Do the impossible, see the invisible Monday, Nov 9 2020 

I spent yesterday like a hamster in a wheel picking up more shingles and debris in the yard. It’s an endless task much like a dog chasing it’s tail. If I ever catch up I won’t know what to do with myself. I’ll have to roll the magnet across the yard again for roofing nails before another run of the mower. I picked up a little more than I’d planned while hunched over the drain on the corner thanks to a kind gesture by a passerby.

I’ve only recently seen a return of the walkers and joggers because a fourth pass of the debris trucks has mostly cleared the sidewalks. What’s left are all of the tiny bits of garbage in every form scattered about in the tall grass. I live on a fairly busy corner so I’m constantly stopping and stooping when cars blow by just to be sure my butt isn’t straight up in the air in an obnoxious way. I take more time than I should repositioning and checking myself lest some of my own little bits pop out where they shouldn’t and stop traffic where it already should. I see the joggers coming and fuss at the cars that are supposed to stop but don’t. There isn’t much of an exchange usually and especially not when I’m in a piss poor mood post pandemic, two hurricanes, and a polarizing election because I’m certainly not initiating the pleasantries. I’d prefer lately to keep to myself because keeping it together has proven to be difficult most days. An unfamiliar jogger surprised me as he passed. I’d already stood and turned my butt the other way BUT HE SPOKE. It was brief, but he saw me. “Lookin’ good!” He said. Sweaty and stumped, I mumbled a thanks.

That little acknowledgement meant a lot. I swear there’s no way that he could tell any difference but he threw out a little pick me up when he saw me picking up. I do a lot of that now. It’s practically all I do. I have no staff for the time being so most of my time is just spent with the necessary maintenance and upkeep of floors and trash. I’d never ask anyone to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself so the cleaning doesn’t bother me in fact it’s my “thing” that I say when I hire new student workers to prepare them for whatever duties come with their job. I’ve been kind of an invisible presence just keeping the place going behind the scenes. I’ve figured out what bothers me about it all; I feel too often lately like I’m not being seen or heard. Most people aren’t sloppy by nature but the few who are stand out amongst the rest. In public spaces, someone has to come along and tidy up though. When someone throws trash on the floor, there’s always someone who has to come along behind them. I’ve seen messes that should never be left BEHIND for others to endure when a simple flush would DOO.

I send emails and leave messages for adjusters hoping for responses daily and rarely hear anything back. I’m not being heard, and what I’m doing isn’t being seen, and it’s all maddening. I equate my current situation to asking a kid to do something over and over and over and over again only to be ignored until I erupt and lose my mind in such a way that someone can’t help but notice only I’m so far off the scales that my sanity is questioned and the looks I get could only mean that horns have sprouted from my head.

Even people beyond our little corner of the state and out of the eye of the storm so to speak are enduring something similar right now. There’s been a helluva storm on the political plains and some can’t even see far enough on the horizon to be assured that the sun will rise and fall again. People feel like they aren’t being heard. Maybe none of us are listening like we should. Social media appears to be taking up in different camps with a mass exodus into newer platforms because neither side wants to HEAR or LISTEN to the other enough to keep any sort of civil dialogue going. It sometimes feels like this country is splitting down the middle like the stately oaks I looked at daily piled on either side of the road. Both the right and left sides are full of debris, and it’ll take a lot of tedious work to clean up this mess.

Mr. Jogger passed back by as I’d pondered all of this mess, and he offered some encouragement again. “Keep it up! It already looks better!” Rather than let the opportunity to pass me by again I thanked him. “HEY!” I said. “Thanks for that! You came along when I needed to hear that most.” He seemed glad to hear my acknowledgment. Maybe he does that all the time and doesn’t really think about it. I wanted him to know that he’d been heard though, and he made a difference for me at least for a short time. So tomorrow I’ll do it all over again. Maybe I’ll be heard and maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll pretend that being invisible is my new superpower if so. Maybe someone will read this and relate. Maybe 2020 will be the year that we all got tossed around and beat up and broken down enough that we have to stop and listen and communicate in order to work together and rebuild something strong and lovely that’ll last.

Keep On Truckin’ Tuesday, Oct 27 2020 

Can we talk about the trucks here? It dawned on me today that friends from out of town probably don’t know about them. Amidst all of the debris and rubble are debris trucks, food trucks, power/cable trucks, & work trucks. They’re everywhere.

Our couch and chair going for a ride.

The massive debris trucks have been here since the first storm. I assume they evacuated for the second storm in what must’ve looked like a parade of sorts and then meandered slowly back only to find that the first hauls from the first storm were replaced by second hauls from, well, you get it. My favorite saying from local officials prior to Delta was, “Secure your debris.” Ha! We’re known down here for our family-friendly Mardi Gras so it’s been mentioned a time or two that perhaps we should invite these fellas and gals back to be grand marshals if we get to have a post-COVID carnivale. They can throw instead of collect next time! If you’ve never seen them, they’re impressive enough to bow down or curtsy if you’re inclined. Between two massive dumpster-like bins is a chair and arm like the claw game from a pizza parlor. They’re followed by a guide that must be like security and sometimes a couple of jesters sweeping up the rear.

The food trucks are still here. It’s normal to have a few local favorites like Hi-Licious Street Kitchen which is a little local celebrity favorite. We have real carnies here too, though. There are funnel cakes, anything you can dream on a stick, and the intriguing everything-wrapped-in-bacon one. All you have to do is follow the main drag through town, and you’ll get the feeling that something seems off. The food trucks and carnival booths are usually festive. They sell their treats for an arm and a leg, and if you search long enough you’ll likely find appendages of all species fried up all crispy and skewered. It morbidly reminds me of when I returned home after learning of the death of my father and pulling into a scene of balloons and horse carriage rides in the driveway for a party taking place on the grounds for a neighbor. Life goes on right? The world keeps spinning, and where there’s a market there are sellers. The savvy ones will follow these disasters I guess because they also have to make a living. It’s only fair.

The cable and internet trucks are currently everywhere. Suddenlink ghosted this town after Laura which is why I’m considering that for my Halloween costume if we head out anywhere this weekend. I think their first objective was to ride around and just be visible. They took a hit PR-wise, but maybe they were also dodging them like the little Pac-Man ghosts from the video game so the goal best strategy was to keep moving. The workers that are here now are human just like the rest of us though and want to help when they see what happened here. The lineman from the power trucks have already literally laid the groundwork and have found fans for life in this town.

Let’s talk about the tree trimmers and the roofers with the ladders in their trucks, can we? These are like the acrobats from the circus. The roofers go from sun up to sun down with hardly a break or complaint. It’s a balancing act while carrying heavy loads, and I stare straight up in awe sometimes while down the block the tree guys fly and do their own daredevil stunts. Be careful though, because unscrupulous magicians are also in the wings and for their final trick they’ll perform a disappearing act with whatever you were hopeful enough to give them.

I think we figured out about 6 months ago who the essential workers were. They’re all welcome back here any time. As the saying goes, if you’re eating it, wearing it, drinking it or driving it, thank a trucker. In times of crisis they deliver.

The Days Are Long Wednesday, Oct 21 2020 

I’ve heard that saying since my kids were babies. It’s meant to help young frazzled parents when they’re tired. It’s sort of a “you’re gonna miss this” phrase with a chin up, slow punch to the shoulder for the sake of camaraderie just letting you know that everything’s gonna be swell. I’m living in what looks like a war zone landscaped with post-Covid crosses in everyone’s front yard with the saying, “All Is Well” painted across them, and I ain’t feeling s’well.

It’s hard to complain around here because we’re all going through something similar and the aftershock from Hurricanes Laura and Delta are pervasive. It’s hard to go about our “normal” lives like they were a couple of months ago, if you can even say that in a post Covid-19 world. We’ve just added to our corona gear, and I’m wearing a fanny pack to hold it all in for convenience sake. So is the story of my life now.

Every morning I get up. My feet meet the pavement of my bedroom floor and head to the restroom. There’s now a doggie door there covered by a trash bag where the walls were cut out after the first storm when water seeped into them. Letting the dogs out is no longer a quick throw open the door because my fence is gone so we leash up. I’m past the point of caring whether or not the neighbors see me in my nightgown. We’re like family now anyway wading through the muck together and steering clear of the fence line where I’ve heard one neighbor found some rattlers so my nerves are rattled now, too. I’ve gotten efficient so rather than head straight into the house, we stop at the garage to pick up the breakfast and eye drops for the dog who’s allergies got stirred up in the storm. The temporary fridge is in the garage now because the nice fridge and first major appliance that I ever bought myself is still sitting at the street with its third layer of duct tape just waiting to be picked up after 7+weeks. I prayed and wished for Hurricane Delta to TAKE THAT FRIDGE in her rising waters downstream but she didn’t. I waited on word from neighbors who stayed for the second storm because they were too tired and weary to head out again. Someone else across town posted their fun video of one rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on the river and through the neighborhood while this town took a beating.

Our big wheels keep on turnin, proud Marys keep on burnin so we leave early every morning for two reasons. It takes time now to wipe off the windows enough to see since we can no longer park in the garage, and you just never know what section of the grid will be out so that you have to sit and wait in long lines without traffic lights at intersections. Only the fortunate ones are heading to school and work again 7 months from the first closures back in March. My teenager has started football, it’s the Deep South after all, and I’m rebuilding a couple of businesses simultaneously with my house and life with little or no staff. There’s still no school, and I don’t have coworkers.

It’s like that movie Friday, and I ain’t got two things that match. There’s peanut butter but no jelly, ham no burger, and computer with no internet. Dayyyum! There’s no trying to find a matching pair at lunch either because the city is SWOLLEN. Roofers, linemen, and workers of all kinds are here setting up shop and doing what they do. If you thought chicken lines were long when the restaurants closed, then you haven’t seen anything. We block traffic for pizza. The businesses able to work outside the box will be the ones to survive. I’m still trying to sell lipstick to people wearing masks and covered in dirt so I’ll support a business taking orders for food at the road or writing orders onto bags and filling them like Chick Fil a did after Laura. You got two choices there: chicken sandwich with pickles or chicken sandwich without pickles. That crew kept the line wrapped around the building and when you got your order in the hot hot sun, you were just so grateful that you thanked them profusely and drove off. I still carry a pang of guilt because I drove off too quickly and didn’t realize that I’d accidentally been blessed with eleven chicken sandwiches without pickles. They were sent by God so who am I to complain or even drive them back in an effort to return them in this post Covid world.

I pondered the other evening live on Facebook about how in the world I was supposed to live and work and rebuild all at the same time and do it by myself because I left work at 5:00 only to pull into a beehive of a grocery store as they were shooing everyone out. We’re still not at full capacity so while the needs are great, the resources are limited. You take what you get and you don’t pitch a fit. Except I pitched a fit and finally pulled into the gas station lured by a poster board that said HOT FOOD and did the grocery shopping for me & the teen while he stared with empty saucer-like eyes. I gave up! The battle wasn’t in me to fight traffic again so we ate salads from a gas station, and I reminded him of how much worse others had it. It’ll be my version of walking to school ten miles in the snow.

He’s just starting high school and I choke up sometimes now talking about him. When I said the days are long but the years are short, I hit that lesson hard by having moved my oldest 10 hours away while evacuated for the first storm. The past four years with her blew by and spun me around like only cat 4 (maybe a 5) could do, because when I landed she was gone. I’ll remember the lesson with the tedious tasks now like just getting through the day. There’s no escaping the piles and piles and piles of debris on every corner. Every day I head into work to a job that morphs farther and farther away from the initial job description. We pick up and we clean and we pick up and we clean and we pick ourselves up along the way. No one here is immune and some have lost so much more than others though everyone has lost something. We’re all in different stages of grief and my heart goes out to so many friends whose losses make mine seem trivial. I try to remember something my daughter said long before the lessons of the storms; your broken arm can still hurt even if someone else is in a body cast.

Picking Ourselves Up Monday, Oct 12 2020 

Pieces of the broken glass from the bank tower

It was a little tough rolling back into town today. In spite of our best efforts, there’s only so much that we have the power to control. Covid-19, school closures, and two back-to-back hurricanes will teach you that, but you’ll be reminded again and again. I spent most of Sunday morning planning our great escape and caravan back into Lake Charles only to have the 4th and oldest generation in our party call from the highway and tell us to eat their dust. You can’t put your kids in a bubble nor your grandparents. They’ll make their own mistakes or simply be at the wrong place at the wrong time and there’s nothing you can do to control that.

Life still moves along here at lightning speed followed by claps of thunder that represent either the consequences of our actions or things beyond our control. Covid came through like the first wave and knocked many of us to our knees. Small local businesses struggled for air. My family had the unfortunate position of being in the cosmetics industry at a time when the reasonable folks were covering their faces. Trying to sell lipstick in that climate feels like peddling pizzas at a Weight Watchers meeting. It just feels wrong and tacky. We adapted though and started focusing on skin care + delivering local orders to keep our long-standing loyal customers.

Laura hit us at the end of August like a ton of bricks. We rose from the rubble only temporarily because the sister storm Delta followed her path just weeks later to make for a double whammy. Pandemics and natural disasters don’t care what you have going on. They’ll take your lives, spin them around, and drop them into the rubble. When I think we have it hard, I think of the friends who have lost so much more that homes and businesses. I have friends that lost loved ones in the first months of Covid, and the world kept spinning. Hurricane Laura hit us and took even more so imagine trying to bury your parent or grandparent while you’re all away from home. By the time Delta came I thought I’d just be numb to it all but my heart ached for the neighbor who lost his home in Laura then his dad the day we evacuated for Delta. I have another neighbor taken tragically in a car crash while evacuating, and it’s just not fair. That was partly why I thought I’d plan the multi-generation trek back to safety under the guise that together means safe. It doesn’t though.

We returned this afternoon and decided to take a look around town to see what had changed and what hadn’t between the first and second storms. Just several houses down from one of those neighbors is a business that was being roofed as we left. We saw the workers hurriedly putting the final work into protecting someone’s business yet saw today that half had blown away. Sometimes we can lay the very best precautions only to have our sense of comfort and normalcy ripped away. Both were taken too soon. Some family friends had a father suffering from depression that wasn’t able to fill his meds or ask for help, and he killed himself in the aftermath of the first storm. I prayed for them during this second one because I can’t possibly image the pain and trauma another hurricane must’ve brought to them. I hope that by even mentioning the connections to loved ones here that I’m not throwing salt water into an already open wound and leaving families to feel vulnerable and exposed like all of the personal effects out at the street.

Our final stop this afternoon was to collect pieces of the bank tower downtown. The windows were blown all over downtown while the city took its one-two punch. I didn’t think I’d want any kind of reminder, but I’ve changed my mind. I want to make something from it. I want to put things back to together in a different way and maybe make something beautiful. I think I’m going to copy a friend and fit the pieces together like puzzle pieces around an updated picture of my favorite statue after the storms. Maybe I’ll reframe my perspective. There were other people out there with us scraping together what they could so I hope we can all see the potential from what’s broken, pick ourselves up, dust it all off, and put things together in a way that acknowledges all that we’ve been through with others on this crazy ride. It’s all we CAN do, right?

Job’s Tears from Laura Tuesday, Sep 15 2020 

The rosary bracelet Maria made for me from Job’s Tears

Today was rough. And hot. And sticky. As I combed through my things in the cleanup I found a rosary bracelet that a coworker gave me years ago. She’s a lovely faith filled mother and grandmother who immigrated here years ago, and like many immigrants she works in service to others. She cleans homes for families and babysits children and always has a smile. She’s the most giving person of anyone I know with less means than most. Every Friday she brings me a banana and usually writes a special message to me like, “God Bless You” or “Have a beautiful day!” It’s a great conversation piece so I leave it on my desk and as people pass through they ask about it. I tell them about Maria and her kind and generous spirit, and usually another friend comes in to play ball around lunch time and takes the banana. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. It’s been six months now since she’s been able to work with us due to COVID-19 so that’s 24 bananas that I’ve missed, and I miss her every time.

She gave me this bracelet years ago and told me of the Cajun legend of the Job’s Tears rosaries. I am born and raised in south Louisiana but had never heard the story until my immigrant friend explained it. When the Cajun were sent away from Nova Scotia and settled in south Louisiana, they had very little. They’d been persecuted and were starting a new life in a new place with what they could carry on their backs. Someone discovered this plant native to the area with hard seeds in the shape of a tear drop and a natural hole through the center that were perfect for stringing rosaries. Good cajun mamas could tell if their children were saying their prayers with the beads because they became glossy over time as fingers traced over them repeatedly.

Job was a man greatly tested and tried who had remarkable unwavering faith. I’ve read somewhere that as his tears fell to the ground, there sprung the plant so that his tears would not be wasted. Maria grows this plant in her yard and uses them to make humble bracelets, more of which she probably gives away to people like me than actually sells. She’s always said that she receives a blessing when she gives to others so that’s why I let her do it so often. She is blessed in so many ways and has been tested as well. She’s been one of the hardest hit and tested in this storm.

Hurricane Laura tore through our area just three weeks ago. Maria’s garden where she grows the beads along with so many beautiful native plants is where she toils and labors when she’s not on the job with us. She lost her home. It’s no longer standing. She texted me not long after the storm to check on me and when I asked about her she first said she was safe and then said what she’d lost. She praises God in all ways always.

As I washed the scum of the day off of me tonight in water that isn’t drinkable, I saw my bracelet and thought again of her. I’d been angry earlier. My phone now rings almost hourly with new scams from people pretending to be contractors that must be preying on people in our zip code. I politely ran a guy out of my yard today for lying to me under the guise that he’d been sent to help me. I swear to you, I. Was. Tested. It took me til this evening but the bracelet reminded me. There ARE good people. Maria is the perfect example. So is the guy riding through my neighborhood in a blue pickup wearing a chef’s coat that asked me if my son or I were hungry because he had some leftover meals to handout so that they didn’t go to waste. THOSE are good people. I start back at my job tomorrow, and I’ll do my best to pray for the ones who prey upon the vulnerable. I’ll also do my best to focus on the quiet humble helpers like Maria who’ve lost everything but still give.

Maria’s home
Maria’s garden

My Steel Magnolia Sunday, Sep 6 2020 

After all of the months of planning, purchasing, and prepping, I never thought I’d end up sending my daughter off to college with pens and pads acquired from the great Hurricane Hilton Homewood Hotel Tour of 2020 as opposed to the carefully selected supplies from all of the online suggested lists. Things don’t always work out like you plan though and sometimes you’re better for it. Growing isn’t always comfortable.

How 2020 that she’ll be the only one of us in stable housing for a while and starting her college experience 11 hours from home without ever having returned home from our evacuation due to Hurricane Laura. With all of the strength I could muster, I sent her off with a final bag of necessities – box of Kleenex and dish detergent courtesy of the Homewood Suites. She’ll be fine, and we’ll send things piecemeal as we’re able. We’ll also learn what’s truly needed and what was just fluff after all. I worry that in a new place surrounded by new people and ideas, those new clothes from Target just won’t do the trick. She doesn’t feel like herself, and I don’t want anything about her to change. I told her how proud I was of her and that the most difficult things in my life have made me who I am today so she deserves that experience too. I swelled with pride and pent up emotions that escaped my eyes, rolled down my cheeks, and fell to my chest further just adding to the stains of my fourth outfit in my evacuation rotation. We hugged and I kissed her forehead and sent her off in her new spirit shirt from the sale rack at the student bookstore. As I pulled away and watched her walk up that hill to all of the opportunity that awaits, I felt like a vulnerable teen again leaving a piece of me behind.

I believe in signs that sometimes come as a whisper and sometimes flash like a thunderbolt before you. My son spent the last few months of COVID building and planting a new garden. That’s our thing. We’re gardeners now. We’re learning and killing things along the way, but the beauty is there as well. We slowed down and finally stopped to smell the roses. Laura came along a week ago and decimated Lake Charles and the surrounding areas as the worst storm on record. Trees were toppled and houses were destroyed yet we got word that our little scrawny magnolia that we’d snagged from the sale section had survived and was completely unscathed. We rejoiced, and at least one of the kids and maybe a grandmother as well suggested that we should all get magnolia tattoos in honor of our little standing tree. See, it was FLEXIBLE. It was well cared for and well planted but what mattered most was that it bent when nearly Cat 5 winds uprooted and twisted stately sturdy hardened trees. Every shingle blew off of the roof, the fence is flipped and the sturdy mature Bradford Pears lost their limbs and split at their trunks because they didn’t.

As I was driving away today I got my sign. Just as the magnolia standing in the midst of our devastation back home, Jane Claire would as well in Nashville. The sign was there. As I pulled away and off of the new campus for her to start this next chapter, I looked up through the tears and saw the street sign at the edge of campus. MAGNOLIA BOULEVARD. She’s going to mature and remember to remain flexible through the strongest of storms because that’s how she’ll thrive. My Steel Magnolia.

#HelpLakeCharles Wednesday, Sep 2 2020 

After Hurricane Laura 2020

It’s been a week now since Hurricane Laura came through and devastated our city. The images don’t do it justice. We made national headlines and fodder for celebrity tweets because a statue called The South’s Defenders was twisted and toppled. That statue doesn’t represent the SWLA that I know. THIS ONE DOES, and I’ve blogged about it before. For years I kept a framed photograph near my desk of a statue on our church grounds taken after Hurricane Rita tore through our community in 2005. So much spoke to me about what was represented. Calm in the midst of the storm. Broken but standing. I sat near the base of that statue years ago and planned a life forward for my kids and I, and I’m asking for help for my community to do the same.

My city is facing even worse devastation this time as the strongest storm to hit our area in more than 150 years has come and gone leaving a thriving coastal community to pick up the pieces one piece at a time. Peace will come again in time, but we’re not there yet. We “dodged a bullet” as the media is saying only because we aren’t also covered in 15ft of water. We’re still salty though. We need help. Some folks stayed behind and are braving unimaginable conditions by modern standards. Nobody is waiting for help because there isn’t time. Neighbors are helping neighbors and strangers are helping strangers, but more help is needed. Elderly folks without access to social media are trying to get back because they aren’t being flooded with images from the storm, wind, and water. Regular middle class working people won’t be getting back to work any time soon because we need water and utilities and basic structures for that. Crippling deductibles were allowed to pass and have families bewildered as to how anyone will be able to rebuild. I have a friend with a $65,000 deductible whose husband has been out of work for months due to COVID, and she’s not unique. Friends with little or nothing aren’t getting money thrown at them from government or disaster relief yet they’re relying on their higher power and higher credit card limits to get through the short term if they can. HELP. Keep us in the news. Keep the pressure on elected officials to help. Let SWLA know that you see them and hear them. Do what you can and spread the word.

After Hurricane Rita in 2005
Lost dogs at the statue

Pretzel Logic – The Art of Giving Monday, Nov 24 2014 

I had something special happen to me today. I guess special little things happen every single day and sometimes it takes a tap on the shoulder to recognize a sign. I’ve been worried about making ends meet for my little family quite a bit lately. I’ve been in a holding pattern of sorts trying to decide whether or not to make a career move in the hopes that any financial gain would be enough to supplement what I now need to support us. It’s HARD! I’m also pretty unconventional and frequently act on impulse so I may have even made it harder on myself by proclaiming that I may have to leave…. To. My. BOSS. I actually asked him to help me. Let me repeat that… I ACTUALLY asked my boss for advice on whether or not to leave.

I knew what I was in for when I took the job. Nobody accepts a position without knowing the financial compensation. I also knew the intrinsic benefits that were being offered to me and the kids. I’m close to them every day. They walk over after school and finish their homework while I finish working. They’ve also both laid down on the couch by the fireplace in the prayer room when they are sick and I can’t leave to take them home. It’s not a bad deal because what kid wouldn’t rather shoot hoops in the gym when they have to tag along with mom because school is cancelled for the day due to an ice storm? That’s all happened. I haven’t taken full advantage of the blessings I’ve received though – at least not to the best of my ability. I should be running on the track and swimming laps. Kicking back in the steam room would relieve some anxiety too. I haven’t given up all of that anxiety yet. In some ways I’m still clinging to old habits and hoping for things to change when they aren’t just going to change without a focused effort.

I took over my boss’s office today. I mean, I didn’t exactly usurp all of his power, but I did physically take it over with about 10 large boxes and my snack bag of pretzels. While I was sorting through things, both literally and mentally, we had a chat. I’m pretty much an open book, so ask me a question like, “Can I ask you something personal?” and I’m likely to give you anything you ask for plus an awkward 5 minutes of things you didn’t as an extended bonus edition. He KNOWS this so I’m fairly sure the question was calculated though he probably cringed shortly after. He asked me about what I give and do I designate a certain amount of my monthly income to be given. My answer was that I give WHAT I can WHEN I can monetarily meaning that when I’m comfortable giving I do, and when I’m not I save for a rainy day. He suggested that I rethink that idea, and give ESPECIALLY when it’s uncomfortable, and that we take a leap of faith in doing so despite being afraid. He’s been reading up on the subject because he has a speech to prepare on stewardship and tithing, and I’ve seen his actions far surpass what he preaches in this area. He gave his opinion, and then he TOOK my last pretzel.

Boss: “Are these mine?”
Me: “No. Did you buy them?? They’re mine.”
Boss: “Well, you only have 1 left anyway.”
Me: “OK. You can have it.”
End of conversation.

I continued about my sorting, folding, labeling & shooting the bull to alleviate the kind of awkward silences that can only happen when you’ve shoved your way into your boss’s protected little corner of the world & made a colossal mess. I even asked him if he wanted me to scoot on over to my own office so I wouldn’t be a distraction while he worked on his speech, but he said nah.

And THAT’S when it happened! My friend who works with the youth group and their concession stand was cleaning out a closet and sashayed in with her own box.… NO, it was a CASE… of pretzels. She wanted me to give what was left to my kids and keep them for snacks at the office. Boss stared at me and looked at me with disbelief.

Boss: “Are you kidding me??! Do you see this??! WHAT were we just talking about?”
Me: “Um, about my mess here??”
Boss: “No! We were talking about giving. You gave me your last pretzel!! Don’t you see??! You gave me your last one and you were repaid tenfold! I can’t believe she just happened to walk in here to give you a case of pretzels!!!”

But she did! She had no idea about our conversation or what we’d been discussing. She just happened to think of me and how my kids are always digging through my wallet for money for the vending machines. In a twisted & roundabout way, she was the catalyst that got me going and thinking of my friend Videssa who’s been going through a hard time lately. She and her family have been struggling with husband’s medical issues and he’s been unable to work while she supports that family on a teacher’s salary. She & I went to high school together and it was a very close-knit class. Every now and then, a request is sent out to alumni via a facebook group to help someone in need. Videssa didn’t ask for it, but her friends did, and I know she’s been grateful. I had not yet donated to my friend in need when my other friend came stumbling into the office today with her case of pretzels. We’re all intertwined.

I don’t have a lot to give so I frequently hesitate. I worry and wonder over the daily stresses that keep my stomach tied in knots when I probably shouldn’t. So far, everything has been ok. I’m not starving, and neither are my kids. My mom won’t let me starve and neither will my grandmother. They are both getting ready for Thanksgiving and sent me home tonight with Ziplocs full of their “practice turkeys” until the real thing comes along this Thursday so I think I’m doing just fine. Sometimes it’s scary to give when you’ve gone through periods in your life where you’ve been conditioned only to save. I think lots of people out there have been in the same boat and are just struggling to stay afloat sometimes. If you haven’t, then some day you may be.

If you feel so inclined, please consider a donation for the Owens family here:

Food for thought:
Pretzels have been around for almost 1,400 years. History has their origin about A.D. 610 when a baker in a monastery in southern France or northern Italy twisted leftover strips of bread dough into the shape of a person’s arms crossed in prayer, traditional posture for prayer in those days. Pretzels were also a convenient way to give food to the poor and became typical alms for the hungry. Those who gave pretzels away were considered particularly blessed. 🙂 Give, and you shall receive tenfold!

Seeing the forest for the trees… I need to be less DRAMATIC! Tuesday, Nov 26 2013 

This will just be one of those posts where I ponder aloud about something awkward that happened to me today. It’s like I go through life with a big ball and chain, and the ball is Awkward. It’s not just that it’s cumbersome & awkward to carry around (although it is); I mean the ball is awkward personified and rather than let it sit there unnoticed, I
usually find a way to push Awkward into areas that even IT doesn’t want to go.

I knew a year ago that I had a dermatology appointment today. I knew a month ago when I sat nervously in the office wanting the doctor to biopsy something new on my face that I’d be back in a mere month’s time. I knew yesterday when the receptionist called (twice) to remind me of my appointment at 3:15 today, and I even knew last night before I left work when I told my assistant to remind me of my appointment this afternoon. I just didn’t remember THIS MORNING which is when I shower, dress & primp for the day. I didn’t remember this afternoon either until Assistant said,

“Miss (um…) Erica?!? Aren’t you supposed to be somewhere?”
“Ohmygod… Yes!! Yes I am!!!”

And I checked my calendar and saw that I’d make it there in time and not even be late and full of

I checked in and waited with all of the other responsible people who ALSO made it to their appointments on time and wondered what all the idiots out there who were currently missing their appointments were doing obliviously with their time. I was proud to not be included in their ranks for once.

The nurse called me back and I silently thought of nice words to tell Doc to thank him for my recent negative biopsy. (It’s always nice to thank others even of they didn’t actually force a desired outcome, right?) Then sweet little
nurse confirmed that I was there for my annual head-to-toe checkup that people with pale freckle scary skin get every year so that Doc can find things before they become a problem. “Here’s your gown and a cover, and we’ll be back in a few minutes.” <Smile> I smiled back but I slowly realized that I’D FOUND A PROBLEM and the following words escaped my mouth…

“Ohmygod!!! I can’t do this! I don’t know how else to say this but… (Very sheepishly) I. Forgot. To. Shave. My. Legs.” And the nurse looked relieved. And I grew more panicky.
“Honey, it’s ok. Everybody says that!”
“Oh, no, Honey!! I really mean it!! I mean it’s cold, ya know? And it’s just me.
And nobody else sees it but me & I just haven’t had time, ya know? I mean, it’s been like a really REALLY long time, and it’s not even prickly now… It’s… It’s… It’s SOFT!!!!!”
She politely laughed and said, “It’s fine! He’s not going to care!”
“But, but, I went to HIGH SCHOOL WITH HIM! I mean, I KNOW him! And I’ll see him
again before next year’s appointment. I mean… It’s. that. BAD!!”

Aaaaand she left. And I stared at the gown. And I got so self-absorbed and self
conscious that I forgot all the professionalism that this guy had acquired
through years of training and hard work, and I set my mission as one to strictly
save face. I didn’t care if I had a lopsided grotesque mole somewhere that I
couldn’t see because I could no longer see the forest for the trees that WAS the
hair on my legs. Plan concocted and set, I waited patiently for the doc (whose kid is in my kid’s
class… and Cub Scout group… and basketball league) to enter the room. Door
opened… Brief pause… And then a belly laugh from the sweet nurse when she
saw me sitting there (like the hairy cat who’d just eaten the canary) wearing
the paper robe… + socks + pants.

Doc looked at us wondering what he’d missed. I asked about the wife & asked
about the kids and then kinda winked at Nurse who obviously felt she’d just
breached some professional ethics code by laughing at a vulnerable patient. I then explained that despite what my chart indicated, I was only going to need him to check HALF of my body today because unfortunately the other half came close to resembling the nastiest hairiest man he’d ever encountered. Doc assured me I was being dramatic and so I probably should’ve left it alone, but instead I gave him the stink eye. Probably feeling irritated that I would even consider him breaching ethics & making fun of me to everyone in our common social circles, he proceeded to explain that he isn’t even allowed to tell anyone anything about a patient for privacy reasons.

“Oh, PLEASE,” I thought AND said. “I get it. I KNOW you won’t say anything but you’re
going to THINK it!”
“I’m not even allowed to THINK it,” he tried to reassure me.

Unconvinced and unpersuaded to remove the pants that would expose my Quasimoto lower half, I explained to him that his natural reaction would be to recoil and think of nothing else the next time he saw me. I’m completely self-absorbed when I get self-conscious, and there isn’t a person on the planet that can talk me down sometimes.

BING! An idea came to mind and it shot out of my mouth before I could stop it…

“Do you see many hippies, Doc? Because this is acceptable if someone were a hippie. It’s only embarrassing to me because I am NOT a hippie, but I can pretend to be one in order to get through this exam. TELL me that there’s a hippie commune within 30 miles and you are their primary physician, Doc.”
“Um, NO.”

WHY DIDN’T HE LIE?!? I think he regretted it the minute the words came out of his mouth, but obviously the guy can’t lie. He probably did well during his psychiatric rotation though because he seems comfortable in enclosed spaces with complete wack jobs. He offered alternatives: I could simply skip the bottom half if I was uncomfortable and he noted that he hadn’t previously found anything with which to be concerned on my legs (or feet.. or toes the last time I made him check them too) I shot him down with the notion that I’d simply worry for AN ENTIRE YEAR now that cancer was growing somewhere on the back of my leg where I couldn’t see it. “Well, it’s simple then,” he stated. I’ll check the top, then you can go home, shave your legs, come back, and THEN I’ll check your legs.” JEEZ! Don’t be RIDICULOUS! That’s crazy. I can’t do that! (Because I’ll probably forget the next appointment + pay for TWO office visits which I simply cannot do. I’m pretty sure I already owe you money anyway, Doc. Let’s not compound the problem here!)

Sooo… Sloooooooowly…. Ever so caaaaaarefully…… I pulled up the cuff of my pant leg and well, lookie there! For the 1st time in ages I chose to wear those cute little unprofessional knee socks with the bulldogs on them since they were hidden by my BOOTS that I hadn’t planned to remove. It took five whole seconds for Doc to comb through the brush in search of something unsightly (other than my hair) that needed to be removed. “All done,” Nurse Honey said. And I was relieved. I don’t have cancer anywhere obvious, but most importantly I didn’t have to take off my pants in front of someone who I’d see again probably within a week because by this time I’d just realized that I was wearing the kind of 10 yr old underwear that my momma taught me NEVER to wear in case I were to get in a wreck and end up in the hospital.

Such are the woes of living in a small city, but there are plus sides too. When I checked out at the front counter, I ran into a nice lady that used to work for us in the family business. We were catching up and giggling when the sweet nurse who had to endure my awkward exam came to apologize to me, Bless Her Heart!!! She apologized for laughing, and then I apologized for making her feel like she had to apologize and assured her that laughing is what makes me more comfortable so I guess that’s why I do it. I push my big awkward ball away and stumble over it until I find people who will giggle with me and then I drag it with me again to our next stop. I’m thankful for people like my doc who are nice and professional and would never even consider telling anyone about my hairy legs. I have my big awkward ball with me at all times though so I’ll just end up telling everyone myself. Like on the internet.

Sit Here. Think of you. Smile. Repeat. Sunday, Nov 24 2013 


A few days ago I received an anonymous gift. This is the story of how it unfolded and what has resulted. I quit blogging a while back when I just seemed to run out of hours in the day. I set a deadline this time though of 5:00pm on Sunday to throw out a thanks in whatever way I could to someone who did something for me that meant more than they’ll probably ever know. So I sat down a couple of hours ago and this is where it went.

Thursday afternoon I came home for lunch as I usually do. I’m fortunate; I live only 5 minutes from where I work and that allows me to step away from the office, clear my head, and eat whatever I have at home to save a bit of money rather than eat through my meager funds. Upon arriving I noticed that my mailbox was full. I’ve started checking the mail more regularly now that I’ve signed up with various manufacturers & coupon groups in hopes of “high value” coupons and coveted freebies. I also nearly missed another birthday party for the kids last weekend because I’d been avoiding checking the mail and was pretending to be blissfully unaware like the bills weren’t really there. That mistake left me in a frantic 30 minute rush on a Friday night to grab a gift and send my son to a birthday party so that he wouldn’t be the only kid left out of bouncing in the jump houses on a sugar high. I’ve been waiting for free samples to arrive and those are WAY more fun than the usual bills. My little mailbox was overflowing with various offers that I would have to sort through like a miner for gold, but there was not a single free coffee sample. The bills were thrown unopened into my nice little bill box, and I put the top back on it so that I wouldn’t have to look at them and spoil my appetite. Some would be opened next month and some would probably sit there until I got a friendly reminder from “Peter” who I’ve been robbing to pay “Paul.”

Buried in the middle of the bills, coupons and credit card offers was a white handwritten envelope. Oooh! I got all excited! Someone likes me and is inviting me somewhere. Someone is probably getting married, and I’m super happy for whoever it is but mainly because I’m going to eat SHRIMP I bet! And I’m going to have cocktails! And I’m going to visit with ADULTS that I haven’t seen in a long time and I am going to be FUN again! I am GOIN’ SOMEWHERE like Cinderella to the ball! I flipped over the envelope as I was opening it and discovered something odd. The return address ALSO had my name on it but with my office address below. Hmm. How did I do that? How did I manage to invite myself somewhere? OK, someone’s a ding-dong but that’s funny because that’s just like something I would do too! Someone must’ve just been in a hurry.

Inside was a brown card and on the front it said, “Sit Here. Think of you. Smile. Repeat.” “Oh. OK. It’s a thank you card,” I thought. “I must’ve given someone something, and they’re appreciative. That’s nice. It’s always nice to thank someone for being nice. I must be nice.” Inside the card was a plain white envelope and the handwritten words, “Thanks for the Facebook laughs. Have a safe Thanksgiving and a Merry Christmas! –an admirer. ok – a fan. it’s not like that! :)” Then I opened it… the plain white sealed envelope… and my hands started shaking… and I counted 5 crisp new $100 bills. I looked at the dog, and she looked back at me because I must’ve made a noise or something. And then I looked at the envelope again that I had thought was addressed to me because I must’ve been wrong. Nope. Nuh-uh. It had my name on it – front & back – with both my home and office addresses.

WHAT DID I DO!!?? And WHO could have done this?!? Was it a joke? Almost anything can be funny if you look at it the right way, but this wasn’t funny. This was serious. This was a LOT of money, and it must belong to someone. There are hungry people out there and I’ve still got red beans and sausage in the freezer from leftovers that my mom gives me when she cleans hers out. Oh yeah – I’m hungry now. Oh, yeah!! MOM! I can tell my mom! Who else am I going to tell because this is really awkward. Someone else needs to know what just happened here in case I get hit by a bus or something. It’s also not real yet unless I say it out loud and to someone else. So I called her. And she said WOW. And then she said it must be someone who thinks I’m funny. “Maybe it’s someone who knows you need the money,” she said. Then she asked who I thought it could be… and I realized that I didn’t want to know. Not yet. If I KNEW who it was then I might feel guilty because I must’ve said something to someone that made them feel sorry for me, and that’s just wrong and now I’m TOTALLY EMBARRASSED. Maybe I’d posted on facebook about not having a heater or air conditioning and someone figured out that I just couldn’t afford to fix it. Oh. My. God. What have I DONE?!? It was that damn screen shot I took of my bank account a while back I bet showing my $0 balance because it was ironically funny that my last few bucks had been spent on anxiety medicine. I had pondered aloud on facebook about positives and negatives and how everything evens out resulting in an exact balance of $0.00 in my checking account. But I deleted that post within an hour?!!? I deleted it because I thought that even though I had resolved to finding the humor in my situation, it may sound like I want people to feel sorry for me. Oh. My God. This is low. I’ve gone and poor talked my way somehow into acquiring funds that should probably have gone to the homeless and hungry. I must’ve somehow asked for it, and now here I am tasked with deciding what to do with it. Maybe I can figure out who did this, and I can just give it back. Surely I can narrow down the facebook friends into a reasonable pool of suspects who have both the means and the heart to do such a thing. And then it hit me… like a brick to the head. WHO AM I to do that??!? Who am I to assume anything about why someone would do such a thing?? Who am I to steal the wind from their sails and attempt to “out” someone who obviously went to great lengths to remain anonymous. My self-imposed guilt is all mine – not theirs. Who. Am. I?!? I’m a lot of things I guess, but right now I’m a tired struggling single mom who’s been trying to figure out how to make Christmas work for us this year while someone else just did that for me!!!!

I headed back to work with the intention of hiding out in whatever way one can in a glass enclosed office. Whoever sent this knows where I work and maybe they’ve seen me over the last few days scanning my face and behavior for any indication that I’d received their gift. I’m anything but predictable in my dramatic reactions so I just needed to lay low so that I don’t do something embarrassing. Here’s an idea: I should TOTALLY tell my boss and assistant, two “guy” guys that aren’t on facebook because I KNOW they weren’t the ones who did it. One of them will probably come up with something very practical to say that will diffuse all of my nervous energy and keep me from doing something SUPER DRAMATIC. Yep! That’s a STELLAR idea because I’ll walk away feeling WAAAAAY less awkward…

And then I did it. I pulled my male assistant and my male boss into the boss’s chambers to discuss my mail very dramatically as if the CIA were watching. I kind of live like reality tv cameras are following me, and they know this so they humored me and were patient. I checked the lobby for eavesdroppers and then sat down and very dramatically (without trying of course) WHIPPED the card out of my pocket. My minute-long preface had them staring at me wondering what had sufficiently freaked me out, and I’m sure they braced themselves for another bizarre story of one of my characters that I encounter around town that will probably make their way into the lobby at some point for a free cup of coffee or to tell me stories at my desk while I try to work. Nope. Nuh-uh. This was different. This time it was a MYSTERY and someone had managed to throw me off my game in a way that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to recover while still at work. So I plopped the card onto the desk and told them to read it. And they said, “Wow” and “That’s nice” and it was very anti-climatic. I had COMPLETELY forgotten that my intent in telling the guys was to settle myself down a bit so I started over again, and I explained that sometimes I write things and post pictures on facebook like the awkward moments after the dog has just spewed the contents of the lava lamp all over the floor, or I awake to find the kids setting up a lemonade stand in the yard, or the 1/2 price JUG of wine I discovered and purchased while sorting through Halloween sale candy to purchase with coupons and save for Christmas. And then I describe how I used to blog about everything before I got so busy that I didn’t know which way was up, and one of the guys says,

“What IS a blog?” to which the other replies, “People just write what they think about things and put it out on the internet so everyone can read it.”
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe I should get a facebook page.”
“Yeah, I’m going to figure out how to update mine.”

OK, well they don’t totally get it yet so I asked what they thought I should do to somehow let the giver know that I’d received the card. And one said, “Just say on facebook, ‘Thanks to whoever sent the card'” Oh, OK. Because that’s TOTALLY my style of handling things, right? And THAT’S when it happened… the flood gates opened, and I CRIED. I cried in front of my boss and assistant. I could see by their body language now that this was going to develop into an emotional display that assaulted their manly senses as if I’d just sprayed them with perfume and just suggested we all sit down and do our nails together. One: I got emotional with the guys and Two: I’d just done it at WORK with my superior and subordinate TOGETHER! People are right when they say I’m like a real life Ben Stiller movie.

I left that night, and when the kids asked me as usal to pick up dinner I surprised them by agreeing. Usually they ask for an icee or something, and I say no. Then they ask to pick up dinner, and I say no because we have food at home to eat. We have the same conversation nearly every night on the way home in the car, and it usually ends with them being irritated at me and me being irritated with myself. Tonight though I asked if they would like Wendy’s and they kind of looked at me and said, “Um. YEAH!!” And I even stopped at the store to buy some drinks. When my daughter asked if I could please buy REAL Sprite instead of some generic lemon lime soda, I surprised her again and said OK this time because I had $500 still burning a hole in my pocket. (I bought FOUR bottles because they were on sale for $1 each if you purchased 4 + I got $1 back onto my rewards card. WOOHOO! This is how the fancy people live!)

That night I sat down to write. What could I post on facebook to let someone know that I’d received the gift but not say something stupid? I needed to be funny though, right? The only hint I’d gotten was that it was a facebook friend and “Thanks for the facebook LAUGHS.” I wanted whoever sent it to know that it hadn’t gotten lost in the mail because that would really suck for them, and things get lost in the mail all the time! I know this is true because surely DOZENS of invitations have gotten lost for me this year alone. It’s not like I have gotten invited to the ball… my invitations just never made it to me, right? I didn’t want to say anything stupid though that made me sound self-righteous. All I felt comfortable saying was that I’d received a card and was thankful for my facebook friends. When I was able to, I’d write about it and in the mean time I’d be looking for a way to pay it forward.

So this is it. That sweet card WAS both a thank you card and invitation rolled into one. And maybe if I just speak like I always do, then I can bumble through without intentionally putting my foot in my mouth. No worries about making my blog look professional or reorganizing all of my thoughts into something that wows anyone. And so this is me three days later saying thank you to someone whose generosity hit me at just the right time but that I can’t thank personally. Maybe they know a lot about me, but maybe they don’t. What no one could have known though was that the previous evening the kids had gotten mad at me because I told them I couldn’t give them the requested $7 each for shipping for their Operation Christmas Child boxes that they’d lovingly filled for children somewhere across the world. I just didn’t have it. I had less than $40 left in the account to last us a week and that’s better than some weeks. They wouldn’t have the chance though to receive a nice thank you note from a child in an impoverished country telling them how awesome their little crayons, soap and toothbrush were, and worse they were going to be SO EMBARRASSED to be the only ones who sent their boxes without paying for shipping. I managed to convince them that although it would be neat to track their boxes and pay for the shipping, perhaps this would be better anyway! We could use our IMAGINATIONS and think of all sorts of scenarios that someone wouldn’t be able to convey if they didn’t speak the same language. Giving isn’t about being recognized I told them not knowing that 12hrs later I’d be on the flip side of that assumption. I also know that I didn’t tell anyone what I had been thinking the prior week when I’d gone to a funeral for someone I knew who had just died fairly suddenly and left behind a new baby, stepkids and the husband she’d always dreamed about. I went to the funeral to honor her but also because I was looking for something to make me feel better because it’s scary to realize that EVERYTHING could change in the blink of an eye for my kids. She had told her husband when they met that she was “kind of a big deal” and those words were said again when her friends eulogized her. Promises were made to make sure that her precious baby girl would know how great she really was, and I saw pics on facebook of an 8 month old princess wearing an itty bitty t-shirt that said, “My mom is kind of a big deal.” I think we all want our kids to think we are a big deal and not just once we’re gone. I don’t want my kids to remember all the times that I’ve lost my cool but if they do JESUS let them also remember me bouncing back the best I knew how. I want them to laugh at me all over again and pick themselves up when they need to if I’m not around.

The card and money helped me to believe a little more in the things I tell my kids but don’t always buy into whole-heartedly. We don’t always need to be thanked for the gifts that we give, and we don’t always know when we’ve impacted someone even if it’s something as simple as laughing at ourselves and the hilarity of every day life through pics and quips on facebook. As far as being a big deal, every now and then my kids ask me about the book I planned to write. I started blogging a couple of years ago and even set up my own little site through wordpress. I had big plans and was writing daily until I just could find the time amidst being a full time single working mom. I post frequently instead on facebook because it’s easy and quick and usually there’s someone else out there that sees the hilarity of our little three ringed circus here. I remember telling the kids that if I ever made any money off of my writing that I’d buy them a new laptop that didn’t have hot pink argyle duct tape holding it together. Well… I think I just sort of DID make money through my writing. Maybe that will make me a “big deal” to the kids in their minds if and when I decide to tell them about the mysterious card. I haven’t bought the laptop yet, but someday I will. This year they’ll get bikes for Christmas, and I’ll save a little bit as well. Someone just gifted me with an extra week’s pay, and I’m going to work hard at paying it forward. We’ll keep our end quiet though and private and maybe even hide out to see someone’s reaction to whatever random act of kindness we’re able to do. It’s fun to get a reaction, and I hope my “fan” gets to read this and know mine.

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