Aug 03 2015

When Life Takes You by Surprise

Published by Kathy under General

Sometimes life jumps up and attacks you by surprise when you are cheerfully off doing something else altogether. As an example of this, let me share with you my adventure of last weekend.

On Saturday night when I went up to bed, the day was finished as far as I was concerned. I did a little reading until I was tired, and then then turned out the lights, or rather my eyelids. Normally I like to stay awake for Fluffy to come upstairs so I can butter his hands with hand cream, but it had been a long week.

We had enjoyed the most delightful of company, entertaining a house guest and staying awake until all hours of the night, solving the world’s problems. Also, the first morning he had been in our house, I had fallen down from my walker — a big, huge fall — for the first time in more than two years.

The only thing that kept us from having to call Fire and Rescue to get me up was that I had fallen near enough to the stairs that I just scooted over to the staircase, sat at the top of the stairs with my feet several steps below, held on to the stair rail, and hoisted myself up.

By then I found myself headed downstairs hours before I wanted to go downstairs, but that wasn’t the stair case’s fault. I shouldn’t have fallen down in the first place.

Anyway, even now I still have bruises that are bigger than an Idaho potato, but that’s the way we do things on Planet Kathy. Go big or go downstairs.

I was so shaken and there were so many torn muscles from the tumbling event that instead of my walking around on the walker as I usually do, Fluffy was rolling me around on the wheelchair more than he was accustomed.

He rolled me to a wedding at the Washington Temple, and then to the wedding reception that night. But he also rolled me up and down to the car every time we left the house, which he almost never does. My injuries gave him a real workout.

I was still recovering on Saturday night, so I went upstairs to bed just a little early, turned out my eyelids, and was soundly asleep when I was rudely awakened about 2 AM by the act of nearly freezing to death. I thought Fluffy had put me in an industrial freezer while I was asleep, and I was not amused.

I impatiently awoke the innocent little fellow and demanded to know why he had turned on the industrial fan we do not own. His protestations fell upon deaf ears. He got up and started piling blankets on me. The blankets did not work and I was still shivering and shaking like a dry leaf in a tornado.

I lay abed shivering my little buns off. It soon became apparent the chills were not going away and I was not going to be able to fall back asleep. Furthermore, the chills were shaking every bit of liquid around in my tiny bladder, and I figured as long as I wasn’t sleeping anyway, I might as well hop down to the end of the bed where the porta-potty is located.

(You who have working feet may not be aware that we who do not have working feet cannot just hippy-hop to the bathroom at every whim. So we have a porta-potty at the end of the bed, so that I can just hop down to the end of the bed and hop back without ever having to put on shoes, and without expending so much energy that I would be awake for the rest of the night.

(Fortunately, my three months in the hospital in 2012-2013 taught me to be able to sleep through the night on many if not most nights, but when I do have to use the potty somebody has to empty it. This is yet another reason why Fluffy is my Perpetual Employee of the Month. Boy, does that little booger earn his paycheck!)

Anyway, I opened my eyelids, sat up in bed, and began the hop. It is only about three hops to the end of the bed, and to my credit I was able to achieve the first one. Then — how can I say this? — I got stuck. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t work up the energy to hop again.

Fluffy was starting to get a wee bit annoyed by all this kerfuffle, but he was getting even more concerned about my behavior. Back in December of 2012, a mighty case of the chills is what started me off on my whole grand three-month hospital adventure. You know — the one that put me in the wheelchair and turned our lives upside-down.

After being on the bed for about 20 minutes with no progress, Fluffy started asking me some questions. I guess my answers were either nonexistent or nonsensical, to the point that Fluffy realized that calling 911 was the best option at this point.

To be honest, I have no idea what transpired, because by this time my mind was quickly losing its foothold on Planet Earth. I only know about the phone call — or about anything else that happened here — because Fluffy told me about it later.

The paramedics got there first. The first team was a crew of four, led by Mr. Buff Paramedic, who was as rude as he was manly. He wanted me to stand up from my seated position on the bed and get into a fireman’s chair, where I could be strapped down and carried down our staircase by the herd of paramedics who, together, could safely carry my weight.

There were only two problems here:

Having no idea there were paramedics in the room, I could not hear a word that Mr. Buff Paramedic had to say.

Even if I had been able to hear or understand him, I did not have the ability to stand up and walk from the bed to the fireman’s chair. In order to do a thing like that, one must have working feet.

Not having heard the conversation, I cannot testify what was said. But Fluffy says it went roughly like this:

“Get on the chair, Mrs. Kidd.”

“She can’t get on the chair. Her legs are paralyzed.”

“We can’t move you until you’re on the chair, Mrs. Kidd.”

“She can’t get on the chair. She’s almost unconscious.”

“Just get on the chair, Mrs. Kidd. We can’t do anything until you just. Get…On…The…Chair.”

“If she had that much strength we would be driving to the hospital and would not have called you.”

To his credit, Fluffy didn’t ever once say anything like this:

“People, it’s pretty apparent she’s both paralyzed and suffering from squash rot at this point. Leave her alone.”

Of course, maybe he did say it and just didn’t report it. I wouldn’t admit to saying it if I’d said it.

When it became apparent that despite all his testosterone I was not going to be intimidated, Mr. Buff Paramedic called in a fire truck. Eventually a second fire truck was summoned, giving us a grand total of one meat wagon and the two fire trucks. I am sure this was great fodder for neighborhood gossip.

I can only assume here that Mr. Buff Paramedic needed the personnel from these trucks rather than the trucks themselves. But because it only took four people to carry me downstairs once they got me in the chair, there can only be two reasons that second fire truck of men was needed:

  1. To intimidate me.
  2. To give moral support to Mr. Buff Paramedic.

I must confess, I was not intimidated by the men on the second fire truck, considering I did not know the guys from the meat wagon were there, and I did not know the men of the first fire truck were there. For all I know, there could have been a herd of kangaroos in our bedroom on Saturday night. That’s as plausible to me as knowing I missed the Calendar Boys of Loudoun County.

Perhaps, however, having two fire trucks of manly men to back him up gave Mr. Buff Paramedic all the moral support he needed. Because eventually the three Fire and Rescue teams were somehow able to get one dazed and paralyzed old lady onto the fireman’s chair.

Even after I was safely strapped in, Mr. Buff Paramedic was still not satisfied. Now, however, the conversation went like this:

“Tuck in your foot, Mrs. Kidd.”

“She can’t tuck in her foot. Her foot is paralyzed.”

“We can’t take you down the stairs until your foot is tucked in, Mrs. Kidd. Tuck in your foot.

“She can’t tuck in her foot. Her foot is paralyzed.”

“Mrs. Kidd. We cannot carry you until you tuck in your foot.”

“She can’t tuck in her foot. Her foot is paralyzed. She cannot move it.”

I don’t know how long this went on, but eventually I was carried downstairs, I was put into the meat wagon, IVs were clumsily inserted into one hand and somewhat less clumsily into the other arm, and I was driven to the hospital. When I awoke it was hours later from when I had last remembered anything. Fluffy was sitting there, looking as cute as ever, and after all that time I had still not gone to the bathroom.

Fluffy gave me the Reader’s Digest condensed version of what had gone on throughout the night. Once again I thought that I have got to give that little fellow a raise. But then I had a more pressing need. A bedpan was brought to me, and a nurse relieved me of my underwear.

When I protested about my underwear being gone, she said, “Lady, the first thing we do in this place is we take your underwear off. This is what we do.”

Sure enough, there was a full moon in room 225 of the Loudoun County Hospital for the next four days. And if you ever have cause to visit anyone in the Loudoun County Hospital, you can hide a little smile behind you because you will know a little secret about them. They may look fresh and pretty from the waist up, but that is where the prettiness ends.

Come to think of it, I’ve been in three hospitals in the Washington D.C. metro area — this one in Virginia, one in Maryland, and one in D.C. itself — and all three of them kept their patients trapped with a flimsy gown and no underwear. Maybe this is how they keep us from escaping.

The whole time I was incarcerated and pants-less, I had occasional thoughts about going to bed apparently healthy on Saturday night and waking up pretty close to being dead. Life can change forever on the drop of a dime.

If that weren’t already in my mind, another incident as I was checking out on Wednesday evening confirmed the thought. Fluffy had put me into the car and we just getting ready to start the engine when the first counselor in our stake presidency, Peter Scholz, rushed past us towards the hospital entrance. Being a proper woman of good breeding, I wolf-whistled at him to get his attention. Because he is a good Mormon man, it took two whistles for him to turn around.

He came over to tell me he had a bone to pick with me, which he did. Fluffy was supposed to speak in church on Sunday, but we had to skip church because of the whole hospital thing, and President Scholz was drafted to take Fluffy’s place.

I bet he did a great job, and in fact I would have loved to hear his talk. But if I’d been there, Fluffy would have been the one to speak. In fact, Fluffy said he would have much rather been giving a talk in church than sitting with me at the hospital on a Sunday morning.

Anyway, the reason President Scholz was rushing into the hospital was that one of the members of the stake had gone in for what was supposed to be routine surgery the day before. The man had come through the surgery fine and had even watched some television afterwards, but then he had flatlined, and doctors now believed that he was not going to wake up.

Of course, doctors do not know anything about priesthood blessings.  I’m a living testament to that.

We asked who this person was, and we were stunned. This is a guy who has been in the peak of health, and who is twenty years younger than we are. His wife’s Facebook page is full of their recent vacation pictures. And now the stake presidency was rushing to his side to give him a priesthood blessing in the hopes of keeping him alive.

Talk about having your life completely change overnight.

If you are the kind of person who prays, be grateful for every day you live. It could be your last, even if you think you are in the peak of health. And if you have anything you need to make right with another person, or with God, don’t put it off. You may not have as much time as you think. We both learned that 2.5 years ago, and it was reinforced again just last weekend.

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Jul 30 2015

The Greatest Show on Earth

Published by Kathy under General

A brand new multiplex cinema opened in our neighborhood recently. It has those new fancy seats where you can lie down and even rock back and forth if you are so inclined. Fluffy and I have been excited to go. The only problem is that they expect you to actually buy a ticket and watch a movie if you sit in the seats. And finding a movie that we both like and is playing at that cinema has been a real challenge.

We even got a couple of free movie tickets for Valentine’s Day, so we could see a movie for free if we could just find one.

To say that Fluffy and I do not go to the movies is somewhat of an understatement. We went to see The Saratov Approach back in 2013. Unless you are a Mormon, you probably did not see it. It was based on a true story involving the kidnapping of two Mormon missionaries in Russia, and their miraculous escape. It was a real thriller. Too bad it did not get a national release. If you can rent or stream it online, it is a pretty entertaining movie.

Before that, the last movie I saw was Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. That was back in 2004. It was rated “R,” so you might say I sneaked out to see it with a friend in Long Beach, California. It was a terrific film.

In fact, both of these movies were so good that I later purchased them on DVD. But that’s neither here nor there. The point is, Fluffy and I are not moviegoers. We just do not go. We see movies on cruise ships, in our cabins, and occasionally on TV if we see something we like. But if we don’t catch them there, we do not see them at all.

We pretty much stopped seeing movies the day we decided to stop viewing R-rated movies. After that, every movie we saw advertised that we wanted to see had an R-rating. We would watch the advertisement on television, and one of us would say, “That looks promising.” Then at the ad we would see the little “R,” and we’d both shake our heads in disgust.

More and more, almost every movie seems to get the dreaded “R” rating. The sequel of National Lampoon’s Vacation is out this summer, and even it has an R-rating. Wasn’t the original supposed to be a family movie? Wouldn’t they make more money for a family movie if you could actually take the entire family to see it? Or do the theaters just not enforce the age restrictions anymore?

I suspect that the sequel is indeed a family movie, but that families these days are supposed to bond over R-rated jokes. If that’s the case, it makes me sad.

I don’t want seven-year-old girls to know what condoms are, much less to be expected to laugh about condom humor. (Not to say there is condom humor in the movie, mind you. I have not and will not be seeing the movie, given that it has an “R”-rating. I have no idea what “R”-rated humor is in it.)

Of course, all this sleaze does not contain itself to the movie industry. It never does. I recently purchased a set of DVDs for Fluffy. It contained the first season of the TV series “Dexter,” which appeared on Showtime.

“Dexter” had a delightful premise, if you consider murder and mayhem to be delightful. The protagonist was a psychopath, Dexter, whose policeman father realized when he was young that he was going to grow up to be a serial killer.

Dad told Dexter that since he was going to be killing people anyway, he should only kill people who deserved to be killed. So Dexter grew up to be a forensic scientist working with the police. He helped put the bad guys away, and on the rare occasions that it became apparent that the worst of the bad guys were going to be set free, he got rid of them. Fiendishly.

It was a wonderful premise for a show, full of moral ambiguities. I couldn’t wait for Fluffy to watch the first episode. And then when we started, we couldn’t wait for it to be over.

You see, I had forgotten the first rule of Showtime (and other premium TV stations): Use as much gratuitous profanity as possible. Because…You…Can. Dexter himself did not use profanity. But all the characters around him dropped the “F-“word like I drop potato chip crumbs. Even worse (at least for me) the characters used God’s name in vain at every possible opportunity. It made the show unwatchable.

Oddly, the “F”-word doesn’t bother me. But using God’s name in vain is like acid on my skin. It’s a pity. “Dexter” had so much potential.

Oh, the joys of living in this new and shiny millennium. My generation was raised by parents who taught us that bad language was a sign of a limited vocabulary. And I can’t help but still feel that way when someone seems to think that swearing like a sailor is the sign of a truly enlightened person.

Seeing the posts that some people make on social media are just appalling. They seem to have no filter, and there is no topic that is off-limits for their profanity-laden screeds. This reminds me of a great quote given in a talk at BYU back in 2004:

The importance of having a sense of the sacred is simply this—if one does not appreciate holy things, he will lose them. Absent a feeling of reverence, he will grow increasingly casual in attitude and lax in conduct. He will drift from the moorings that his covenants with God could provide. His feeling of accountability to God will diminish and then be forgotten. Thereafter, he will care only about his own comfort and satisfying his uncontrolled appetites. Finally, he will come to despise sacred things, even God, and then he will despise himself.

I wish this new multiplex would reserve one of the theaters just for the old people to take naps. Nothing would be on the screens. We might purchase refreshments just to be sociable, and to make the movie theater executives happy to have our business, but most of us would just bring our blankets and have a snooze in the rocking chair seats, away from our ringing telephones and the doorbells and the other intrusions.

I would gladly pay the cost of a ticket for that kind of entertainment.

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Jul 13 2015

The Attack of the Disembodied Cat Heads

Published by Kathy under General

I ordered a little carrying case the other day from Amazon. It came in an assortment of six styles, but there was a catch. I could not choose which of the assortment I was going to receive.

Because the item was so inexpensive, they could not bother with allowing me to specify which style I would prefer. So in exchange for a great price, I would concede the ability to choose my style and throw that open to chance (or to the whims of the person packing my order).

The designs were all pictures of cats. I am not particularly a cat fan. I am not particularly a non-cat fan either, mind you. Under some circumstances, Fluffy and I might even own a cat.

But we entertain far too many people to bring a cat into our house whose dander might keep allergic people away. That and — well, Fluffy has enough work to do cleaning up after two people without adding a furry poop machine to the mix.

But all this is neither here nor there. I like cats fine, but I do not like cats enough that cats would be my first, second, or even five hundredth choice of design selection for a carrying case. But I needed a carrying case for the bedroom, and the price was right if I ordered one with cats on it and was willing to take a chance on which cat picture would be sent to me randomly.

I inspected the designs. The designer is one of my favorites — or “was,” seeing as how she is as dead as a mackerel. And I absolutely loved five of the six cat designs (or loved them as much as I would love any designs that featured cats, anyway). The sixth cat design featured three disembodied cat heads and was ug-ug-ugly.

The odds were five out of six that I was going to get a design that I liked. I liked those odds, so I quick-like-a-bunny clicked the buy-it-now option and bought a carrying case.

Then the little voice o’ doom said to me, “You know you are going to get that sixth case.” And my practical voice answered with a little sigh, “Yes. I know I am.”

Normally, I do not wait with bated breath for packages from Amazon, but this was one time I have to admit I was more than a little anxious. I really wanted to know which case I was going to get. No. Scratch that. I was certain which case I was going to get. I was just waiting for the confirmation.

The case was waiting for us in the mailbox on the morning when Fluffy and I were driving off to the temple. As soon as he came back from the mailbox, he handed me the oversized envelope and I ripped it open. Sure enough, the three disembodied cats of the design I hated stared up at me. I laughed long and loud.

The disembodied cat monstrosities behind door #6.

Perhaps this should be an extension of Murphy’s law — “anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” I would call it the Murphy-Kathy law of style selection — “When you order an item with multiple styles and have no influence on the choice, you will receive the one in the style that you find the most repulsive.”

You know, I’m going to hate that cat carrying case every time I look at it. Boy, is it ugly! But every time I look at it, it’s going to remind me of just how blessed I am.

If the biggest problem I have is that I get the ugliest cat in a random cat selection of cat carrying cases, I’m one lucky human being. In fact, you could say I’m rolling in catnip.

I had a similar experience recently with an orthopedic surgeon. I just couldn’t stand the pain in my knees anymore, so when a friend told me he had a pretty good joint doctor, off I went.

This doctor (or rather an assistant) took a series of x-rays, and they told me something I didn’t think was possible. I have zero cartilage in my knees. There isn’t a speck of it anywhere.

I would have thought there was some of it left in places that were a little less used. Indeed, I thought I saw some on the x-ray and pointed it out, but the x-ray technician told me I was mistaken. No, there was zip. Zero. Nada. Anywhere. If I still had any cartilage in my knees, it had chosen that week to be attending a cartilage convention in central Cleveland.

To my surprise, all was not lost. There was a series of hyaluronic acid injections I could take in my knees every six months to alleviate the pain. The shots wouldn’t even hurt, and they would be using a chemical that occurs naturally in the body anyway.

“Bring ‘em on,” I said.

I walked out of the doctor’s office (or rather rolled, seeing as how I was in a wheelchair) a new person.

It was as though I had brand new knees. I could not believe the miracle. Every time I flexed or extended my knees I thanked God for the change in my life. And this series of shots was supposed to last for up to eight months.

I couldn’t believe how blessed how I was.

I took the shots at the end of April. The effects had worn off by the Fourth of July. I can’t take them again until the end of October.

Oh well. At least, for two months out of the year, I am going to be pain-free. What a joy that is! I will be rolling in the clover. Halloween will be a happy time for me. Maybe I will even dress up in a disembodied cat head costume.

Until then, I have the cat carrying case to remind me that there is always something in life to make me smile. Things like that used to annoy me. But as I have grown older (and hopefully wiser), I find that God has a pretty delightful sense of humor, and it’s just easier to laugh right along with Him.

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Jul 06 2015

Riding in the Slow Lane

Published by Kathy under General

As my Perpetual Employee of the Month, Fluffy is responsible for entertaining me, as well as for feeding me and clothing me and doing everything else you would expect from the conscientious employee he is. So when we were in Williamsburg, Virginia, in May, I was not a bit surprised when he packed me up one sunny morning and announced we were heading out for a day trip to the historic village of Yorktown.

We had been to Williamburg and Jamestown, but had never been to Yorktown (the three cities are known as the Historic Triangle because of all the important historical stuff that happened there). You can hardly blame us. We have only lived in Virginia since 1987. We just hadn’t gotten around to it yet.

But Fluffy had done enough research to see pictures of it, and to know that it was a scenic drive. That was good enough for him.

He packed my wheelchair in the backseat and I threw my trusty purple camera around my neck, and off we went. Sure enough, the scenic drive was — well, scenic. We started finding pictures to take around every corner. Sometimes we didn’t even have to turn a corner to find a picture — that’s how photogenic it all was.

When you see a sign that says you’re on a parkway that’s maintained by the Department of the Interior, you know you’re in for some scenic stuff. We were ready for bison, even if only viewed on Department of Interior signage.

Everywhere we drove, the trees provided shade that was cool and inviting.

The road was so peaceful that we wanted to enjoy the view. Part of it had such heavy undergrowth that it looked like the forest primeval, but we couldn’t stop to take pictures of it because there were people behind us that wanted to get past us now. We were driving the speed limit, but that was not fast enough. If we had been driving twice as fast as we were driving, it would not have been fast enough.

We saw many split-rail fences like this one lining the roads. If George Washington ever built a fence, this is the kind of fence he would have built.

Eventually we got to the village of Yorktown. To my surprise, Fluffy didn’t even go to the visitors’ center. As it turned out, this was a good move on his part, because tickets cost $16.75 per person, and there’s no way we could have afforded it. Not this year! Maybe we’ll go back next year, when I’m out of debt and we are solvent.

This is the sort of thing I expected to see on our trip. No, sirree. After stopping to take this lone picture, Fluffy drove right to the waterfront. He knew what he wanted to see.

The waterfront, Fluffy’s destination, was scenic, and it was free.

When we got to the waterfront, Fluffy got me situated in a breezy spot in my wheelchair. Once he made sure I was comfortable and happy, he went off to take pictures and left me to take pictures of my own. We each had a fabulous hour doing what we loved.

If we’d shelled out the money to go to the visitors’ center, we probably would have known the significance of these two ships. All I can tell is that by the rigging they appear to be pretty old.

Here’s George Washington with his hand out. Apparently he wants what the other guy has behind his back. It sure would have helped if I had read the plaque to see who the other guy was and what was going on. Before you think that Mr. Washington had terminal acne, the other guy’s face was just as bad. Apparently this was some artistic technique on the part of the sculptor.

There were all sorts of fascinating shops and restaurants in the vicinity. Sigh. Maybe next year.

There was a brightly-colored trolley that went from the waterfront to the historic area. You could just hop on and hop off as you wished. I did not try hopping on. Hopping is just a wee bit problematical in a wheelchair.

After we left the waterfront, we went through the town and then got on the parkway again. We could have taken the highway back home. In fact, we crossed right under it. But why take the highway when we could take the scenic byway instead? Photographs awaited us, and my trusty purple camera was in my hands.

Fortunately, we did not have to pay $16.75 per person to take a picture of the Yorktown village sign.

We also did not have to pay $16.75 per person to take a picture of the imposing Yorktown courthouse, so that’s what Fluffy did.

Once we were back on the parkway, we were ready for moose or bear or anything. Unfortunately, all the paid moose and bear are assigned to Yellowstone and other national parks that are cooler. They would swelter to death in Virginia. We have to be content with mangy deer, and we didn’t even see any of those.

When you’re on a parkway sponsored by the Department of the Interior, you don’t just get one scenic overhead bridge — you get two at a time.

What I want to know is this: Do all husbands do the motormouth when they are walking? I suspect they do. In fact, I suspect that if the sculptor that did the statue of George Washington and his nameless antagonist at the Yorktown harbor would have been realistic, he wouldn’t have given them acne. He would have had them both doing the motormouth at each other

We had a glorious time driving along. The only problem was, even though we always went the speed limit, we kept collecting a parade of cars behind us that wanted to go twice as fast as we were going, and who were more than a little unhappy that we were poking along so slowly.

I cannot blame these people. They were probably natives of the area who were just trying to get somewhere. They had probably seen the magnificent scenery hundreds of times, and paid little attention to it. They just wanted to get where they were going. That being the case, I cannot understand why they did not just take the highway.

Every time that Fluffy was able to find a pull-out in the road, he pulled off and let the parade of cars behind us pass us, and they zoomed by. I hope they were able to refrain from giving us one-finger waves when they did so. (We didn’t look to see.) No doubt they thought we were stupid old people, and that we should have stayed home slurping our oatmeal.

I know what they were thinking because Fluffy and I used to be among the young people zooming by. We could not understand why the stupid old people only went the speed limit when they could easily have been going faster than that and reaching their destinations hours earlier than they were going to get there.

I can tell you that none of the people who passed us had purple cameras around their necks, and none of them were stopping to take pictures of the double bridges or the split-rail fences. We even turned around to get a shot of a great blue heron that was sitting on a post in the water, but he flew away before we could get the shot. I’m betting the speeders never even saw that magnificent bird.

When we are young, we think the object is to hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry, and hurry some more. It is only when we get older that we realize we are all too quickly going to reach that final destination. It is then that we stop to look around and see the things that God has put here for us to enjoy.

Have we reached our quota of sunsets? Have we enjoyed enough bends in enough rivers? Have we seen enough waterfalls or listened to enough thunderstorms? Have we eaten enough warm chocolate chip cookies? Have we spent enough time with the people we love the most?

These are questions that do not bother us when we are young. When we are young, we think there will always be time. When we are older, we realize that clocks run down and that time is running short. It is only then that we want to see everything we can. We do not want to miss the beautiful things that God and nature — and even the hand of man — have provided us.

So when Fluffy packs me in the car for an adventure, we savor every minute of it, and to heck with the people who are lined up behind us on the road. If you happen to find yourself behind two geezers in a gold Mercury Sable, and there is not a pull-out so we can let you pass, I’m afraid you’ll just have to slow down and enjoy the ride.

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Jun 29 2015

Six Days in Bedrock

Published by Kathy under General

Armageddon came to our house last week. Just before bed on Sunday night, Fluffy went to check his email one last time and noticed we had no internet connection. After trying his usual tricks without success, he came to bed hoping that it was a temporary problem that would be solved before the next morning. It was not.

We woke up on Monday without internet service, but also without our telephones or TV channels. All of these services arrive magically through a fiber optic cable, but somehow the magic had been taken away.

For some people, surviving without telephones or television, or an internet connection, is no big deal. For Kathy, queen of the universe, it is the equivalent of going without air. There are cokeheads who are less addicted to crack cocaine than I am addicted to Google.

Losing the telephone was no big deal, because I don’t like to use it anyway. I rarely make telephone calls, and we have our landline mostly for the convenience of the 10,000 telephone solicitors who call us.

Fluffy has a TracFone, which I understand is the bottom feeder of cell phones, and is made for people like Fluffy who want cell phones only for the direst of emergencies. I do not even know how to use it. He has a cheapo plan that costs less than $7 per month, and we get a limited number of minutes. That is all we need.

Fortunately, Fluffy knows how to use it. As my Perpetual Employee of the Month, he knew that I might get in just a wee bit of a snit if I had to be without my internet connection all day, so he called our unnamed service company (it rhymes with “horizon”) for help.

He was on the telephone for forty minutes, using our precious cell phone minutes, listening to the most annoying hold music on the planet, and talking to techno-dweebs on two continents. Then he returned to me with the cheery news that the soonest anyone would be able to come and fix my business connection, for which we pay in excess of $150 per month, would be Thursday.

I could feel a meltdown coming on.

Have I mentioned that my entire professional life is conducted via the internet, and that not one single person I work with is in Virginia?

Wait. One of them is right in our ward. But the rest of them are in North Carolina and in Utah and in California and, in one instance, in China. I can’t exactly send up smoke signals and expect people to see them if the internet is out. The internet is the only — and I reiterate, only — way we communicate.

But this did not seem to bother our “horizon” internet service provider. You see, they already had our $150+ for this month. Besides, the customer service representatives who “helped” Fluffy were conveniently located off in India and in some unnamed U.S. location. It’s not as though Fluffy could have hauled off and punched them.

Even when he pleaded with them and told them I needed the internet link a normal person needs air, the best they could come up with was Thursday.

So when Fluffy sat down for our morning prayer, you could say I was not in the best frame of mind. It was my turn to pray, and I finally gave up and prayed with my eyes open because Fluffy was rolling his eyes so much.

That is one thing about Fluffy that you probably do not know. He is so adept in the eye-rolling department that he could teach eye-rolling classes to fifth-grade girls. He rolls his eyes with his whole head, so there is a whole lot of movement involved.  In fact, Fluffy says this is not so much of an eye-roll at all, but more of a head-sweep.  Whatever it is, he was doing it in full force as I was trying to pray, and it was more than a little distracting.

So when I was saying the prayer on Monday morning, his eye-rolls were so, shall we say, enthusiastic that I finally gave up and watched the performance. But I hope God was getting a kick out of it, and I thought I’d watch the histrionics too. But eventually we got through the prayer and developed what little game plan we could.

First, we tried to call my employer on Fluffy’s TracFone. It rang and then went to voice mail, and I can see why. We don’t answer our phone unless caller ID tells us who is calling, and undoubtedly my employers have the same policy. So that scheme did not work.

So Fluffy took our 2003-vintage laptop to the library and plugged it in. Using the library’s Wi-Fi, he went through my email and identified the files I was going to need for Tuesday’s work. He downloaded those files on a memory stick and brought the data home to me.

I edited the files, returned them to the memory stick, and sent Fluffy back to the library. He uploaded the edited files and sent them to my employer’s webmasters. My work was finished for the day.

Whoever thinks that Fluffy’s retirement means he sits around all day should watch that little fellow in his dotage. Cobwebs do not grow under his feet, believe me!

This was how I did my work. But I did not even see my email, or answer a single question via Google, or reach out to a relative on Facebook, or exercise my brain with Lumosity. All these things take hours of every day of my life, but not on Monday. It made me realize how much of my life was connected to that darn internet.

My internet withdrawal continued on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. No, my “horizon” was not that wide those days, thanks to our unnamed internet provider that could not be bothered to send out a technician to fix our business connection.

And this is not even taking into consideration the tiny detail that one of my church callings is to write and send out an underground newspaper, The Algonkian Gazette, for our church congregation every Tuesday. Perhaps that is not part of our business plan, but it is certainly important to me.

Tuesday came and went, and I still had no internet. Guess where I wrote the Gazette? In the library — that’s where. And I can tell you this: I am not cultured enough to sit in a library. I could just feel the underpinnings of the walls crumbling. The very walls knew something was out of sync with the universe.

Did our internet provider care? Not a whit.

I saw, but did not have time to read, my email when I was in the library. There was a huge flurry of emails going the rounds among my cousins and sisters (there are eight of us who are part of the group, although since I wasn’t there I guess there were only seven), regarding some correspondence that was found between some of our great-uncles.

The correspondence must have been scandalous, because it concerned who was going to adopt our three orphan mothers when their parents died. Apparently both sides of the family were crazy, and there was a debate over which side of the family was less so. We know the end of the story, of course, but these letters revealed once and for all how the family sausage was made.

Of course, I don’t know any of this first-hand because I didn’t have time to read the emails. I just saw they were there. Fluffy read one of them on Monday when he was at the library, and that’s all I know. He did say cryptically that the correspondence revealed that all three sisters were spoiled brats. You can bet my sisters and cousins are fascinated with that little tidbit.

Fluffy reading scandalous family news at the library.

But by the time I have my internet back the conversation will be old news, along with all the family feelings of camaraderie the conversation engendered.

And how often do my cousins have conversations like this one? Gee — I don’t know. I am sixty-five years old and this is the first one. Too bad I will have missed it. But what does the internet service provider care? They already have my money for the month.

Meanwhile, television shows were being broadcast willy-nilly without any viewing pleasure in the Kidd household. They even were being recorded like crazy. At least, the video recorder thought it was recording those shows. When we played them black, we saw the black screen of death. It was hardly must-see TV.

I am writing this column on Wednesday. We do not yet have our happy ending. I trust good things will happen and that those turkeys from the internet service provider will come as promised tomorrow. (We actually did not get our  internet reconnected until Saturday, by which time I was a quivering blob of nothingness.)

For the most part, however, the week hasn’t been all bad.

For one thing, we have not missed the telephone. Almost every time that telephone rings, the person on the other end has been a telephone solicitor or a robo-call. What happened to the do-not-call list, anyway? Telephone solicitors do not even pretend to follow the rules anymore. It’s gotten to the point that we’re excited to recognize a friend on the other end, because it happens so rarely.

But as I look over the past few days, I think I have been spending too much time on the computer — or at least I have been spending time on the computer unproductively. Fluffy, before we lost our internet connection, was at least doing family history. How have I been spending my time? I think I need to reevaluate the time I do spend.

It’s good to go without the things you think you treasure the most. I’m not talking about people things, although Fluffy and I certainly gained a real appreciation for one another when we were separated by my three months in the hospital.

But if you think you can’t go without food, try fasting. If you think you can’t get along without your telephone, “losing” that phone for a day or three might give you a real appreciation for that phone — or it might give you an appreciation for silence.

Television? Well, that’s certainly something that can be a blessing or a curse. I have a friend at the temple who tells me every week about all the treasures she has found on educational TV. I am surprised her brain isn’t so big she has to wheel it around in a wheelbarrow.

My brain, on the other hand, is probably the size of a gumball. I do not even want to tell you what Fluffy and I watch for entertainment.

One of the things that make Mormons optimistic is that we try to see the silver linings in even the blackest of clouds. Although I hope I will not have to relive this week any time soon, it has taught me some things for which I am grateful. I need to appreciate my blessings more, and I need to pay more attention to those things that sometimes get lost in our tech-crazy world.

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Jun 23 2015

Building a Better Mousetrap

Published by Kathy under General

Like many who live on the East Coast, we love to head towards the ocean to escape the heat and enjoy the cool breezes and the sound of the waves coming in to the shore.

Several years ago, as we were driving through the coastal areas of North Carolina, we stopped at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills. This contains an impressive monument to the Wright brothers, and also an interesting museum where you can find out more about them and their accomplishments.

Wright Brothers National Memorial

As we walked through the museum and looked at the displays, I was struck with the amount of time and effort the brothers devoted to their quest to master manned flight. There were dozens of notebooks containing page after page of written notes. There were wind tunnels that were built so that they could better understand air movement and lift. There were more model wings and gliders than you could count.

As you can imagine, Fluffy was in Boy Heaven. He could have stayed in this museum for the rest of his natural life. I am only surprised that there is not a Wright Brothers Memorial Graveyard attached to the area — not for the Wright Brothers themselves, you understand, but for all the boys like Fluffy who would want to be planted for eternity in a place that was so near and dear to their little boy hearts.

I had forgotten about this until recently, until a friend published a review of the new book The Wright Brothers. Although I have not read the book yet, I think the author also uncovered the drive and determination that drove Orville and Wilbur Wright to their success.

One of their motives for moving their operation to North Carolina was so they could better observe the flight of seabirds, and incorporate the operation of avian wings into their own wings.

All of this reminded me again how much work went into this effort. It was nothing that was done on a lazy Friday afternoon when they had nothing better to do. There was a whole lot of planning. There was a whole lot of thought. There was a whole lot of trial and error. There was a whole lot of failure.

Sometimes we get an abbreviated view of history. We think back to our school lessons, and remember the Wright brothers as the guys with the bicycle shop who put together a plane when they got tired of fixing bicycles. As with most things, the truth is always more complex, less exciting and much more work than the Cliffs Notes version would have us believe.

This is a quote from Thomas Edison, who was perhaps the greatest of modern-day inventors:

None of my inventions came by accident. I see a worthwhile need to be met and I make trial after trial until it comes. What it boils down to is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.

It took Edison 14 months and 1400 different experiments to get an incandescent lightbulb to work. When I think of an answer I got to one of my prayers once — “You don’t wait long enough” — all I can say is that I am not in the category of a Thomas Alva Edison.

We need to remember Edison’s example as it applies to our own lives. Getting an inspired idea is just the first step in the process, and it needs to be followed by a lot of hard work.

A writer friend of ours used to give a workshop called “1000 ideas an hour,” where he would start a conversation with the audience about possible ideas for a best-selling novel. Indeed, before the hour was over, we would have come up with many great ideas. But ideas are cheap. It’s the other 99% of the work involved that turns the idea into a success.

Fluffy and I are regular idea factories. Here are just a few of our gems:

Book of Mormon action figures. We only needed five basic male figures, plus a female figure. With changing costumes, they could be adapted to fill the roles of all the characters in the Book of Mormon. We figured they’d be a lot better for kids to play with than the He-Man action figures that kids were playing with in sacrament meeting at the time (now that tells you how old this idea was!).

Botchie beans. My mother’s caretaker when she was young (her mother was deceased) was a little old lady who made the world’s best baked beans. Before the advent of Bush’s baked beans, we tried to figure out a way to market Botchie beans. Botchie beans are still far better than anything Bush’s puts out.

Italian olive salad. Unless you have been to New Orleans and eaten a muffaletta sandwich, you do not know the importance of Italian olive salad. But if you have eaten New Orleans cuisine, you want this stuff in your refrigerator at all times. It is so versatile, you can use it for everything. Heck. You can eat it with a spoon. It’s that decadent.

We have a killer recipe for this stuff. We have been thinking about marketing it for years. And we have never, ever seen it in the marketplace.

Until last week.

Last Tuesday, Fluffy saw muffaletta olive salad in Costco. Mind you, it could not have been as good as ours because it was bottled and not fresh. But one by one, we have seen our Book of Mormon action figures done (not as well as ours), our baked beans done (not as well as Botchie beans), and our Italian olive salad done (not as well as ours).

You sit on these things, and somebody else does them. That’s just the way things happen.

If we had ever been the ones to follow up on our ideas, Fluffy and I would be kings, financially speaking. I believe I have written about my idea for bottled water, back in around 1970, before anyone ever had thought of anything so preposterous.

The Mormon bishop entrepreneur to whom I took this idea told me I was crazy. “Nobody will ever pay for something they can get out of the tap for free,” he said.

Shame on me. I let his words convince me that I was an idiot. If I had had the stick-to-itiveness of Thomas Alva Edison, the little town of Mandeville, Louisiana would be rich and famous, and I would be raking in the cash for my “Artesia” water. I would have an elevator in my house to protect my feet and my knees, and I would be riding in a car that would have been built in this century.

But then, maybe I would not be as humble as I am today, and maybe Mandeville would be overrun with obnoxious and money-grubbing people. I’d hate to see that. I always had fond memories of Mandeville, and the place probably got a lot better after I left, even if only because I was gone.

In the long run, God always knows what he’s doing. Darn it. We may plead and plead for Him to give us stuff, but it just about never happens. God isn’t a gumball machine where you pop in a prayer and He dispenses a shiny new car or a million bucks. He just doesn’t work that way.

But just maybe … maybe if we pop in a prayer and do the work of a Thomas Alva Edison, He’ll give us the rewards that go along with the work and we can create the next generation of light bulb or television or some other gizmo that hasn’t even been thought of yet.

It’s worth thinking about. And maybe thinking some more. And as long as you’re thinking, maybe doing the requisite work, too.

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Jun 08 2015

Unsleep Thoughts

Published by Kathy under General

At my advanced age, there’s nothing I like better than a good night’s sleep. Nothing makes me feel better than a solid eight to nine hours of uninterrupted slumber.

But most nights, one of my pesky organs (usually my bladder) will wake me from my sweet, sweet dreams, for another task that it considers being more urgent — as if there were anything more urgent than my coveted beauty sleep.

When that happens, I try to perform the request task with much speed, scrambling back into bed and back to dreamland as soon as possible. For I have found that the longer I am awake, the more likely it is that my mind will be invaded by those dreaded unsleep thoughts.

It will start with one innocent notion, such as, “You need to remember to pay that bill tomorrow.” If I allow my mind to drift into the unsleep world, this thought will be followed by a second unwanted idea, something like, “It might be a good idea to call Kim tomorrow and see if her sick cat is any better.” Then, perhaps I’ll hear, “You need to send out the invitation for our next Family Home Evening group meeting.”

Hopefully by this time, I am safely under the covers and trying to return to my blessed slumber. If I have not partaken of the cursed unsleep fruit, I can usually do so. But more often than not, an entire avalanche of unsleep ideas is now cascading over my helpless mind.

I often wonder, “Is my brain is getting better, or if am I starting to slide into dementia? Back when ‘Pam’ did her magnets on me she said she cured me of the Alzheimer’s I don’t have yet but was going to get one of these days. What if she didn’t?”

“I need to look at my calendar and see if any birthdays are coming up this week. What in the world can I get Dick? Dick has everything in the world. Maybe I can make him something. What could I make him that any human being would want?”

“It would be fun to have half of a nice fat yam for dinner tomorrow. Do we have any?  If we don’t have yams, maybe Fluffy can run to the store tomorrow.  While he’s at the store, he can get us some artichokes because they are coming into season.  He can get some of that new flavor of ice cream too.  I hope that is a permanent flavor, and not just one that will be around for the summer.”

“I can’t believe that it’s summer already. This year is certainly flying by.  Summer means the usual parade of graduation parties and weddings. I think Kev is getting married this month. I know he asked for my address, but I haven’t seen the invitation yet. I hope it didn’t get lost in the mail. I wonder what we can get him for a present. He’s an artist so I have to be careful that it’s tasteful enough.”

“I can’t believe how weird that doctor was last week. All he had to do was give me a handout about acid reflux or tell me to research it on the internet. He never even said the words. I had to hear them at the temple. I can’t believe he didn’t read the one-page handout about my medical history before he walked into the room. Things like that upset me so much. Why do I go to doctors, anyway?”

You get the idea. It’s like those old cartoons where you see the snowball rolling down the hill, getting bigger and bigger each second. As items get into the path of the unrelenting snowball, you soon see not only snow, but an assortment of hats, skis, gloves, Saint Bernards, arms, legs, and trees. Sleep has fled. I am firmly in the land of unsleep.

At this point the pre-coma Kathy would have quietly sneaked out of bed, turned on the computer, and gotten to work checking off all of those tasks. She might have been distracted by a computer game or two, too. Computer games are always fun, and during the day I don’t have time to play them.

But the new Kathy has no such freedom. Before I get out of bed, eyedrops need to be put in. Arms and legs need to be powdered. Knee-high stockings need to be put on or my legs will be swollen all day. I can’t sit willy-nilly at the computer without those stockings on!

And the shoes have to go on too. Now that I’m paralyzed, those feet have to be shod because I need the traction. If I try to stand up without the shoes, the feet will slide like I’m on ice — even if I’m on carpet. No, I have to get the shoes on as well as the socks. Little Miss Kathy does not go barefoot anymore.

Maybe I could postpone the eye drops and the powder, but the socks and the shoes would have to be put on before I could even get out of bed. And I cannot put those things on by myself.

No, even a four-year-old can put on her own shoes and socks, but Kathy, Queen of the Universe, cannot get out of bed without having her shoes and her socks put on by her husband and full-time Perpetual Employee of the Month, Fluffy. I am as helpless as a two-year-old — except, of course, that when I was a two-year-old I was unlocking the door to our house and going next door and eating breakfast with the neighbors.

Having uncooperative feet is the sort of thing that makes sneaking out of bed in the middle of the night just a little bit iffy. No, it makes any sneaking whatsoever downright impossible. So I am trapped like a rat in the land of unsleep.

I can almost hear the thousands of tiny night spiders spinning their cobwebs, ready for us to admire them in the morning. Those tiny night spiders do not take me unaware, because I am in the land of unsleep.

I cannot grab my Kindle. It is only twenty inches away, and it is taunting me. But Fluffy has his arm firmly around me, and if I reached out to grab my Kindle, I would awaken him. I do not want to do that. My unsleep status is not his fault.

“Should we give Ben and Katt a wedding shower? Would Ben and Katt want a wedding shower? Last time we gave a wedding shower for a couple it was so successful that a stake presidency counselor and a high councilman almost got into fistcuffs during the white elephant exchange over a book about the history of the fart. The only way I talked them down was to buy an extra copy of the book for the high councilman.”

That is how successful our couple’s wedding showers are!”

“Maybe we should do it again.”

“I wonder if Amazon has any more of those books about the history of the fart. What was it called? Blame it on the Dog? That’s it! I’ll order one in the morning. Even if Ben and Katt don’t want a wedding shower, we should always have one on hand, just in case there is a surprise white elephant exchange.”

“I wonder what we’re having for lunch tomorrow. I really do like those yams. I wonder if we have any yams.”

And around and around it goes.

And then, amidst thoughts of yams and night spiders, I remember that God is also here, and I stop to think about what is really important.

Our days are a mishmash of activities and thoughts as we go from one place to another. At night we cease those activities. We still our thoughts. We are left alone.

Sometimes when we awaken in the dead of night, our minds focus back on the mundane. We think of silly things. But if we push away these distractions like cobwebs, we can be left alone with sacred things. We can have precious moments of communion with God, who is the Author of these nighttime moments.

Perhaps it was He, and not my bladder or a cramped muscle, Who awoke me in the first place. Perhaps He wanted to say hello, and this was the only time I could hear Him. It’s sad, isn’t it, that the world He made for us is so noisy that the only time it is quiet enough for Him and me to have a conversation is when everyone else in the world is quietly, soundly asleep.

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Jun 01 2015

Just Like the GPS

Published by Kathy under General

When we were between church meetings on Sunday, Fluffy realized that he hadn’t seen one of the ladies in our congregation for a week or two. She is conspicuous because she parks in the handicapped spot next to us, and she hadn’t been there for quite some time. He wondered where she was.

In the process of wondering about her, he looked up the lady’s address and saw that she lived in a townhouse complex only a few blocks away from the church. Then his meeting started, so he put his tablet on his knee and looked up to watch what was happening.

Suddenly a disembodied computerized voice said, “Proceed 400 feet straight ahead. Then turn right.” The noise boomed out in the quiet chapel. Fluffy slammed the tablet shut and put it in his suit coat pocket, no doubt hoping that the men in his high priests group did not know that his tablet was the source of the sound. Doubtless his innocent look fooled no one.

The tablet was quiet and well-behaved for the rest of the lesson.  It was only after Fluffy got me securely tucked into the car after church and we were beginning to drive away that the tablet helpfully chirped, “Proceed 300 feet straight ahead.  Then turn right on state road 1401.”

I almost jumped through the roof.  I had not realized there was anyone besides Fluffy and me in the car.  It was a real shocker to learn otherwise.  Usually when the cover is closed on the tablet, it behaves itself.  But this woman would not be denied.

As coincidence would have it, the voice instructed us to head in the direction we were going anyway.  So we did as the voice instructed and proceeded 300 feet straight ahead.  Then we turned right.  Once we left the parking lot, the voice continued to instruct us.  “Continue for a quarter of a mile.  Then turn right.”

Once again, the voice’s instructions dovetailed our own route.  We reached the street where the townhouse complex was located where the lady in our ward lived.  Then we turned right.

Our helpful voice then had new instructions for us.  They were instructions that would have taken us to the doorstep of the woman in our ward, but they would not have taken us to our house.  “Turn left at the next intersection,” the voice said.

We reached the next stop sign, and then continued to go straight.  We did not turn left.  We did not pass GO and collect $200.

But our failure to follow the lady’s instructions did not upset the GPS unit in the slightest.  The disembodied voice said, “Go 600 feet straight, and then turn left.”

Actually, we had been planning to do that anyway, so that is what we did.  As soon as we turned left, the disembodied voice said, “Proceed to the next stop sign and then turn left.”  We proceeded to the next stop sign and immediately turned right.

The disembodied voice did not get angry.  She (for she definitely was a “she”) did not exhibit any signs of stress in her voice whatsoever.  It did not scold us.  It did not say “No, you IDIOT, I said LEFT not RIGHT!”  There was no impatience.  She was not rolling her eyes, if she had eyes to roll.  She simply said, “Turn left at the next intersection.”

This was a good thing.  Turning left at the next intersection was exactly what we were planning to do.

If the disembodied voice showed any excitement that we obeyed her this time, she did not betray that excitement.  She simply said, “Proceed straight for 100 feet, and then turn left.”  We did obey the first half of the instructions, but that was where we parted ways.  We turned right, and off we went toward home.

No matter how much farther we got from the home of the woman in our ward, the GPS unit was never deterred.  “Turn left at the next intersection,” were always the instructions that were given.  There was always the same degree of patience.  There was never annoyance.  There was never any sense of judgment.

If we had decided to drive to San Francisco, the GPS system would have continued trying to get us back to that townhouse without ever losing her patience even once.

“Of course,” I hear you saying.  “It’s a stupid GPS system! What do you think it is — your mother-in-law?”

Nevertheless, no matter how far afield we went, the GPS just quietly recalculated what it would take for us to get back “home.”  That was all the GPS cared about — getting us back home.

Finally Fluffy said, “Isn’t this a little bit the way God works?  Although we must regularly disappoint Him, He rarely makes His displeasure known.  He doesn’t sit up there rolling His eyes and getting annoyed.  Whenever we make stupid mistakes and go astray, He just figures out what it will take to get us back onto the right path back to Him.  He’ll put things in our way — lifesavers, so to speak, that we can grab onto, if we want to.

“If we don’t grab onto those lifesavers — if we go in another direction — he recalculates our course and puts other people there who can help us if we choose to take the help.  And if we don’t take that help, he’ll recalculate and start all over.  There’s never judgment.  There’s never a rolled eye.  He just loves us with infinite patience and wants us to get back to Him.”

That made sense to me.  Our God may not always be a God of infinite patience (the people in Noah’s time discovered that first-hand), but He certainly has most of us on a long leash.  He certainly has put up with a lot from me in my sixty-five years.  I have been a royal pain in the neck!

Next time your GPS comes on, telling you to turn right when you want to turn left, think of that other non-judgmental Voice, telling you to come home.  Sometimes it may be more fun to go astray, but the way home will always be more fulfilling in the end.

 

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May 25 2015

The Quality of Quirkiness

Published by Kathy under General

I’m writing this column from Williamsburg, Virginia, where we have been spending a relaxing and enjoyable week. We started coming down to Williamsburg shortly after we moved to Virginia, way back in 1987. We usually visit at least once a year and more often if we can.

We no longer visit the amusement parks, historical sites and putt-putt golf courses. Those things are fun, and we have done most of them, but now we come down here to just relax.

For one thing, it is more of a challenge for me to pursue putt-putt golf from a wheelchair than I am ready to undertake — at least, not on vacation. I am too lazy for that. Ever since I have been wheelchair-bound, Fluffy always wins at miniature golf! I do not understand this. I always used to win at least half the time.

We do try to get out of the room at least once a day for shopping or to eat, but often we like to just stay in the room and catch up on reading, movies, email, and sometimes even napping. I am unable to nap when we are home because the bed is upstairs and I am downstairs. Napping is a rare luxury for me, so I nap whenever I can. I have already napped twice this week.

When we first starting coming here, we discovered an interesting store that soon became a “must visit” destination when in Williamsburg. For the sake of this column, we will call this store the Ceramic Company, because they specialized in ceramics and pottery items.

But perhaps before we were born, they branched out to sell as many products as consumers would buy. If there was a bizarre item to be had, the Ceramic Company had it. Usually it came in an assortment of colors.

Not only did the Ceramic Company have a wide variety of unusual items, but the prices were amazingly cheap. In the days before Walmart became a household word, the Ceramic Company was the equivalent of finding a Walmart in a tiny town in southern Virginia. The only difference was that it was bigger. Much bigger. Building after building sprawled out over acre after acre.

By the time we discovered the Ceramic Company, the buildings were half a century old. It did not matter. The parking lot was so full that it was not uncommon to drive around for twenty minutes, looking for a parking space. Then you walked around for another ten or fifteen minutes, looking for a ramshackle shopping cart. When you finally scored one of those, you were ready to rock.

There were whole buildings dedicated to different passions. Some of them included:

  • Pottery — any kind of pottery you could imagine. It was made on site, and it was dirt cheap.
  • International foods — a whole building dedicated to boxes and cans of foods from all over the world. This was long before international food markets, and it was more fun because the international food markets I’ve seen today cater to Oriental and Hispanic tastes. This food was just as likely to come from Denmark, New Zealand, or Nepal.

I can only imagine how well a store like this would do in Salt Lake City today, where returned missionaries are homesick from the foods of their missions. The food shop at the Ceramic Company even had cheeses and other perishables that were designed to tempt the palates of people who were far from home.

  • A kitchen shop where shoppers could buy every kitchen gadget imaginable. This was a huge store — not Walmart-sized, but close to it. There were big things, such as bowls and dishes and glassware, although they were a lot cheaper than the ones at regular stores.

But the things that were real attention-grabbers were the tiny gadgets that Grandma used in her kitchen and that were no longer available anywhere anymore. If you couldn’t find it at the Ceramics Company, you were out of luck.

  • A garden shop that had everything you can think of that was garden-related. Not only did it have fountains that would make your jaw drop, but it also had plastic lawn flamingos that Fluffy and I bought in bulk to use — well, let’s just say we found multiple uses for plastic lawn flamingos.
  • A greenhouse where people could buy gorgeous plants of all varieties for pennies on the dollar.
  • A whole building just for candles.
  • A whole building just for Christmas ornaments.  When you have a whole building just for Christmas ornaments, you can imagine that they run the gamut from gorgeous to gloriously tacky.
  • A whole building just for art prints and framing.
  • A whole building just for artificial flowers and greenery. There were also people on hand to arrange your silk flowers into arrangements for you. You could get arrangements made to your exact specifications, for very little money. Tour buses were full of people carrying elaborate flower arrangements on their laps back to their home states.
  • Other factory outlet buildings for companies such as Black and Decker, Pfaltzgraff, and other things. They were too far away for me to have enough interest to walk to, but I saw them off in the distance so unless they were prop store fronts I know they were there.

We always visited the print shop area of the store, where you could have items custom-framed. There was a great variety of frames and mats, and professionals would help you measure your items and choose the correct materials for a custom framing job.

We used to save up our prints all year, and would then get them framed during our week in Williamsburg. They did a great job, and the prices were at least 50% lower than what we would pay at home. We would always come home from Williamsburg with several newly framed pictures in the trunk.

And if you’re wondering, the answer is yes. We do have more pictures than wall in our home. It has been a long-time problem. We have artwork we haven’t seen in years.

The Ceramic Company was uber-popular with tourists, and there were always tour buses there when we visited, especially on Saturdays. In fact, we would try to avoid weekend visits to miss the crowds. But weekdays were bad enough. There was never a good day to go to the Ceramic Company, if you were trying to avoid herds of people.  They came from the entire Eastern Seaboard.  I firmly believe, although I do not have the actual facts to support this, that the Ceramic Company may have been the inspiration behind today’s factory outlet malls.

In addition to the great prices and the variety of unusual items, we really enjoyed visiting the store because it was so unique. In fact, calling it a store would be misleading, because it was more of a compound. As the store grew over the years, it had expanded to fill probably a dozen buildings over several acres. Fluffy and I never even visited all of the buildings.

Despite its size, the store was still run like a Mom-and-Pop general store. Purchased items were wrapped in old newspapers and clear plastic bags. Their shopping carts were old carts that had been purchased from grocery stores, so they were mismatched, rusty, and had wobbly wheels.

Most of the signs in the store were written by hand and held in place with duct tape. It was a quirky place, but that was part of the charm.

Over the years, more and more discount outlets moved into Williamsburg. These malls were never very exciting because they contained the same stores we could find in the factory outlet malls at home. But the tourists seemed to love them, and the buses that used to go to the Ceramic Company started going to the shiny new outlet malls instead.

We would still make our annual visits to get prints framed, but it started getting easier to find a parking place at the Ceramic Company. At first we were happy about it. Then we started to get worried as we realized that as the size of the crowds diminished, the quality and quantity of the merchandise in the rest of the compound seemed to diminish each year.

About five years ago we read with excitement that the Ceramic Company was planning a major remodeling. They were building four new buildings just across the railroad track from their current compound. Along one side of the buildings they would create 15-25 store fronts, so that it would look like an entire mall of little specialty shops instead of a compound of large buildings.

We were excited to go to the new store, but that soon turned to disappointment. We noticed it as soon as we pulled into the parking lot and saw that it was so empty we were just about the only car there. This was not a good sign. We thought the place might not be open, but when Fluffy pulled on the door, it opened right up. Bummer.

The new store didn’t seem to have the same type of merchandise, and the prices were much higher. The mismatched shopping carts, handwritten signs and duct tape were all gone, replaced with a nice pretty store than was sterile and boring.

We did have some prints framed, but the prices were higher and the options were fewer. The cranky old professionals who had done such a great job for us in the past had been replaced by Millennials who just wanted to get rid of us so they could get back to looking pretty. (On a subsequent trip, at least the Millennials had been replaced by older people who knew their job.)

As we walked around the new store, we saw few customers. We heard some of them complaining that they were also disappointed with the new design and that some of their favorite items to buy were no longer available or were too expensive. People had driven long distances — often from several states away — just to visit this store. Now there was no reason to come back, and strangers stopped to tell us so.

How often has a stranger stopped to converse with you in a store?  It doesn’t happen often.  Every time we have gone to the new Ceramic Company building, we have been pulled aside by strangers from distant states have told us what a miserable place the new store is, compared to the old and ugly store it replaced.

The new store was attractive on the outside, but there was no longer anything on the inside to distinguish it from the other malls that dot Williamsburg. It had lost everything that made it what it was.

This was sad. That the owners of the business had spent a lot of time and money to develop something that they thought would be wonderful. But in doing so, they lost the vision of what made the original store so unique and fun. There is now a beautiful facility that has no soul, and almost no customers.

Every time we return to Williamsburg, we check to see if the Ceramic Company has closed its doors. It is only a matter of time.

One miracle of life is that we are each born with a unique personality and set of talents. This variety seems to be celebrated in early childhood. But as children get older, there seems to be more pressure to conform so that we all fit into the same mold.

In some cases this is good, because everyone should be encouraged to follow certain norms of society (such as being polite and obeying the law). But in other cases, this pressure to conform sometimes extinguishes those quirky little sparks that make us who we are.

We had a Mormon bishop once who gave us some interesting advice. He told us to look for unconventional friends.

He said that when he was in school, everyone tried to be the same. They all tried to dress alike, to look alike, and even to think alike. As he got older, he discovered that all of these homogenized friends were boring, because they were cookie-cutter people.

At that point he determined that he should acquire quirky friends, because they made life much more interesting. He even used the word “weird.”  We thought that was good advice, and we have tried to follow it.

So if you are one of our eccentric friends, thank you. We have sought you out. You make the world much more interesting for all of us. You are diamonds in rare and exotic colors.  Do not ever forget your worth.

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May 19 2015

Condiment City

Published by Kathy under General

My parents were not untalented people. My mother was a mathematical genius, for one thing, and I do not use the word lightly. I once saw her glance at a chalkboard that had been filled with numbers and announce the sum of those numbers — a split second before the mathematical genius on television gave the same answer. I never forgot that.

But despite her ability with numbers, neither she nor my father ever learned how to balance a checkbook — or if they knew how to do it, they chose not to. They entered the checks in the check register, but they never subtracted them. And if you don’t subtract the check amounts, the check register is pretty much useless.

Because of this, my childhood was financially unstable. The electricity in our house might be turned on, or it might not. The same was true for the telephone, and that was back in the dark ages when everyone’s phone was attached to the wall of the house and nobody had a backup cell phone.

I remember a particularly bleak Thanksgiving when we planned to go to my Aunt Vee’s for dinner, but she canceled because her family was sick. It was just as well because I had double pneumonia at the time, and as luck would have it, our power had been turned off.

Mother was able to cook dinner because we had a gas range and oven, but we did not have a way to heat the house and it was a rare freezing day in Louisiana. I remember lying on the sofa in front of the fireplace while the rest of the family went to some friends’ house to get out of the cold.

I awoke to a fire that had died out in a frigid and dark house. Happy Thanksgiving, Kathy! Unable to get up and stagger to the nearest telephone to summon help, I lay there for what seemed like generations until the rest of the family finally returned home and rescued me from freezing to death.

But it wasn’t enough that my parents were fiscally inept. When she was two, my younger sister Sandee got polio, and that took a whole lot of surgery. In addition to the surgery, she was constantly being fitted with braces and orthopedic shoes and other devices of torture, all of which cost a whole boatload of money, and all of which she grew out of almost as soon as she was fitted for them.

Probably because of Sandee’s medical bills, Mother was a working mother in the 1960s — during a time when nobody’s mother worked. Daddy was a salesman — sometimes a traveling salesman. I suspect he didn’t make a whole lot of money. I also suspect my parents didn’t subtract their checkbook because they knew that no matter how hard they worked, there was not going to be any money in the checkbook.

Why balance a checkbook that they knew full well was only going to be overdrawn?

With this background, you can see that sending me to Brigham Young University was a financial catastrophe for my family. No, it was a whole lot worse than that. My parents had already built their dream home and lost it after only a couple of years. To say my parents had no money to send three daughters to college was a gross understatement.

So when it came time for me to go to college, this could not have been a happy time for my parents, especially considering that my mother secretly had leukemia and had no idea how long her health was going to hold out. (She died when Sandee and I were in college, and Susie was still in high school. None of us, including my father, had even known she was sick.)

So my parents did the best they could. They paid for my tuition and for the roof over my head. After that, they gave me five dollars per week to pay for absolutely everything else — food, clothing, medical, transportation, you name it. Pantyhose alone could cost that much, leaving me no money left over for food. A run in my pantyhose was a major disaster in my college years.

A five-dollar budget meant that I had to make my food allotment stretch until it screamed. I got creative at making cheap soups (chicken necks, garlic, and celery) that would last through the week. Chicken necks were five cents per pound, but the garlic that gave it any flavor did not exactly make me a boy magnet on the BYU campus.

Despite my best efforts, I would always be broke before the end of the week. That was when the Wilkinson Center cafeteria became a Godsend. They had a condiment station with stacks of tiny paper cups and push dispensers for ketchup, blue cheese dressing, and other goodies.

Some hot water and a few squirts of ketchup made an acceptable (but somewhat thin) tomato soup. I did not discover this on my own, mind you. I was told this by strangers. There were so many people in my situation that we recognized one another. We passed information along to one another the way that hoboes in the Depression used to mark houses with a secret code where handouts were to be had.

I tried the fake tomato soup once or twice, but I never got a taste for it. For one thing, in order to be enjoyed it had to be eaten with crackers. Even though crackers were also free, I never got to the point that I was able to take crackers with a clear conscience if I had not bought something else.

Crackers, you see, are food. I know there’s a fine line between ketchup and crackers, but I couldn’t eat the soup without crackers, and taking crackers would have been stealing.

It doesn’t make sense, but who says Planet Kathy is a rational place?

But my favorite treat was the blue cheese dressing. I would sit down and eat it with one finger, savoring each lick and making one little cup last for thirty minutes.

Even today I can take a chocolate candy and make it last for an hour. I eat just a nibble at a time and savor each atom of goodness. Unfortunately, I usually don’t have that luxury, because Fluffy devours his candy in 15 seconds and then eyes mine longingly. But this is a trick I learned in those blue cheese dressing days.

I never ate at Condiment City alone. I always had friends who were paying customers. They would eat their hamburgers or other meals as I ate my blue cheese dressing. On extremely rare occasions, one of them would buy something for me, but this almost never happened. I didn’t expect it, and they didn’t offer. I ate my blue cheese dressing, and they ate what they ate. That’s the way things were.

Back in Old Testament times, poor people like Ruth were allowed to glean from the fields. But the Wilkinson Center Cafeteria (known now as the Cougareat) was not a charitable institution, and gleaners were frowned upon even when they were in the company of paying customers.

Apparently other poor students had discovered the free blue cheese dressing, and that was not something the bean counters at the cafeteria could overlook. One day a sign appeared — “Blue Cheese Dressing: 5 ¢.”

You may think that charging a nickel for a tiny carton of blue cheese dressing is chickenfeed. Back in those days, it was highway robbery. Let me give you a little comparison of what a person could get for those prices, thanks to a handy website, 1970’s Food and Grocery Prices:

  • A four-pack of toilet paper, 13 ¢
  • A pound of bananas, 12 ¢
  • A can of Campbell’s tomato soup, 10 ¢
  • A whole jar of grape jelly, 25 ¢
  • A whole bottle of Heinz ketchup, 19 ¢
  • A dozen eggs, 25 ¢
  • A TV dinner (Morton brand, which was top of the line), 33 ¢
  • Sliced bread, 16 ¢ per loaf

Let’s just say that the day they started charging for blue cheese dressing was the day I stopped going to the cafeteria for lunch. It was not a protest or a religious fast, but an act of necessity. I just started going without food.

Eating my daily lunch at Condiment City was not that bad. It made me a better cook, a better financial planner, and more appreciative of the good times when I could buy and eat whatever I wanted.

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