Feb 03 2014

Rejoicing During a Plague of Sadness

Published by Kathy under General

I have to admit that things are pretty cheery on Planet Kathy. Life is more than good for me. Yes, I roll instead of walk, but feet aren’t everything. Fluffy is absolutely terrific, and we live in a household where life is full of happiness.

But we aren’t completely blinded by our joy. We realize that outside our door, the world has a way of beating people down. Some of those people are those we love.

Right before Christmas, for example, cancer hovered over the homes of two of those people. It eventually flew over one of those homes, but it landed right on top of the other. And the news in that house was just about as bad as news can get.

Now I’m not the best person for consolation when friends are afraid of dying. That’s because I have absolutely no fear of death. This is not a post-coma phenomenon. I was born without a fear of death. I grew up from childhood that way.

I have always thought of death as the ultimate adventure — the way that other people think of a vacation to Disneyland or a safari to Africa. It’s something to plan and look forward to. The only thing is, you never know the date on the reservation, and you usually don’t get to pack or take your loved ones with you.

My total lack of fear of death means I am not the best person to come to when somebody gets the Ultimate Bad News from doctors. I really try to empathize with them, and in some cases it is possible to do so. This time was one of them.

My friend may have won the trip of a lifetime, but it was an all-expenses vacation for one. It was a one-way journey, and she had young children at home. As exciting as it may have been to win that adventure, she did not want to win it at the cost of leaving her husband and her children. She did not want to step off this world by herself into the unknown.

She came over to our house several times, looking for solace. Fluffy and I consoled her as best we could, but I couldn’t find just the right thing to say and I knew it. It chafed me because I couldn’t say just the perfect words in that particular situation. Of course, I said to myself, maybe there were no perfect words to be said.

Weeks passed. One Sunday, the two of us happened to sit together in Relief Society. I don’t remember the topic of the lesson, but during the course of the lesson one of the women in the room made a comment that included four momentous words. Those words were, “a plague of sadness.”

As soon as I heard that phrase, I realized that this was precisely what my friend with cancer was undergoing. These were exactly the words that I had been trying so hard to capture, but that had been eluding me for so many weeks.

I turned to my friend, and she turned to me in the same moment. I saw that she was experiencing the same epiphany that I was. She, too, recognized “a plague of sadness” as the malady that had struck her down just as surely as her cancer had done.

Instead of wrapping our arms around one another and dissolving in tears, the two of us did the most curious thing. We straightened up, stared straight at each other and said, in deep, theatrical whispers, “a plague of sadness.”

If James Earl Jones wasn’t in the room, he should have been. His was the voice we used, without any sort of prompting. We arched our eyebrows, lowered our voices, and like twin bullfrogs said, “a plague of sadness” — not once, but over and over again.

Oh, did we giggle. In fact, though neither of us can be described as a giggler, both of us giggled like twelve-year-old girls at a slumber party. Fortunately, we were sitting at the back of the room so I don’t think we disturbed anyone else. But for once, if we did disturb anyone, they just had to sit back and endure it. This may have looked like silliness, but it was anything but silly. It was a sacred moment.

By mocking words that were so deadly serious, the two of us mocked the disease that had brought so much fear into the heart of my friend. Our laughter gave her power over cancer that she may not heretofore have had.

I could not come up with the healing words on my own, but God gave me the gift of the right words at the right time. You never know how prayers will be answered, and who will be the instrument who delivers the words to you. This time it was a person across the room who had no idea she was acting as God’s mouthpiece, but who was speaking for Him as surely as He had answered any of my prayers.

I have thought about this many times in the past few weeks. I have been grateful for the odd phrase, “a plague of sadness,” and how perfectly appropriate it was for my friend and me at this particular time in her life.

Even more, though, I have wondered how often I have been God’s unwitting mouthpiece. I wonder how often He puts strange phrases in my mouth that comfort those who need comfort — people who may be across a room, and who may be there without even my knowledge.

I hope that has happened. I hope He often finds uses for me that way.

But if that is the case — if I have the power to be God’s unwitting mouthpiece — I also have the power to inflict deep wounds without ever knowing what harm I have caused.

The book of Proverbs offers a pithy reminder of how powerful, and how dangerous, our words can be:

A cutting word is worse than a bowstring; a cut may heal, but the cut of the tongue does not (Proverbs 18:21).

I know my soul bears the wounds of the tongues of others. The writer of Proverbs is right in that those wounds are deep. I also know that my tongue is an unbridled creature, well capable of injuring the people around me.

I have a friend whose mother was a feisty old lady, notorious for saying anything that crossed her mind. I once said to her, “I’m afraid I’m going to be just like your mother when I get old.”

My friend look startled. “What do you mean, ‘when I get old’?” she asked. “You’re just like her already!”

Years have passed. I wasn’t a little old lady back in those days, but I’m a lot closer to being one today. Today, just as I did then, I have a choice. Do I use my tongue to hurt, or to heal? If people are to remember me, are they going to remember me as God’s occasional mouthpiece, or as a little old lady whose tongue got away from her on every possible occasion?

Perhaps they’ll remember me as both.

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Jan 27 2014

Indulging in a Cultural Phenomenon

Published by Kathy under General

Being a certified old person comes with several perks. One of those perks is that you get to be persnickety. In fact, just the fact that I use the word “persnickety” identifies me as an old person who is entitled to be eccentric. I am already taking full advantage of this fact and playing the eccentricity card at every opportunity.

One of the many ways I am persnickety is that I do not spend my restaurant dollars in dining establishments where I am expected to eat off disposable dishes and dine with plastic cutlery. Unless that establishment’s name begins with the letter “Pop” and ends with the letter “-eye’s,” I do not spend my restaurant money that way.

On the contrary, I want my food to be presented to me by servers who refill my beverages and who are concerned with whether I am enjoying my meal, and who give me knives and forks and spoons that are carefully collected after use and then washed in large, commercial dishwashing machines along with my glasses and plates.

I especially do not like to stand in a line to place my order and then carry my tray to a table that has been designed for tiny people who like to sit in tiny chairs that surround tiny tables. No, this is not something that is done by Kathy, Queen of the Universe. Not even when I had feet.

But on a recent Saturday, when a friend announced that he was taking Fluffy and me to lunch at $1 Burrito Day at Café Rio, I went along with him. What else could I do? When one is offered a free lunch, one is prone to bend the rules.

I was not personally acquainted with Café Rio. However, I knew a few things about it. For one thing, it is a Mexican food chain that began in Utah. It has many diehard fans, most of them card-carrying Mormons.

But I learned to my chagrin that for the privilege of dining at Café Rio, customers stand in lines and get food that is eaten off disposable plates with plastic cutlery. They sit at tiny fast food restaurant tables and perch on tiny fast food restaurant chairs.

And for the privilege of doing this, they pay exactly the same prices that I pay at the good sit-down Mexican restaurants that are close to home — restaurants where the servers are solicitous of me, and where they come over and visit me as I sit in my big, padded chair, and where I talk to them about their pregnancies and their families, even though I know some of their friendliness is in anticipation of a healthy tip.

Why am I even doing this, I wondered as we rode the 13.7 miles from our house to the Café Rio in Chantilly, Virginia. For the adventure, I answered back. For the free food. To do something new. Not only were we trying out a new restaurant, but this was the first time that post-coma Kathy had traveled in a car not belonging to us.

For in truth, Fluffy and I are often ready to try something new with a friend. Or without a friend. After all, God has given us this glorious world. Doesn’t He expect us to explore it and savor it and enjoy it and appreciate it in all its goodness? I think He does.

Before Jeff picked us up, I warned Fluffy of my intentions. “I don’t care what you boys are going to do,” I said, “but if I see a Popeye’s, I’m diving right out the window and getting some chicken.” This has been a hard year for me. The Popeye’s near our house went belly-up, and although its fixtures have since shown up in a defunct bank, there is no sign that the bank is being converted to a new Popeye’s.

I am in withdrawal, and I am not a patient person.

As we neared the restaurant, I spotted the Café Rio sign. Fluffy spotted something else, and he started laughing. Hard. Immediately in front of the Café Rio, sharing the same parking lot, was a Popeye’s restaurant.

Sometimes God has a wicked sense of humor.

Despite my threats, I couldn’t exactly dive out of the car and run over to Popeye’s. I’d have to have a wallet and two working feet to do that, and I hadn’t left home with any of the above. I was trapped at Café Rio, and I was going to have to make the best of it. At least I couldn’t smell the chicken. We were upwind, and I was grateful for that.

Fluffy rolled me inside, leaving me parked at a postage stamp-sized table as he and Jeff stood in a line that queued no farther than, oh, Mississippi. That left me to look around and check out my surroundings.

Even though I had never been in this place that was 13.7 miles from my house (the official Google Maps measurement), I might as well have been in church for all the familiar faces I saw. The sign on the door said “$1 Burrito Day,” but it may as well have said “Mormon Day” for all the clean-cut faces and BYU sweatshirts that surrounded me.

At the adjacent table were Ryan and Shauna Nokes. Shauna used to serve in the Young Women program with me, and she still serves there, so we talked for a while about that. Her husband Ryan serves with the Young Men, so we talked about camping during meteor showers. Oh, the joys of life.

When they left, I lifted my eyes and saw that behind their table was another family from our congregation — the Bunker family. What are the odds? So I visited with Misty for a few minutes. She admitted that the prices were so good her family snagged $99 worth of burritos for about $25. We both laughed at that. But hey. If you have a big family, it’s a good idea.

Eventually, Fluffy and Jeff came back with six (count ‘em, six) burritos. Take into account that Café Rio burritos are huge, so they weren’t even planning for us to eat more than one of them apiece for lunch. I could only eat half of one. But Fluffy and Jeff, like the Bunkers, realized that if you’re going to stand in a line that reaches from Virginia to Mississippi, you’re going to order more than one burrito. So they did.

That's one honking big burrito.

We ate our burritos. We liked our burritos. So Fluffy and Jeff decided to get even more burritos. (Burritos freeze, you know.) By now the line was shorter (only stretching to Tennessee), so they got back in line, leaving me to people-watch yet again. Then I spotted the Jacksons, more church friends who were sitting across the room. There were lots of people I didn’t know, all wearing BYU attire.

Was there anyone in the entire establishment who was not a Mormon? I sincerely doubted it. There may have been a reason for that. I don’t think a non-Mormon would ever enjoy a sugar-flavored pork burrito.

What is the deal with Mormons and sugar, anyway?

I love the Church. I have been converted to the doctrine. I have been converted to the culture. I have not been converted to the sugar. I do not understand the sugar. I guess when you give up coffee, tea and alcohol, sugar is the only vice left.

I looked out the window at Popeye’s, longingly.

As we loaded up the car with our destined-for-the-freezer leftover burritos, I noticed that Fluffy got a coupon for a $5 burrito. I would feel a whole lot less guilty about paying five dollars for a burrito than I did about paying a dollar for a burrito. When you only pay a dollar, the restaurant loses money. When you pay five dollars and then the person buys a drink and some other items, the restaurant probably turns a small profit. I feel better about that.

Fluffy held onto his Café Rio coupon. We can use that another time. Fluffy can use his coupon to buy a sugar-flavored pork burrito at Café Rio and I can go next door to Popeye’s. Everyone will be happy.

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Jan 20 2014

Television from On High

Published by Kathy under General

I got a letter from the Amazon.com people last month. It is only fitting that I get letters from them, considering that I, alone, am keeping the entire Amazon empire afloat. Amazon shouldn’t just be sending me letters; it should be sending me bonbons. Good-looking he-men from Amazon should be rubbing my neck and fluffing my pillows, for all the business I give the corporation.

But I digress. The letter I got from Amazon was not an invitation for Fluffy and me to spend a month at a private island off Costa Rica, at their expense. Instead it was a paltry “reminder” of something I did not know, which is that because I was an Amazon Prime member, I am also eligible for free downloads of television shows and movies. I had become a Prime member just to save money on postage, but I guess there are other benefits I had not henceforth used.

The first thing I did was to throw the letter in the trash. Even though many of our friends virtuously tell us they have thrown their televisions away, Fluffy and I are so hooked to our TiVo that we might as well have plugs protruding from our fluffy bunny tails. Indeed, our family motto is, “If it moves…. [we watch it]”

This is just a slight exaggeration. We do not watch anything starring Honey Boo Boo, brides, gypsies, plural wives, or little people, which means there is not much we watch on TLC. But for the most part, we are embarrassed about how much television we watch already.

When I saw the letter from Amazon, the first thing I thought was that the last thing we need is to watch more television than we already do.

Then I realized that Amazon was trying to get us to watch quality television. It was trying to get us to watch shows from the BBC. It was trying to get us to watch “Duck Dynasty.” After some heavy reconsideration, I pulled the letter out of the trash and gave it to Fluffy.

I figured that Fluffy could do the technical work to get us hooked up, and I was right. Soon we were on our way to watching even more television than we already did. We had to start out watching “Sherlock” because watching shows produced in Britain would prove how cultured we are. (It helped that we quickly became as fascinated with the series as our friends said we would be.)

Then we had to watch at least a little of “Duck Dynasty,” just to see what all the hoopla was about. We were impressed enough with it that I wrote a whole column about it. Then I accidentally saved this column over it and lost it forever, or at least until Fluffy undeleted it for me. Good old Coma Brain.

Sometimes I have the cognitive powers of a potato chip.

Finally, though, we settled on a show we had seen many years ago — “Quantum Leap.” Fluffy had never seen the two-hour pilot and I had forgotten it, so we settled down with some popcorn and decided to enjoy ourselves.

We were stunned. God was there. I don’t mean that there was an unseen spiritual presence as we watched the television show. What I mean was that God was referred to throughout the show as though the characters believed in Him.

Furthermore, one of the theories why Sam, the main character in “Quantum Leap,” is unable to find his way home is that he is on a mission from God. No sooner does Sam correct a cosmic injustice than he leaps again into another time and place with a new mission.

And God Himself even makes an appearance in the show’s last episode, playing the role of a Pennsylvania bartender whose real identity becomes more apparent as the show progresses.

How many times recently have you seen God on series television? Never — that’s how many. But throughout “Quantum Leap,” even before His appearance in the final episode, God is referred to as God — not by backwoods rednecks like the “Duck Dynasty” people, but by scientists who should know better. What a refreshing thing to see!

Watching the few episodes of “Quantum Leap” that we have watched has made me sad for the time we live in. Of course, I doubt that God would want to make an appearance on anything starring Honey Boo Boo. But He might enjoy an occasional cameo on a nature show, or maybe a cooking show.

Who knows? He might show up on “The Amazing Race,” if only somebody bothered to invite Him.

It hasn’t been that long since “Quantum Leap” appeared in March of 1989, but the world has changed immeasurably since those days. These days it’s fashionable to make fun of people who suck the brains out of squirrels (cooked ones, thank goodness) and pray to God every night. People who believe that God actually exists are held up as objects of ridicule.

Furthermore, on those rare occasions where spirituality is included on our screens, it usually involves some kind of nebulous supreme force designed to offend no one. Think of “the force” in the Star Wars movies or the Bill Murray character in Groundhog Day who has to keep reliving the same day until he gets it right. These things just happen, with nary a God anywhere to get the credit.

This kind of spiritual smoke-and-mirrors may be entertaining (I really liked Groundhog Day), but I want God to get the credit, even in fictional creations, and I think He does too. And I really, really get annoyed when God-fearing people are mocked by the elite of Hollywood just because they believe in Him.

The “Duck Dynasty” situation as foisted upon us by Hollywood reminds me of this verse from the Book of Mormon, when Moroni said to God that people would make fun of the Book of Mormon once they read it (and Moroni hadn’t even seen the musical!). When Moroni said that, God had a simple answer for him:

Fools mock, but they shall mourn. (Ether 12:26)

I believe that time will show that the squirrel-eaters are closer to eternal truth than all the Hollywood executives who have taken God out of movies and TV and have made His name a dirty word. I wonder how soon it will be before the Hollywood types realize the squirrel-eaters are not worthy of ridicule, but really had it right all along.

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Jan 13 2014

The Freedom to be Stupid or Smart

Published by Kathy under General

I would never have watched an episode of “Duck Dynasty” if the self-imposed nannies of the world hadn’t told me I was not allowed to do so. Now Fluffy and I have started at the first season and have waded through three episodes.

We’re probably going to watch the whole series of a show we never would have considered viewing, just to prove to the nannies of the world that we are just as stupid as they always assumed we were.

That’s the thing about the nannies of the world. They have decided the rest of us are so stupid that they have to tell us what to do in every excruciating detail. Soft drinks are bad for us, so we have to be told by legislation (in New York, at least) the quantities we can drink them.

If I lived in New York, only the calmer heads of an appeals court would have saved me from purchasing Big Gulps every day (probably in New Jersey) and carrying them around in public just to defy the law, proving to Mayor Bloomberg that I was just as stupid as he thought I was.

And then there’s Paula Deen. If she said the N-word even once in her lifetime, she must be taken from the airwaves so nobody can cook from her recipes — under the assumption, presumably, that her use of that word has tainted her recipes so that they are so morally decadent that we should not be allowed to cook them.

In the interest of supporting Paula Deen, here’s her recipe for Curry Crusted Bananas. My, are they fine! And they’re so easy that even Kathy Coma Brain can make them, so you surely can too. Note to the Food Network: The N-word does not appear, and to my knowledge has never appeared, in the following recipe. And consuming these delicious bananas does not, based on my experience, turn one into an epithet-hurling bigot:

Curry Crusted Bananas

Ingredients

4 firm bananas, peeled
6 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon curry powder
2 cups crushed cornflakes
Sugar, for sprinkling, optional but oh-so-nice

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Halve the bananas lengthwise, then crosswise. In a bowl, mix the butter and curry powder. Dip the bananas in the butter, coat well. Roll the bananas in the cornflakes until completely coated. Sprinkle with sugar, if desired. Place the bananas in a greased baking dish and bake for 10 minutes.

Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/curry-crusted-bananas-recipe/index.html?oc=linkback

But this isn’t about Nanny Bloomberg or Paula Deen. It’s about a redneck from my home state, Phil Robertson. Or is it Phil Robinson? I don’t know his name, but I do know he’s from my home state. Most of the rednecks on these television shows seem to hail from Louisiana. (I heaved a big sigh of relief to learn that Honey Boo Boo had been spawned in Georgia.)

If a self-proclaimed Louisiana redneck dares quote the Bible on a television show that was designed as a vehicle to mock him and his beliefs in the first place, well, suddenly nobody should be allowed to mock him anymore. This is serious business! (At least it was serious business to mock him back in the old days.) How dare he have a politically-incorrect belief about a sacred cow! He should be punished!

Can’t we just kick him to death or something? Oh, is that illegal? Can’t we just ignore the law long enough to kick him to death this time? We can’t? Bummer.

That’s one reason I was so attracted to Mormonism — Mormons believe that people should have the freedom to be stupid. For me, that freedom extends to watching “Duck Dynasty” if I want to do it. For other people, that freedom extends to pulling Paula Deen off the air for using the N-word back in the 1960s, or suspending a redneck from “Duck Dynasty” for daring to believe in the Bible.

That’s the thing about the doctrine of free agency. It goes both ways.

Of course, the ideal way would be to let Paula Deen live her life, and let people vote with their remote controls or their wallets or their feet. If enough people stopped watching her show because they suddenly learned she had used the N-word before they were born, her show would have been canceled and the problem would be solved. If they stopped buying her products, her website would have been shut down for the same reason.

I know I would have saved money if people had let Paula Deen alone. I had to buy a whole set of her cookware after my nannies told me I could no longer watch her on television, just to express my own free agency. I don’t use the N-word and I didn’t even need any new cookware, but that’s the kind of person I am. I don’t cotton well to being told what I can and cannot do.

(And yes, if all my friends jumped off a cliff, I would probably jump off a cliff right along with them — if they were friends whose judgment and integrity I trusted. I choose my friends wisely and then the decision has been made.

(If my Democrat friend Lorraine jumped off a cliff, however, I would have to wave her a sad goodbye and realize that her vote was no longer going to cancel mine out every November. Farewell, old friend!)

The founders of the United States thought this was so important that the first right granted to citizens is the right of free speech. That means our ideas and beliefs should be protected no matter how enlightened or stupid they may be.

Dumb or dangerous ideas die out as they are rejected in the court of public opinion. We don’t need self-appointed nannies making those decisions for us. This system has served us well for more than two centuries and will hopefully do so long after the nannies of the world have have realized how wrong they are and have blissfully chosen to censor themselves.

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Jan 07 2014

I Want My Pink Back

Published by Kathy under General

A while back, I got a beautiful new scarf in the mail. I couldn’t wait to wear it to church, so the next time I wore a black dress, I had Fluffy grab it for me out of the Chinese wedding basket that serves as my scarf drawer.

I thought I looked stylish all day long, so I was puzzled to have people come up to me several times throughout the day and thank me for supporting “the cause.” Frankly, I had no idea what “cause” they were talking about.

It was only later, when we started fast-forwarding through a bunch of pink-related commercials on CBS, that I realized I had dared to wear a pink scarf in October, which has been commandeered as breast cancer month.

I have nothing against breast cancer, mind you. Wait. That came out wrong. I have a whole lot against breast cancer. I am not in favor of breast cancer. I have a ton of friends who have had breast cancer, and some who have breast cancer even now, and I am not in favor of any of that.

What I meant to say I am not in favor of is breast cancer being considered as somehow worse than the rest of the illnesses — multiple sclerosis or heart disease or lupus or lung cancer or any of the others.

Why does breast cancer merit a ribbon and a color and a whole month of its own and all the solidarity and the hugs, when the other illnesses don’t get anything but a get-well card? The people are just as sick, and they feel just as traumatized. Don’t they deserve just as much fanfare and love?

Why can’t I wear a pink scarf anymore without it being assumed that I’m doing so in order to support “the cause”? Why can’t pink just be pink?

Even before I lost pink, I lost green to the tree-huggers. Green is my all-time favorite color, or it used to be before I gave my heart to purple. I still have a secret crush on green, so it irks me to pieces to think green was stolen by the people who used to passionately believe in “global warming” until they realized it was too cold for them to believe in that and now they call it “climate change.”

Now they have stolen my color and I have no choice except to love purple, except I have to be careful what shade of purple I love because some shades of purple are a secret code (wink-wink) to let people know we are gay.

Speaking of which, as a bona fide lover of colors, there is nothing that warms my heart more than the color spectrum. God outdid Himself when He did the color spectrum, which is why even though I had a perfectly serviceable set of mixing bowls and measuring cups and measuring spoons, I have recently acquired a brand new set of each, just because they came in a spectrum of colors.

In addition, I got a nifty jester’s hat for Christmas, which Fluffy enjoys wearing so much that I will probably end up getting him one too so we can go as a matched set on Halloween.

There is only one problem with the jester’s hat. The rainbow has been appropriated as part of a political agenda. I am too old to espouse political agendas. When I wear a rainbow, I want it to be because I like colors. Can’t I just like colors anymore?

Like me, Fluffy is too old for a political agenda.

Many years ago, when Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev were the leaders of the civilized world, I got a job writing a cookbook for the West Mountain Inn in Arlington, Vermont. Let’s just say this was not a high-paying gig.

I scored $1,000 for this cookbook, and that was in the days before word processors. This meant I not only had to type the thing, but I also had to add the headlines with press-on lettering. I also was responsible for the artwork, which meant I had to teach myself how to do pen-and-ink drawing to illustrate the rooms of the inn as well as the food. I worked hard for my thousand bucks.

The Recipes and Legends of West Mountain Inn, done without benefit of word processor. Each of those title letters was individually pressed on to the cover, back in those old, dark ages. (If you think the artwork on this looks rustic, you’re right: this press run was a reject.)

In the process of doing the research, Fluffy and I spent a week at the inn in the dead of winter, right after Christmas. It was unspeakably cold. We were pretty much trapped in the inn by the snow the whole week we were there. If we wanted souvenirs of the experience, we were limited to a pottery factory that was housed out in the barn of the inn.

The pottery-maker did not sell his pottery cheaply. In fact, the only creation of his that I could afford was a garlic keeper. There was just one problem. Every single garlic keeper was decorated with a peace symbol. Call me unpatriotic (or worse, a warmongering Republican), but we just didn’t choose to decorate our home with peace symbols.

Fluffy and I sought out the proprietor and asked him if he had any garlic keepers that did not have any peace symbols on them. He told us no. He had made a conscious decision that as his contribution toward world peace, every garlic keeper he produced would be decorated with a peace sign.

Once we were a discreet distance away from the proprietor, Fluffy and I laughed and laughed about this. We could just envision Reagan and Gorbachev having a secret summit at the West Mountain Inn in Arlington, Vermont. Negotiations were breaking down because both men, you see, were hoping for war.

Just as they were about to agree on a course of global destruction they wandered out to the barn, looking for gifts for Nancy and Raisa. There they spied the garlic keepers with their hopeful plea to give peace a chance. Nuclear warfare was averted and the world was saved.

Fluffy and I enacted the scenario with all the drama we could muster. Often. He and I are easily entertained.

The thing about the hippie potter and his give-peace-a-chance garlic keepers was that it was the potter’s choice to make them, and it was our choice not to buy them. The potter did not decide that every garlic keeper on Planet Earth had to be decorated with a peace sign. He only decided that his would be.

And that’s the way we should wear our convictions. If our hearts tell us that we’ll wear pink in honor of our friends with breast cancer, or carve peace signs into our stoneware garlic keepers in the hopes that by doing so we can prevent the apocalypse, let’s go for it.

But please, please don’t make the decision for the rest of the world. There may be some people out there who decide that for them, pink symbolizes finding a cure for eczema, or that what looks like a peace sign to you represents a chicken foot of “Chicken Foot” dominoes fame to them — and that’s fine too. Or there are people who think that for them, wearing pink means nothing more than that they like pink.

God made each of us in glorious individuality. We’re all different, because that’s who we are. When a rainbow appears, you may think of one thing. I think of the glorious diversity of colors, because that’s who I am. And the difference is just fine with me.

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Dec 30 2013

Building the Wheelchairs of Life

Published by Kathy under General

When I was still in the hospital and being fitted for my first wheelchair, I might as well have been fitted for a space suit for all the hoopla I had to endure. Every possible measurement a person had to be measured for, I was measured for. Twice. Maybe three times. Maybe more than that. It was a big, big undertaking.

For one thing, there was the width of the seat. I was one large person in those days. Pre-coma, I was a behemoth. After the coma, I was a somewhat smaller behemoth. Wonder Woman, the physical therapist who measured me, was delighted when I was able to fit into a 24-inch seat.

Even so, a wheelchair with a 24-inch seat did not fit through standard doors, and our bathroom door had to be widened to accommodate that wheelchair. When I needed to leave the house, I had to be temporarily put into a narrower “transport wheelchair” that would fit through standard doors so I could get from the house into the garage. Oh, the joys of being a fat person!

That was only the beginning of the measuring, though. I had to be measured from the underside of my legs to the floor so they could see how high to make the seat from the floor. I had to be measured from the back of my calves to the back of my back so they could make the seat deep enough. I had to be measured from my seat to the bottoms of my elbows to see how high to make the armrests.

You get the picture.

It took the wheelchair technician two visits to assure Wonder Woman that I was getting the Rolls-Royce of wheelchairs. Then, when the wheelchair was finally delivered, she almost had apoplexy because things had not been done to her specifications.

“Do you understand that this woman [she pointed dramatically to me] has to sit in this chair for up to eighteen hours every day of her life?” she said. “I will not accept delivery of this wheelchair until this and this and especially this have been fixed.”

The man scurried off, wheelchair in tow, to make the necessary adjustments. When he returned with my improved chair, it had a padded seat, a seat belt, a contoured back, and was perfectly adjusted to fit my body and keep me comfortable for long periods of the day.

Alas, it did not stay that way. After I left the hospital, I kept shrinking. The 24-inch seat that was picked for me kept getting bigger and bigger as I became smaller and smaller. Soon the wheelchair that had been fitted for me was big enough to hold me and another person, albeit a small one.

Nobody wants a 24-inch wheelchair seat unless it is absolutely unavoidable. For one thing, every time I needed to leave the house, I had to transfer into a smaller wheelchair in order to fit through the back doors, go down the ramp, and get in the car.

Meanwhile, Fluffy had to disassemble my big wheelchair, put it in the car, and reassemble it once I reached my destination. When we got home, we had to use the little wheelchair to get me in the house again, and Fluffy had to reassemble the big wheelchair once I got inside. It drove Fluffy crazy.

Someone who worked in hospitals eventually said to us, “You know, your insurance will pay for a smaller wheelchair.” Why don’t you get a wheelchair that will actually go through doorways? When she said that, the light bulb went on. Oh, did we want a wheelchair that went through doorways!

Our friend was absolutely right. Our insurance was more than happy to pay for a smaller wheelchair. There was only one problem. Maybe it was just because we no longer had Wonder Woman to beat them into submission, but the medical supply company we had used before just didn’t seem that excited about getting us what we needed.

It has been three months since we started negotiating for a new wheelchair, and I am still rolling around in the wheelchair Rolls-Royce waiting for a suitable replacement. There have been two smaller wheelchairs delivered to our house, mind you, but they have been two wheelchairs that were not built for Kathy, Queen of the Universe.

The first wheelchair was laughable. It looked as though it had been designed for a dollhouse. Yes, I did fit in that 20-inch seat. But that was the only measurement that had been taken for me. For the thirty seconds I sat on that new wheelchair, I felt like Queen Elizabeth sitting on a teeny tiny chair that was perched on the tippy top of a twenty-story wedding cake. It was clearly a recipe for disaster.

When you only take one measurement, there are so many other measurements to be wrong. For one thing, only the back half of my legs were on the chair. The front half of them — the underside of my lap, if you will — had no support whatsoever.

And my arms hovered inches and inches above the armrests, which were armrests in name only. When you only measure the seat, the only thing that’s going to fit is, well, the seat.

Fluffy looked at the delivery man and said, “This is not going to work. Take it back.” So we went on vacation for a week, and when we returned, a change had been made and there was a different medical supply company to deal with — a company we affectionately call the Acme Rickshaw and Wheelchair Company. If Acme doesn’t make its products in China, it makes them somewhere even worse.

These people were even less responsive than the last people. The only thing they cared about was my weight, which we can’t measure because I can’t stand on a scale.

They finally sent out a wheelchair, just last week. It came wrapped in cellophane, and that’s how it stayed. Fluffy looked at it, and his apoplexy was almost as dramatic as Wonder Woman’s had been, back in the hospital. Even in wrapped in cellophane, he could tell that this was a wheelchair he wasn’t going to allow in our home.

He was right. This was a wheelchair that was so shoddy it would have given the words “Made in China” a bad name.

Everything about that wheelchair was plastic. Everything about that wheelchair was cheap. There was no cushion on the back. There was no cushion on the seat. We were told we could buy those at our own expense. The wheels were plastic rather than rubber, and they looked like cheap plastic rather than rubber. There didn’t appear to be a seat belt. The chair appeared to be miserably uncomfortable.

Oh. And it didn’t fit through the back door of our house, which was the whole purpose of getting a smaller chair. When we refused the chair, the delivery person who took it back said, “Oh yeah. I don’t blame you. This company really does things on the cheap.”

So here we are, at the cusp of another year. I’m still riding around in the Rolls-Royce of wheelchairs. (If I ever see you lost in our house, I can give you a ride next to me.) We started the process of getting a smaller wheelchair in October, and things are no closer to finding a solution than they were then.

The only good thing I can see is that we were renting the Rolls-Royce to own, and our last payment was in December. We now own the Rolls-Royce. When I get the new wheelchair, I will have two wheelchairs — one for the upstairs (when I get upstairs) and one for the main floor. That will be a real blessing when I finally get upstairs again.

It has gotten to the point where we are leaving the Rolls-Royce wheelchair at home altogether unless we are going to church or the temple, and Fluffy takes me out in the smaller transport wheelchair. This is a dangerous proposition, because the transport wheelchair has no seat belt and no brakes. It is rickety and unsafe, but it goes through doorways so we use it.

In fact, we’re about to use it as soon as I finish writing this column.

But before I finish, I just want to ask — what kind of wheelchair builder are you? When you build a wheelchair, figuratively speaking, do you slap four wheels on it and call it good, or do you outfit it with all the bells and whistles and make sure it’s comfortable and safe?

Not all the projects we undertake deserve our best effort. The cupcakes we bake for Johnny’s third grade class don’t have to look beautiful, for example, and they don’t even have to be from scratch. The only two things that matter are that Johnny feels loved, and that nobody dies from eating the cupcakes. If you fill those criteria, you can call it good.

Other assignments, however, deserve the best we can give. Being a husband or a wife, parenting, serving as a teacher or a mentor to youth (or even to one’s peers) — these are things that are sacred trusts. Holding another person’s life in your hands, if only for a minute, has the potential to change that person’s life forever, for better or for worse.

I hope the wheelchairs I build are Rolls-Royces. I want to leave things behind me that will last and that will be a credit to God. I don’t want it said that my wheelchairs have no brakes or seat belts or that, heaven forbid, I forgot to put wheels on them. Life is hard enough for the people around me without having Kathy put obstacles in their way.

From building wheelchairs to building lives, we need to determine what deserves our finest effort, and then give those things no less than the best we have.

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Dec 23 2013

Planet Kathy’s Own Cable Station

Published by Kathy under General

About this time last year, when I had just awakened from my coma and barely had enough strength to open my eyes, the nurses in the hospital where I was incarcerated put a remote control in my hand. “Use these buttons to control the television,” they said. “Use these buttons to control the lights. Use this button to call the nurses.”

They might as well have given me a sledgehammer, for all the good I could do with that remote control. It took all of my strength to not drop the remote on the floor, let alone push any of the buttons. So I lay there in the dark, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, unless a nurse turned on the television when he or she was in the room and then the television stayed on until someone else returned to the room and I was able to plead for the television to be turned off again. One time I just about lost my sanity during a Honey Boo-Boo marathon, but then Fluffy arrived and had the mercy to push the off button.

Some people would consider this a lonely existence. There is a word for these people. That word is “extraverts” (and yes, that is the spelling I prefer).

I, however, was perfectly happy lying in the dark and in the quiet. For one thing, I am an introvert. But for the purposes of this column, I was tuned into Planet Kathy’s own cable station — a station I didn’t even know existed until it was invented for my own viewing pleasure.

There is a phrase that has been invented for my television station, and it is not “Planet Kathy’s Own Cable Station,” no matter how pleasant the concept may be. No, it’s a medical phrase: ICU psychosis. What it means is that people who have been in critical care tend to go — how shall I put it? We tend to go out of our ever-loving minds.

I didn’t know I had fallen off the deep end, mind you. How many crazy people actually know they are crazy? And none of the medical professionals prepared Fluffy for the possibility (yea, the probability) that I would awaken from my coma with a full-blown legion of bats in my belfry.

Of course, they didn’t tell him I was in a coma, either. Medical personnel put Fluffy strictly on a need-to-know, basis, and they pretty much determined that he didn’t need to know anything. When they did tell him things, they used politically correct terms such as “induced sleep” rather than “coma.”

My first encounter with ICU psychosis was not identified for months and months, until I told Fluffy what I remembered of the lovely first hospital where I had stayed. I had glowing memories of that first hospital. It was a textbook of perfect intensive care unit design.

All the beds faced an open area that was painted the brightest, sunniest, cheeriest yellow you could imagine. Travel posters in bright colors graced the walls, allowing patients to fantasize about happy times in the future.

Hospital personnel wore jewel tone scrubs. I am a sucker for jewel tones, so even their clothing made me happy. Only one person marred the picture. One man insisted on wearing a bunny tail on his rear end. It wasn’t even centered, but it was there every day. I wanted to rip it off. He was not worthy of a bunny tail, but he never got close enough for me to tell him so.  His hop was lopsided, too.

Imagine my dismay when I told Fluffy my fond memories, only to be told there were no bright yellow walls; there were no travel posters; there were no jewel tones. There was not even a lopsided bunny tail for me to be disgusted about. It was all in my mind, but I didn’t believe it until Fluffy trotted out the pictures and showed me the industrial paint job of the ICU. Not once, but several times. There was not a yellow wall or a bunny tail in sight.

The next fabrication was also a pleasant one. It occurred on Christmas Eve, when I had distinct memories of being taken out, plopped on the curb of a busy downtown street, and allowed to watch people going to and fro as they did their Christmas shopping. It got a little boring after a while, but I never got cold.

There were other patients who had been plopped down next to me, but it never occurred to me to talk to them. How could I? I couldn’t talk because of the tracheotomy in my throat. Besides, none of us had been introduced. So I listened to the Christmas music and speculated what was in the brightly-colored packages, having myself a gay old time.

Not all the hallucinations were happy ones. I was kidnapped and taken to a circus sideshow. I was kidnapped and taken to a Muslim wedding. Never mind that I’ve never been to a Muslim wedding, much less served as a caterer to one. But my coma brain had me hiding behind a Coke machine until after the festivities, when I knew I was going to be summarily dispatched.

I was not sure who was going to dispatch me, or for what reason. But I was convinced the doctors and nurses were in on it and were working in cahoots with the Muslims and circus people, and I was on their hit list. I think I knew too much.

Then I got kidnapped and taken to Alaska. I don’t remember flying there, but I remember being there. That hallucination went so far that I asked one of the hospital nurses which town I was in. She asked me which town I thought I was in. I told her I knew I was in Alaska, but I didn’t know which actual city had me.

When she told me I was in Washington, D.C., I was so surprised you could have smacked me with a salmon — except, of course, salmon were out of season in Alaska and were not available for smacking. Fluffy also confirmed that I was in D.C., but then, I was convinced he might be part of the conspiracy too.

Hotels played a big part in my hallucinations. Sometimes I was sitting on the floor of a hotel in Morocco in the 1930s. Sometimes I was in the back of a rooming house behind the same hotel. There was a hotel in present-day Naples, too. I spent a lot of time in that one, while the rest of the people in our tour group came and went. Often they stopped to tell me about their adventures. I liked that.

No matter where I was, I was placed on a pallet on the floor, and people came and went around me. I never went anywhere on my own, because I couldn’t move on my own. I never really spoke because I couldn’t speak without having my voice box manually inserted. I just sat there or lay there and life ebbed and flowed around me.

It was the ideal existence for a lazy person — except, of course, on those occasions when I thought I was about to be murdered. Then it was just a little bit frustrating to be unable to get away. But what can you do? Sometimes you’re the victim; sometimes you’re the axe-wielding murderer.

My most colorful hallucination occurred when I was just about ready to “graduate” from the second hospital. The nurses were determined I was going to stand up in that second hospital, even though I was not even close to being ready to stand.

In fact, I still can’t stand the way they wanted me to stand and it’s almost a whole year later than it was when I left that second hospital. I think they wanted the credit for progress I hadn’t really made, which is an all-too-human trait.

Anyway, the nurses told me that I was going to stand up tomorrow. My feet, meanwhile, were telling me I was not going to be standing up tomorrow. I decided the only way I was going to stand up was going to be if I infused myself with a whole litany of positive thinking.

I didn’t get much sleep that night. I kept chanting to myself, over and over, “You’re going to stand up tomorrow. You’re going to stand up tomorrow.”

Here’s where it gets weird. Every time I chanted to myself, the old rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival appeared off to my left and started singing, “And When I Die.” (If you don’t know the song, the words go, “And when I die/and when I’m gone/there’ll be one child born and a world/to carry on/to carry on.”)

They really belted it out, and they belted it often. I was chanting my pep talk frequently, so there were often several Creedences singing “And When I Die” in different areas of the room. It got pretty noisy from time to time.

I had never been a Creedence fan, so my brain didn’t know how many people to visualize. When I saw them off in my peripheral vision it looked like there were four 1970s-era guys, but I didn’t know anything about them. There could have been six. There could have been a girl or two in there. Who knew?

So when I tried to sneak a look at them, they dissolved in front of me. I could only see them peripherally, but it didn’t stop them from singing their little hearts out. I didn’t get much sleep that night.

It was only several months later when I was telling a friend the story that he said to me, “I hate to tell you this, but ‘And When I Die’ was recorded by Blood, Sweat & Tears.”

As soon as he said it, I knew he was right. All I could say was, “It may not have been their song, but Creedence did a great job with it.”

Frankly, I’m glad it was Creedence who sang for me. There were nine guys in Blood, Sweat & Tears, and that would have crowded my hospital room something awful.

As fate would have it, I changed hospitals the next day and never saw those two nurses again. I never had to try to stand up. I lost a night of sleep for nothing, and Creedence sang in vain. But if you’re going to give a concert, sing your heart out. For the rest of my life, “And When I Die” and Creedence Clearwater Revival are going to have a fond place in my memories.

Compared to 2012, our holiday is going to be pretty quiet this year. There will be no trips to Alaska, or Muslim weddings, or concerts by vintage rock bands. It will probably just be Fluffy and I enjoying hot chocolate, Christmas music, and each other. And my Christmas wish for all of you is that your day will be just as nice as mine.

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Dec 18 2013

Christmas Letter

Published by Kathy under Planet Kathy News

If we had a Christmas letter this year, this is what it might look like.

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Dec 16 2013

It’s All in Your Mind

Published by Kathy under General

My feet are the bane of my existence. One would think that paralyzed feet wouldn’t cause a lot of trouble, but mine are always up to some mischief or other.

My right foot likes to creep up on its side and lie on my left foot. When I discover what has happened, the pain is excruciating. No matter where I am or what I am doing, I have to move that errant foot now.

The third and fourth toes on my right foot have a tendency to creep through a hole in my sock and get caught there, strangulated. The pain of that is even worse than the pain of my whole right foot lying on its side on the left foot. I reach down and scrabble to remove my shoe and correct the situation.

Why did Fluffy put a holey sock on my foot, anyway? Didn’t he know the trouble it could cause?

But it’s not just my feet. My socks tend to cut into my paralyzed legs up at the top, where the sock ends. It can lie there all day long without any trouble, but suddenly the pain hits and I have to get that sock off that leg pronto. Occasionally the sock will travel down toward my ankle and bite into the skin there before cutting off the circulation. Boy, does that hurt!

There is only one problem. Everything is imaginary. When I look down (sometimes a dozen or so times per hour) to remove the right foot from on top of the left one, the right foot is nowhere near the left foot. It is sitting innocently on the floor, parallel to the left foot, minding its business and not causing any trouble at all.

In all the hundreds of times I have looked, the right foot has never been on top of the left foot — not even once.

The same thing is true of all my other fears. Every last one of them is imaginary. I should know this because I have not been wearing socks. There are no socks on my feet to have holes that will trap the third and fourth toes on my right foot. There are no socks on my legs to bite into the tender skin of ankle or calf.

Having sock issues is usually not a problem when you are not wearing socks in the first place, but try to tell my feet that!

The knowledge that all my fears are groundless doesn’t stop me from having those fears. I still look down in a panic when I realize my right foot is on top of my left foot. I still scrabble to remove my third and fourth toe from the holes in my sock, or to pull the sock away from my calf or my ankle.

And although I haven’t mentioned it previously, I still look down in a panic, often, to make sure that one of my toes has not caught on fire. Because, you see, all the signs tell me that at least one toe is aflame. Quite often the flames have engulfed an entire foot, and I didn’t even know how those toes had gotten hold of a box of matches.

Those fears are as real to me as the monster under the bed is real to a four-year-old, or the specter of cancer is to the woman who has been called in to consult with her doctor after routine blood work has been drawn. We can tell ourselves not to worry a hundred times, or even a thousand times, but the fears are so concrete that we can’t talk ourselves down no matter how hard we try.

We recently heard a story about a man who had let fear destroy his life. He was a high school principal who had discovered some students using drugs and had reported them to the police. In retaliation for this, some of the students decided to shoot up the school and specifically gun down the principal.

This plan was discovered by intercepting some letters, and the plot was halted before any violence occurred. Despite this, the principal’s life was ruined. He immediately quit his job and spent all his time hiding in his house, fearing that he was going to be killed. It got so bad that he refused to take out the garbage and his house filled with trash.

His family left him and eventually stopped coming to see him because they were so appalled by the way he was living. Pretty soon his only companions were the rats that were attracted by the filth in his home. In many respects, his fear of the unknown caused more damage to his life than the students he originally feared.

To a lesser extent, can’t we all relate to this story just a little bit? Haven’t we all had times in our lives when we let irrational fears get a little grip on us (or a big one)? Someone once said that it is an act of faith just to get out of bed each morning. We can lie in bed and worry about what the day might hold, or we can get up, exercise some faith that it will be a good day, and then do our best to make it that way.

The human mind is one of God’s greatest creations. We can use it to create great symphonies, amazing inventions, stunning artwork, or monsters under our beds.

One of the most powerful scriptures on courage comes from Paul’s letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 1:7), where he writes:

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

Paul says right there in black and white that fear does not come from God. Power, love, and peace are God’s tools. But the Doctrine and Covenants says it even better. Doctrine and Covenants 50:24 says God actually bathes us in light:

That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.

If I’ve ever heard of the antithesis of the monster under the bed, that’s it. God doesn’t expect us to be fearful. He expects to wrap us in light like a shield, so that we can go forth, courageous, to live our lives.

As the winter gets darker and colder, I want to think of God wrapping me up in his love as the ultimate blanket of light and warmth. The temperature may be cold outside, but with God on our side, we need never fear — no matter how many monsters try to hide in our closets or under our beds.

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Dec 09 2013

Twenty Years for $0.34

Published by Kathy under General

I have a confession to make. I am a true crime junkie. For years I was drawn to anything that dealt with the solutions to actual crimes. Whether it was a book, a movie, or a newspaper account, I was fascinated by the motives that drove people to commit hideous acts, and the process used to track them down and bring them to justice.

I didn’t just read the books. I was interested in the details in the way that a forensic scientist would be interested. I was fascinated by larvae or body temperatures or petechial hemorrhages. Long before television audiences stared wide-eyed at the guys on “CSI,” I anticipated the death scene in a book and wondered whether the hyoid bone was broken and what the lividity would tell me.

It was a conscious decision that I made one day to kick my addiction. I was getting hooked on true crime just the same way that other people were getting hooked on video games or even on pornography. It was hardening me in a way that I knew I wasn’t supposed to be hard. This scared me.

On another level, I knew that there were much better things to do with my day than to spend my life watching the newly-launched Court-TV. I have read too many books about near-death experiences, where the dead are shown an overview of their entire life. I didn’t want to be standing at the pearly gates and trying to justify spending a large portion of my life immersed in blood and gore.

When I quit, it was cold turkey. I stopped reading the books. I stopped going to the movies. I stopped watching Court-TV. (I am glad the O.J. Simpson trial was recently over by then, because I did a lot of housework as I listened to that trial, even stripping the wax off the floors in our kitchen. I would never have stripped those floors without O.J. Simpson, and I want to thank the Juice for that.)

Ever since I quit, I have stayed away from true crime completely. When people ask me for my opinions on a big case, I stare at them blankly. I know the names, but I don’t know the victim from the perpetrator. I do this on purpose. I know I sound like an ignoramus, but I have to stay away from it completely or I’ll get hooked again.

There is one exception. When we go on vacation, all bets are out the window. Because we don’t have our trusty TiVo to manage our television, we’re stuck with watching whatever happens to be on at the moment. And even with several dozen cable stations, sometimes the pickings are pretty slim. So we find ourselves watching stuff that we would never watch at home.

During a recent vacation, we found that one of the cable stations was running a marathon of shows about forensic detectives. Immortalized by such fictional shows as “CSI,” these are the scientists who solve crimes using techniques such as fingerprints, fibers, and DNA evidence. But the series we watched was not fictional, and all of the stories shown were based on actual cases.

One case we watched was particularly memorable. A man was found dead, and his wife was the suspect. He had been threatening to divorce her, and she didn’t want to lose her part of the estate. When they found what was left of the husband, his body had been wrapped in plastic and partially dissolved using an acid that can be found at hardware stores.

One of the detectives suggested they go to all the local hardware stores where this unusual acid had been recently purchased, and see if they could discover anything by looking at the footage from the security cameras. Sure enough, at one of the stores they found images of a woman buying a plastic tarp and two packages of the acid that had been used.

There was only one problem. They couldn’t positively identify the woman in the video as the suspect. She had paid in cash, and had disguised herself with bulky clothes, a floppy hat, and a pair of sunglasses.

But then the detectives spotted something that broke the case wide open. The woman in the video had used a preferred-customer card to get a discount on her purchase. The detectives were then able to get the card number from the receipt and track it back to the victim’s wife.

Armed with the video and other evidence, they were able to convict the woman of murdering her husband, and she received a sentence of 20 years in prison.

Here’s the punch line to the story. By using her preferred-customer card, the woman had saved a whopping $0.34 on her purchase. She would never have been arrested if she hadn’t used her card to save those thirty-four cents. In retrospect, she probably was not very happy about the bargain she made.

This got me to thinking about the decisions we make, and how they can alter our future. I doubt many of us could top the woman in this story in terms of bad decisions. But I’m sure all of us can look back at past decisions and say, “If only I hadn’t done that.”

Fluffy and I like to play computer games. We used to love playing Duke Nukem, a one-person shooter game where you could have lots of fun blasting aliens. Like many computer games, Duke has a “save” feature, where you can save the status of your game and then reload it later.

This was always helpful if you were exploring a new sector of the game and were worried about being attacked. If things didn’t go well, and the aliens really blasted you, you could always reload the game from the last saved point and try again and again until you were satisfied with your results.

Wouldn’t it be nice if life had a “save” feature? We could do a “save” before making any big decision, and then go back to that point if we decided later that we had made a wrong choice.

None of us have a crystal ball, and none of us can predict the outcome of the hundreds of decisions we make on a daily basis. When we make the wrong decisions, we just have to clean up the mess as well as we can and keep on trying. Hopefully, even our worst decisions will not result in something as serious as a twenty-year prison stay.

Just as we are all human, we will all make our share of mistakes and have to deal with them. If we are living as we should, we will learn from our mistakes and not repeat them in the future.

For most religious people, the gift of repentance is the closest we can come to having a “do over.” It is a great feeling to know that God will remember our sins no more. Sometimes the hardest part is forgiving ourselves and allowing ourselves to move on. Some sins can weigh heavily on our minds long after everyone else has forgotten about the incident.

Another big feature of repentance is the act of restitution. Although it isn’t possible to restore everything to rights, part of the repentance process requires us to do what we can to make the injured party whole again.

That is why parents march their shoplifting children back down to the store to return what they stole, and why young baseball players often have memories of working to make money to replace broken windows. When people learn at a young age how painful the act of restitution is, they are far less likely to want to do things as an adult that will require them to make restitution in the future.

Receiving the gift of repentance means we must acknowledge that everyone else is worthy of the same gift — even individuals or groups we don’t like. As the scriptures remind us, we can only receive this great blessing as long as we extend forgiveness to everyone else. That’s easier said than done, but once we are able to do it we are well on the road to spiritual maturity.

During this time of year, I hope we are not so caught up in the celebrations of the season that we overlook the true blessings in our lives, such as repentance and forgiveness. They are gifts that will bring us peace and happiness long after the other pretty gifts under the tree are opened and forgotten.

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