Friday, September 16, 2016

A couple days ago, I stopped at Walmart on my way home from work to pick up a few things I needed. As I pulled into the parking lot, I passed a family standing and sitting in a grassy area on the corner. It was a young father and mother, their son of maybe seven or eight years, and a baby, no more than six months old. They looked exhausted, like the world had beaten them down one too many times and it was taking everything in them to just stand on that corner. The father held a sign that read, “Please help. Lost job. No money for food or diapers. Anything you can spare will help. God bless you.” The sight of them made me slow my car, but I still drove past, like every other car in front of and behind me. As I rounded the corner, I locked eyes with the father who managed a quick smile and wave as he briefly nodded his head in my direction, even though I didn’t stop. I smiled weakly back, but quickly looked away and drove on. I had things to do.

I pulled into the parking lot, found a spot close to the entrance, and shook my head a little, like I was trying to shake that family from my mind. But when I looked back toward the corner, I saw them, still standing there, still trying to smile at each car that drove past them pretending they weren’t there. I felt like I was glued to my seat watching that scene unfold, thinking to myself, “Why isn’t anyone stopping? Why isn’t anyone helping them? What’s wrong with these people?” In that minute, it was like someone slapped me upside the head. “I didn’t stop. I didn’t help them. What’s wrong with ME?” I took my list of frivolous crap I was going to buy, crumpled it up, and threw it in my purse. I took out my wallet and saw that I had only a couple dollars in cash. That wasn’t gonna cut it. But I did have my debit card, so I went inside the store and purchased a $40.00 gift card. It wasn’t much, but it was what I could spare at that moment.

I got in my car, drove back to the far end of the parking lot near the entrance close to where the family was still standing. I grabbed the gift card and started walking over to them. The mother spotted me first, with a half hopeful and half puzzled look on her face at this girl crossing four lanes of traffic and walking in her direction. I was a little nervous, though I’m not sure why. I was worried they’d be offended somehow. Or embarrassed. Or ashamed. And those were the last things I wanted them to feel. Mostly, I wanted them to know that someone saw them. Really saw them. And that someone thought they mattered.

I walked up to the father, outstretched my hand holding the gift card, and said, “Hi, I just wanted to give you this. It has $40.00 on it. I hope it can help you get some of the things you need.” He looked at me, a little shocked, I think, because he wasn’t sure what to say. He just stared at me like he didn't believe I was serious. When I said, “Please, take it, I want you to have it,” his eyes welled up with tears. He said quietly as his head drifted down, “I don’t know what to say. Thank you. Thank you so much.”

“You’re very welcome,” I replied. “I just wish it was more.”

“You don’t understand what this means to my family,” he said. “My baby and my son will have something to eat tonight.”

“Please get something for the two of you to eat tonight, too,” I said as I nodded in his wife’s direction.

“We will,” he said, “but after the kids.”

I stood there for a few minutes talking to him and his wife. They told me they had lost their only car, and because of that, he did not have a way to get himself to work every day at his construction job in St. Louis. Because of that, he lost his job, too. And finding new employment has been next to impossible, both he and his wife said. She explained that they have to choose between paying their rent or buying food, diapers, clothing, toiletries – basic necessities – every month. This month, they chose the rent and prayed that a few people might help them out with some spare change or a couple dollars as they drove past on their way to Walmart.

“I don’t know what else to do,” he said.

At that point, the tears welling in his eyes started rolling down his cheeks. His wife quickly wiped away her tears and I stood there choking back my own.

I didn’t know what to say. The only thing I could think of was, “Hang in there. It’ll get better. Just hang in there.” I had no idea if that was true or not, but I said it anyway, hoping it was.

“It was nice to meet you,” I said as I started to turn and walk back to my car. As I made my way across the street, their repeated thank yous and God bless yous followed me to the parking lot. I got in my car and sat there for a good 10 minutes, crying, soaking in the fact that something so small had meant so much to that family. I sat there humbled, feeling at the same time grateful for and ashamed of my own good fortune. I’m not rich. I don’t have a lot. But I have enough, more than enough. I sat there heartbroken that this family didn’t have enough. If I could have bought them a car right that second, I would have because to that family, having a working vehicle would change their entire world. I drove home with that family on my mind. They’ve been on my mind ever since. I plan on going back to Walmart at my next opportunity to see if they’re still there. And if they are, I’ll help them again.

I tell this story not to toot my own horn or pat myself on the back. I don’t deserve any of that for simply helping someone in need. I tell it with the hope that maybe one other person will read this and think, “I should help, too.” I tell it with even more hope that they actually will help someone, anyone, who needs it for whatever reason. It’s so easy to drive or walk past people on the street holding signs, asking for food or money, maybe singing or playing an instrument for other people’s pocket change. It’s so easy to pretend they aren’t there, that they aren’t your problem. It’s so easy to not even see them at all.

I know some people will read this and think, “Why the hell should I give my hard-earned money to someone begging on the street? Why don’t they just get a job? I have to work for what I have, why shouldn’t they?” To those people, I say first that it’s not that simple. People stand on a corner asking for help for a million different reasons, whether it’s because they lost their job, have mental health issues, medical issues, got evicted from their home, have nowhere else to turn. Whatever the reason, being in that position has to be one of the most degrading and disheartening experiences a human being could ever have. I personally know what it’s like to wonder where your next meal is coming from, or if it’s coming at all. There was a time in my childhood when my little family – my mom, my sister, and I – had nothing. When my mom had to choose between keeping a roof over our heads and putting food on the table. And it wasn’t because of anything she did or didn’t do. It was because we were in a shitty circumstance beyond our control. During that time, people helped us. Bags of groceries would show up on our front porch and when they did, I know my mom felt a wave of contradictory emotions – gratefulness, thankfulness, relief, guilt, and shame. Without those bags of groceries left anonymously for us, we would have gone hungry. I know what that feels like. It’s awful. But because of that, I also know how much it means when someone reaches out and offers help. And that is amazing.   

I also say, it’s none of our business why those people are there. Yes, I have no doubt that there are some jerks in the world who take advantage of other people’s kindness. It happens. But it’s none of my business. My part in the equation is to help, not to question. I didn’t ask that family the other day if they were being honest, what they were going to do with that gift card, or why they weren’t out looking for work instead of standing on the corner asking for help. None of that was my business. And none of those things mattered. They needed help. I could offer help. End of story. That’s just the way it should be. If we can help, we should, in any circumstance. If we have the means to lift at least a little bit of a burden off someone else’s shoulders, we should, whether it’s by giving money, our time, our attention, our ears to listen, our wisdom to share, or anything else. Just looking someone in the eye and smiling at them can change their whole day. Simply acknowledging someone who feels invisible and letting them know they matter can change that person’s life in that moment. And I whole-heartedly believe – no, I know for a fact – that helping someone else does just as much if not more for the helper than the helpee.
I haven’t been back to that Walmart yet, but I’ll be there again and I’ll look for that family. If they’re there, I’ll help them however I can in that moment. And not just them, anyone. If I can help someone else somehow, from now on I’m going to make a conscious effort to do so. At the very least, I’m going to acknowledge that they are there, they are real, they are human beings. Regardless of their circumstances, regardless of the balance in their bank account, regardless of their living situation, regardless of their job, and regardless of the lack of any of those things, they matter. And that's all that matters to me.             

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A friend once told me, “A dog’s love is the purest love you’ll ever find. A dog loves you unconditionally, without any expectation of getting something in return, without any judgment of what you look like, how much money you have, or what kind of car you drive. The only thing a dog wants is to love you, and if they get love in return, it’s just icing on the cake.” I’m not sure truer words have ever been spoken. I know, because I experienced exactly what my friend described during the much-too-brief time my dog, Sam, was in my life.

            Sam was a spunky little white and brown Shih Tzu whose huge personality more than made up for his small stature. His full name, Samson, was bestowed upon him not only because of the adorably poofy and elaborate mane he sported as a puppy, but also because of his strength –- not of physicality, but of will and mind. Sam was the most stubborn and indignant little dog I’ve ever known, and his moniker suited him perfectly. He was also the best dog I’ve ever known and I’m one of the luckiest people in the world to have had him in my life for almost 15 years. I’d give just about anything to have him back for even 15 minutes more.

            Sam left this world on February 17, 2013, after a years-long battle with several illnesses that eventually wore his little body down to the point that it was difficult for him to even breathe. I was there with him at the end, at the very last second when he slipped peacefully from this world to the next. I saw, heard, and felt him take his last breath. I held him in my arms as his tired little body just let go and for the first time in a long time, he wasn’t struggling or fighting anymore. It was as peaceful and graceful and quiet and calm as you could ever imagine. And it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life.

            Sam came into my world when I was 18 years old and home from college in the summer of 1998. My childhood dog, Petie, had been gone for about a year and though we all missed him, my family was ready to bring a new dog into our home. My mom had researched different breeds, and finally decided that a Shih Tzu would be a good fit. One day she came across an ad in the newspaper for Shih Tzu puppies who needed good homes. My mom, sister, and I decided to make the hour-long drive to have a look and maybe bring one home. As soon as we arrived and looked at the puppies, one of them came straight over to us and propped himself up on the side of the little enclosure he was corralled in with his brothers and sisters. We bent down to greet the little burst of fur and he excitedly attempted to climb the wire fence that separated us. That was it. It was love at first sight, and we knew this little bundle of energy was meant to join our family. We brought him home, showed him around, and introduced him to my elderly cat Spooky, who wasn’t too thrilled about this fuzzy live wire that had just invaded her tranquil space. But even Spooky came to love Sam eventually.

            Sam’s puppyhood was entertaining, and challenging, for all of us. It didn’t take long for his personality to shine through. He was so dang cute that he could get away with anything. Even his occasional penchant for stealing underwear out of laundry baskets and ripping them to shreds was adorable and elicited more “Awwwwwws” than scolding. Sam was a trouble maker, for sure, but that was part of his charm. And my god, was he spoiled. That dog had more toys than the most spoiled child in the history of the world. And if there were certain toys that he really liked, we got him doubles just to make sure we had a backup and he wouldn’t have to be without one of his favorites. Sam had a habit of destroying his plush toys in a very methodical way. The first thing he did when he got a new stuffed toy was carry it into the family room and examine it for any weaknesses, most of all the eyes. If the eyes were made of little plastic beads, Sam knew it was his starting place for the carnage that was to come. He would chew on those little beady eyes until one or both of them popped out of the stuffed animal’s head. He knew that once those plastic nuisances were out of the way, he could use the small holes that were left to really get down to business. He would sit, holding the toy between his two front paws, his back legs splayed out behind him, and excitedly pull out every piece of stuffing that had once been in the toy. He didn’t stop until A) he was caught in the act or B) nothing was left but a fuzzy shell and the squeaker, and poly fiberfill stuffing was flung across every square inch of the room. It sounds a little barbaric, but I swear watching him in action was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in my life.

            Sam was smart, one of the smartest dogs I’ve known, but he was also stubborn. If he didn’t want to do something, then we could just forget about it because he wasn’t going to do it. There were many battles of will waged over the years, and Sam didn’t lose very many of them. He demanded fresh water when he went to get a drink from his bowl, and soon he would drink only bottled water -– liquid from the tap was unacceptable. If the water in his bowl wasn’t fresh enough, or if the bowl was running low, Sam would sit in the kitchen and quietly growl while staring at his water. If that didn’t get someone’s attention, he would eventually resort to more drastic measures. He’d take his fuzzy little paws and stomp right on the edge of the bowl, flipping it over and sending it careening through the kitchen, spilling its contents in the process. Once that was done, and someone had come running into the room to see what was going on, there Sam would be, prancing around proudly, wagging his tail and beaming to the point that he looked like he was smiling at what he had accomplished. It was so cute that the human’s response was usually to burst out laughing, rush to get Sam the fresh bottled water he was demanding, and then clean up the mess.

The thing Sam was most stubborn about, though, was food. He was the pickiest little dog to ever live, and to him, the thought of eating dog food was akin to putting a plate of cow manure in front of a human. He just didn’t like it, and it didn’t matter what kind –- dry food, canned food, refrigerated food, Iams, Science Diet, Alpo, dog food imported from a tiny bakery in the south of France –- it didn’t matter what it was. If it was meant for a dog, Sam didn’t want to have anything to do with it. On the rare occasions when we wouldn’t give in and feed him human food, he would stage his own little doggie hunger strike and starve himself to the point that his blood sugar got so low he would have a seizure. After experiencing his first seizure, it was terrifying enough for my mom, sister, and me to vow that Sam would never go hungry again, no matter what we had to feed him. He apparently didn’t think it was such a big deal because his hunger strikes continued intermittently throughout his life, despite our best efforts to prevent them. We very quickly learned what a strong-willed little dog we were living with, and about our own weaknesses when it came to enforcing the rules. His sweet, innocent, adorable little face with his toothy underbite and big brown eyes was our Kryptonite.

I have countless wonderful memories of my life with Sam –- the way he snooped through the bags when someone returned home from the grocery store to see if there was anything in there for him; the way he would bulldoze my (current) cat Libby, knocking her over like a bowling ball striking a pin and leaving her sprawled out on the carpet, thoroughly annoyed; the time he climbed under the Christmas tree, finding and pulling out all of HIS presents and proceeding to unwrap every single one; how he jumped up fearlessly anytime a squirrel dared to come near the back patio door, and he barked as ferociously as he could until the critter turned tail and scurried away from HIS house; his trips to the bank drive-through where he would bark into the speaker until the teller sent him a Milkbone through the magic treat-producing machine. This also usually included his gesture we came to call “Sammy want” where he would put his two front paws together and wave them up and down frantically anytime he saw something he wanted. And he always got what he wanted.

One of my favorite memories of Sam is the first time he decided to try swimming. A family friend, who I’ll call “J”, has a plot of land on a small lake out in the country and generously let us bring Sam out there whenever we wanted. On one occasion, when Sam was feeling particularly brave, we let him out of the car for his usual bounding run around the property as we tried to keep up. This time, however, Sam decided he wanted to give that big wet thing out in the middle of the ground a closer look. He took off at full speed down the dock that led straight into the lake, and when he got to the end he took a giant leap, fully extending front and back legs into a proper diving posture, and splashed down spectacularly into the water. My sister and I were there along with J and we all immediately ran as fast as we could to the dock to get to Sam. We could tell he was a little confused at what had just happened, and that it wasn’t quite what he was expecting. But, he quickly swam over to the frantic humans on the edge of the dock waving like crazy people at him and let them pull him out of the water. We knew Sam wasn’t sure it was a good idea to take a flying leap into the lake because he never did it again. He stuck to running around in the weeds and tall grass and fishing out on the boat whenever someone was willing to take him. Sam loved to go fishing. I mean loved it. He would sit and watch as everyone cast their lines into the water, and he eventually learned to watch the bobbers on each line as an indication that a fish was about to come into the boat. If the bobbers weren’t moving fast enough for him, he would stomp his feet and let out a high-pitched, exasperated whine to show his impatience. But when someone finally caught a fish? Holy moly, it was the most exciting thing Sam had ever experienced! He would cry and bark and squeal as the fish was being reeled in and once it was out of the water, he had to inspect it. Carefully. Thoroughly. He checked over every fish that was caught, sniffing and giving them the once over, and finally licking them before the fisherman was allowed to throw the slimy creature back into the water. He had to lick every single one, like he was saying, “Why hello, Mr. Fish. Nice to meet you!” It was the same routine fish after fish, and it was like Sam’s own little heaven on earth. He came home dirty, smelly, and exhausted, just how he liked it.

The older Sam got, the more his health started to deteriorate. He’d had health issues from the time he was a puppy, including severe allergies and stomach problems, and more conditions were added to the list as time went on. Thankfully, we had a fantastic vet who knew how much Sam meant to all of us and was always willing to try whatever he could to make Sam well. Toward the end of his life, he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, which we were able to manage and control with medication for a while, but there was no cure. Eventually, the congestive heart failure led to chronic kidney failure and liver failure, both of which were treatable but also not curable. Although Sam, ever the fighter, pulled through after every treatment, the problems became more and more frequent and the treatments harder for him to bear. The congestive heart failure caused fluid to build up in his body, sometimes in his stomach, sometimes in or around his lungs making it hard for him to breathe even when he was just lying in his bed. It made him cough, sometimes uncontrollably, until we could see he was at the point of exhaustion, and there was nothing we could do to help him. He was uncomfortable, he was occasionally in pain, he was sick, he was exhausted, and most of all, he was suffering. It was something that was so hard to see and be powerless to help. But we all knew the alternative, and none of us could even fathom losing him.

It took a couple months before my mom, sister, and I knew that we couldn’t let Sam suffer anymore. We couldn’t stand by and watch him struggle to take every single breath. To try and sleep and not even be able to lie down comfortably. It was heartbreaking. We all knew what the next step probably would be, but we hardly ever talked about it. None of us wanted to let Sam go. I know I said a prayer more than once that God would let him pass peacefully in his sleep one night, and sometimes I feel terrible about that. It was partly because I didn’t want him to suffer anymore, but mostly it was out of selfishness because I didn’t want to have to make the choice for him. I didn’t want to have to be the one to say, “It’s time.” Who was I to make a decision like that for another living being? The longer his suffering went on, though, the more I realized it was the only choice we had.

I was with my mom and sister on the night of February 16 and Sam was not well. He was struggling to breathe. He hadn’t been eating and had lost so much weight that we could see his ribs. He was coughing non-stop and couldn’t get comfortable for more than a few minutes at a time. We all looked at each other, and one of us, I don’t remember who, said, “I think we should call the vet in the morning.” I remember being shocked that this was even being brought up. I remember saying, “But tomorrow’s Sunday. The vet won’t even be there on Sunday,” knowing full well that the vet would come in if we called. And I remember knowing in my heart, knowing somewhere in the back of my mind behind all the denial and doubt, that it was time. It was time to let him go. But still, I didn’t want to believe it.  

I laid awake that night, praying that God would miraculously heal Sam. Praying that if he couldn’t heal him, he would take him so we didn’t have to do it. Praying that I could have just one more day with Sam. But that’s not how it turned out. The next day, Sunday afternoon, my mom called the vet’s emergency line. Because the vet clinic wasn’t technically open on Sunday, we didn’t know which vet we would get. It would only be Sam’s regular vet, who he knew and was fairly comfortable with, if that doctor was on call that weekend. As it turned out, it was the clinic’s newest and only female vet who called us back and was waiting for us when we got there. She had never seen Sam before. She didn’t know his history. She didn’t know him. But it was a strange twist, because all his life Sam was always more at ease around women than men, no matter what the situation.

My mom, sister, and I made the 20-minute drive to the clinic, which seemed like it lasted three hours, and parked the car. My sister was holding Sam in his bed on the ride there, and when we arrived, she said, “I can’t do it. I can’t take him in there.” My mom echoed her feelings, and I knew it was up to me. Sam had always hated the vet’s office. He was terrified every time he had to go, and he had to go a lot throughout his life. He would shake, he would cry, he would pant. It was a very stressful event for him. This time, though, he didn’t shake or cry or pant. He just laid in his bed, exhausted. I knew how hard this was going to be for my mom and sister. They both loved Sam every bit as much as I did, if not more. My sister, who is the strongest person I know, had even warned me months before that when the time came, she wasn’t going to be able to take Sam to the vet. I didn’t know if I could do it, either. But I couldn’t let him go in that exam room alone. I couldn’t imagine him being in a place he hated so much, a place he was so scared of, all alone with no one there with him but a stranger. So, in the back seat of my mom’s car I somehow found the strength to say, “I’ll take him.” And I did. I scooped him up still in his bed and walked into the vet’s office, knowing it would be the last time he had to go inside. The whole way in, I just said over and over through the tears streaming down my face, “I love you so much, Sam. You’re the best dog I could ever ask for. I love you, buddy. It’ll be ok.” I don’t know where I found the strength to put one foot in front of the other and go inside. I just knew I had to do it. I had to be there with him when he left this earth. So I was.

The vet met us inside, and took us to the exam room. The medicine that would put Sam to “sleep” was on the table, and the vet told me what to expect when she injected it into his leg. She was calm and patient and gentle and gave me as much time as I needed with Sam before she started. Sam’s little body was so weak that his veins had collapsed and the vet wasn’t able to just use a syringe. She had to call in a tech for help, which prolonged the process by about 20 minutes. But it was 20 more minutes I had with Sam, who just laid in his bed the whole time, peaceful and calm. The vet tech arrived, and both she and the vet did their work while I wrapped my arms around Sam and held him, tears pouring down my face onto his soft fur. I kissed his head and told him how much I loved him over and over. I told him what a good dog he was. I told him what a good friend he had been to me. I just wanted him to know I was there and that he wasn’t alone. I felt him breathe one last, long breath. His eyes closed, his body relaxed completely, and then it was over. It couldn’t have been more quiet. It couldn’t have been more calm. It couldn’t have been more peaceful for him. It was almost like he was giving a sigh of relief. He had fought so hard for so long, and he finally got a break from struggling. I asked the vet if that was it, if he was gone, and she looked at me with tears in her own eyes and said, “Yes. It’s over.” She checked his heart just to be sure, and then leaned down, petted Sam’s head, and whispered to him, “It’s ok, Sam. You can rest now.”

The vet wrapped Sam up in his favorite blanket that he slept with every night and put him back in his bed. He looked so peaceful. He looked like my Sam. But I knew he was gone. J had come to the vet’s office to offer his support, and stood silently in the doorway of the exam room while saying his own goodbye. When it was over, he carried Sam out to his truck and took him out to his farm, where he buried him. It wasn’t easy for J, either. Over the years, J had taken care of Sam when we were all out of town or on vacation, and he grew to love him just as much as we did. You couldn’t know Sam and not love him. I’m so grateful J was there and that he buried Sam with love and dignity in a place Sam loved so much. It’s been five months, and I still haven’t been able to bring myself to visit his grave. I couldn’t go out there and see him buried. For whatever reason, that part seemed too hard to me. Too final, maybe. But I told him goodbye while he could still hear me say it. And for that I will always be grateful.       

I have missed Sam every day since February 17. Coming home without him that day was unbelievably hard. Walking into the house and seeing his things everywhere, knowing he would never be there again was agonizing. I was glad that he wasn’t suffering anymore. But I was overwhelmed by the sadness and grief I felt knowing that he was gone. I loved Sam in a way I don’t think I could ever love a person –- unconditionally, without question, without hesitation, without fear, without reservation, and without regret. The same way he loved me. I know some people might read this and think, “What’s the big deal? He was just a dog.” But he was so much more to me than just a dog. He was a member of my family. He was my friend. He was my companion. He was a comforting, healing force when I was sad or hurt. He made me laugh, he made me forget about my troubles, he made me happy just by being his goofy, adorable self. He was so much more than just a dog. To me, Sam will never, ever be just a dog.

I’m sure that someday I’ll have another dog in my life. I just don’t know when that will be. It still seems too soon. It still feels like I would be trying to replace Sam if I got a dog now. But I know he will never be replaced. There will never be another dog like Sam. I don’t know where he is now, but I hope it’s somewhere that he can run and fish and play. I hope he’s eating whatever he wants. I hope he’s breathing freely and without struggle. I hope he’s happy. And I hope I get to see him again when my time comes. Until that day, though, I’ll hold onto every happy memory I have of him. I’ll remember him as the spunky little dog who was so full of life, and who made my life so full. And I’ll be forever grateful for every single minute he was with me. Some people have said that Sam was lucky to have me as one of his pet parents. But they’ve got it all wrong. I was the lucky one because I got almost 15 years of joy and love from the best dog who has ever walked this earth -– my Sam. 


Monday, April 29, 2013

Whenever I have a rare moment of downtime, when I have nothing to do, understand, comprehend, analyze, or mentally pick apart, my mind tends to wander. And the randomness of the places it mysteriously travels to rarely fails to make me say, “Hmm, why am I even thinking about this?” Like I’ve said before, I have one of those brains that just doesn’t shut off. There is no energy saver mode in my gray or white matter. If I don’t have something I need or have to contemplate and my brain is left to its own devices, it comes up with some strange topics for me to ponder. It often happens after I lay down to go to sleep for the night. There are some evenings when my brain just won’t stop churning no matter how tired I am, and just when I think I’m starting to drift off, a thought pops up and sticks there for a while keeping me awake. A lot of times it even continues after I’ve fallen asleep. If I think to myself after my head hits the pillow, “I’m gonna have waffles for breakfast in the morning,” I guarantee waffles will show up somewhere in my dreams that night. Perhaps a giant Eggo is chasing me down the street squirting maple syrup at me. Or maybe I’m back in high school and instead of finding homework in my backpack, the bag is filled with waffles. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work when I try to force it. If I think to myself as I’m falling asleep, “I live in Cinderella’s Castle in Disney World” or “I just married St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott” with the sole purpose of turning those thoughts into dreams, it never happens.

Just for kicks, I thought I’d compile a list of these random thoughts that have been tossed around in my head over the past week or so. A sampling of the weirdness that is my mind and what it manages to conjure up, which is usually light on substance and heavy on sarcasm. So take, if you dare, this glimpse into the inner workings of an overworked brain:

1.) Public restrooms and proper etiquette. I’m sure just about everyone has been in this situation: you’re in a public restroom at a store, airport, restaurant, wherever. There’s hardly anyone inside and a long line of stalls from which to choose. You make your selection in the middle of the row and go about your bizz-nezz when you hear the bathroom door open and someone else comes in. No biggie, there’s lots of available stalls to choose from so you should still be able to maintain some modicum of privacy. And that’s when you hear the door to the stall directly next to yours open and shut with the lock latched behind it. Really? With 50,000 other perfectly acceptable options that person has to choose the stall right next to yours? It just seems weird to me. Like an avoidable invasion of what should be a larger than normal personal space bubble. These are usually the same people who talk on their cell phones while relieving themselves, their conversation about what size shoes to buy little Jimmy echoing off the restroom walls. Maybe they need constant human contact in order to function, or as close as they can get in order to perform their bodily functions. I don’t know. But it’s weird. Weird enough that I believe it warrants “buffer stalls” in every public restroom on the planet. Now, for whatever reason, this phenomenon only bothers me when it involves strangers. It doesn’t bother me to have a next door neighbor in the bathroom at work where I know everyone, or if the ladies I’m shopping with take up residence in the stalls on either side of mine in the Kohl’s bathroom. In fact, I much prefer it that way so as to avoid as much stranger danger as possible while hovering precariously over whatever germ-laden unholiness is lurking below my bum. I mean seriously, there’s enough weirdness that goes on in public restrooms. Let’s not add to it unnecessarily.

2.) Which brings me to the other gender side of the bathroom coin: urinals. I admit my experience with urinals is (thankfully) extremely limited, consisting mostly of accidental glances at them when I happen to pass by an open door to a men’s restroom. From what I’ve seen, these things are bizarre. It’s different for guys, I get that, but they are essentially pissing into a hole in the wall. Not to mention it’s a hole in the wall that’s out in the open for all the world to see, or at least the rest of the bathroom patrons. Who came up with this? Really, who came up with it? And why did they think it was a good idea? When I’m in a public restroom, I don’t even like to use a stall that has open gaps along the door wider than an eighth of an inch for fear that someone will peek in. To have to drop trou and pee into a very shallow basin in front of other people sounds absolutely mortifying to me. Any guy I’ve ever talked to doesn’t seem to realize the absurdity of this concept. I guess it’s what you’re used to, but still the thought of it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. And even when you take the modesty (or lack thereof) issue out of the equation, there are still some serious design flaws to take into account. Splashing, for instance. I’ve never used a urinal, so maybe I’m off the mark here, but isn’t there some splashing involved? Little urine particulates flying all over that hole-riddled wall? And the flushing issues are enough to make me wretch. A guy does what he’s there to do and all that’s involved with it, zips back up, and then reaches out to flush the urinal with his hand, which just seconds before was otherwise occupied in a less than sterile activity. His hand transfers that unpleasantness to the flush handle because there is no handwashing in between, as far as I’m aware. Then the next guy comes along and the process repeats itself. How many disgusting hands have been on that handle by the end of the day? And before anyone argues that women don’t wash their hands before flushing their toilets, need I remind you that women don’t have to hold anything with their hands while relieving themselves? Let’s also not forget about toilet paper, which women have access to in their stalls and men do not at their urinals. Gross. Just gross. Admittedly I’m not familiar with the mechanics of it all because I obviously have a different plumbing system, but I can’t imagine not using toilet paper after peeing and then walking around with pissy panties all day long. Ah, yes, this is one of those times I’m glad to be a girl.

3.) Eyebrows. They’re odd and often look like fuzzy caterpillars attached to someone’s forehead. But have you ever seen someone without eyebrows? They look like aliens. Everything else on their face could be entirely normal, but with no eyebrows they appear to be some other kind of carbon-based life form. It’s pretty amazing how much information is conveyed just through someone’s eyebrows. I mean, think about it: both eyebrows raised means curiosity or surprise. Just one eyebrow cocked higher onto the forehead than the other, coupled with a smirk, equates to skepticism or annoyance, as in “Are you lying to me?” or “I think you’re full of shit.” Some people have incredible eyebrow talent and can make theirs dance like Michael Jackson across their foreheads. I am quite lacking in eyebrow ability, as I only have one independent eyebrow – the left one. I can move it up and down on its own completely separate from the right; however, my right eyebrow is entirely dependent on the left and is too shy to make any daring movements on its own. If I’m going to raise one eyebrow in a show of disdain for someone or something, it’s going to be the left. It obviously is the dominant of the two, and as long as tweezers exist on this earth, my eyebrows will never, ever be a unified front working together to project my innermost thoughts on my face.

4.) Strange-sounding words. I use words a lot, whether I’m speaking or typing them, every day of my life. Every once in a while, a word will strike me as sounding completely weird, even if it’s a word I commonly use. “Purple,” for instance. Say it out loud: Purr-poll. It sounds weird, right? Or how about scissors? Or elbow? Who came up with these words? I know there’s a ton of information out there about word origins and language etiology, but I’m too lazy to delve very deeply into that. I’d rather ponder the sound of the words that happen to hit the oddball button in my brain. Really, who decided that thing protruding off someone’s face would be called a “nose?” Why not a zucchini? Why is a monkey not called a flibberdyjib? Who’s to say that’s not a perfectly acceptable classification of a primate? Some words just make sense, like “bathtub.” It’s a tub. You take a bath in it. Easy enough. But how about “squiggle?” That doesn’t even sound real. Not to mention all of the bizarre language I come across in the medical records I often dissect at work. Even the most basic terms, like “kidney,” can sound funny if you say them over and over. But how about “nodule,” “alveoli,” “duodenum,” “mucosa,” “thalamus,” or even “ankle?” Now that’s a mouthful of strangeness.

5.) Doing things to tell your grandkids about. This, apparently, has become a justifiable reason for people to act like morons. They want to tell their grandkids about the time they did something stupid, weird, or reckless, even though 99% of the people who say this are young and don’t have grandkids. “Hoooeeee, walking around the grocery store wearing panty hose over my head and my skirt tucked into my underpants sure is something I’ll tell my grandkids about!” Just the other day I saw a story on the news about a couple who got married at a White Castle after they entered a contest and “won” the glorious event as their prize. The bride was interviewed after the greasy nuptials took place, and what did she say when asked why in God’s name she wanted to get married in a White Castle? “Well, this is something to tell my grandkids about! *tee-hee!*” No. I’m sorry, but really, it isn’t. Shooting down a Japanese fighter pilot during a dogfight in World War II is something to tell your grandkids about. Rescuing someone from a house fire is something to tell your grandkids about. Finding $8 million in a box buried in the dessert is something to tell your grandkids about. Besides, what if these people never have grandkids? Maybe they’re infertile. Maybe they’ll have kids and their kids are infertile. Maybe their grandkids won’t speak to them because they don’t want to be associated with ridiculous nitwits. Then to whom are they going to tell all their idiocy-laced stories?

6.) Mattress and furniture sales on obscure holidays. Since when did President’s Day mean it was time to replace your mattress? And why does Arbor Day mean it’s time to go shopping for new furniture? (Now there’s a great idea, celebrate the grandeur and environmental benefits of trees by purchasing a solid wood curio cabinet.) It makes no sense to me, but it happens every Columbus Day, Labor Day, Veteran’s Day, MLK Day, Memorial Day, and 4th of July. Signs with “SALE! LOWEST PRICES OF THE SEASON!” are plastered on furniture stores across the nation. TV commercials with people jumping on beds and a shady-looking salesman talking about their 700-year interest-free financing blare out of every boob tube in the United States. When did this start? Don’t people need mattresses and furniture at other times of the year, too? Perhaps it’s because many Americans have a day off due to these holidays and many spend it wandering around shopping malls and megastores. But don’t at least some of these holidays have an actual, real meaning to them to be observed? I guess those who do choose to observe the holidays can at least do so comfortably from their newly purchased Tempurpedic.

7.) Jeans sizes. More specifically, the disparity of sizing systems between women’s and men’s jeans. Guys have it WAY too easy on this one. Seriously, to buy a pair of guys’ jeans, you have to know two things: your waist size and your inseam length. Done! Find the pair you like, look at the sticker showing the measurements, pick out the pair of 32x36es that you need, and your shopping trip is complete. Women don’t have it that easy. We have to deal with a completely arbitrary sizing system that really makes no sense. You have a 30-inch waist and 38-inch hips? Then you probably wear a size 8. Or it could be a size 10. And that’s only at Eddie Bauer. At Old Navy, you’re a size 16, at the Gap you’re a 12, and don’t even ask me about J.Crew’s sizing because I’m pretty sure it requires a calculator. Then you have to figure out if you’re tall or petite, regular or long, curvy or boxy, slightly curvy or maybe boxy with a hint of muffin top. And there’s the ever perplexing question of stretch or no stretch? Too much and the jeans cut off the circulation to your femoral artery. Too little or none at all and they leave you with baggy butt syndrome. It’s insane. And let me tell you, short people have it harder than just about everyone else. I know because I was blessed with short, stumpy legs for which apparently no retailer on earth makes jeans with the appropriate length. I usually end up walking off the ends of my jeans as they bag over my shoes because they’re four inches too long. And no matter what anyone tells me, I’ll never have my jeans hemmed. They just don’t look right when they’re hemmed. In a world where fairness and justice always prevail, women would have the same or a similar sizing system for jeans as men and we wouldn’t have to try on 47,000 pairs before we can find the ONE pair that actually fits.

8.) The word “really.” I couldn’t lump this one in with No. 4. The word “really” is so complex that it has to have its own entry. You wouldn’t think one little word could have so many different meanings, but it does. And it’s all based on the way it’s said. The location of inflection when saying the word “really” can completely change its definition. For example, saying “really” with your voice going up in pitch on the last syllable turns it into a statement of disbelief or confusion. “I just pulled a six-inch cockroach out of my ear canal,” someone might say to you. If you reply with “really” and put the emphasis and pitch increase on the last syllable, it means, “Are you serious?” or “I had no idea that was possible!” or “I want to get away from you as quickly as I can, but I’m trying soooooo hard to be polite right now.” Change the inflection and “really” takes on a whole new meaning. Someone says, “We’re going to get married and live happily ever after,” and you reply with a “really” that is flat across both syllables with a little bit of gruff emphasis on the “rea,” that means, “Yeah, right” or “You’re a liar.” The message comes across even more clearly if you add one raised eyebrow. When you put some force behind your “really” and say it quickly with a look of disgust on your face, it’s a sure sign that your “really” is an expression of annoyance or exasperation. Like when I stand in front of the copier at work as it eats and mangles the pages I’ve put into the feeder, and I say, “Really, copier? Really? You have to eat every single page and then get a paper jam in your nether regions that I now have to fish out with my bare hands? Really?” In this instance, “really” can also be used interchangeably with the word “seriously.” A furrowed brow and lip snarl can also be added for extra annoying situations. I never realized how often I say “really” until I started thinking about it the other day. I say it a lot. I think I’ve said it about 36 times in this blog. It’s a handy little word. Really.

So there you have it. A brief look at the inner workings of my sometimes exhausted brain. I hope I didn’t scare too many readers away. If I could only harness the energy I expend thinking about useless and random things, maybe I could…oh who am I kidding? I’d still think about useless and random things. That’s just the way it is up there in my head.  

Monday, January 28, 2013

Now that my singleton status has surpassed the one-year mark, I’m getting asked the obligatory question “When are you going to start dating again?” more and more. My normal reaction is to cringe slightly, but answer trying to sound as polite as possible with, “Oh, I’m not sure” while looking for a dark hole in which to crawl. It’s the elephant that follows me from room to room that most people seem tired of trying to avoid, instead inviting the pachyderm to sit in my lap and start trumpeting in my face “It’s time to get back out there!”

The idea of dating again quite frankly sends chills down my spine. The last time I went on an actual date, I was 19 years old and a junior in college. I’m 33 now, and after wasting almost 13 years on the wrong person, things are just a tad bit different. I feel like I don’t have the slightest clue how to even go about it, let alone be successful and find that one person meant for me in a sea of seven billion humans currently roaming the planet. I suppose I can knock that number down by at least half, eliminating the female population of the world. Then I can eliminate a couple more billion when I exclude children and the elderly, getting me down to a much more manageable number of around two billion. Take out the marrieds, eliminate geographical extremes, and cross any Chicago Blackhawks or Detroit Redwings fans off the list, and I figure I’m looking at about half a billion possibilities. Good thing most of my weekends are free from now until the end of time. It’s not so much the massive number that’s so intimidating; it’s the undeniable fact that so many of the people in the available group are whackjobs, psychos, nutbags, and assholes. How in God’s name do you weed those people out, or better yet, avoid them completely when you re-enter the dating world after a 14-year absence? It makes me long slightly for the days of “The Scarlet Letter” when people could be publicly branded for the whole world to see. I’d definitely be on board for some kind of law that requires jerks and weirdos to wear a light-up flashing button declaring who they really are. This button would be popular: “Hello, ladies! I seem nice, but I’m really a condescending douche bag!” Or how about, “Greetings, single women! I’m a worthless loser who can’t support myself! Can you please make my next car payment?”

I realize there are (probably) genuinely good, nice people out there; however, I’m certain they’re outnumbered by jagweeds, and finding them most likely will require work that can often be frustrating, disappointing, and discouraging. So where and how do I begin? Many people have offered the suggestion of online dating sites. I understand this is the digital age. Computers are the way of the world today and it’s more common to communicate by text messages than actual person-to-person, or at least voice-to-voice conversations. But the idea of creating a profile and posting it online for all the world to see is terrifying to me. I mean, let’s face it. It’s a lot easier for some 400-pound sexual deviant to create a whole different persona and post it online to fool people than it is for him to trick someone in person. I’ve been told repeatedly about couples who met online, are now married, and will live happily ever after for the rest of their lives, so I’m completely aware that it really can happen. But, just last week, I also came across a news article about a woman who is suing after meeting, *AND DATING*, a psychopath she met on the site. When she tried to break off the fledgling relationship, her creepy “match” came to her home, stabbed her 10 times with a butcher knife and when the blade broke, for good measure he stomped on her skull a few times, eventually leaving her lying on her garage floor near death. When the psycho was arrested, he admitted to murdering another woman that he also met on Oh, where do I sign up? Now if that’s not an exciting way to spend a Saturday night, well I don’t know what is! I just don’t think online dating is for me, at least not yet. I admittedly, and somewhat guiltily, hold the notion that online dating carries with it just a whiff of desperation. I know, I know. It’s an unfair stigma, and I’m absolutely not trying to disparage anyone who is or has been a member of an online dating site. Maybe I’ll come around to it eventually, but I’m just not there yet.

I guess one positive aspect of online dating is that it’s a centralized location, so to speak, to meet lots of different people. That’s something I have a hard time with as an adult. When I was in school, I had no problem meeting people and the abundance of them were single and available. Now, my little world has shrunk considerably and consists mostly of the small law office in which I work, home, and the weekly trip to the grocery store or Walmart. (Have you seen the website Enough said.) I don’t get out a whole lot. I don’t drink and therefore don’t go to bars. I’m much more of an introverted homebody than an outgoing reveler, and I’m perfectly content to be snuggled on the couch in my PJs watching an episode of “Downton Abbey.” (Side note: I am completely addicted to this show. I could sit and watch it for 10 hours straight every single day if there were enough new episodes. Who knew PBS offered such uh-may-zing greatness besides “Sesame Street” and Ken Burns’ “The Civil War?” Those Brits are onto something.) I don’t often find myself in situations where I’m meeting a large number of new people, and even when I do, I often make myself fade into the background until it’s time to go home. I hate to be the center of attention. I hate to be under a spotlight. I took years of piano lessons as a kid and never did I become comfortable with anyone listening to or watching me play, even my parents. I just don’t put myself out there, and I’m not usually the one to approach someone else. I guess this goes back to my last blog about opening myself up and trying new things, meeting new people. I am going to try, I really am. But there’s 33 years’ worth of shell to get through, so it’s going to be tough.

Maybe I’m making a bigger deal out of it than it really is, but attempting to date again seems like a big mountain to climb. Like trying to scale Mt. Everest wearing flip flops. And to start again at my age seems almost impossible. I’m not saying I’m old, (really, I’m not old!), but I’m in a weird age bracket for dating. Everyone I know who’s in their 30s is either engaged or already married, raising their young families, living in so-called bliss. I’ve already been through dealing with a late 20-something going nutso during a quarter-life crisis, and I’d much prefer not to do that again. Maybe I should just crawl in a cave until my 40s when half of those happily marrieds I know start to get divorced. Ugh, I don’t know what the answer is. It’s just too freaking complicated. Then throw the family, career, financial responsibility factors in there and it’s bordering on nightmarish. I remember when my very first boyfriend asked me out when I was a 14-year-old high school freshman. He literally passed me a note in between periods in the band room that said, “Will you go out with me?” and even had little boxes with “yes” and “no” written above them for me to provide my answer. I checked “yes,” and that was that. Done! Hmpf. I wish it was that simple again.

I do want to date again, and I think I’m ready, although I won’t ever know if I’m really ready until it’s happening. And I will never discourage those around me from asking me repeatedly when it’s going to happen. Those questions just might be the push I need to get me moving forward. Besides, I know that when asked, they’re well-intentioned inquiries from people who just want me to be happy. I’ve been told to make a list of priorities that I want in someone I might date. Right now, there’s only one thing on that list: No Assholes. It’s broad and vague, but it covers a lot of ground. I guess I do have more to add to the list, but I feel like I shouldn’t be too terribly specific. I could definitively add No Smokers because smoking is just an absolute deal breaker for me. They have to be able to take care of themselves and financially support themselves because I’m no one’s mommy, maid, cook, or bank. The amount of money they have doesn’t matter to me, just as long as they’re self-sufficient. I don’t care about social status. I don’t care what kind of car they drive. I have my own preferences when it comes to looks, but honestly physical traits rank much, much lower on the priority list than the way they treat me and treat my family. Which brings me to another important list item – they have to pass my family’s sniff test, which will probably be much more grueling than my own. I guess what matters most to me is that the person I end up dating treats me well, as an equal, with respect and dignity. The rest is mostly superficial (except the smoking thing. Just can’t do it.)

So, maybe dating again is in the cards for me in the near future. Maybe it isn’t. I think I’ll just take things as they come and see what happens. The thought of it certainly makes me nervous. It makes me cautious. The last thing in the world I want is to go through a heartbreak again like I did a year ago. I don’t know if I could withstand it. But I also don’t want to end up a spinster who only has her 45 cats to talk to. And I don’t want to end up like the infamous “Cathy” of comic strip fame, desperately and constantly seeking a date and shouting “ACK!” at everyone. As long as I keep my wits about me and my head on straight and level, I think I’ll be ok. Maybe it’s time I found out.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

I usually don’t make New Year’s resolutions every time January 1 rolls around. To me, resolutions are little more than exercises in futility, frustration, and disappointment. I start out with the best intentions but rarely follow through with whatever I’ve promised to accomplish by the next December 31. Some of my past resolutions have been as cliché as you can possibly get: lose weight, eat healthier, be more financially responsible, go to bed earlier and get more sleep, at least on work nights. By the end of the year, I’m five pounds heavier, stuffing my face with Christmas cookies, broke, and exhausted from staying up too late every night playing far too many games of Words With Friends. So a while back I made a New Year’s resolution not to make any more New Year’s resolutions. This is one I actually found success with, until this year when I decided to make two. Eh, well, maybe it’s a resolution I’ll actually be glad I broke.

My first resolution is to try and be more open to new things, and the term “things” is all-encompassing. I’m vowing to open myself up to new experiences, new food, new people, new topics to learn about, and anything else new that happens to cross my path. I’m going to try saying “yes” more and stop saying “no” so often. The only exception I’m adding to this is anything that has to do with snakes. If someone asks me if I’d like to hold a Burmese python or make a visit to the reptile house at the local zoo, my answer will be an automatic and emphatic “NO,” as it always has been. I mean I’m not looking to make this a foray into insanity. But at this moment in time, if someone asked me to go sky diving with them, I think I would say yes despite the fact that I have a serious fear of heights, am not particularly fond of flying, and not really interested in testing the possibility of dying by way of crashing to the earth at 120 miles per hour and becoming little more than a splatter on the ground. I would at least consider it, though, and if I’m not given enough time to thoroughly think it through, I’d probably go for it. I won’t know if I don’t like something until I’ve tried it, right? Or until I’m squished onto the ground, flattened like a pancake. But at that point, I most likely won’t know the difference anyway.

I want to try making my palette a little more adventurous, which shouldn’t be that hard considering I’m one of the pickiest eaters to ever live. I’m trying to work up the nerve to eat fish, which I’m sure sounds entirely lame to many of you who have no qualms about consuming the scaly, slimy, creepy creatures. The furthest I’ll go into the pescatarian world is canned tuna or a nice piece of salmon that doesn’t have the slightest hint of fishiness to it. I’d like to figure out how to branch out a little bit, though, if for no other reason than the health benefits of eating fish more often. If I could find a piece of fish that looks, tastes, feels, and smells like chicken, I’d be golden. Chicken I can handle. Maybe it will just be a matter of getting past that first bite and then telling myself, “It’s not so bad…really! Just Swallow! Hurry up, get some water and wash it down!” But God help me if anyone ever puts a plate down in front of me with a fully intact cooked fish on it complete with tail, fins, scales, and eyeballs staring up at me and piercing my soul with its silent cry of “Please don’t eat me!” This part of my resolution will be broken before I even pick up a fork.

I’m also going to try opening myself up to new people as much as possible over this next year, even if it’s something as small as starting a conversation with a stranger in line at Walmart. I’ve kept myself pretty closed off for a long time now, and it might be time to start making some cracks in those walls I’ve spent so much time building up. I consider myself to be an introvert, much happier to be curled up with a book and a blanket than in a room full of people. But that sure can get lonely sometimes. So if the opportunity presents itself to start a new friendship or to rekindle an old one, I’m going to take it. It doesn’t mean I’ll turn into a social butterfly with tons of people around me all the time. That’s something I’ll never be simply because it’s not in my personality. But if I can widen my circle by at least a couple people, well, that might not be so bad.

This resolution is going to be a challenge for me, for sure. I’m a creature of habit. I don’t just have a routine, I thrive on a routine and without one, I turn into a scatterbrained loon. Almost everything I do is part of a routine, all the way down to which shoe I put on first when I’m getting dressed (it’s the right one, just in case you were wondering) and what time I go pee during the day while I’m at work. My weekdays generally consist of getting up, going to work, going to the gym (ok, ok, this isn’t every weekday, only when I can’t come up with a good excuse not to go), going home, feeding the dog and cat, feeding myself, watching some TV, getting ready for work the next day, going to bed, and resting up for the cycle to start all over again when my alarm is screeching and I hit snooze four or five times, just like I do every morning. It’s a routine that I haven’t altered very much over the years, and while it works for me and allows me to function, it can get a little monotonous sometimes. I don’t usually deal all that well when a wrench is thrown in there unexpectedly, kind of like a robot that has Kool-Aid thrown onto its circuit board – lots of squealing and smoke as the components go into full meltdown. So, I’m going to work on being a little more flexible, a little less rigid, and a little more accepting of new and different things even if they might throw off my normal every day routine. The older I get, the more I’ve learned that change isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, it can have some pretty great consequences if you can just accept it and let it happen.

My second resolution is to listen to my heart more instead of always listening only to my head. I’m a thinker, an analyzer, a researcher, a planner. If a problem presents itself, my first reaction is to find the solution. To figure it out. To break it down piece by piece and analyze every little part of it until I have the answer. I look at it from every possible side until I have a clearer picture of what it is and how to conquer it. I’m not just a thinker, I’m an overthinker. The hamster inside my head rarely gets a break from running on that little wheel of his. There are some days when I’d love nothing more than to shoot that hamster with a tranquilizer dart. I also carry around a healthy dose of skepticism at all times, which I tend to apply to anything and everything, including most people. When someone does or says something – anything, really – my brain goes into overdrive trying to calculate his or her motives, figure out if he or she is being genuine, and detect even the slightest hint of deception. On the surface, it sounds like a serious case of paranoia, but I see it more as a mode of self-preservation. Trust is not something I hand out willy nilly. It most certainly has to be earned, but I realize that not trusting anyone creates an awful lot of isolation. So, I’m trying to find a healthy balance and that’s where listening to my heart comes in.

I have a strong gut instinct, the sixth sense that throws up red flags when something seems off, or sparks a little bit of hope when something seems right. My problem is that oftentimes I don’t listen to my gut, to my heart. My brain kicks in and starts doing its thing, analyzing and over-thinking every little detail and soon enough its whirring gets so loud that my instinct is drown out completely. Not listening to my gut has led me into heartache, disappointment, and frustration more than once. My heart is telling me, “Something isn’t right here, proceed with caution,” while my brain is saying, “I’ve done some quick calculations and it’s fine, there’s nothing wrong here.” I trick myself into believing what my brain says and dismiss completely what my heart says. On the other hand, I can’t think of a single time when I’ve just given in and followed that gut instinct and been let down. Not one. Maybe it’s because I hardly ever do it, so my frame of reference is a little skewed. I need to analyze this, to pick it apart and figure out what the solution is…See? There I go again. I can’t even write a simple blog without that damn hamster running amok.

In any case, that’s my goal, to find the in between and not to overthink everything. Not to think myself out of an opportunity, a chance, or an experience when my gut is telling me to just let go and give it a try. Like the first resolution, this one is definitely going to be a challenge and I have a feeling my skeptical brain won’t back off without a fight. But, I’m going to work on it and I’ll see how it goes. Come December 31, I might be just as frustrated and disappointed as I have been with past resolutions, but for whatever reason, this time my gut is telling me I won’t be. I think I’ll listen to it this time.            

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I’ve noticed a trend in the last few days of people using the entire month of November to give thanks and count their blessings. Rather than just saying what they’re thankful for on Thanksgiving Day, they list one thing every day of the month for which they are grateful. It’s a nice change of pace, and something I think I should get on board with. Now, I know myself well enough to realize that I would probably forget to do this every day. Then I would get behind. Then I would try to play catch up and squeeze four days’ worth of thanks into one, and worry more about the quantity than the quality. Who needs that kind of stress? So I’m going to make it easier on myself and count my blessings all at once in this handy dandy blog. Maybe not exactly 30 things, but as much as I can think of. I have a lot to be grateful for, and for that I am grateful. Some things on my list might seem a little trivial. Some might seem a little obscure. Some might seem a little too obvious. But everything is something for which I’m incredibly thankful. So, here it goes!

I am thankful for:

1.) My pets. My dog, Sam, and my cat, Libby, are most definitely a part of my family. They both have their own distinct personalities and I don’t think I could possibly love them any more than I already do. Sam is the most stubborn, independent little dog I’ve ever known, but he’s also sweet and undeniably adorable. Libby is a mass of fur and love, the most patient cat in the world who humors me when I make her wear Halloween costumes or scoop her up in yet another hug. All she asks for in return is a warm lap to sit in and food. Lots of food. They’re both getting older, and I realize the day will come when they aren’t with me anymore. Hopefully it will be later rather than sooner, but in the meantime, I will be grateful for every day I have them in my life.

2.) My job. I love what I do. Being a paralegal is a great fit for me, mostly because a day seldom goes by when I don’t learn something new. Ask me about utility poles, subdural hematomas, breeze conveyors in a steel mill, colon cancer, tension pneumothoraxes, or mine subsidence – all stuff I’ve learned about through my work. It might sound boring, but most of it is pretty fascinating to me. Another big reason I’m grateful for my job is the people I work with. Many of them are like family to me and I’m glad and thankful that I get to see them five days a week.

3.) My “Jillian Michaels’ Yoga Meltdown” DVD. Yes, the name is ridiculous, but it’s also appropriate. By the end, I’m sweating so much I look like I’m melting. And possibly on the brink of death. But, it’s the first yoga workout I’ve found that doesn’t leave me annoyed at all the breathy talk about finding my center, imagining that my legs are growing out of my armpits, and positioning my sitting bones. It’s just straight-forward, agonizing aerobic yoga and I feel like I’ve actually accomplished something when I’m done. Don’t get me wrong, I still hate everything about it. But, it’s something that I can at least stick with because I’m seeing results and I’m getting better at it, slowly but surely. I still fall all over myself when I try to do the rolling side planks and I still wobble like a Weeble when I attempt holding the Warrior 3 pose, but it’s much less than the first time I took a stab at the workout, and any progress is good progress.

4.) Living in a country where I can vote for those who will lead it and then later on complain about what a terrible job they’re doing. There are places in this world where expressing your views about the government will get you thrown in jail or worse. I’m grateful to have the right to snarkily proclaim my disgust with every politician in the United States.

5.) My health. I don’t want to jinx anything, so I’ll just leave it at that.

6.) Seriously, it’s the most amazing website/retailer ever created. Need some shoelaces and don’t want to make a trip to the store? Go on and you’ll find any and every type of shoelace known to man in every length and color imaginable. Need groceries? Books? CDs? Furniture? Jewelry? A new fishing pole? A couple spoons? Tires? A washing machine? “Muppet Family Christmas” on VHS? A ceiling fan? Toothpaste? Shoes? Overalls? Toys? Musical instruments? Froot Loops? Toilet paper? Really, Amazon has all of this stuff and will deliver it right to your door, usually for free. It’s the second most magical place on earth, after Disney World, of course. Speaking of which…

7.) Disney World. It’s my favorite place on the planet. Many people think I’m nuts and look at me like I’ve sprouted a third eye when I tell them I’m going back. Again. But, most of those people have never been and have no idea how wonderful it is. I’m not sure I can even explain why I love it so much, I just do. It’s the only place on earth that I don’t really worry about anything, where I can forget about all the crap and stress of the real world, at least for a few days. I feel like a kid again when I’m there, and no matter how many times I visit, the joy and giddiness I feel at Disney World never goes away. And those are two feelings I’ll never get enough of.

8.) My membership in the Disney Vacation Club. It’s the enabler to my addiction, the supplier of my fix. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to go to Disney World as often as I do – at least once, but usually twice a year. And if I do ever get the hankering to go somewhere else on vacation, the Disney Vacation Club offers access to accommodations all over the world, to cruises, and to guided tours in places like Egypt, China, and all over Europe. Becoming a member was one of the best decisions I’ve made and I only wish I had done it sooner.

9.) My car. Like I said in a previous blog, I love my little car. I’d be lost without it. Quite often I am lost with it, but that’s another story. I’m grateful for the independence it gives me to get wherever I need to go whenever I need to get there. I live in an area where mass transit isn’t widely available, and if I had to rely on the scary local buses with questionable sanitary conditions and frighteningly oblivious drivers, I’d be downright miserable.

10.) Hand sanitizer. Whoever came up with hand sanitizer AND put it in convenient little pocket packs should be nominated for sainthood. I carry it with me everywhere I go and use it obsessively, especially after pushing shopping carts, filling up my car with gas, or touching door handles and handrails. I suffer from a slight case of germaphobia and I absolutely hate being sick. Anytime I hear someone sneeze or cough within a 10-foot radius of where I’m standing, I whip out the hand sanitizer, squeeze a little in my palm, and rub my hands together like Mr. Burns of “The Simpsons,” thinking to myself “Eeeeexcellent. Dead germs.” If I could squirt hand sanitizer up my nose and in my eyes, or coat the inside of my mouth with it, I would if it meant it would zap any germ or bacteria that came near the orifices in my face. I'm aware there are recent reports that overusing hand sanitizer is not good for you and really doesn’t do much to keep you healthy, but I choose to live in my rubbing alcohol-coated bubble of protection, even if it is just a placebo.

11.) My new iPhone. Yes, I have officially taken the giant leap into the year 2007 and joined the rest of humanity in the technological wonder world that is the iPhone. I received one this year as an early birthday present, and it only took about 10 minutes before I was addicted. It’s absolutely amazing all the things this little electronic rectangle can do. I now gladly take my lumps with a side of humble pie when I hear “told you so” from all the people who advised me I should become an iPhone user despite my stubborn, indignant stance that I didn’t need it. Oh, how wrong I was.

12.) On a similar note, my iPod. I still have my first generation video iPod that I received as a gift long, long ago. It has served me well for many years and while it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of my iPhone, it does contain something very important to me – my music. It provides pleasant background noise that I need so very much in my office at work every day. It makes raking leaves and rotting black walnuts in my back yard not so much of a chore. It makes painting my living room much more enjoyable as I sing along to the songs it shuffles through. My iPod contains the soundtrack to my life, holding songs that I loved as a kid through songs that I just discovered I love yesterday. Music makes everything better, and nothing can affect my mood like an upbeat song or a sad, sappy tune.

13.) On another similar note, my favorite bands “Jack’s Mannequin” and “Something Corporate.” They share the same lead singer, musical genius Andrew McMahon, and unfortunately are both now defunct. But their songs live on, thankfully. Their music is magical – piano punk rock – and I’ve never found lyrics that I relate to more than those written by Andrew McMahon. His music has made me happy, made me sad, made me hopeful, inspired me, comforted me, energized me, and healed me. It doesn’t get much better than that.

14.) My KitchenAid stand mixer. I love to bake and this thing makes it so much easier. My cookies and those who eat them thank you for your marvelous invention, KitchenAid.

15.) Being able to read and write. This really is something that I take for granted every day, but the fact is that illiteracy is real and affects many people. I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t read or especially if I couldn’t write. Between my sister and me, I got the bulk of the language brain power and she got ALL of the numerical brain power. Numbers and I do not get along. Numbers are bullies who try to push me around and make me feel stupid, especially the number 9. “Try to subtract me from something, I dare you!” 9 taunts me. “Whoa there, Nelly! Don’t you have to carry something? Where you gonna carry it to? Didn’t you forget to cross something out? What’s the answer? Wrong! Ha ha, Dummy!” Words, on the other hand, nurture me, comfort me, and take me into their warm embrace saying, “Come with us, we love you! And you don’t need a calculator to figure us out.”     

16.) Having access to fresh, nutritious food and clean water. Seriously, how many of us think about how lucky we are when we go to the grocery store? I know I don’t, but I should. Far too many people are starving, suffering from diseases that are a direct result of drinking contaminated water, and don’t have many options when it comes to feeding themselves. I live in a world where I have so many options that I often have a hard time choosing what I want to eat. Or I complain about the produce selection not being fresh enough. What a wonderful problem to have! I know that every day I take for granted the fact that I not only have running water in several places in my home, but it’s clean, safe water I can drink without worrying about getting dysentery (even if it does come from the Mississippi River). Being grateful for this is something I really need to work on.

17.) Facebook. This is yet another technological marvel I refused to participate in for years. I always said, “Anyone who I want to find me already knows where I am.” Well, as it turns out, that wasn’t entirely true. I finally broke down and joined Facebook this year, and it’s pretty awesome! Because of Facebook, I’ve reconnected with friends that I hadn’t talked to in years. It’s brought more great people into my life, which I needed after isolating myself for far too long. I feel inclined to hang my head in shame as I mark this down as another X in the “I was wrong” column on my “I should have listened” life chart. 

18.) “Jeopardy.” This one might seem dumb, but I absolutely LOVE this show. Where else can you learn about Shakespeare, world capitals, bodies of water, marsupials, and the American Revolution all in the span of 30 minutes? I love trivia. I have a storage bank in my brain that’s full of nothing but useless information that might only come in handy once in a lifetime. But I still like filling that bank. Most of it is short-term deposits – it’s in and out in a matter of seconds. But every once in a while something sticks and usually finds its way to my vocal cords during random conversation. “I went to the zoo the other day and saw the orangutans,” someone might say.  *cue up Jeopardy useless information database* “Oh, really? Did they make any noise? An adult male orangutan can make a call that can be heard a mile away and last for up to 5 minutes,” I might spew out. “Weirdo,” the other person mutters.   

19.) This website is fantastic. It’s actually a blog written by a woman in New York (I think) who posts different recipes several times a week. They’re all low fat and surprisingly healthy, but still taste delicious. I’ve tried about 10 recipes from Skinnytaste so far and have loved everything I’ve made, which is surprising because I always thought I was allergic to healthy food. The chicken enchiladas, grilled pesto shrimp, and chocolate strawberry-stuffed crepes – let me say that again: chocolate strawberry-stuffed crepes – are my favorites so far. And I don’t feel guilty eating any of it! Bonus!

20.) Health insurance. Yes, it’s a screwed up shambles in this country, but it’s a necessary evil and I’m very thankful I have it. I’ve seen first-hand what happens when you need health insurance and don’t have it, and it’s not pretty. I haven’t needed mine too often over the years (excuse me while I go find some wood to knock on…), but if and when I do, it’s comforting to know that it’s available to me, even if it does cost an arm and a leg.

21.) Autumn. It’s my favorite season and has been for as long as I can remember. I love the cooler weather, the changing leaves, the anticipation of the holidays to come, the warm comfort food, the sweaters, the blankets, and the overall coziness of this time of year. I’m grateful to live somewhere that experiences the change in seasons and that autumn is among them.

22.) Makeup. I admit this one is kind of silly. But the way I see it, wearing make-up is one of the perks of being a girl – a trade-off for some of the unpleasantness we’re saddled with in life. I don’t wear much makeup, actually, but I like being able to have the option to if I so choose. Let’s face it: it’s weird for men to wear makeup (except for Robert Smith of The Cure and Johnny Depp who can rock eyeliner like nobody’s business). That’s probably not fair, but it’s true. It would be weird for a man to show up at work one day covered in foundation, blush, mascara, and lipstick. In fact, that might make him a drag queen. But women can wear as much make up as they want and it’s not considered weird. Garish and tacky, yes, but not really weird. Trust me, on the days I wake up with a zit right in the middle of my chin that looks like a scale replica of Mount Kilauea, I’m grateful to be able to spackle a blob of concealer over that bad boy.  

23.) Walgreens. I love Walgreens. If Walgreens sold bananas, I probably wouldn’t shop anywhere else. (Well, except Amazon.) They have everything and they’re everywhere. In my area, you can’t throw a rock without hitting at least two Walgreens stores. What’s even better for me is that I have a Walgreens about five minutes from my house that’s not only close by, but right smack dab in the middle of my route between home and work. When I’m in need of Mickey Mouse bandaids, it just takes a five-minute stop at Walgreens on my way home and I’m good to go. Dog treats? Walgreens. Lip balm? Walgreens. Aspirin? Walgreens. Some bizarre “As Seen on TV” gadget I just have to have? Walgreens. It’s heaven on earth, I tell you.

24.) Friends. They just make life better, whether they’re someone I see every day at work or someone who lives too far away in Chicago or Oklahoma; someone who makes me laugh ‘til I cry, or lets me cry ‘til I laugh. I’m grateful for them all, no matter how small or big a part they have in my everyday life.

25.) Family. I saved the best, and most important, for last. I wouldn’t be able to make it through this life with my sanity intact without my family. They are my life force, my supporters, my cheerleaders, my teachers, my everything. I don’t have a picture-perfect family, but the one I do have is perfect for me. I’m forever thankful to have a group of people who I know without a shadow of a doubt I can count on at any time for anything. Of all the blessings in my life, this is the biggest and the one I am most grateful for.

I know I have even more things to be grateful for, and this list doesn’t cover every day in November, but I better stop here or else this blog entry will quickly turn into a pamphlet. "Giving Thanks and You: How to Stretch Your Turkey Day Bliss Over an Entire Month." Looking over this list, it’s easy to see I’m a pretty lucky gal and I have a lot to be thankful for, not just this month, but all the time.