Monthly Archives: October 2013

Anti-Panda. Anti-Karma. Pro-Forgiveness.

Pandas brawl. That's why they are the official mascot of the World Wrestling Federation. Oh, you thought WWF stood for the World Wildlife Fund and that's why you sent them a donation? You fool.

Pandas brawl. That’s why they are the official mascot of the World Wrestling Federation. Oh, you thought WWF stood for the World Wildlife Fund and that’s why you sent them a donation? You fool.

This next bit will go down easier if you imagine you are in a smoke-filled room. You see me standing on a stage holding a microphone. Got it? And it’s even better if you’ve had a couple of drinks.

“I’m anti-panda. Don’t hate me. It’s an unpopular stance, but hear me out on this. I’m just not buying into all the hype about pandas being an endangered species because their habitat is being destroyed. You want to know the real reason pandas are endangered? They are endangered because they don’t like to mate. Seriously. It’s an entire species that doesn’t like sex.  And in the unlikely event that they do mate, the mother will probably abandon the cub or roll over it and squish it in her sleep. They are depressed. They are a suicidal species. It’s the only explanation.

In fact,t he only reason pandas are still around is that humans spend millions of dollars to artificially inseminate them and then, we hand-raise their young. If the shoe were on the other foot, do you think they would help us out that way? I doubt it. You know why? We aren’t cute enough. See? That’s something else that bugs me about pandas. They are getting by on just their looks. We let ugly animal species die out all the time, but pandas are so cute and cuddling. We just looooove the panda. Have you ever heard of an Anegada Ground Iguana? No? Well, they are endangered, too, and no one is rushing to inseminate them. You know why? They’re ugly.

You know what else gets me about pandas? All they eat is bamboo. Ask any species that is a survivor and they will tell you, they aren’t so picky. Cockroaches will eat anything. The same is true of people. Imagine if humans decided to eat only bacon. We’d run out of it. We’d have mayhem, and there would be no out-cry from the panda-community. ‘We must preserve the bacon groves! For the humans!’ But pandas, they sit around eating bamboo and growling at other pandas, and we think they are so damn cute.

Of course, I’ve been talking about the GIANT panda, not the RED panda. Poor little red pandas. I say, ‘panda’ and I bet no one here thought about a little red raccoon-like creature hanging out in a tree. The only imagine in your head was the fat, black and white bear eating bamboo, right? Talk about an animal with a name-recognition problem. All the red pandas should pool their money and hire a PR firm.”

Now for the disclaimer: I’m not really anti-panda. I wrote that bit when I was working up the courage to do a comedy routine at an open-mic night. In the end, open-mic night was cancelled and I never did a stand-up act, but I still consider it some of my best material. I know, you are thinking, “Best material? Oh, God! She is lucky they cancelled that event.”

I’m also anti-karma. I’m not joking this time, and it’s probably a less popular admission than being anti-panda.

I don’t really mind people believing that they will reap what they sow if the result is that they hold themselves to a higher standard of behavior—in fact, that is a Biblical principle right out of Galatians. It’s when it’s turned outward on the rest of the world that I have a problem with it. On any given day, I hear people invoking karma with phrases like “he’ll get his” and “what goes around comes around” and it comes across as being a little petty. Basically, they are saying that someone did something that hurt or angered them and so now, they are hoping bad things happen to that person. See what I mean about petty? Wishing anyone ill for any reason is NOT taking the high road.

Sure, I guess it is part of human nature to want to seek justice when we feel we have been slighted, and perhaps when we feel we have no recourse, we want God or fate or karma to intervene and smite the offender in some Old Testament-style, Whoop-Ass way or maybe just zap them with a flat tire the next time they are in a hurry. Just because a certain thought pattern comes easy to us, however, doesn’t mean it is right.

In fact, I’m pretty sure that God would want us to behave very differently. I think God would want us to pray for that person. Be kind to them. I think God would tell you to forgive “seven times seventy times” as opposed to hoping that person is struck by lightning or bitten by a shark.

Before you start thinking that I am sounding way too preachy or Pollyanna-ish here, let me confess that if you have pissed me off lately, there is a good chance that I’m imagining your plane going down in flames. Hear that, neighbor-whose-construction-equipment-is-currently-blocking-access-to-my-barn? Flames! Okay, that’s a bit extreme. I’m not really wishing a plane crash on my neighbor, but I do wish he would at least ask if it is okay for the crew to park in the barn driveway. I’d say, “Yes.”

Seriously, I am as guilty as the next person of wanting poetic justice. Sometimes, that desire is rooted in my understanding of fairness. Sometimes, I just want that person who has hurt me to learn a lesson, and while wanting to educate a person sounds altruistic, it’s actually a bit smug of me to think I know what someone else needs in the way of life lessons.

As for the fairness, ha! People who expect life to be fair are going to be disappointed—a lot. For that reason alone, it’s a mistake to compare your circumstances with anyone else’s. It doesn’t stop me from doing so, but that’s just one of my many flaws.

The endangered Anegada Ground Iguana. Less attractive than the Giant Panda? The Anegada Ground Iguana's mother doesn't think so.

The endangered Anegada Ground Iguana. Less attractive than the Giant Panda? The Anegada Ground Iguana’s mother doesn’t think so.

Then, of course, there is the reality that we all screw up. We all hurt people. We all make mistakes. We don’t follow through on every commitment, and sometimes, we are just absent in a crisis. I am so guilty of all these things and so much more. I hate to think that I’m going to get what I deserve. I hate to think that some cosmic force is keeping track of all my transgressions and that I will be held accountable for them. If I don’t want that for me, why would I want that for someone else?

You see, the more I think about this concept of “what goes around comes around,” I don’t like it. I like forgiveness.

Without forgiveness, we might as well be a bunch of pandas—eating bamboo and growling at each other. ‘Cuz that’s what pandas do. Growl.

(Quick: Here’s the link to the World Wildlife Fund! Make a donation. I don’t want pandas or karma coming after me for making fun of them. Thank you.)

Free Party Favors or “Here, take my advice. I’m not using it.”

Sometimes it's more fun to be the piñata than it is to be the birthday party-planner.

Sometimes it’s more fun to be the piñata than it is to be the birthday party-planner.

I bake from scratch. If you don’t, you might be impressed by that statement. Don’t be. When you buy cake mix, you are really just buying the dry ingredients, pre-sifted and pre-measured. I feel pretty confident that anyone can measure and sift flour, sugar, and baking soda.

Because I bake from scratch, however, it is a little surprising that on Saturday night at 10 pm, I was at the Giant buying cake mix. What’s not surprising? That I was feeling tired, frustrated, and angry as I shopped for cake mix. Perhaps you saw me–blonde woman with a red face and bags under her eyes stomping around Giant while muttering to herself about how this was the last party her kid was ever going to get? Yep. That was me.

You see, earlier in the week, my daughter and I discussed her Sunday birthday party, and she said she wanted apple cupcakes. I found a recipe in a cookbook written by a very reputable caterer, and even though I knew something was very wrong—the flour-to-sugar ratio was one-to-one and it contained eight cups of chopped apples—I ignored that inner-voice that said, “You aren’t making cupcakes. You are making a sticky, gooey mess. Something is very wrong with this recipe. Misprint? Typo? Find another recipe.” No, I countered that piece of common sense intuition with, “But this is what the book says! It was written by someone who knows waaaaay more about baking than I ever will.”

So, I wasn’t that surprised when I pulled the first batch from the oven and discovered that the tops were rock-hard and having risen a little too much and spilled onto the pan, each cupcake was cemented into place. I destroyed most of them as I chiseled them free. And the taste? Ew. So sweet I had to spit it out.

I trashed the inedible, ugly cupcakes and headed to the store for cake mix.

Looking back, however, it wasn’t the cupcakes that put me over the edge that night. That was just the latest in a series of events that are really so typical of my sandwichy life. I had had days in which my husband was either at work or at his mother’s house preparing it was the new renters—and believe me, that house is worth a blog entry unto itself. So, I was the only adult around for days and planning this party was something I did when I wasn’t cleaning up messes, wiping butts, listening to people whine about what they don’t want for supper…if you are a parent, you get this. You’ve been there. Now, imagine one of these grouchy, little mess-makers isn’t your child, but your mother-in-law. Elder-care, in my experience, is all of the work and headache of parenthood, minus the joy.

I needed sleep. No, I needed a vacation—a month alone on a desert island?

I did not need the late night trip to the grocery store and the defeating knowledge that I would be up past mid-night or waking at 5 am to bake.

The Reader’s Digest version of this story is that I made cupcakes from a mix. They were delicious. Everyone loved them, but most importantly, everyone enjoyed the party and my daughter felt very special on her big day. No one even sensed the stress leading up to the party. The end. All is well that ends well, right?

But really, for me, all of this eventually resulted in a timely reminder—something that is good to figure out now and not in late December–or at the very end of one’s life.

As I was stuffing the piñata, gathering the party supplies, chopping eight cups of apples, and stomping around the grocery store, I was thinking, “I can’t wait for this party to be over!” and “If I can just make it through Sunday!” and “Let me just get this party behind me!” My only goal was to wake up on Monday morning knowing that I didn’t have to plan and execute another birthday party for my daughter until next October. Hooray.

But is that any way to go through life? Wanting to rush time? Get things over and done with so you don’t have to deal with them again? If so, you are treating a birthday party like a root canal. It’s certainly not what I want for myself or for anyone else, and yet, we are at that time of year in which people are so busy and time moves so quickly. It can feel like Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas all get rolled into one stress-filled week. You hear people say things like, “I’ll be glad when the holidays are over!”

But here’s the thing: Life was meant to be savored, enjoyed—not merely survived. While we are busy suffering, getting through, dealing with whatever life hands us, some pretty good things are happening. Remember why you are making costumes, roasting a turkey, and decorating a tree. The reason is always more important than the actual task.

We get to decide how much or how little we do when we celebrate a holiday or a birthday– and so often the details we dwell on aren’t the things that make the memories. I received a lot of compliments on those cake-mix cupcakes, but do you really think anyone is thinking about them today? God, I hope not.  Even as the stressed-out party-planner-mom, I get to choose what I remember—is it going to be scraping the stone-like sugar mess off my cupcake pan or how my daughter hugged her little friends as they arrived for the party? My husband not being around to help with the party prep or the sight of him giving each child a chance to take a swing at the piñata?

The other take-away—and this is a lesson I seem to need often—is to trust my instincts! I read that recipe a dozen times, and each time, I told myself that the flour to sugar ratio was off, and yet, I trusted what I saw in print more than I trusted me, my knowledge, my intuition. If I had just had a little faith in my own gut reaction, I could have saved myself a whole lot of time and grief.

My cake-wreck reminds me of a car-wreck. When I first moved into the city—literally, my first night in my new apartment—I found this great parking space right in front of the building. I heard a sharp warning in my head, “Do not park there. It isn’t safe. Park in the lot even if it does mean you will have to walk a greater distance.” I parked in that space anyway. All through the night, I kept thinking, “Maybe I should move my car. Maybe it would be safer in the lot,” but of course, I didn’t do it. And in the morning, I found my car had been side-swiped.

I told a friend what has happened, how I knew not to park there, but did it anyway. She said, “I hope you learned your lesson.”

“I did!” I said. “From now on, I will park in the lot and not on the street.”

“I meant about listening to that little voice that told you to move your car. It probably tells you other things.”

“Oh.” See? I told you this life-lesson gets repeated to me often.

So, there you go! Three lessons, three free take-aways—consider them to be your party-favor or goody-bag: 1) Enjoy life—don’t just get through it. 2) You choose your own memories, so focus on the good stuff. 3) Trust your gut.

Of course, if you stopped reading this post half way through, all’s well that ends well is a great lesson, too.

 

 

Ready for snow? Oh, please. Have I ever been ready for snow?

I totally ROCK the snowsuit-while-holding-a-baby-and-a-shovel look. L. L. Bean should hire me to model their winter-wear.

I totally ROCK the snowsuit-while-holding-a-baby-and-a-shovel look. L. L. Bean should hire me to model their winter-wear.

Okay, it’s already started. Some of my Facebook friends are already posting about how they hope we will get lots of snow this winter, and I’m tempted to comment, “While you are at it, pray that my electricity doesn’t go out when we get all that snow you want. Otherwise, I may be dropping off my mother-in-law at your house.”

I know I sound like I hate winter, but in truth, I like snow. I like cold weather. I like the things associated with snow and cold-weather. Warm, fuzzy sweaters. Footy pajamas. Hot chocolate. Snow angels.  Sledding. The crackling sound and smoky smell of a fireplace. What’s not to love, right? I even think shoveling the sidewalk is good for the soul–to a point.

However, there is a downside beyond having to allot extra time every morning to scrape ice off the windshield of your car. Where I live, the electricity tends to go out with every ice and snow storm. It sucks. When we lose electric, we lose heat and water and phones—and because we live in a cell phone hole, those don’t work so well either. To go without these modern conveniences with kids is sort of fun. It’s like camping—and after a couple of days of it, I’m reminded of why I enjoy NOT camping, but it’s still do-able. It’s still an adventure. It’s still the stuff that makes for happy memories years later.

Now, throw my mother-in-law into the mix. Without me getting too graphic, let me just ask you, have you ever “camped” with a disabled, 90-year-old woman? Trust me, should you do so—and I can’t imagine why you would–you will discover the need to wash your hands often and without running water and in icy-cold temperatures. It’s just one of many unpleasant experiences that will befall you. And then, of course, there is the challenge of keeping her warm enough. Old people move to Florida for a reason.

Last year after Super-Storm Sandy, we were without electricity for almost five days and temperatures dropped sharply. I know that is nothing compared to how those who live on the Jersey Shore suffered. I know I can’t liken it to New Orleans after Katrina. Look, I’m a South Carolinian. I rode out Hurricane Hugo, and so I KNOW what complete and total devastation looks like, but living with my mother-in-law and no running water, no electricity, no heat, and no phones isn’t a picnic either.

Perhaps the truly odd part of our Sandy experience is that most of Maryland was somewhat unaffected. Power outages were spotty and short-lived for the most part, and damage was minimal. Of course, if a tree landed on your house or car, you probably disagree with my assessment. Several utility poles near my house came down—and because we live in a rural residential area with no essential services or businesses depending on electricity—restoring power to us is never a top priority. It’s one of the drawbacks to living in the country.

We stayed at home throughout the outage because I was very optimistic about power being restored quickly—despite past experience. After all, I could drive a mile in any direction and see that life had resumed as usual. So, on day-four of the outage, I walked the mile and a half to the site of the downed utility-poles and asked the foreman when he thought they would be finished. I thanked him for his work and I explained that my elderly mother-in-law lived with me and that when we lose electricity, we lose everything. So, I really needed to know how much longer it would be. Should I check us into a hotel? Should I call friends and relatives and ask that they take us in?

He thanked me. He said that I was the first pleasant person he had talked with all day. He said most of the people who were inquiring about the outage were angry and not taking into consideration that they were short-staffed. Some of “our guys” had gone further north to the areas hardest hit. He also told me that power would be restored within the next six hours. I happy-danced the whole way home.

I also thought about all the real Sandy victims. No doubt that somewhere in the mid-Atlantic states someone was in my very position—sandwiched between small children and an older parent or in-law—and doing their best to cope with the storm and its aftermath. I said a silent prayer for them as I happy-danced.

So, on this first truly cold morning of the season, I’m bracing myself for what may be a hard winter, but I’m looking back on the past year and feeling really empowered. Whatever happens, we will handle it with a spirit of grace and thanksgiving–and a certain amount of swearing before the grace and thanksgiving kick in.

Of course, we should come up with a plan in case we get all that snow my Facebook friends want. When we first bought this old house, we considered getting a built-in generator, but then, a lot of life happened and it became less of a priority. Maybe it’s time to reconsider than plan. Until then, I will thank my neighbor with a case of beer for allowing me to plug into his generator. I’ll plug a very long extension cord into an electric heater and wheel my mother-in-law’s chair a little closer to it, and we will weather the storm together. We will make it fodder for a happy memory.

“What’s Your Excuse?”

One of the many images one can download when searching "What's Your Excuse?" What? You were expecting a picture of Maria Kang? Really, don't you think I've given that woman enough press?

One of the many images one can download when searching “What’s Your Excuse?” What? You were expecting a picture of Maria Kang? Really, don’t you think I’ve given that woman enough press?

Google “What’s Your Excuse?” and you will get a list of articles and blogs all about how this one woman—Maria Kang—ignited a controversy over fat-shaming by posting a picture of her very fit self in skimpy workout gear while surrounded by her three small children and the phrase “What’s Your Excuse?” Oh, Facebook! The source of all evil!

She claims she meant to inspire other moms to exercise, but she has received a lot of negative comments about how her inspirational photo and motivational question just make those of us who are already overly tired and stretched too thin by life’s many demands feel ashamed, guilty, inadequate…

What? You don’t know about this? Here’s a link. And another. And another. You get the picture.

Let’s be fair about this: Ms. Kang is NOT the first person to do this. If you search for on-line images using that same phrase, you will get lots of pictures of people exercising with the question “What’s Your Excuse?” plastered over it. The only reason she is really under-fire is that by using her children as props, she is targeting the mothers of young children, and we are a very testy bunch.

So, what’s MY excuse for not working out daily? Um, it’s boring, dull, un-fun, I don’t want to…and for me, those are tougher hurdles than not having time, child-care, granny-care, or being too fat to fit into my yoga pants.

I wonder if Ms. Kang, whose apology proves that she is as thin-skinned as the rest of us, would be insulted by my very honest answer. Maybe. Maybe not.

Over the weekend, I took my children to a festival where one of the many activities was basket-making. Basket-making, and just about any other craft, are not my thing, but my kids wanted to do it, so I sat down at the table with them. A woman who looked like the grandmother in a Hallmark card—gray hair in a bun and reading glasses best described as “spectacles”–approached us with a smile, handed us the supplies and gave me instructions. I smiled and thanked her.

I helped my daughter get started on her basket and pretty much weaved my son’s entire basket as he was more interested in looking at the fish tank in the lobby than doing an actual craft. The Hallmark granny returned, still smiling, gave me a few pointers, made suggestions as to how we might embellish the baskets at home, told me where I could buy more basket supplies…and while I’m sure she was just trying to be helpful, I felt that she was hovering. I hate hovering—especially since I was trying to weave a basket while watching two children who were now in separate rooms and keep an eye on the door for a friend who was to meet us there. I wasn’t in the position to really converse about the joys of basket-making.

So, after I politely thanked her a few times, she made yet another suggestion, and I said, “But I won’t” with a smile.

“What?”

“You were telling me how I could do this at home, and I said ‘I won’t.’ I’m just not that interested in crafts.”

“Really? Why not?” she asked in disbelief.

“They aren’t my thing.” Yes, I was smiling and using my friendliest tone of voice and being very, very honest. I find crafting as stimulating as toting my garbage cans to the curb every Tuesday. It’s just not my thing, but clearly, she was very insulted.

“That is a shame! Everyone should enjoy making useful things!” she said elevating her voice with indignation. You would have thought I had said something insulting, like “Only idiots make baskets.” I didn’t say that. I would never say that. I don’t feel that way at all. God bless all the basket-makers of the world!

“It’s okay,” I said in a soothing voice as I gently patted her hand, “I have other interests. Not everyone likes to do the same things, dear.” Okay, that was a little condescending of me, but we are talking about someone who was thoroughly offended that I didn’t share her passion for basket-making.

Isn’t it funny though how the mind works? I was reading about all the controversy over Ms. Kang’s “What’s Your Excuse?” and I thought of basket-making because for me, they are one in the same. My excuse is “I’m not interested. I find it dull, un-fun, not my thing”—whether we are talking about weaving a basket or feelin’ the burn.

So, if I posted a picture of me doing archaeology and asked, “What’s Your Excuse?” would anyone find that offensive? Probably not, but I don’t think it would inspire anyone either. What about a picture of me cooking? Or journaling? Or writing in my blog? If I did such a thing, I would expect very few Facebook “likes” and fewer comments. You may shrug, but Facebook doesn’t have an apathy button.

But here’s the true challenge, in my opinion, what’s my excuse for not pursuing the things that truly interest me? Look at the examples I gave here. Archaeology? Really, when is the last time I participated in a field school? Um, before my daughter was born…so, it’s been at least six years, if not seven. How often do I really, truly cook? I guess I cook out of necessity every day, but if we are talking about a meal that I’m proud of, it’s been a while.

Now, THAT is impressive.

Now, THAT is impressive.

Now, to my credit, I DO journal daily and I AM writing in this blog, but what about writing the Great American novel? Yes, of course, that is my dream. Isn’t it the cliché dream of everyone who writes? Other writers—especially the successful ones—overcome huge obstacles in order to write. So, that’s where I have to ask, “What’s my excuse?”

In that sense, I can credit Ms. Kang and the basket lady for inspiring me. I’m not embracing their hobbies, but I am remembering that I do have dormant passions that I should pursue relentlessly and without excuses.

What’s YOUR excuse? (Of maybe you aren’t making them. Maybe you are livin’ your dream right now. If so, good for you!)

Worst Nightmare? Hardly.

Because I would rather set my hair on fire than do crafts, making Halloween costumes is MY worst nightmare. Let me recommend this robot costume to other non-crafting moms. It was the easiest thing I've ever made. (And yes, that's my mother-in-law and my children, Halloween 2010.)

Because I would rather set my hair on fire than do crafts, making Halloween costumes is MY worst nightmare. Let me recommend this robot costume to other non-crafting moms. It was the easiest thing I’ve ever made. (And yes, that’s my mother-in-law and my children, Halloween 2010.)

Boo! In honor of Halloween, I’m going to stop scaring you.

Several people who read my blog have told me that I am living their worst nightmare. They are in fear of the day their mother or mother-in-law will have to move in with them.  So, let’s talk about this.

Caring for a family member who can no longer care for herself should not be anyone’s worst nightmare. Is it hard? YES. Are there worse things that can happen to a person? DEFINITELY.

Please remember, my sandwich-life is extreme. I live in a household with an age-range of 3 to 90 and we do that in just three generations.  This only happens when you have two consecutive generations of “older” parents. Quite regularly, I hear slightly younger women mention that they have a grandparent in their 80s or 90s, but it’s their own parents, who are probably in their 60s, are taking care of them. When these women are my age, their grandparents will probably be dead. Their parents will likely still be living independently, and their children won’t be pre-schoolers.

The other difficulty I face–that you probably won’t–is a language barrier. I studied German in high school and college, but then, married a man whose mother is from Ecuador. ¿Que? Before she fell, my mother-in-law’s English was at least as good as my German, and we still had occasional trouble understanding each other. I remember one time, she asked me if I was going on a family vacation, and I asked her when it would be:

“Dissomber.”

“December?”

“No! Dissomber.”

“December?”

“No! No! NO! Deeees-Soooom-er!”

“Oh, THIS SUMMER? No. I’m not going.”

We had a lot of exchanges like that, and afterward, we would laugh about it. Now, she has days in which she doesn’t speak English at all. It can be very frustrating for us both and sometimes, we just give up trying.

See? I could go on in this manner—listing what makes my particular situation especially challenging, but I won’t. I just want to assure you that while you may find yourself in the role of care-giver in the future, you’ll likely be met with a different set of obstacles—and some may be more taxing than mine, and that’s okay. You WILL be able to handle it—if you want.

I don’t buy into that notion that “God never gives us more than we can handle.” I believe it is a choice. We are put in a situation, and we make a choice as to how we react. You get to say, “I can handle this” or “I fall apart.”

So, as difficult as care-giving is—and for me, it’s been quite the challenge—it shouldn’t scare you. You shouldn’t dread the future. This should NOT be anyone’s worst nightmare.

Great Expectations by me, not Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens. His Great Expectations is one of the first assigned readings I truly enjoyed. Who doesn't love criminals hanging out in a bog and a crazy old lady in a wedding dress?

Charles Dickens. His Great Expectations is one of the first assigned readings I truly enjoyed. Who doesn’t love criminals hanging out in a bog and a crazy old lady in a wedding dress?

Topics, themes, and fodder for conversation tend to linger with me. Perhaps it is because I have a natural tendency to over-analyze and look for deeper meaning even where none exists. Perhaps it’s because I am so hard-headed. When I am contemplating an idea, I just can’t shake it. I’m transfixed. That’s why I am up at 2 am writing and eating a bowl of Lucky Charms. They ARE magically delicious.

Recently, I have found myself immersed in conversations about expectations and so that is the topic I’m stuck on. What do we expect from other people? From family? From friends? In times of crisis? In the good times, too? How do we adjust our expectations and tailor them to the individual or the situation? Does having expectations help or hurt a person or a cause?

Some of these conversations stem from my own sandwichy life, and others really pertain to the experiences of various friends. And let me just say, thank God for my friends—you all minister to my soul in ways you would not believe!

One very wise friend, someone I have known for all of my adult-life, said that when people disappoint her, she lowers her expectations of them and that is what enables her to forgive them more readily.

Another equally wise friend whom I’ve only known for a short time shared an idiom from Alcoholics Anonymous: “Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.”

I believe those are both very valid points of view. If you have found a clearer, easier path to forgiveness, by all means, please take it. If you have found the way to stave off resentment, do it now! But I’m not certain that lowering expectations or relinquishing them all together is always the answer. I’ve found that there are cases in which people live up or down to the expectations of others.

Years ago, I did a little social experiment. I had a co-worker who was extremely grouchy. She found fault with everyone and everything and considered her discontent evidence of her exceptionally high standards. If she had won the lottery, she’d have complained about the taxes. Fortunately, she was very part-time and only worked two days per month. Unfortunately, she was so negative that other part-time staff would call in sick rather than work with her.

So, one day, very out-of-the blue, I told her a lie. (Okay, this is my second consecutive blog entry about lying. What does that say about me?) I told her, “I always enjoy working with you because you are so pleasant. You manage to put a positive spin on everything.” After that, she was extremely pleasant–to me. She believed I had a high opinion of her and so she lived up to that expectation.

At the same job, I had to greet people, check their tickets, and direct them to the place where their tour would begin. Most people were really friendly and relaxed and happy–because they were on vacation. Every now and then, however, someone would come in complaining about the heat or the parking or whatever, and as I checked them in, I would ask, “So, where are you from?” And wherever they said, I would reply that the nicest people in the world are from there. So, “Ohio.” “The nicest people in the world are all from Ohio.”  And whatever they were griping about would disappear and suddenly, they would be on their best behavior. They didn’t want to ruin the spotless reputation of their entire state, country, or hometown.

So, those are a couple of examples of setting the bar high and then watching people change their behavior in order to live up to high expectations. It’s my favorite form of manipulation, but it only works if you can catch someone at the very beginning of a relationship, and so it’s not something that readily works with family members. If you haven’t voiced any expectations in the past 20, 30, or 40 years, you can’t really tell someone you’ve known all your life, “Starting NOW, I am expecting great things from you!” and anticipate change. When dealing with parents or siblings or sundry other adult relatives, it may really be best to lower your expectations or as Alcoholic Anonymous suggest, delete them altogether. Really, if your goal is to avoid disappointment and resentment, this may be the easiest route to take.

But what about children? I think parents should expect great things from their children, verbalize these expectations in a positive way, and encourage the kids to do better and be better. I also think parents should anticipate a certain amount of disappointment and forgive freely.

Really, isn’t that what God does with us? I feel that as a Christ-follower, God has great expectations for me as to how I am to treat other people. God encourages me and instructs me in meeting those expectations through Bible study and my interactions with others. No doubt my words, thoughts, and actions are a big disappointment to God from time to time, but that’s okay. I’m forgiven. I can disappoint God a gazillion times and always be forgiven.

And in the end, I guess that is the key—whether you choose to lower or relinquish expectations or not—brace yourself for occasional disappointment ‘cuz we are all just human and forgive a lot.

Where Can I Get Free Samples of Money?

Any idea of how hard it was to find an image of "pants on fire" that wasn't sexual or in some way connected to politics?

Any idea of how hard it was to find an image of “pants on fire” that wasn’t sexual or in some way connected to politics?

I lied to the sales chick at Ulta. As I reached for the trial-size foundation in my usual brand of make-up, she asked, “Are you going on a trip?” The question seemed very random and it caught me off-guard. She sensed my confusion and explained, “The trial-size foundation is great for travel. I assume that you aren’t new to this line since you seem to know what you want, and a lot of our regular customers buy the trial-size for travel.”

“Oh, yes, of course,” I said. “I’m traveling.”

“Where are you going?”

“Just a short trip. To the Eastern Shore.” I guess that’s a half-truth. I am planning a trip to the Eastern Shore. For one day. In February. Yes, hardly a reason to be buying travel-size anything since I won’t be packing a suitcase, but it’s true.

“Oh, lucky you! I love weekend getaways. Where are you staying?”

“With a friend.” Yep, another lie. You see how when you lie about something stupid and meaningless it just turns into a conversation that begets more lying?

The real reason that I was buying the trial-size foundation is that it is on sale and I have very little cash for luxuries these days. I have a hard time justifying a make-up purchase and yet, my skin is still so oily (yeah, at 46!) that to go without make-up would cause my skin to break-out. I figure I can make this one little tiny trial-size tub last a long, long time if I use it sparsely. No one with reading glasses and crow’s feet should have pimples—ever.

I find our current cash-crunch so embarrassing that I’m lying a lot these days—and then justifying the lie by saying it was a matter of omission or a half-truth.

Here’s an example: Why isn’t my son in pre-school?

Lie: “He just didn’t seem ready and so we’ve decided to keep him at home for another year.”

Truth: We can’t afford the tuition.

Half-truth justification:  He is a little immature and doesn’t seem overly eager to begin his academic career.

The one time I was very open with a friend and said, “We can’t afford the tuition right now,” she suggested that we apply for financial aid. “If you qualify for free lunch in the public schools, you will qualify for tuition assistance,” she said—trying to be helpful. Free lunch? Gulp.

Well, no, we would definitely NOT qualify for free-lunch. My husband is earning a very comfortable salary, and if you look at our over-all assets, we own a lot of real estate. Come tax time, Uncle Sam considers us rich. Our problem isn’t income—it’s outflow.

When my mother-in-law moved in with us, we took over her income which consists of my father-in-law’s social security and a small pension. And we took over her expenses—the mortgage of the house she is no longer living in and the cost of hiring help. The help is 15-hours of granny-care per week that allows me to leave the house to do fun stuff like clean out the house my mother-in-law isn’t living in. (Yeah, don’t you wish you were me?) We also paid off some of the minor debt she and my late father-in-law had accumulated.

Her income doesn’t quite cover the mortgage and the granny-care. Plus, there are a lot of expenses that come from owning a house that no one is living in—the lawn service, the home-owner’s association fees, the taxes, and even utilities.

Then, there are the expenses we never anticipated. In July, we got a notice from the electric company comparing our power consumption to that of a year ago. We were using 44% more electricity. The oil company sent us a similar notice in February. Yes, just from adding one extra person to our household.

Add all this to the havoc created by the rental properties we own—remember that sink hole and the tenant who was suing us? And yep, we have been operating in the red for over a year now. We are broke. We have liquidated savings accounts and run up a bit of credit card debt. We are living paycheck-to-paycheck for the first time in our seven year marriage.

I feel pretty helpless about it. I used to say that I was a stay-at-home-mom by choice meaning that my previous salary would have covered childcare and provided us with some income, but since we didn’t need that income, I opted to stay home with my children. Now, I think, “Well, I could go back to work, but would I find a job that would cover childcare AND full-time granny-care AND the other expenses associated with having a job, like transportation? Hmmm, I doubt it. Eldercare is expensive.” So, now, I am in that pathetic position of saying, “I can’t afford to work.”

The only things I can really do are cut expenses wherever I can and get my mother-in-law’s house rented. Well, the house is vacant, painted and repaired, and ready for some wonderful family to fork over the big bucks to move in. We have a realtor who is diligently working on it.

Yes, for months now, whenever we have discussed finances, the conversation has always turned to that house and how things will be easier once the house is rented. A year ago, our goal was to rent the house so that we could hire more granny-care. Now, we just want to pay off the debt that we’ve accumulated this past year and rebuild our savings. I may even cut our current granny-care hours in half—not because I relish the opportunity to play nurse-maid, but because we need to save some money.

As I joke about selling off the family silver and whine about how I can’t afford to get my Mercedes fixed, I think I have a pretty good idea of how the fallen southern gentry felt following the Civil War. I’m ready to do my best Scarlet O’Hara impression here. “With God as my witness, I will never buy the store brand paper towels again!”

Of course, I can’t say that this experience hasn’t been without its lessons.

The greatest lesson is that old saying “Money can’t buy happiness” is a lie. I’m a lot happier when I have money. What money can’t buy is joy, and joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness depends on what happens. Joy, on the other hand, is something you feel in your soul that is completely separate from circumstances. Believe me, I am NOT happy when I look at my bank balance, but seeing that pitiful little number, does NOT steal my joy. I won’t let it.

Secondly, I’ve had to re-evaluate what I think about poverty. I grew up poor. The reason the well-meaning suggestion about free-lunch stung is that I grew up as a recipient of free-lunch and faced a lot of prejudice because of it. Teachers used to make all the free-lunch kids go last in line. Was it a punishment for having parents that they thought were inadequate? Was it a way of continuing segregation after it was no longer legal since most of the free-lunch kids were black? Was it meant to shame us into doing better once we were out in the world earning our own money? I don’t know, but it was one of the things that shaped my youthful understanding of the world and deeply engrained the lie that money had the power to increased or decreased the value of a person.

Thanks to this past year, I understand that finances are fluid. Money ebbs and flows. Just because you have it now, it doesn’t mean that will always be the case. Broke today? Things may turn around for you tomorrow. It happens. And all of that is okay because your value as a human being doesn’t rest of the size of your bank account.

You can do things to safe-guard your financial future. You can get an education–I have a master’s degree. My husband has two. You can be painfully frugal–even before all this happened, I was shopping thrift shops, consignment events and the outlets because the mall always gave me sticker shock. You can make good investments, and still, sink-holes happen. And that’s okay–it’s an opportunity to test your joy and live on faith. When I think of it that way, operating in the red is a gift.

Now, back to that scene in Ulta. I think the next time the sales chick asks, “Going on a trip?” I’m going to tell the truth. “No, I just can’t afford the regular size foundation. Want to hook me up with some free samples?”

(Oh, and the part about having a Mercedes that we can’t afford to fix is true. Mice made a home under the hood and chewed through some of the wiring. The engine runs but the dash board is dead, windows don’t work, and it has no headlights or blinkers. It’s a bit of a hazard to drive—especially at night.)