Archive for the 'General' Category

Nov 23 2015

The Miserable 17%

Published by under General

I had an Uncle Herbie who really did a great job of being retired.  He used to work a lot with numbers, so he was the kind of detail-oriented guy who could make an exact science out of mowing the lawn. But he was also a dreamer whose passion was writing stories, so you could say he was a well-rounded man.

When Uncle Herbie was approaching retirement, he did a lot of research about how to retire well.  He read books and articles and attended seminars.  He did a lot of planning about all aspects of retirement, so that he and my Aunt Em could really enjoy the experience.  The only thing he could have done better was to have lived a few more years, but I guess that was one variable he could not control.

My husband Fluffy really liked this idea of making retirement a project, and planned to do the same when he finally took that step.  Unfortunately, life had other ideas.  His company cut a bunch of jobs (including his) exactly two months into my three-month hospital tour in 2013, when Fluffy’s retirement was still way off on the horizon.

Fluffy was too busy with my health issues to look for another job, so he put that on the back burner until he had fewer pressing issues.  Then it got pushed further and further towards the back of the stove, until it finally fell off and went splat on the floor.

He updated his resume and made a feeble attempt at job searching, but his heart just wasn’t in it.  He had worked pretty much non-stop for 40+ years, and he was really enjoying his sabbatical.  Retirement was a lot easier than he had envisioned, not only financially, but in other ways.  So last year he finally decided to upgrade his status from “unemployed and kind of looking” to “happily retired.”

That means that Fluffy now spends a lot of time doing the research that he planned to do before retirement.  He reads a lot of articles about retirement and attends meetings (both online and with real people).  But most of his research is done by practicing being retired, which means puttering around the house and looking for vacations and doing other retirement-type things.

Last week he shared with me a statistic he had read in one of the articles he read.  It said that 60% of working men were looking forward to spending more time with their wives when they retire.  On the flip side of that, it said that only 43% of women were looking forward to spending more time with their husbands in retirement.

(The non-PC person who wrote the article actually used words like men, women, husbands and wives.  Personally, it was a breath of fresh air, considering all the times lately I’ve been reading about idiots who want to replace “he” and “she” with the gender-neutral “ze.” Oh, please. Spare me from the politically correct dweebs of the universe. Get them out of my life and off of my planet forever.)

Now I was not a math major, but there was one interesting statistic here that really jumped out.  If you take the difference between 60 and 43, that means that 17% of the ladies with soon-to-be-retired husbands do not share the same anticipation for having hubby at home 24/7.

Oh, I could relate to this.  Even though we get along well now that we are old, I entertained similar thoughts when Fluffy was working in an office and would start to talk about retirement.  Just as a working person gets into his own routines at work, a stay-at-home spouse adopts similar patterns and rhythms at home.  The idea of disrupting these patterns and having a 24-hour roommate can be a little jarring.

I guess it’s a bit like our young Mormon missionaries, who suddenly inherit a companion that they must treat like a Siamese twin.  As an introvert, I think the idea of having a stranger joined at the hip with me for every waking moment of my life just might be a fate worse than death.

So when Fluffy rhapsodized about retirement, he often asked me why I had a deer-in-the-headlights look. And even though I pretended I just had a piece of lint in my eye, I did indeed have a deer-in-the-headlights look. As much as I liked the little fellow, it scared the socks off me to think of him in my domain every moment of my waking life. Where would my private time go?

My answer to this, now that Fluffy is happily retired is, “What private time?” For, you see, my 38-year-old self was absolutely right. “Yours” and “mine” has become “ours” — at least it has in our marriage, where Fluffy is also my caretaker, cook, chauffeur, and bottle-washer.

Even when I am happily sitting in my office, thinking my time is my own, a little blond head is likely to pop in, saying, “What were you laughing about?” Or when someone has called me on the phone, I often hear a third party breathing on the line and say, “Fluffy, is that you?” He is more than happy to enter the conversation.

But the secondary answer to my question is, “Who needs private time?” Because the thing I did not realize, back in the days when Fluffy and I walked on eggshells around each other, was that there would come a day when my happiest moments would be spent in his company, and that he would be my companion of choice whenever I decided I wanted to raise my heels and get in some sort of mischief or other.

It really doesn’t bother me to have Fluffy as my party line on the telephone, as long as he makes his presence known. Watching television is more fun (and a lot warmer) as long as he is sitting next to me on the love seat. We may not eat the same things for lunch, but it is more companionable when we eat lunch together than it used to be when I dined alone.

Who knew?

Even in retirement, we don’t spend every second of every day together. For one thing, we have separate offices on different floors. Fluffy has suggested that we have our computers in the same room, but one has to draw the line somewhere. For one thing, I mumble to myself, and I must admit I enjoy my own conversations. For another, he listens to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and I would not deny him that joy but I am definitely not a fan.

One must draw the line somewhere.

We have gotten into the groove of retirement. We eat lunches out rather than going to dinner. We look for coupons to make those lunches cheaper. We go grocery shopping together.

Last week was our 39th wedding anniversary. On our way to our anniversary lunch, Fluffy drove me to Walgreens so I could buy an anniversary card for him. He went into the store with me and went shopping while I made my choice, and he pulled out my charge card and paid for my purchase because I do not carry a purse or a charge card with me. Now that’s togetherness.

Spending time together should be a joy, not a curse.


If you’re a husband or a wife who is not completely crazy about your spouse, start working now to make it a better relationship. By the time you’re old, your husband or wife is going to be your closest companion just out of convenience if for no other reason.

This is especially important when you have children, so that you will have a relationship again when the kids finally move out. One of our friends once told us, “Now that the children are gone, George and I just stare across the table at each other like two strangers. When the kids were around we could always talk about them. Now that they’re gone, I realize they were all we had in common.”

I’ve seen a whole lot of husbands and wives who have been trapped as old people in unhappy marriages and who have spent their golden years sniping at one another until the day they die. How much fun is that?

And the sad thing is, it is totally unnecessary. It only takes a small investment in loving words and kind acts to create a relationship where you will be glad to spend your golden years together. And the good thing is, as long as both parties want a good marriage, it isn’t too late to make yours shiny and new.

It’s so much better to hold hands under a blanket on the love seat or laugh at inside jokes that you’ve been laughing at with each other for forty or fifty years. Do the little things today that you need to do to stay in love with your companion. Every act of love you do is an investment in your happiness retirement account — and it will make sure you are not one of the 17% of unhappy wives of soon-to-be-retired men.


This article first appeared in the Nauvoo Times.



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Nov 16 2015

It’s Not Just the Pickle

Published by under General

When I was in the hospital recently, I was quickly informed about the purpose of hospitals. “You’re not here to rest and recuperate and get better,” a nurse told me pointedly when I asked why they insisted on awakening me at midnight and at 4 a.m. to check my vitals and to pump me full of drugs. “You’re here to take medicine.”

I guess she set me straight.

But having spent a whole lot of time in hospitals over the past three years, I can tell you there is a secondary reason for people to go to hospitals. That reason has to do with food.

There are two things you can do with hospital food. You can either eat it, or you can ignore it. I have spent most of my hospital incarceration time in the act of ignoring food. And I mean that completely.

I remember back in January of 2013 (my first major hospital adventure), when an excited hospital employee informed me that I had lost a grand total of 100 pounds while lying in the hospital’s bed. They were so proud of me.

I thought this was somewhat amusing, considering that the hospital’s dietician regularly came to my room and angrily told me I needed to eat something or they were going to put a feeding tube down my throat, force-feeding me some kind of nutritional glop. The hospital’s personnel were apparently not on the same page when it came to my eating habits.

Eventually we reached a compromise. The dietician sent four bottles per day of a dietary supplement named Ensure to my room, which I was to consume instead of food. Fluffy took most of it home, although I occasionally drank a bottle just to be sociable.

But Fluffy eventually started bringing food from home. The most successful food he brought was Jell-O. I could eat several bites of that at a time. But he tried heroically to get me to eat something else. At my request, he brought barbecued ribs. He brought fish sticks.

But it didn’t matter whether he appealed to my adult tastes or my childhood memories — it didn’t work. I just wasn’t going to eat. The strong drugs I was taking had killed my taste buds to the point that only Jell-O tasted passible.

I spent three months not eating food in the hospital. I just couldn’t do it. So a year later, when I ended up in a hospital for a few days, I fully expected I would eat the food. Surprise! Not a bite of food passed my lips.

This time, however, there was a reason. The people at the Loudoun County Hospital informed me that I was diabetic, so I was going to be put on a diabetic diet. My diet would include no salt, no sugar, and no fat.

Leaving out those three essential food groups also means the food has no taste. If the food doesn’t taste good, I’m not going to eat it. Food just isn’t that important to me that I’m going to eat it if it doesn’t taste good. Sorry. Nutrition just isn’t enough of an incentive.

I informed the people at the hospital that I am not diabetic. They took my blood and checked. Surprise! My blood sugar was normal every time they pricked my finger. That did not deter them. As long as their all-knowing computers showed that I was diabetic, then by golly their records were going to trump the actual evidence every time.

I was only in the hospital three or four days. For three or four days, I did not eat. A couple of months later, I was in the hospital again — this time for another two or three days. Once again, their records showed that I was a diabetic. Once again, the blood tests came back normal every time. Once again, no amount of pleading on my part won over the dietician. Once again, I did not eat.

I spent four days in that same hospital this past July, once again masquerading as an unwilling diabetic. I liked the nurses and the doctors in the hospital. I liked everything about the hospital except the whole diabetes experience. Call me a whiner, but I do not like being called a diabetic when I am not. I do not like spending four days without food. I want to be treated as an adult. I want to eat what I want to eat.

Then, in October, I found myself getting sick in Delaware. The closest hospital was Reston Hospital — a place that had been highly recommended by friends — so we thought we’d try it out.

One of the things we discovered when I was put in my room was a menu — an actual menu, just like the ones in restaurants. It had food items on it that I might actually eat. This was an exciting thing to contemplate.

The people at the Reston Hospital were not aware that I was ordering my first hospital food ever. They may have thought I was ordering food for an army, though. I soon learned which entrees would serve two persons, and always ordered one of those entrees for Fluffy and me to share.

I got awfully tired of pizza and quesadillas and build-your-own sandwiches, but those were the big entrée items. I’d order one of those and two cookies, and Fluffy and I were good to go for lunch or dinner. Life was sweet. I was finally living on hospital food, and was happy with my lot in life. And the fact that Fluffy and I were sharing meals meant we even saved on grocery money while I was incarcerated.

Fluffy also found the break room where they kept an entire refrigerator full of food that patients could request. So we could have extra soft drinks, juices, and ice cream cups whenever we wanted them. Food-wise, this was almost as good as being on a cruise.

In addition to meal service, the Reston Hospital
even had a refrigerator of treats.


But then disaster struck. One of the doctors gave me a drug that threw my heart out of rhythm, and a cardiologist came into the picture. He announced that my heart was beating as high as 150 beats per minute. This was not good.

I’m a smart cookie. I knew changes had to be made. I immediately stopped drinking the little six-ounce Coca-Colas from the refrigerator in favor of ginger ale. I was only drinking one a day, but I knew I did not need even that much caffeine. I do not like to act like an adult, but I can when I have to, so I did what needed to be done.

But nooo. This was not enough, apparently. The next time I called down for dinner, the conversation went somewhat like this:

I’d like a ham sandwich on a sub roll, with mayonnaise and mustard and Swiss cheese and a pickle.”

“You can’t have a ham sandwich.”

“What do you mean, I can’t have a ham sandwich?”

“Your cardiologist has put you on a heart-healthy diet.”

Great. Then I’ll have a turkey sandwich on a sub roll, with mayonnaise and mustard and Swiss cheese and a pickle.”

“You can’t have a sub roll. You can have wheat bread.”

Great. Then give me wheat bread.”

“And you can’t have mayonnaise and mustard.

“And you can’t have cheese.

“And you can’t have a pickle.”

“Well then, it sounds like I’m not eating, doesn’t it?”

And I must admit I slammed down the phone hard enough that the poor lady at the other end probably had an earache for the rest of the day.

This particular hospital has a “hospitalist,” who is a doctor who oversees the care of all the patients. Let’s just say she was in my room within fifteen minutes, and the dietary order was overturned within a half hour.

But by then I was angry enough that we got takeout twice that day. Fluffy brought Mexican food in for lunch and Subway sandwiches in for dinner. “Heart-healthy” my left foot! Nobody tells Kathy, queen of the universe, what she can or cannot eat.

By the time a person is sixty-five years old, she should be able to decide whether she wants to eat butter or margarine with her food, and whether that “food” is a biscuit or an English muffin. But we went through this same song and dance when I was hospitalized again the following week, and we had to have the hospitalist overturn the cardiologist’s heart-healthy diet prescription.

You know, I just don’t think that being on a heart-healthy diet, or a low-sodium diet or whatever stupid diet the hospital wants to put you on is going to make a big difference in your life expectancy. Well, maybe if you really are a diabetic, you’ll want to stay away from sugar. But if you really are a diabetic, you know what sugar does to you and you’re going to be smart enough to police yourself.

The average hospital stay is a whopping 4.8 days. Is eating margarine instead of butter for 4.8 days really going to affect your overall health? Call me a cynic, but I can’t believe it’s going to make a life-changing difference.

If there is any one doctrine that is the foundation of Mormonism, it is the concept of free will. We believe we were put on the earth to learn to choose between good and evil. As much as God wants us to choose the good, He will still respect our right to make the wrong choice.

We learn freedom of choice as small children. The concept is hardwired in us, so that a three-year-old will be happier with his coloring of a landscape if the sky is the green he chose rather than the blue his mother put in his hand with a gentle reminder that the sky is blue, not green.

The way we grow to maturity is to learn from our mistakes. If we make the wrong choices today, we may choose the right tomorrow. And if we continue to make the wrong choices, we will suffer the consequences of our actions until it may eventually dawn on us that our suffering is the result of our own poor decisions.

Of course, we can only learn from our mistakes if we are given the freedom to make those mistakes in the first place. When people try to tie our hands and take our freedoms away from us — even if those freedoms are as frivolous as choosing whether we can have a pickle with our sandwich at lunch — we do not take it kindly.

It is not the pickle that is important. It is the freedom to choose the pickle that symbolizes everything.

As I lay in the hospital bed, I realized that I had very few choices that were under my control. I could not choose when to be awake or when to sleep. The moment I drifted off, someone invariably came into the room to draw blood or otherwise bother me. As the nurse pointedly told me, I was not there to rest and recuperate and get well. I was there to take medicine.

I could not choose to be fully dressed. My underwear and my modesty had taken flight before I ever entered the hospital room.

I could not even choose whether to lie on my back or lie on my side. The air mattress dictated that I lie on my back at all times. It was not uncomfortable (indeed, it was a $100,000 bed, so it darn well should have been comfortable), but for nine days in a row and for the additional three days afterwards, I reclined in one position and one position only.

What could I do? I could choose whether to read or watch television, and if I watched TV I could choose the station. I could choose to be grouchy or to be cheerful. (I chose to be cheerful, and from what the nurses told me, this was a decision that many patients did not elect.)

And most of the time, I could choose to have a pickle with my ham sandwich, which was on a sub roll, served with mayonnaise and mustard and a slice of cheese. When I couldn’t make that little choice, it upset me. Big time.

Next time you’re tempted to make an arbitrary rule affecting what somebody else — your child, your student, your patient, your constituent, or somebody who works for you — can do, please remember this. It’s not just the pickle. Freedom of choice is important to human beings. It’s hardwired into us.

Let us choose.


This article first appeared in the Nauvoo Times.



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Nov 09 2015

The Elephant and the Hospital

Published by under General

A couple of weeks ago I described a delightful trip we had taken, but I didn’t talk about how it ended, which was not nearly as enjoyable.

When Fluffy and I were driving to Atlantic City we saw a farmer’s market just as we crossed into New Jersey. We stopped to take some pictures and saw some of the prettiest tomatoes we ever did see.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit I am not a fan of tomatoes. I have never liked tomatoes. But these tomatoes had us fantasizing, and Fluffy and I made a point of stopping on the drive home to pick some up.

Some tomatoes can make a tomato-lover out of

the most jaded tomato-hater.


Fluffy picked up six tomatoes, plus a basil plant and a big basket of yams. We decided to make a whole bunch of BLT sandwiches, plus some insalatas caprese. So after Fluffy got in the car again, I got a pen and paper and started making a grocery list. Next we only had to determine where we would stop on the way home in order to get the best baguettes and the nicest mozzarella cheese.

As we crossed the bridge into Delaware, however, my body started giving me different marching orders. I got a sudden and severe case of the chills, and the chills always mean one thing: I need to get to the hospital, fast.

Instead of choosing the best supermarket, the question quickly became whether to go to my regular hospital or the Reston Hospital, which was closer. The Reston Hospital won out. We didn’t even stop at home to offload the tomatoes and our other trip treasures first.

I’m never exactly sure why I’m in the hospital, mind you – except for the fact that my body loves infections, and seems to want to collect them all. The word I heard most often this time was “sepsis,” but I also heard “cellulitis” more than once.

A poster in the hospital hallway happily proclaimed that sepsis was the infection du jour. It also pointed out that I was on a countdown once I got it, and perhaps it was a good thing we had headed straight for the hospital without dallying at home first.


My infectious diseases specialist (and it’s embarrassing to say I’ve had the same guy for three years now, who follows me around when I’ve had one infectious disease after another) said, “It’s goot you know to come in fast, because fen you get sick you go downhill qvick.”

How right he is.

I checked in on Wednesday. By Sunday, I was going stir-crazy. Those tomatoes were calling my name, to say nothing of the time I was losing with Fluffy at home, and the work I should have been doing but that was being done by others. So when I was promised a Monday discharge, I was pretty excited.

The hospital sandwiches I was served were a pathetic substitute

for the Fluffy-made BLTs I had envisioned.


Of course, promises made in hospitals are made to be broken.

Monday I awoke with a hacking cough. I do not cough gently. My coughs come up from my toes. I waited to get discharged. When I did not get discharged, let’s just say Fluffy did not take the news gracefully.

Although Fluffy did not take the news with good cheer, the doctors were more than excited to keep me. Whichever doctor was on charge that day decided to shoot the medical big guns at me, and I was suddenly bombarded with a pharmaceutical salvo that was the equivalent of nuclear war.

My body responded in the only way it knew how. It came up with a whole new host of symptoms, and then the doctor who was in charge the next day responded with his favorite drug, which (of course) was administered in addition to the drug that had been prescribed on Monday.

Every day I got worse and worse and worse. The doctors just saw me as getting sicker and sicker and sicker, so they kept piling one drug on top of another. I was getting closer and closer to death.

Fluffy and I had a different perspective altogether. We decided that just maybe it was the drugs that were making me sicker, and that if I didn’t get out of there soon, I was only going to leave that hospital in a pine box.

I didn’t finally escape until Friday — nine whole nights after I had first checked in. By then I had been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a lifelong heart problem (or so the cardiologist would have me believe). Fluffy and I suspect that as soon as the drugs are out of my system, all these weird things are going to go away and I’m going to be back to normal, or at least what passes for normal on Planet Kathy.

As far as hospitals go, I really liked the one in Reston. I had a great bed in a private room, and the nursing staff was stellar. I think it is my new favorite hospital, although I don’t want to return there any time soon. But I longed to have a doctor who looked at Kathy as a whole person, and not as a heart or a set of lungs or an immune system. It just didn’t happen.

If there had been a patient advocate who looked at me as me, he or she could have looked at my chart and said, “Here’s what’s going on. You put her on prednisone for her lungs, and her heart went out of rhythm. Prednisone can cause atrial fibrillation. Let’s get her off the prednisone, and see if the a-fib goes away. There’s no need for panic here. This isn’t a lifelong situation.”

But there wasn’t a patient advocate. Instead there was a lung doctor prescribing prednisone and a heart doctor panicking and deciding I had a permanent, debilitating heart problem. It took Kathy going home and checking the internet to see that prednisone, sure enough, can cause atrial fibrillation.

What I needed was a mad Dr. Fluffy who looked at the whole Kathy,

instead of just my heart or my lungs.


Why didn’t the hospital know that? Because doctors have tunnel vision, that’s why. They are trained in their own area of expertise, and they don’t have time to focus on the big picture.

As far as the cardiologist was concerned, the diagnosis of atrial fibrillation was the important thing. How I got it was immaterial. He was interested in what was happening with my heart. The rest of Kathy was a bag o’ flesh surrounding my heart — something that said hi, and that answered his questions as he asked them. We got along just fine, but the heart was the bottom line as far as he was concerned.

The longer I stayed in that hospital, the more I felt like the elephant in that old poem, “The Blind Men and the Elephant (a Hindoo Fable),” by John Godfrey Saxe:

The Blind Men and the Elephant
A Hindoo Fable


IT was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.


The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! — but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”


The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried:”Ho! — what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ‘t is mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”


The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”


The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he;
“‘T is clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”


The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”


The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”


And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!


So, oft in theologic wars
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

There were a lot of blind doctors in that hospital. All of them worked hard on me, but I don’t think any of the doctors saw the whole elephant, even though I was lying there in the bed for all of them to observe.

It isn’t just doctors who fail to see the whole picture, however. We are all guilty of selective vision, as 1 Corinthians 13 tells us:

9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

Selective vision is part of the human picture. We look at others and think we know what is going on in their lives, but we are woefully ignorant. We judge them based on our limited understanding, but we only see bits and pieces. We never see the whole thing.

It is only God who sees us completely. It is only God who knows us from the inside out. The next time I am tempted to nod my head sagely and think I know what is going on in the mind or the heart of another, I hope I remember the doctors in the hospital — each of whom looked at a small piece of me and thought he knew the whole.


This article first appeared in the Nauvoo Times.



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Nov 02 2015

Ravening Wolves

Published by under General

Several things have happened lately that have reminded me of Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7:15:

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

We live in a time where we probably encounter these wolves every day of our lives, unless you decide to spend the day in bed with your head under the covers. Here are just a few examples from the past few months.

Fluffy and I have been on Facebook for a couple of years. We resisted it for a long time, but kept getting emails from people inviting us to be their Facebook friends. All things considered, we enjoy the Facebook experience. It has brought us closer to family, friends, church folks and other groups that we support and enjoy.

Fluffy probably gets on Facebook once or twice a day, but I often go for days without looking at it. We are not the kind of Facebook people who document our daily lives there. If you want to find out when we use the restroom, you will not find that out on Facebook.

One morning Fluffy turned on his computer to find a couple of strange questions sent via email. “Did you really win $100,000 in the DC Lottery?” asked one. Another email asked “Did you send me a Facebook friend request? I thought we were already friends.”

About that time the phone rang. It was some friends warning us that Fluffy was being spoofed on Facebook. Somebody had opened a new account using the same name as his. They even stole his picture from Facebook and used that for the account picture.

We didn’t even realize you could have two accounts with the same name, but we guess Facebook allows that (good news for all you John Smiths out there).

Then the perpetrators sent out friend requests to all of the friends that Fluffy already had. Those who were unlucky enough to accept those requests then started getting messages “from Fluffy” inviting them to play the lottery or help out a Nigerian prince willing to share a fortune.

Our friends on the phone had realized what was happening, and decided to have a little fun with the fake Fluffy. They responded to his messages and tried (without success) to get a phone number or address from him.

Fluffy did some research on Facebook, and filed a complaint against the new account. There was even a complaint category of “someone is impersonating me,” so this must be something that happens quite often. Within an hour, the new account had disappeared.

The second “wolf” experience also happened on Facebook. We were not involved with this one, but did read about it after the fact. In this case the wolf was not trolling for money, but was just having a little fun at the expense of others. We had to admit that it did give us a chuckle.

Like many businesses, the Target stores have a Facebook account. They use it to advertise sales and new items and to get feedback from their customers. But someone else (with no connection to Target) opened a new account named “Ask Target,” and used the familiar target logo as the picture associated with the account.

“Ask Target” then visited the official Target area on Facebook, leaving snippy responses to the comments of real Target customers as though he were a bona fide Target representative.

If someone complained about the quality of a product or service, the fake Target representative would give a helpful response like this one: “Maybe you are too stupid to shop at Target, and you should spend your money somewhere else.”

Needless to say, “Ask Target” is hardly a great ambassador for the Target name. He does provide a little entertainment for people visiting the Target website, however. The people who suspect that “Ask Target” is not legitimate get a little enjoyment out of his shenanigans. The people who believe he is a legitimate Target employee provide the entertainment by getting angrier and angrier at “Ask Target’s” comments.

My last “wolf” example happened just yesterday. Someone left an “urgent” message on our phone that we needed to call him back toll-free at a number with an 876 prefix. There was something familiar about that prefix, so Fluffy decided to do some research before returning the call. Sure enough, Wikipedia gave us the real scoop:

The 876 area code (Jamaica) has been linked to a form of telephone fraud known as the “one ring scam.” The person perpetuating the scam calls the victim via a robo-dialer or similar means, sometimes at odd hours of the night, then hangs up when the phone is answered with the hope that they will be curious enough to call the number back.

When the victim does this, an automatic $19.95 international call fee is charged to their account, as well as $9.00/min thereafter. Similar scams have been linked to Grenada (area code 473), Antigua (area code 268), the Dominican Republic (area code 809) and the British Virgin Islands (area code 284).

President Ronald Reagan used the phrase “trust but verify” when he was in the process of negotiating arms agreements. That is probably a good motto for those of us who live in the age of cross-dressing wolves. We try not to be cynical or negative in our dealings with others. But sometimes a little research can save a lot of grief when that little bell starts ringing in our heads.

I will close, as I opened, with a quote from Jesus:

And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10: 28)

I’ve met wolves who have stolen my money. That annoyed me and made me less trusting, but I do not fear them. But we should all fear those wolves who covet our souls, and use their dangerous ideas and philosophies to lead us gradually but relentlessly down to hell.


This article first appeared in the Nauvoo Times.



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Oct 26 2015

Living the High Life on a Budget

Published by under General

Several years ago my husband Fluffy was an officer in a software group that met twice a year for a weekly convention. Because software dweebs from all over the U.S. belonged to this organization, the conventions were held all over the country. Most of the time I accompanied him, so we got to visit hotels all over the continent. We visited Orlando, Tampa, New York City, Nashville, Minneapolis, Denver, Seattle, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Phoenix, Washington D.C., San Francisco and other places that I no longer even remember. We even went out of the country once, when we met in Montreal.

Because this was a large group (500-1500+ attendees), the meetings were always held in metropolitan areas where there were large hotels equipped to hold convention meetings. This means we always stayed in nice hotel chains, and had great rooms.

Even though Fluffy was working, these still became mini-vacations for us, and it was like having an extra two weeks of vacations per year (probably less so for Fluffy, because he spent most of the time in meetings). In addition to these conventions, he also attended several computer-related classes each year where we stayed in nice places. During many years we traveled as much as three months of the year.

These were also cheap vacations, because Fluffy’s employer picked up most of the costs. We would have to pay for my plane ticket and meals, of course. And sometimes the hotel would charge a few dollars more for an extra person. But one of his employers even picked up my travel costs as an extra perk, because they knew I liked to travel with him.

On a couple of occasions, we were even lucky enough to get our hotel room upgraded to one of the executive floors where they had extra perks like appetizers, snacks and bottled drinks. When we went out to eat, we also went to nice places because Fluffy’s expense account would at least cover his meals.

So for nearly three decades, we felt like we were really living the high life. We could choose hotels and restaurants where money was not a consideration, and feel like we were rich and famous, even though it was just twice a year.

When Fluffy retired, we knew that some financial adjustments were in order, and lamented the fact that our days of traveling like Donald Trump were probably behind us. And indeed, most of our post-retirement trips have involved budget hotels and restaurants for which we have coupons.

But occasionally the stars align, and we can feel like big shots again.

This happened last week, when Fluffy scored us a great hotel up in Atlantic City. The hotels there are offering great prices, because it is off season, and because fewer people are going there. The big draw of Atlantic City has always been, of course, gambling. But because surrounding states have opened their own casinos, one of the big draws of the city is no longer there.

So there are lots of big empty hotels that are looking for people to stay there and hopefully visit their casinos, especially during the winter months when it is not vacation season.

One secret to get a cheap hotel is to visit the discount travel web sites. This deal we got through TravelZoo (, but we belong to a whole bunch of them. Once you register (for free) you will get lots of emails full of travel bargains.

The rate that Fluffy got us was for $65 per night. We still had to pay some extra fees and taxes on top of that, but we also got a $20 credit per day that could be used to cover parking and food in the hotel restaurants. So taking all the fees and credits into account, the bottom line was $64.10 per night. That price is more than our usual budget trip, but not by much.

We had also requested a wheelchair-accessible room, so I could use my wheelchair and power scooter in the room. When we checked in, we were told that we had been upgraded to a suite. That was sweet indeed!

This is our two-room suite where we could have entertained at least 20 other guests.

We were also in a corner room, up on the 52nd floor. On one side we could see the city, and on the other side we could see the ocean. It was a great view, both during the day and after the sun went down. It was a huge room with both a living room and a bedroom. We could have saved the parking fee by parking our car in the living room, with extra room to spare. The sign on the door said the normal room rate was $250-$750 per night. Not a bad deal for $64.10.

This was one of the views from our bargain-priced room. Another window overlooked the Atlantic Ocean and the boardwalk.

One nice thing about the hotel is that it was right on the boardwalk. In fact, one of the restaurants where we ate overlooked the boardwalk, and we could see people walking and running by, while we were doing our own exercising by visiting the buffet.

We visited the boardwalk twice during our stay. This picture was taken near sunset. Our major exploration was the next day, when it was earlier and very sunny and beautiful.

Exploring the boardwalk was a lot of fun. It was typical of most beach towns, with shops offering fast food, T-shirts, and cheap souvenirs. There were also lots of big-name hotels, casinos and restaurants. We even found a tribute to the Miss America pageant, which has been held in Atlantic City for more than 20 years.

This was a tribute to the Miss America pageant, which calls Atlantic City home.

Even though it was a short trip, it was delightful. I had never walked on the Atlantic City boardwalk before, and that was great fun (even though technically I used my scooter and not my feet). The weather was beautiful for the entire trip, and we did not feel like we were breaking our budget while having (what felt like) an expensive vacation.

I really liked this sign that was for sale in one of the souvenir shops. I think it applies to many of the great women (and men) that I know.

This is a lesson that we all need to remember in life. Sometimes the biggest obstacles to reaching our goals are within our own minds. We can still eat steak on a hamburger budget, but it takes some planning, research, patience, hard work and good luck.

If you really want something, make it a matter of thought, planning, and even prayer. Doors will be opened, and miracles will occur. This has been one of the things that I regularly get reminded of, and it happened again last week on a boardwalk in New Jersey.


This column first appeared in the Nauvoo Times.

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Oct 23 2015

Party of Two

Published by under General

Every month, the old married people in our church congregation who don’t have children living at home (the “empty-nesters”) get together for a potluck dinner on a Monday night. We eat and visit and usually have some kind of churchy-type lesson. The dinner is almost always held in our home, because that way I don’t have to struggle up a foreign set of stairs. Besides, it gives us an excuse to clean the house.

At the end of our September meeting, when the group organizer asked who wanted to be the host in October, he reminded everyone that October’s meeting was going to be held on Columbus Day. You would have thought he was suggesting we hold the meeting on Christmas Eve.

We’re not going to be there,” half the people said, aghast that anyone would even suggest it. “We’re going to visit our grandchildren.”

(As you can imagine, the “grandchildren” card is sacred in any group of people our age, especially Mormons our age, who collect grandchildren the way a Boy Scout collects merit badges. It is such a valuable excuse for getting out of things that I am tempted to tell people I am going to visit my grandchildren, even though everyone knows I forgot to have children in the first place.)

Other people said they were going to be traveling, or having guests come to visit them. I don’t remember the excuses. Everyone spoke at once.

Fluffy and I checked our calendar, and we were going to be home on Columbus Day. In fact, I had a doctor’s appointment that day, so we couldn’t go anywhere. So we volunteered to be the hosts. It was probably our turn. And it was easy enough to do, seeing as how it was our house anyway.

I had been thinking about chili, and wanting to create a new chili recipe. Fluffy does not eat beef. Usually this doesn’t bother me. I eat my beef, and he eats whatever he wants to eat. But ground turkey does not make a hearty chili. I am a turkey lover myself, but even turkey lovers must concede that ground turkey and the word “hearty” do not go together. I was in the mood to create something different.

Anyway, hosting the potluck would give me the perfect opportunity to create a decent chili recipe, because the hosts of the potluck are always responsible for the main course. So I put my little pea brain to work and came up with a recipe that used pork sausage as a base for chili. This was going to be fun.

Then I sent out the Evites. I always send out the Evites. I’m not sure why. Fluffy and I are not the official organizers, but the organizers weren’t sure how to send out the Evites, so the job fell to me by default so I do it every month. We send out the invitations, we have the party at our house, and we provide the drinks, but another couple in the ward is “in charge.” I have never figured that one out.

Our happy invitation, designed to lure hapless chili-eaters to our home from far and wide.

Once the day was approaching, it was time to make the chili. But how much were we going to make? We knew a lot of people weren’t going to be there, but up to twenty-five people show up on a good night, so we thought we’d have a half dozen or so on a bad one, and we’d seal up the leftovers and freeze them. We decided to buy four pounds of meat and go from there.

Four pounds of meat would feed an army.

I was gratified to see that pork sausage was an excellent choice. It fried up just like ground beef, but without the grease. But pork sausage gave flavor and more heft, so to speak, than ground turkey. And the brand I picked was all natural, so there was none of the nasty MSG that gives Fluffy migraines.

We added all sorts of other good stuff — a whole head of garlic, and cumin, and paprika, and cayenne pepper, and red pepper flakes. We used RO-TEL tomatoes in addition to regular canned tomatoes, just to give our chili an extra kick.

We have the largest size crockpot they make, but all this filled the crockpot so full that Fluffy had to take a saucepan of chili out just so he could stir the rest of it. We made a lot of chili. (Frankly, we have been told we do a whole lot of things on the “overkill” setting.)

And Fluffy made a pan of cornbread — just one pan, because we really didn’t think there would be more than eight people there, and a pan of cornbread serves nine.

Then we wondered who, if anybody, would show up. We have an interesting assortment of people at our potluck dinners. Some of them are from Asia, and even when the theme is Mexican, they are likely to bring Oriental food. If they showed up, we might be eating chili with kimchi. But that is one of the joys of this little group. We can never predict what is going to happen.

The day before the big party (which was a Sunday), the Evite web site showed that a grand total of one couple had responded to the invitation, and they had declined. That does not mean anything, because our group tends to not be good at responding. But it was still an ominous sign.

Fluffy was assigned to teach the high priests that day. He used the first part of the lesson to remind the high priests who were still in town that there was going to be a party the next day. They all smiled and nodded, and seemed to indicate that it sounded like great fun.

On Columbus Day, I quickly did what little work I could before Fluffy bundled me in the car and took me to my doctor’s appointment. Then I spent the afternoon working while Fluffy warmed the chili, made the cornbread, and cleaned the house.

We were all ready for company when the time came. I was even dressed, which was unusual for me. One of the perks of being in a wheelchair is that I get to entertain in my flannel nighties, but since I had already been out of the house I was actually in my big girl clothes and ready to entertain like an actual person.

The party started at 7 p.m., but we had to be ready before that. The first people arrived had promptly at 6:30 last month, so we got to start visiting a whole half hour early. That was fine. As I said, I was actually dressed this month. Fluffy even turned on the outside light to welcome as many guests who came.

He played on his computer. I played on mine. At 7:15 he said, “How long do we have to wait until we can eat dinner?” I said, “People are usually late. Let’s wait till 7:30 or so. We usually eat later than that.”

But the chili was simmering. The aroma was there. We watched the clock like there would be no tomorrow. We were ready to frolic.

The moment the clocks chimed 7:45, I threw off my clothes, put on my nightgown, and settled myself in front of the television. Fluffy gave us each a big bowl of chili and some cornbread, and we watched the most recent episode of “Naked and Afraid.” The star of this week’s episode was a Utah boy. Since he was obviously a naked Mormon, we counted that as our “lesson” for the week. We had a grand old time.

We cooked for twenty, and we ended up with a party of two. But who says you can’t have fun when there are only two people on the guest list? It all depends on which two people show up.

On Columbus Day, it was just fine that there were only two of us. Our monthly Family Home Evening is an optional activity. People come and go if it’s convenient for them, and there is no penalty if they can’t come this month, or the next, or the month after that.

This particular month, it just didn’t seem to be convenient for anyone but the two of us. Plus, we got a big pot of chili, a good recipe for future meals, and a clean house out of the deal.

Fluffy and I would have been happy if twenty people had shown up, but we were just as happy to watch “Naked and Afraid” all by ourselves. We’re flexible that way. That’s the kind of people we are.

There are parties where the attendance is optional, and our little Columbus Day chili fest was one of those parties. Nobody cared whether the people who were invited actually intended — not even the hosts. But there’s another banquet that we have been invited to, that is not such a flexible feast. It is the banquet that Jesus talks about in Luke 14:16-24:

16 Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many:

17 And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready.

18 And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused.

19 And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused.

20 And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.

21 So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.

22 And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room.

23 And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.

24 For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.

I don’t know about you, but the Savior’s banquet is one that I do not want to miss. I want to be at the table, with my napkin on my lap, and I want my loved ones to be there with me. If there is an oil lamp that is required of us, I want mine to be filled, with its wick trimmed and ready to go. I want your oil lamps to be filled, too, because I care about you.

Sometimes it isn’t easy to fill that lamp with oil and to set aside other things and go to the Savior’s banquet. Christianity is not always an easy religion. The sacrifices of our religion are ones we won’t regret making, however. A lot of the time we all waste precious hours on things that matter a whole lot less.


This column first appeared in the Nauvoo Times.

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Oct 12 2015

The Parable of the Ten Students

Published by under General

My husband Fluffy is an only child, so we just assumed that when his parents departed this mortal coil, he would inherit all their earthly possessions.  That shows how wrong we were!

Although they had never said a peep about such things while alive, after they departed we discovered that they had an extensive estate plan, and that Fluffy was to serve as the executor of it. Although they didn’t forget us, they focused on organizations that did good things.

For the most part, we were happy with the way things ended up.  Fluffy’s parents found good places to put their money.  They donated money to the Perpetual Education Fund and the Humanitarian Aid Fund of our church.  Primary Children’s Hospital got some money too.

How can you complain about losing money you expected to get, when it goes to an organization that educates people in Africa or saves people’s lives after tsunamis in Thailand or Japan?  You can’t — well, at least, I can’t.  I can’t think of anything we would have done with the money that would have spent it any better than that.

Do I need a new nightstand more than somebody needs a roof over his head after an earthquake in Chile?  I think not.  Do we need a car to replace one of our 1999 vehicles more than somebody needs an education, or an expensive medical treatment?  No — our 1999 cars are running just fine, thank you very much.  We can wait another five years, or even ten.

But some of the disbursements were not as easy to stomach.  Fluffy’s parents also set aside grants for college scholarship endowments at several of their favorite universities, all of which were in Utah. This was okay too, until Fluffy read that 50% of one of the scholarships should be given to “deserving athletes.”

In Fluffy’s mind, you see, “deserving athletes” are more difficult to find than “military intelligence.”

In fact, it took everything in him to carry out that part of the will according to his parents’ wishes. It was not that he wanted the money for himself, mind you. He just wanted to siphon it over to Humanitarian Aid or Perpetual Education or anywhere that did not involve drooling, ball-dribbling and/or ball-passing Neanderthals at his alma mater university.

Fluffy’s experiences with the afore-mentioned ball-dribbling and/or ball-passing Neanderthals at his alma mater university were not good ones, you see.

Although Fluffy majored in computer science (this was back in the dark ages before most people had even seen a computer), he minored in photography, and also had a part-time job working in the college photography lab. One of his tasks working in the lab was to work with the athletic department and the “deserving athletes” they recruited.

These scholarship “students” (and I must put the word in quotation marks) were treated as gods on his campus. They were certainly not on campus to study. They were there to play ball and bring glory (and donations) to the school, and as such nobody cared whether they even cracked a book.

They were lured to the campus with promises of money and cars and stardom, with hints of liquor and sex. (Fluffy obviously did not attend Brigham Young University.)

Their first big experience on campus was the signing of the contract, which was done with the coaches and the player. Thousands of pictures were taken, as you can imagine. Then they’d depart the photo lab and go out for a big celebratory steak dinner on the university’s dime.

The first time Fluffy ever witnessed this rite of passage, he waited until the coaches and the “deserving athlete” had left the premises. Then he turned to the assigned photographer and volunteered to go develop the film. The photographer responded by opening the back of the camera. The camera was empty. There had been no film in it (this was decades before digital cameras).

The photographer shrugged. “Oh, this is just an ego thing for the new athlete. Nobody ever orders the pictures, so we learned long ago to not waste any film on the spectacle.”

As you can imagine, Fluffy looked at the athletes in his school with a cynical eye after working with them for four years as a photographer. But what drove the final nail in the coffin was when we announced to his parents that we were getting married at the ripe old age of 26.

One would assume that having their only child get married would be a red-letter day in the life of any parent. Not so, on this occasion. Fluffy’s parents lobbied, and lobbied hard, for us to change the date of our wedding. The night we had selected, we were told, conflicted with a home game of Fluffy’s alma mater’s basketball team.

I have probably written enough in these columns about Fluffy that you know without my having to write it down that the moment Fluffy’s parents told him the reason why they wanted him to change the date, the date of our marriage was written in stone. So we got married as scheduled, and his parents were kind enough to attend, even though they would have preferred to be in a stinky gym watching a basketball game.

But Fluffy’s father, who is probably where Fluffy got his stubbornness in the first place, got the last laugh. When Fluffy was going through his father’s effects, he found his father’s handwritten journal. In his spidery, old-man handwriting, he had recorded that he and his wife had attended every one of the college basketball home games except one. “Except one” was underlined, maybe more than once.

It was perhaps for this reason alone that Fluffy parents had revised their will to include the beloved athletes who had given them so much joy. Bummer.

But as I said, Fluffy and I thought the disposition of his parents’ marital assets was a grand idea, with the possible exception of the college scholarships, and the definite exception of the athletic scholarships. Oh, did those athletic scholarships grate on Fluffy.

It hurt his sweet little heart to write the checks, but I am proud to report that he did it anyway, because that’s the kind of person he is. He wrote out the checks, he mailed them off, and then he forgot about them.

And then an odd thing happened. We started getting thank you notes from the recipients of the scholarships. Not only did we get annual financial reports from each university, but we got individual thank you notes from most of the students who got the scholarships.

Some of these were generic, fill-in-the-blank thank you notes, but others were quite heartfelt and touching. We could tell that these scholarships really made a difference in people’s lives, to the extent that their degrees might not have been obtained without that help.

The years passed, and we continued to get thank you notes from all over Utah. The scholarship endowments in all three schools should be perpetual (the school invests the money and funds the scholarships from the investment returns), so the thank you notes should be continuing to come in for the rest of my life and beyond.

Recently Fluffy was going through some of these papers, when he discovered that he had heard nothing from his alma mater since 2013. So he sent an email asking what had been happening with the scholarship endowment at that school.

Why had we received no statements or thank you letters for the past two years? And even when we received those reports, why were they not anywhere as thorough as the reports received from the other two universities?

Fluffy’s email must have caused a flurry of activity in a little town in northern Utah. Fluffy quickly got an email apology, with the promise that a thorough accounting would arrive in the mail soon. That big packet arrived last week, and it contained details for every year back to when the endowment was funded.

The packet also included thank you letters from students that had been written in 2014 and 2015. The thank you letters had been sent to the scholarship office at the university, but nobody had ever forwarded them to us.

If your mailbox is lonely, just establish a scholarship endowment at your favorite university. Then you will get all kinds of mail from grateful students and scholarship administrators.


The letters that nobody had ever bothered to send to us were quite interesting. In fact, once we finally got them they were much more interesting than the ones we had received from the other two schools.

One of them was hilarious. The recipient was on the brink of quitting school when she got the scholarship because she could no longer afford to attend classes and indeed almost didn’t open the scholarship letter because she thought it was another bill. It was such a funny note that we thought she should change her major to creative writing.

If that letter made us laugh, another letter almost brought us to tears. One man from Sudan was allowed to finish his education because of the scholarship. Many of his family had been killed in civil wars, and attending school in the U.S. was a struggle for him culturally and financially. But he was determined to get his degree and then take his education back to Africa.

Both he and one of his professors thanked us profusely for the education that would have been cut short if not for the scholarship that Fluffy’s parents provided.

With the updated financial report in hand, Fluffy sat down with a pen and paper to do a little research. He found something that was both interesting and predictable to him.

Of the ten scholarships that had been awarded by this university, seven of them were academic and three were athletic. Of the thank you notes he received, all seven of them were for the academic scholarships. There wasn’t a thank you for an athletic scholarship in the bunch.

Fluffy said, “This is just like the parable of the ten lepers in Luke, isn’t it?”

11 And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee.
12 And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off:
13 And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.
14 And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.
15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God,
16 And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.
17 And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?
18 There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.
19 And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole. (Luke 17:11-19)

Sure enough, the athletes are those scuzzy, ungrateful lepers. You take their pictures and give them steak dinners and tell them they really don’t have to keep up their grades or follow the rules that everyone else has to follow, and they think the world owes them a living.

Scholarships are thrown in their laps, and it doesn’t matter if the people who throw the scholarships in their laps are people who are driving cars that were built in 1999, and who could use the money themselves. They’re athletes, after all. They are owed.

The thing is, none of us are owed anything. Fluffy and I weren’t owed an inheritance just because Fluffy was an only child whose parents had money in the bank when they died. The athletes aren’t owed scholarships. We aren’t even owed the air we breathe or the clothes we put on our backs.

Everything we have — including the things we work hard to “earn” — is a gift from God. Even the things we think are not especially wonderful (things like my feet that do not walk, for example) are gifts. We can learn great things from them if we will let them teach us.

It is up to us to be grateful for the gifts that are given to us as gifts, the gifts that are the products of our sweat and labor, and the gifts that come to us in the form of adversity. All these things ultimately come from God and are for our good. We should be thankful for all of them, and for the Giver who makes all things possible.


This column first appeared in the Nauvoo Times.



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Oct 05 2015

Another $1,000,000 Idea

Published by under General

We went on our annual apple farm excursion last week, and as part of the overnight trip we stayed in a big name hotel. Fluffy made sure to request a handicapped room, because I need guardrails in the bathroom in order to help me negotiate the terrors of porcelain and tile.

When he called the hotel, he specifically said, “My wife uses a wheelchair so we need a room where there are grab bars in the bathroom.” The cheerful person on the phone told him that the request had been noted, and that all would be well.

When we checked in, Fluffy once again told the smiling Millennial behind the desk that a handicapped room was needed because his wife was in a wheelchair and needed grab bars in the bathroom. The desk clerk cheerfully complied, gave Fluffy his keys, and Fluffy went off to inspect the room.

Fluffy got his first clue that not all was well in Zion when he reached the door of the room and saw a big ear symbol printed on the door. He went inside the room, and sure enough — there were no grab bars anywhere in sight.

We had been given a handicapped room, all right, but it was a handicapped room that was designed for a deaf person. The room was equipped with a doorbell that flashes a light inside the room when pressed. That is all well and good for someone who is deaf, but isn’t much help for someone who has a difficult time walking.

But as far as the smiling Millennial at the front desk was concerned, a gimp is a gimp. You say Po-TAY-to, I say po-TAH-to. Either you can’t walk or you can’t hear. What’s the difference?

(This is not unique to Winchester, by the way. Last November when we went to Williamsburg, Virginia, we were also put in a handicapped-for-the-deaf room after we had specifically ordered a mobility handicapped room six months before. So I guess Millennials are not restricted to Winchester in terms of thinking that way.)

Getting back to the incident in Winchester, Fluffy came back to the car and discussed the situation with me. We actually ended up taking the room. We had stayed in this hotel several times before, you see, and we knew all about the handicapped rooms that were designed in this hotel for people in wheelchairs.

In the handicapped room on this trip, the bathroom was conveniently located right next to the bed. In the handicapped rooms for people in who cannot walk, the bathrooms were far, far from the bed, but that wasn’t all. The bathroom door opened such that I had to wheel beyond the bathroom and then open the door, because the door opening faced the hallway rather than the room itself.

But even that wasn’t all, because the threshold of the door was so tall that I could not wheel myself into the bathroom going forward, but had to back myself in. Just getting into the bathroom was such a major hurdle that we decided that we’d skip the wheelchair-accessible room altogether and see what the room for the deaf had to offer.

Sure enough, I learned to navigate by using the sink instead of grab bars. It turned out that the room that was not wheelchair-accessible was more wheelchair-accessible than the wheelchair-accessible room we stayed in on several previous visits.

Other than the advertised Wi-Fi not working and having the hotel housekeeper nearly beat the door down when she tried to get into the room the next morning at 9 a.m. and clean it (she thought we were deaf, you see), we had a perfectly delightful stay.

I wish this were an isolated incident, but it is not. We just got off a cruise ship, where the wheelchair-accessible room worked the same way as the wheelchair-accessible room in the big-name hotel. The hinge of the door was on the bed side, so I had to wheel myself past the door and open it, rather than just opening the door and going in. I also had to back the wheelchair in because the threshold was so high.

But the cruise ship added its own little humorous feature. The door of the bathroom (I guess I should call the bathroom the “head,” because it was on a ship) was designed to close as soon as you opened it. So I’d throw the door open and then try to turn my wheelchair around to back in. By the time the wheelchair was turned around so I could fit through the opening, the door had already closed so I couldn’t get inside.

Pause here for a string of non-Mormon-worthy expletives.

But getting into the bathroom was only part of the problem. Once inside, the handicapped bathroom was tiny. It was divided into three parts (sink, shower, and toilet) by — get this — a ceiling-to-floor glass divider that the wheelchair was supposed to navigate around. This glass divider was glued to the floor with putty.

If the wheelchair hit the glass divider, the whole divider detached from the floor and swung away from the floor and had to be stuck down again. And every time I moved in the bathroom, I hit the glass divider and dislodged it from the floor, causing it to swing perilously behind me. It was a real experience.

Lest you think I had trouble in that bathroom because I am so large, I must insert here that I do not travel with a large wheelchair. My travel wheelchair is a standard size, and there is actually one standard wheelchair size bigger than the size I use.

I have spent two cruises wishing that somebody from the cruise line would put a camera in that handicapped bathroom, and then put the president of the cruise line in a wheelchair, with his legs taped together, and see how well he navigates from the doorway to sit on the low, low toilet and then to the sink to wash his hands to then sit in the shower and then to the sink to brush his teeth before exiting the room.

The resulting video would be shown to the employees of the cruise line for their viewing pleasure. I suspect the employees would laugh and laugh to see their president being subjected to what wheelchair-bound people are routinely subjected to in his wheelchair-accessible bathrooms.

I suspect the handicapped bathrooms would be redesigned posthaste.

I’m sure those who design such things go through the checklist — extra wide door, check; grab bars, check; roll-in shower, check. But if the same people would sit in a wheelchair and spend five minutes navigating around their creations, they would find dozens of ways that their designs could actually be made workable with just minor changes, such as ordering a door where the hinge is on the opposite side.

I spend a whole lot of time doing secret shopping, where I attend restaurants to taste the food and subject myself to the service, just to let the owners know how well their establishments are doing. After being in a wheelchair for nearly three years, I think it’s high time that somebody started doing the same thing on behalf of handicapped people everywhere.

What we need is Rent-a-Gimp — an organization where people like me could go into a hotel and test the handicapped rooms to see how handicapped-accessible they really are. And they shouldn’t just go into one room; they should test all of them. Our experience just this week showed us that not all handicapped-accessible rooms in a single facility are created equal.

This sounds like a joke, but I believe somebody should do it. Hotel owners, cruise ship designers, and others who are allegedly designing handicapped-accessible rooms (and ramps and other devices) should know exactly how accessible they are. What exactly is the point of having laws about handicap accessibility if the so-called accessible things aren’t usable by the people they are supposed to help?

Of course, if anyone starts such a business, I hope you will at least hire me as one of your rental gimps. Send me out on the luxury cruise ships, please, with Fluffy as my handicap escort. This sounds like a terrible job, but somebody would have to do it, and Fluffy and I might as well be the ones to take one for the handicapped team.


This column first appeared in the Nauvoo Times.



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Sep 28 2015

Dealing with Helpful People

Published by under General

“Hello.  We’re here to help you.”

Fluffy and I looked at one another and blinked. We had not been aware that any help was needed.

It was the third day of our six-day cruise, and the trivia pecking order had already been established. There were two teams that had won all of the competitions. One team was a five-person team from North Carolina that took trivia contests as seriously as Fluffy and I take Mormonism.

This team, the “Tarheels,” told us they play trivia games three or four nights a week against different groups of people, and that they host trivia contests in their community. They watch “Jeopardy!” and other TV shows and even cartoons and TV commercials just to get trivia questions for their games.

The other winning team was the “Virginia Hams,” a two-person team consisting of Fluffy and me. We had not played any trivia games whatsoever since we had taken our last cruise eleven months before.

Although we have recently started watching “Jeopardy!” each night, we do not watch cartoons and Fluffy fast-forwards through all the TV commercials — even the ones I want to see. So we do enjoy trivia, but it is not a vocation or even an avocation for us.

We two teams were battling it out for total trivia domination, with the “Tarheel” team registering shock and awe and just a little bit of betrayal when Fluffy and I won the prize for any particular contest. No, the two teams were solidly neck and neck. The last thing that Fluffy and I needed was anybody else’s “help.”

Here is one of our winning score sheets — and our valuable prizes —
before we started getting “helped.”


But what can you do? Fluffy sighed. I looked up and assessed the situation. There were three interlopers — a man and two women, in their late sixties or early seventies. They looked fairly intelligent, but how can you tell?

I smiled up at them. I wanted to tell them to just go away, but how could I? I’m not that kind of person. My mother raised me to be polite. Besides, Mormons have sociability beaten into them. “Do you know about sports?” I asked. “What about Shakespeare, or Broadway musicals, or Hollywood celebrities? Those are our weaknesses. If you know those things, we can use you.”

“Ron can help you with the sports,” one of the women said. “And Nancy can help you with everything else.”

“Sit down,” I said, with another big smile that really meant, “Please go away.” “We’d be glad to have you.” And with those lying words, Fluffy and I knew we had lost any chance of winning the progressive trivia competition, which spanned several days and was the biggest trivia competition of the whole cruise.

We had our team name already written at the top of our score sheet. We’re the Virginia Hams for two reasons. First, we live in Virginia. The second reason should be obvious. Ron looked at our team name and said, “We’re from Maryland. We’ll have to come up with a different team name.”

He mused for half a second and said, “I know! The Ravens!”

Gee. That was original. Two-thirds of the people on the ship were going to name their teams after the Baltimore Ravens. “Not going to happen,” said Fluffy. We aren’t football fans.”

Ron looked at Fluffy as though he had sprouted another head. I could tell it was going to be a long trivia game.

“What about the Chesapeake Crabs?” I suggested. Everyone else shrugged. It wasn’t an inspired name, but that’s the nature of teamwork. Everything is born of compromise. Besides, it matched my mood at that point.

Then the game started, and the compromising really began. And that’s the problem with having people join us at trivia. Which is, we have to accept their help, even when their help isn’t helpful. We have to let them contribute. We have to play nice.

So when the question is, “Name a movie where you can see Kevin Costner’s bare butt,” and the stranger across the table says, “The Bodyguard!” with absolute conviction, good manners require you to accept that answer, even though the little niggling voice in your head says, “Wasn’t Kevin Costner butt naked for almost the entire movie Dances with Wolves?”

Then we were asked which actor played the title role in the film Malcolm X. Even though we had not seen the movie, Fluffy thought the answer was Denzel Washington. But then, again with great conviction, another of our teammates said the answer was Jamie Foxx. So being polite, and not being 100% sure ourselves, we accepted that (wrong) answer instead of Fluffy’s correct guess.

By the end of the trivia contest, we had accepted the strangers’ answers just enough times to be kind to them, which, coincidentally, was just often enough for us to lose that particular contest by two points. The thing about progressive trivia, though, was that we had to keep the same team for the duration of the cruise, which meant we were stuck with our teammates for two more games.

We knew we were doomed.

Sure enough, no matter where we hid ourselves in the Schooner Bar, our intrepid teammates found us on both those occasions. And on both those occasions they “helped” us go down in flames.

For example, the juice from a strawberry (not a blueberry) will help whiten teeth. John Lennon was shot on a Monday, not a Tuesday. And the first Super Bowl game was played in Los Angeles (sorry, New Orleans). We finally decided we would press for the correct answer, if we knew it, and only defer to the other team members if we had no clue or weren’t sure. But by this time, it was too late.

By the end of the competition, the Tarheels beat us so soundly that we weren’t even in second place. We still had a respectable score. I think we were about four or five questions behind the winners. But we were the fourth team in the rankings, and that made for a miserable showing. The Tarheels had ground us into the decking, and they knew it. It wasn’t even a fair fight.

The thing about Ron and his two female companions is that they never did understand that they were the reason we lost the progressive trivia competition. From the beginning to the end, they thought they were helping us, and that our team just wasn’t as good as the three teams that scored higher than we did. They gave it their all, never knowing that their all was what caused Fluffy’s and my defeat.

How many times have I thought I was helping someone, only to do exactly the wrong thing that was needed? I’m sure it happens all the time. Perhaps when Jane gets sick, she does not need my casserole. Maybe she needs to have her laundry done instead. Or perhaps instead of a visit, Claudia needs to have her children picked up from school and taken to Grandma’s. The list goes on.

Does John really need a get-well card in the mail, or does he need a talk with a friend? Does the wife of a man who is in the hospital need someone to send flowers to him, or does she need someone to sit with him so she can go to the movies and get her mind off things for just two hours?

When help is needed, the first thing we do is inventory our own set of gifts and see what we feel comfortable giving. Instead of looking at what is comfortable for us to offer, we should look instead to see what the person on the other end needs.

Instead of blindly showing up with a dinner, perhaps we should give the recipient an option: “What can I do for you, Daisy? Can I bring you a dinner on Thursday, or would you like me to come over and mop your floors, or can I take your kids to the park for you and give you an afternoon to take a nap?”

Let her choose — and don’t be surprised if the answer is something that is not even on your list. The service that someone needs may be something you or I would never have thought of giving.

I remember an act of service that my friend Michelle gave me way back in 2011 — back in the days when my worst physical ailment was congestive heart failure, coupled with a nasty case of pulmonary hypertension.

Okay. Both of those were fatal diseases. I couldn’t walk ten paces without having to sit down and rest, and I used an oxygen tank when I was at home. I was a lot worse off then than I am today. Today, my worst problem is that I temporarily don’t have the use of my feet.

Early that month, the mother of a mutual friend died. I knew I should go to the funeral, but this was before my coma, and while Fluffy was still working and couldn’t get the time off. I couldn’t take myself because I couldn’t park a car and get from a parking lot into a church. Even then, I needed to use a wheelchair, but I didn’t have a wheelchair except for a “transport wheelchair” that somebody else had to push.

Out of the blue, Michelle gave me a call and asked if I wanted a ride. She would give me door-to-door service from my home to the Catholic Church to Arlington National Cemetery to the country club where the funeral luncheon was going to be held, and then back home again. It was going to be an all-day affair.

I really needed to go to that funeral, but just as much as going to the funeral I thought it was a great idea to spend some time with Michelle, who is even more of an introvert than I am. It was going to be a real sacrifice for her, and I knew it.

That day became one of the great memories of my life. The day was snowy and cold and miserable. Michelle and I laughed and took pictures and acted like idiots (acting appropriately solemn when solemnity was called for, of course). She pushed me everywhere, and I am not a lightweight person to push. The gift of her time was a treasure. I will love Michelle for the rest of my life — and beyond.

We, too, can give gifts of our time and our hearts. All we have to do is think outside the casserole dish, and we can change a person’s life forever.


This article first appeared in the Nauvoo Times.



3 responses so far

Sep 21 2015

Floods of Water and Blessings

Published by under General

A few weeks ago we were preparing to leave town for a short vacation. In the middle of our preparations, Fluffy was called away to help our friend Jeff with an unexpected emergency. It was an emergency the friend did not expect, but then that’s the nature of emergencies. You can’t exactly schedule them and put them on the calendar.

Four or five months ago, Jeff had decided to apply for a job out in California. It was a temporary job, if you can call a job of four years’ duration temporary. He would be packing everything up and moving out there for four years, but coming back here afterwards, so the move would not be permanent. He planned to rent out his house while he was gone, and live in a condo for the time he was in California.

Ever since that decision was made, Jeff has been going crazy to get ready for that move. He wanted to get his home here ready for people to rent it, so he remodeled it inside and out. A self-professed handyman, he re-roofed the place himself. He also re-tiled the bathrooms and did all sorts of other work on the home.

I have never been inside Jeff’s house, because it is hard for me to get into other people’s houses, but he showed me pictures, and the work he did looked pretty impressive.

Jeff did little things too, if you can count fixing his refrigerator’s ice maker and painting a fence as “little” things. He didn’t let anything slide.

In addition, our friend Pam was moving from one house to another in our ward. Jeff pretty much moved her too, hauling all her big stuff on his trailer and sealing her driveway and doing her landscaping and doing everything else that she needed to have done.

Where were Pam’s home teachers all this time, who should have been helping Pam? Wait. Fluffy and I are Pam’s home teachers. All we did was invite Pam and Jeff over for dinner a few times. Oops.

Our good-hearted friend Jeff.


As if this weren’t enough, Jeff sneaked over to our house at least a couple of times and put weed killer on our lawn. I am sure he did this for other people as well. Last autumn when the leaves were falling, he came over several times with his leaf blower to clear our leaves. Our yard looked like it had been vacuumed — that’s how clean it was. There wasn’t a leaf in sight.

Jeff is the kind of person who is always doing good things for other people, without being asked, even if he is in the process of moving. He does not let grass grow under his feet.

So you can see that Jeff has been pretty busy ever since he decided he was going to move. Finally he was all ready to move, with the house completely ready to go, and all the boxes packed up and sitting on the floor, ready for the movers to come in and haul them away. At last Jeff and his wife were able to fly out to California and look for a place to rent for the next four years.

While they were gone, he sent a neighbor into the house to retrieve a document and send it to him. It was a good thing he did. Apparently when Jeff was working on his refrigerator’s ice maker, the water line was bent just enough to cause a tiny pinprick hole to form. While they were away, the hole turned into a leak, and the leak had flooded his entire house.

Not only did his entire wood laminate floor have to be replaced, but the sheetrock on his walls had to be taken off. The boxes of papers that were on the floor were soaked, and much of the house was destroyed.

Poor Jeff, who had fixed his house to perfection and then had spent time he didn’t have to help other people, found himself back to square one. It isn’t often when you find yourself with less than ten days before you are supposed to move, with no floors in your house and the walls torn down to the studs and with many of your possessions needing to be unpacked, dried out, and repacked in fresh boxes.

So now in addition to all his other tasks, Jeff had to deal with moving his family into a hotel, and supervising not only the packing but the repair efforts on the home. There was even a “mold person” coming in every day, and the repairmen could not lift a finger until he told them the house was dry enough for them to start making their repairs.

One of the silver linings in this dark cloud was that it provided an opportunity for Fluffy and other ward members to lend a hand, and partially repay Jeff for the many acts of service he had done for us over the years. And when he was out in California, Jeff was able to find a place to live that will be a real blessing to his wife while they are living on the West Coast. That is a silver lining, too.

Even so, the destruction of Jeff’s home was a disaster. His house is a wreck. Fortunately, Jeff did not shake his fist at God and curse the heavens. Being a mature human being, he realized that this is the nature of our world. This life is not supposed to be fair. It is a series of tests, and how we respond to those tests measures our worth as human beings.

As the Bible says, “He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:45).” No matter how many good works you do, it is not an insurance policy. Bad things are going to happen to you, too.

Jeff is definitely one of the good guys. Right now it is raining on him. Tomorrow, it could be you or I.

Where will be when our friends are caught in a thunderstorm? Will we be safely at home, curled up with a book, or will we be standing next to them, holding an umbrella?


This column first appeared in the Nauvoo Times.



One response so far

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