. Then I’d turn back to the inch-thick layer of dried grits and watch as my sweat dripped into the hose water I was using to scrub the pot.

Where’s the fun in that?
For the adults?

We got smarter as the years went by and figured out that real camping was for the birds. And the cowboys. And the campers. Not for us. We could still have all the glories of camping with none of the hassles. So we found a campground that was established in 1965 and hasn’t changed in the 54 years it’s been operating. We rented a ranch-style lodge with all original mattresses and very flat pillows and a long back porch that stretches the length of the building. Most of our time is spent playing games on the porch and chatting while rocking in our Amish rockers. At 8:30, 12:30, and 6, you can find us in the dining hall, eating food prepared for us by hardworking employees of the campground. And when our grits are mostly eaten, the last of the grit balls clinging to the bowl from which we supped, we place the bowl on the counter, where another nice person washes them for us. And then we walk outside to play shuffleboard, or four square, or human foosball. Or we sit in hammocks that are slung from a group of towering pines and we swing in the gentle breeze. From the porch, I can hear the voices of my children talking as they walk toward the game room or off to the next activity that is not coordinated by me.

I hear people disparaging the F in Famping. I can assure you there’s nothing fake in the fun I had playing four square with people from 3 separate generations. There’s nothing fake about the frolicking between the lodge and the dining hall. And there’s nothing fake in the festivity of these lifelong friendships.

I hear people talking about the glories of camping. Go ahead. I hear ya. Pitch your tent. Fight the racoons for the Doritos bag in your plastic bin at midnight. Thaw your bacon in the community bathroom sink before you fry it over your open fire. Talk it up. Wipe the sweat from your brow as you talk it up.

It’s all fun and games until someone has to wash a pot.

Every Toolbox Should Have Some Nyquil

Well.
If I were grading myself on keeping it interesting Monday-Friday, I’d give myself a tentative C-. Below average, but clinging to hope. And as far as diet and exercise go, I’d grade me at a D-, very precariously about to utterly fail. But I’m not depressed or deterred or defeated. Because at some things this week I have knocked an A+ out of the park. Just today I have:

  • Become a boss at digital sprinklers
  • Dragged a kid to the doctor to watch her test positive for Flu A
  • Talked to 7 different people about grass and sprinklers
  • Done 6 loads of laundry
  • Prepared a wholesome meal (chick fil a app)
  • Walked the dog 3 times and made 3 school runs
  • Taken Nyquil.

I don’t have original thoughts in my head at this hour. And when I did have thoughts in my head that might have passed for original, I was playing the sprinklers like a video game.

So maybe I don’t have an A in some important subjects, but there’s time and room for improvement. And I have friends making As. You know who’s making an A right now? Nyquil. That guy is something else.

G’night.

Loading my Toolbox – The Art of Distraction

My life isn’t hard. I am a reasonably healthy, middle class American, with 4 children who tolerate me differently depending on the day and the circumstance. I do have horizontal lines etched in my forehead like a bad paper jam, giving me a semi-permanent look of confused anger, but it’s not so bad that I’ve yet researched Botox.

But still. Life is life. And sometimes it sits down on me. Sometimes other people sit down on me. Some of those people are fatter than others. Some of the things poking me are sharper than others. And sometimes I just get tired.

But life isn’t usually about big survival moments or big victories. At least mine isn’t. Life is about surviving all the little things that pile up around me. It’s about worming out from under what sat down on me, whether I gave it permission to or not. It gets a little harder as the challenges become emotional. Or daily. Or chronic. Or out of my control. What do I do with the kid on the sidewalk who’s crying about hating school? And the bickering between teen brothers who understand respect for others but don’t apply it to each other? And all the people I encounter in a day who make decisions that impact me, even negatively, but over whom I have no control or influence? And the 103 degree fever that threatens to unravel a week’s plans?

What about that stuff?

Well, that stuff needs a little first aid kid. A toolbox. And that toolbox needs tools. I’m pretty awkward with packing the toolbox. None of it comes naturally to me. Fortunately, these things can be taught. Eventually, I become desperate enough to learn. The tool I use obviously depends upon the situation. I wouldn’t use a hammer to apply paint or a brillo pad to tighten a screw. So the tricks I pull are closely related to the crisis at hand. Because this week is all about high fevers and night terrors, I’m too tired to talk about all the tools at once. So tonight, I’m rooting around for the first tool. Just one.

Tool #1: THE ART OF DISTRACTION:

Lately, my youngest has been worrying about everything from who left school after vomiting to the color of the smudge on her shoes. She’s been a little stressed out. Sometimes stress is irrational. Sometimes it’s perfectly rational, but not immediately curable. But if you can’t escape the problem and you can’t change the problem, look away. Think about something else. If you can’t change your circumstance, change your mind.

I stink at this. So much. I don’t think this way. When a kid is freaking out on my watch, I am much more likely to freak out alongside them (“ALL IS RUINED!”) than to point them to a better way of thinking. Fortunately, this one can be learned by careful observation of people who do it well. And even more fortunately, my husband has this skill mastered. I watch him like a stalker.

Last week, my youngest hadn’t slept well and didn’t want to go to school. She was whimpering on the way to school, so I suggested we start a chain poem. I would suggest a word or phrase, she would try to add a rhyme to it, and we’d keep going until we had something. Here’s what we came up with in a half mile drive:

There once was a bear with E coli in his hair
And he had red shoes and he liked the blues
One day a woodchuck sat on a frito
And the frito broke.

I am not the one who added E coli to the poem. Jenna is obsessed with deadly diseases. I did put the E coli in the bear’s hair to make it rhyme. I also am not the one who put the unrhymable frito on the tail end of a line. It was actually working pretty well–we were both laughing–until she realized something she had left at home and started wailing again.

So I put that tool back in my toolbox and drove home.

Boo.