When You Are Going Through Hell

It seemed to come out of nowhere. Life flung a wild pitch that took me down. Once knocked to the ground I was pelted with curve balls, sliders and various other painful pitches.

We’ve all have had a bad day or bad week. Ever had a bad year? The past two years have had some bright moments, but overall I would give them a D-. I lived to tell so I can’t quite assign an F.

I am a creature of habit; isn’t everyone? With no conscious thought to the effects of being pummeled by life, my brain adapted to the D- life. My new normal was so rooted in D- that I barely remembered A- and B+.

It is part of our survival instinct. If you walk into the kitchen for a drink of water but find the room engulfed in flames you don’t open a cabinet and take out a glass. Survival mode has no room for thinking about how to get back to A- or B+.

Thank you, Winston Churchill

Recently, something amazing happened. It was as if a tiny but powerful speaker in my brain suddenly became blue-tooth connected to Winston Churchill, I remembered, “When you’re going through Hell keep on going.”

Waking up in Hell and deciding not to stay won’t transport one to carefree bliss. Steps must be taken. Another smart man named Robert Frost said, “The only way out is through.”

Feeling physically strong and being healthy will elevate that D- to at least a B. I am investing time with running and going to the gym and it is once again intentional and with purpose. I never completely stopped these activities during recovery from bunion surgery or when dealing with shingles. I can come up with all sorts of reasons to add to the list including getting older, but Hell loves excuses. I bet there are large gatherings in Hell where folks can talk about that sort of thing for eons. I don’t have time to slow down and have a chat over tea in Fire Lake, I am on my way out!

During my two year tour of duty I lost more than a few friends. Some walked away from me, I left some others behind. When you are at your lowest it becomes easier to see who your real friends are and who doesn’t have time to reach out a hand and help you back up. I was really blessed with two new friends that like me for who I am. I also had some family members that made the effort to connect with me and they are now some of the most important people in my life. Two other friends that have been with me for decades stayed as close as ever.

Sometimes we have to put things down simply because they are heavy.

As I wallowed in the crap that collects at the bottom of a D- life I also realized I had some unfinished business. I can’t say I was in denial or had repressed memories. It was more like the cucumber or zucchini that hides under the lettuce and behind the carrots in the vegetable drawer. It may not stink for a very long time, but it is always there, lurking around waiting for the worst possible moment to pop back into the front and spread it’s slimy stink over everything it touches.

I talked to a professional, dealt with the rotten stuff and left knowing that if I ever need to go back, I can and I will. It isn’t embarrassing, it is empowering.

Finally, I have given myself long overdue permission to speak my truth and call people out for their bad behavior. Me, the one that always feared getting into trouble, may just tick off a whole bunch of people when I no longer pretend that I am not offended or have hurt feelings. Oh well, that is just too bad.

When I encounter racism, rudeness and unfairness I won’t look the other way or pretend to not hear. I may not be able to change it, but I won’t ignore it. That is apt to make some people angry with me. Oh well!

Getting out of Hell may not take as long as I first thought it would. I may get evicted!

Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your comments and emails.

2020 Vision

There was a time when I had better than 20/20 vision. Kind of like my youth, I didn’t fully appreciate it until it was gone. What if I could employ a vision statement for the year 2020? Oh, how I would want it to live up to it’s title and be perfect! But here in the real world we all know that won’t happen.

Hindsight, they say, is always 2020. Perhaps not immediately, but eventually. I have learned from most of my mistakes, have stopped repeating all but a few of them and yet I always seem to find a few new ones to make. I also embrace that mistakes equal learning and learning should be a life-long process.

What if I (or you) had the ability to create a vision statement that would really work.?

Excuse me while I deal with the twitch in my eye and onset of a headache brought on from thinking about past vision (and mission) statements. You know the ones where your work place or organization spent hours, perhaps days, coming up with the 2020/perfect vision. The same one that everyone promptly forgot with 24 hours.

Call me a pessimist, but I would start by listing the things I would like to have disappear from our world:

  • Fake News
  • Hate Crimes
  • Power-hungry leadership
  • Intolerance

My vision statement isn’t new or even innovative. It’s beauty is in it’s simplicity. Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself.

There are several of these beautiful banners displayed around my little town at both homes and businesses.

What happened that made so many of us forget that treating others with respect and dignity is in no way a validation of their behavior, language or actions? Intelligent, two way conversations are a great teaching and learning tool. We can disagree and still be civil, even friends when both parties work at it. By intelligent I mean that everyone gets to be heard, everyone listens and everyone accepts that the other person/people may not be swayed to believe as you do. Wasn’t our country founded on such ideals?

So what can I do? What can anyone do?

I can try to be better. I can try to live my life in a way that makes me proud and avoid things that have strong potential of ending with regret whenever possible.

I can do my best to investigate news and weed out the fake information. To do this I will not rely on one source for information which means I must dedicate time to research. I will not buy into word of mouth accounts until I do my homework. This also means that I will work to be an informed voter. I will try to see the whole picture and never vote for a candidate just because of their party affiliation.

I can speak up, when in conversation, people say things that in small or large ways supports dehumanizing others. I can also walk away when someone tries to dehumanize me, but only after I tell them why I am leaving.

I may be retired, but I still have regular contact with many young people. I can try to lead by example. When opportunity presents itself I can share with them how the best leaders don’t intimidate but focus on bringing out the best in each member of their team. Good leaders realize that none of us is as smart as all of us.

I can value people even when others may judge me negatively for my association with people they may deem as “less than”. I will try to remember that Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela lived this way and that if I can be even a little bit more like these people it will be worth the effort.

I can try and when I fail I can apologize if needed, learn and then try again.

Happy New Year dear friends and followers.

Photo credits and appreciation to David Travis, Sharon McCutcheo, History in HD, kelly Sikkeman and Suzanne Pogue

I appreciate your comments, emails and sharing of my blog.

A Rose Isn’t a Rose Isn’t a Rose

I would like to have a conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates about the words he says white people can’t say and his reasons. There are questions and comments I would like for him to address. Please take a a minute or two to watch this excerpt from his presentation at Northwest University before reading on.

I am jumping right into the hot seat; Let’s talk about the “N Word”. Coates sounds serious when he exclaims that white people, that includes me, claim it is racist because we can’t use the “N Word”. Mr. Coates, I can’t speak for all white people any more than you speak for all people of color but I for one do not want to use the “N-word”. I don’t want to hear it either regardless of who is saying it, yelling it or rapping it. In my humble opinion, the only time the word should be used is in a historical book or a movie when the word is needed to make the story more accurate to the time and setting. Even then, I cringe, as we all should when we hear/witness fellow humans being disrespected.

You referenced your wife calling you Honey and said that she could say that as your wife but that it would be inappropriate for a strange women to address you by a term of endearment. You have a valid point. But you should note that in the south, people, particularly those in the service industry, sometimes call strangers names like Honey, Sweetheart or even Darling. Except in rare cases, the person is not being flirtatious. The term of endearment is used to express kindness and a welcoming feeling to someone that has yet to be formerly introduced. In the south your wife would look foolish if she made a big deal out of a waitress, hotel clerk or even a new acquaintance that referred to you as honey. It is part of the southern culture (community if you will) not really any different from a black person using the “N word”.

I am old school too, but women calling each other bitches is in poor taste. I put that in the same category as the “N-word”. I don’t want to hear it and I don’t say it, not even in reference to my female dog. She deserve better (Just FYI, I sometimes call her Baby or Sweetie Pie, as she is a southerner)

Not a fan. Sorry, not sorry

It probably isn’t surprising that I am not a fan of hip-hop music either. You say, “Being a hip-hop fan and not being able to use the word niggers is actually very, very insightful. It will give you (white people) just a little peek into the world of what it means to be black”. You’re right, as a white female I do not know what it means to be black. Likewise, Mr. Coates, you do not know what it means to be white. You stated that, “When you are white in this country you are taught that everything belongs to you. You think you have a right to everything.”

I didn’t grow up thinking I had a right to everything. As a matter a fact, my father reminded me almost daily that everything that was “mine” was really his because the money he had earned had paid for it. I am a first generation college graduate that put herself through school. My first job came at age 14. I have held down as many as three jobs at the same time for a considerable amount of my adult life. My parents grew up during the Great Depression. My father was no stranger to hunger as a child. I was taught to appreciate what I had and that the world owed me nothing with a capital N!

Your statement attempts to put every white American into a neat little box where we all get categorized as being the same. Yes, some people are raised entitled, but not everyone, and I dare say there are people of color that take on an attitude of entitlement. Being entitled isn’t limited to one race.

Diversity is about more than race, ethnicity and religion. We aren’t all the same but we can all respect one another, treat each other with dignity and rise above not just our own mistakes but those of past generations.

The language shifts over time, as it should, but learning takes time. It is no longer appropriate to say a person is disabled. It is better to acknowledge the person first. We should say a person with a disability, not a disabled person. He isn’t a person in a wheelchair, but a man that uses a wheelchair.

I don’t want to leave out LGBTQ. I admit I had to Google this one and when I did I learned it is now considered offensive to refer to a person as being a homosexual. I predict the acronym won’t last long because an individual isn’t all of the identities included.

I don’t mind admitting that learning is a life long process and what is correct today may not be tomorrow. Chances are I will make mistakes, but it won’t be intentional. It makes conversations a little more tense, but I almost always know when someone is intentionally insulting me. That is when I get offended. Other times, I write it off to the person not being up to date on the latest vocabulary. I can also, in the kindest way I can, hint-hint, disagree.

People can be rude and crude and they can also be waiting to pounce on the first person that doesn’t use the appropriate word. People can also choose to be inclusive and try to have a better understanding of others. Can we all agree that if we all give one another respect and treat others with dignity it will go long way.

Finally, Ta-Nahisi Coates, I will be shocked if you reach out to me and we get to have a friendly conversation, but please, consider this an invitation. I think you and I could learn from each other.

Have a blessed week my friends, thanks for reading.

Kudos to the following that allowed the use of their photographs: Doug Kelley, Hans Peter Gaust and Ben Wiens QC.

Fly My Pretties, Fly!

According to the Mayo Clinic cases of Narcissistic Personality Disorder are rare. I am not going to say that is wrong but I also bet that you know know several people that display more than one or two of the traits. The narcissist doesn’t seek treatment or counseling because, in their mind, they are beyond okay, they are fabulous. Anyone that can’t see their awesomeness is the one that is crazy.

Someone that has Narcissistic Personality Disorder has a history of having an exaggerated sense of self worth. They don’t just see themselves as important, intelligent and special but more important, extremely intelligent and incredibly special.

Flying Monkeys have a tough job. One wrong move and you risk being exiled from the clan

The Narcissist thrives in the limelight and is gifted at controlling conversations and situations so as to keep the focus on themselves or what they want to talk about or do.

It would make sense that such a person would not have friends or romantic relationships. That, however, is seldom the case. Initially the narcissist is charming and interesting. Early on they even seem to be fascinated by you and your life. Just as a person that abuses their spouse didn’t smack them around on their first date the narcissist trains their flying monkeys gradually.

Flying Monkeys are loyal and accept that the witch is in charge.

If you are in a relationship with a Narcissist think back to when you you were first getting to know them. Did they say and do things that boosted your feeling of self worth and made you feel special? This happens in a lesser degree in healthy relationships too but the narcissist draw you in and helps you be accepted by the team of existing flying monkeys (enablers). The other monkeys may not readily accept you in the beginning but the Witch (narcissist) will keep them in line as s/he adds you to the ranks. You may even feel indebted to the witch because for awhile it can be exciting and fun to be with the witch and the other flying monkeys. We all like to be part of something and feel connected.

The problem arises when you think for yourself and offer ideas or opinions different from the witch. A true narcissist will either ignore you, make you feel inferior for even suggesting your thoughts or ideas or subtly make it clear that they are in control. You must comply to remain part of the band of flying monkeys otherwise you get kicked to the curb. The monkeys don’t talk about it, but they all know who is in charge. Don’t look to the other flying monkeys for support. It is a dictatorship, not a democracy.

It sounds a lot like bullying or an issue that wouldn’t come up in adulthood, right? Narcissists attend the school of, “I’m not getting older; I’m getting better.” They have honed their skills over years, even decades.

Perhaps you have worked with a boss or supervisor that keeps employees in line through intimidation? Perhaps it is a spouse that always manages to get their way or the friend that always dominates the conversation and mostly talks about themselves?

Am I right that you know some of these people? It can be difficult to break ties with the witch and the flying monkeys.

If the witch is a spouse or parent they have likely lead you down a long path of low self-esteem making you believe that you are such a looser that you are just lucky they still throw you a few crumbs from time to time.

If the witch is a friend it can be hard to break free since you accidentally distanced yourself from other relationships as you were drawn into the the flying monkey clan.

The Narcissistic wife or husband will have you convinced that you are unworthy and maybe even crazy. Given the opportunity they will also convince relatives and friends that any problems are because of your mental state, difficult personality or character flaws.

It isn’t easy to break away from any kind of abusive relationship without a support system. You may need counseling to get through the hurt as you rebuild trust in yourself.

If you are being victimized by a Narcissist seek help. The abuse they have dolled upon you isn’t visible like a bruise, or heard like name calling. It attacks you at your core and eats you up from the inside. The witch has the disease but his/her victims are the ones suffering and in some cases dying.

You can call the Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 . Not every abuser hits or calls names.

I’m Confused

I live in the part of the United States that is nicknamed the Bible Belt. More and more I am getting the vibe that some of the people I consider to be friends are annoyed or perhaps even angry because of my faith. According to Wikipedia, “The Bible Belt is an informal region in the Southern United States in which socially conservative evangelical Protestantism plays a strong role in society and politics, and Christian church attendance across the denominations is generally higher than the nation’s average.”

Being a Christian doesn’t mean I follow blindly.

Knowing that definition sheds a good bit of light on my confusion Since while I am a Christian, I don’t fit into the mold described as the Bible Belt. I was born to Protestant (Baptist) parents but converted to Catholicism in my 30’s. It works for me even though I admit there are certain aspects of being Catholic that I don’t necessarily embrace. That is pretty much true for me being part any formal group. I will go a step further, at the risk of stepping on toes,and say it is part of being an intelligent human being. We question things that are considered fact or truth; it is how we attain the highest levels of learning.

I describe myself as a liberal that at times leans towards the conservative side. I am a Catholic convert raised by Baptist parents. That makes me somewhat of a freak here in the Bible Belt and I am okay with that.

I am also more liberal than conservative. It is very unpopular stance in my community and I accept that some will avoid me for that reason, that is their prerogative. I just don’t understand why that should keep us from being friends. Can’t we still watch a movie, share a meal or have non-political conversations?

I believe that God gave us all free will. As an American citizen I can still enjoy freedoms including voting. I respect that others don’t always share my views and only find it annoying when they treat me as less because of them.

An acquaintance from one of my book clubs proudly shares that she is a member of a local meet-up group called the Godless Heathens. She knows I am a Christian and, at least so far, our differences have not created any tension. While I am concerned about her when it comes to eternity, I don’t preach to her. She in turn doesn’t disrespect my faith or try to change me. Clearly, we don’t agree, yet we can be respectful.

I am totally unprepared for a zombie invasion, yet I still sleep great.

Still, I am confused. If one doesn’t believe in God or a higher power why do you need a group that proclaims it? I don’t believe in zombies but I also don’t need to start a group. I don’t eat beets, I think they taste like dirt, but I don’t need to start a group of beet haters.

Can beet haters and beet lovers live in harmony?

In an online group for writers a member shared a post, an excerpt from their memoir, making it known that they are atheist. A few paragraphs later they described a time of stress and heartache and recounted how they had looked at the other person and cried, “Why, in the name of God would you do that to me?” I commented that I meant no disrespect, but wondered why anyone would cry out to God if they don’t believe in him. It would be like me saying that I cried out in the name of the Tooth Fairy.

The precepts of my faith instruct me to treat all with kindness and love and cautions me that I will be judged as I judge. I try, and frequently fall short of my goal but not everything is about being perfect. My effort gives me a more abundant and happy life. I think I am right, but even if I am not, who am I hurting as a result of my faith?

Thanks for reading. Remember to vote on Tuesday even if it is just to cancel out my vote!!

Special thanks to the following for the use of their photographs; Nick Collins, Zahre E., Aaron Burden, Karl Fredrickson and Zorik D.

The Busy Contest

True confession: I am competitive and I like win. It is rather surprising for me to realize that my desire to win is waning, it is still there, it is strong, but not like it was in years past.  What a blessing it is to longer feel such a powerful desire to prove myself.

 There is one contest in particular of which I am consciously trying to steer clear and not get caught up in its web of participation.  It is the Busy Contest. Some of you dear readers do not want to hear what I am about to say, but I challenge you to forge on to the end. This realization has improved my life and reduced my stress in significant measures.

I get satisfaction from creating to do lists and then checking of the tasks as I complete them. I am OCD like that.

 Not so long ago when anyone other than my doctor would ask how I have been doing my standard reply was, “Busy”.  I would then proceed to enlighten the poor soul with all the things I was working on or had accomplished in the recent past.  It sounded kind of like this: “This time of year at work is always the worst, I feel like I earn my entire year’s salary during the month of ______(fill in the blank).  I am training for another half marathon and hope to break my personal record. I am also trying to finish up my middle grade novel and find an agent. Yadda, Yadda, Yadda, Blah, Blah, Blah.

 Almost everyone took the bait and joined into the contest.  The competitor would briefly acknowledge my hectic life and then without pause proceed to recite their own busy list.  It sounded something like this: Oh I know, my job is just crazy too. Every since I was promoted (promotion equals bonus points in the contest) I have been spending 12 hours a day at the office.  Then of course Ava is getting married in the spring and there is so much that has to be done to plan her dream wedding. Then there is Marcus, between academic team, soccer,DECA, BETA and college interviews there just isn’t enough time for anything else.

 The busy contest is a little like boxing because it is played in rounds.  In the scenario described above the competitor that is the first to either look at their watch or get an urgent cell phone call and with smile, proclaim, “Oh, Gotta run!” is the winner of said round.

 I have come to realize that this game is not good for anyone because even when you win, especially when you win, you lose.  How can one enjoy their child’s first piano recital when it lasts longer than expected causing one to be late getting to their other child’s star performance in the high school play while their own project deadline for work is going to demand most of the the night’s hours that should be spent sleeping?  I get it, sometimes this happens. We get whammied with several important events that overlap. But I argue that more often than not we get this busy by choice.

 When did it become fashionable to honor our stress and praise the stress of our family and friends as if it were an achievement?  Healthy? Physicians and psychologists agree that stress lowers our resistance to fight off illness and can even be a primary cause of physical and mental ailments.

  Children learn by example.  Do we really want our kids to grow up thinking that being a good parent means doing everything for everyone at the expense of health?  Is the lesson that the one with the most on their calendar and to do list gets to wear the crown?

I learned most of the things that kept me “busy” are not things that had to be done.  Rather they are things that I choose to do. Things like writing this blog, playing bunco with the girls,volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, taking my dog for a run. The list can go on and on. Instead of telling myself that I am busy with these things I am starting to make a conscious effort to remember that I am blessed with precious time and I can choose how to invest and enjoy the gift of each day.

 I have a lovely friend that reaches out almost every morning by texting a meme to me that either includes scripture or a Christian quote.  They are nice and I know she sends the same one to many people hoping give us a little inspiration to start the day. I appreciate her and her kindness. Yet sometimes, I can’t help but wish she would make it more personal.  Perhaps, ask how I am doing or tell me about something going on in her life. I typically reply with a happy emoji or a brief statement of agreement. Today, hoping for a brief personal interaction, I replied asking, “How are you?”  Her one word response was, “Busy”. I am sure she had many tasks and that her agenda for the day was indeed full. I also realized that it was an invitation to enter the contest with her by texting back all the things I needed to do.  I wonder if my response was a little surprising? I tapped out “Yes, I know you stay busy.” She sent back a smiley emoji and I let that be the end, She won the contest because I won’t play.

 After my mother passed away and I needed to empty her home I found a list on her kitchen table of people for whom she had planned to give homemade cookies after she recovered from her surgery.  I also found a list of things such as returning books to the library and taking the dog to the vet. When she made the lists I doubt that it crossed her mind that she might never return to her home, that the cancer that was supposed to be able to be removed completely with surgery would spread so fast that any plans she had for anything afterward would never play out.  I learned a valuable lesson from her list of people that would have received her annual gift of delicious fresh cookies. I learned that no matter the age we have reached when our life ends, be it 10 years old or 100 years old, there will be things that we did not finish. Think about it, No matter how busy you are, no matter how much you plan or how hard you work, there will be tasks that you never see through to fruition.

 I did many things today.   I wrote this blog entry, I called a friend and we met at the theater and watched a movie followed by coffee and a nice chat.  I did a few household chores and I brushed my dog and played with her. I fixed myself a meal and have talked with two friends on the phone.  There were other things I would have done if I had more time, but that is ok. If God gives me more time tomorrow I can proceed to more things.  I was not busy, I was enjoying the gift of the time granted to me today.

Psalm 46:10 speaks to my soul

After hearing the Bible verse,Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God” for many years it’s deeper meaning hit me one day. I was always trying to do something, to take charge of things and concur tasks and goals when what I really needed to do was stop and acknowledge God’s gentle voice telling me to have faith and to trust in him.

 Are we really that busy and if we are, isn’t it our choice?  Does being busy help a person to feel that they have value and are important? I would love to know your thoughts on this topic. Please leave your comments. Thanks for reading. My wish is that you have a day that isn’t busy but jam packed with people and activities you enjoy.

We are the People of Walmart

I am a sweaty, dirty, stinky mess from working in my yard while the brutal September sun beats down on me. I am five minutes away from completing the task and anticipating the luxury of a long shower and fresh clothes. It is at that moment that my weed-whacker runs out of line and I do not have a spare roll in the garage. I suppose lots of people would just stop and finish the task another day. For us type A folks that is not an option. I feel compelled to finish what I start. Here’s the dilemma; do I make a quick dash to Walmart, get the line and quickly finish the job or do I clean up first knowing that I will have to repeat the shower a second time after the work is done?

I am not a fan of wasted time so I opt for a very focused, very brief trip to the store. I enter through the garden department avoiding eye contact. I am a woman on a mission in stealth mode. Find string, buy string and not be seen by anyone that I have ever met in my entire life. In my imagination it played out easy and I was in the store less than three minutes. Ha!

“Where is the weed whacker string?” my mind screams as my eyes dart around what used to be the lawn and garden department but is now 80% full of Christmas trees and ginormous inflatable snow globes and Santa Clauses.

I spot an employee, let’s call him Waldo, that is also attempting to be in stealth mode. Waldo tries to pretend he has not heard me ask for help. Good luck with that sucker! I cut him off at the intersection of wrapping paper and and strings of LED icicles. “Yeah,” he mumbles, “I think we have some but it has been moved over near hardware. I’ll show you.”

Waldo, an underpaid hourly employee slowly meanders through what seems like twenty aisles The longer it takes to get to the weed-whacker string the fewer heavy boxes of artificial trees he will have to put on the shelves. During our journey to hardware I have no less than four people greet me and call me by name. Busted!

After a slow methodical search, Waldo finds the string that fits my particular brand and model of weed-whacker. I take off power walking towards the register only to find that it is closed forcing me to walk to the front of the store to pay for the string.

Before I make it back to my car I see at least 6 more people that recognize me and call me by name. I don’t like that I am still easy to recognize wearing my old Eagles concert t-shirt that has had the sleeves amputated, shorts, shorter than what I would normally ever wear on any property I don’t own, and old athletic shoes stained green from grass clippings. That is when reality slaps me in the face. Yup, I am a person of Wal-mart.

Many years prior, just out of college and living in my first apartment I had to visit a laundry-mat to wash my clothes. This wasn’t totally foreign to me since for financial reasons I had lived in a dormitory throughout college. Students used the laundry mat located in the basement of each building. The main difference, that I didn’t appreciate at that time, was that we were all students, all women and while I occasionally heard about someone having clothing stolen, such reports were the exception not the rule.

The real world laundry mat had a more diverse population. Going to the laundry mat for many was a family outing. Smart phone and tablets wouldn’t be invented for years so with the absence of technology moms and dads talked or argued loudly about that things that should have remained private. Toddlers ran around the machines their bare feet slapping the dirty tile. Most wearing only a disposable diaper. Older kids played demolition derby with the laundry carts while munching on Twinkies.

It was loud and stuffy and I learned quickly to take a book and pretend to read. That didn’t stop others from trying to engage me in conversation but it helped a little. I know it sounds snobby, I apologize, but some of the folks were really creepy. I once had a man compliment my panties as I was moving items from the washing machine to the dryer. Eeewww! He went so far as to peer through the glass door of the dryer as my undies flipped around and then he turned and smiled at me!

I called my mom later in the day and she asked what I had done that morning. “I did my laundry. Mom, I don’t like the people I see at the laundry mat.” I griped. My mother has always had a knack for getting straight to the point and putting me in my place. “Well sweetheart,” she replied, “You may not like them but you are one of them.”

We can be a little (or a lot) judgmental at times so let’s remember that unless you never (never ever) go to Walmart, then just like me, you are a person of Walmart!

A Forest for the Trees

Today’s post is a fictional piece that, like many of my stories, seemed to take over and write itself. I have completed a full 26.2 marathon (Indianapolis, November 2017) and that experience is part of the inspiration for this piece. To all of those that have run the Boston Marathon or know the intricacies of being an elite runner, I ask for your tolerance regarding the poetic license I used for the sake of the story.

I understood what it would take to win, to be number one, the victor, the champion, the best.  I knew that to be these things I had to focus and not let distractions keep me from my goal.  

It wasn’t unusual for me to hear bits of conversation that tended to swirl around me rather than be said to me, “He is very tenacious” or “ He never quits.”  I enjoyed these sound bites, knowing they were said in my praise, but I didn’t turn my head. Pride, being full of myself or listening to praise might slow me down.  I was on a mission and I appreciated that they understood, even when they didn’t.

Sleeping late on Saturdays was an indulgence that I could not afford.  Everyone knows that Saturday is Long Run Day. Contrary to how it sounds, it isn’t just a day.  It starts on Thursday,well, actually on Sunday, with the perfect blend of complex carbs and proteins, strength training and the study of split times and cadence.  Thursday and Friday’s menu is tailored to my body’s particular quirks rather than my pallette. Low fat, but high carb, shrimp, pasta with minimal seasoning and lowered fiber for the next two days.  The end of the work week is not celebrated with friends or a late evening with the wife or kids; 3:00 a.m. comes early. The weather is studied and clothes and shoes are set out for the morning. Hydration belt, headlamp, goos and portable carbs are tucked into my clothes designed specifically for such activity.  9:00 p.m. finds me sound asleep dreaming of things like heartbreak hill, and ancient civilizations in remote Mexico desserts where men run without science and can kick my ass without planning or GPS.

Saturday afternoon, while lounging in a tub of ice, I ponder negative splits and what it will take for a new PR. The study of the mechanics and the plans are as intricate as blueprint. A glorious nap follows while the wife and kids take in the latest Pixar at the matinee show.

Sunday, I plan the rest of the week making time for the necessary work that ends in a paycheck.  Distance, pace and mathematical formulas that provide the best odds for winning. Things like the 10% rule, ice baths,tempo runs and fartleks grab my attention. The average person doesn’t realize much less comprehend that to run 26.2 miles at a pace of 4:53 per mile that the man will log an average of 100-110 miles a week.  Even a newbie, that just wants to complete a full 26.2 needs to be at 30-35 miles a week to start training.

Patriot’s Day

We stand packed together like cattle in the corral, yeah, that’s what it’s called. Then we stretch or shift our weight from foot to foot and check our gear while we wait for the gun to fire and start the race.  I go through the motions of respecting my country and the flag during the national anthem but my mind is already on mile 20 and climbing heartbreak hill. There is a guy not far away that is carrying an ultrasound picture of his yet to be born child, he says this is his final race because God and family will always come first. A woman I passed earlier was chatting up about how she was running for charity, raising money for research for cancer or alzheimer’s or some other disease that would probably, regardless of how much she raises, take her life in a number of years.  I blocked it out, there was no room for that at the moment.

I think I hear the sound of my own child proudly shouting, “Daddy, my daddy is going to win!”  I don’t look, I can’t, I must stay in the zone.  

The gun sounds and my body knows what to do, my brain is along for the ride for at least the first 20 miles.  It’s job will be to get me through the final 6.2 miles including lactate thresholds from Hell and emptied glycogen stores.

At mile five my eyes try to turn to a cheering, waving, spectator that might be my wife.  I don’t blink even when I hear my name being chanted by voices that must belong to family and friends.  I stare straight ahead, looking could cost me a whole second. It isn’t worth the chance. There will be time after the finish line.

At mile 20 I start up Heartbreak Hill with only 3 men ahead of me and all of them in sight.  At the crest there are only 2 ahead of me. It is tempting to go all in but I resist. Not yet; not yet.

At the end of mile 23 runner two makes his break.  I could laugh or even smirk, but I won’t use any precious energy.  He lacks patience and at mile 25 I pass him without increasing my speed.  I start to gain, on number one but hang back, 5 strides behind. He can’t see me but knows I am there; he didn’t get this good, this elite, without developing the sixth sense of knowing exactly where I am and how much I have left in reserve. I evaluate his energy and fortitude, he won’t go down easy. 

I allow myself to fall in beside him, less than 6 inches in second place.  At 25.7 miles I summon my brain, my energy and even my faith and pull into the lead. I am going to win, I am going to receive the prize I have longed for my entire life. I can smell it and my mouth waters in anticipation of the rare flavor.

I break the ribbon as the world turns to shades of grey.  It occurs to me that I may pass out, but it’s okay, that no longer matters. I have won!  The grey images begin to blur. I see my family, my wife, my parents, my kids and many others but they are turning away, their heads down.  Are they crying?  

Don’t they realize that I won?  

I stumble on becoming increasingly confused but I find that there is a line forming comprised of other runners that have just finished.  I see a light ahead and move that way thinking it must be the podium where I will receive my winnings. Others are ahead of me in this line and while that is still more confusing I stand and wait my turn thinking it not all that unusual to be in a brain fog after such a feat and monumental victory.

I didn’t notice all the trees before but now the line seems to be weaving through a wide variety of deciduous timbers, and while I know it isn’t possible, there seems to be more trees everytime I blink or exhale.  I see the female winner at the front of the line. Words are exchanged and then she turns around, her expression is empty.  She takes two steps and when she stops she is suddenly no longer a woman, she is a tree. The same scene plays out as other runners get to the front of the line, then after a brief exchange of words with whoever is in the light, they too turn into trees.  Finally, only two runners in the line are ahead of me. I am suddenly terrified and I try to flee, but all of my energy is spent. The next person to face the light is the woman who was running for charity. The light is too intense, I can’t look at it straight on but I hear a strong voice lovingly say,  “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”  The next person in line is the father that commented before the start of the race that it would be his last due to family obligations. He hears the same words as the woman before him and then steps into the light where I can no longer see him.

Understanding fills me with sick certainty. I fall on my face knowing that I am not worthy. Mercy is the prayer arising from my soul.  I plead, “ I worked hard, I wasn’t a bad man. I just wanted to win the race.” The voice of my God commands me to look behind me and to describe what I see there.  I obey; anything for a chance. “I see trees, lots and lots of trees.” “Keep looking” instructs the Lord. I start to notice the trees have words on them, the words are prayers.  Some ask for love, others for shelter or food, still others have prayers for peace or for safety. “Tell me what you see” commands the Lord. I weep as I say, “I see the woods, a dense forest full of people and their prayers.”  

“Yes,” said the Lord “and you ran past each one ignoring their needs, their hurts and their unanswered prayers.  My child, you didn’t see the forest for the trees.”

I wail, “But I just wanted to win the race!”  

 My limbs stiffen as my body turns to wood, roots sprout from my feet digging themselves into the soil below, anchoring me in place.

The last thing I hear is my creator explaining, “It wasn’t a race; it was never a race. It was your life and now the real prize will forever be very close, but always just out of reach.”  Just before my eyes seal themselves shut and become covered in bark someone hangs a winners medal on one of my branches, I try unsuccessfully to shake it off as the aroma of acrid wood smoke fills my nose.

*Matthew 25:23, Holy Bible, KJV

Thank you for reading. I appreciate the following for the use of their photographs; Chase Clark, Jakob Kriz, Matt Howard, Tikko Maciel, Joshua J. Cotten, Jennifer Birdie, Shawker and Natalie Desirre Mottet.

The Unwritten Rules for Back to School

The rules have changed and there is a good chance you don’t know what they are.  I’m not talking about rules such as no running in the hallway, raise your hand, and wait to be called on before speaking, or even the no bullying policy.  I am talking about the unwritten rules that no one talks about.  

Rule 1.  Not all kids get treated the same by teachers and administrators.  If you are thinking that well behaved kids get treated better; you aren’t totally wrong, but if you think it stops there then you are missing the big picture. Gone are the days when school employees went out of their way to avoid doing anything that might prompt others to say their child was receiving special attention or privileges. The higher a student’s  parent is in the chain of command the more perks the child is likely to receive. Like every rule, this one has exceptions, but they are more rare than most realize or care to admit. The other kids notice it but most don’t say anything; they realize that there would be no point. What message does this send?

Special treatment is also extended to the kids that have parents that can keep the school looking good in the public eye.  Like it or not school’s are businesses and need to maintain their public image. If a child’s parent(s) works for the local newspaper or other major media source then the school will try harder to keep them happy. After all, administrators never know when they will need to play their, “don’t make this public card.”  School’s can’t avoid having their test scores published; but they can, sometimes, keep the fact that an elementary child brought a loaded gun to school at the rumor level rather than public knowledge. Yes, I’m serious.

Local policy makers, elected officials and friends of school administration are among other groups that can reasonably expect special favors. You are accustomed to this sort of thing in the business world where the most qualified person isn’t always the one hired or promoted.  It is the same type of behavior, but its kids that are getting short-changed. It is part of the learning process, reading, arithmetic and life isn’t fair.

If you doubt that this is accurate, I challenge you to think of the best teacher in your child’s school. You know the one, loves kids, loves learning, and has a real talent for teaching; the one that all the kids and their parents hope to get when the child reaches the particular level or subject taught by this professional. Take a look at who the students are in that class and the influence of their parents. Coincidence had nothing to do with the names on the roster.

Rule 2  If your child has an invisible disability they are at higher risk to be bullied by their fellow students (and staff). Frequently TV, movies and books try to show the bullied kid as being handicapped in a way that is obvious, such as the child that uses a wheelchair or having a profound learning disability.  The reality is that these kids usually fly under the bullying radar and classmates typically just leave them alone. Being left out is far from ideal, but it beats being taunted or tortured. Kids with severe illnesses, the one going through chemo and has lost all their hair, or the one one a special diet due to a chronic condition, are likewise not prime targets for bullying. In fact, their classmates may be protective of them and treat them with extra care and compassion.

  The kids at greatest risk of being bullied are the ones that look like all the rest, but are still different.  The kid with ADHD or tourettes, the one on the high end of the autism spectrum or the kid that is just socially awkward, these are the ones at greatest risk. Sometimes, they are different is a way that defies explanation to both kids and adults. Both kids and adults often fail to demonstrate empathy when they don’t understand the reasons a person acts the way they do. In some cases teachers know about the underlying reasons for a kid’s quirkiness but they can’t reveal this sensitive information to the class. Even if they could offer an explanation to the quirky kid’s peers it wouldn’t guarantee empathy on the part of the classmates. If you parent such a child know it isn’t going to be easy for them or for you.

   Consider having a teacher or counselor speak to the students or share a book that explores your child’s particular condition.  Giving classmates the facts can build empathy. If you decide to go this route I recommend an in-depth discussion with the teacher or counselor ahead of time.  The person that leads this discussion must be prepared to answer difficult questions in a non-judgmental manner. It is also important to include your child in preliminary planning and if the child doesn’t want anyone to talk with the class then their privacy should be honored.  Again, this is something that you may consider, but I am in no way saying it is appropriate in all circumstances.

Teachers are human and they will relate better to certain children than they do to others.  Most try to be fair. There will be kids that will, intentionally or not, push certain teacher’s frustration buttons.  Some of those staff members will be less patient than others. When the kid that gets picked on is also the kid that annoys the teacher on a regular basis then it fans the flames of bullying.  Yes, the teacher is the adult and should be expected to keep his/her emotions in check, but can anyone, in any job, leave their emotions at home? On going, serious effort is essential and some schools have a climate that makes it okay when effort is lacking on the part of the adults. 

Rule 3  Many of us grew up in a time when if you got in trouble at school then you got in more trouble at home. It is still ideal when school and home communicate and work as as team. Time is a big part of the communication break down. Use caution in letting the school handle more substantial issues in regards to your child’s discipline and education.  If you aren’t willing to step up to the plate for your child then you might as well send the school an affidavit stating they can treat your child in any manner they choose. The staff knows who they must coddle, and who they can disregard. That said, remember that no child is perfect, not even yours. Don’t choose to fight every battle as you will get frustrated and your child will be labeled, “that kid with the crazy parent,” but know when to step in.

Prevention will go a long way is such matters, and your best defense is to be a familiar face to school employees. If your career or community status doesn’t make you well known within your community, then be sure to show your face at school both during school hours and at school sponsored events. Chat with staff and schmooze away. Personally, I despise schmoozing and I didn’t go that route, but fair or unfair, love it or hate it, it makes a difference.

When your child has a complaint your first job as parent or guardian is to listen to them.  Pay attention and ask questions for clarification as needed. There may not be a way for them to prove their claim, but you should still ask things such as, who witnessed the event, where did it happen, and what action the teacher or administrator has already taken.

If the school reaches out to you about an infraction committed by your child it is a mistake to automatically believe everything you are told.  The same questions of who witnessed the action and how things are being handled are still appropriate. After getting information from the school, talk with your child about what happened. I recall a time I chewed out my son after receiving an email from his  middle school team leader that said he had been in a fight and that another student’s shirt had been ripped from their body. The real story was that my son and his friend were play fighting, not a single punch thrown by either of them. When I finally got to the bottom of it, I learned that my son’s version was the truth. The other student put my kid in a headlock and in doing so his shirt was raised high enough to expose his abdomen.  The boys picked a poor location to play in this manner but it was the teacher, followed by the team leader that exaggerated what happened and made it sound violent. There had been no fight, no one had their shirt torn, much less torn from their body. Teachers gripe about drama in the middle school but in this case they created it.

Remember, write down what happened according to your child and others. Name names, date it and let it be known you have it. Don’t threaten anyone, that won’t help, simply referring to your notes as you talk to the admin will get the point across in an efficient manner. Hang onto your notes and anything in writing from the school. If the school employees continue to treat your child unfairly; you may need that documentation.

Rule 3  Talk to the Boss. When there is a significant problem you need to jump line and head straight to the administration. They would prefer you talk first to the teacher but that isn’t in your child’s best interest. The principal should be your first contact, unless it is a very severe event, in which case you may want to start with the superintendent. Engage in a non-threatening conversation and expect the same in return.  When they say they can’t name other kids names or tell you about another kids consequences, they really can’t. It’s frustrating, but true. They also have to honor the same in regards to your child; be sure they do.

Before anything happens to prompt you to have to request an audience with the principal, and hopefully you will never need to do that, listen to your child. When/if your child or grandchild talks to you about things that aren’t fair at school your first job is to listen without judging or asking too many questions.  Remember that kids sometimes embellish the story. Usually they do this because they fear that just the truth won’t be strong enough on it’s own to grab your attention. After they share their concern talk about their feelings. What do they think should happen? How do they feel about it? Who saw it, other kids, other staff? Many times the child just wants to be heard.

I wanted to close this entry by saying that most students enjoy school but I didn’t find enough evidence to support such a claim.  According to Web MD, “75% off students express negative emotions about school.” Forbes magazine reports, “Upwards of 40% of all high school students are chronically disengaged.”  Student’s report through questions on the NAEP, National Assessment of Educational Progress, that only 49% of fourth graders enjoy school and by eighth grade it falls to 26% .

Ready or not it’s time for school. Give your babies a hug and tell them you love them. Really listen when they talk to you, and in the words of song-writer Cat Stevens remember, “Oh baby, baby, it’s a wild world.”

Thanks to the following that allowed the use of their photographs: Josh Applegate, Nicole Honeywill, Chinh Le Duc, and Element 5.

Nothing is Confidential

I recently received the letter that you that see in the picture below. There is a good chance you have had similar ones show up in your mailbox. This one was addressed to me, not current resident, and it had my address. Please note, I have never purchased a KIA or done business with any of the “Don Franklin Family of Dealerships.” I wondered how they got my name and address even though I didn’t imagine it would be anything like rocket science.

Knowing that my personal information is available to purchase does make me wonder why I bothered to ink it out..

I opened it up, and as expected, they were hoping to lure me into purchasing a new vehicle from their dealership. I typically drive a vehicle about 10 years; since the one in my garage is a 2017, I was poised to drop the letter into the recycle bin when I noticed the amounts they quoted regarding my monthly payment and my remaining loan balance were both within a few dollars of being spot on. HUH?

I consider such information private and felt very annoyed that they had somehow managed to acquire personal information, that in the not too distant past, wouldn’t have been accessible without my permission.

I further noticed that the attached post-it-note was handwritten, not just made to look that way, and signed by someone named Marc. I concluded that if it is okay for Marc to know so much about me that I would give him a call; after all he gave me the number so it was practically an invitation.

This could be Marc. Marc is a hard worker. That is why his team members field his calls on his behalf. Be like Marc!

I grabbed my phone and tapped in 877-346-9308 (feel free to call Marc yourself) or you can also dial 606-679-1177. A chipper sounding woman answered the phone informing me that they were having a great day at Don Franklin Kia. I asked to speak with Marc, and after asking the chipper lady a few questions, also managed to learn that he holds a position in management. Ms. Chipper made me tell her what my call was regarding. Only then did she say that Marc was out for the rest of the day in a meeting (my guess is the meeting was on the 19th hole). She graciously offered to let me speak with a member of his team. I refrained from sarcastic remarks about which team that might be, major league, minor league or pee-wee; instead I told her I really preferred to speak directly to Marc and that I didn’t mind calling the next day.

I jotted down a few notes for my future chat with Marc. I would be sure to use my “professional voice” and have my ducks in a row. It’s always good to point out a persons strengths so I decided I would tell Marc that I was impressed with the accuracy of the numbers. I imagined saying, “You folks at Kia really do your homework.”

Next, I thought I would start down the path that would eventually lead me to the answers I sought. I planned to comment that I was disappointed that they were only prepared to offer an interest rate of 0.9% since they surely already knew my credit score and that my current interest rate is 0.0%.

I thought I would ask Marc to tell me more about their offer and why it would be a sound decision for me. I was curious what he would find to say about it being a wise financial decision. Ha!

I expected, by that point, Marc would be pretty sure that I didn’t really want to buy one of the vehicles at Don Franklin Kia (by the way, you can also call them at 877-346-9308) and that I best move in for the “kill.” In the interest of trying to decide what is best for me I would say I wanted to compare my loan, payment and interest rate with Marc.

“So Marc, How much do you owe on your vehicle and what is the interest rate?” I would expect Marc to balk or to work around my question; at which point I would ask why He thinks is is okay for Don Franklin Kia to buy my credit information without my permission and then make it available to him and his team. In the interest of fairness shouldn’t I know about his personal finances too? Since Marc is part of a team I would hope he values a level playing field.

I called the next day; when the same cheery lady answered the phone I asked to speak to Marc. I suppose she remembered my “professional voice” and asked if it was in regards to the letter I received and if I had called the day before. She asked me to hold and I wasn’t surprised when Marc didn’t come on the line; the call was picked up by a lady named Johnnie. I told Johnnie that they must have put my call through to the wrong person because I had asked to speak with Marc. She said his team usually takes calls on his behalf (perhaps he was still on the golf course).

I talked to Johnnie, she is on Marc’s team.

I started the intended conversation with Johnnie, however, she sounded young and I thought she was probably some poor kid working on straight commission hoping to buy something besides Ramen on her next grocery trip. I took it easy on her. I never asked her about her car loan or it’s interest rate.

Before we got off the phone I told her that my intention was to let them know that I did not appreciate their way of doing business, or any other company that would stoop to purchasing people’s “private” financial information. I acknowledged that they couldn’t buy it if company’s like Experion, Equifax and Trans Union were not selling it.

She politely told me that there was a number on the back of my letter that I could call to opt out of future letters of this kind. I knew that, but what else could Johnnie say? Of course, when I dialed that number there was no option to talk to a real person, it took over ten minutes to work through the automated system and then I was asked for my social security number. WHAT?? I decided to put in a bogus number that would spell out my thoughts about them and their system. I looked at the letters rather than the numbers I tapped out 382-59-6800. The zeros were added only to complete the fake social. I hoped someone would figure it out.

I can’t stop Experion, Equifax and Trans Union from selling my information even though I wish I could. The only thing I can do is call the people that buy it, waste some of their time and inform them that the actions of their company (Don Franklin Family of Dealerships) has guaranteed that I will never do business with them. If they get enough consumers calling them with the same complaint perhaps they will stop paying for our credit information and the Equifax, Experion, Trans Union and the others will have to find some way other than prostituting others information to make money.

Those numbers again are, 877-346-9308 or 606-679-1177, ask for Marc

I wonder if Marc is somewhere in this picture?

I appreciate the following for their use of their photos: Court Prather, Neon Brand, David Clode, Yours Truly and Google Images where the picture of Don Franklin Kia has no notation of it’s images being protected under copyright.