SIXTEEN GRAHAM CRACKERS

In public, people often mask their emotions. They smile and say they are fine. They chat and then walk away.

Heather, Ellen and Tom do this.

And they always look to be the same. Steady ships sailing on the river of life.

 

The Heather I see at the grocery store is not the real Heather.

The real Heather’s boyfriend is becoming abusive. He hasn’t hit her yet, but he has jerked her arm so hard it hurt and shoved away from his car.

Heather fears she may be pregnant again. She can’t have this baby.

I would be a lousy mother, she thinks.

Heather cries and says, “I swore my first abortion would be my last one, but what else can I do?”

The Ellen I smile at during church is not the real Ellen.

The real Ellen is a cancer survivor. She lives every day fearing the disease will return.

Ellen’s husband has checked out. He comes home from work, eats dinner, and then falls asleep in his recliner watching reruns of NCIS.

The two of them exchange only four or five sentences a day.

Ellen cries and vows, “One day I’ll get the courage to leave him. I’ll find a man who understands my fear.”

The Tom I view standing on the sidewalk is not the real Tom.

The real Tom is seeing his psychiatrist later today to ask her to change his medications. He takes antidepressant and antianxiety pills, but they aren’t working.

Every morning, Tom’s first thought is to kill himself.

His job stinks and his wife has moved out. He lives in squalor. Trash litters the floors and furniture. The grass in his yard is eight inches tall but cutting the grass requires energy he does not have.

Tom cries and says, “Tomorrow I will clean the house and mow the grass. I’ll look for a better job. I’ll call my wife and ask her to meet me to talk.”

But when he wakes up the next morning, his first temptation is to kill himself.

Few people see the real Debbie. Everyone else sees my mask.

These few people know the intensity of my struggle with OCD.

An unstoppable, continuous loop of repetitive thoughts plays and replays inside my mind.

These thoughts push me to perform, organize, and count.

This morning, obeying my OCD urgings, I set out to wash both sides of every door inside the house.

My bed sat unmade and two piles of dirty clothes lay on the bathroom floor. My kitchen needed attention.

I cry and tell myself, “Only a stupid person washes doors when her housework and laundry are out of control. I am stupid.”

This sad thought drives me to the kitchen where I finish the last of the graham crackers.

My sister calls.

“How are you?” she asks.

“Awful,” I say.

“What are you doing?” she asks.

“I’m standing in the kitchen eating my 16th graham cracker.”

“Sixteen graham crackers will never be enough,” she says.

She is right.

Food, no matter how much of it I eat, cannot fix what is wrong with me.

 

Food is not the solution to my problem.

An abortion is not the solution to Heather’s problem.

Leaving her husband and finding a new mate is not the solution to Ellen’s problem.

Suicide is not the solution to Tom’s problem.

I am thankful my sister cares about me.

She and other family members and  friends encourage me. They check often to see how I am doing.

I am stronger because they care.

I wonder.

Who cares about Heather, Ellen and Tom?

 

 

 

 

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YOU’RE WELCOME

Have you ever inserted yourself into a group without an invitation?

At the end of my junior year in college, I needed a roommate for the next year. My current roommate had decided not to return, and my other friends had roommates.

Two girls I knew casually lived on my dorm floor in a room with three beds.

I asked if I could share their room.

These girls were Pam and Patti Sanders, cousins from Paducah, Kentucky.

If they were unhappy getting a new roommate, they didn’t let me know.

Their welcome was a blessed relief.

Forty-plus years later, I remember their kindness.

Compare Patti and Pam’s welcome to this one.

I accepted a medical transcriptionist position at a hospital. On my first day, I faced an unwelcoming committee of one.

As I settled into my new work area, the transcriptionist sitting nearest me said, “You can call that your chair if you want to, but that will always be Jackie’s chair.”

Jackie, the former chair occupant, had left her position to move to another state.

My new coworker’s comment stung.

Entrances are hard. Walking into a party solo is awkward for single people. A student enters a new school with dread. New hires to a workplace crave acceptance. Visitors to a church fear rejection.

One Sunday our minister interviewed, in front of the congregation, four people who attend church nowhere. He asked them why they stay away from church.

One turnoff, they said, was the cool reception they received when they visited a church.

That motivated me, after the service, to approach a couple sitting in front of me. I introduced myself and asked if they were visitors.

“No,” one of them said. “We have been members for 20 years.”

(We attend a large church.)

They didn’t need a welcome, but our conversation was pleasant and embarrassed no one.

Relaxed partygoers do not intentionally shun uncomfortable guests. They eat, drink and mix with friends and assume everyone else is doing the same.

Students established in a school do not intend to avoid new students. They are focused on passing calculus or having a date to the prom.

The unwelcoming woman at my new job didn’t make the chair remark because she wanted to hurt me. She spoke out of her sadness over losing her friend.

Church members who fail to interact with visitors are not unkind people. They are busy people. Distractions keep them from showing visitors a warm reception.

Offering welcomes can be costly.

Patti and Pam’s welcome cost them one-third of their living space.

For relaxed partygoers, students, coworkers, and church members, the cost is less tangible.

It may require them to leave their comfort zones, endure mild inconvenience, and risk rejection.

They must take their focus off themselves and place it on someone else.

Those who master this graceful art leave blessed people in their wake.

One partygoer, one student, one coworker, or one church member can make a difference.

Look for opportunities to be that person.

SQUEAKING ALONG

Your home is a complex machine that requires regular oiling for optimum performance.

As a homemaker, I’ve squeaked along for over 40 years.

Like a Farmers Insurance agent, “I know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two.”

Allow me to share a bit of my knowledge.

This piece is practical, not fanciful or filled with sentiment. I will not advise you to hug your kids every day and tell your husband every morning you love him. I assume you do those things.

Suggestion 1

When you buy totes for storage, buy transparent ones. You can tell at a glance what is inside those totes.

Yes, you can label nontransparent totes and cardboard boxes. At this moment, millions of such mystery containers sit on closet shelves and garage floors with their labels turned stubbornly toward the wall.

Suggestion 2

Buy gasoline and toilet paper before you need them. You cannot go without these essentials.

Suggestion 3

Decide early in the day what your dinner plans are. Deciding early prevents last-minute panic and gives you time to go to the store or thaw frozen foods.

Don’t subject yourself and your family to uninterrupted nights of fast-food dinners or Stouffers’ frozen ziti.

Suggestion 4

When you and the family go out to eat, decide before you leave the house where you will go. Don’t drive three miles south and realize you crave cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory, which requires driving north.

Suggestion 5

Don’t lie to yourself. If you have forever put off doing a task, admit you will not do it.

Then either resolve to live with the grimy windows and dusty bookshelves OR hire someone to do the job.

Choose the second option only if you can afford it. Don’t use the kids’ school lunch money to pay a gutter cleaner.

Suggestion 6

Clean up your own messes but do not presume to clean up messes left by other adults.

A few months ago, I tidied up Dan’s workspace around his computer. I threw away out-of-date tool catalogs, old maps from the late 1990s, and junk mail advertising special offers whose end dates had come and gone.

Dan had wanted to keep these things for reasons he stated but I can’t now remember.

One woman’s junk is another man’s treasure.

Suggestion 7

Always carry cash. Coins and bills are convenient when paying for small purchases such as a cup of frozen custard at Ritter’s or a 50-cent library fine.

Several years ago, my daughter (name withheld) paid for everything with her debit card. She then stuffed dozens of receipts into her wallet. Her wallet no longer zipped and became the size and shape of a boxing glove. Balancing her checkbook was a nightmare.

Carry twenty dollars, more or less.

Suggestion 8

Give yourself permission not to finish everything you start. If at one time you wanted to knit and now have a bathtub-size container filled with yarn, needles and patterns you will never use, get rid of them.

You’re too smart to hang on to useless things.

Suggestion 9

Open your mail while standing beside a trash can or recycling bin. That is where most of the pieces will go, so save yourself some steps.

Suggestion 10

This suggestion is based upon something my wise father-in-law said: Some decisions need to be made only once.

Here are four of my once-and-forever decisions:

  • I will go to church every week.
  • I and everyone else in my vehicle will wear a seatbelt.
  • I will not dogear a page in a book.
  • I will not give unsolicited advice.

Oops.

CALL THE MAN!

My husband is a do-it-yourself person. Few home-related projects exist that he will not tackle.

We moved nine years ago from a house we lived in for over 30 years. Both our children were born and grew up while we lived there. Leaving behind thousands of good memories was hard.

Dan pulled and/or dug up dozens of overgrown shrubs and bushes on that property. He then planted, pruned, fertilized and otherwise cared for new ones. He put a new roof on the house.

He replaced a water heater and well pump, painted and/or wallpapered every wall inside the house several times, and fixed toilets. He replaced floors and laid carpet and laminate flooring. He hung ceiling lights and fans.

He redesigned closets and built numberless shelves and cabinets. Whenever a thing broke, he fixed it himself.

He replaced a washer, dryer, refrigerator, well pump, and even an old oven that quit working the night before Thanksgiving.

He assembled bikes, skateboards, scooters, and basketball goals. He built trellises and flower boxes and landscaped the entire yard more than once. He unloaded tons of crushed stone. He planted and tended big gardens.

He single-handedly hung drywall on the garage ceiling.

Over the years, we made additions to our property several times: added a family room and a screened-in back porch and built a large two-car-plus size garage. We converted our old garage into a game room.

Dan did 90% of the work himself. (Dan says I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.)

Through trial and error, he became an experienced plumber, electrician, painter, drywall hanger, landscape artist, appliance repairman, carpenter, roofer, screener, and mechanic.

Dan resisted paying experts to do any of the work. When he did, he asked the workers to leave unfinished work he could do himself.

Dan accomplished these projects and dozens more while working as a full-time pharmacist.

We have now lived in our “new” house for nine years. Dan has completed the same tasks on this property.

Yesterday, I drove home to find him working at the back of our yard. Bushes, trees, briars, brambles, weeds, fallen branches, and every other growing thing shrouded him.

He emerged from his trimming, pulling, and chopping tasks, bleeding from many cuts and scrapes. Sweat soaked his shirt.

I studied this now 60-something-year-old man, and once again I marveled at his dogged determination to care for our property.

This man must start paying people to do this work, I thought.

“Dan,” I said to him, “Don’t you know we are on our way out?”

“What do you mean?” he said.

“We are both 65+ years old. God does not guarantee us one more day. We will not see many more years.”

“So?”

“So, it’s time for you to stop pushing your body so hard. No one will be critical of you if you work less.”

“You’ve more than established that you are not lazy. You have met the enemies (weeds, faulty wiring, leaky roofs, outdated home décor, worn out appliances, and cracked drywall) and mastered each one.”

“How am I supposed to defeat those enemies if I don’t do it myself?”

His question thrilled me. It gave me an opportunity to remind him of one of my favorite Andy Griffith episodes, Bargain Day.

Here is a summary.

Aunt Bea bought a side of beef from a discount butcher shop. After she got it home, her freezer stopped working. She was desperate to freeze her meat. Instead of calling a repairman to fix the freezer, she devised every crazy solution to her problem that only Mayberry residents can conceive.

She finally had to confess her folly to Andy, who told her to call the repairman.

Ever frugal, she refused.

With more force, Andy repeated, “Call the man!”

So, to answer Dan’s question about defeating homeowner enemies, I said, “Call someone to do the hard work. Then pay whatever he charges.”

“That’ll cost a fortune!”

“Call the man.”

“It is ridiculous to pay someone to do things I can do myself.”

“Call the man!”

“I’ll wait forever for someone to come.”

“Call the man!!”

“We’ll destroy our retirement savings!”

“Call the man!!!” I said. “Remember we’re on our way out.”

“Ahhh, Deb.”

“CALL THE MAN!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

NO, WE ARE NOT!

Dan and I grocery shop together. Each of us carries a shopping list and pushes a cart. We separate as we enter the store and meet again at the registers. It’s a time-efficient way to carry out a task.

Today Dan dropped me off at the store’s entrance because it was raining. He parked the car. Then we walked into the store.

There a young woman spoke to us.

“I knew you two were a couple!” she said. “You’re adorable!”

Now, hear me.

Our 16-month-old granddaughter is adorable.

Kittens and puppies are adorable.

Dan and I are not adorable.

Jessica Tandy is adorable in Driving Miss Daisy, as is Morgan Freeman.

Ed Asner’s character in Up is adorable, though crotchety. Helen Hayes is an icon for adorability.

Dan and I are years away from being adorable. I’ll thank people to recognize that.

Besides, who approaches strangers in a store to make trifling comments? I don’t.

I’m betting this woman never tells two 30-year-olds they are adorable.

Why was she comfortable telling us we were? Did she think we appreciated being reminded we are no longer young or middle-aged?

She saw we did not struggle to stand erectly. Neither of us used a motorized cart. I wasn’t wearing old-lady shoes. Dan had not pulled the waistband of his pants up under his armpits.

We are competent, independent, post middle-age adults. Both of us use smartphones and bank online. We navigate roundabouts, even dress ourselves.

Yet, people expect us, this unadorable couple, to accept sugar-coated, old-people comments with grace.

They wait for our “Why, thank you.” Then they watch us shuffle away, hoping we make it to our parked cars.

This woman should be glad I wasn’t carrying a cane.

After we finished shopping, Dan and I approached the registers to pay for our purchases.

Here another young woman smiled and asked, “Did you find everything you needed, Honey?”

I cringed.

Then, handing me my receipt, she said, “Thank you, Sweetie.” She made a point of lifting my gallon of milk into the cart for me.

Had it not been raining, I might have asked Dan, “Think we can get all this home on our skateboards?”

Business owners should train employees to be courteous but not coddling; professional, not patronizing.

Spare me the special treatment.

It will be worse this winter.

Well-meaning folks offering arms to us as we walk across icy parking lots. Neighbors asking if we need them to run our errands so we can avoid driving on snow-covered roads.

Not to mention those infernal reminders to bundle up, call if you need help, and don’t risk breaking a hip or getting the flu. It can be dangerous “for people your age.”

We are not adorable. We’re too young for such niceties.

God willing, we will one day be adorable.

Don’t rush us.

Unadorable Couple in Alaska July 2018

PRIDE GOES BEFORE DESTRUCTION

Since I am searching for part-time writing/editing work to do at home, I joined several job boards.

One board suggested I take tests to rate my skills. High test scores on an applicant’s Profile impress potential employers.

Sounds reasonable, I thought.

I opted to take the tests.

Tests for writing or editing included Spelling, Word Usage, Punctuation, Grammar, etc.

Cinches.

I began with the Spelling Test. Not only did I score 100%, but I completed the test faster than any other person did.

My confidence increased. I moved on to the Word Usage Test.

This test contained 40 sentences with blanks in them and several word choice options for each blank. The timer gave me 45 seconds to select a word, and that choice was final. I could not review my answers after I finished the test.

My hope of scoring 100% on this test dissolved by the time I completed five sentences. I approached panic by the time I completed ten.

In my defense, these were challenging word selections. No affect/effect, between/among, bring/take, can/may or other easy choices.

One test item required me to select the best word from these options: endless, everlasting, interminable, never-ending, timeless, eternal and unending.

In 45 seconds.

This was synonym nitpicking.

I scored in the 80-something percentile.

So now, beside my 100% rating in Spelling on my Profile, will appear an 80-something percentile rating in Word Usage.

Hoping to hone my writing skills, I bought ProWritingAid, an online editor and personal writing coach.

This program tests the quality of my writing based on these qualities: Style, Grammar, Readability, Overuse of Words, Clichés, Wordiness, Diction, Sentence Lengths and others.

Based upon its evaluation, ProWritingAid gives me an overall score and suggests specific improvements.

The first time I scanned this blog post with ProWritingAid, it assigned me a score of 68/100.

The writer of this post, it said, used too many words, lacked style, and didn’t vary her sentence lengths.

Admitting I am a not-as-good-as-I-thought-I-was writer stings.

Why?

Scoring high on a word usage test and meeting the standards of an electronic editor gain me nothing.

But my performance on them holds the power to make me either ecstatic or miserable.

Is it pride that causes me to aim for perfection?

Do I expect being a good writer to affirm my worth?

I sometimes ponder those unanswerable questions, but mostly I ponder issues like this one.

Should I write “I was sad, or I was melancholy?” Sad is too general, but melancholy is flowery.

I was disappointed?” No, disappointed is weak.

I was unhappy?” No, I was much more than unhappy.

I was crushed?” No, I’m not discussing pretzels.

“I was inconsolable? No, too many letters.

Then my scrutiny leads me to have this conversation:

“Hey, Dan, listen to this. Which sounds better?

“I was sad.”

“I was melancholy.”

“I was disappointed.”

“I was unhappy.”

I was crushed.”

“Or, I was inconsolable.

Dan:   “Don’t they all mean sad?”

Deb:    “Yes, but which one sounds best?”

Dan:   “Well, if you were sad, why don’t you just write ‘I was sad’?”

Deb:    “No! Sad is the worst choice! Anyone can write I was sad.”

Before you assign me to a home for the ridiculously insane, name the meaningless, prideful longing that torments you because you can’t achieve it? Is it:

  • Receiving “exceeds expectations” on your annual review?
  • Aching to be thinner than your girlfriends?
  • Trying to earn more money than your siblings?
  • Striving to outdo other teachers, dancers, or piecrust bakers so you can be best?
  • Having your house guest-ready all the time?

Does failing to meet these goals make you feel sad (melancholy, disappointed, unhappy, crushed, inconsolable)?

My long-term goal for years has been to write and to have an outlet for my writing.

I have achieved those goals.

“Why,” I ask, “am I not content?”

Dan answers, “Deb, you need to learn to just be.”

“Be what?”

“Just be.”

“Okay. Tell me how to just be.”

“I can’t tell you how.”

“Okay. I’ll work on it.”

“You’re missing the point. Don’t work on it. Just be.”

“But I want to just be better than anyone else does!”

 

 

 

 

 

IT IS WHAT IT IS

Two tough days for me each year are the days I go to the dentist for cleanings.

I’ve gone to the dentist since I was a child. I know the dentist and her staff are my friends. I like them. I just don’t like what they do.

At the dentist’s office last Monday, I said with confidence to the hygienist, “You should find less plaque buildup on this exam. I have a new toothbrush with a built-in timer. I now brush for two full minutes twice a day.”

I waited for a bit of praise, but I didn’t get it.

I got this instead.

“Four minutes,” said the hygienist.

“What?” I asked.

“Brush for four minutes at bedtime, two minutes on top and two minutes on bottom. Two minutes in the morning is good, though.”

Just when I think I’ve adhered to the rules, the rules get tougher.

I realize that I pay my dental professionals to care about and care for my teeth.

If I am unhappy, I can stop visiting them any time I choose. But I won’t  do that.

My teeth are important to me.

But today, so many experts (paid and unpaid) tell me how to take care of myself that I am overwhelmed with “good” advice.

From computer, television, and smartphone screens, from billboards, and from literally tons of unsolicited mail I pull from my mailbox, professionals offer me their advice.

Medical doctors say I should spend several hours each week exercising.

Opticians urge me to wear sunglasses when I am outside and safety glasses when I mow.

Dermatologists tell me to wear SPF 30 sunscreen.

Naturalists tout the benefits of drinking apple cider vinegar.

Audiologists say I should wear ear protection.

Personal trainers insist that I wear weights on my wrists and ankles.

Therapists whisper, “Go to your happy place.”

Psychiatrists tell me to take antidepressants and practice cognitive behavioral therapy.

Herbalists tell me to drink green tea.

Nutritionists tell me to stop eating salt, sugar, fat, wheat, gluten, dairy products, eggs, soy, artificial colors or flavors; meats from animals treated with antibiotics, steroids, or hormones; fish bred and grown in dirty water; and plants that have been exposed to herbicides or pesticides.

Apparently, Mark Twain got it right when he wrote, “The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not.”

I am all for being as healthy, comfortable, attractive, and active as I can be. But this overload of “healthful advice” is oppressive.

As a good friend said to me this week, “Facts are facts. It is what it is. I am getting older.”

We all are. No one has yet developed a product, activity, or mindset that will stop the aging process.

In 2 Corinthians 4:16, the Apostle Paul acknowledged that our outer selves are wasting away. He encouraged us to be focused upon being renewed inwardly day by day.

Inspired advice.

I throw away 99% of the advertisements I find in my mailbox.

I did recently, however, save a brochure urging me to make my final arrangements now so when I die, my grieving family will be spared that task.

That, I deemed to be advice worth heeding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For friends who share common interests with me and enjoy reading lighthearted, inspirational, and entertaining articles, many with spiritual applications.