Mar 16 2015

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Debt

Published by Kathy under General

I am in a race. It isn’t a footrace, or I would lose it, seeing as how I do not have working feet. And there are no other contestants in this race, but it is a race with a finish line nonetheless.

Right now the finish line is in 8.6 months away. I am counting down the numbers — yes, indeedy-do. Those numbers have been staring me in the face for several years, although, of course, the numbers change every month.

This is the first month, for example, that the number has been so low that Fluffy has said that a person could get pregnant and have a baby, and my race would be finished before the baby was born. Now that was a satisfying thing to contemplate. I have seen hundreds of women at church go through pregnancy and childbirth, and the time flies by like lightning (well, maybe not for them). But I can do this.

The number that is staring me in the face is the number marking the day I will be out of debt. I’m determined that this will be the last time I will be out of debt, mind you, because it is the last time I will be in debt. You see, after a lifetime of getting in debt, I have finally learned my lesson. And, as Fluffy would no doubt tell me, it certainly took long enough!

In my defense, I learned my lesson before the last time I got in debt. I had already learned my lesson before I lost my last job, but then I got laid off from that job and I had regular payments I was expected to make anyway. I kept putting those things on charge cards, fully expecting another job was going to come up soon. Little did I know I was going to be unemployed for four miserable years.

One can amass a whole lot of debt in four years, even if one lives frugally — which I did and I didn’t, depending on the month (and sometimes depending on the moment).

Okay, let’s call a spade a spade. During those lean years I spent about $6000 per year, which is pretty darn conservative, when you think about it. That money paid for vitamins and my clothing and Fluffy’s clothing and a lot of our food and Christmas gifts and birthday gifts and virtually everything else in the world I needed (or thought I needed, which is a different thing altogether).

When you think about it, spending only $6000 per year made me a wise steward of the money I did not have.

But it’s hard to pat myself on the back when, cumulatively, I racked up almost as much debt as the amount we paid for our first house back in the dark ages, which is a whole lot of money to pay off. I screamed like a turnip being squeezed when it was time to pay the bills every month.

I took a two-pronged approach to dealing with the situation — ignorance and denial. Every financial question Fluffy asked was answered with, “I don’t know.” Finally to reduce both of our frustration levels, Fluffy took the job over from me. Now he pays the monthly credit card bills and performs other magic acts so that I’m not paying the outlandish interest rates that I used to pay.

All I have to do is earn my monthly paycheck and keep my spending under control. The monthly pain of actually paying the bills is gone, but the money is going no farther. At least he tells me exactly when I will get out of jail free.

I have a modest monthly allowance that is set aside before the credit cards are paid. Once this is spent, I’m high and dry until the next month rolls around. This has presented some challenges. Every visit to the supermarket forces too many decisions.

I may have a craving for pork chops, for example. Well, that’s just too bad! There’s a birthday this month, or maybe it’s Easter. I only get pork chops on months when there are no days to celebrate. Maybe I will get pork chops in June. And the same goes for cheese. Other than your basic cheddar cheese, cheese is a thing of the past. We’re holding off on cheese for the duration.

But in 8.6 months I will be out of debt and we can live like regular human beings. All that money that is now going to pay for past sins will be available for riotous living. I can buy pork chops every month, or maybe twice per month. We can march up to the cheese counter and buy a whole wheel of Société Roquefort, if we are so inclined. How I look forward to that day!

I am learning the lesson of what happens when you continue to spend money when you are out of a job. You get in debt, and then you have to pay down that debt one miserable month at a time.

I am paying the piper. In December, all this will behind me, and I will have learned my lesson. (Actually, I have already learned my lesson, but I am still paying down the piper.)

This is a lesson in repentance. You can be sorry for your actions, and you can be forgiven for your actions, but sometimes there are consequences for those actions that still have to be paid. Sometimes those debts have to be settled with a bank, as mine are. Other times those debts have to be settled with other human beings, as you forgive others or beg their forgiveness for your sins.

Sometimes those debts have to be paid with yourself, as you change your habits or wean yourself from addictions. Some addictions can ride your back for a lifetime.

(I look at the idiot young people who slouch down the street with cigarettes hanging from their mouths, looking oh-so-cool. Ha! I think. What imbeciles you are! But some lessons can’t be told to you. You have to learn them by yourself, and pay for them that way too.)

You can repent all you want for what you did in the back seat of the Chevrolet. You can forgive yourself, and God can forgive you. But nine months later, if the stars aligned, you are still going to find yourself in the maternity ward.

Repentance washes away the spiritual stain. We still are left to deal with the earthly consequences of our actions.

I have a list of things I am going to purchase when I am out of debtors’ prison. I will order all the ruby red grapefruit I want, for one thing. And See’s chocolates will be on the list too. And of course pork products will be a big priority. It is time to replenish our food storage, and I am beyond ready to do that.

I will hire a housekeeper — just once a month. Fluffy deserves a break, and it’s about time he got one.

The big purchase will be night stands that are not made of particle board. I will have had thirty-nine years to decide what I want, so I am pretty picky about it. But I am not going overboard. I do not need thousand-dollar pieces of furniture. I am a frugal person. I know what they cost, and I am willing to shop around.

Fluffy is afraid that the first month I am out of debt, I will get myself right back in debt again. Fluffy is wrong. You see, the biggest gift I can give myself is peace of mind. That doesn’t cost any money. In fact, that requires that I don’t spend it. And that’s exactly what I plan to do.

That’s the most important thing about repentance, you see: The person who is repenting must change his ways. I want to show Fluffy, and I want to show myself, and I want to show God, that I am a new person.

As it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” I want to show myself, most of all, that I am one of those new creatures. And if all goes well, the new Kathy will emerge before the New Year appears.

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Mar 09 2015

Hanging Onto Happiness

Published by Kathy under General

It is now officially the second week of March, and we keep talking about the need to take down our Christmas tree. We still turn on the tree lights every night, and enjoy the festive glow that it provides as we eat our dinner and watch TV.

Fluffy keeps saying, “Well, I guess we need to take down the tree this week,” and I agree with him. But then he puts it off for another day and I never complain, because I’m enjoying it too.

By this time you are probably thinking that we have one of those fake trees, but you would be wrong. In fact, the reason it will eventually come down is that it is becoming more of a fire hazard each day. But all things considered, it is only looking slightly droopier than the day it was first put up.

Still only marginally droopier than it was in December, here is our Christmas tree the first week in March.

In fact, other than the fact that it’s a fire hazard, the only problem with the tree is that now that the branches go downward, the ornaments are starting to roll off the branches and land with a thunk on the floor. Those thunk sounds surprise us, and we are too old to be startled. Nasty things happen when old people get startled. For one thing, they might choke on their teeth.

Also, I am afraid that some of our ornaments might break. After carting some of our Christmas ornaments in my lap home from exotic places, I would hate to have them end up in pieces on the floor because they slid off the branches of the Christmas tree because the branches were pointing downward because they no longer were perky enough to point up. Fortunately, the tree sits on top of a protective rug, so most of the time the fallen ornaments don’t break.

Between church activities and friends, we have lots of people come to visit us — people who might be a little taken aback by the Christmas tree in our family room. Just this week we had the Relief Society book group meeting in the same room as the tree. No one made any comments, however, having gotten used to the fact that, well, the Kidd family is just a little bit strange.

The thing is, everyone we know is used to our leaving our Christmas decorations up as long as is humanly possible. We may take down our tree in March, for example, but the wreath on our front door stays up until it falls down. And the wreath inside on our stairway stays up (I should be embarrassed to say this) until the friend who makes our wreaths needs the ribbon to make next year’s wreath in December.

Yes, it is true. I have no shame.

But Fluffy and I like Christmas. We like the music. We like the decorations. We like the food. We like the way Christmas makes us happy. We want to hold onto that for as long as we can. And if that means we listen to Handel’s Messiah year-round and keep up our indoor live Christmas wreath until December (long after it is technically not alive anymore), well, that’s our prerogative because it’s our house.

We have noticed something interesting in this year of 2015, however. Usually, Fluffy and I are alone in leaving our Christmas decorations up way into the New Year. But this year, we have seen many holdouts as we have looked into windows on our street and beyond. This year, we will not be the last people in our town to take down our Christmas decorations.

Maybe it’s the cold. Maybe it’s the bone-chilling “global warming” that has done everyone in, here in the Washington, D.C., suburbs and along the East Coast. We have gone far past seeing our breath when we talk. We have been so cold this winter that feeling comfortable is a dim memory.

Fluffy is outside shoveling snow as I write this. Children have a snow day off school today and tomorrow, and even the federal government is closed, which means the temple is closed. We are socked in, snow-wise, even though spring is allegedly just around the corner and temperatures are predicted to be in the fifties just next week.

But even though snow days like this are rare, the rest of the winter has been bone-cold. Even indoors I have been so chilled that the only time life is bearable is when I am swaddled in a blanket, with a shawl around my shoulders, and Fluffy on one side and a space heater on the other. Then I feel toasty, but only until Fluffy gets restive and leaves me so he can do something else.

I don’t know what people do who do not have a Fluffy and a space heater. Maybe they are the other ones whose Christmas trees give them that psychological warmth. There is something about a Christmas tree that says “happy.” When the summer sun is shining, people don’t need that extra boost. Now, in the dead of winter, we need that extra reminder, so Christmas decorations are staying up longer than normal.

Just last night, Fluffy went to a meeting in a home that had a Christmas wreath on the door. No, it wasn’t our house. There was a little bit of happiness on the front door of that house, and maybe that went into the inside too. The woman who let him in said, “I keep wanting to take it down, but my husband says to keep it up a while longer.”

Christmas gives us a frame of mind that human beings need as much as we do food or water. We think kindly of others as we wonder what gifts to buy for them, and as we wrap and deliver, or even as we make those gifts. We do good deeds. We make elaborate or not-so-elaborate dinners that we share with others.

The bottom line is that we spend time with the people we love, or the people we should love. We look for the good in each other, and we celebrate that good in a way that we may not do during the rest of the year. As we make all these Christmas preparations, the side-effect is that most of us are happier than we are at any other time.

We bask in the joy of Christmas, but then the day passes and then all too many people pack up the Christmas spirit with their Christmas ornaments at the end of December. As soon as the trappings of the holiday are put away, it’s business as usual again. We have friends who put their Christmas tree out on the curb promptly on December 26th.

Some of us have a hard time letting that joy go. We are the ones with Christmas trees that are still glow warmly into January and February and even into March. We would still be taking gifts to others, but the recipients would get that uncomfortable feeling that maybe they should reciprocate, and that’s the last thing we would want them to do.

In a world with so much sorrow and suffering, it may not be bad to wish that the warm feelings associated with Christmas might extend through the rest of the year too. Tonight when I go to bed, Handel’s Messiah will accompany me up the stairs. And even after the Christmas tree is taken down, I hope that Fluffy and I will live in a Christmas house this year.

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Mar 02 2015

False Assumptions

Published by Kathy under General

I am officially freezing.

Of course this is an exaggeration, but it isn’t much of one. Even our Christmas tree, which is still sitting in our family room this first week of March, looks cold and forlorn.

It is so cold and snowy here on the East Coast that church was canceled here in our own little corner of Mormondom last week. This is something I did not mind. Snow days, whether they are in the form of vacations from elementary school or days off from work or even a rare day of hooky from church, are days to be cherished.

But when it gets so cold that even our goosebumps get goosebumps, I can’t help but think of my first car. It was a beautiful car, back in the days when automobiles were built to be powerful as a locomotive, and gasoline was so cheap that sometimes people would just drive around if they had nothing else to do.

My car had a V-8 engine, which meant it was designed to go 120 miles per hour so smoothly that you could rest a glass of water on the dashboard of the vehicle while you were driving and see hardly a ripple on the surface of the water.

In fact, cars those days were designed so well that you could easily look down and see that you were going 120 miles per hour, thinking that you were only going 55. Oops. It was easy to have a lead foot, back in those days.

Today, if you go more than 65 miles per hour, your car starts to shimmy and shake. Bolts and screws and pieces of plastic start flying across the open areas of the vehicle as dangerous projectiles, and if you chew gum with your mouth open you are liable to break a tooth.

Millennials may have a hard time believing this, but back in those days cars did not have seat belts. Nobody had ever heard of air bags, so we did not have those either. If you got in a car accident, you died. It was sort of the equivalent of so-called “Smart” Cars or Mini Cars today. You just knew you were going to die, so your life depended on avoiding an accident.

I bought my first car for a hundred and fifty bucks. I don’t know why the owner was getting rid of it. It was in great condition. It was a 1963 Oldsmobile 98, and I bought it in the autumn of 1972. It was a boat.

Here is a picture of a 1963 Oldsmobile 98. I assure you, it was a lot bigger than it looks in the picture. It got eight miles to the gallon. This is not a typo. I’m sure when I was driving 120 miles per hour, it got even fewer miles than that.

Fortunately, gas only cost 25 cents per gallon at the time.

For the most part, I was only using the car to drive to and from school, which was only a mile or so away from home. Being inside the car protected me against the bitter winter winds as I commuted between home and school. I did not, however, use the car to keep me warm. I decided I could not afford to run the heater, so I did not touch the heater.

Even when I went to and from Salt Lake City — a hundred-mile round trip from Provo, Utah — I was careful not to touch the heater of that car. Instead, I bundled myself up in a coat, scarf, gloves, and other assorted warm clothing to keep the cold out. Oh, thinking about that warm heater was a real temptation, but I was on a tight budget and could barely afford to keep the car gassed as it was.

It was a particularly bitter winter that year. I am sure there have been worse winters since then, but that year people talked about the record-setting cold. For a week or two the temperature was 18 degrees below zero. I did not turn on the heater in that car, but I was glad to have the windows protect me from the arctic wind. I just could not afford to pay for the extra gasoline that running the heater would cost me.

The following summer a friend borrowed the car to take a girl on a date. He drove it straight up “Y” Mountain in Provo to impress her and got the car stuck. The men in our ward had to trek up the mountain and pick up that boat of a car by hand to turn it around so Dale could drive it down the mountain again. Have I mentioned that the car was all steel? The car never drove right after that, so when he asked to buy it from me, I sold it to him for $150 — exactly what I paid for it.

Years later when I met Fluffy, I told him this story and he laughed and laughed. He explained that car heaters work using the heat that is given off as a natural byproduct of the engine running. Running the heater will not burn an extra drop of gasoline, and in fact the engine might run more efficiently when the heater is running too.

So I could have been running the car heater in that car and its successor as much as I wanted without squandering an ounce of gasoline. Air conditioners may eat up gasoline, but heaters do not. All the freezing days and nights I spent in my powder blue Oldsmobile could have been spent in happy comfort, but I assumed that the heater used gasoline and worked from that assumption without ever checking to see if my assumption was correct.

I think about this story on occasion, and wonder how much of our lives we waste based on false assumptions. How many times do we chase after things, only to find when we reach them that they are not what we thought we were pursuing?

We all know individuals who have been so focused on a particular goal that they have set aside other things (sometimes things that are much more important) in the pursuit of that goal. Often times it is only by achieving that goal that they realize they are not happy, and that true happiness could have been obtained via some of those things that were cast aside as unimportant during their journey.

All of us get sidetracked sometimes. It may be something big, such as a career that takes us away from our families. It could be something small, such as a hobby that takes us away from something that may be a little more important.

We all have our temptations. They come into our lives like railroad trains or like butterflies, and they may blind us for the moment or for long years as we follow false assumptions instead of things that are better.

Fortunately, life is full of second chances. When I make a mistake and find myself going in the wrong direction because I thought the ring on the merry-go-round was gold and it turned out to be brass, God allows course corrections. With a little hard work we can often do a course correction to get us back on the path to obtaining those treasures in life that are of true value.

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Feb 23 2015

Truth in Inconvenient Places

Published by Kathy under General

When I was freshly graduated from Brigham Young University, I got my first real job as a reporter for the Salt Lake City Deseret News, the city’s Mormon newspaper. Because we were the newspaper that represented the Latter-day Saint viewpoint, everybody who worked there had a Mormon association to one degree or another.

We had new Mormons like me. But there were also old Mormons, lapsed Mormons, non-Mormons and even anti-Mormons. You see, we all had “Mormon” of some sort in our description, whether we wanted it or not (and I assure you, the anti-Mormons assuredly did not). And because we were a Mormon newspaper, one of the things we talked about the most was the Mormon religion.

As a newly-minted Mormon, I was still stupid enough to think I could convince people to see the beauty in the new truths I had discovered, if I could only get them to listen to it. So I helpfully would try to tell “Joe” or “Nick” some of the truths I had learned, and was puzzled when they laughed me down.

The reason they laughed at me was what puzzled me. They liked what I said, you see. But they were not going to accept it for one reason, and for one reason alone. It was tainted because it was found inside the Mormon religion.

If they had found the same nuggets of wisdom in Catholicism or Zoroastrianism or Buddhism, they would have embraced them. Hey — this was during the Age of Aquarius. Even the hippies were zoning out to whatever crazy ideas they tuned into. But if it had the word “Mormon” attached, my co-workers wanted none of it. “Mormon” was the ultimate crazy. It was truth in an inconvenient place.

Later on, after Fluffy and I got married and had our own home, we saw a different instance of that sort of thing. We planted raspberries and asparagus in our own little garden plot. They occasionally produced a tiny asparagus or a raspberry or two — never enough for a meal, mind you, but enough for one of us to have a bite from the garden on a rare delightful occasion.

But occasionally, way out in the yard, fifteen or even twenty feet from the bed where the raspberries and the asparagus were planted, a raspberry cane or a volunteer asparagus would spring up, unbidden, in the middle of the lawn. Nobody had asked for it to be there. Nobody wanted it to be there. When he found one of these interlopers, Fluffy mowed it down relentlessly with the rest of the overgrown grass.

If the raspberry cane or the asparagus stalk had grown in our garden it would have been prized, but it didn’t. We didn’t want it out in the grass. We couldn’t accept it there. It was in an inconvenient place.

Brigham Young was a man who was two hundred years ahead of his time. He used to counsel Mormons — men and women alike — to seek learning “out of the best books.” Indeed, for the non-Mormons who are reading this, we Mormons have an actual scripture that counsels us to do that:

And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118).

But Brigham Young took it to heart. He didn’t care whether the books were written by Latter-day Saints. In fact, the Church was new enough at the time that there were precious few books written by Latter-day Saints anyway.  So he encouraged Mormons to look outside the Church for their enlightenment, gleaning knowledge wherever they could find it.

Thus, it should not surprise a Mormon to find kernels of truth in any church, or wisdom in the mouth of any babe. Of course, sometimes we’re so surprised to find it that we may not recognize it until it hits us over the head with a mallet. But then, we’re human just like everyone else. Sometimes it takes a whop with a mallet to convince us to see things that are plainly in front of us to see.

One example occurred about a year ago, when Fluffy and I were just about to go on a road trip. I was checking the computer one last time when I clicked on Facebook and was stunned to see a little snippet my Facebook friend Catherine Keddington Arveseth had posted. She casually mentioned the Three Stages of Marriage as though everyone had heard about it.

She said that couples in a marriage traditionally go through three stages:

  1. Loving but not knowing.
  2. Knowing but not loving.
  3. Knowing but choosing to love anyway.

I had never heard anything about the Three Stages of Marriage, and it hit me like a bombshell. Fluffy hadn’t heard it either. How we wished we had known it all along! It would have saved us years of heartache. Like millions of other couples, we had spent years mired in the quicksand of Stage 2.

Once we learned this bit of information, Fluffy and I have told many couples about it. Some of them were extremely grateful. They were men or women who were in Stage 2, and this was a lifeline for them. It was more than good news for them to know there was a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel; it was something that allowed them to go on when they otherwise believed their marriage was stuck in a hopeless rut.

But other people — people whose marriages were equally troubled — did not take hold of the lifeline. The reason stunned me. They thought the concept was worthwhile until they asked where we got it. When they learned I had read it on Facebook they sniffed, “Oh. I don’t go there. Facebook is a waste of time.”

I don’t doubt for a minute that Facebook can be a huge waste of time. I have been spending less and less time myself there for the past few months, as life has demanded more of me. There isn’t time for me to squander hours on Facebook, the way I used to do. But to discount something solely because it came from Facebook, or from the Mormons, or from reality TV, is premature.

Sometimes truth can be found in inconvenient places.

I’m not smart enough to wake up every morning with the knowledge I’ll need for that day. I have to go looking for it. God has to teach me lessons. He does it through the scriptures. He does it through Fluffy. He does it through my mistakes. He does it through friends.

Sometimes that truth is found in inconvenient places. When it is, I hope I have the wisdom to pluck it up, dust it off and use it. I want to be smart enough to recognize gems of truth and embrace them. I’m just a regular person. We regular people, still in the learning stage of eternity, need all the help we can get.

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Feb 16 2015

Celebrating Small Things

Published by Kathy under General

We recently passed one big anniversary and are approaching another one. February 5 marked the two-year anniversary of Fluffy’s unexpected retirement, and March 5 will be the two-year anniversary of my hospital release after my coma and the subsequent paralyzation of my legs and feet.

If you are a regular reader of this column, I can hear you exclaiming in surprise. What? It has only been two years? The way she yammers on and on about it, you would think it was the eighty-seventh anniversary, at the very least.

I know. But when you write a column about your life, and your life changes in this particular way, what can you do? I can hardly report I had been recruited by the Bolshoi Ballet, and had been off at a secret training site for the past two years.

After a while, when no pictures were forthcoming, you might start to suspect that something was just a little bit rotten in Denmark — or Nairobi, or Fort Lauderdale, or wherever the Bolshoi Ballet is headquartered these days.

I really hate to bore you with my coma saga, but it was a big, big deal for me. One day I was the size of Jabba the Hutt. I had feet that worked just fine although they could barely walk me across the room because my heart and lungs were about to stop working. The next day — whammo! I woke up from a nap and I was a hundred pounds lighter.

The good news was that my heart and my lungs were all well — fully and miraculously recovered from two fatal diseases that people don’t recover from. But the bad news was that I no longer had working feet.

It was like going to sleep as an elephant and waking up as a giraffe. There’s nothing wrong with an elephant. There’s nothing wrong with a giraffe. It’s just that you don’t go to sleep as one and wake up as the other.

Even two years later, I can’t wrap my mind around it. Altogether, I vastly prefer being the giraffe, especially considering I’m going to get my feet back one of these days. I’m really happy about the way things have turned out. But that doesn’t mean I can wrap my mind around it, even two years after the fact.

I was told in the hospital that I’d be in a wheelchair for a year to a year and a half. They lied. I’m sure they justified these lies by convincing themselves that they were just “encouraging” me, but they were lying through their teeth nonetheless.

It’s going to be a long time before I can walk the way a real person walks. It’s going to happen. I am determined that one of these days I’m going to have a pedometer I keep in my pocket that will register 10,000 steps per day, just as Fluffy does. But before I have one of those, I have to learn to walk. And before I do that, some really obnoxious nerves in my legs have to grow back.

Right now, all they are doing is causing a whole lot of pain. But that’s a good thing, my neurologist says. To paraphrase my dead mother, “You must suffer to be functional.” (She really said, “You must suffer to be beautiful,” if you want to know the actual quote.)

In some basic areas, my life has remained a constant pre-coma and post-coma. I still have the same job. That’s a huge blessing. I still go to church with the same people I love. That’s a huge blessing, too. And then there’s Fluffy. What a rock he was and is! And my family and friends — it’s good to know that the important things have remained unchanged.

But as for my day-to-day life, that’s what’s completely different. When you take your feet and your physical strength out of the equation, you don’t have to be a mathematician to know that your number isn’t the same as it used to be. As for me, I turned into a little old lady overnight. I haven’t been able to come to grips with that, especially in the mental sense.

Nobody ever told me that a coma steals pieces out of your brain. Nobody has done an MRI of my brain post-coma, so I don’t know if there are literal holes there, but I can tell you the old brain isn’t what it used to be.

I could not read anything for months after I got out of the hospital. When I finally picked up a book, the most I could handle was the Little House on the Prairie series of children’s books — and even reading those was like studying quantum physics.

I could handle a few pages at a time, and then I had to put it down. It was just too much to absorb. I did not get past the first book. Is that pathetic, or what?

I am now reading actual books, but I am doing them my way. If I start reading a book and decide I do not like it, I no longer finish it out of guilt. I just put it down. I will not finish Middlemarch even though many people said it was wonderful. I didn’t like it, and life is too short to waste time on such things. I didn’t finish The Count of Monte Cristo either. So sue me.

In fact, life is too short for a lot of things I used to do. The days gallop away too quickly for me to spend a lot of time on Facebook, so I don’t. I want to keep in touch, but the days pass and then they turn into weeks.

I’ve been too busy concentrating on work, and on getting well again. And before I notice, the day is over and it’s time to go to bed. And then the month is over, and then my birthday is over, and before you know it Christmas is over. The Christmas season was so short this year that we still have our Christmas tree up. Yes, it was still up on Valentine’s Day. Life moves so fast in these post-coma days.

Despite the challenges of the past two years, Fluffy and I are grateful for the things we have learned, and the different perspectives we have gained through this journey. We still look forward to the big events in life such as birthdays, holidays, and vacations. But we have also come to appreciate small blessings such as the warm sun on a winter day, and the beauty of a wonderful sunset.

Each day is a precious new gift from God, and should bring us great joy, even if we have to celebrate the small miracles in life that are so easy to overlook.

Look for something to celebrate in your life today, even if that event is something as insignificant as the way the howling winter wind at least makes the wind chimes sing. The harder you look for those events, the easier they are to find, and the more you realize that every day in your life can contain a cause for celebration.

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Feb 09 2015

When “Helping,” Doesn’t

Published by Kathy under General

A friend and I were talking about crazy pet stories the other day, and she reminded me about talk that introduced us to “Cholo, the Pet that Would Not Die.” It was such a bizarre tale that I had no idea how I had ever forgotten it.

Cholo was a black and white mutt of indeterminate lineage. He lived an unremarkable life, right up until the day he got mowed down by a car. The family loved their little dog, but his skull had been fractured in the accident and one eyeball had popped out. They could see brain matter dripping out of his head, and it was obvious that the little fellow was not going to survive.

As much as they didn’t want to do it, the family knew that the most humane thing they could do for Cholo was to put him out of his misery. They could not afford to take him to the vet to have him put down, so they did the best they could do.

They didn’t want for him to just lie there suffering until he died, so they grabbed a gun and a shovel and took poor Cholo out into the desert. They didn’t just shoot Cholo once. Oh no. They shot him five times to make sure he was out of his misery. BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! Then they buried him in the desert and sorrowfully went home.

A week later they opened their front door and to their horror found Cholo sitting on their doorstep. He had regained consciousness. His eyeball had somehow popped back into its socket. He still had five bullets lodged in his little body, but he had been able to extricate himself from his grave and find his way home from the desert to the people who had lovingly tried to do what was best for him on the day of his “death.”

The family, realizing that by “helping” poor Cholo they had actually caused a whole lot of harm, took every penny they had, bundled up the little dog, and took him to the vet. They only hoped the vet could undo the damage they had done in their efforts to do the right thing for their beloved family pet.

The vet was the person who told the story. He reported that despite the little dog’s car accident and the family’s subsequent attempts to help him, Cholo was actually in pretty good shape. He said that the family did not need to give their life’s savings to repair the damage they had caused. They were able to take Cholo home, and all was well.

Dogs are the most forgiving of animals. I can’t see a cat coming home to a family that had shot it five times and buried it in the desert. But how often do we do the same thing as Cholo’s owners do? I’ve never shot a dog once, much less five times — but in my own ham-handed way, I try all the time to do the right thing and instead do something that is exactly the opposite of what I have intended to do.

Life is a minefield. Does the young mother whose child recently died want a word of condolence, or is this the day she has said she can make it through church if only nobody mentions her loss? Does the recent widow want to laugh, or does she want you to share her grief? Does the mother of the bedridden child want to talk about the burden she is carrying, or does she want to forget it for just a moment?

It’s a temptation in such situations to just say nothing, but that causes problems of a different sort. A few years ago a dear friend died suddenly, leaving her husband to mourn her loss. The husband mentioned months later that most of his former friends had pretty much forgotten him, choosing to take the easy way out and not risk offense by avoiding him completely.

I don’t know the answers to any of those questions, but I can tell you one thing — I always, always do the wrong thing in any given situation. You can call me Cholo’s Mom. I am the one who puts the bullets in the gun. I pull the trigger myself.

(Parenthetically, who shot that little dog anyway, so that not one of the five bullets hit any major organ? Somebody here is really, really inept.)

As I have grown older and, hopefully, wiser, I am learning that the reason I keep getting in trouble for saying the wrong thing sometimes is because I choose to say anything at all. In the act of offering love to people who are undergoing trials in their lives, we often forget that philosopher Paul McTillich said, “The first duty of love is to listen.”

The hard part about listening is that a lot of times the people you are listening to aren’t actually talking. They speak with nonverbal cues that have nothing whatsoever to do with speech. It is hard to remember to let people speak nonverbally instead of running all over that nonverbal conversation with words like a rhinoceros, because you’re too blind to see the part of the conversation that doesn’t have words.

I am a good rhinoceros, sometimes. I can trample nonverbal conversations just as effectively as I can shoot wounded dogs five times and then bury them in deserts to put them out of their misery, even though I have never shot an actual gun. It’s all part of trying to help, and then doing exactly the wrong thing.

But I am not completely untrainable. Recently I have been trying to stand back and wait for those verbal cues. Or when I say something, I try to make sure that the first thing out of my mouth is not something relating to the tragedy at hand. I do not always succeed, because there is that inner rhinoceros and he is big. His first instinct is to trample, and he is hard to control.

Then, when I have trampled someone’s feelings and made things worse, I gallop away, hating myself for a week or even more because someone who was smarter or wiser or kinder would have known how to be a better friend. But alas, I have only been Kathy for all these years, and the older I get, the more Kathy-like I become.

But I have also been on Cholo’s end of the exchange. Well-meaning friends have tried to help me and have done just the opposite. I remember the visiting teacher I had, years ago, who was determined she could help me lose weight if I knew more about diet and exercise — even though I had forgotten more about nutrition than she ever knew.

The interesting thing about her unwanted and unsolicited advice was that she closed every visit by giving me a plate of highly caloric treats that were made with ingredients Fluffy and I would never have eaten. I tried to thank her graciously for the stuff every month, and then we threw it into the trash. We always shook our heads at the mixed messages she sent, and I tried not to be upset. I did not always succeed.

I want to always be as forgiving as Cholo. After reading his story again last week, I am going to work on it some more. But just as much, I am going to work on trying to really help the people I want to help. I want to help people the way they need help — not the way that my first easy impulse tells me to help them.

After all, the rhinoceros Kathy and the spiritual Kathy could have two distinctly different ideas when it comes to the help people actually need. The rhinoceros Kathy may be louder, but the Kathy who listens to the still small voice is the one whose ideas should be trusted.

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Feb 02 2015

Talent by the Loaf

Published by Kathy under General

Fluffy got a new computer for Christmas, and in the process of installing the new computer he has had to do some major office cleaning so that he could set up his new computer next to his old computer. This has caused a flurry of activity, with bags of trash being hauled out and things being relocated to more appropriate places.

In the middle of all this, I was puzzled last week to see him leave the office and start a mysterious bread-making project in the kitchen. Fluffy often makes bread, but this was a different project. In fact, he was pretty secretive about it, and when I asked what he was doing he said, “You’ll just have to wait and see.”

Fluffy just loves secrets, and he loves them all the more because secrets drive me absolutely crazy. The more he can get me in a tizzy, the happier he is. He’s all boy in that regard. If he can have a secret project that will annoy me to pieces, he is just as happy as he can be.

So I ignored him while he performed his magic in a cloud of flour and yeast. A delightful aroma soon wafted from the kitchen, and I only hoped I would soon be tasting something wonderful. Sure enough, dinner that night consisted of freshly-made sourdough bread, along with Fluffy’s frozen freezer jam and lots and lots of butter.

Although Fluffy is a champion bread-maker, this was his first experience making sourdough bread. I had given him all the equipment to make sourdough bread a year ago, as a Christmas present. But shortly after Christmas, when company had arrived and Fluffy had wanted to clean the family room, he had put all his Christmas presents into a box and stashed them in his office.

As the year passed, he would remove presents from the box as he needed them or remembered them, but there were still a few forgotten items still hidden away more than a year later. At the beginning of the year I just assumed he hadn’t liked the gifts I had given him. As the year progressed, I forgot about them altogether.

There they sat, forgotten by both of us, until Fluffy rediscovered them in the process of cleaning his office so he could make way for something he had received as a present this Christmas. He looked at that forgotten sourdough-making kit, decided he liked it, and then decided he liked it enough to make some sourdough bread right now.

He wasn’t sure if the bread would be successful, because the small jar of sourdough starter said it was “best if used by December 31, 2013.” But the starter was still moist and smelled like starter, so he decided to give it a go.

So he temporarily abandoned this year’s Christmas present, went into the kitchen, got out the flour, and made us some sourdough bread for dinner. He has been making sourdough bread ever since. In fact, I like his sourdough bread better than his regular bread, and I like his regular bread extremely much.

What can I say? Fluffy is a man of many talents.

All of this brings me to the topic of this little essay. We as human beings are pretty creative at burying our talents. We don’t all literally put them in a box and put them on the floor of our office the way Fluffy did with his sourdough kit. We all have our personal ways of doing it.

I always wanted to be an artist. I didn’t have any dreams of going to Paris and wearing a wimpy little beret, but I would have taken art classes in college if only I could have afforded the supplies. After I got married, I finally took a class in charcoal drawing at night as part of a community education program. To my surprise, I was talented. No — I was really talented.

I don’t know if it makes sense to say this, but I was too talented to be a casual artist. I wanted something that could be a nice little hobby for me. Instead, it became something where my teacher took it upon herself to convince me I needed to drop everything else in my life and become an artist, full-time and to the exclusion of everything else.

Eventually I quit drawing and painting altogether because every time I took it up, my teachers tried to convince me I had to be an artist, period. I had to give up writing. I had to give up being a person. I was born to be an artiste. I had the gift.

Well, I don’t deal well with being told what I have to do. The more pressure you put on me, the more I run in the other direction.

I still have all the supplies, but I haven’t picked up a brush in years. At this point, if I ever did pick up a brush I’d have to start over. I’d have to take lessons again, just like a beginner. And I don’t know if there will ever be time again.

In the vernacular of the teenagers, that ship has sailed. In a Biblical sense, I’m afraid my talent may have been buried so deeply that I may never find it again. I only hope I don’t get in trouble for that in the next life. I hope that the talents I have chosen to use are more important than the one I have chosen to hide away in the earth.

Since our introduction to sourdough bread this month, Fluffy and I have laughed about all the good bread we have missed over the past year because we had a treasure that had been buried and then forgotten.

I’m sure all of us have multiple such treasures in our lives. I have read that squirrels spend so much time finding and burying food in the summer, because they aren’t so great at finding those little caches of goodness when they are covered with snow. Perhaps more than 50% of their treasures are never located again and just rot in the ground or eventually germinate into big trees. I hope our percentages are a little better than that.

It’s still early in the year and not too late to make a resolution. Try to think of at least one treasure you’ve buried, and resolve to dig it up, dust it off, and put it to good use this year.

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Jan 26 2015


Published by Kathy under General

Fluffy and I are secret shoppers, otherwise known as mystery diners. That means that we eat in restaurants like regular humans and then go home and write a report about our experience. This report is then submitted to the restaurant, so that management will have a better idea of what they are doing right and what could be improved.

Before I go any further, I need to include a cautionary note about those emails that promise you can make $200 along with your free meal. Oh, do I wish that were the case! Alas, these emails have about as much credibility as the ones from those friendly Nigerians who want to share their millions with you once you send them a small processing fee and the numbers on all your credit cards.

There really are many legitimate companies are looking for secret shoppers. But there are a whole lot of strings attached, and there’s not a whole lot of money involved if you are the secret shopper — at least, I haven’t found any money and I’ve been doing the work for a good half dozen years.

What I have found is that you’re more likely to spend up to two or even three hours working on the report after you have consumed that “free” meal. Yes, sometimes the meal is a $200 feed. We eat well as secret shoppers.

Being a secret shopper may not make you rich, but it is not without its compensations.

But even so, the most I have ever been paid on top of the meal reimbursement has been $20 for my time. This is hardly the kind of gig that allows you to quit your regular job and make a six-figure income, especially when you consider the time you have spent commuting to and from the restaurant in addition to the time you have spent answering the questions in the report.

When you include the cost of your time to write the reports, it’s something that you are doing as an adventure more than a job. Nevertheless, for old people like us with more time than money, it is an interesting diversion and more fun than staying at home drooling in front of the television.

The cardinal rule for any secret shopper is that you never want to be busted. That means that you don’t want the establishment to know that you are there as a secret shopper. Obviously, your visit will not reflect a true customer experience if they know you are going to be writing a report based on what has happened to you while you were there.

The secret shopper companies provide lots of suggestions to avoid being busted. You obviously don’t want to be seen writing in a notebook, or carrying the questionnaires or report forms that you will eventually complete. So you must rely a lot on your memory, and fill in the details after you have departed.

This is not as easy as it sounds, because some companies want a whole lot of details including service times and the names and descriptions of every single employee who interacted with you. If you think this is easy, just try going to a Brazilian churrascaria and remembering the names and physical descriptions of all eight gauchos who served you, without taking notes.

I double-dog-dare you to do that without messing up. I can’t remember what I had for dinner last night. I cannot tell you what I am wearing right this minute without looking down to see. How in the world can I remember the names and physical descriptions of eight gauchos who look almost exactly alike but not quite alike? Does Eduardo have the pencil mustache, or is it Alessandro?

So you have to cram all these things into your head, while pretending you are only enjoying your meal.

But some of the restaurants really make it difficult to avoid detection. For example, we are doing an assignment today that must include pictures of all of the food plates before any food is eaten.

Who does this? Who goes to a restaurant and takes beauty shots of all the dishes of food that come out? Secret shoppers, that’s who. But we make ourselves less suspicious by making ourselves more suspicious, if that makes any sense.

Let’s be honest, here. Nobody with that face looks professional enough to be hired by any reputable organization. When we were on that assignment, I was barely even getting back my hair.

We take pictures of everything — each other, the moose head on the wall, the menus, the bread plates. We are picture-taking fools. And because we act like idiots, the people at the restaurant think we are dorks instead of secret shoppers. You see, secret shoppers could not possibly be as unsophisticated as we are.

Oddly, the more you act like a dork in your picture-taking endeavors, the less likely you are to be tagged as a secret shopper.

We have done a restaurant in the past that has always been a real challenge. You must call the day before for a reservation and tell them that you are celebrating a special occasion.

You must tell them that you have never been there before, and get specific driving directions to the restaurant. This is the first red flag. This particular restaurant is conspicuous enough that people in the area use it for a landmark. But even if you are new to the area, most people have a GPS available to them or know how to use Google Maps.

You must arrive 15 minutes early and tell the host that you have decided to visit the bar first. At the bar you must order both drinks and a specific appetizer. For card-carrying Mormons like us, you can usually order something non-alcoholic, but not always (that’s a subject for another column). But why would a pair of non-drinkers make a trip to the bar, anyway?

Do you hear the ding-ding-ding of the alarm going off when you order that specific appetizer at the bar immediately before going to your table? If the restaurant staff aren’t already suspicious, their Spidey Sense is on full alert by the time that weird appetizer has been delivered — especially considering you have gone to the bar to order non-alcoholic drinks.

Then during your meal you must order another specific appetizer and a dessert (even though this results in more food than any human being could eat in one setting). Finally, you must have the staff take your picture as you celebrate your special occasion together.

We often laugh about this, and wonder how any employee would not be thinking “mystery diner” when you are jumping through all of these hoops. Wearing a, “Hi, I’m a mystery diner” t-shirt would probably be less obvious.

Nevertheless, in all our secret shopping experiences, we have only had one spectacular fail, in terms of being busted. Ironically, this one should have been one of the easier assignments in terms of preserving our secret identities.

Other than making a reservation, we didn’t have to do any of the usual things that might raise suspicion. We did not have to take pictures or order multiple items from the menu. It should have been an easy assignment.

After we placed our order, Fluffy wandered off to visit the restroom. Most assignments require you to inspect the bathroom facilities, but this should not have raised any suspicions. But as he walked past the kitchen area, he heard one waiter say to another “Hey, we might have some secret shoppers at table 99.”

It was interesting to observe how we were treated throughout the remainder of the meal. The food was delivered by one of the managers, who proceeded to describe every dish as it was served.

Fluffy had ordered a salad, and the salad was built right there at the table, with complete descriptions of all the ingredients and how they were being combined together. The chef himself made an appearance, making sure everything was prepared to our satisfaction.

The waiter was like a fly buzzing around the table, continually refilling our drinks and asking if everything was okay. It was as if the Royal Family were visiting the restaurant, and all of the staff was at their beck and call.

When the check was delivered, it was no surprise to find that we were indeed seated at table 99.

We have laughed at this experience several times, as we have pondered what it was that caused us to be busted. Whatever it was, it would be nice to bottle it and sell it. Can you imagine what life would be like if everyone treated everyone else as their most honored guests?

Our society seems to grow less and less civil each day. People rarely acknowledge each other when passing on the streets. Many people won’t hold doors for each other, and some actually get offended when you do. Many times you pass through the check-out line of a store with little acknowledgment that you actually exist, beyond the minimal communication necessary to complete your transaction.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we treated every human encounter as the most important event that would occur that day (or that week, or that year)? This brings to mind the scripture in Hebrews 13:2: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

Have we missed an angelic encounter because we were too full of ourselves to acknowledge that spark of divinity that resides within all of us? And even if the people in our sphere are not always angels, do we owe them any less?

As Jesus reminded us, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).

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Jan 19 2015

Cleaning the Building

Published by Kathy under General

These days, Mormons are everywhere you look. If you’re trying not to hit them with your car as you pass them on their bicycles, they’re behaving scandalously on some reality TV show.

Okay — not all of them are scandalous. Most of them are dancing or singing, or doing some other wholesome activity. It’s only the naked one on “Survivor” or the heroic cancer survivor father-son team that won the million dollars on “The Amazing Race” that immediately come to mind for me.

I tried to figure out how many of us there are in the USA, compared to other religions, but there aren’t any current figures. The most recent study I saw was four years old, and it had us being the fourth-largest Christian religion in America — right behind the Catholics, the Southern Baptists and the Methodists. Four years later, with four million more members worldwide, who knows where we are now?

Anyway, with Mormons multiplying like rabbits, we need more and more places to worship. And because we’re generally a messy lot, those places need to be cleaned on a regular basis.

Some years ago, the Church threw up its hands and decided it could no longer afford to waste donated dollars in the hiring of professionals to clean our meetinghouses. And since the meetinghouses were going to have to be cleaned, the members were just going to have to do it themselves.

Ideally, everyone in every Mormon congregation was just going to volunteer to take his turn wielding a mop bucket or a vacuum cleaner. I don’t know how well that works in most congregations, but it apparently wasn’t working really well in our neck of the woods.

I kept hearing rumors that the Hooper family and the Hunter family (one family with a whole boatload of kids, plus the Relief Society president’s family) were keeping our meetinghouse clean, along with a few other families, and it just wasn’t fair.

Well, it just wasn’t fair to those families that were doing the work. Everyone else probably thought it was a great deal for them, because seventy-five percent of everyone else wasn’t doing a whole lot of anything.

Fluffy and I were in that satisfied seventy-five percent of the ward, although Fluffy would volunteer about once a year when the high priests group was assigned the cleaning. What did people expect? I’m in a wheelchair! I can’t put on my own shoes and socks! So last year, when the sign-up sheets went around for people to clean the building, I didn’t even look at it. It was just not something I was cut out to do.

Then things changed, and when they changed they changed in a big way. In December, it was announced that in 2015, every family was going to participate in the cleaning of the building, and to assure that this happened; the families had already been scheduled — all of them. (Apparently the Mormon principle of free agency does not apply when cleaning the building.)

Surely we would not be on that list, I thought. But Fluffy looked at the list, and there we were. Saturday, July 18, 2015, Fluffy and I have been signed up to clean the Sterling Park meetinghouse of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

How did we react? We laughed and laughed and laughed. Fluffy decided he would wrap me in double-sided tape and then roll me down the hallway like a bowling ball so I could pick up the dirt like a giant lint-roller.

Let me explain how ludicrous it is to have Fluffy and me cleaning the meetinghouse. If you were to walk into our home, you would immediately conclude that we came from “old money.” And I certainly do not mean that in the sense that we are sitting on piles of cash.

People who have “new money” have houses that are nice and shiny and clean. Armies of cleaning people come in regularly to make sure the houses stay that way. “Old money” people, on the other hand, sometimes don’t have the funds to pay for those armies of cleaning people. If you look hard (or sometimes if you don’t look hard at all) you see the evidence that the armies are absent.

Our house is pretty much clutter-free. We do not have piles of things here and there. But there are garlands of cobwebs. Sometimes I’ll see a cobweb and point it out to Fluffy. It will be a massive thing that herds of sparrows could congregate on, if they were so inclined, but when I point it out, Fluffy will say, “Wow. That’s a good one,” and go about his business.

He is a man. He does not care about cobwebs. He has more interesting things to do.

It’s the same way with dust. A few months ago I saw a party attendee writing a message in the dust on top of a cabinet in our family room. I solved that problem! After the party, I had Fluffy move the cabinet to our dining room. Some people dust their furniture. Other people sit in front of the TV and have couch naps. Fluffy and I are firmly in the couch nap camp.

Fluffy does a lot with the vacuum. He vacuums the floors. (He also vacuums my head when it is time to cut my hair with the Flowbee system. I cut his hair with the vacuum cleaner too. What can I say? We’re old. Nobody cares how we look.)

Anyway, vacuuming the floor is just about all the interest Fluffy has in floor-related things. Do you think he is going to mop our hardwood floors? No. He has more important things to do — and I am not saying that sarcastically. It takes a lot of time to bake bread and to do the laundry and to do Kathy-related responsibilities. Mopping the hardwood floors is not on his radar.

I actually have an assignment as far as keeping the house clean. It is my self-appointed task to keep the powder room clean on our main floor. Let’s just say I am not very good at this. I can clean the sink, and I can clean the inside of the toilet bowl, and I can use a long-handled scrubber with a wet wipe on it to cursorily mop the floor. This is pretty much all I can do from my wheelchair, so it has to be good enough.

I am aware that the top of the tile kick-plate is grimy with dust, but I cannot reach that. I am aware that the grout between the tiles is black, but in my defense only a bonehead would put white tiles with white grout on a bathroom floor and then not seal the grout. The people who owned this house before we bought it did a lot of stupid things, and we are now enjoying the benefits of their decisions.

There are a lot of things in that bathroom I cannot reach — the mirror, and the walls, and a whole lot of the floor. Sitting in a wheelchair does not offer a whole lot of maneuverability.

So when people come to our house, I hope they do not have to use the bathroom. Or when they do use the bathroom, I hope they are thinking about other things than the tile kick-plate or the floor. The surfaces within Kathy reach are sanitized for their protection. Everything else, in the bathroom and the rest of the house, is “old money.”

If our own house is decorated with cobwebs and dust, who in the world thought we were capable of cleaning up our church meetinghouse? It was obviously somebody who didn’t spend any time in our home — that’s what I thought. Nobody in his right mind would ask us to do any cleaning when our own house is barely making do.

But there was our name: Kidd — Saturday, July 18. It was there in black and white for everyone to see.

When our friend One-F came over for dinner and games one night, we regaled him with the story. We thought he would think the image of Kathy rolling around the floors in double-sided tape would be as funny as we thought it was, but One-F, who is younger than we are, is nevertheless somewhat wiser.

“If you should be exempt from cleaning the building, Kathy, who should be?” he asked. “We have a whole lot of people who use walkers. Should they be exempt?”

Just as I was about to say, “Well, of course,” he added, “What about the women who just had a baby last week? What about the women who had a baby last month? Where do you draw the line?”

Suddenly there was a huge gray area. It wasn’t just Kathy anymore. If you start adding pregnant women into the mix, there goes half the ward.

And there are lots of other people who have allergies or ailments of one kind or another that could disqualify them, too. Once I got disqualified, I could be that first domino to fall. We might wind up with just the Hunters and the Hoopers cleaning the building again. We’d be right back where we started — and everything would be all my fault.

But once One-F got me on the guilt train, he took me all the way to the station. “Besides,” he added, “what kind of message would it send if you got out there in your wheelchair and cleaned the building right along with everyone else? You could take pictures. You could pass out brownies. You could cheer people on. And maybe you could do some cleaning, too.”

One-F was absolutely right. It’s not as though I don’t have hands, after all. The counters in the kitchen are Kathy-height. And at the rate my nerves are growing back, who knows? Maybe by July I’ll actually be able to stand up as I clean the counters. Stranger things have happened.

When Fluffy and I got the news about cleaning our church meetinghouse, we immediately disqualified ourselves. The reasons we did so were obvious. But a well-timed kick in the rear from a friend reminded me that all too often we give up long before we should do so.

Instead of saying, “I can’t,” we should be asking ourselves, “How can I make it happen?” The answers may surprise us. In the process of answering that question, we may find ourselves achieving far more than we ever would have done if we had just given up without making an effort. And in the process of making that effort, we can have a whole lot of fun along the way.

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Jan 12 2015

The Turkey that Would Not be Eaten

Published by Kathy under General

Way back in prehistoric times, perhaps as early as October of last year, our home teachers invited us to a big, communal Thanksgiving feast at one of their homes. This was not going to be an easy feat for me, because I do not get into other people’s homes willy-nilly, but I was eventually able to navigate the stairs through the garage and make it into the house.

I felt so brave, which shows you how pathetic it is to be an old person. We think it’s a major accomplishment when we manage to brush our teeth or get our shoes on the correct feet.

The Thanksgiving celebration was such a rousing success that when we learned that everyone was going to be in town for Christmas, Fluffy and I volunteered to have a similar dinner at our house on Christmas Day. This was no small matter. One home teaching family had three members; the other home teaching family had four members, plus perhaps the lady who lived in the basement, and then there were Fluffy and me.

I’m not big on math, but that was more people than Fluffy and I are usually feeding. We usually don’t host anybody, other than ourselves and Alex Trebek. Mr. Trebek keeps us awake during dinner so that we don’t fall face first into the soup.

We had already decided to order a ham from Famous Dave’s — not because we needed a ham but because their hams are so good we were looking for any excuse. But once we knew we were feeding an army, we also ordered a smoked turkey. Then we invited a friend from the temple and her mother. Why not? When you’re feeding an army, what’s two more?

As Christmas approached, things started to fall apart. Home teacher John’s parents announced they were coming sometime that evening. We bravely said that they could come for dinner too, bringing the tally to a lucky 13 if they decided to accept and if the agoraphobic lady from the basement didn’t join the party.

Then John learned that his sister-in-law and her family were planning on arriving for a visit sometime that day as well, and at that point it became apparent that not everybody had been communicating with everybody else. Some people had accepted our invitation without getting prior spousal approval, which is never a good thing.

John and wife Michelle decided to bow out of the Christmas Day dinner, replacing it with a dinner at the Cracker Barrel on another day — their treat. Then Michael and Melanie came too, but was that in addition to or instead of the Christmas Day dinner? Nobody actually let us know.

Fast forward to Christmas Eve. We knew were down to no more than seven people for dinner — Fluffy and me, the temple friend and her mother, and Michael’s family. But Michael’s family told us they were going to a movie on Christmas Day. Was that before dinner at our house, after dinner at our house, or instead of dinner at our house? We never were completely sure.

Also, our friend from the temple had not called to see what time we were eating. My guess was that they were eating elsewhere and that we were eating alone, but we couldn’t be sure.

At the last minute, we made menu adjustments. We decided to make cranberry fluff salad, cook the ham, bake the pie, share a sweet potato, and call it good. If someone called to ask what time we were eating, we could always make mashed potatoes and gravy. The turkey was spared for another day.

As it turned out, we ate Christmas dinner wearing our pajamas and Santa hats and watching Alex Trebek. After eating, we took a short nap on the couch. Despite the change in plans, it was a quiet Christmas and all was well. The turkey napped in the refrigerator, cold and happy. It dodged a bullet.

A few days after Christmas, we heard from a friend who suggested we revive an old tradition of having Easter and Christmas dinners together. We said we could do it retroactively, but our Christmas dinner would be on New Year’s Day. We already had the food.

So on New Year’s Day, which is a much nicer day to cook than Christmas, Fluffy and I did all the cooking that we’d planned to do the week before. We made dressing for the turkey. We made gravy for the turkey. We made mashed potatoes. Fluffy made another batch of cranberry fluff salad, the batch he had made the week before being long gone because it is so fine.

And of course, we finally heated that smoked turkey. It was a glorious bird. I couldn’t wait to eat it. It was the star of the meal. In fact, we had to postpone the meal until the internal temperature of the turkey reached 165 degrees, something I did not understand because the turkey was already fully cooked when we got it from Famous Dave’s. But we were obedient, so we waited.

Fluffy, being the family member with operating feet, was a whirling dervish of activity. He asked Dale if he would carve the turkey, but Dale declined, citing a lack of carving experience.

I would have been glad to carve the turkey, but I was making gravy and then I started telling Dale the story of the Halifax Explosion. There was an ulterior motive here. I wanted him to travel there at his own expense, interview a lot of people, and give Fluffy and me the research so we could write a book about it for an American audience. Then we would split the royalties three ways.

I could have carved the turkey as I was talking, and I would have been glad to do so if someone had brought me the turkey. It is just as well nobody did, because I was gesturing wildly with my hands as I was talking at the dinner table, and I’m sure everyone at the table was glad I did not have a knife in my hands at the time.

The only other potential turkey carver at the table, Lynne, is so polite that she would not have touched the turkey without written permission from the turkey in question, and the turkey was not in a position to write.

So all the food made its way to the table except for the star of the meal — the turkey itself. The very centerpiece of my Norman Rockwell feast sat on a counter across the room while everyone dug into the ham and the mashed potatoes and dressing and gravy and cranberry fluff salad.

Halfway through the meal, Dale said, “I think I’m going to get me a turkey leg.” He went over to the turkey, ripped off a leg with his bare hands, and back he came.

I thought to myself, I’d like a piece of turkey. But do you think it occurred to old Coma Brain that it might be a good time to carve the turkey so we could actually eat it? No, it never did. I don’t mind carving a turkey. I’m not good at it, but I would have been glad to do it. We could have had turkey and dressing and gravy too, just the way I’d planned from the beginning. But the idea never even crossed my mind.

We sat there visiting and watching Dale pick apart his turkey leg. He commented on the sinews and the skin, but he never told us how good it was or wasn’t. I still have no idea whether that bird was a good investment.

We have baguettes and avocados and cranberry-orange relish, all ready to make turkey and avocado sandwiches at our next meal. But I fully expect that before we get around it, we are going to see a one-legged turkey use his crutches to push open the refrigerator door. He will hop out of the refrigerator and hobble to the side of the road, where he will stand on his remaining leg and hold up a little sign saying, “Curse you, Mister Dale.”

Most of us plan our lives in neat little outlines. In the innocence of youth, we may expect that our lives will line up like this:


It’s only when we get to the end of our lives that we see the path our lives have really taken is more likely to resemble this:

“The Hallelujah Chorus”

It’s how we deal with the curve balls of life that defines who we are as people. In fact, it’s a good part of why we are here. We need to adapt to things we don’t expect — the spectacularly good, and the terribly bad, usually without any time to think about them and take them in. Not only do we need to adapt to them, but we also need to accept these things with grace.

We all know people who hit a bump in the road and just stop. It may be the death of a loved one, or the inability to have children. It may be a severe illness. It may be going through life as a single person. It may be something as seemingly trivial as the death of a pet. It may be any of the times when life diverts us from our established plan.

All of those things are big bumps in the road, but they are part and parcel of life. They are not things that are designed to stop us in our tracks. Nevertheless, if we look around us we can see many people sitting in front of their own personal boulders, steadfastly refusing to get up and climb over them, or walk around them, or plow right through them as though they are not even there.

There were a dozen little things that could have ruined our Christmas this year, but we ended up laughing them off and having a delightful celebration. It is my hope for the New Year that we can all take that attitude with the little and big obstacles that will inevitably block our path as we head down the highway of life.

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