Thursday, May 31, 2012

Moving toward the Margin

After trying three times to hold someone’s attention long enough to tell her story, the woman at our table catches my eye and forges ahead.
It’s a long story.
She’s told it many times. I can tell from the dramatic pauses, practiced punch lines, widened eyes at crucial junctures.

It is an interesting story. But so long. She has a million more.
She’s lived an interesting life and done important things.
Now, at the wedding reception, she is seated with couples who know nothing of her and her interesting life. Her children long grown, her husband long absent from the marriage, she has no one to chat with except strangers. The people she does know are busy with other guests–happy to see her but having no surfeit of time to sit and reminisce.

She sits on the edge of the room and watches. The stories of those around her are still being written. They are in the middle of the action, building suspense, thriving on conflict,
nowhere near the climax of the story.
She is living in the denouement.
Worse than that, she lives in the margin.
Still on the page, still on the periphery of the action, but not part of it.

Maybe she shouldn’t mind, and maybe one day she won’t. But for now she doesn’t want to inhabit the margin. She wants to contribute to the drama, be part of the stories around her, or possibly just recount her exciting anecdotes from pages–no, chapters–back. Brief forays back in: she punctuates an exciting moment with a proper exclamation or worms her way into a parenthetical phrase. But phrases need to end and action needs to resume and once again she is at the edges, framing the unfolding tale.

I wish I had told the woman at the wedding this:
without margins the story of life has no framework and no respite. It’s just a string of words and phrases and sentences.

I get the feeling I won’t want to stay on the sides either. You’ll find me, just as the climax of the story approaches, slowing down the action with a recap of excitements long past. Feel free to skim, and escort me gently back to the margin.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

When shirts are shiftless

Shirts, for much too long, have been less than diligent in performing shirt duties. The primary job is to cover flesh. As much flesh as possible. There should be shirt to spare, for instances when arms lift over heads or kneeling/bending/sitting postures are assumed.

Shirts that actually do what they were born to do are in short shrift.
The bottoms of shirts and the tops of bottoms barely have a passing acquaintance with each other. Sometimes they can’t even see each other.
Young men have to appear in public wearing shirts and pants with irreconcilable differences, and become unwitting advertising pawns for the manufacturers of their undergarments.
Young women, (and, tragically, some not-so-young women) also struggle with shirts that have taken out a restraining order against their pants.
The ladies either tug shirts down, pants up, or give up the fight altogether and just allow their flesh to hang out in public.
Some poor females, in a futile attempt to do what their shirts refuse to, place tattoos in that strategic no-man’s land area between shirt bottoms and bottom tops. My heart bleeds for these young women (and, tragically, some not-so-young women) who hope the butterfly splayed across the lower spine can achieve the modesty of a good, long shirt.

But (oh joy!)
Someone invented the greatest modesty-assister since suspenders.
I saw it advertised during a recent episode of ‘Murder, She Wrote’.
The Trendy Top is a little band of fabric that goes under one’s miserly shirt and spans the wasteland between tops and bottoms.
All flesh in the mid-section is covered in your choice of 4 fashionable colors.
Instant modesty!
The inventor of Trendy Tops deserves a holiday named for her/him.

My only complaint is that, at this point, Trendy Tops are just being marketed to women.
I plan to write to the manufacturers and suggest they add camouflage and possibly a nice little skull pattern. The young men of the world will be clamoring for a Trendy Top of their own.

I’ll be purchasing these by the gross and never again be stuck for a birthday/bridal shower/bat mitzvah gift idea.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Through the Portal

Readers of fantasy, if they are honest, would admit that there are times they want to visit Middle Earth or Camelot or Narnia or possibly Hogwarts when the Death Eaters aren't in residence.
Portals to fantasy worlds being few and far between, one has to look elsewhere.
This past Saturday I found my portal.

I didn't find any fauns, hobbits, wizards or castles, but the trees seemed to talk and the water murmured and the breezes whispered.
And I want to go back someday.


Thursday, May 24, 2012


Also known as:
     Battle for Wind Chime Way
    Main battle: Soffit
    Minor skirmish: Gutters
    May, 2012

    Territory War
First strike:
    Blackbirds attack Wind Chime Way home to force new inroads to soffit.
    Minor offensive against gutter

First Counterstrike:
    Homeowner mounts ladder
    Strategic  rag inserted in soffit opening to restrict access
    Minor defensive action against combatants in gutter. They flee without a fight.


Second offensive:
    Blackbirds tear down rag

Second counterstrike:
    Homeowner erects scaffolding
    Nails opening shut with aluminum, cutting off access to insurgents inside soffit

Third strike:
    Blackbirds call in reinforcements
    Attack aluminum from inside and out

Third counterstrike:
    Homeowner calls in reinforcement.

    Uses scaffolding to disassemble soffit.
    Captures enemy combatants
    Destroys stronghold
    Homeowner releases captives
    Birds mount futile, but disturbing, guerrilla warfare on roof of  battle site.

    Homeowner declares victory but birds keep vigil, watching and...waiting.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Four and Twenty Blackbirds

It would be easy to bake a 24-blackbird pie.
Set out a big pie tin.
The blackbirds will find it, move in, and stay forever.
You wouldn’t even need a top crust because, if the ones living in my house are any indication, blackbirds can’t find their way out of anything with more than one side.

Our blackbirds nest in the most unconventional and least homelike areas.
Trees are so last season.
The hot locations for blackbirds this year are:
-our soffits
-our gutters
The parents fly in and out of the soffit and gutter, build the nest, fly out for twigs, fly in with food, fly out again to get away from the kids.
In all this coming and going wouldn’t you think they would remember to train their offspring so they, too, can fly out?
Oh. No.
Our home echoes with the frantic sound of cranially-challenged young birds who don’t understand why squawking and pecking and fluttering are a suitable alternative to just flying out.
The equally frantic parents, faced with the options of
a) demonstrating to their babies how to fly UP from the gutter/ OUT of the soffit.
b) dive-bombing the house to peck through the overhang and free their children
of course chose (b)
The only break in the attack came when the parents snatched some lunch and flew INTO THE SOFFIT AND GUTTER TO FEED THEIR CHILDREN.

I’m not sure how I feel about the survival of the fittest, but do we really want a generation of blackbirds who can’t fly their way out of a gutter with no roof or a soffit with no sides?

Tomorrow: The Husband/Blackbird War

Monday, May 21, 2012

Flowers from a friend

Do you write poetry? I don’t.
In grade school I would run through the alphabet to figure out how
many words could rhyme with ‘house’. Can you believe ‘wouse’ isn’t a word?
The limerick I agonized over for a college English class was given the cold shoulder by
the professor.
And free form? Hardest of all. Every word needs to count and I never use 13 words when 30 will do.

But when a dear friend sent flowers for my birthday, I wanted to write a poem.
I would do a cinquain.
A cinquain will tolerate no nonsense, no verbosity. It gives you 5 lines, 11 words, a defined structure and several parts of speech and orders you not to mess around with it. So I tried.

By the way parents, this could be a fun summer activity to do with the kids.
Yes Junior, you can go out and play rugby with your pals. But first write a cinquain about it.

Enjoy your Monday. And then tell me about it in a cinquain.

lovely colored
flood with fragrance
friendship’s blossoms knockout doldrums

Friday, May 18, 2012

Thursday, May 17, 2012

To sweep, perchance to clean


Give a Prude a big enough broom and she’ll sweep the world.
Don’t give a Prude a big broom.

If you’ve been with me for any amount of time, you have gotten a glimpse into the world of Prudedom. You know it encompasses so much more than excessive regard for modesty. Our excesses reach past modesty and encompass rules of behavior before codifying the Proper Way to do Everything.

Take our sweeping situation, for example. A fully vested Prude knows there is a proper way to sweep. She knows about angling into corners and moving all the furniture and shaking out the rugs. She knows it is cheating to sort of strew around the room that little line of dust left in front of the dustpan. And she would never store a broom resting on its bristles.

The problem with our full-force Prude is that she doesn’t know when to quit. She’ll finish the floor and start on the baseboards. She’ll get those done and tackle the corners of the ceiling. She’ll head outdoors to sweep her stoop, her sidewalk, her neighbor’s stoop, and if you don’t stop her she’ll be heading to Oklahoma because she heard they have a dust storm.

If you have a prude in your life, do her a kindness. Take the broom gently from her hands. Remind her that the world needs her in so many other ways. Distract her. Ask her what she thinks of droopy male pants. Tell her you just heard someone call a Canada Goose ‘Canadian’. Warn her that sometimes couples smooch in public in Oklahoma.

Prudes need you as much as you need them. They can’t monitor the modesty, behavior and propriety of the world if they are stuck in a corner swatting at cobwebs. It’s your job to remind her.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Oh. Poo.


 Like the rest of humanity, prudes must on occasion address matters of indelicacy.

This is my powder room. It is on the main level of my house and  gets frequent use because of its convenient proximity to daily activities.
The men in my family naturally don’t refer to this as a powder room. It has a toilet, which means it has everything. Powder is irrelevant and confusing. They are tactful enough to refer to it as a ‘bathroom’ around me as opposed to more descriptive or ribald terms, although they point out that there is no way to bathe in this bathroom. I call it a ‘restroom’ around them to short-cut  their mockery of ‘powder room.’

Sometimes we have Company Coming.  My conveniently placed little rest/powder/bath room now becomes the GUEST bath.
Again my family squabbles.  ‘There’s no bathtub!”
They miss the whole point of euphemisms.

Before company comes I clean the Guest Bath.
I put in fresh towels.
It smells delightful.
Company is due to arrive any moment.

Then– – – disaster.
 One of my family members chooses to use the guest bath. And they choose to use it, not to comb hair or wash dainty fingers, 
but in a manner guaranteed to generate the ultimate in bathroom aromas. 
And I don’t mean liberal doses of cherry scented hand lotion.

The family member emerges, relieved and smiling, from the Guest Bath to face an irate and scolding Me.
“We have two other bathrooms! You had to use that one? To do…THAT?”
“I sprayed the Glade stuff.”
“It didn’t help!”
“Here, let me light a match.”

Seconds later company walks in, sniffs discreetly, and wonders why we would be burning apple blossoms.
Maybe I could convince family to use one of these next time company comes.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Hanging a Prude out to Dry

One of my missions as a Prude is to demonstrate the richness and depth of prudism.
Prudishness embraces so much more than prissiness, (although we are working to make ‘prissy’ a word on par with ‘mod’ from the ’60’s, ‘rad’ from the ’70’s and that ’80‘s classic, ‘bombdiggity’).

True prudes adhere to a strict code of conduct.
There are rules to cover clothing and what clothing should cover.
Rules tell a Prude what euphemisms to use for which bodily part/function
and rules that remind us when to use ‘your’ or ‘you’re’ and ‘to’ or ‘too’.

We even have laundry rules.

It is perfectly acceptable to be a prude and use a clothes dryer on breezy, sunny days, although a Prude cast in the classic mold will only resort to the machine during rain, snow, or mosquito seasons.

Prudes are allowed to choose between scented, unscented or no fabric softener, cloth or plastic clothesline.
And while some purist Prudes insist on wooden clothespins, plastic ones meet general Prude Laundry Criteria.
Debate rages in Prude circles about propriety of hanging unmentionables outdoors and whether to fold clothes immediately upon removing from the line or wait until inside. But these are strictly in-house disputes.

One laundry mandate Prudes everywhere agree should be adhered to with rigid and uncompromising conformity:

I know this rule. I can recite it in my sleep. I know that, like all Prude Rules, it Has Its Reasons. Neighbors will assume laziness. And nasty things can nest in clothing left on the line overnight.
But, I am not a perfect Prude. Several times over the decades the moon has shone down on my laundry.
I can’t change the past, I can only try to do better.
Prude perfection still eludes me.

But I promise to try and live out my prudishness to the best of my ability.
Help me please.
Keep an eye on my laundry line.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

This is My Father's World

Impeccable timing has eluded me my entire life. Last week marks 13 years since my dad died, next month is Father’s Day, he would have been 97 in March, yet I choose to reminisce about him this week.

Dad loved his Lord and his family and his church but his perfect world would have consisted in worshiping his Lord in a church service with his loved ones outdoors. He loved the natural world and even said he sometimes wanted to just hug a tree although I never saw him do it.

This song, although I don’t know it to have been his absolute favorite, always makes me think of him.

This is my Father's world,
            and to my listening ears
            all nature sings, and round me rings
            the music of the spheres.  

            This is my Father's world: 
            I rest me in the thought
            of rocks and trees, 

            of skies and seas; 

            his hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father's world,
 the birds their carols raise, 

            the morning light, 

            the lily white, 

            declare their maker's praise. 
            This is my Father's world: 
            he shines in all that's fair;
            in the rustling grass I hear him pass; 

            he speaks to me everywhere.

        This is my Father's world. 
            O let me ne'er forget
            that though the wrong seems oft so strong,
            God is the ruler yet. 

            This is my Father's world: 
            why should my heart be sad? 
            The Lord is King; let the heavens ring! 
            God reigns; let the earth be glad!

Lyrics by Maltbie Davenport Babcock

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A place for everything...

I recently discovered Robert Brault, who writes aphorisms, which are a form of epigrams. I love Robert Brault, maybe because he reminds me of my father.
Dad was the Epigram King. He had one for almost any occasion.
Of course you know an epigram is a BRIEF, witty, interesting phrase or saying.
You can remember ‘epigram’ if you know that teleGRAMs, because you paid by the word, needed to be brief and to the point.
It helps you distinguish them from epiTHEts–descriptive nicknames or terms such as Alfred THE Great or Richard THE Lionhearted, and epiTAPhs which are sayings on tombstones that you may read while listening to TAPS being played.

Here are a few of the sayings I was raised on, and they may give you some insight into why I am The Prude.

-The only difference between a cow chewing its cud and a girl chewing her gum is the intelligent look on the cow’s face.
-To be poor and look poor is twice poor.
-Man’s work goes from sun to sun but woman’s work is never done.

-Be not the first by whom the new is tried, nor the last by which the old is laid aside.
-A place for everything, and everything in its place.
-Start from the known, work to the unknown.
-This, too, shall pass.
-You never have a second chance to make a first impression.
-Share what you’re learning with people thrice, and you’ll find it’s yours for life.
-Don’t sit when you can stand, don’t stroll when you can stride.
-If you can’t say something nice about a person you aren’t trying hard enough.
-Commit all you do to the Lord. He will honor it.

If my dad had known about Robert Brault he would have added Robert's epigrams to his arsenal. Dad would have especially liked these two:
-Love may be blind, but this I’ll state–it’s eagle-eyed compared to hate.
-The young do not follow our preaching; they follow us.

If you have time and inclination, check out Robert Brault.  Because there is always room for one more good epigram.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Cook Like a Man


I don’t remember my father ever baking but he was not afraid to kick back by the cooktop with a touch of savoir-faire and a scorn for recipes.

This makes it difficult to pass along his favorites to my sons.
But I'll try. Family tradition is, after all, family tradition.

Oatmeal: Serve hot every morning in late fall, all winter, and early spring. Alternate with Malt-o-Meal or Cocoa Puffs if the family starts to whinny and ask that you just put breakfast in a feed bag and strap it around their necks.

Rice: Top rice with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. Serve with a hamburger patty on the side.
Pancakes: A mix? Who needs a mix? Play around with flour, milk, leavening and egg proportions. Forget to write the perfect one down so the next time you make pancakes is another adventure.  Shape like bears, sheep, birds, and cows. Don’t worry that they all look like cumulus clouds. Save leftovers, spread with jelly the next day, roll up and eat cold.

Pudding: If you mess with cornstarch, milk, sugar, butter, vanilla enough times you will come up with pudding. Apportion it into individual plates. Take food coloring and dye each one in each child’s favorite color. Hope no one wants deep red.

Hot cocoa mix: Take powdered milk and sugar and creamer and cocoa and salt and vanilla and experiment till you have the perfect concoction. Write it down on the back of an old envelope so you don’t forget. Lose envelope, start over because it could have been better anyway.

Dutch oliebollen: literally ‘oil’ or ‘fat balls'.  Don’t worry about a recipe. You are deep-fat frying balls of dough and rolling them in sugar. You can’t go wrong!

There you go, sons. Your grandpa began a proud tradition. Now carry on. Just don’t throw away old envelopes without checking the back first.

Monday, May 7, 2012

If Life Spills Your Spaghetti, Build a House

Soon after my first child was born my mom called me and she was laughing so hard she could barely speak.
“You won’t believe what your dad did! He spilled a box of spaghetti on the floor and thought it made such an interesting pattern that he played around with it for awhile. Now he’s on the stool he made and taking a Polaroid.”

According to my little sister the spaghetti scene remained on the floor for almost a week and the household had to leap over or tiptoe through it.

That was my dad. Don’t cry over spilled spaghetti. Walk around it. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Phillis Ever After


Historical research can be painful. I renewed my friendship with Phillis Wheatley this past week. Torn from her mother’s arms in Africa in the mid-18th century, she was brought to Colonial America and purchased by the Wheatleys, a family willing to treat the tiny girl with love and care. They educated her. She learned to read the Bible. She became a believer, and wrote incredible poems, had them published and gained her freedom and married another freed slave and bore 3 children.
Happy ending, right?

Oh no.

Few in America believed a black slave could write poetry so she had to have them published in England. When everyone in the Wheatley family died she was given her freedom and married another freed slave who couldn’t find work. After all, freed slaves were competing with colonists for work. Who do you think received preferential treatment?
Her husband spent his time dodging creditors.
Phillis, never strong, was left to seek work as a servant.
She kept writing poems and tried to get a second volume published but there was still no interest in America for the poems of a black woman.
Her health failed.
She watched 2 of her babies die.
She ended her life in extreme poverty and squalor and died at age 31 only a few hours before her last child followed her.

I read what Phillis wrote and realize that her unhappy ending was transformed into the happiest of ever afters.

On Being Brought From Africa to America

"Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there's a God, that there's a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
"Their colour is a diabolic die."
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin'd and join th'angelic train.  

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Reverse Reflected Glory Strategy

One of the accumulated ironies of aging is the recognition that, though we pursue worldly delights with less energy and inclination, we realize that sin is more than just vice with vigor. It’s still merrily manufactured in our most secret core, hidden from public view but marketing itself in a clever new package designed to woo the middle-aged miscreant.

Take, for instance, the command that we do good works to glorify our Father in heaven.
I do enjoy doing good.
And I do pray, with as much sincerity as a redeemed, sanctified-but-still-struggling human can, that I do these things to the glory of God.

But even as this prayer is in my heart and on my lips, my sin factory has distracted me with a shiny display shelf chock full of ME. So clever, so consumer-savvy is my sin that before I realize it I’m reaching for ME. I’m filling my cart with ME.
Again the genius. It isn’t tempting me to do anything like, say, steal candy from the PDQ or smoke a cigarette behind the barn or flirt with a gentleman I have no business flirting with. It most definitely isn’t tempting me to NOT perform the good thing. And it even convinces me that I want to give God the glory.

The sales pitch to this consumer is subtle.
“Do this, give God the glory, and maybe, if you play it right, some of that glory will bounce back onto you. Maybe you’ll be shining a little more brightly because of this.”
Oh, sin has done its research into my brand loyalty.
ME is my favorite brand.

In the face of such clever ploys I’m pretty helpless. No sales resistance.
Such a relief to have a Savior in charge of the purse strings. He hurries me along past ME. He reminds me of all the other times I bought into ME and was disappointed.
And when I still snatch a pack of ME He doesn’t charge it to my account.
He says “I’ve got this’ and shows the  ‘PAID FOR’ receipt in a nail-pierced hand.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Rubbing elbows with the Real World

We seldom recognize what a blessing we’ve been given in the Virtual World of television until we have to spend an entire day at church and dance recitals rubbing elbows with the Real World. And let me tell you, Real World is full of elbows attached to people who are behaving as such.

Why do people like me opt out of Virtual World church and subject ourselves to the constant vexations of Real World church? V.W. church can be accessed from an armchair via a remote control. It can be paused to use the restroom or get a drink. It’s been cleaned up ahead of time, blooper and baby-fret free.
Real World church pastors refuse to freeze in place when I dash out to use the restroom. Rumbling stomachs to the left of me, cranky babies to the right of me and squeaky shoes all around me would never have to be dealt with in my living room.
Am I crazy? Are we all? Why aren’t we at home in our PJ’s, worshiping with comfort and surround sound and a bowl of Fruit Loops?

After people-saturated Real World Church I head to Real World dance recital. It is chock full of humans who talk too loudly, crawl over my knees when arriving late, and whistle shrilly behind my ears. Dancers miss cues and lights don’t work and curtains get stuck.
None of these occur at Virtual World recitals. 
Even though the people dancing on the screen would technically be considered ‘human’, all those annoying people-type characteristics have been deleted.
Even though Virtual World dancers don’t know I exist, everything they do is for my comfort. I pick the best seat from which to watch them. I can make them as loud or quiet or fast or slow or zoomed in or zoomed out as I want. I can pause them mid-air while I go grab a snack (which is absolutely forbidden in the Real World recital) and never miss a plié or a pirouette.

Will we never learn? Will we persist in leaving Virtual World that, although oblivious of us, exists solely for our satisfaction? Will we persist in the dangerous business of walking out our doors to face the elbow-and-baby saturated Real World?
What do we think we are? People?