Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Shoe addiction

The box from DSW arrived today with a printed warning that shoes are highly addictive. I didn’t mean to buy them. Really—I just bought them to be kind.

I took my car to be serviced last week. While I was waiting for the car I wandered into the adjacent shoe store. I was innocently killing time. But I remembered that a couple of weeks ago I received a postcard from DSW—Designer Shoe Warehouse—telling me how much they missed me. I felt guilty for not keeping in touch with them and they were so forgiving that they offered me $20 off a pair of shoes. (Note to self: The first step is to realize that you are powerless in the presence of shoes and discount coupons.)

I found a really comfy pair of ballet flats in a practical neutral color. But the store didn’t have them in my size. The coupon was expiring soon, screaming at me to be used, threatening the stability of the economy and world peace. So I went home and used my little coupon to order the shoes in the appropriate size from DSW’s website. The shoes arrived today and they are now in my closet getting acquainted with the others. For now there is peace in this little corner of the world.

What is the thing about women and the addictive nature of shoes? Do you know any men who are addicted to shoes? I sure don’t. My friend Mike says that once in his life he went into a store and bought three pairs of shoes at the same time. “I felt so ashamed,” he said. I should feel such shame.

Perhaps the thing with shoes is that, unlike other items of apparel, you can see them. Think about it. You can’t see the earrings you are wearing or that cute little blouse from Banana Republic unless you look in a mirror. But just look down and there are your feet. You can be sitting at the bus stop with nothing to do other than to look at your feet. On a good day, you can say, “Oooooh, cute shoes.” On a bad day, you might say, “Euwww, these shoes make my feet look big and they don’t match my outfit and now that I see them in natural light I realize that they are just the wrong shade of black.” Enough to ruin your day and send you running to DSW with a coupon, searching for just a little peace in your wretched little life.

(Note to self: Step number two is to realize there is a power greater than myself that can restore me to sanity.)

Monday, May 30, 2011


“Blessings,” he said. “May you feel the presence of the Lord.” And briefly I wondered if indeed I have been blessed and I recalled how often I have doubted the presence of the Lord in my life.

I’ve heard the word blessed used recently with reckless abandon. What does it mean to be blessed? Surely it doesn’t mean what some of those televangelists say—that you are blessed if God gives you financial prosperity. Think about the beatitudes that Jesus spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount. Did Jesus promise you a Mercedes Benz and a color TV? (My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.) Did he promise you heaven in addition to health and happiness on earth? Nope, sorry, not part of the promise.

I needed to be reminded that—in spite of my grief—I am blessed, that I will find comfort in both the presence of God and the support of the people God has put in my life. Then I realized that perhaps I am not blessed in spite of the grief, but I am blessed in the grief itself. In a song entitled Blessings, songwriter Laura Story wrote, “The trials of this life are your mercies in disguise.” When we can trust the hand of God in the hard times is when faith grows. It’s easy to love and trust God in easy times. Then God is like a good-time Charlie whom we praise when things are going right and curse when we think He has failed us. I want to trust that God is with me and has blessed me in the joys of my life, but also in the sorrows. It is in the sorrows that we grow, that we learn to rely on His inscrutable plan, and when we go to Him for comfort. He doesn’t send us sorrows and hang us out to drown in our misery. He sends support in the arms of people who hold us and cry with us. He sends others in our churches and our communities to pray for us and He sent His own words to reassure us:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

An insomniac's prayer

Don’t give up! At church on Sunday Pastor Mark talked about not selling God short, about believing He can do great things, things beyond our wildest expectations. I want to believe that. I want to believe that He can do great things in our community and in the world. And I also want to believe He can do great things in me, in my heart, in my life. It’s more than persevering. It’s expecting the seemingly impossible. I need to pray with an open heart, pray without my own agenda, that He just knows much better than I how my life should unfold.

Yet at this moment I do have an agenda--all I'm praying for is to sleep. Lord, I’d like to say that I appreciate having so much opportunity to spend time with you in the wee hours of the morning, but I’m not feeling all that appreciative. It’s 2 a.m. I’ve been trying to get to sleep for 4 hours now. I turn out the light, get everything just so in my bed, but then I toss and turn trying to get the right position, moving the sheets, changing the speed of my ceiling fan, taking the phone out of the room because the blinking light is bothering me . . . and on and on. I get up for a while. I go back to bed for a while. I get up again. I start out this routine by saying, “Okay, Lord, here I am again, not sleeping, so let’s have a little chat.” But that little chat has become dull. I’m tired. I can’t think of anything else to say and I’m pretty sure you’ve fallen asleep out of pure blissful boredom. Is that you I hear snoring?

Please just let me sleep. I promise I’ll talk to you in the morning when I’m rested.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Lemon hummus

I have this new fixation on the lemon hummus at Whole Foods. I have observed myself (with amused detachment, as if I am a disembodied spirit) eating said lemon hummus from the container with a spoon. It's either that or Talenti Belgian milk chocolate gelato and there's no gelato in my freezer at the moment. Tis a pity. I realized that it's silly to pay Whole Foods to make my hummus when it's so cheap and easy to make myself. So I've been trying to deconstruct the recipe and I think this comes rather close. I only tested it with four cans of garbanzo beans and made a HUGE amount because I was bringing it to a family cook-out. I swear. Feel free to cut it down to a more respectable proportion.

Lemon hummus

4 cans (usually 15 or 16 ounces each) garbanzo beans
½ cup sesame tahini
3 lemons
1 teaspoon Penzey’s minced garlic
1 ½ teaspoons coriander
2 teaspoons Penzey’s lemon pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
½ cup olive oil

Drain garbanzo beans and reserve liquid. Juice the lemons and put the garlic in the lemon juice for a couple of minutes to rehydrate. Place drained beans, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, coriander, lemon pepper, and cayenne in food processor. Turn on food processor and slowly add olive oil. Add enough reserved liquid from beans to make a smooth, fluffy puree. Keeps refrigerated for about 5 days. Makes about 4 cups.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Hate them meeces to pieces

A friend was telling me that she thinks she has a mouse in her kitchen. She said she was moving out until her husband gets home from a trip because she can't cope with the rodent. I told her a little of my own rodent story. Here's my story:

The Exterminator’s Tale
Now that I think about it, I need to pray about the mice. A couple of weeks ago I found a mouse in the foyer. The cat was flipping her tail around, batting at the mouse with her paw with no intention of harming the rodent. So I caught the mouse in a cup and released it across the street in the park. I thought the little critter was a bit cute and thought myself rather noble and fearless for catching it and releasing it. I reasoned that I had one cute little mouse in the house—no big deal.
Then last week I came home from work and found the cat chasing a mouse down the hall. Again I caught the mouse in a cup and released it in the pouring rain behind the house. Hmmm . . . another mouse. I hoped it wasn’t an indication that mom and dad, the septuplets, Aunt Minnie, Uncle Mickey, and the rest of the YMCA (Young Mouse Civic Association) had taken up residence. Late that same night I saw a mouse flit into the drawer under my stove. I pulled out the drawer, grabbed my trusty cup and gingerly began taking out the pots and pans in the drawer. Down to the last cookie sheet—the mouse darted out, ran around the kitchen, under the stove, and down the hole where the gas line came in. I did not catch this one, but at some point in the process, while I was trying to catch it in the little cup, I heard something erupt from my throat. This was a sound I can’t recall ever making before and don’t think I could replicate it if I had to, like something from The Exorcist. The cat ran fast and far—her only responsibility as a feline pet is to protect me from rodents and she failed miserably.
“No more Mr. Niceguy,” I shouted down the hole, after I stopped screaming like a woman possessed.
Forget that “all creatures are sacred” philosophy. I’m failing Buddhism 101. The mice are sacred when they are cute and I can catch them in a little plastic cup and release them outside in the park. They are not cute when they escape down a hole like the rodents they are. So that night I threw on my coat and drove in the pouring rain to an all-night grocery store, looking for weapons, wondering if there was a 24-hour waiting period and did I need a permit.
There was not a huge selection of rodent eradication products in the store. I ruled out poison because, while I wasn’t happy with the cat at the moment, I didn’t want to poison her in an attempt to get the mice. I thought about the traditional spring-loaded mousetraps. But, yuck, I cringed at the thought of having to dispose of the carcass, pictured the mouse with the trap across its neck, tongue hanging out, eyes in a horrified death stare. I found something new, a less traditional rodent eradication product—glue traps. The package claimed they were very effective, but provided few details on how they actually worked. I imagined that a mouse would get stuck on the trap and disappear, just vaporize. So I bought the glue traps, brought them home, and slid them under the stove next to the hole.
The next morning I thought I heard squeaking under the stove. I stayed very quiet and moved closer. Yes, squeaking, definitely squeaking. The stove had never squeaked before on its own. Now what? I did what any brave woman would do under the circumstances. I went to work. No, not to work taking care of the mouse—I drove to my office to escape.
At work I told Ed the gist of my mouse saga. He said, “You do know how the glue traps work, don’t you?”
I winced and shook my head no, for I was beginning to expect that my theory of mouse vaporization was not scientifically sound.
He grinned wickedly, knowing that he had a tale to tell me that was going to make me squirm. “It gets one paw stuck in the glue. In an attempt to get loose, it gets the other paw stuck. Then it gets its little face stuck in the glue. There’s no hope. It dies slowly from dehydration, stuck in the glue.”
“No,” I whined. “Couldn’t it just have a stroke or go into shock and die quickly?”
“I don’t think so,” he said with an uncharacteristic evil smirk, “I’ve seen it happen.”
I spent the entire day at the office obsessing about the mouse at home under my stove, mired in the glue. And I was going to have to go home and deal with the situation. I called my friend Mike. Knight in shining armor—he has a key to my house—he went there before I got home and disposed of not one, but two mice caught in the glue traps under the stove. Mercifully he didn’t provide any details about the condition of the unfortunate creatures.
So I put two more glue traps under the stove. Friday—no mice. Saturday and Sunday—no mice. Monday morning I heard squeaking. No, it can’t be—maybe the refrigerator motor needs to be oiled. But considering my recent experience I realized that it might be wise to check those glue traps under the stove. I pulled out the drawer, and aimed the flashlight in the corner. No!!!! There was a little gray mouse stuck in the trap. I closed the drawer and paced, considering my options. Mike was nowhere around. So I put on industrial strength work gloves, pulled out the drawer, and dragged out the trap with long-handled pliers, mouse firmly cemented on the trap. I slipped the offending item into a plastic bag, then put the plastic bag in a paper grocery bag. I knew the mouse was still alive and I knew the humane thing to do. So I took the bag out to the cement patio and whacked it hard, three times, with a brick.
Let this be a lesson to the others, if there are others—I have weapons and I will use them. Just leave peacefully and no one will be hurt.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Later is now

Today is my brother Mark’s birthday. He would have been 56. It’s also his wife Diane’s birthday.

If I run into you in the neighborhood and you ask me how I’m doing, I’ll probably say, “I’m doing okay, thanks.”

If I see you in the grocery store and you ask me how my mother is, how my family is, I’ll say, “We’re all muddling through, thanks.”

If I see you in church and you say you’ve been praying for me, I’ll say, “Thank you. The prayers are appreciated.”

The truth is I feel like a 300 pound person is standing on my chest in high-heeled combat boots. The truth is that I hear my mother say she can’t live through this—our family is still grieving my father’s death and now another. We are just beginning to understand how much it hurts and we wonder how we’ll cope with yet another intense loss. There are no words that can describe this and, frankly, I can’t even talk about it any more. Don’t ask me what happened. Don’t ask me what’s happening to the man who killed my brother. Don’t ask me because I still haven’t found the words to explain it and I don’t think I ever will.

It has been six weeks since my brother Mark was murdered. Six weeks ago, when I was going to meet my sister at my mother’s apartment to deliver the bad news to my mother, I told myself that I would just will myself through what I had to do and I would face the grief later. Later is now.

Loss is piled upon loss. I can feel the ugly churning in my gut when I realize that this horror is real, that I’m not going to wake up in the morning and it will be gone. The trouble with later is that later comes eventually.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Oh joy, oh rapture

Does anyone know what time the rapture is supposed to come? It’s coming this weekend, don’t you know? Yep, some of the Christian fringe people, maybe the Branch Davidians (are there still Branch Davidians?) have calculated that the rapture is coming on May 21st. We have only a couple of days to prepare. Apparently Jesus is coming to take the faithful up to heaven with him. To prove that I’m legit, that I’m really one of his people, I’m going to show him my Bible, the cross around my neck, and my collection of Guadalupe tchotchkes. (Do you know what I had to do to get this computer to get the right word in there, that tchotchkes word?) The Lord will descend on a fiery white steed to lead us into heaven.

I need to get some details straight though—don’t argue with me—time is of the essence. I need a ruling—please tell me Donald Trump is not getting in under the line. If The Donald wants to be included in the rapture he would have to do something pretty convincing because he has never impressed me as being a true follower of Jesus Christ. But lucky for him, the decision is God’s, not mine. Maybe he decided not to run for president because he knows about the rapture and now he hopes to get a higher post than president of the United States. All I know is that I’m going with Jesus.  Why am I even thinking about Donald Trump when I have so much to do in the next couple of days?

I have another question of a rather indelicate nature. Are all the saved dead people who died before the rapture being raised from the dead this weekend? Isn’t it going to get really strange with dead people rising from their graves? I imagine them like Jacob Marley, wrapped in burial clothes, clanking chains, body parts in various state of disrepair. It’s going to look like a zombie convention. Are the zombies going to be put on the same buses as the believers who are still alive? What a mess.

Since I am reasonably sure that through God’s grace I’ll be saved, I have other concerns. Like what are our flight arrangements? Is Jesus using a fleet of standard commercial carriers? Are they going to have bag limits? I’m going to be gone . . . umm . . . forever so I guess I need to bring most of my stuff. Will they have grocery stores in heaven or do we need to bring an eternity worth of toilet paper? Wait—maybe we won’t need toilet paper in heaven because of the perfect bliss promise.

But the bad news is really for the folks that get left behind. If you don’t believe in Jesus when he comes on May 21, you get left behind on Earth. Earth is not the place to be. The word on the streets is that this will be the final five months of the existence of the planet Earth. It will be a time of war and natural disaster. Tsunamis will wash away major cities. I actually saw a film of a tsunami gushing into New York, tearing through the Twin Towers. (Weren’t the Twin Towers already leveled on 9-ll? I’ve got some doubts about the authenticity of the video.)  Guerilla armies will be fighting but no one will know who the enemy is, kind of a Mad Max thing. At the end of the 5 months on earth, the unbelievers will rue the day they turned down Jesus’s offer to be part of the rapture. Tough luck, dudes, no second chance. You’re stuck in an exploding universe.

I shouldn’t admit to being so soft-hearted but it concerns me that non-believers will be left behind and I know a lot of those people. Doesn’t sound all that rapturous for all the participants. Maybe God will postpone it, give people a little more time. Still, I’m packing my bags just in case.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Her absence

I've been in a fog, heart aching, frozen with grief. I made curried cauliflower soup today, but a recipe I posted a few weeks ago. (It's still delicious!) So in an effort to divert my attention from my grief and to try to write--just write--I did one of my freewriting exercises. Open any book to any page, find any sentence and write something that ends in that sentence. Here it is as it erupted from my brain in one unedited spew.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, p. 6.

“Our mother died when I was two, so I never felt her absence.”

“I don’t believe in you,” she said. “Never have, never will.” She was a beautiful girl, 15 years old, hair the color of the maple tree in the front yard of my childhood home. The last time I saw that tree ablaze with color it was six months before she was born. I was her age when she was born, a child myself at 15. But for her defiant attitude and her lanky built—with the wobbly legs of a young filly—she didn’t look much like me. Yet her hair was unmistakably the same color as Billy’s, a color to this day I’ve never seen on another human being. She was my child and his child, even if she refused to believe it. I didn’t tell my papa I was pregnant, but I had been puking every morning for weeks and he figured it out. He screamed and yelled, smacked me upside the head, and called me the devil’s own whore. Papa was a Pentecostal preacher. I was used to seeing him roiled into a lather, calling down God’s vengeance, and making people go down with the mere touch of his hand. But this time it was more than a touch of his hand. One punch of his work-gnarled fist sent me to the floor. My younger brother cowered in the corner for he had felt the wrath of my father’s fist as well. Papa dragged me to the shed and padlocked the door. For two days I sat there in darkness, begging him to let me out, pleading for forgiveness. It was to no avail. After two days, he dragged me out and pushed me into the back seat of a beat-up old station wagon. Uncle Frank was driving and Aunt Corinne was beside him in the front seat. Aunt Corinne handed me a handkerchief saying, “Now child, quit your sniveling. You’re going with us and that’s all there is to it.” Uncle Frank was quiet, thoughtful man and Aunt Corinne was a matter-of-fact woman, not cruel, just not much on sentimentality. I delivered that little red-haired girl in the back room of Aunt Corinne and Uncle Frank’s house. Aunt Corinne called a midwife to come in when my labor pains started. The midwife bundled the baby in a blanket and let me hold her for a little while before she took the baby from my arms and bound up my breasts. For five days I could hear my baby cry in another part of the house and my entire body ached for her. On the fifth day they put me on a bus with a ticket for Cleveland and the address of a boarding house. Years and years passed but not a day went by that I didn’t think about my baby girl. There was not a word from anyone in my family. It was as if I simply didn’t exist, none of them existed, and I had never seen the maple tree in our front yard. Until last month. My Uncle Frank tracked me down and sent me a letter. He said Corinne had died last year and Annabelle—they named her Annabelle—was acting up something terrible. He loved her like his own child but was at his wit’s end and feared he would lose her. So in desperation he reached out to me, thinking maybe I could connect with her, maybe step in and fill that place in her heart that seemed unreachable. I still ached for her. When I saw her face, her hair, her long legs, and felt that fire in her eyes, I wanted to do something. But what? I didn’t know how to be a mother. I had never learned. All I knew about parenting was the harshness of my father. My own mother died giving birth to my brother. Our mother died when I was two, so I never felt her absence.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Mayo and mayhem

I wish I had celebrated Cinco de Mayo yesterday. I’m pretty sure that’s some sort of holiday that celebrates the wonders of mayonnaise. I’m a fan of mayonnaise, but it has to be really, really good mayonnaise. Miracle Whip does not qualify—it should be abolished. If you eat Miracle Whip I’ve lost all respect for you. The universe should be divided into two camps: (1) good mayonnaise (like Hellman’s) people and (2) Miracle Whip people. Miracle Whip people should be sent to live on an island with their beloved Miracle Whip and should not be permitted to communicate with civilized people. Truthfully I’ve even grown beyond Hellman’s and I now prefer a pricey mayo called Lemonnaise that I have found only at Whole Foods. So call me a mayo snob—I don’t care.

I've done a lot more praying than cooking lately. At least sometimes I think about food. But truthfully I’m writing this silly stuff about mayonnaise to distract me from what I’m really feeling. What I’m really feeling is that I want to run away from home. I’ve had it, done, no more, Lord, please no more. For a month now I’ve been trying to absorb the loss of my brother—his senseless murder on April 3rd is incomprehensible. Little things hit me now. Like I just wrapped a Mother’s Day gift for my aunt and signed the card, “with love from Joan, Mike, Steve, and Donna.” No Mark. For the first time I had to acknowledge with pen and paper that my brother Mark is not one of the siblings, he is not among the living. How can that be? I went to his funeral, I’ve cried my eyes out, I’ve received many lovely sympathy cards, but it all feels like a bad dream.

But what’s getting to me is the piling on of bad stuff in addition to my brother’s murder. My friend Trish tells me that astrologically things are totally messed up. A bunch of planets are hanging out in a dangerous neighborhood and things won’t calm down until the middle of next week. It can’t come too soon.

People are getting divorced and having miscarriages and getting cancer. For example, my friend Mike had surgery on Tuesday for mesothelioma. His right lung was removed, tumors were removed from his diaphragm and elsewhere, and something around his heart was reconstructed. That’s serious surgery! That’s not like going to the doctor and having a wart removed. After four days he’s still in ICU and now he’s been in a crisis with heart issues (atrial fibrillation). Only a few months ago he was training horses and playing the guitar and living a pretty normal life. Now he’s in the ICU at Johns Hopkins breathing with one lung, hooked up to monitors, being pumped with drugs.

My son is in London on business and he developed a bad eye infection. My friend’s son got suspended from school. Another friend lost her job months ago and can’t find work. My sister had botched oral surgery and now has to have reconstructive plastic surgery to rebuild the roof of her mouth. My daughter’s cat has stomach cancer and probably will have to be put down soon. A relative has developed Alzheimer’s disease. There are a thousand other things, large and small, things that I promised to pray about but the prayer list is so long now that important things are slipping off the list because of the sheer volume.

Honestly, I’ve been telling the Lord that I’m overwhelmed, that I simply can’t take another tragedy, another worry, another sad story. I tell Him that I don’t believe that He only gives you as much you can handle. He has seriously overestimated my capacity.

My solution is to run away from home, go where trouble can’t find me. Wonder how far I’ll have to run.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Stands with fist

Back then he called me Stands with Fist, the name of a young woman who was a character in the film "Dances with Wolves." He called me that because of my defiance. I thought about that today in church, in the time after communion when I was sitting in silent prayer. I pictured myself standing with my right fist clenched, my arm raised in the air like an Olympic gold medal winner standing on the award platform. My fist raised in triumph, my head bowed in reverence and humble pleading to God.

I am no athlete. I never competed in anything. I’m just a non-descript, somewhat pudgy, aging woman in sensible shoes. But I’m feeling defiant and I’m feeling awed by God’s grace. Life has been downright awful of late—just one bad thing happening after another. As much as I rhetorically wonder why life is so hard, why bad things happen to good people, I have a sense of the answer—the answer is that sometimes bad things just happen. It’s the price of being a flawed human being. But I don’t want to let misfortune own me; I don’t want to define life solely through a dark lens. I just want to stand defiantly, undefeated, with my fist in the air and my head bowed in prayer for deliverance.