Nov 17 2014

No Rules; No Masters

Published by Kathy under General

We recently experienced an eight-day vacation in Florida and the Bahamas, where it was always sunny and warm. But when we got off the ship in Baltimore, it was rainy and cold. Fluffy and I were not dressed for the weather.

As we waited in line for U.S. Customs, we noticed a teenage boy in line ahead of us. He was wearing a gray hoodie. The message written across the back of it said, “No rules. No masters.”

I pointed out the hoodie to Fluffy and said, “There’s a kid who has never had to deal with the I.R.S.”

Fluffy said, “He has obviously never held a job of any kind. Managers own you. If you’ve had a manager, you’ve had a master.”

I said, “I guess his parents have never set any rules.”

Fluffy observed, “These days, maybe they haven’t. They probably paid for the shirt.”

I said, “When he learns to drive, he’s going to he’s going to have to deal with a rule or two there.”

Fluffy said, “If he doesn’t, he’s going to meet the masters of the Highway Patrol.”

As we stood in line, we went on and on about the masters and rules the slouching young man already had to deal with in his young life. Teachers and principals. Paying for things versus shoplifting. Dealing with a mortgage. The pesky little law of gravity.

That rebellious little teenager could wear all the hoodies he wanted to, but he was only showing his ignorance. We human beings are subject to rules and masters all the livelong day, and it’s a good thing. If we were not rule-keepers, we could never get behind the wheel of a car without fearing for our lives at every intersection. We could never eat at a restaurant without fear of being poisoned. We could never buy food or gasoline without peril, or goods without fear of being cheated.

Even nature follows its own innate rules. We read about the law of the jungle and survival of the fittest. But everything is equally true on a cellular level. Cells divide and plants and animals grow according to the rules of nature. When things go wrong, we get cancer and other diseases. Most of the time, we are healthy because our bodies follow the rules that nature intended them to do.

And it’s the masters who enforce those rules, or who teach us from a young age that those rules exist. They are our law enforcement officials, our judges, our magistrates. They may be the ones who pull us over when we are speeding, but they are also the ones who come to our aid when we have been the victims of a crime.

They are the shopkeepers who keep prices down by making sure other shoppers do not steal. They are the forest rangers who do not let you hike or camp in unauthorized areas, making sure the pristine areas will stay pristine for generations to come. They are the federal regulators that tell fisherman they can’t fish for cod for six months because the fish populations are down and need a chance to regenerate.

Whether our young friend is willing to admit it or not, there are masters in every sphere, and there are masters that rule over us all despite all the hoodies in the world.

In fact, even the great Ruler of us all is subject to rules of His own. One of the themes of the Book of Mormon is that even God is subject to rules He cannot violate. We humans may not understand what those rules are, but our God is a God of order nonetheless.

Doctrine and Covenants 132:8 says, “Behold, mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion.” This tells us more than that God’s refrigerator is squeaky clean, and that His shoes are lined up neatly in His celestial closet. No, if you read the Book of Mormon, it says that if God violated the rules of the universe, He would actually “cease to be God” (Alma 42:45).

Right there, in those four words, you see exactly how important rules are. “God would cease to be God.” I cannot even imagine the ramifications for the universe if God ceased to be Himself. I don’t think it’s something the human mind can comprehend, although I’m sure Hollywood would like to try. Everything would fall apart.

The message on that hoodie — “No Rules. No Masters” — was written by somebody who does not understand the way of this world. I am grateful for rules, and I am grateful for masters. Yes, there are rules that are harsh and there are masters that are unjust and unkind. But I follow rules that are eternal, and I follow the Master of the Universe.

Those rules and that Master make all the difference to me.

2 responses so far

Nov 10 2014

At a Loss for Words

Published by Kathy under General

We recently spent eight days on a cruise ship, eating dinner every night with the same four strangers. None of them shared our faith, so when one of the ladies had a birthday on our penultimate night out, it was only natural that her husband celebrated by buying a bottle of champagne for the table.

Nobody was surprised or offended that we didn’t drink the champagne. Fluffy and I had told them earlier in the week that we were Mormons, so all it took was a gentle reminder that we do not drink alcohol for everyone to cheerfully accept that two people at the table were going to be toasting Dawn with glasses of water.

But it was when I cheerfully added that Mormons do not drink coffee or tea that things started to go south. Because this concept was beyond the ability of the birthday girl to understand.

Cawfee?” she asked incredulously, in her best Jersey accent. “What’s wrong with cawfee or tea?”

And that’s where things unraveled, because Dawn asked me to answer a question about something that actually meant something to me.

Now if she had given me a keyboard and ten minutes, I could have answered her question intelligently, but she didn’t. She expected me to use my mouth to formulate some type of answer to her question. And then, quite reasonably, she looked at me, open-eyed, and waited for me to answer her.

Envision, if you will, a deer in the headlights. No, envision a deer in a whole herd of headlights. I could no more have spoken than I could have stood up and done a tap dance on the table. The words were not there. Forty-four years of faithfully following the Word of Wisdom had not prepared me for one innocent question, asked without hostility by a person who simply wanted to know the answer.

It was not that I didn’t know the answer. I could have written essays on the subject. But I was not asked to write an essay. I was asked to speak.

Fortunately, Fluffy was sitting next to me. After a silence that couldn’t have lasted more than, oh, thirty-seven years, I elbowed Fluffy and said, “Clark can say it better than I can.”

And Fluffy launched off on a perfectly intelligent explanation of why we might avoid such substances — in addition to the health implications, Mormons are taught to avoid all addictive substances because that helps us control our passions and subdue our bodies.

The rest of what he said doesn’t really matter. All that matters was that it was said in a way that satisfied our tablemates, and I didn’t have to say it. I am not just slow of speech. Sometimes I am devoid of speech. It was bad enough pre-coma, but post-coma I am much, much worse.

I can no longer trust myself to speak in public. I rarely make comments in Relief Society, because when I do, the comments that come out of my mouth are not the comments that I compose in my brain. I am not sure if it is severe enough to be classified as aphasia. Well, maybe it is. I’m not yet to the point that I try to say “God” and it comes out as “toasters,” but I may be on my way.

Fluffy loyally tells me I am doing just fine. He sees no difference from the pre-coma Kathy and the post-coma one. Of course, Fluffy looks at my hair when I have slept on it wrong and it is completely flat on one side and sticking out at a forty-five degree angle above my left eyeball and tells me it is absolutely beautiful.

His loyalty is an endearing thing, but perhaps — just maybe — it is not to be trusted. He (and other friends) have also assured me that this is just part of aging, and has nothing to do with my coma adventure.

I used to be articulate. In all my years of giving church talks and teaching lessons, I have done it extemporaneously. It has been amusing. When Fluffy and I have been assigned to speak at the same meeting and on the same topic, he would prepare assiduously for days ahead of time, going to the meeting with a neatly typed script that served as his springboard for the talk.

This is not to say he didn’t deviate from the script if he wanted to do so. He has never been a robot. If Fluffy decides to make a change to accommodate someone he sees in the audience or a thought that springs to mind, he is fully capable of it.

For the most part, however, he is completely prepared when he stands to deliver a talk. He was a Boy Scout when he was a tyke, and that’s what good Boy Scouts do — be prepared.

But that was never the way I did things, pre-coma. I would be assigned my topic at the same time he was assigned his, and I thought about the topic in my own Kathy-like way. Then I would get up to the lectern with a piece of paper the size of a gum wrapper that might have five words on it. Those words gave me the direction, and I went from there.

I told stories that wove messages together. It all worked. The gum wrapper was all I needed.

Now? If I were ever asked to teach a lesson or give a talk, I don’t know how I’d do it. I have never read a talk in my life, but I think if I tried to do it the old way I would open my mouth and either nothing would come out or I’d start speaking gibberish. No — I know I’d start speaking gibberish, and that scares me.

It frightens me to know that I am not who I used to be. I look at the mirror and I see an old person. I look at the floor and I see feet that do not walk. I look at my hands and I see the skin of a Shar-Pei.

But none of that scares me as much as the tongue that does not work — the beginnings of aphasia. If I cannot communicate, who am I? When am I no longer Kathy?

The idea of losing my Kathy-hood depresses me. I think of all the old people in all the rest homes in the world who cannot communicate. People look at them and assume that nobody’s home. Now I wonder how many bright minds are hiding inside bodies with tongues that can no longer tell people what they want to say. I have worried about becoming one of those silent people.

But then I read Alma 12:9-10. In those verses, Alma is preaching to the bad guy Zeezrom (he is such a bad guy that the only way the Book of Mormon can describe just how bad he is, is to tell you that he is a lawyer). This is a small part of what he says:

And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.

And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.

What that said to me when I was reading it yesterday is that God is willing to tell us His biggest secrets, but we can’t pass them along to just anybody. Some challenge that would be! Humans are natural blabbers with even little secrets, and if God gave them the secrets of the mysteries of the universe, there is no way we could keep those mysteries close to the vest.

So what does He do? Maybe — just maybe — he waits until those of us with loose lips but who still love Him are no longer able to speak. When they have been silenced with any kind of illness or even with Alzheimer’s, He tells them secrets from the other side of the veil — secrets that they are in no danger of imparting to others.

What we mistake as dementia may be something far different. We may look at Grandma and say that her mind is gone, but we may be wrong. Grandma may be mentally conversing with generations unseen, or she may be sitting with God Himself — learning the mysteries of Heaven directly from Him.

As I get older, my aphasia will only get worse. That’s the nature of the human condition; the body continues to deteriorate until we finally abandon it for something better and new.

But if I end up as one of those who are unable to speak, think of me as one of those who are watching instructional videos from the other side. There’s a lot I need to learn to get me ready for the next phase of my existence. I don’t want to miss a single lesson along the way.

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Oct 14 2014

Builders or Breakers

Published by Kathy under General

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was the sort of merry scene we envisioned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As it says in the Book of Mormon:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 responses so far

Oct 06 2014

Uninvited Guests

Published by Kathy under General

My eyelashes are infested by animalcules.

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

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

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

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

These things make a chigger look like Godzilla.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 responses so far

Oct 03 2014

Walking Wherever I Can’t

Published by Kathy under General

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sep 29 2014

Becoming Mother Teresa

Published by Kathy under General

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It did not help. I continued to gain weight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 responses so far

Sep 22 2014

Traveling for the Aged

Published by Kathy under General

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

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

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

It was not the ideal way to start a vacation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 responses so far

Sep 15 2014

Those Clever Mormons

Published by Kathy under General

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And finally, drumroll, please:

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

I hope you are impressed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 responses so far

Sep 08 2014

The $300 Challenge

Published by Kathy under General

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

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that is exactly what happened.

Fluffy, the Perpetual Employee of the Month.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He deserves it.

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Sep 01 2014

Fifteen Instances of Gratitude

Published by Kathy under General

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

Here they are, in no particular order.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. I am grateful for friends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this was before the earthquake.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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