Saturday, December 29, 2012

Handprints

This morning my good friend and neighbor Joe went home to be with the Lord.  In his memory, I am reposting the story that I wrote about Joe.  I learned so much from him over the years.  He taught Bill and me how to build a deck.  He taught Lulu how to play the harmonica.  He taught Katie how to drive.  Mostly, he taught me how important it is in life to slow down and pay attention to the little things.

My heart is broken over the loss of my friend, but I know that he was ready to go.  He wanted to be at peace, and his life was not peaceful over these past two years.  I know that his wife and his good friend and buddy, Bobby were waiting for him and that his soul is resting in God's arms.

This story, "Handprints" embodies Joe's spirit.  It reminds all of us what matters in life.  Everyone who reads this today should take some time to reflect on those people who matter to us.  Take the time to tell them they matter.  Love them.

Handprints
I visit him on a regular basis; at least three to four days a week.  He lives just across the street, so I don’t have to go out of my way to stop by; however I find that I often become so engrossed in everyday living that I let other things get in the way.  I know that he looks forward to my visit.  We sit in the old rusty beach chairs and sip on cold beers as we talk about the “good ole’ days.”  He always has so many stories to tell about growing up on the farm.  Inevitably, he’ll make a comment about how he and his brother would have broken my horse in less than a day (I’m going on three months now without much progress).

I listen contentedly as he strolls down memory lane.  “Sure n’ough would’ve broke that horse.  Me and my brothers would work our mules to the bone all day long and then ride ‘em down the dirt road well into the night.  Them mules were so tuckered out, they ain’t never had the energy to hurt one of us.  Your horse there – she’s got too much pent up energy.  That’s her problem.  No doubt about it.”

He’d go on and on about my horse, and I’d get to feeling guiltier and guiltier as the conversation wore on.  I knew I didn’t spend enough time with the horse, but it isn’t my horse!  It is my fourteen-year-old daughter Katie’s horse.  I remind Joe that I made it clear to Kaite that she and I would be breaking this horse together.  The “breaking of the horse” lasted about fifteen minutes.  I wasn’t doing anything right in Katie’s eyes, and she was doing nothing but bellyaching in my eyes.  The entire horse breaking session ended with the two of us breaking down and the horse running away.

So, this is how it goes:  I sit with Joe, and he scolds me about the horse, and I make excuses for my lack of enthusiasm and commitment to “taking the bull by the horns” or, in this case, “the horse by the reins.”

Joe and I often talk about how busy I always am; coming and going on a non-stop merry-go-round.  It’s a wonder the horse, goats, chickens, cat and dogs even get fed!  Joe tells me how short life is and how I should slow down and start playing my banjo more often.  I always promise him that I will take his advice and I always fail miserably come the next day.

One day I was pondering my hectic schedule of teaching, birthing goats, taxiing children, grocery shopping, cleaning, and paying bills when Joe got up to get us another beer.  As he made his way to the sliding glass doors, my six-year-old daughter came bounding up his steps, arms outstretched, ready to give “Mr. Joe” a big hug.  He took her in his arms and told her he had just bought some chocolate covered ice cream cones that very day.

Her huge brown eyes lit up, and she asked, “Do you have cherries too?” 

“‘Course’ I do, Lulu!”  Joe responded, “What’s a super duper ice cream cone without a cherry on top?”

Lulu smiled and giggled as they made their way into the house to make the cone.  I watched them go, hand in hand, and I grinned at the portrait they presented: Joe's twisted rugged hand encircling the small black hand (Lulu is from Haiti).  Joe's old legs moving slowly as Lulu's young legs slowed to keep pace.  Joe's aged, wrinkled face smiling down at Lulu's young expectant face.

I thought to myself, “This is what life is all about.”  It’s about the little things that make you smile and leave lasting imprints on your mind like footprints in the sand or handprints on a wall: Those little flickering moments that are forever woven into the tapestry of our lives.

Joe started to pull at the sliding glass door, and Lulu reached up to help him.  She placed both her hands squarely on the glass and pushed with all her might.  When she released her hands, Joe pointed to the prints she left behind.

“Look, Lulu!”  He said, “We have a new set of handprints to add to the collection!”

Lulu laughed as she examined all the handprints that covered the glass door.  “Are these mine?”  She asked as she pointed to some smudges just above hers.

“Sure they are.”  Mr. Joe assured her.  "Yours are the most important handprints I have."

They made their way inside and occupied themselves with the making of the super duper ice cream cone.

I stayed behind in my dilapidated beach chair, and I reflected that just yesterday I yelled at Lulu for getting her handprints on the wall.  I handed her a spray bottle and, scolding her, instructed her to wash all the handprints away.

“Wash all those handprints off the wall!”  I yelled, “You should know better than to dirty the walls that your daddy just painted!”

Somewhere in the corner of my mind, I heard myself saying the same words to my oldest daughter, Jennifer.  She’s in college now.  Her handprints are long gone from our house.  They’ve been painted over or washed away.  They’ll never be back.  Nor will my daughter, Katie’s handprints or all the handprints of our 53 foster kids.  My son’s handprints too; they’re gone from his grimy room that always had the distinct smell of boy.  In place of his handprints is our office – gray and devoid of any remnants of boyhood.

I pondered, “Are there any handprints left?”

The melancholy that overtook me was instantaneous, and I had the sudden urge to grab Lulu in my arms, rush home, dip her hands in mud and tell her to get busy dirtying the walls!

Joe and Lulu made their slow decent down the steps and quietly sat relishing their ice cream cones.  I sipped my beer and eyed the sliding glass door.

Joe caught me contemplating the handprints and remarked, “You know I never wash that glass door.  Every one of those handprints reminds me of my little visitor here.  I look at those handprints when I’m eating alone at night or feeling lonely for my wife, and they take away the heartache.  I guess I could wash them off, but it just wouldn’t be the same without them.”

Wiser words were never spoken.

In the scheme of life does it matter if there are handprints on the wall?  Absolutely! It matters.  It matters because one day they’ll be grown and gone.  It matters because one day you’ll walk through an empty sanitary house and wonder where all the handprints went.  It matters because when you’re old and gray, handprints are as important as talking with your neighbor and eating ice cream cones on cool summer evenings.  Handprints matter.  They just do.  I wish I had kept a happy memory for every handprint I washed off the wall.  I wish I had never washed them off the wall at all, but then again, it’s not too late to start. 

Top Ten

Since the year is coming to an end, I thought that I would post the list of the top ten most read blog stories.  Here they are in order - with number one being the most viewed all time story:
1. Dennis
2. Playground Hell
3. Mrs. "P"
4. Shift
5. O.K. Corral
6. Unbreakable
7. Soul Drain
8. Wings to Fly
9. Handprints
10. Hallelujah Acres

It is my hope and my prayer that 2013 will give me many more opportunities to write inspiring and funny stories.  I am thankful for all my loyal readers and hope you all enjoy reading the blog as much as I enjoy writing it.  Wishing all my readers a very happy and safe New Year and a blessed 2013.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

God's Christmas Gift

I was a teenager, but I remember every detail of that evening as if it were yesterday.  The family room was decorated for Christmas with garland, lights and stockings hanging on the fireplace mantle.  There was a warm fire blazing casting an amber glow over the cozy room.  I was sitting on the couch nestled under a warm blanket watching the tv show ““Eight is Enough””.   My father sat on the other end of the couch reading his paper.

The show was a staple in my life.  I watched it regularly along with “I Love Lucy”, “The Brady Bunch” and “Gilligan’s Island”.  I certainly didn’t expect this episode to shake me to the core like it did that night. 

“Eight is Enough” was a show with a blended family just like “The Brady Bunch”.  The storylines of both shows were usually funny and rarely addressed the reasons why these families were blended (with a step-parent replacing either a mother or a father).  I certainly related to these shows since my mother had died suddenly when I was just two.  Until recently, I never even knew what she died from.  She was never mentioned in my family.  There were no pictures of her anywhere.  It was as if she never existed.  I had a step-mom, but it didn’t take away the longing in my soul to know who my mom was.

Well, for some strange reason, this episode of “Eight is Enough” decided to address the emotional topic of the missing mom in the storyline.  It was a Christmas show and all the kids were busy preparing for Santa’s arrival that night.  If I recall correctly, the step-mom and one of the girls were cooking when they discovered a wrapped gift hidden in the top cupboard.  The gift was for one of the eight children, Tommy who was struggling with this Christmas without his mom.  The gift was from Tommy’s mother.  

I remember the poignant moment when Tommy’s sister explained to the step-mom that their mother used to shop for a special gift for each child throughout the year and hide the gifts until Christmas.  The girl was clearly overcome with emotion as she held her mother’s gift for Tommy.  That is the last thing I remember before I broke down into uncontrollable sobbing and made a mad dash for my bedroom where I could break down in solitude – a coping mechanism I had learned early and well.

I sat on my bed crying and praying that God would send me a gift from my mother so that I could know something, anything about her.  Just then, there was a knock on my door.  My father hesitantly cracked the door and asked if he could come in.  Over the years, no one had ever dared to disturb my solitary anguish.  For whatever reason, the philosophy of that time was to eradicate all remnants of the missing parent and ignore the emotional ramifications this might have on the children.

My father’s appearance at my door was completely astonishing to me. I firmly believe that it was God’s intercession that brought my dad to my room that night.  I didn’t know how to react, so I just blurted out, “I never knew her!” 

He came over to my bed and put his arms around me – something he had never done.  I cried and cried on his shoulder.  Through my sobs I just kept saying, “I never knew her”.  His response was simple and, as my father is a man of very few words, only one sentence.

“She was just like you.” He said as he kissed me on the forehead, got up from the bed and quietly slipped out of my room.  For a minute, I wondered if he really had been there or if it was some strange aberration that I just imagined.

I sat on my bed for a very long time after the door closed behind my dad.  His words kept echoing in my brain…"She was just like you."

 Just like me…what does that mean? 

He never elaborated and I never asked.  You see, in God’s infinite wisdom and only as God can do, he answered my prayer.  If I was just like my mom, then she would always be a part of my life.

This is what I’ve learned about my mother over the years:  She is very stubborn and extremely opinionated.  She is fiercely loyal and loves her family more than anything in the world.  She never shies away from a good argument, but is shy in social situations.  She is very spiritual.  She can be wicked at times.  She is creative.  She has a great sense of humor.  She is generous.  She’s made her share of mistakes.  She’s learned from some of her mistakes and still has a lot to learn.  She loves to write.  Her biggest fear is being forgotten.

Forty-some years ago I vowed that I would do my best to live an honorable life that would pay tribute to my mother’s legacy.  I promised that through me she would always live on; and she has. 

In loving memory of Lorraine Martha Breiner.

 Always in my heart.

 Never forgotten.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Trailer Trashe'


I’ve had trouble with the flow of this story.  No matter how I try to depict the events, I just cannot find adequate words.  It’s as if my brain is stopped up and I cannot uncork it.  I feel like I need a mental plunger to release my thoughts.  In some ways, I feel like I have a kindred spirit with my trailer’s septic system.  

Well, I’m just going to plug along and hope that the story will eventually flow.  

Just yesterday, I was on the phone with my sister when I told her that we are now officially trailer trash.  During the course of our conversation, my sister suggested that “trailer trash” was too harsh a description for our current living conditions.  After some discussion, we concluded that trailer trashe’ sounded much more posh; like when you say I’m shopping at Target’ instead of plain old Target.  

The reason that we are now officially trailer trashe’ is because we have finally moved into our RV located in the pasture behind our house.  We are renting out our house in the hopes that we will be able to save our home by having the rent cover our mortgage.  Essentially, we will be living mortgage/rent free for a year if we can survive RV living.  

We’ve been in the RV for two weeks now.  In the past two weeks, Bill has hit his head on the cabinet above the bed at least ten times, our dog has tumbled down the RV steps countless times (he now walks crooked), our cat moved in with the neighbors, our 12-year-old daughter swears her life has come to an end, I fell of the step stool trying to reach the spices and twisted my knee, the sliding shower door regularly falls off, Bill ran over the satellite cable, water hose and electric cord and ripped all of them out of the trailer and our toilet is completely backed up…things are going pretty well.  

As I’ve mentioned, our toilet was completely backed up because the holding tank was full.  This made it imperative that we get our septic system done immediately.  In order to save money, we decided to complete the project ourselves.  I mean, how hard could it be to put in a small septic system?  All you have to do is dig a hole, throw in a holding tank, glue a few pipes together and cover the whole thing in some rocks - a piece of cake.  Of course, the hole required that we rent a machine.  

It was early morning when I stepped out of my trailer to the blinding glint of sun off the steel frame of the monster machine filling most of my field of vision.  The thing wouldn’t fit under the huge oak trees so it was deposited right in the middle of the pasture looking like a massive sleeping prehistoric creature.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but in my mind I envisioned one of those little diggers similar to the buckets you see at a playground.  This beast dwarfed our little Chevy pickup truck making it look like a Tonka toy sitting next to it.  The tires were so huge that our Toyota Scion on the other side was completely hidden from view. 

“Bill,” I screamed in awe, “there’s a massive pterodactyl in our pasture!”  

“Nonsense,”  I heard my husband’s voice as he came up behind me, “it’s just a...HOLY CRAP...front end loader.  How are you going to operate that sucker?”  He asked.  

“Me!” I looked at him as if he had three heads.

“Well, you didn’t think I was going to do it did you?”  He smiled wickedly at me.  “Come on, you know you’re dying to mount that steed.”  

He knew me too well.  I couldn’t wait to get behind the controls.  I ran out the door, had my boots on in a flash and boldly ascended the steel steps.  Bill followed laughing at the sight of all five feet of me trying to adjust the seat so that I could reach the foot pedals and the hand controls.  

“What do I do now?” I yelled to Bill as I spun the seat around to face the bucket.  I looked at the array of buttons and levers in bewilderment.  I knew that there had to be a key somewhere to turn the damn thing on.  Five minutes later I located the key to my left under all the levers.  I timidly turned the key not sure what would happen.  The monster roared to life.  I felt it’s power rumbling under my feet and realized that the only thing standing between safe operating procedures and total devastation was me!

“How do I make it go forward?”  I yelled to Bill who shrugged his shoulders.  

Just then, I spotted some movement out of the corner of my eye.  From my perch I observed a parade of neighbors coming across the pasture on foot and in golf carts loaded with their lawn chairs and beer.  Nothing like a backhoe to rouse the neighbors out of their beer induced stupor.  They must have seen it being delivered this morning because I hadn’t told anyone about it.  Word sure does travel fast around the 55 and over park.  Maybe one of them will know how to get this thing in gear.  

I reached down to turn off the machine so I could go ask the neighbors if any of them could help.  Suddenly a hand grabbed mine and I screamed. The hand belonged to Taco who had appeared out of nowhere at my right shoulder.  Over the din of the machine, I never heard him coming.  Taco, a friend of ours who works at the local tractor rental company, is the guy who delivered the machine this morning.  I don’t know why he is called Taco - it’s just the only name I know him by.  

“Need some help?”  He laughed.  

“Boy, am I glad to see you.”  I answered, “I was afraid I might run over Bill and flatten the trailer.”

Under Taco’s tutelage, I was able to move the machine without squishing any seniors who were now perched on their lawn chairs at the back of the trailer where I was going to be digging the septic tank hole.  Taco was a master teacher.  I became an expert backhoe operator in a matter of minutes.  Okay, maybe it was more like a matter of hours, but at least I didn’t knock down the trailer or knock anyone on the side of the head with the bucket.  

I had to learn how to operate the bucket as well as the front loader because once the hole was dug, I was going to have to push the dirt back in and level it.  The hole I was digging had to be at least seven feet deep and twenty feet long.  It would be an all day affair but I was ready for the task.  One of my neighbors handed me a beer as I masterfully dumped my bucket on the now ten foot tall pile of dirt.  

Perhaps it was the beer, but it appeared that the hole I was digging was just a little off kilter. It was just a tad crooked and maybe there were parts where it was deeper than necessary, but I doggedly kept at it as the neighbors cheered me on.  I figured a hole for a septic tank didn’t have to be perfect.

I found out later how wrong I was. 

So, it took all day to dig the hole and place the holding tanks.  Bill and his friend Charley did all the connections while I was off getting tires on the car.  When I returned, I was impressed with the amount of work they completed.  They had to work super fasts because they didn’t want to have to do anything the next day as they had tickets to a football game.  In the morning, I was left alone to fill in the hole.  I guess the neighbors found better things to do.  Or, maybe they were still sleeping off all the beer they consumed the day before.  In any case, I operated the bucket and front loader like a pro (with no one there to vouch for my newfound prowess).  I was excited to finally finish the chore by late afternoon and I quickly gathered the drainage pipe to run it from my trailer to the new septic.  

As I looked at the section where the pipe connected, I noticed for the first time that it was a bit lopsided.  This could explain why Bill and Charley had completed the connections in such record time.  It wasn’t level. The flaw occurred at the connection causing the pipe to be angled up.  I know that water only flows down so this could pose a problem because the water coming from the trailer would flow down and then, right at the end, would have to flow up to make it into the septic tank.  

Oh well, I’m sure it’s nothing, I said to myself as I fitted the pieces together.  

That night, as I climbed into bed I smelled a strange odor wafting in through the back window of our bedroom.  

“Do you smell that?”  I asked Bill who was just entering the room.  

“What’s that smell?”  He replied.  

“DAD!” Lulu yelled from the living room.  “Take it outside!”  

“It wasn’t me!” He yelled back.  

While they squabbled, I threw on my robe and grabbed the flashlight and headed to the back of the trailer.  It didn’t take long to locate the source of the foul odor.  Right next to the septic tank was a gurgling gooey seepage erupting like a mini volcano.  

I quickly closed the RV’s sewer valve and made a hasty retreat before I puked.  We immediately closed the windows before the smell overtook us all.  The next day I inspected the problem and discovered that there was a diagonal split right where the pipe angled up.  Oozing out of that split was raw sewage.  

What now?  I asked myself.

Luckily, my friend has a friend who has a port-o-potty business.  I immediately called her and the next day our shiny new john arrived.   Well, I thought as I admired the outhouse, this does give new meaning to trailer trashe’.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Stuff


A frying pan - just one, a glass baking dish, one pot, two spatulas, three spoons and a whole set of knives.  That is all I have.  No, that is all I need.  No, that is MORE than I need.  You see, I’ve gone full circle and reached the point where I know that less is more.  I know that one frying pan is easier to clean and that a few shirts take a lot less washing.  

It’s time to get on with living.  What does that mean?  It means knowing that priorities are what we choose to make them.  Fancy car, fancy house, fancy schools, fancy...whatever.  We become attached to them and they enslave us.  We all do it.  We all fall for the “more is better” lifestyle until the day that we lose something or someone really precious and realize that more is just more.  More to take care of.  More to lug.  More to worry over.  More to fix.  More to take precious time away from our lives.  

Choices define our lives.  Some of us make choices to surround ourselves with stuff.  Some of us make choices to lose ourselves in work so that we can pay for our stuff.  Some of us choose to leave the people that matter in the dust trail we leave behind as we chase after more stuff.  

I’ve made my choice.  I’m done with more.  I’ve closed the door on more.  I don’t ever want to open that door again.  I don’t ever want to say, “I can’t spend time with you today because I have to...mow the lawn, fix the car, dust the collectibles...fill in the blank.”  All that stuff will one day rust or blow away in the wind and what will be left?  You.  What will you do then?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sugar and Spice

Well, I’ve been packing up my 2400 square foot home for over a month.  We only have two more weeks in our house before we move into an RV that is about 320 square feet.  Today, I decided to pack the kitchen items.  I opened my spice cabinet and was immediately reminded of Erma Bombeck’s quote: “Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever…” 

My spice cabinet was overflowing with spices for every imaginable exotic dish I might someday want to cook.  There were many spices left over from the days when Nurjahan, our child from Bangladesh, was living with us.  I found wasabi, curry tree, black salt, Chinese red pepper, mustard seed, mustard oil and about six bottles of cumin.  How do you pronounce “cumin” anyway?

Just for the heck of it, I decided to check the dates on some of the items.  Way in the back of my spice cabinet was a very large container of basil.  The faded date read, best if used by April 4, 1999.  I almost threw away the thirteen year old spice but, for some strange reason, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.  I mean we all know that spices never expire.  I might need some basil any day now.  Never mind that I had eight more bottles of basil in front of the very large container! 

I counted 12 bottles of various kinds of garlic; garlic powder, garlic salt, go go garlic, garlic chives and garlic oregano.  There were many bottles of vanilla and several kinds of sugar; brown, powdered, cubed and granular.  The strangest thing I found was finger root.  What the heck is finger root?  Why would I have it in my spice cabinet?  These questions may never be answered, but I packed the finger root anyway – just in case Nurjahan comes to visit and needs it to cook something amazing.  

Here’s the really funny thing – we do clean-outs of homes after estate sales.  Whenever I open the spice cabinets of these homes there are always duplicate spices that are well beyond the dates stamped on the bottles.  If I find a spice that is still sealed, I bring it home just in case I need it. 

So, after cleaning out my spice cabinet, I had two full boxes ready to move into the 5th wheel.  I think Erma is right…”Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I'm taking with me when I go.”

I think I’ll take the finger root.




Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Unbreakable

Every September I will repost this tribute I created for my sister-in-law, Loretta who lost her courageous battle with ovarian cancer.  The words in this tribute were written by Loretta's friends and family.  The pictures are pics that I took around the farm and the beach.  The song, Amazing Grace, is played by bagpipes (Loretta's favorite).  Amazing Grace is a fitting song for a woman who was an amazing mother, friend, sister, wife, grandmother...and who showed us all that faith endures forever. Loretta’s legacy will live on in the hearts of her truly remarkable, unbreakable family.  She knew that the purpose of life is a life of purpose and she made it her purpose to love deeply.  During her fight with cancer she looked at every obstacle, every setback as an opportunity to share her enduring faith.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it:  It is not length of life, but depth of life.  Loretta lived a life full of happiness and joy and we are all better off for having the privilege to have known her.  Next weekend Loretta's family and friends will be walking to raise money for ovarian cancer research.  Here is the link to make a donation to the Unbreakable Breiners: http://kohnj.myetap.org/fundraiser/2012Walks/team.do?participationRef=3909.0.362513445
 

Fan Fan


I’ve discovered that I have become a big fan of ceiling fans.  It all started with my first grandchild, Kaylee.  Every time we entered the kitchen, where the ceiling fan was always running, Kaylee would become mesmerized with the fan.  She couldn’t take her eyes off it.  Whenever she was fussy, I’d take her into the kitchen and she’d immediately stop fussing and stare at the fan.  

This fan fascination must be universal among infants.  I now have the privilege of babysitting my newest grandchild, Devyn.  Devyn, at eight weeks old, is a very happy and alert infant.  In the living room, there is a ceiling fan that is on all day.  Devyn and I have learned that it is great fun lying on the living room floor and looking at the fan.  We can do this for thirty minutes or more depending on when it’s time for Devyn’s next bottle.  

This is what I’ve learned from ceiling fans:
Ceiling fans remind me that the simple things in life can still be full of fascination.
Ceiling fans are really cool to look at through squinty eyes.
There is nothing better in life than being able to lie on the floor with your grandchild and stare at a ceiling fan for as long as you want.  
The ceiling fan doesn’t care if you sing an off key silly song at it - and neither do grandchildren.
It’s fun to kick your feet at the ceiling fan.   
Sometimes, when I look over at Devyn, I see her mommy and I go back in time to the days when Jennifer and I watched ceiling fans together.
As the fan goes round and round, it reminds me of the seasons of life and how quickly they pass. and I wonder where the time went...

As I type these words, I look at my hands and I’m reminded of my grandmother’s hands.  Her hands were a little pudgy and wrinkly and they had those brown spots that old people get.  I remember holding her hand and feeling safe.  My hands look like hers now - grandmother hands.  

Today, my grandma hands will hold little Devyn and we’ll lie on the floor in the living room and we’ll stare at the ceiling fan and I’ll thank God for this season of my life.  The season where I can slow down and marvel at the wonders of fans.  

Friday, September 14, 2012

Elizabeth


The ruler with the circles in it is the worst.  Its bee sting leaves red welts on the back of her hand as a reminder of how bad she is.  Bad, bad, bad!  No other kids pick up a pencil with the wrong hand.  No other kids have to sit at the tall piano all alone trying so hard to use the other hand that doesn’t work; the stupid stupid hand that doesn’t listen to her screaming brain.  

Stay in the lines!  Her brain screams as the defiant hand scribbles uncontrollably.  

No one is looking now.  The good hand gives the crayon to the bad hand.  Quickly, before anyone sees her, the bad hand starts to write her name even though it is hard to write without turning her arm: Eliza....perfect letters!  So proud!  

Uh-oh, here comes Sister Penguin waddling over to the pathetic kid perched on the piano stool scrawling scribbled nothingness on her untidy paper.  

HIDE!  Her brain screams, MELT into the piano!

Too late. Can’t switch hands now.  Sister Penguin already saw the bad hand working.  Elizabeth knows what is coming.  She can already feel the welts swelling and reddening on her bad bad hand.  Tears start to stain the perfect letters of her name.  

“Give me your hand, Elizabeth!” Sister Penguin yells so that all the children stop and stare.  

Here comes another lesson on misbehaving in kindergarten - WHACK!  The ruler comes down hard on the bad bad hand and Elizabeth feels the pain way deep in her soul - So deep, that she follows it and hides there while the children laugh and mock the pathetic little girl on the piano stool.

“Line up children.”  It’s time for the Easter parade.  

Elizabeth starts to slide off the stool when a cold claw grabs her shoulder.  “Not you, Elizabeth!” Sister Penguin’s squawking voice pierces her soul hiding place.  “You stay here and practice writing your name with your right hand!”

All is quiet.  She wonders what the Easter parade is like?  All the girls had Easter bonnets.  She brought one too.  It had pretty blue and pink flowers on it.  She couldn’t wait to wear it in the Easter parade.  She wondered if the Easter Bunny would be there.  Will everyone get candy?  She’ll never know because her stupid hand will never learn how to write her name.  

So, she sits on the stool staring at her ugly paper hating her stupid hand.  Hating herself.  Hating her miserable kindergarten life.  She picks up the pencil with the right hand and starts writing her name: 

No matter how hard she tries, no perfect letters appear on the straight line.  Soon, she hears the laughing of her classmates as they enter the room holding Easter baskets loaded down with spongy yellow chicks, chocolate eggs and rainbows of jelly beans.  Elizabeth looks up from her sloppy paper as Sister Penguin waddles over holding the holy ruler.  Slowly and deliberately Elizabeth holds out her hand.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Grab, Drop and Roll

Okay, I admit it, the underwear story is pretty damn funny.  I’ve gotten numerous requests to tell it.  So, I’m going to try to do it justice.  

I have a bad habit of leaving my stripped off clothes on the floor next to my bed at night.  I justify this in the event that I might have to jump out of bed in the middle of the night to shoot a prowler or something. I envision myself throwing on my clothes while grabbing my gun...I mean I don’t want to shoot a prowler while I’m naked.  Maybe the truth is, I’m just lazy or tired or all of the above.  Anyway, I always seem to have a pile of yesterday’s clothes readily available in case of emergencies.

I guess I have to give a little bit of background in order to properly tell this story.  

During my youthful rebellious days, I moved to West Virginia, married a mountain man and became a bona fide hillbilly.  I lived in a tar paper shack and learned how to shoot my AR-15 and my Ruger Mini-14 with amazing accuracy.  I was happy for a while until I realized that I wanted more out of life than an attached outhouse.  It was especially hard in the winter months when I had to go under the shack with a blowtorch to unfreeze the pipes in order to have running water in the kitchen.  I eventually left the hillbilly life, but before I did, I left my underwear behind in the school.

It all started when the alarm did not go off in our tar paper shack.  My husband was supposed to be at a job interview that morning and I guess I was driving him.  I don’t remember all the particulars, but I went with him to the school where the interview was taking place.  Since the alarm didn’t go off, we were running really really late.  So, naturally, I jumped out of bed and threw on the jeans I had been wearing the day before.

Fast forward to the school:  We arrived at the school with seconds to spare.  As we were walking/running down the hall to the office, I felt something in my pants leg.  It was really bothering me, so I kept shaking my leg hoping that whatever it was, I could shake it loose or at least reposition it.  

Coming toward us from the other end of the hallway was a gentleman that looked like he might be the principal - he just had that air about him.  He was approaching us clearly intent on learning our business at the school.  Bob, my husband, was dressed in his suit and looked presentable.  I, on the other hand, looked disheveled and perhaps a bit unstrung due to the bothersome thing in my pants.  I gave my leg one last shake and, low and behold, the thing that was bothering me freed itself just as the principal came to a halt in front of us.  

I swear everything went into slow motion right at that very moment.  I watched in horror as yesterday’s underwear became a projectile and then hovered in the air like a parachute right in front of the principal.  I don’t know if I screamed or not.  

All I remember is taking immediate action.  

I grabbed the underwear like an NFL receiver, and pulled it to my chest as my feet went out from under me. Luckily, I avoided tackling the principal on my way down.

I landed headfirst on the floor shielding the underwear with my now numb body as if it were a bomb or hand grenade ready to explode.   I might have blacked out momentarily because some of the details of what happened next are still fuzzy.  I don’t even know if Bob or the principal had any idea what just went down.  All they knew is that I hurled myself headfirst onto the floor for no apparent reason.

 I was still hiding the evidence under my body frantically trying the figure out what to do with it before they picked me up off the floor.  So, I did the only thing I could think of - I stuffed the underwear back in my pants.  The men, clearly concerned about my mental stability, helped me to my feet.  I assured them I was fine and we made our way together to the office.  

When Bob inquired about the job interview, it just so happened that the man in the hallway was in fact the principal and the very same man he had the interview with.  It was the shortest interview of his life.  I no sooner inquired about the restroom when Bob emerged from the office looking a bit dejected.  Needless to say, he didn’t get the job.  

On the way out of the school, I felt the now familiar underwear making its way down my pants leg.  I gave my leg one big shake and, low and behold, out came the underwear.  As I looked on, my underwear flew up in the air and landed on top of a pillar right by the front of the school.  I could have alerted Bob, who was walking in front of me, to this unfortunate turn of events, but I soon thought better of it.  All I could think of was trying to explain to the principal why Bob was trying to climb the pillar in front of the school. So, I never even broke my stride.  I couldn't get out of that school fast enough.  As far as I know, the underwear might still be there today!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Funny Drought

I haven’t been able to write anything funny lately.  It’s like my funny bone has been removed.  Not even Walmart shoppers have inspired me!  I feel like my rose colored glasses have turned putrid green - like I’m in the bottom of some murky pond trying to find a shinny object that has long since molded over.  I keep looking for inspiration and I just can’t see it.

Last night, however, I went over to my friend Karen’s house and noticed that the photos on her wall were still the same.  To the casual observer, they look like any other pictures you’d find hanging on a family wall; mom and dad holding hands with their young son at the beach and two young lovers stargazing.  The only thing wrong with these pictures is that they are not Karen’s family.  The pictures hanging on the wall are the photos that came with the frame!  They’ve been there now for as long as I can remember - at least five years.  This mystery family has become as much a part of the landscape at Karen’s house as her real family.  They even refer to the photos as the California relatives.

This got me thinking about the everyday things in our lives that really are rather funny, but, try as I might, I cannot make them into a funny story.  I always inquire about Karen’s make believe California family that never seems to age.  Karen always has some glib remark about the glossy family and how they spend all their days at the beach, yet the humor in the story remains stuck in my brain. 

One of my favorite comedians, Gilda Radner as Roseanne Roseannadanna, had a way of making you laugh at the truly mundane things in life like a sweat ball on the end of your nose that won’t fall off, a toenail that turns purple, falls off and never grows back, green spinach stuck in your teeth or finding something hard in hamburger meat.  I grew up watching Gilda Radner, Lucy Ball, Carol Burnet and Phyllis Diller.  My favorite author is humorist Erma Bombeck.

So, being no match for any of these women, I decided to let them sprinkle their humor on my funny drought:

My mother-in-law had a pain beneath her left breast. Turned out to be a trick knee.
Phyllis Diller

“Marriage has no guarantees. If that's what you're looking for, go live with a car battery.”
Erma Bombeck

“Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I'm taking with me when I go. ”
Erma Bombeck

The only time I ever enjoyed ironing was the day I accidentally got gin in the steam iron.
Phyllis Diller

The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age.
Lucille Ball

“Giving birth is like taking your lower lip and forcing it over your head.”
Carol Burnet

I base most of my fashion taste on what doesn't itch.
Gilda Radner

Perhaps one day, I’ll be able to write about the time our tractor caught on fire and Katie pulled the PVC pipe off the side of the barn while running to put the fire out.  Or, maybe I’ll find the words to tell the story about wetting my pants during a particularly funny game of Apples to Apples.  Then there was the day that I dragged one of my friends across the table in a brutal game of spoons (and broke the table).  Maybe I’ll tell the story about the time that a pair of my underwear got stuck in my pants leg and...well THAT is a story!  But for now, I’ll just take Erma Bombeck’s advice:

“He who laughs.....lasts.”
Erma Bombeck

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Potter's Hand


Those of you who have been reading my blog (I’m up to over 6,000 readers now) have come to know my life’s struggles.  I haven’t shared everything, but enough for people to get the sense of who I am.  As I read back on some of my own posts: Soul Drain, Stepping Stones, A Dog Named Stay, Egg Light, Wings to Fly, I’ve Used Everything You Gave Me...I’ve realized that there is a common soul thread throughout all of these stories.  It’s like an epic battle being fought between my willful nature and God’s steady nudging.  He nudges, I listen for a time and then I take it all back into my own hands again.  
Isn’t that what so many of us do?  We cry out to God in desperation and finally turn everything over to Him only to take it back again.  It reminds me of cresting waves that come crashing to shore with a vengeance and then quietly recede only to come crashing to shore again.  My life has been one cresting, crashing, receding wave after another.  It’s tiring riding the waves of uncertainty, doubt and fear.  

The night before I resigned from my job I had a dream.  In this dream I was at the “Center of Hope and Light”.  I was sitting on a swing in the middle of a room surrounded by a radiant light that filled the room with a luminous glow.  I cannot adequately describe the light but I’ve only seen it once before in a dream when I was eight years old.  That dream had a profound impact on my life as did this dream.


So, I was in this swing and I began spinning around very fast.  As I was spinning, below me was a bible.  I kept thinking to myself, “Shouldn’t I open that and read it?”  Behind me there were three women singingThe Potter’s Hand.  I started singing with them - and, amazingly, I was singing in the most beautiful voice I’ve ever heard.  


I got to the part where I was singing, “take me, mold me, use me, fill me...I give my life to the potter’s hand.  Call me, guide me, lead me, walk beside me”...Then I fell asleep in the swing.
By the time I fell asleep, the swing was spinning at such a rapid speed that I would have certainly fallen out had the three women not noticed I was asleep.  They quickly ran over to me and grabbed ahold of my foot and began shaking me awake.  

I woke up to someone shaking my foot - I thought is was Bill, but no one was there.  I had spent the previous week reading my bible and praying for God to send me a dream so I would know what I should do about my job.  I knew that this was the dream and that it was God shaking me awake.  

Whenever I read my bible, I journal and sometimes I write/draw with my non-dominant hand.  It is a way of getting in touch with my “inner child”.  

On the night that I had the dream, I got out of bed and read the prayer I wrote in my journal:  “God direct my steps through your Holy Spirit.  Give me peace that surpasses all understanding.  Guard my heart and keep me from fearing what tomorrow will bring.”  


Then I opened my journal to this drawing:




 After reading my prayer and my drawing, I knew in my heart that it was time for me to leave my job. I truly experienced peace that surpassed all understanding and I recommitted my life to the potter’s hands.  I believe that I should now put all my energy into my life's dream of having a workplace for special needs people.  I want to provide a place where they can feel loved and cherished.  I believe that God is directing me there and it's time I listened.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Stepping Stones


I recently posted a snippet entitled: “A Dog Named Stay”.  I wrote that piece when I was pondering whether or not I should stay at my job.  I was trying to convince myself that I could teach full-time without having my health suffer.  I quickly discovered, however, that it was foolish of me to stay the course and remain at my job.  I realized that, by staying at my job, I was not following God’s will for my life.  So, I resigned from my teaching position yesterday.  It is my hope that I will be able to pursue my dream of making Hallelujah Acres a reality now that I am no longer with the school board.  The letter that follows is the letter that I sent to my students.  I decided to share it on my blog because I believe that we all must look at the endings in our lives as opportunities for new beginnings. 


My Dear Young Cherubs,

It is with great sadness that I must leave you.  I have enjoyed our short time together.  It is my hope and my prayer that your new teacher will be just the person you need to help you on your life’s journey.  

This is your journey and there will be people placed in your path along the way right at the moment that you need them most - you just need to recognize when they are there.  

As you know, this learning strategies class is just a tool for you to use along the journey.  I can hand you the tool, your new teacher can hand you the tool, but it is completely up to you as to whether or not you choose to use it.  Each of you has your whole future ahead of you - what will you do with it?  

Life will throw you curve balls along the way.  I was just thrown one.  I expected to hit a home run with my new classes and my wonderful students.  I was looking forward to a great year of teaching and learning with all of you.  Yet, I quickly realized that my health was suffering greatly.  I had to admit to myself that I cannot do this job and remain healthy.  I had to make a decision that clearly will have a great impact on my life.  

One day you, too, will be faced with decisions that will greatly impact your life.  How will you face them?  Will you look upon endings as terrible tragedies or as new beginnings?  Every ending is an opportunity for a new beginning.  

This is my opportunity for a new beginning.  

I will leave you with this poem that I’ve already shared with you, but is worth repeating:

So isn’t it strange that princes and kings
And clowns (that’s me) that caper through sawdust rings
And ordinary folks like you and me;
We are all builders for eternity...
Each of us is issued a book of rules,
a shapeless mass,
and a bag of tools...
And each of us, before our life is flown, must shape either a stumbling block
or
A STEPPING STONE.

Now, go build your stepping stones!

Love,
Mrs. Henderson