And I worried about matching?

My discarded wardrobe from this morning...

My discarded wardrobe from this morning…

This morning the temperature outside my home registered 32 degrees — which meant it likely dropped below that just before sunrise. Our wooded lot also shelters us from wind and somewhat insulates us from the cold, and so when I arrived at the health club a few miles from home, the temp was 28 degrees. Fahrenheit. In mid-November. In Florida. As I drove, I listened to the news on the radio and learned that at least eight people have died due to weather in Buffalo, New York. I know I should not complain about my weather woes, but I will anyway.

My running partners have all bowed out of these outdoor excursions, citing cold, sickness, and other wimpy excuses. Me? I hate running on the treadmill, and I hate the idea of losing my edge in the running arena (not that I have much of one). So I determined I would brave the cold and run anyway. I even thought today’s dry cold, as opposed to the humid, windy cold of Tuesday, would actually not feel as bad — even though the thermometer registered 15 degrees colder. My husband provided a mask that would cover my ears and nose and mouth, I wore my Cuddle Duds under my light jacket, and I added gloves to my wardrobe.

I was ready to face the cold — but not the fashion police. I didn’t match. My gloves were black and hot pink, which matched my black pants, but my jacket was a soft aqua with lime green highlights, my running shoes a deep bluish purple, my pepper spray red and black, and my mask was a lovely camouflage (and smelling distinctly like old camping equipment, a remnant from my husband’s biking accessories he kept in the garage).

In the locker room, I stretched, put on my gloves and attached the pepper spray, then attempted to put on the mask. Its Velcro kept sticking to my gloves, so I had to remove the pepper spray, remove the gloves and try again. Below the pony tail? Above the pony tail? I attached it above, breathed, and noticed that wearing the mask made my glasses fog. But as it was cold enough outside, I figured the fog would not be an issue, and I re-donned my gloves and the pepper spray and started to walk out of the locker room. I felt rather conspicuous, not matching.

“You look like Hannibal Lecter,” one of the ladies said.

“Well, then I doubt anyone will mess with me,” I replied with a smile that was hidden by the mask. I looked like Hannibal Lecter? And I was worried about being conspicuous because my colors didn’t match?

Outside, it was cold. I was thankful for the gloves and covering for my ears, nose, and mouth, certain they would make all the difference. Within a hundred paces of the health club door, I realized the mask did, anyway. It kept my ears and nose warm but fogged my glasses. I considered turning back to leave my glasses behind but feared I would choose the comfort of the gym over continuing a cold run. So I kept running — and eventually put my glasses in my pocket. Afraid they would fall out to be lost or broken, I kept reaching into my pocket or pressing the glasses against my side so that I knew they were safe — and in so doing, I realized that while the mask did its job, the gloves did not. My fingers were freezing. My toes — encased in mesh running shoes (so breezy and cool in summer, so freezing and cold now) — felt like solid cubes of ice that threatened to break. (Do they make winter running shoes? But, then again, how many days are winter cold in Florida? Maybe I could get wool socks or toes warmers.)

I made it almost to the mile mark, my goal as I nurse my shin injury, and turned around, still running despite my frozen, hobbled feet because I wanted to be back in comfort as soon as possible. I made it inside, realized I had only been outside for 20 minutes, headed to the locker room, and frightened two friends on their way outside for a run.

They didn’t fear the female version of Hannibal Lecter; they feared the cold I represented. One look at me and they saw not mismatched clothing, but a desperate woman clad for cold who had gotten beaten by it anyway.

I went one way; they hesitatingly went the other. I soothed my frozen toes and fingers in the warm pool, the thaw almost as painful as the freeze, but I was done. I had run — not as far, not as long, certainly not as fashionably dressed as I might have wanted. But it made me wonder how people who live up North do it. A baby dose of cold in Florida was enough to turn my feet back toward the warmth of the health club.

I’m so glad I don’t live in Buffalo, but I have a lot of respect (and prayers) for those who do.

 

When it all points to God…

The Dagens, November 19, 1994

The Dagens, November 19, 1994

Twenty years ago today, I wrapped myself in satin, lace, and bows and made myself a birthday present — a bride for Steve Dagen on his birthday. With that “I do,” I changed my status from widow to wife and childless to child-full. I became an instant mother of four children, 9, 8, 5, and 3. I had no idea what I was doing.

But even now, when I look back, I have to say that ours was a match made in heaven. I’m not saying it was a bed of roses (unless you refer to the thorns). Often marriage and motherhood seemed difficult at best, and I thought God had had no idea what He was doing — or I that had completely misread His cues.  (I don’t mean to suggest we don’t have free will, but I will say a lot of “coincidences” led Steve and I together.) God seemed the ultimate matchmaker. Our back story seems orchestrated completely by him.

In 1991, after slightly more than two years of marriage, I found myself a widow. My beloved 25-year-old Bill died suddenly following complications from ulcer surgery. Before he died, however, he told me that if anything happened to him, he wanted me to marry again. (Being slightly more selfish, I did not return the favor.) I couldn’t imagine losing Bill, and I couldn’t imagine loving someone other than Bill.  My imagination was short-sighted; both came to pass.

Because Bill and I lived in a not-so-nice apartment and section of town, friends of mine invited me to live in their spare room until another apartment situation opened for me. While I was living there, among their three children who knew Bill, I was forced to grieve “out loud,” as it were, answering questions such as “Is Mr. Bill in heaven?” and “Is Mr. Bill watching us right now?” It was painful but good. My friends and church family rallied around me, and one day my friend Becky visited, bringing me a cassette tape of music she thought I would find soothing. I still remember walking her to her car that day as she left, when she asked me to pray for her friend’s husband and four children; the woman was dying of melanoma. I didn’t remember the name, but I did remember to pray for “that man with the four kids.”(I later knew that name as well as my own. :) )

Near what would have been my third anniversary with Bill, I wrote a column in the local newspaper, where I worked, along the lines of “It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all,” in which I shared the heartache of losing my spouse but believed it was better than to have never had that love with him, even for so short, too short, a time. Unbeknownst to me, Steve read that column and almost called me. He was the man with four children who was losing his wife to melanoma, and my words connected to his experience. He didn’t call, but he did begin following my byline in the newspaper. That is all.

Life went on. I surprised myself by dating and falling in love and desiring to married. I just happened to fall in love with Mr. Wonderful who was also Mr. I Won’t Commit. I knew what I wanted, and it wasn’t dating forever without hope for marriage. I ended that. A couple of months later, a friend introduced me to his friend — a body builder who talked to me about this thing called the Internet and how it would transform shopping. That, too, was beyond my imagination, and I ended that. I worked with a man who I could picture loving — and he moved away. And then my pastor tried to set me up with someone who had admired me from a distance at church. He invited me — and then my roommate, so it would be less awkward — to his house for Easter dinner, where he also invited this young man. Ultimately, my pastor did set this man up — with my roommate.

Timing is everything, right? So on a Saturday night, my roommate and I organized a singles’ group outing to view the movie “Forrest Gump.” We drove separately so I could give a ride to a man with cerebral palsy. Rather than Barb beating me home, I arrived and waited hours before she finally returned home, in tears. After the movie, my pastor’s friend from Easter dinner had confessed his love for my roommate. She cried; I cried. She felt terrible, but I certainly wouldn’t do anything except encourage their love relationship. It was painful just the same.

Even at church the next morning, I was tearful. I felt God had taken away every potential man, and I was anticipating living single forevermore. I recommitted myself to Him and asked Him to take away my desire for marriage and to help me be satisfied with Him as my bridegroom. I felt peace.

That afternoon, my friend Becky called and asked “Would you be willing to date a man with four kids?”

She had met Steve at the local swimming pool and conversed about dating.

“Do you know Sara Olson?” Becky asked him.

“Does she write for the newspaper?” he queried.

Their conversation ended with Steve suggesting that Becky ask me if I would be willing – because, really, what were the chances that a single woman would be willing to take on a man and his four children?

Perhaps one who had just dedicated her love life to God and found the timing of this call anything but accidental. I still think it all points to God — including the fact that twenty years later we are still together and still in love.

A few weeks ago, we were in Seattle attending the wedding of my nephew. While there, we both had moments when we saw each other at our worst, and, yet, at the wedding reception, I turned to my husband and told him I would say “I do” all over again. Crazy as it sounds, I would. (I probably still have no idea what I am doing.)

P.S. That Mr. Wonderful who was also Mr. I Won’t Commit? He went to another country, met a woman, and proposed within a week.

P.P.S. The body builder who predicted the Internet? I lost track of him, but he was definitely Mr. Right — at least in his forecast of this worldwide web.

P.P.P.S. My colleague who moved away? He never moved back and never knew my disappointment. I got over it.

P.P.P.P.S. The man who my pastor inadvertently set up with my roommate? He married her, and they are living happily ever after.

As am I.

And P.P.P.P.P.S.? The story that follows that back story is titled “A mere nineteen years ago…

 

“Dine at desk” November…

Evidence of "Dine at Desk" November... my breakfast smoothie.

Evidence of “Dine at Desk” November… my breakfast smoothie.

Because we went out for lunch to celebrate the birthday of a colleague yesterday — and went out for lunch last week to bid farewell to a colleague moving to another city — my husband has taken to asking me what I am doing for lunch, as if on a daily basis I am having restaurant meals and fun with friends instead of my usual brown bag lunch all alone in the office kitchen. In November, my answer to his question doesn’t even include “eating in the office kitchenette,” because I know I will be dining at my desk. Not working, mind you, but writing. After all, it is NaBloPoMo — National Blog Posting Month — and I aim to write and publish a post every day.

This morning it was freezing according to Florida standards (i.e. mid-40s with a bit of rain and a wind chill of 39 degrees), but I went on a run anyway. I had long pants and a light jacket but no gloves or hat. I was actually pleased with how good it felt to do a sustained run and might have continued, except that my ears and fingers protested, painfully throbbing. Once inside the gym, I took a few minutes to soak a formerly injured shin in the 52 degree cold pool and made conversation with the other souls who had braved the chill. I mentioned my ears and fingers, and another runner suggested some affordable gloves and hats he’d found that work well for exercise.

“But Target runs out fast,” he advised. “The first year I saw them, I didn’t think I needed them — until it got cold. Then when I returned, the store was out. Buy them while you can.”

More evidence of "Dine at Desk" November... my lunch of turkey and rice soup (homemade with leftover turkey from LAST Thanksgiving so I can make room for next week's leftovers...)

More evidence of “Dine at Desk” November… my lunch of turkey and rice soup (homemade with leftover turkey from LAST Thanksgiving so I can make room for next week’s leftovers…)

As I drove to work early — so I could begin today’s blog upon my arrival before the day’s work began — I contemplated using my lunch time for running to the store for gloves and a hat. The weather is supposed to be a record low tonight — in the 20s, a hard freeze — and I figured everyone and his brother will be at Target buying these gloves and hats. But that would mean no time for writing a blog post today – and I had missed yesterday due to the staff lunch downtown. I had to weigh shopping vs. blogging, special hat vs. not, gloves vs. socks on my hands. The winner? Blogging and its consequences: no special hat, hands in socks instead of gloves. Priorities, priorities.

So as I blogged before work, I drank my breakfast smoothie. As I blogged during lunch (which is now), I ate a bowl of turkey and rice soup. I would slurp a spoonful and type, type, type. Then slurp another and so on. I finished dining at my desk before I finished writing at my desk, but my timer tells me I still have 14:44 left for blogging. No pressure.

The real question is: Why? People do “No Shave November” because they want to draw attention to a cause. Do I do NaBloPoMo because I want to draw attention to my blog? (OK, yes, I do.) Last year, one of my students, knowing I blogged, asked me if I were participating. He was attempting to do NaNoWriMo. Both competitions were new to me; at his suggestion, I read about the blog post writing challenge and decided to do it. (NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, which occurs in November. Technically, I could do NaBloPoMo any month, but November draws the most people, some of whom do both novel writing and blog writing every day. I am not that crazy yet.) Last year, I started on November 2 and managed a post a day all the way through mid-January, when I crashed and burned. This year, because my work schedule is so intense and I have little time at home after work, I knew NaBloPoMo was simply out of the question — and yet I did it anyway.

I love to write. I like the challenge NaBloPoMo offers — making me stretch myself by writing more often, writing fewer words at times, writing about random topics, writing less than perfectly, and even failing. I love interacting with fellow bloggers, especially giving and getting feedback and encouragement. Writing posts often takes me out of my comfort zone, makes me focus on something other than food, and, actually, makes me hunger for ideas.

Although I do hunger for the occasional meal and fun with friends, I am OK giving most lunchtimes in a given month to “Dine at Desk” November.

———————————–

Six hours later: Day is done. Gone the sun. Gone the dinner. Not at a desk. At home. With loved ones. No writing. All good. Tomorrow is another day.

 

 

When I am scared of pants…

Americans are getting fatter and fatter, yet the pants we wear are getting smaller and smaller. I just don’t understand it. Personally, trying on pants has made me so afraid it reminds me of Dr. Seuss’s beloved What Was I Scared Of? The rhyming children’s book on fear and tolerance tells the story of an encounter with “pale green pants with nobody inside them.” In the story, the main character visits numerous places and keeps running into and then away from these pants that move though minus a body. I’m thinking a lot of pants — pale, green or any color — in these United States shouldn’t have anyone inside them. They might be less frightful. Pants these days are smaller, tighter, and should be socially unacceptable. As I try on pants, the same brands and sizes I have worn in the past, I am as scared as the character in the story — because they don’t fit — but I don’t see myself embracing these tight pants anytime soon…

what was i scared of

Confession: Some of the pairs of pants I wear today I have been wearing for ten years. On a wintry weekend those many years ago, I had been suffering a severe cold, feeling miserable. My husband, for the first time in my life with him, suggested “retail therapy,” otherwise known as mall shopping. I went without children, shopped just for myself, made purchases, and came home feeling almost completely healed. Retail therapy worked for me. My husband has never forgiven himself.

But on that shopping trip, I met The Limited. I went into the store for the first time, looked at the clearance rack (as per my modus operandi in any store), found a couple pairs of pants and headed for the dressing room. What I found there was customer service. The attendant exchanged clothes for different sizes, brought back additional items she suggested I try, and even brought in a pair of jeans she thought would be perfect. It was heavenly. Though I bought only a pair or two of pants at a good price, The Limited had a friend for life.

I returned on my infrequent outings to the mall, always heading to the clearance rack and always receiving good service. It was there I purchased my pants, always “dry clean only” varieties that held their shape and which I could launder using at-home dry-cleaning supplies. It is those pants that fit me well and remain staples in my closet. The Limited, unfortunately, closed after a couple of years of my clearance-rack-only purchases, and I wore all black for days in mourning.

But these are the days of online shopping, right? So when I wanted more pants, I went right to the site — found my size and style (and sale, of course) — and made a purchase. The pants arrived — The Limited name, my size, my style — but they did not fit the same. I kept them, being too lazy to make the return, and figured I could lose a little weight and enjoy them more. They remain in my closet, pristine; they are simply not the same.

Likewise, workout pants seem to be getting smaller. I am tall; length has always been more of a problem than width in my purchases. In my dresser, you would find Nike, Adidas, Champion, and other brands all in the same size. They fit fine but I give them plenty of wear and wanted replacements. But going to the store to purchase new workout pants is a humbling experience. Nothing fits — or at least nothing fits modestly enough to wear in public. I tried on a number of my usual brands and styles in my size and found nothing acceptable. When I checked out — just buying a new shirt — I told the checkout clerk that I would have to diet before I bought workout pants. Really?

If you haven’t read Dr. Seuss’s What Was I Scared Of?, you should – aloud — just for fun. If you haven’t gone shopping for pants lately, you shouldn’t, because then you will be scared. The version of What Was I Scared Of? I had was tucked into a large book that compiled several of Seuss’s more famous works, and it was a gem my youngest son and I enjoyed over and over again. Apparently, you can purchase a version of it that glows in the dark; I can only hope that the skintight pants on the market do not come in styles that glow in the dark…

Just for fun, I took a few of Seuss’s lines and made them my own:

I was walking in the store

And I saw nothing scary.

For I have never been afraid

Of anything. Not very.

Then I was deep within the racks

When, suddenly, I spied them.

I saw a pair of workout pants

That seemed to be my size then.

I wasn’t scared. But, yet, I stopped

To try those pants to be sure.

I wanted them to fit me well,

That brand that fit me before.

And then I tried those workout pants

They made my bod look so big

My former pride, I must admit,

Began to see me a pig.

I tried on more, the same result.

The brands and sizes I wore

Before no longer seemed to fit.

And so I left the sports store.

 

 

 

A thousand plus words…

One small square of  driveway that made me stop and wonder.

One small square of driveway that made me stop and wonder.

A picture is worth a thousand words, right? This post is that thousand plus a few of my own.

Last summer in drought-like conditions, we were swarmed with mosquitoes. They buzzed and bit and mobbed en masse and made life miserable.  This year, despite months of heavy rains, we had few. It could be due to the onslaught of frogs that convened on our property when a small pond formed in the lower southwest corner for a time. Their chorus kept silence at bay all summer — but it is possible their appetites took care of the mosquitoes too.

But now it is November and so dry that those deluges and nightly frog musicals are but a distant memory — except for the hickory nuts, which hit the roof of our house and ding our vehicles when we forget to park a safe distance from their trajectory. My husband hypothesizes that this boon in hickory nuts mirrors that of the rain we had all summer. A physical therapist with an eye for potential hazards, whenever my husband walks onto the driveway, he picks up the fallen nuts and tosses them over the garage into the Spanish bayonets beyond (the plants, not the weapon). These round nuts, camouflaged with the autumn leaves can easily turn an ankle or cause a fall. And they don’t seem to simply fall. When the tree branches shake these hickory nuts free, the nuts shoot like bullets or missiles — aiming for shiny cars or roofs over sleeping heads or simply breaking apart to leave a rusty residue that delights the squirrels and stains our cars.

These nuts do not delight me.

Until I see them broken, their hearts exposed and beautiful, and I am reminded of the Creator, who seems to weave a bit of wonder into everything He creates. He truly does make all things beautiful in His time — even annoying hickory nuts!

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Ephesians 3:11).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One small square of  driveway that made me stop and wonder.

One small square of driveway that made me stop and wonder.

My cat is in the closet…

I am sitting at this computer, waiting for pages to load, thinking out loud that this is the slowest computer in the world — even though I am the only person in the room. And then I hear movement in the closet, shuffling, rearranging, moving paper, and, then, silence (yes, I hear that too, as it is so conspicuously different, that absence of sound). My cat is in the closet.

I get up and shoot a photo — and manage to capture something tolerable on the first shot, because I didn’t want to disturb this precious kitty in whatever it is she is doing.

Tori the cat, the wonderful, wonderful cat -- who makes herself at home no matter what she is destroying to do so.

Tori the cat, the wonderful, wonderful cat — who makes herself at home no matter what she is destroying to do so.

Which would be sleeping in my portfolio of newspaper articles, as it turns out. Which is on the third shelf. Which just happens to be inside a non-lidded cardboard box. Which, interpreted, means no protection from shedding hair or, worse, claws, which I have failed to cut for fear of hurting her, despite the painful acupuncture treatments she has given me and the nail holes she has inflicted on my Soma robe. (Note to self: Write Soma about providing robes for cats. Or patches for your robe. Inform them that their fleece robes might find a niche in the cat supply market.)

Now it sounds as if she is turning the pages and reading, but I shudder to think what she is really doing to my quality articles and columns from my newspaper days 20+ years ago that I thought to send to my mother, hundreds of miles away, and that she thought to save for me — because who knows if and where I saved a set for myself. (If I did, they are in the garage and likely of no quality to keep.)

Pets are an odd thing. I know people who cater to their pets and treat them like children. I’m not sure I even catered to my children, and yet I allow my cat to ruin my portfolio of newsprint or leave holes in my thigh with her kneading claws or push open the bathroom door when I’m inside and jump to the sink so she can have fresh water or let her stay warm at the foot of my bed even though it means I have to sleep with one bent leg.

We have a chair that is a monument to the destructive force of her claws as well as the cemetery for her hair. It is ruined and an eyesore and leaves hair on the rear end of any human who tries to claim it — yet it remains a fixture in our living room. (In hope, I think, that she continues to use that as her scratching post and leaves the other furniture alone.) We have spots on the carpet that memorialize her carefully timed escapes into the outside world, where she immediately ate whatever vegetation she met and then promptly vomited, upon her return, in the carpeted part of the house.

I love cats, I love every kind of cat.  Not really, that was for Brittany, who showed that video to me and all her classes a few years ago. (We were both school teachers.) It became the theme of the year, somehow, and forever stuck in my brain. But I do love our cat.

I am not that sappy, but somehow I let this cat, Tori, have on-demand petting and feeding and whatever else her little heart or spastic brain desires. If we go on vacation, my husband sends text messages to whomever is left behind to take care of this furry animal: “What does Tori say?” If I am away, my husband has me speak to this cat on the telephone, and she stays near the phone as if she really hears my voice and misses me. I could swear she hugs me when I return home.

If I have difficulty falling asleep and Tori happens to jump on the bed and settle down for a catnap, I immediately calm and know that I will fall asleep — because I will be still so SHE can sleep, which in turn will help me.

When she started cleaning herself sore last summer, I spent hours reading online forums, trying to figure out what was wrong. I changed her food to a more expensive brand, and I was happy when my husband was able to spend more time at home — for Tori. Really? Have I become so crazy? When she isolated herself in a box and our children made comments about how weird she was acting, I found myself defending her, explaining her mental state. My husband suggested I start a cat psychology blog.

My daughter and her husband have a boxer, and that pet appears in more Facebook posts than any other event in their lives. They seem to take great pride in his craziness and his ability to hunt and eat small, cute animals and birds. Really?

Oh, wait, my 18-year-old son just walked in, looking for Tori, then grabbed his cellphone to shoot a brief video of this cat in the closet. I suppose if my cat really is reading the newspapers it would make an interesting video.

All I can say is that pets seem to change us, making us less sane and more sane at the same time… well, at least in my family. :)

 

Random rant I wish I’d missed…

The parking lot at the health club was ridiculously crowded, but just as I entered the lot, I noticed a car with backup lights and positioned myself to wait for the prime space. Being courteous, I didn’t hover as that would block other traffic from flowing, but I clearly was waiting for that one spot. Just as the car backed up and exited, a woman in another vehicle sped around the corner and pulled into it. Had I recently watched Fried Green Tomatoes, I might have yelled “Towanda!” and pulled in after her, come what may. I hadn’t and didn’t.

So you get a better idea...

So you get a better idea…

But I did drive away in a huff. Then I entered the club — after a long walk from the farthest parking lot — and made my way to the locker room. Like spaces in the parking lot, lockers were hard to find. One other woman, who I knew vaguely from an aqua class, was in the locker section, and I commented on how crowded the club was today. Then I happened to mention the incident in the parking lot.

“And I was waiting for this parking space someone was leaving, and this woman just rounded the corner and slipped into the spot. How rude!”

At this moment, the woman turned to face me, and I groaned inwardly. I knew her from somewhere other than the swimming pool and locker room. As in, if I saw her profile driving a car in the morning darkness, scooting into a parking spot I had deemed my own, I might be more sure. But I had a sinking suspicion I had inadvertently, by my rash, random rant, confronted the very person about whom I was ranting. Our conversation continued in a casual manner, and I thought I must be mistaken. Whew.

Upstairs, my workout partners and I were back together after a series of vacations, sicknesses, and injuries had disrupted our routine, and I all but forgot the incident. But when we had finished for the day, I returned to the locker room, showered, and began getting ready for work.

Suddenly, my “rant-ee” approached me, wet from her swim.

“Sara, I thought about what you said the entire time I was swimming, and I think I was the person who stole your parking space. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were waiting for that spot.”

Sigh. I can’t even remember what I said in return. I was too embarrassed. Really? I’m waiting for a parking space to be closer to the doors of the health club? As if a brisk walk carrying two bags and a set of hanging clothes couldn’t be a small addition to my workout?

Instead I had ranted about this rude woman who stole my parking spot TO the very person I was calling rude.

Who’s rude? Me and my big mouth. :(

To make myself feel better, I reiterated my story to two friends (and, now, you). Both declared the other woman in the wrong for stealing the parking space and told me to forget about it. So why did this bother me so much?

It’s not the parking space I didn’t get. I now realize I had no way of making clear my intention for that spot; I was pulling straight forward and so couldn’t use a blinker, and I didn’t choose to block traffic to get in a more obvious position. Unless the woman had been waiting as well, she likely would not have noticed that I had been waiting for any period of time. So, really, my complaint may have been unfounded from the start.

But I think what bothers me is that I got caught. Had I known that this woman was THE one in the car, I would not have confronted her. I am not a confrontational person. I would rather silently forgive — be willing to accept the consequences of another’s behavior — than point to the wrong done, unless, apparently, I am doing it behind that person’s back, where I can rant and rage and get kudos for doing so. I think I consider it a form of entertainment. Shame on me.

In my reflections on the situation, I was reminded of this verse in Ephesians:

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29, NIV).

Reading it makes me want to learn something from this experience: to use my words to encourage others — and to drive for parking spaces more aggressively. :)

The view from inside…

2014-10-08 14.30.19edited

The note I placed on the kitchen table with a container filled with caramel brownies, my claim to fame. My attempt at bribery failed, but it did soften some hearts (mostly those with a sweet tooth) toward me. Someone adhered the happy raccoon to my note, and, I must say, this pleased me, too.

It felt as if I were in Mrs. Repulski’s Advanced Humanities class again.

“I’d better explain this better,” my English teacher abruptly would interrupt her own lecture, adding: “Sara looks confused.”

It’s rather embarrassing at times, but my face is nothing but honest.  If I were confused, it showed. Mrs. Repulski would then take the time to explain the material again, perhaps a different way, reading my face to measure the entire class’s level of understanding. That was high school.

But at this particular moment, I was in a step aerobics class, far in place and time from Mrs. Repulski, who never quite got over the fact that I didn’t wear cute socks like my sister before me had. (Sperry Topsiders, worn sockless, were all the rage when I was in high school.) The aerobics teacher was excitedly announcing to the class that some acoustic panels were due to arrive and she hoped they would be installed by our class time on Sunday.

Recently, my health club had had a makeover, and in its efforts to make the group exercise room aesthetically pleasing, it failed to make it acoustically so. It had gotten rid of the false ceiling and added wood veneers to the tall ceiling. In order to follow the routines, I had taken to watching and memorizing step combinations rather than attempting to decipher my teacher’s calls. Music and voice coming from the speakers echoed and distorted as they bounced from solid walls to solid ceilings and floors.

Therefore, my teacher’s announcement took a few seconds for that news to bounce around the room before it made its way to my brain, and confusion must have shown on my face, because the teacher pointed to me and said, “Exactly!”

I was the poster child for why acoustical panels were so necessary. Yay, me.

But for some reason, her gesture — as had Mrs. Repulski’s — made me feel accepted rather than embarrassed.

It made me think of  Twila Paris’s “Come On In” lyrics that I had enjoyed during my college years. The song began:

Little children like to form a circle
Tightly holding hands with all their friends
An imaginary line around them,
Keeping out the ones who are not in
But standing on the edge is not the same
And those who watch can never win the game

Are you on the outside
Come on in

I felt I was in the circle of the class. Included. Part. Accepted. It was nice.

These past nearly five months, I have experienced being a newbie at work. For the most part, people in my office have been accepting and nice — but it has taken time. A few days after my employment began, I attended the monthly office meeting — and was told I had to sing a solo by way of initiation. It could be anything, it didn’t have to be good, it didn’t even have to be an entire song — but my mind went blank and my face went red and my supervisor mouthed “I’m so sorry that I didn’t warn you.” The associate director explained the requirement while smiling strangers looked at me expectantly. I blanked — and then heard her say the magic words, “Or you could choose to wait a month and sing at the next meeting.”

“I’ll wait,” I said.

“Wow. No one’s ever chosen that before,” she responded, sounding somewhat judgmental – at least to my fragile, newbie self. I immediately regretted my choice. Now instead of suffering for a minute, I would suffer for a month. For weeks — literally, four weeks — I fretted and fussed and burst into tears anytime I tried to sing in the car to practice. I discussed it at home, with friends, and baked my specialty — caramel brownies with nuts — to try to bribe my way out of it. To no avail. Sing I would.

The morning of the next meeting, my friends at the health club lamented with me — and one offered to let me practice singing a solo in front of them. How nice. I didn’t, but I felt supported as I made my way to work. The moment in the meeting came quickly, and I sang “Mairzy Doats,” a silly song I’d sung with my dad and hadn’t managed without tears in practice — and I made it through. My colleagues applauded and cheered. (I even got called “Little Songbird.”) I was starting to become a part of this office circle.

One of my first tasks once I was mostly trained (although I am still only mostly trained, I think) was to arrange meetings with each of the technology licensing teams to discuss the status of the marketing campaigns. I had to commandeer all parties’ Outlook calendars and schedule a meeting when the entire group had an empty spot in common. Not an easy task. Then I claimed that empty spot. It felt awkward. As the different meetings broached, I felt suspicious eyes on me — as if I were out to get each team rather than merely doing my job.

As it turns out, the meetings were positive encounters and another step into the office circle. As were my daily lunches in the tiny kitchen we share. The days have turned to weeks and months, and I have gotten to know each of my colleagues better and feel quite at home here. Now I see my colleagues differently. I realize, it is likely that they haven’t changed — just my perception of them, and, perhaps, their perception of me. I think it was just getting to know one another that has made the difference.

But I think I have changed. Knowing how important it is to me to feel a part of the circle has made me bolder – to move beyond my shy tendencies and to reach out to others. This past week, I returned to my advanced step aerobics class. It is always challenging, despite the addition of the acoustic panels that have helped reduce my confusion. I had missed the previous week in my travels and was apprehensive about returning, but as soon as I sat down outside the classroom, waiting for the previous class to end, I found myself chatting happily with a member of my class, even though we had never spoken before.

“Did we learn any new moves last week?” I had asked, initiating the conversation. “I was out of town last week.”

I have changed.

———————

Twila Paris’s song continues, encouraging those who aren’t in the circle of God’s family to “come on in.” I used to look at the song as an encouragement to Christians to reach out to others and include them in the circle, but now as I look at her lyrics, I see that the person outside the circle has to “cross over” a line and “really want to come inside” and then “choose to find it.”

There’s a family that has formed a circle
Though its tightly arms are open wide
But there is a line you must cross over
If you really want to come inside

But standing on the edge is not the same
And those who watch can never share the name

Are you on the outside (Come on in ) ( 3x )
Come on in ( 3x )

The line becomes a wall
When you are standing behind it
But grace can make the door
If you choose to find it

Are you on the outside (Come on in ) ( 3x )
Come on in ( 3x )

 

A queen for five days…

We arrived in Seattle for a wedding, knowing that we were to share a two-bedroom apartment with my sister-in-law and her husband, knowing that we were to share a queen-sized bed rather than the king we used at home. I was not thrilled at this arrangement.  So my dear husband promised me he would sleep on the floor if the smaller bed was a problem, and I envisioned adding a roll-away to our room, which was available according to the rental’s website. I wanted both of us to sleep in comfort.

2014-11-03 06.26.31But when we arrived at our apartment and saw our bedroom, all visions of roll-aways or sleeping on the floor, any vision of sleeping in comfort disappeared. The queen-sized bed so filled the room that neither option was an option. We were going to be in a queen for five days. Together. Ugh.

The night we arrived in Seattle, we had gained three hours in our day, and so our bedtime of midnight Pacific Time was 3 a.m. back home. We were overtired. Like a toddler, I practically have to be driven around the block in a car seat to lull me into sleep when I have missed my usual bedtime. We had no car — plus no one was offering to carry me up to bed if I did fall asleep. With my early-to-bed, early-to-rise habits, our bedtime that night was six hours too late. Overtired plus overcrowded in this bed gave me no illusion of sleep, though I knew I needed it. My husband found the middle of the bed and settled in, and I tried hanging onto the right-hand side of the bed for my night’s sleep. We both dozed but didn’t sleep well.

The queen-sized bed filled the bedroom. The bed frame included a leather chest attached to the foot of the bed, probably an attempt to take the place of a dresser, which could not fit in the room. It allowed a good six inches for walking around the bed -- even more fun for those middle of the night bathroom runs.

The queen-sized bed filled the bedroom. The bed frame included a leather chest attached to the foot of the bed, probably an attempt to take the place of a dresser, which could not fit in the room. It allowed a good six inches for walking around the bed — even more fun for those middle of the night bathroom runs.

What complicated our situation was that the apartment didn’t seem to have air conditioning, only heat, and the only bedroom window with the ability to open seemed to be a fire escape — from the 14th floor to ? I had no idea, but I didn’t open the window. The comforter, unfortunately, was attractive but didn’t breathe, and when one doze took me deeper than the others, I jerked awake in a puddle of sweat. Steve never had even that luxury that night.

The bed simply filled the room. On my side, the far side of the room, was a night table, but on my husband’s side was a wall, then a closet, then the bedroom door.  The bed frame included a leather-lidded chest that served as the dresser and extended, literally, to within six inches of the other wall. I could walk to my side of the room sideways, or I could walk one leg while dragging the other knee along the top of the leather lid to get there. Doing this in the dark made life interesting.

I hope I don’t sound unappreciative. The apartment was a corner unit, hence the odd dimensions, and offered an amazing view of Seattle downtown — including the Space Needle, which I only saw from that distance, unfortunately. It also had an amazing view of a construction site, complete with “Honey Buckets” and death-defying construction workers who performed balancing acts on slender beams of steel while building in the rain. From our bedroom, we had a view of McDonald’s, which played a huge part of our time in Seattle and prevented me from ever desiring or experiencing true Seattle coffee. (To make up for that mistake, I purchased Seattle’s Best K-Cups for my Keurig upon my return.) But at bedtime, I didn’t want a view, I wanted sleep, and it didn’t come easily.

In the midst of my selfish lack of appreciation for this queen-sized bed, I walked the streets of Seattle, which was littered with hundreds of people attempting to sleep. The first night, when I was greeted with such a sight upon exiting the train tunnel, I was afraid of these crowds. But the next night, when walking back from a family dinner at a restaurant many blocks from our apartment, I saw people I didn’t fear, preparing their sleeping bags along the storefronts as the businesses closed for the night. It would have been a miserable night in a tent, let alone the open air on the sidewalk. It was wet and chilly, not a problem while walking but certainly uncomfortable for someone trying to sleep — certainly more uncomfortable than merely settling for a queen-sized mattress when you would prefer a king.

I’d like to say the image of those sleeping on the sidewalk made me toss and turn that night, but, no, I slept poorly because of my own discomfort, a bed too small, a comforter too hot.  How quickly I forgot the contrast between my discomfort and theirs. But the next morning, when my husband and I sat down in a warm McDonald’s with coffee and hot breakfast in front of us, we saw the homeless, coming in to purchase a small item so they might buy time in the warmth. They came bearing their possessions in bags, looking haggard and chilled. The restaurant had signs declaring its right to refuse service and stating its intolerance to loitering. It locked its bathrooms to force customers to request permission to use the facilities, another effort to bar the doors to would-be, non-paying guests. Still the homeless came, making a small purchase to earn the right to a warm seat.

In comparison, I did live like a queen for those five days — with a mattress beneath and a roof over my sometimes sleeping head, with food in my belly, and family by my side (close at my side, thanks to the small mattress). This trip to this beautiful city was an eye-opener, not just because I didn’t sleep well but because I saw how others had to sleep. Too many people are sleepless in Seattle.

When this patron came into McDonalds with her Nordstrom's bag, I thought she was a shopper -- until I remember that it was but 6:30 a.m. and the stores were not yet opened. She made her purchase and took her seat, only to fall asleep.

When this patron came into McDonald’s with her Nordstrom’s bag, I thought she was a shopper — until I remembered that it was but 6:30 a.m. and the stores were not yet opened. She made her small purchase and took her seat, only to fall asleep. The janitor awakened her once, but she promptly fell asleep again. (This was the day I was held hostage in the restaurant for hours, and she was still in that position when I left.)

 

 

Formerly streetless in Seattle…

Just a week ago, I was in a Seattle apartment icing a painful bruise to my shin bone, barely able to walk, certainly unable to do the sightseeing I’d planned for that one day of sunshine forecast during our visit. I was streetless in Seattle and thoroughly bummed. Yesterday, I was icing my healing shin after walking a 5K. What a difference a week can make!

My friend Robena and I took a selfie prior to embarking on the Dash for Diabetes 5K Saturday morning.

My friend Robena and I took a selfie prior to embarking on the Dash for Diabetes 5K Saturday morning.

But last Saturday, I was lamenting what a difference a day can make — or a mere moment, actually. My husband and I had arrived in Seattle via plane, then Central Link light rail, arriving in a strange place a mere two blocks from our final destination well after 9 o’clock at night. My GPS wouldn’t work while in the light rail tunnel, and so I couldn’t use it to determine our direction until we emerged from the station — where we were greeted with a cloud of marijuana smoke and a crowd of homeless, some sleeping and some greeting us with signs or verbal pleas for cash.

It was not the greeting I wanted or expected, and I can’t say my first impression of Seattle was a particularly good one. With a wheeled suitcase firmly grasped in each hand, a large purse slung over my shoulder, and my phone brightly lit with Google maps, I frantically found our way away from our greeters toward what I hoped was our apartment building for the week. It was not my finest moment, and I’m fairly certain my facial expression would have put off anyone who had intentions to harm us. It certainly affected my husband, who said I needed something for my anxiety issues. (I don’t know, maybe a taxi?) But we eventually made it into my sister-in-law’s rental, where we were staying for the long weekend of wedding festivities.

The following days were a mix of nightmare and dream vacation — getting lost or finding something delightful in this crowded city. (The people in Seattle are so friendly they even conversed with us, perfect strangers, in elevators!) Since we were busy with my sister-in-law’s preparations for the rehearsal dinner, our sightseeing in this city new to us included only brief glimpses of what we might like to see or do or buy — with the intent of spending sunny Saturday actually doing those things. But as we left the rehearsal dinner Friday night, attempting to get into an Uber SUV taxi outside the restaurant, I slipped, fell on my shin bone, and iced my chances of seeing Seattle.

Instead of walking the streets and taking the tours, I was couch-bound, icing my bruised shin and hopes for the day. I thought of the Proverb that says not to boast about tomorrow, because you don’t know what the day will bring (27:1). I thought of the phrase “carpe diem” and wished I had seized the previous day to experience more of Seattle. And I thought of James’ suggestion that we include the phrase “if the Lord wills” before our “we will do such and such” (James 4:13-17). Was this a lesson I needed to learn? Certainly, I regretted not taking time the day before to do some sightseeing, though on reflection, I saw no real opportunity. What plagued me more was my entrance into the taxi, trying to consider how I might have avoided slipping and falling. That moment made the difference.

But as I sat on the couch a week ago, worrying and feeling sorry for myself, I got to see my husband in a different light. He was doing what I could not do — serving me and others, cooking and cleaning.  And because the wedding was that evening and I couldn’t wear my high heels, he offered to shop for a pair of appropriate flats, braving downtown Seattle’s Macy’s shoe department on a Saturday afternoon. While he came back utterly flabbergasted by this shopping experience — and empty handed — I was thoroughly touched by his willingness to go so far out of his comfort zone to minister to me.

In reality, I don’t know if I learned anything about “seizing the day” or that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed — or even how to enter the back seat of an SUV taxi more carefully. But I did learn a lot more about my husband’s love for me (and his abilities in the kitchen!). I also learned to trust God in situations that aren’t going as planned, that sightseeing isn’t as important as just really seeing, that people are more important than places… and that I may just have to plan another trip to Seattle during sunny July.

I was thankful that I had purchased a long dress for the wedding -- as it hid the clogs I ended up wearing.

I was thankful that I had purchased a long dress for the wedding — as it hid the clogs I ended up wearing. (You can see some of the remaining bruising on my left leg. It seems to look more bruised the more it heals.)