Oct 14 2014

Builders or Breakers

Published by Kathy under General

Fluffy and I had a grand adventure last week. Well, maybe it was a little adventure, but it was still grand. When you get old, everything that used to be little takes on grander significance.

Anyway, we got a coupon that allowed us to go apple-picking in Berryville, Virginia. I was out of apples, and this coupon allowed us to get two pecks of pick-your-own apples for just about the same cost as we would pay at the grocery store. Plus, we would be out in the autumn air, picking them ourselves.

We planned an outing at an apple orchard, with all the photogenic excitement that entailed.

Well, Fluffy would do all the picking, seeing as how he is the one of us who has working feet. But I did my part, purchasing the coupon and bringing the camera to record the picking. And then Fluffy did his part, because he got us a hotel room the night before in the nearby town of Winchester.

He figured we could spend the night in Winchester and then wake up leisurely the next morning and go to the apple farm. We thought it would be a great experience.

Plus, the apples would not have been grown in China. The Nauvoo Times food storage specialist, Carolyn Nicolaysen, has recently informed me that American apple farmers are starting to abandon their apple orchards because supermarkets can get apples cheaper in China. Do you want to eat apples that were grown in China? I know I don’t.

I thought the whole thing would be wonderful for picture-taking. And so it would have been, if only…. Well, “if only” a couple of things. First, it happened to be raining when we woke up on Tuesday morning. It was hardly the crisp autumn day we had experienced the previous day.

This was the sort of merry scene we envisioned.

But then we reached the farm in Berryville, and it was hardly the scene of merriment we had hoped to see.

Oh, it was supposed to be a scene of merriment. The farmers had planned it to be that way, with hayrides and picnic areas, with picnic lunches and other great food for sale. But as the weary woman who accepted our coupon explained, the people from “the city” (“the city” being our nation’s capital) who had redeemed their coupons before us had ruined the whole experience for everybody.

When we asked if she would participate in the coupon program next year, she just laughed.

First, the buyers had made duplicate copies of their coupons, so that they had paid once and then visited numerous times and picked numerous pecks of apples. But as if that weren’t enough, they had gone into the orchards and thrown the apples off the trees, so that perfectly good apples were lying on the ground and rotting.

They had also left the ground littered with trash. They had done this for no earthly reason except to be lazy and mean.

These apples, which had been perfectly good for picking, were pulled from the trees and thrown on the grown by jerks from “the city” — the city in question being good old Washington, D.C.

Thus the farmers, who had expected to provide a way for city folks to experience the farming life and get some apples right off the tree, had lost their profits for the year after having been cheated by the same people they had been hoping to show how a real farm worked.

Surprise! The city slickers had, instead, shown the farmers how things are done in Washington, D.C. How silly of them. We who live outside of Washington know all about how things are done in the nation’s capital. After all, we are the voters!

The lady who told us there were no apples on the trees left to pick was more than a little disillusioned, as you might expect. She said there is no way her farm will subject itself to the hooligans from the city next year, or ever again.

Why should she? People who tear apples off the trees and throw them on the ground don’t deserve the nice things in life. The farmers still had several varieties of apples that they salvaged and stored, so we got our two pecks of apples even if Fluffy didn’t get the chance to pick them (much to his relief and my dismay). We ended up with a grand total of 43 honeycrisp apples in our refrigerator.

We have a friend who wrote a series of books where good people were described as “makers” and evil people were “unmakers.” I have thought about that for much of my life, but I think of them as “creators” and “destroyers” or “builders” and “breakers.”

This is hardly a new concept. In the Hindu religion, two of the three gods in the trinity are Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva, the destroyer. There is always a good force and a bad force in the universe. One force builds things up, and another force tears things down.

As it says in the Book of Mormon:

For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. (2 Nephi 2:11)

Even though I know this is the way of the world, it’s painful to see it so close to home as in an almost-local apple orchard, where people tear apples from the trees and throw them on the ground to rot just for fun. I guess I’m just old, but I don’t see the sense in it. I don’t see how it could possibly be enjoyable for anyone.

A new television show this season is “Utopia,” where an alleged cross-section of Americans were plucked out of the towns of America to populate a new village where they could start anew, just to see what kind of society they would create.

Fluffy and I have been appalled to see the fruitcakes who are living in this village. One of them, “Hex,” is a young woman whose name says it all. She says that her ideal society is one without laws or religion. She describes herself as “six feet of twisted steel and sex appeal.” It is no surprise that on the outside of the fence, she was unemployed. I don’t think she has the self-discipline to have a job.

Hex’s most obvious attribute is her loud mouth, and because she has a loud voice that she isn’t afraid to use, she became one of the community’s first leaders. Her dream for Utopia was anarchy. She actually put forth that suggestion for how the community should govern itself. And because she was so loud and forceful, and because the rest of the citizens were blockheads, they all went along.

You can imagine how it all turned out. The producers must have been delighted. It only took a few days before the citizens returned to a saner form of government.

I took one look at Hex, during the first episode of the season, and thought, “She’s a destroyer.” I haven’t changed my opinion. You can look at some people, and you just know who they are and what they are. You can see they have chosen the dark side.

They may smile, and they may be pleasant sometimes, and they may even befriend you. But when the time comes for them to stick a knife in your back or for them to unlace the corset of civilization in hidden ways or even in open ones, they are going to do it. They do it because it is fun.

You may be saying to yourself, “I’m neither a builder nor a destroyer.” If you are thinking that, you are wrong. There is no middle ground. If you aren’t actually making the effort to improve things, but are sitting on your rear end and letting other people do the work, you are firmly in the destroyer camp.

It may hurt your little feelings to hear that, and I’m sorry but — well, actually I’m not sorry. You know what the platitude says about being part of the problem if you’re not part of the solution? It’s true.

No matter what our situation, there’s something each of us can do to help somebody else. That something may be very small for some of us. It may even be a widow’s mite.

But the good thing is, I’m not your judge. God is. He knows whether you’re doing your best. And that’s what He requires — all you can do:

For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. (2 Nephi 25:23)

I’m going to try my best to be a builder today, and I hope you do too. There are already too many breakers and too many rotten apples in the world.

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Oct 06 2014

Uninvited Guests

Published by Kathy under General

My eyelashes are infested by animalcules.

I learned this entirely by accident recently, when my eyelids started itching like crazy. I happened to be leaning over the bathroom sink when I scratched my eyelids, in preparation for my morning hair-washing ritual. Afterwards, there were two tiny red specks on the white porcelain — specks that had not been there before I scratched.

I touched a speck, and then I wished I hadn’t. Because then, when I lifted my finger, there were infinitesimal red legs splaying out from where the speck was lying.

It’s alive! I thought, even though, technically, it wasn’t anymore. I’d had no idea, or I never would have murdered the poor thing. I wondered if there had been a when I had obliterated it, invisible to human ears but deafening to the ears of whatever creatures they were. I’m assuming that it had possessed ears. I wondered if it had screamed.

If you are envisioning these things, you may be thinking of them as being the size of a head of a pin. You would be wrong. An entire family of these things could use the head of a pin as a dining room table — that’s how small they are. I could only see the legs because I have amazing close-up vision. We could not see any other features on the animalcule even with Fluffy’s magnifying glass.

These things make a chigger look like Godzilla.

I did what any red-blooded American would do. I turned on the computer and googled it. I looked up “round red mites on eyelashes,” “tiny red bugs in eyelashes,” and everything in between. What I got were pictures of long, gray, wormy things.

What part of “round” and “red” did Google not understand?

I went to Bing, and Bing was even worse. It gave me false eyelashes and Halloween costumes and round pillow stuffed animals. Boy, was that helpful. I don’t know why people keep saying Bing is better than Google. I think they are Bing employees, because that’s not the experience I have whenever I try Bing out of desperation.

So I was left with my own little round things and no explanation for them. Fluffy told me to just soap up my eyelashes every day, trying hard to keep my eyes squeezed shut so none of the soap gets in my eyes.

That’s what I’m going to do, hoping that the little red bugs find somewhere else to live — somewhere with pinheads to use for dining room tables that are not my pinheads, and eyelashes to live in that are not my eyelashes.

Meanwhile, all I can think about is the movie Men in Black, where the punchline was an entire galaxy that was small enough to fit inside a bell that was hanging around a cat’s neck. I think about that sometimes. It was a clever plot twist.

Think about it. All the human beings in all the planets in that fictional galaxy must have been very tiny, and the dogs and cats were even tinier, and the fleas on the dogs and the cats were even tinier than that.

And assuming such a galaxy existed — because God has to put all His galaxies somewhere — God would have created all those tiny people and all those tiny dogs and cats and all those tiny fleas on all those dogs and cats. And, presumably, he was cognizant of all those little red specks in the eyebrows of those of us who have those specks in our eyebrows.

It boggles the mind. Of course, I freely admit that I have the sort of mind that is easily boggled.

I guess I’m a bit squeamish about killing things (even nasty little red specks that make my eyelids itch), because I always think of this scripture in Moses 6:63:

And behold, all things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me.

We live in a world of increasing cynicism, where people not only deny the existence of God, but then ridicule those who believe in such silly superstitions. But the older I get and the more I learn, the more I am in awe of the sheer variety and abundance of His creations — even these tiny red creatures who have currently rented out my eyelashes.

3 responses so far

Oct 03 2014

Walking Wherever I Can’t

Published by Kathy under General

When I’m sitting in front of the television or in my office or somewhere else in our house, I’ll get it in my mind that I want to walk across the room and turn on a light or get something or do something, and I’ll come pretty close to doing whatever it is that I’m thinking about doing.

It’s so easy it almost comes as second nature. In fact, it is such second nature that I almost — almost — hop up and do whatever it is that comes to mind.

The only problem is that if I actually made the attempt, I would no doubt end up in a heap on the floor, and we would have to call the friendly Fire and Rescue people yet again.

I have learned from experience that the people who work at Fire and Rescue are nice, and that they provide their services in our county for free. Nevertheless, I would just as soon stay in my wheelchair and let the Fire and Rescue people watch “Judge Judy,” or do whatever they do at the fire station. They don’t need to pick me up off the floor once more, risking strained backs and other tortured body parts. It’s a lot better on everyone if I just stay where I belong.

My neurologist has a name for my malady. He calls it “critical illness neuropathy,” and he says it will keep me in my wheelchair at least another year. Unfortunately, my nerves have not communicated this to my eyes. My eyes see things and say, “Ooh. You need that. It’s time to hop up and get it.” And my body just wants to do the hopping.

My eyes are persuasive little critters, and there are two of them. There is only one of my brain, so my eyes tend to gang up on my feeble little brain and convince it to do things it shouldn’t. More than once, I have caught myself at the beginning of a leap to do something or another, only to lean sheepishly back in my chair. “Back off!” I tell my brain. “Not today. In fact, maybe not this year.”

I find it ironic that most of us find ourselves in the opposite situation. In most cases our bodies are perfectly capable of hopping around and doing the things that need to be done. The big problem for most of us (and even for me until last December!) is getting our brains motivated to the point that they send those signals to our muscles and get us moving to do the task at hand.

It is just too easy to read another chapter, or watch another TV show, or sleep for a few more minutes, or eat another potato chip. If we are not careful, the sun is soon setting, the day is over, and the tasks for the day remain undone.

The Lord allows us to have adversity in life because it teaches us things. One of the things I have learned from my latest little adventure is to be thankful for the simple things that we I used to take for granted. When I was recovering in the rehabilitation hospital, Fluffy used to bring a dice game that we played when he came to visit. We played Farkle often, because it was great fun and good therapy for me.

I was a pretty pathetic sight each time I tried to pick up the dice cup and dump the dice out onto the table. It took a lot of strength and concentration, and the dice would often go in many different directions, leaving poor Fluffy to scramble around the room looking for missing dice. Now my arm strength is pretty much back to normal, and I can do things like roll dice and shuffle cards without giving it a second thought.

Even after I am once again able to hop around my world the way I used to do, I hope I will remember to grateful for the “simple” acts of motion. Standing up to get a book off the shelf, walking across the room, and leaning over to check a pot on the cooktop are such thoughtless acts that most of us do them without a second thought. Yet there are others who would give anything to be able to do such simple tasks.

As we express our gratitude to God for his many blessings, let’s not forget to thank Him for the little miracles that don’t warrant a second thought until we lose them.

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Sep 29 2014

Becoming Mother Teresa

Published by Kathy under General

When I was young and more than a little naïve, I got the idea that if I wanted to love God more, I needed a little more adversity in my life. So I prayed for it.

I don’t know what I expected as an answer to this prayer. Pimples, perhaps. Athlete’s foot. Maybe a fender-bender or two.

But God tends to deal with prayers such as this on the level of global cataclysm, and that is how He answered mine. I was blessed with infertility, which is the kiss o’ death in a Mormon household.

And then, Fluffy and I had some challenging years, maritally speaking. Oh, we both tried to make the marriage work. The problem was that Fluffy and I never seemed to be trying at the same time.

It was never open warfare, you understand. We liked each other fine. But I don’t know if either of us was actually crazy about the other person the way we are today. We never really understood one another, and I didn’t know if either of us ever really would. (Thank goodness the problem was temporary! Our marriage couldn’t be better now.)

Most of my problems, however, were health-related. My immune system caved in, early in our marriage. So did my lungs. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another. I was always on the verge of keeling over. Doctors were always implying, although only one of them outright told me, that I had only a few months left to live. The problem was, my body never cooperated. I never actually cooperated and croaked.

For years, aspirin and Coke kept me alive, and I didn’t even like Coke. I would drink a ton of it with aspirin for long periods and then go cold turkey, just to make sure I wasn’t getting addicted to it. I never was, thankfully. I’d stay off it for six weeks or two months or a year and never get the headaches. Then the aches of the autoimmune thing would overwhelm me, and I’d be back on the Coke again.

But all those things were peanuts. The elephant in the room — and boy, is that an apt metaphor — was Kathy herself. Because God gave me the one trial I absolutely could not endure. He turned me into a circus freak.

I know what many of you are thinking. If you’re fat, there’s only one way you got that way. I don’t blame you for thinking that. A lot of doctors are in your camp. And no offense to you if you agree with them, but they’re idiots.

I used to be the same way. We had neighbors down the street who were fat, and I thought that if I ever started gaining weight, I’d simply exercise until I got skinny again. Ha! I’ve wondered many times since then if my judgmental attitude is the very reason that God knew He had to teach me a lesson.

I had a tonsillectomy in January of 1981, and I immediately lost enough weight that I was able to fit into some size 9 sailor pants that I hadn’t been able to wear for several years. Oh boy, did I look good! I was feeling on top of the world. Life was sweet, and I was so happy I couldn’t stand it.

I wore those sailor pants all winter. You know the kind. They button up each side and across the top and lace up the back to tie in a sweet little bow. You want the buttons and the bow to show, so you wear the blouse tucked in. I wore the blouses tucked in, and the pants fit. I looked so pretty. I’m glad I remember that, because it was the last time in my life that I did. I was thirty-one years old.

In April, I started gaining weight. There was no reason why. My eating habits had not changed. Fluffy and I had only one car and he drove it to work so I walked everywhere. I got a ton of exercise already, but true to my promise I redoubled my exercise program. I started running up and down our basement stairs listening to ABBA songs for a half hour a day in addition to all my walking.

It did not help. I continued to gain weight.

I went to our doctor. He sent me to Nautilus, as well as to other doctors — specialists. They could find no reason why I was gaining weight, although one of them said, “If I were a fly on your wall I would see you porking out all day when nobody could see you.” Doctors are idiots. At least, that one was. The other ones just didn’t have a clue.

I continued walking everywhere, I ran up the stairs to ABBA tunes for a half hour every weekday, and I went to Nautilus three times a week. I got so strong that the firemen who worked out beside me at Nautilus used to stand around and watch me when I used some of the machines. The muscles in my forearms turned into rocks. I had solid fat.

It did not help. I continued to gain weight, but it was solid weight.

I was in a panic. I turned to God. I cried. I pleaded. I cried some more. Being horribly fat was the worst thing I could imagine. It was worse than being childless. It was worse than having a not-perfect marriage. It was worse than having bad health. It was far worse than any of those things.

Being an object of ridicule was the worst thing of all.

But God did not answer my prayer. I continued to gain weight.

Despite all the doctors, despite all the walking, despite all the ABBA tunes, despite the Nautilus, I gained weight until October. I had gained 140 pounds and was a mound of rock-hard blubber. I was the fattest person in our ward. I was fatter than the people down the street whom I had ridiculed in my mind. Then, in October, I stopped gaining weight just as inexplicably as I had started. I weighed 300 pounds.

I had done nothing to gain the weight. Well, actually, I had. I had prayed for adversity. I had not prayed, “Any form of adversity except….” Of course, God would in all likelihood have ignored the “except” part anyway. He always did have a sense of humor.

Weighing three hundred pounds was the worst thing in the whole, wide world — but God wasn’t finished with me yet. After we moved to Virginia and I got congestive heart failure and pulmonary hypertension, I couldn’t exercise at all. Then slowly, inexorably, I packed on the weight even more. From being a sumo wrestler I became Jabba the Hutt.

I was no longer the fattest person in my ward. I became the fattest person in any room. When I walked into an establishment — any establishment — heads turned. People felt free to make horrible comments about me, and to me, about my fatness. The assumption was that I was fat because I was lazy, or stupid, or (usually) both. In either case, I was fat because I was lacking in character.

I couldn’t blame people for feeling that way. Once upon a time, I had felt that way about fat people myself.

Then, in December of 2012, I went on the Coma Diet. People think of my coma and subsequent hospitalization as a horrible event. Not I! I lost a hundred pounds! I went from being a circus freak to being an overweight but normal person. How could I help but be the happiest person on the planet?

I was so excited about my new body. There was only one chin. There was kind of a waist. When I was lying in bed, I could feel ribs. There were hollows in my legs. There were places in my body I had never felt in my adult life. I was so overjoyed that I could barely stand it.

But at the same time I remembered a priesthood blessing I had received in the hospital. It said, in part, that before we were born, Fluffy and I had “agreed to the bodies that you have, with their imperfections.” So even as I rejoiced in my new and beautiful form, I waited for the other shoe to drop. I wondered if the fat would return.

In the past few months, I have wondered if the fat was returning. I have seen fat sagging between my legs and been afraid. Is it old, empty flesh, left over from when there used to be fat, or is it new fat growing back?

I have laughed and felt my body quiver, and I have been horrified at what it may portend.

When we were out of town last week and I was in unfamiliar surroundings, I had to navigate an unfamiliar bathroom. I felt like a lumbering elephant. When that happened, the sadness loomed.

And then I remembered that I had always — every moment of my life before the coma — had a cloak of sadness over me. No matter where I was or what I did, I felt the eyes of the world and my own eyes judging me. Even though I knew that I had done nothing to deserve the fatness, I judged myself as harshly as my harshest critic. And I hated myself as much as all of them combined.

A few weeks ago, as I was praying during the sacrament, I was mourning over my fatness. I have been scared to death that I am gaining weight. I have been terrified that even despite strict portion control I will one day be as fat as I was before the coma. I have told God not once but many times that this is the one trial I just cannot endure again.

As I was telling Him this yet again in my prayer, I heard the words, “If you spent as much time doing good works as you do worrying about how ugly you are, you could be Mother Teresa.”

I don’t know whether those words came from God or from my own subconscious. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that it is probably true.

I am wasting my life worrying about how I look. All the worrying in the world isn’t going to change a blessed thing, because I look the way I am supposed to look in this life. I am learning the lessons I am supposed to learn. The people who judge me or who refrain from judging me are learning the lessons they are supposed to learn. (Or maybe they aren’t. It depends upon the people.)

Maybe it’s time to focus on becoming Mother Teresa. If I’m supposed to be round and roly-poly, or even the female version of Jabba the Hutt, I should revel in it, rather than railing at God because He didn’t keep me skinny.

All I can say to the rest of you is this. Do not ever ask God to give you adversity if you don’t mean it. Or if you do, make sure to write a contract telling Him exactly what you want to keep out of bounds. You’ll be a whole lot happier if you do.

Now I guess I’d better get off and do something related to being Mother Teresa. There are starving orphans to feed. But first, maybe I should order a nun’s habit from eBay. An extra-extra-extra-large sized nun’s habit, thank you. If I’m going to be Mother Teresa, I might as well dress the part.

4 responses so far

Sep 22 2014

Traveling for the Aged

Published by Kathy under General

Fluffy and I went out of town last week. We didn’t go far. In fact, we only stayed about a half hour away from home, and we were only gone for two nights. But to see us packing, you would have thought we were going to end up in Timbuktu for the summer season.

In fact, as Fluffy packed the car, I heard him mutter a word that I am not accustomed to hearing from my Utah-bred boy. Yes, I heard words like that often in my natal city of New Orleans. New Orleans residents often spoke in words of four letters when I was growing up, and Fluffy’s language as he packed the car made me nostalgic for home.

The bad word was not Fluffy’s fault. The poor little thing was trying to cram more into a car than was designed to fit into a vehicle. A scooter, a wheelchair, a walker, a parade of medical devices and an assortment of luggage are not designed to fit in a Mercury Sable. Fluffy was trying to do the impossible, and his language slip could not be helped.

It was not the ideal way to start a vacation.

When Fluffy and I first got married, we often took spur-of-the-moment trips out of town. On those occasions, we didn’t pack much. We usually took a change of underwear for each day we would be gone, along with a sack to contain the used underwear. I took my contact lens case and my contact lens solution. I also took a backup pair of glasses.

I usually took a nightgown, and we each took one extra shirt other than the one we were wearing, just in case we spilled something on the one we had on.

That was it. Packing took five minutes flat, and we could get everything in a duffel bag or even a paper sack. If we thought about it, we’d each throw a paperback book in the paper sack on the way out the door. We’d rely on the Gideon Bible in the motel room to provide our scriptures (or the Book of Mormon if we were staying in a Marriott property). We didn’t need anything else.

When we went out of town last week, this is what we had to deal with:

  • My wheelchair;
  • My walker;
  • My scooter;
  • My scooter batteries;
  • My scooter battery charger;
  • The little basket that goes on the front of my scooter to carry purchases I may make in pharmacies along the way;
  • My morning medications;
  • My afternoon medications;
  • My evening medications;
  • My bedtime medications;
  • Fluffy’s bedtime medications;
  • My contact lens paraphernalia;
  • My reading glasses;
  • My long-distance glasses;
  • Fluffy’s reading glasses;
  • Tums, just in case I had indigestion;
  • Prilosec, just in case Fluffy had heartburn;
  • My pain medication, just in case Something Really Bad Happened;
  • My C-PAP machine (which I probably don’t need anymore, but which I haven’t had a doctor tell me I don’t need anymore, so I have to keep using);
  • An extension cord in case we needed one for the C-PAP machine;
  • Wet wipes;
  • My compression stockings;
  • The nylon sleeve that Fluffy uses to put the compression stockings on my legs;
  • The Crocs I need to put on in the middle of the night if I need to use the restroom and have to put on shoes so my unfeeling feet don’t slip on the floors.

All this is in addition to our Kindles and the charger for them, and our cameras and the battery chargers for them, and our clothing, and our food, and all the other little things that make a time-share unit a home.

Fluffy spent a good two to three hours assembling this stuff, and then another half-hour cramming it in the car, all in preparation for our half-hour drive to National Harbor.

By the time he got in the car, he was not in his usual cheery frame of mind. And then, less than forty minutes later, he had to unpack all that and put it in our timeshare unit. I could not do a thing to help him, being immobile as I am.

It’s times like this when Fluffy earns his designation as Perpetual Employee of the Month.

Fluffy, trying hard to maintain some semblance of patience as we waited for the air-conditioning system in our timeshare unit to be repaired so we could check in with all our medical paraphernalia.

I guess it’s probably overkill to admit that it took at least an hour after we finally arrived at our destination before he was his normal sunny self.

Fluffy unwound with a few games of spider solitaire after unpacking a ton and a half of old person’s paraphernalia.

When we were young, we used to get so annoyed with Fluffy’s parents, who used to sit in their condo and let moss grow on them. We could not understand why they did absolutely nothing with their lives when they were not tied down by a job, and when they had all the money they needed to go out and see the world.

Now we know. They didn’t have the energy to see the world and to pack. They may have had the energy to do one or the other. They did not have the energy to do both.

Indeed, Fluffy and I have long remained partially packed for long trips. We have “trip kits” that contain all our regular toiletries, but “regular toiletries” are things such as toothpaste and toothbrushes and shampoo — things that are not included on the list I just named.

Now that we’re old, it looks as though we’re going to need an additional “elderly trip kit” containing all the things on that bulleted list.

It’s one thing to have an upstairs wheelchair, a main floor wheelchair, a wheelchair that stays in the car to be used for field trips, and a wheelchair that exists solely to transport me from the house to the car and back again when I’m wearing long dresses that are not safe for the walker. We have recently crossed that threshold and have become a four-wheelchair family.

But to have everything else in duplicate and all packed together to comprise our “elderly trip kit” would give us a bundle that would have to be lifted by a crane and carried in a flatbed truck. Somehow that takes the spontaneity out of travel.

We eventually were glad we did all that packing. We eventually used almost everything that Fluffy packed for us, with the exception of the Tums and the Prilosec and my pain medication — things we were happy we didn’t need but were nevertheless glad that Fluffy packed. If we hadn’t packed them, there would have been a desperate emergency. We know that from experience.

We know that as time passes, Fluffy and I are only going to get older. The packing list is only going to get longer. I have no idea what items will be added to it. I used to have to carry an oxygen concentrator with me — a huge machine that took most of the backseat of our car. I don’t have to use it anymore, thank goodness. But as we get older, who knows?

I think often of Ecclesiastes 12. I suspect it’s a chapter that is mostly unknown to young people these days. Do people who are under forty know that the quivering “keepers of the house” are shaking arms, the “strong men” are flailing legs, the “grinders” are missing teeth, and the darkened windows, of course, are eyes that no longer see?

These days, Fluffy and I are two of those decaying houses. Our friends are deteriorating neighborhoods. We are whole subdivisions that are falling apart, and all the Ben-Gay in the world is only going to prolong the inevitable.

But when we go to that “long home” that Ecclesiastes 12 mentions, it will not be the unhappy occasion that Solomon envisioned. There may be mourning here, but there will be no packing lists and no pulled muscles as someone tries to put more paraphernalia in an ancient Mercury Sable than it was ever designed to hold.

On the contrary, we will step across to our new home unencumbered from the pains and ailments of this old world. We will be free of the sorrows that pull on us here. We will be so light — enlightened — that we may well feel as though we are flying, because the things that held us back are holding us back no longer.

As much as I love this world, and as much as I do not want to leave it, I’m still excited to step over to the other side when my appointed time comes. I am not afraid of death. And the best part is, I won’t need to pack anything except for a life well lived.

4 responses so far

Sep 15 2014

Those Clever Mormons

Published by Kathy under General

Okay, people. The big news of the week is really big. In its effort to make genealogy interesting to innocent citizens of all races and creeds who have absolutely no interest in family history, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has finally done it. Period.

Even if you have never, ever, been interested in genealogy, this just might tip you over the edge.

The name of the website is Relative Finder, and you can get there through this: http://roots-fb.cs.byu.edu/. You sign in with the same login information that you use to get to Family Search or other LDS websites.

If you are not a Mormon, you can still create a free account that will (hopefully) allow you to get to the information.

Once you get authenticated, you will see a “Getting Started” page, which will explain how to use the site. Near the top right of the screen, click on “Relatives.” That will take you to another screen.

On this screen, there is a list of categories of people who have been chosen to interest just about anyone. LDS Prophets. U.S. Presidents. People who sailed on the Mayflower. Famous scientists or explorers or members of royalty. Famous people. No matter what your interest, these insidious family history people have their claws into you. Oh yes they do.

Click one or more of these. (You might as well just click only one category at a time for starters, because you’re going to get a ton of hits.)

For example, I (“I” being your writer, Kathy Kidd, who, as a convert to the Mormon Church, had no business whatsoever of being related to any one of the Mormon prophets) clicked on Prophets. Then I clicked at the top on “Show Relatives” at the top.

Bingo! I am not just related to one of them. I am related to all of them. The secret, of course, is that they go way, way back. For example, I am Brigham Young’s 11th cousin 8 times removed, and in order to get the connection they had to go back to 1669.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have my genealogy done back to 1669. Well, here’s the secret. They do. You click on “View Chart,” and there it is — all of the relatives that connect you to a famous person. Spiffy. The work has been done for you. What more can you ask?

Here’s the proof positive. I, a total outsider with no Mormon connections whatsoever, am a card-carrying relative of Brigham Young.

Okay, cynics. I can hear you scoffing all the way to Virginia. “Everyone is related to Brigham Young,” I hear you sniff. “After all, he had fifty-five wives.”

Well, people, he only had children with sixteen of them, but I’ll humor you. Joseph Smith wasn’t exactly prolific, but I am related to him, too. So there. They had to go back to 1398 to find a connection with our common ancestor James (Jacobus) Chudleigh, but they did it. Joseph Smith is my 23rd cousin 12 times removed.

Somehow I don’t think I would be on his Christmas card list, but still…

Here I am, in another guest appearance. Weird, or not so much?

But it’s not just Mormon prophets. Here is a list of other famous people I am related to — and to whom the website is fully prepared to give me the pedigree chart as proof:

  • Emily Dickenson (14th cousin 4 times removed)
  • Amelia Earhart (14th cousin 1 times removed)
  • John Wayne (11th cousin)
  • Thomas Jefferson (20th cousin 9 times removed)
  • Ulysses S Grant (14th cousin 3 times removed)
  • Theodore Roosevelt (14th cousin 3 times removed)
  • Zachary Taylor (21st cousin 11 times removed)
  • Abraham Lincoln (19th cousin 7 times removed)
  • Benjamin Franklin (21st cousin 10 times removed), also (11th cousin 9 times removed)
  • Bing Crosby (19th cousin 6 times removed)
  • Benjamin Harrison (20th cousin 11 times removed)
  • Calvin Coolidge (19th cousin 7 times removed)
  • Edgar Allen Poe (23rd cousin 9 times removed)
  • Harry S. Truman (12th cousin 1 times removed)
  • Henry David Thoreau (13th cousin 3 times removed)
  • Horatio Nelson (17th cousin 10 times removed)
  • James Madison (12th cousin 3 times removed)
  • Jon Meade Huntsman (14th cousin 4 times removed)
  • Lyndon B. Johnson (14th cousin 5 times removed)
  • William McKinley (18th cousin 5 times removed)
  • Millard Fillmore (14th cousin 4 times removed)
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne (21st cousin 14 times removed)
  • Oliver Cromwell (24th cousin 15 times removed)
  • Philo Farnsworth (13th cousin 4 times removed)
  • Richard M. Nixon (10th cousin 3 times removed)
  • Robert LeRoy Parker (Butch Cassidy) (17th cousin 5 times removed)
  • Samuel Adams (22nd cousin 11 times removed)
  • Samuel L. Clemens (19th cousin 7 times removed)
  • Susan B. Anthony (12th cousin 4 times removed)
  • Wilber Wright (and, one presumes, Orville Wright) (13th cousin 8 times removed)
  • Willard Mitt Romney (14th cousin 2 times removed)
  • William Frederick Cody (that’s Buffalo Bill to you) (20th cousin 7 times removed)

And finally, drumroll, please:

  • (Elvis) Aron Presley (10th cousin 3 times removed)

I hope you are impressed.

Lest you think I am bragging, Fluffy also checked out his lines and found out he is related to the exact same people, although naturally through different family lines. Either he and I are illegally married or there is something else going on here.

What I suspect is that the people who designed the program picked out a list of names of people everyone would recognize and that most of us would want to be related to. Then they did the genealogies of those people all the way back to Moses or Noah or Adam or somebody else who was way back there.

Then all they had to do, and I’m saying “all” here like it’s a little, tiny thing, is that they had to figure out where our family trees intersected with the famous people’s family trees and work back from there. See? Piece o’ cake! Some computer program scrubbed our family trees looking for key names that would link us in to the person in question. Once they made a hit — bingo!

I have a friend who is a genealogy weenie — excuse me, genealogy buff — and she said it’s a known fact that Elvis Presley’s name came from Preslar. If you look for Preslar or Pressler in a family tree, that’s a dead giveaway.

I’ve got both, and that was the computer’s red flag for that name. You can do that with all the names if you know what to look for, and when “you” is the computer, the search is easy.

There are two things that make this website a real bonanza as far as I’m concerned. I do not care a bit about being connected to celebrities. Unless Jon Meade Huntsman wants to put his 14th cousin 4 times removed in his will, none of it makes a bit of difference to me.

But I do care quite a bit about the genealogical value.

If you look again at that picture of my Joseph Smith genealogy line, you can see there are a lot of blank spaces on my side of it. Some of them look as though they would be pretty easy to fill. Now that I have names, I can use my new (free to Mormons!) Ancestry.com membership to fill in a lot of blanks with those free pictures of birth and death certificates that Ancestry.com so conveniently provides.

Every one of those names on the website — and there are hundreds and hundreds of them — give different genealogy information for me. I could spend the rest of my life filling in genealogy information from what was given to me for free from that website (checking it for accuracy first, of course). This is the most invaluable genealogy information I have ever seen.

And the other big deal for me is the missionary connection. If missionaries struck up a casual conversation with people who were not otherwise interested in religion and were able to say, “I’ll bet you’re related to Elvis Presley (or John Wayne or somebody else cool) and I can prove it,” they may be able to get a foot in a door that may otherwise be closed.

I’m not saying this should be the first line of approach, mind you. There are cooler things about our religion than our dubious genealogical tie to Elvis Presley or Butch Cassidy. But everyone needs some conversation starter, and some people are initially impressed by one thing more than they would be by another.

And hey — the King. Elvis! I’m not even an Elvis fan, but 10th cousin 3 times removed! That’s not just chicken feed!

I cannot believe we are such close relatives. I do not even like peanut butter!

The only caveat I can see is that right now, I think you mostly have to have ancestors of European ancestry. Later on — well, we shall see. If you’re Asian or South American or African, stay tuned. I am sure they want their claws in you too, and they will find some way to connect you to Elvis.

Try it out, people. And if you’re not a Mormon and don’t know how to get into Family Search, I’m sure you know a Mormon who can help you do it. If you don’t know a Mormon, have no fear! You can try registering through the Relative Finder website directly, or try this link where you can register with Family Search first: https://familysearch.org/register/.

And if you get bitten by the genealogy bug, you can use your free account to do all sorts of research.

If that doesn’t help you, here’s a website that will connect you with some young people on bicycles that will tell you everything you want to know: http://www.mormon.org/missionaries. There’s a little box you can fill in where you can say why you want to connect with them, so they can send you missionaries that will know the answers to your questions, too.

See? Doesn’t that look easy and fun? Now go check it out. If you and I are related, you can let me know by giving me the secret password. Just sing a snippet of “Love Me Tender” to me next time you see me, and I’ll know to put you on my Christmas card list next year.

3 responses so far

Sep 08 2014

The $300 Challenge

Published by Kathy under General

It was February 5, 2013. I was innocently lying in a hospital bed at about 12:30 p.m., when Fluffy walked into the room. Fluffy came every day to visit, but he usually showed up about 7:30 p.m., after work. A visit at 12:30 p.m. was not a happy surprise.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“I got laid off from my job today,” he said.

This was catastrophic news. February 5 was my second-month anniversary of being in the hospital. We did not know it at the time, but I had exactly one more month — to the day — of incarceration. You can imagine how high our hospital bills eventually got, even with the good insurance that we had.

Fluffy looked for a new job — well, he looked little. I don’t know how else to describe it. What was he going to do? Eventually I was going to get out of the hospital. I was so helpless that I could not hold a fork in my hand. I could only roll over in bed if I had metal grab bars on the side of the bed (and there were no grab bars, metal or otherwise, on the bed at home).

I couldn’t walk, of course. I couldn’t sit up unless the seat belt on the wheelchair held me in position. I couldn’t roll myself from one room to another in my wheelchair because I was too weak to move the wheels. I couldn’t so much as brush my teeth without being helped.

As we talked about it, it was obvious that once I left the hospital, Fluffy would not be able to get a job outside the home. He couldn’t leave me for a half hour, at least at first. And my personal care was only part of it. There was also the house maintenance, the cooking, the laundry, and the yard work.

When could Fluffy get a job at all and be fair to his employer and still do the things that taking care of me was going to require? Never, that’s when!

Talking it over in that hospital room, we realized that Fluffy’s retirement date had just moved up a couple of years. For his entire work career, Fluffy had planned to retire when he was about 66 years of age. All the wheels were in motion for that magic date, but life had not cooperated. He was years away from that much-anticipated date, but our best-laid plans had gone haywire.

It was time for Kathy to step up. (“Stepping up” is only a figure of speech, you understand. I wasn’t doing any stepping whatsoever, considering I was lying flat on my back in the hospital bed. My first step was still a long time into the future.)

I had a salary from my own part-time job. Most of my salary was devoted toward paying off my debts, but there was a four-hundred-dollar allowance that I allocated myself every month to spend on riotous living. I used the money to take Fluffy out to dinner, to purchase birthday and Christmas presents for family and friends, to buy clothes, to shop on Amazon or eBay, or to otherwise squander throughout the month.

I didn’t exactly go crazy, mind you. Well, maybe I took Fluffy out to a whole lot of restaurants. But it was my four hundred dollars, and I spent it however I wanted to.

But as we discussed our future, we decided that if Fluffy couldn’t work because he was taking care of me, then I needed to use my four hundred dollars to hire Fluffy. I wasn’t going to give him my entire allowance, mind you, but the “riotous living” part had to go.

We were lucky to have money saved in a rainy-day fund, and that savings would pay for the essentials in life such as medical care, utilities, property taxes and gasoline for the car. I would use a hefty part of my $400 allowance to buy most of our groceries, to cover Christmas and birthday presents for friends, and to continue to provide the entertainment such as taking us out to dinner or buying food when we entertained at home.

In essence, Fluffy would become my full-time employee — the cook, the housecleaner, and the yard boy. He would also provide medical care and become my chauffeur, all in exchange for his share of my $400 allowance.

And that is exactly what happened.

Fluffy, the Perpetual Employee of the Month.

Let’s just say our lifestyle is not what it used to be. Part of it is that I’m just not as mobile. It is not as easy for me to go places. For a long time I didn’t want to go anywhere. Now that I can go places — well, the budget just doesn’t allow grand excursions. And we are fine with that.

We go to the supermarket once a month rather than once a week. After that, Fluffy goes to get small things like milk or cheese or tomatoes that we need and that won’t wait until the next big grocery trip. If he goes by himself, with that small list, I won’t be with him to be tempted by that gorgeous eggplant or the Wegman’s vanilla pistachio ice cream.

Fluffy has turned into a wonderful little cook. Sometimes we’ll just have his homemade biscuits and jam for dinner. Or we’ll have a sweet potato — loaded, of course — but nothing else. Or a wedge salad. (Fluffy does a mean wedge salad.)  Our nighttime dessert consists of “the twenty” — ten mint-flavored M&Ms apiece, period. Once you’re old, you just don’t eat as much as you used to eat.

Or maybe, when you’re old, you realize you shouldn’t be eating as much as you used to eat, whether you want to or not. So you don’t.

We lived on my four hundred dollar allowance for more than a year. Then, a few months ago, we realized that it wasn’t enough. My American Express bill was burgeoning where it shouldn’t burgeon. I was starting to panic, and I didn’t know what to do.

Fluffy had the solution. “Let’s start living on $300 per month,” he said.

“Are you crazy?” I shouted — but I only shouted in my mind. Inwardly, I knew he was right. So I sighed and said, “Let’s try it for a month and see how it works.” We tried it, and we never looked back.

We have made an adventure out of our new lifestyle. Fluffy looks for coupons at restaurants we like, but we only use them occasionally because it’s not in the budget.

I also look for mystery diner assignments to supplement our restaurant habit. I have to be careful not to make a mistake, though. If I accidentally do a “phone-ahead takeout” instead of a “walk-in takeout,” for example, or if we run into friends at the restaurant and sit with them, I will not be reimbursed. I’ve learned that the hard way.

We also order with doggy bags in mind, because we’ve learned they can be a gold mine. Lunch at the Outback can turn into three meals, if you’re careful about what you get. And if you go on Wednesday and get the special, you can get out of there for $11.99 each.

I longingly wait for the time when we can go to restaurants whenever we want to go. That magical day is 14.7 months in the future, according to my debt spreadsheet. On that day I will be out of debt and we can go to the Cracker Barrel six days a week if we’re of a mind to do so — which we won’t be, I assure you. As much as we love the Cracker Barrel, we have more expensive tastes than that.

Most of our entertainment is done at home. We can invite a couple over for dinner and make potstickers together for a little more than six bucks. Or we can do something in the crockpot. In the summer, we can barbecue. Fortunately, our friends seem to like our company even though we usually have chicken or hamburgers instead of steaks.

We had a ward dinner recently, and the person in charge of the food was somebody whose cooking skills I trust. (I do not trust the cooking skills or the cleanliness of everyone. Sorry. I am too old and have heard too many horror stories to be trusting in that way.)

After the dinner was over, leftover food was sold on a pay-what-you-think-it’s-worth basis. Fluffy and I took ten dollars out of our “frippery fund,” planning to get two little zipper bags full of the barbeque meat to take home with us. When Fluffy went to the kitchen, he learned that John, our home teacher, had purchased a whole tray of the meat for us.

I went home and cried. I didn’t know why I was crying — whether I felt sorry for us because we needed the food, or because I was so grateful that John had been inspired to know that we needed it. We don’t talk about this stuff to other people. After all, we live in a really nice house. We don’t look like people who are living on a shoestring. John had no way of knowing how important that food would be.

I was depressed about it for a couple of days until finally my good sense won out. The food was a blessing and John was the conduit of that blessing. We were fortunate to get it, and I was embarrassed that my pride had stopped me from feeling the gratitude I should have felt.

Let’s be honest for a moment here, shall we? We wouldn’t be living on a shoestring if I hadn’t continued using my charge cards for the four years I was unemployed before I got my current job. Yes, a lot of the charges I made during those days were pretty much unavoidable — but just as many of them weren’t. If I had been more frugal then, we wouldn’t be in this situation now.

In 14.7 months, all will be well. Until then — well, until then I am paying the penalty for my choices the same way people pay speeding tickets after they’ve been caught in a radar trap or they wait for broken ankles to heal after they make the mistake of walking off a curb and breaking a bone. People who make mistakes may repent, but they are still responsible for the consequences of their actions.

Meanwhile, I may not have money, but I have the services of the Perpetual Employee of the Month. He and I do crazy things together. Last week we steam-cleaned the refrigerator. (It has been sanitized for our protection.) Not many people can say they steam-clean their refrigerators, but not many people have full-time employees to help them do the job.

Today we motored over to a nearby subdivision to exchange a wheelchair. Tonight Fluffy made Brazilian cheese biscuits (Pao de Queijo) for our dinner. Tomorrow I will be chauffeur-driven to the temple. And Fluffy does everything with a smile on his face. What more could I ask?

About a month ago, we decided that I had recovered enough that Fluffy could go back to work if he wanted. But we also both decided that we were having too much fun being retired, even if our lifestyle had to change to be less extravagant. We’re not sure how much longer we’ll be on this side of the turf, and we would happily sacrifice some extra money for more time together.

If you are in the process of repenting for something, or paying restitution for something, have heart. Someday, restitution will be made. Whether in this life or in the next, all will be well. The important thing is that God loves us, and others love us (maybe even without our knowledge).

This is a wonderful world, despite its challenges. Sometimes the hard things are the things that help us to grow the most. If that’s the case, these 14.7 months are going to make me a stellar individual. And after the 14.7 months are over, I am going to keep Fluffy as the Perpetual Employee of the Month, and I am going to take him to the Cracker Barrel as often as his cute little heart has a mind to go.

He deserves it.

5 responses so far

Sep 01 2014

Fifteen Instances of Gratitude

Published by Kathy under General

Recently, I was challenged to come up with fifteen reasons why I should be grateful to be alive. This was the trend o’ the week on Facebook, and I was only glad to just have to come up with fifteen of them. I could have just as easily come up with a hundred, but that would have made for too long a column.

Here they are, in no particular order.

1. I am eternally grateful for the best friend I can see, Fluffy. Fluffy makes every day an adventure, even on the days when we just sit with our arms around each other watching reality TV.

Fluffy held my hand for twelve days when I was unconscious in a hospital, and he’s been my caregiver ever since. He has not strangled me even though he has wanted to, and that takes an act of unbridled patience. He is a saint in a bunny suit, and I am so glad we get to spend eternity together. Team Bunny rules!

2. I am equally grateful for the best friend I can’t see, who is God. That may seem strange, but I spent a long time in several hospitals with nobody else to talk to. I was too weak to read or even to turn on a television, and He kept me company. I will always treasure that time we spent together. It was so sacred to me that I was sad to go home, and for that reason alone I will never regret those three months spent in the hospital.

3. I am eternally grateful for the home where we live. To this day, people sometimes sniff, “This house is too big for two people,” but I know it was hand-picked by God just for Fluffy and me, and I am grateful for it.

For years, for example, I used to laugh about the bizarre shape of the powder room on our main floor. There was absolutely no reason a powder room needed to have that weird shape. Now I see that it is absolutely — to the inch — the shape and size that is needed to accommodate my wheelchair. And the pedestal sink I always hated is perfect for me to roll up to and wash my hair.

Everything about that house was designed just for us. I am continually amazed at it, and grateful for it every day. I can’t think of a more beautiful surrounding to live in as I recuperate. I face every day with joy.

4. Sisters. I have two of them. They could not be more different.

Sandee is one of the wittiest people on the planet. I will never forget the day she acted as auctioneer when we divided up our late father’s possessions. Never mind that she wanted to take it all back afterwards; she was so funny that if we’d recorded it she could have gotten a Hollywood contract.

Susie, on the other hand, is gentle and sweet and wildly creative. She once counted her tinkles for an entire year and then sent me a postcard that said, simply: “1492, and that’s no s**t.” Susie got the personality I always wanted. Bummer.

5. The time we live in. I am so glad to have been born when I was. I am old enough to remember the olden days before color television (almost before black and white television) and certainly old enough to have been taught proper grammar in school, but young enough to be able to take advantage of modern technology.

I love TiVos and the Spaloo and digital cameras and the tablet that has my scriptures and my Kindle on it and everything else technology has to offer…well, with the exception of cell phones. You can keep your cell phones, thank you. What a pain they are!

6. Priesthood blessings. How can I even explain priesthood blessings to people who aren’t Mormons? Just imagine having God tell you exactly what he wants you to hear, word for word, and your being able to hear it and even (if you’re so inclined) to write it down afterwards.

Bill Gates, with all his billions of dollars, can’t buy what Latter-day Saints get for free. Priesthood blessings have saved my life, and I know it.

But more than that, priesthood blessings have told me important things that I need to know about the future of my life. I have made many course changes based on priesthood blessings. I have most of my priesthood blessings written down verbatim, and then laminated. They are for nobody’s eyes but mine (and Fluffy’s if he wants to see them), but they are scripture to me.

7. I am grateful for friends.

When Fluffy and I got married, our Mormon bishop told us to always choose weird friends. He said people who try to be like everyone else aren’t worth much, and you’ll always get joy out of eccentric friends. We followed his advice and have never been sorry.

You crazy people out there, we’re glad we picked you. You have made our lives memorable, to say the least. I could make a list of the crazy friends we have, but you’d never believe us — and then you’d spot yourself as being one of them and you might realize for the first time that you aren’t “normal” so I won’t bother. Thanks for all of you.

8. I am grateful for computers. As a writer, computers comprise most of my life. I remember the day that when I needed to learn something, I had to walk to the University of Utah library to look it up. Now I get on Google at least a dozen times a day.

This is a miracle to me that people of this generation will never understand. Word processors are another miracle to anyone who grew up using manual typewriters and carbon paper. Computers may be a toy to some people, or a mechanism for playing games to others. To me, they are my entire professional life.

9. I am grateful for finding The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints more than 40 years ago. A lot of people say a church is a church. Not so, this one — at least, not for me. This church is a culture, a support system, and a religion, all rolled into one. I can’t think of a single thing I don’t like about being a Mormon, but I don’t want to push it on anyone. If you’re interested, you know where to find me.

10. I’m grateful for adversity. I know that sounds weird, but I’ve never said I wasn’t eccentric! Everyone knows the cliché that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but it’s only a cliché because it’s true. Thanks to the adversity I’ve had in my life, I’m a rock (you notice I did not say I’m a rock star), and I’m grateful for that.

11. I’m grateful for my relatives, both the living ones and the ones who are no longer on the leafy side of the turf. Facebook has gotten me better acquainted with the living ones, and I’m glad about that.

As for the dead ones — well, that’s interesting. I had always heard about guardian angels, but I came back from my twelve-day “nap” acutely aware that relatives on the other side were working hard on my behalf. I hope to meet them (or meet them again) one day and thank them for what they did, and what they are still doing, on behalf of Fluffy and me.

12. I’m grateful for The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. I’ve read it a zillion times (by actual count), and it’s just like the Bible in that there’s always something new in it.

We Mormons have been told we’ve only got a third of it, and we’ll only get the other two-thirds when we’re worthy to read it. This drives me crazy. I want to tell the other Mormons to shape up (because, of course, I’m doing everything right and the condemnation can’t possibly apply to me) so we’ll get the rest. But they don’t, so we only have the skinny part. Bummer.

13. I am grateful for unanswered prayers. If my prayers were answered, I’d be skinny and healthy and rich — and I wouldn’t have learned any of the lessons in life I’m supposed to be learning.

Since the whole reason we’ve been put here is to learn lessons, my whole life would have been pointless. So I guess I’m glad that despite all the tears and temper tantrums, God has left a lot of my most fervent prayers unanswered.

14. I am grateful for just enough travel to have shown me just how fortunate I am to live in the USA. For those of you Americans who don’t appreciate your native land, I challenge you to go out and do a little humanitarian work in another country. Maybe Haiti, where Fluffy and I saw people living in “houses” that consisted of four poles with corrugated metal roofs. The furniture consisted of logs.

And this was before the earthquake.

We may waste a lot of our tax money, but a lot or our tax money that isn’t wasted goes to help people in countries like Haiti. That’s when I’m proudest to be an American.

15. Finally, I am grateful for my body. For most of my life I have hated my body, because it has not just been fat — it has been uber-fat. And it has not been uber-fat because of anything I have done to make it so; it has been uber-fat because I gained 140 pounds in six months all of its own accord.

People have treated me with disgust and revulsion, and I have treated myself the same way. Then, when I was in the hospital a year and a half ago, I got a priesthood blessing that said I chose this body before I was born.

The priesthood blessing didn’t say why I chose this body, but apparently I needed to learn lessons (I would assume humility!) that I could learn no other way. Maybe the people around me needed to learn lessons too.

Since the priesthood blessing, I have come to terms with my body. It has certainly taken me on many adventures! I can’t say I’m not looking forward to the next life, when I’ll be pretty again. But as for this life, at least I don’t hate myself as much as I used to. My body and I are in it for the long haul, and it and I and Fluffy are having a lot of fun together as we see how I’ll get in trouble next.

Okay, people, that’s it for me. Reading the list over, I am surprised that no food items made the list. Where was chocolate? Where was Dungeness crab? Where was Popeye’s chicken? People, you who have seen me know that food is there. I like food. Food is my friend.

So are thunderstorms, in all their majesty. I’m really big on rain. And also …

Oh, rats. If I don’t stop now, I’m never going to quit. There are just too many great things in this wonderful world.

Thanks to all of you who have read my chronicle of gratitude. Maybe it has inspired you to think of the things you are grateful for, too.

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Aug 25 2014

Saying Bon Voyage for Now

Published by Kathy under General

We bid a temporary goodbye to two sets of friends lately, both of whom are traveling to exotic places.

Ashley and Cade are off to Cuba. (That’s Coo-ber, if you’re as old as we are, and remember a certain U.S. President.) This isn’t the first time they been away on assignment. They have also been posted in Azerbaijan, Budapest, and Russia.

They picked up their two little girls in an orphanage in Budapest, which has to rank among the more unusual souvenirs to bring home. Now their souvenir daughters are growing into crazy Americans.

Whenever I see the little girls, who chatter like any other girls you would observe in any mall in America, I wonder if they have any comprehension how different their lives are — bouncing from one communist country to another the way most of us would move from a subdivision in one part of town to a place in another part of town where the houses are a little bit newer and nicer.

The older one may never think twice about those years in the orphanage. The more introspective one — well, I’m not so sure. As she gets older, she may wonder how the kids thrived who were not adopted as she and her sister were. Did they stay in the orphanage, going out to work at an early age? Did they ever know the love of a family? Did they stay together with their siblings, as she did? Did they find the Church?

We had a quiet going-away celebration for Ashley and her daughters. (Cade was off training in Costa Rica, whatever that entails.) We decided to get them ready for Cuba by making Japanese gyoza and Chinese fried rice. The girls used the dumpling presses and had a grand old time. They even liked the food, which was a bonus.

We’ll miss them, but they’ll be back in two years. Then? Well, I have no idea. They are running out of communist countries, and Ashley refuses to go to Korea. She says Azerbaijan is as close as she’s going to get. She’s thinking of a place that’s shorter on communists — maybe Melbourne, Australia.

Her daughters don’t know much about Melbourne. Fluffy and I, who have been there, told them that although Melbourne does not have many communists, it does have a variety of marsupials. The older daughter was nervous about that. She informed us that platypuses are venomous, which I had long ago forgotten.

When we told her that Melbourne has penguins, it was all systems go. Melbourne is back on the list. After Cuba/Coo-ber, and after a little time back in Virginia to decompress, their next stop may be Down Under. Maybe we’ll visit them there. By then, I should have my feet and may be able to endure a long plane ride. Right now, the idea of a plane ride of any sort does not sound appealing.

We also went to another little celebration for our other friends, Margo and Brian, who are on their way to Kuala Lumpur. They are going to live just a few blocks from Petronas Towers, which I think has got to be one of the coolest things ever.

Fluffy and I have never been to Malaysia, or anywhere in Asia, and it would be fun to take a selfie in front of the towers the way our home teacher did, and the way our friend Margo has promised to do, and to send to us when she gets there.

In fairness to our home teacher John Karren, he does not normally look jowly. He was shooting to get the Petronas Towers in the background, and the only way he could do it was from the chin up.

The sendoff for Margo and Brian was a little better organized than the small dinner that Fluffy and I had for Ashley and her girls. This was a party where the whole ward was invited. I actually had to go into another house, which took a whole lot of logistics. (This was only the fourth house I’ve been into, other than ours, since my “incident” in December of 2012, so it was a big deal.)

Once two strong men helped me up the garage stairs and into the house, they parked me in a corner of the kitchen. I overlooked the refreshment table and wielded a camera all night, taking pictures of the festivities. It was a good thing I did, or the evening would have been unrecorded.

Margo, on the right, will soon be able to send me her own selfie from Petronas Towers.

A whole bunch of people came to this party. We saw people we hadn’t seen in years. Two of our ward’s four assigned missionaries came to this event, too, obviously with the understanding that, “Where Mormons meet, Mormons eat.” They knew there would be food on the premises, and that the food was going to be free.

Elder McKay Davis and Elder Jordan Mumm take advantage of a free feed.

Like our friends Cade and Ashley, Brian and Margo are not leaving for their first rodeo. They have been traveling for a lot longer, having lived all over Africa and Asia. Brian may be ready to settle down after this assignment. Margo? She still has that glimmer in her eye. Foreign lands may yet be calling her name.

Although it is hard to say goodbye to friends, Fluffy and I have known both of these sets of friends for years. We know when they leave for their exotic adventures that they will return, and we will see them again. They may look a little older, and they will be richer in experience, but they will return as essentially the same people they were when they left our little corner of the world.

There is one move we will all make, however, to a most exotic clime. This is a move we will make never to return. This is a trip we will all make alone, and people will mourn our loss.

Sometimes we will have weeks, months, or even years to prepare for our departure. Other times, it will overtake us as “a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2).

I almost had my own “thief in the night” experience two years ago. I remember going to the doctor, and I even vaguely remember being put in an ambulance. I do not remember anything after that until two months later.

In fact, Fluffy tells the story (I have no memory of it, thankfully) of my instructions to him prior to my being put in a medically-induced coma. Apparently I was conscious enough to call him over and whisper sweet nothings in his ear. These were my last three requests to my husband:

  • Pay the Discover Card today.
  • Cancel tomorrow’s secret shopping assignment.
  • Let my employers know I won’t be working for some period of time.

There was no, “I love you.” There was no — well, there was not anything personal. It was just a grocery list of things he needed to do to keep the house running. And if I had died, which the nurses told my sister was probably going to happen, those would have been the last words he would have heard out of my miserable little mouth.

Having had my own practice run, I can guarantee you that things have changed in the Kidd household. In our house, the “L-word” is used daily. Each of us lets the other one know he is cherished. Every day he is number one on the priority list, and he knows it. We treat every day as if it were our last day together, because, well, it might be.

Life has changed in other ways too. I am trying (and not always succeeding) to live in a way that if I ever have another “thief in the night” experience, I will be ready for it. I will not ever leave Fluffy knowing he is unloved. I will not ever leave unpaid bills or unfulfilled promises or broken commitments.

Am I perfect? Good grief, no — I’m Kathy! But I’m a better person than I used to be, and that makes me grateful for the practice run I had that reminded both of us of our mortality.

All of us are on a different path, but that path has one common end. Eventually, you and I will all travel down the tunnel of light and meet our Maker. Whether that meeting will be full of joy or full of sorrow is up to us. I think of this path as one of great happiness, and I’m grateful for the bad days as well as the good ones.

I hope that whether you have many days to prepare or whether your “moving day” comes as “a thief in the night,” you’ll be happy with your eventual destination. I also hope that you will come to view each day as a precious gift, because it is.

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Aug 18 2014

A Magnetic Personality

Published by Kathy under General

Fluffy and I are home teachers to a crazy lady whose name, for the purposes of this column, shall be “Pam.” Pam is a former Baha’i, but she wasn’t just any Baha’i — she went to the local Baha’i congregation for Spanish people.

Never mind that Pam is a six-foot, fair-skinned redhead from Cleveland. This is the kind of quirky person Pam is. She is a former Baha’i who is now a temple worker. Go figure.

Somebody with the pseudonym of “Pam” might look something like this.

Pam is a single lady who likes to eat out, so we always meet her in a restaurant where Fluffy and I sit back and eat while Pam entertains us with stories that get wilder and crazier by the minute.

You see, Pam is an extravert. This means that Fluffy and I, who are both introverts, do not have to say a word. We just sit there, grazing like cows, while Pam does the work of performing. In fact, we have been known to ask Pam before we even meet her at the restaurant: “What is your topic of conversation tonight?” She usually has it already planned for us ahead of time, which is downright considerate of her.

This is why it’s so much fun to home teach extraverts. You put a nickel in them, and then sit back and let them entertain you. You don’t have to say a word. You just have to remember to blink so your eyes don’t dry up and pop out, leaving you without a way to see to drive home.

Topics of conversation we have had with Pam include:

  • The condo o’ the month that she has found for sale in Fort Lauderdale or Cleveland or some other faraway place, and that she is about to purchase for $12,000 or so. She always has pictures on her cell phone o’ the month, which prove to us that this condo is a palace rather than the dump that a $12,000 purchase price must surely buy.
  • The most recent financial windfall that God has given her, usually for the exact amount that she is going to waste on a condo she does not need. When I stop and think that God is giving Pam money to throw away but not giving me money that would get me out of debt, sometimes it makes me so ill that it’s hard to eat my dinner. But that’s the thing about God’s ways not being our ways — they aren’t.
  • Her theory that if you think the right way, you will never stop at a red traffic light. Well, maybe I phrased that wrong. Traffic lights are never red for Pam. This is important because she is in her car all day long. The gift of not ever having a red light would be a big, big deal. She told us how, and I tried it, and I remember that it works. But then I forgot how she did it so don’t ask me.
  • The ghost that inhabits an outbuilding at George Washington’s Mount Vernon home. The outbuilding happens to be a gift shop, and when Pam bought a souvenir there, she unwittingly brought a piece o’ ghost home with her that still does tricks in her dining room.
  • The spirit of rock singer Freddie Mercury, who started haunting her dreams and would not stop until she Googled him to find out who he was and continued to do research until she learned that his father had died exactly one year previously.

Fluffy had a hand in the Freddy Mercury incident, because Pam had him take Freddy Mercury’s father’s name to the Washington D.C. Temple and work with the recorder’s office to get the name ready. This was before the rule changes that mean only close family members can submit temple names. When Freddy’s mother dies, the new rules mean that he is on his own and will have to harass a family member instead of the hapless Pam.

Pam doesn’t just have interesting things to say. She also happens to be the best storyteller on the planet. If she had been born in Africa she would have been a griot. When she tells a story about ghosts, you expect a ghost to tap you on the shoulder, and you almost jump out your skin when a server appears to tell you that your bloomin’ onion is going to be out in a minute. She is absolutely amazing.

Needless to say, we enjoy visiting with her every month, even if she does want to order appetizers and desserts and all sorts of food items that nobody on a writer’s budget can ever afford, and that people my size should never be eating. It is not the food that attracts us to our dinners with Pam, or even our responsibility as home teachers. It is the monthly entertainment of Pam herself.

When we went out with Pam at the end of July, she told Fluffy ahead of time that the subject was going to be medical magnets. Fluffy told her that we knew all about magnets, and that indeed I have a drawer full of them that I have been using for years. Pam said, “Ah, but you don’t know about these magnets.” That’s the way Pam is. One does not quibble with Pam, so we prepared ourselves to be entertained.

Sure enough, Pam is being trained by the master of all the magical medical magneteers. This guy has clinics in the U.S. and in Mexico and in Equador (where magnets are apparently the strongest because of the proximity to the equator), and he, himself, is apparently training Pam and a friend.

Pam and her friend are going to be magneteers too (not the same as Mouseketeers or Musketeers, mind you), but they can’t charge for their services until they have a thousand hours of practice under their belts, so they wanted to practice on me and other willing victims. They wanted me to lie down on a bed and diagnose me, whereupon they were going to slap their magnets on me and cure me.

Kathy the Cynic took over here. It is pretty easy to diagnose me. After all, I am in a wheelchair. Pam has known me through a little more than my eighteen months of not having feet. That, I think, should count for something!

Also, even though Pam does all the talking, she knew me through about seven years of congestive heart failure. If she was paying attention (and I doubt she was, because, well, she’s an extravert who does not do a whole lot of listening), she also knew me through seven years of pulmonary hypertension. She did not know the name of the illness, but she knew me when I breathed using an oxygen machine at home.

So I figured if this was a lot of mumbo-jumbo, what they would “diagnose” me with would be heart issues, a lung issue that causes people to have to breathe with oxygen machines, and, of course, the tiny little issue of having mostly dead nerves from my knees down to my feet in both legs.

Other than that, I’m as healthy as the proverbial horse.

So Pam and her friend showed up. Pam’s friend was named Nubia, which conjured up images of a tall, black African, but in reality she was a tiny, extremely white South American who did not speak English. The entire session was conducted in Spanish, a language I do not speak.

They situated me on a bed with my feet sticking off into the air. One or the other of them took my feet and clicked the heels together three times. Nubia did it gently, so that I felt like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.

The whole time she was clapping my heels together, I kept thinking, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” After they had left, I told Fluffy this, and he said he had heard me say this from across the house. Oops. I always have been a loud thinker.

Sometimes Pam took over. When she clicked my heels together, it was though she was slapping two dead mackerels against one another. I had a different thing to think when Pam did it. It was one word, and that word was, “Yow!” I was always glad when Nubia took over again.

As they clicked my heels together three times, they said the name of an organ, in Spanish: “Estómago, estómago, estómago; páncreas, páncreas, páncreas; hígado, hígado, hígado.” It was soothing, or it would have been if they had not stopped after every organ and slapped magnets at the corresponding spot on my person.

Pam assured me that my organs would respond when called upon, even though as far as I knew, the organs of my body had never taken a Spanish class.

As they continued the session, Pam kept remarking how there was something wrong everywhere, and how they were going to run out of magnets before they ran out of organs. Then, true to her word, they had to stop and get more magnets. Apparently, I was a real mess. And all along, I had thought I was going to be pretty much without ailments of any kind.

Little did I know! After about an hour of ankle tapping and magnet slapping, the session finally came to an end and Pam read a litany of things that were wrong with me. I waited to hear that — surprise! — I had issues with my heart and my lungs and the nerves between my knees and my feet. But no, Pam and Nubia were not interested in talking about such pedestrian things as those.

Here is a short list of the things they said I had, lurking in my body, and that the magnets had uncovered and were trying to address:

I was exposed to polio as a child. What the magneteers did not know, but the magnets did, was that my sister Sandee had polio, and that I was definitely exposed to it because I lived with her the whole time she was sick. Score one for the magnets.

I have chronic bronchitis. Pam had never seen me have coughing fits, but I have indeed had chronic bronchitis for decades. Oh, can I cough when I put my mind to it! Magnets 2, Kathy the Cynic 0.

I have a rare strain of bacteria resident in my lungs. I obviously can’t prove or disprove that one. I did almost die of fungal pneumonia, but fungal pneumonia is caused by fungus, not bacteria. Fungal infections are extremely rare here but more common in Ohio, where Pam is from.

I was exposed to a rabbit disease as a child and still carry remnants of that disease in me. (Pam named the disease, but I can’t remember it.) Obviously, this is another one that can’t be proved or disproved. However, I admitted to Pam under duress that we did have a pet rabbit when I was a child.

Apparently my pancreas is so bad that it died several years ago and was replaced by a box of Cap’n Crunch cereal. This one can’t be currently proved or disproved, but I was temporarily diabetic when I was in the hospital (I was told this often happens when people are acutely ill). So I’m giving Pam the benefit of the doubt on this one.

When I told Pam that I had a physical just a couple of months ago and my sugar levels were normal, she said airily, “Oh, that doesn’t make any difference.” Magnets 3, Kathy 0, Unprovable 2.

I have sciatic nerve issues. That one is a definite yes. Magnets 4, Kathy 0, Unprovable 2.

I have a scarred Urethra Franklin due to long-term catheter use. That is a big, fat yes. Pam did not know it, but the first six weeks or so that I was hospitalized for my fungal pneumonia there was a catheter and a bonzo infection, and the scarring does not surprise me. Magnets 5, Kathy 0, Unprovable 2.

I have a disease that, if I told a doctor the symptoms, I would be tested for AIDS, but it isn’t AIDS. One of the symptoms is a distended abdomen. You readers do not need to know the other symptom, but it is definitely not something Pam would have casually observed. Fluffy and I thought it was something related to being old.

The abdomen issue has been driving me crazy. Even though I have lost weight everywhere else, my abdomen looks like it has been blown up with a bicycle pump. The casual observer would think it’s just fat. It is only Fluffy and I (and the magnets) who have seen it as it really is. I look like the starving children in Biafra. It is absolutely bizarre. Magnets 6, Kathy 0, Unprovable 2.

So Pam and her pal Nubia packed up their magnets, promising to come back again and again until all the bad stuff, including the box of Cap’n Crunch cereal, is out of my system, and I am well again. They said my system is going to be detoxing for the next few days, and I am going to feel horrible. I must throw out all my toothbrushes and drink a lot of water.

I have followed their advice. Out went the toothbrushes, and I bought a giant Coke this afternoon to help flush the toxins out of my system. It was my first Coke in weeks and weeks, but one has to do what one has to do. Nevertheless, she was right about the detox. The toxins are rushing out of my cooperative little body, and I am as sick as a dawg.

I have to admit I was pretty impressed with my first treatment. Pam and her sidekick told me eight things. None of them were the obvious three things I expected, and that would have made me suspicious. They didn’t mention my heart or my breathing challenges or my paralyzed feet.

And I had to admit that the stark accusation that I had once had a pet rabbit was pretty impressive. Not many people have parents who let them have pet bunnies. And Sandee was the only kid I knew who had polio. Those were two solid hits.

I’m waiting to see what comes out in the next treatment. Meanwhile, this application of magnets, which is radically different from the way I have used magnets in the past, is impressive. I have always been intrigued with the different ways people around the world have learned to heal their bodies.

People in rainforests have taken advantage of the wonderful herbs they have — herbs that are better than anything that pharmaceutical companies can give us today. Acupuncturists have given the Chinese a form of medicine that I have used, and that I can testify is at least as good for many ailments as the medicine we use in Western countries.

The Aboriginals in Australia have their own system of medicine that relies on the mind. Most people don’t know about that because the Aboriginals are such a self-contained society that not many outsiders are allowed to observe them, but I have read they can heal broken bones in a matter of minutes.

In Acts 10:34, the Apostle Peter said: “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.” I find that to be true with medicine. God doesn’t love people who live in America any more than He loves other people, and you don’t have to live in New York City and have access to a good insurance policy to find the means to get well when you’re sick.

Whether it’s a medical doctor or herbs or needles or even magnets, things have been provided in cultures all over the world to help you through illnesses. Of course, sometimes those “things” are compassionate doctors and friends like Pam who swoop in and provide their services without charge.

God uses helping hands wherever He can get them. Sometimes those helping hands are yours and mine, and I hope we are always willing and able to use them when the opportunity presents itself.

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