Friday, February 27, 2009


OK, I’ll admit it. I’ve never seen Survivor or a lot of other reality TV shows. I do, however, watch The Biggest Loser. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this specific reality program, The Biggest Loser is a show where morbidly obese people are chosen usually in couples (i.e., spouses, cousins, siblings, best friends) to be taken to a ranch, where they will be worked over like crazy for a few weeks to help them lose weight. As in some other reality shows, each week one person is usually “voted off” - asked to leave the ranch to continue their journey at home. This person is taken out of the running for the grand prize and title of The Biggest Loser, and at the end of the season, there is a finale and all the contestants are brought back to display what they’ve accomplished and get weighed in one last time, where the winner will be chosen from the finalists.

When the contestants arrive at the ranch, each team is assigned a specific color to identify itself and each team is assigned to one of two trainers, but as more and more contestants leave, eventually all the remaining contestants are lumped into two teams and may or may not switch trainers. This is what happened on this week’s show. I was amused to see how the contestants handled the change. Some were extremely upset, said they were so happy with the way things were, and now everything had changed.

Watching that show, I thought, “Life is a game. The rules change all the time. How we adjust to those changes is what can make or break a successful life.” This is so true at my work. I love my job at the hospital, but one thing is certain - the rules will always keep changing. Rules about what to transcribe and what we outsource, rules about how we are paid, rules about format, rules about working holidays - even rules about the rules! It is a constant shift from one week, sometimes one day, to the next. Some of my co-workers fight this. I have just learned to “go with the flow.”

Freelance writer Lou Ann Thomas writes: “The only thing we truly can count on is that life likely will change. We can be going about our business, with most of the details of our lives planned out, and then something like a bridge failure, a mine collapse, an illness, a birth, a new job or any unexpected change happens and we feel the fragility and preciousness of life in a new way.
In these moments we understand more deeply that there really are no guarantees. The only thing life promises us is a wide range of experiences. What we do with them is up to us.”

The hard part is the realization that there are some changes we create, and some are thrust upon us. For the latter, we too often fall into the role of feeling helpless and victimized. We resent the fact that we have no choice. We frantically try to find someway out, knowing that in reality, as the old cartoon alien would say, “Resistance is futile.”

Yet that is the very change that life throws at us so often. We know the rules will change, the circumstances will shift; it is just a matter of when. My friend Sally told me last night of watching an Oprah episode where they showed people affected by the recession, people who had a few months before had good-paying jobs and houses to live in, people who had lost everything, and who are now living in tents. Some changes are extreme; some are more minor. Some are life-changing events, and some are just annoyances. But we are still caught by surprise when they happen. It is as if we had an “understanding” with life that it would go smoothly and be the same as it ever was, and just as we get comfortable with the rules, we are taken out, given a new color team T-shirt, and have to change our trainer. Bummer.

Yet, on The Biggest Loser, some contestants discovered that the very thing they had dreaded and fought against turned out to be a blessing. Their new trainer used different techniques than their old trainer did, which shook their bodies up to lose more weight. The whole situation looked different from the start than it really turned out to be. Sometimes the rules change and the outcome, though we can’t see it at first, might be an improvement.

Improvement or deterioration, change will indeed come. Those of us who are able to take change as, if not a welcome experience, at least a challenge, are life’s winners. Now that’s a Survivor!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Long Distance

I call my mom 'most every night. She lives so far away.
She’s living with my sister, Joy; I miss her every day.
My sister's busy with a husband, job, two teens, three pets.
As far time-consuming goes, that’s as crazy as it gets!
Sometimes the phone just rings and rings when I am sure they're there.
It turns out they can’t find the phone - it’s hidden well somewhere.

Once I get my mother, then our conversation starts.
It always has variety, but some familiar parts.
We talk about the weather first - it’s probably snowy here.
In Tennessee, it’s “gorgeous, Carol - sunny, warm, and clear!”
We then move on to dinner, and she asks what Ed’s creating.
I tell her we have eaten, and she says they still are waiting.
She says how good Ed’s cooking sounds, and then takes time to state
That Joy’s meals are luscious (if they are a little late).

She asks about “the kiddies,” meaning Charlotte/Caroline.
She asks what witty things they’re saying, hoping they are fine.
She asks about our children, who are grown and busy too.
She asks about our dog, and if there’s anything that’s new.

I ask about her day, and so she tells me what transpired.
Sometimes she has a doctor visit; that might make her tired.
She talks about my sister’s kids and all their busy lives.
I see that with her family there, my mother really thrives.
She’s proud that she can dress herself without my sister’s aid.
She’s proud to use the walker when she used to be afraid.
(Since her wreck, we’re blown away by how far she’s progressed.
It’s due to her will, and to Joy, who knew what might work best.)

Mom then thanks me for calling, and says to hug my Ed.
She notes, since I get up at 4, it’s probably time for bed.
We joke about our yawning every time we share a call.
We never know who starts it, but it’s “writing on the wall”
That now it's time for us to say, “Good night, I love you,” then
We both hang up, but knowing soon we’ll have a chat again.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

There's a "Pee" in "Parsonage"

As our family moved from place to place while my husband was in active ministry, we collected memories of all the parsonages in which we got to raise our family. Some houses were better than others, but there was one standout that we still talk about. I will keep the location anonymous, of course.

This house, as were all of our parsonages, was set in a rural area. The outside was white asbestos, but had gotten moldy through the years, so little Matthew told friends we were moving to a “green and white house.” There was a freestanding garage with a dirt floor next to the house, but after we found out the previous pastor had quartered his horse in there, we decided to pass. Such a waste of good fertilizer, though.

The previous pastor (a bachelor) had decided he wanted a wood-burning stove in the living room, so he bore a hole in the ceiling, stuck the pipe up through there, put sand in the middle of the room, and placed his stove right there, on top of a box filled with bricks with sand sprinkled over them. When he moved out, he took the stove with him, but the hole in the ceiling had been thoughtfully taken care of by a green trash bag which hung several inches from the ceiling down into the room. The wall-to-wall carpet would get literally wet when it rained. The carpet where the wood-burning stove had been always smelled like urine. The mildew was so bad, one of our friends (another pastor’s wife) couldn’t ever come visit because of her allergies.

The pastor’s office had some unidentifiable brown stain on the wall. It looked as if something had been thrown at it and then dripped down in all directions. We decided from the looks of it, it was either a cup of coffee thrown at the wall or tobacco spit. To the right of the stain, there was a terrarium left by the former pastor with a snake skeleton still occupying the inside.

The bedroom adjacent to the little office, someone told us, had been redecorated during the ‘70s when the inhabitants had been a little “high.” That might explain why there was one kind of wallpaper on one wall, another on another wall, and the other two walls were painted, each a different color.

In our bedroom, the bed was tied together with a coat hanger.

I saved the best for last: In the bathroom, every time we flushed the toilet, raw sewage came up into the bathtub.

We met some wonderful people in the church when we lived there. But that parsonage was certainly an experience, and will live forever in the annals of our family as the worst house we ever lived in.

Sunday, February 08, 2009


It's coincidental, but this week, the week of Valentine's Day, I’m reading about how to love myself. I have self-esteem issues like most people, and I am trying to learn self-acceptance which does not depend on outside judgments and circumstances. Ed used to preach that, common opinion to the contrary, we as a society follow the Golden Rule very well - to love others as we love ourselves. Ed said, “We treat others exactly as we treat ourselves - because we don’t love ourselves and don’t love others, either.”

In my reading, I came across this paragraph by Dilia De La Altragacia:

Loving ourselves is based on learning about ourselves, and that involves embarking on a path of self-discovery! We must learn our likes and dislikes. We must learn what gives us vitality and a sense of fulfillment, what makes us happy, what activities or emotions drain us, what we do for hours that energizes us. Who are the people that truly nourish us? When do we feel good about ourselves? When are we at our best? What are the activities that drain us and debilitate us? What are the activities that make us feel refreshed and alive?

....Self-love is not dependent on having husbands, or wives, or how well they are treating us. Self-love is not dependent on our children or how well they are behaving or how they are doing in school. Self-love is not dependent on our families or friends, their kindness, or lack of it, or their behaviors toward us. Self-love is not based on how well we are doing at home, work, or any other of our communities. Self-love is not dependent on our relationships, nor conditional on external events, nor based on any special talents or feelings...

When Ed became sober in 1984, he suddenly looked at himself and the world with new eyes. He had hated himself and abused himself for so long that it was strange (to him and me both) to see a self-respect and self-love form in his being. It can be hard to believe that God loves us unconditionally, it can be harder still for us to love others unconditionally, but the hardest thing of all, I think, is to love ourselves unconditionally. The older I get, the more I admire people who have grasped this difficult concept. I am always amazed when I see someone with the ability of true self-acceptance, an acceptance not altered by other people or other external sources, whether from their families or from Madison Avenue. What an achievement!

On February 26, it will have been 4 years since I started this blog. In the ensuing journey from February 26, 2005, I have learned a lot about myself and my priorities. The more I learn, the more I see the lessons which I have yet to learn. I am still in an ongoing process of learning to love myself, to accept myself as a whole unit of the good, the bad, and everything in between. We have to be able to take care of ourselves if we want to be able to take care of others. And if we feel worthy of receiving love (especially from ourselves), it will make that task a lot easier.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Dodging the OL

I’m reading How Not to Look Old by Charla Krupp, and it has really gotten me thinking. The trouble with “looking your age” is that the standard for what a certain age looks like changes every year, it seems. I would also venture to guess the average 40-year-old in some places in California looks a lot different than the average 40-year-old in Maine.

The book describes expensive, middle-of-the-road and cheap ways to look younger, going into extreme detail about everything from make-up to clothes to Botox injections and laser peels. The more I read the book, the more I become uncomfortable. It’s not that I don’t care how I look (I obviously do) and it’s not that I can’t use some tips (I obviously can), but the question that came popping up was, “Where do you draw the line?” The book uses the abbreviations “OL” for the Old Lady look and “Y&H” for the Young and Hip Look. It may seem natural not to look OL when you’re, say, 50, but when you’re 80, are you going to be under pressure to look Y&H? At 80? I dare say there are some folks (the book’s author included) who want to carry this Y&H thing to the grave, but give me a break! Is the ideal situation to rid our society of anyone who looks OL? My mother is 85 years old, and she looks 85 years old, and if she started trying to look Y&H, I would freak out. Oh, sure, there are simple things you can do to improve your appearance, but I would term those things “looking up to date,” not trying to look younger. Fashion can change dramatically in a decade, and a modern pair of glasses frames can change a look dramatically (as my sister learned when she tried her frames on Mom one day).

If you’re high maintenance, says Krupp, “The Frazel laser is a non-ablative tool that targets cells under the skin to regenerate collagen production. It is designed to work in six sessions, at a cost of $1,500 per session. It produces results but leaves you red-faced and swollen. Recovery after each session can take up to a week. It is not a permanent solution, lasting roughly only six months.” I flipped to the chapter on buying jeans.

I don’t know how many other 54-year-olds occasionally envision their lives at 80, like I do, but my first goal is not to be Y&H. It is to be healthy, comfortable in my own skin, able to get around and be independent, to have energy, and to look decent enough that I don’t scare young children. I think most of it lies in attitude. To keep my insatiable curiosity, to get excited about the wonders of new technology, to be able to keep up with important current events, to read, read, read - these are what I wish for myself as I age. To keep my brain and body active. To dress appropriately for the situation and my lifestyle in a way that I feel good about myself. To be able to keep laughing and singing and quilting. To learn something new every day. When you think about it, all these things seem appropriate to wish for at any age, including 54.

I think it’s a little bit sad that we have been allowing ourselves to feel society’s pressure to look years younger than we are, because if 80% of 54-year-olds suddenly looked 40, I would not look like 54 anymore; I would look like 65 in comparison. Thanks a lot, guys.

There’s something to be said for that adage of aging gracefully with acceptance. That is not giving up; that is reality. There is a fine line between “letting yourself go” and understanding what age you are, what age you feel, and what kind of lifestyle you need to live in order to get (and give) the most in your life. I think I’ll get a new pair of jeans that fit me better and look modern, but I’ll leave the collagen treatments and injections to others. I want to spend the rest of my precious life fighting fear and injustice and intolerance - not fighting the aging process.