Rainy days and Mondays always get me upside-down

“Monday, Monday, can’t trust that day.
“Monday, Monday, sometimes it just turns out that way.”

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx“Monday, Monday” – the Mamas and the Papas

There’s a reason Mondays are the stuff of hit songs the world over.

It’s a universally known fact: Mondays suck.

Well, maybe not all Mondays, but some of them stand out so prominently that they skew the statistics in their favor. Mondays sometimes have a mind of their own.

Today was such a day.

For starters, I had possibly the most disturbing dream I’ve ever had. It was worse than any of the dreams I used to have after my dad died. Those were just emotionally draining and made me sad for a while after I woke up. This morning’s dream made me wonder, “What in the world made me come up with that?” and “What is my subconscious mind trying to tell me?” I’m not even going to tell you what the dream was about, because I don’t want you to call the police. Or the men in white coats.

I don’t sleep well in general, but this dream interrupted my early morning sleep in a whole new way. So I got up really tired.

I didn’t get up until 6 a.m. because my leg is injured and I haven’t been able to run in nearly two weeks (except for two feeble attempts that sent me back to the heating pad and the ibuprofen). I’m training for a half-marathon and trying not to freak out that I’m in Week 6 of my plan and haven’t done a “long” run of more than 5 miles. If this weren’t a fundraising half-marathon (to try to cure my husband’s disease), I could blow it off (which, who are we kidding, really isn’t in my nature). But I can’t.

So I didn’t get up until 6 – my first mistake. (Or maybe the mere fact that I got out of bed was the first mistake.)

The next thing I had to do (besides putting in my contacts and then putting on my reading glasses) was clean up Pepper’s tiny poop in the kitchen. But that’s nothing; I pick up tiny dog poop in the kitchen every morning, and it shouldn’t even be worth mentioning. Except that it’s kind of symbolic of my Monday.

Then, while the microwave was reheating my coffee (I prefer day-old to fresh – I know, weird), I checked on the washing machine, which is a computerized front-loader with a mind of its own. (Remember HAL from “2001: A Space Odyssey”? Kind of like that. Except HAL had a more extensive vocabulary. And a creepier voice.)

The washer has had its own issue with poop smells lately. I had put off calling a repairman because I was able to make it limp along and continue to wash clothes, although not without a lot of cussing (from me, not “HAL 2,” which merely whined). But last Sunday night, all HAL broke loose. The #*&@%^ bucket of bolts refused to complete a cycle without taking multiple coffee breaks (or maybe they were Snuggle breaks), refused to spin the water out of my load of bathroom rugs, and refused to let me OPEN THE DOOR. (“Open the pod bay door, HAL.” Remember?)

I couldn’t get rid of the “Door Locked” message on the control panel. Translation: “You’re just out of luck, sister. Love, HAL 2.” So I left it alone and decided to try to relax for the last little smidgen of my Sunday evening. (I think I heard it chuckling as I exited the laundry room.)

For the next few days, I attempted to make it spin water out of the rugs. HAL 2 would give it a try, make its usual clicking sound (“Tsk, tsk” or “Cough, cough,” I don’t know) and give up.

And then I got busy and forgot about it until Friday evening. I tried again, but still no luck. That’s when I decided I couldn’t put off calling a repairman any longer. I let Mom know I needed to bring my mountain to her house to wash. No problem, she said. And it wasn’t. Saturday, we sorted piles and put her machine to work. (Got one of our white bathroom rugs clean and back in place Saturday evening, and Sunday morning there were two Pepper peepee spots on it. Pepper has survived as long as she has because she’s cute – in a tiny dog sort of way. She has a lot of people fooled.)

I’m about to leave out a lot of detail from the next 36 hours (you’re welcome), but bottom line is, by the time I forced myself to deal with the load of rugs in the undrained washer (after having to leave the machine unplugged overnight, to show HAL 2 who’s boss), I got the door open this morning, the water smelled like untreated sewage, and I probably will end up throwing the rugs away. I was going to pump out the rancid water but had to leave it for Bruce. Even leaving that task undone, I was five minutes late for work.

OK, so. That was the washing machine.

I also had been enduring a disintegrated pipe under my bathroom sink (I stood over the tub to brush my teeth every day for a week) and finally called a plumber to come out and fix it. Why? Because Bruce and I are both weaklings. The pipes were so old, they apparently had transmogrified into one unyielding mass of metal, and we couldn’t even turn the valves to get the water off. Recalling a similar experience trying to loosen old plumbing in our previous house, which caused us to miss the entire first half of a Notre Dame football game, I didn’t let it get that far this time. After I spent a final 15 minutes wrestling with it, and Bruce spent another 10, I said, “Nevermind; I’ll call Charley tomorrow morning.”

Those Oakleys – they need professional help.

So this afternoon, the plumber fixed the bathroom sink, the appliance guy replaced the pump in the washer (I guess I won’t be using Shout Color Catcher sheets anymore), extracted the old icemaker from our fridge (would cost more to fix or replace than it’s worth) and gave opinions on why our dishwasher isn’t cleaning the dishes (maybe because it’s really old), and we were back in business. At least with the plumbing.

Take that, HAL 2.

Meanwhile, I had run out the door in the morning without breakfast, so I stopped at Sonic for a gallon of tea (which saves me from committing crimes on stressful days) and a breakfast burrito. With bacon.

(You know my stress level is high when I allow myself to eat bacon. But it was good. Normally I wouldn’t have stopped for breakfast when I knew it would make me late for work, but this was a particularly special morning. I needed bacon.)

At work, I texted my eye doctor about my latest trial pair of SUCK EGG contact lenses. We’ve been fussing with prescriptions, lens types and fuzzy eye-charts for weeks.

I told the doc my story of woe – how with my new distance-only lenses (vs. the multifocals my tired ol’ eyes had been wearing) I couldn’t see anything closer than 5 feet from my face, thus making mascara application a tragicomic event; how I had nearly strangled myself in the car trying to untangle the cords of my reading glasses and my sunglasses; how a second opinion on laser surgery was probably a waste of time; how he probably shouldn’t bother ordering the next trial pair of contacts if he hadn’t already; how I was afraid I might go blind or die within the next 5 minutes if he didn’t calm me down; and how the only bright side to these new lenses was that I no longer saw the dog hair covering evMondayText071513ery surface in our house.

He texted back, in part:

“I can’t quit laughing.”

So much for moral support from your trusted medical professional.

It’s a good thing I didn’t die in the next 5 minutes. The good doctor might have been held responsible by my heirs, who surely would have used the texted conversation as evidence in court. (I’m archiving it just in case.)

He saved himself by calling and talking me down. (But not before laughing at me again.)

And then?

I spilled tea on my khakis. And my blouse.

At that point I figured I might as well go back to bed, but then I remembered I was at work and they frown on naps between 8 and 5. It wasn’t even 9 a.m.

So I decided to tackle a file I needed to image. After restarting my computer four times (yes, four), I got the file imaged. At 12:04 p.m.

(Don’t tell my boss I spent three hours imaging one 59-page file. Because, unlike HAL 2, he is my boss. So just don’t tell him.)

During this time, my officemate proceeded to tell me about a TV show called “1,000 Ways to Die,” helpfully sharing examples. Thanks, Ben.

Eventually 5 p.m. came, and I innocently assumed I would make an uneventful trip home.

I headed for my car, got ready to unlock it and noticed that most of the remote was missing. The side that attaches to the key ring was in my hand, but the circuit board and the rubber skin that protects the circuitry were gone. I began to retrace my steps but then thought to look in the side pocket of my tote bag. There was the circuit board. I dug around some more and found the rubber thingie. Whew! For a minute I thought I was going to have to open my car door manually. (Life can be cruel.) At least the car was still there. I bet you thought I was going to say it had been stolen.

Ten minutes later, I was home safe, and I immediately locked the door behind me. So far I’ve been afraid to make eye contact with HAL 2 or the dishwasher, although I have washed my hands at the bathroom sink. I’m waiting for Bruce to get home so I’ll have backup. If the appliances go all HAL-9000 on me, Pepper is not big enough to stick up for me. Except for the extremely loud barking – which she has perfected – but I don’t think HAL 2 would be intimidated. Salsa, on the other hand, could do some damage. Her hair alone could jam its circuitry. But even that might not be enough. After all, HAL killed everyone on the ship except Dave.

I bet it was a Monday.

“Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.”
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxHAL the computer – “2001: A Space Odyssey”

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How to buy a sports bra

Several months ago, I updated my blog-hosting software and lost a BUNCH of posts. Starting with this one (written in the summer of 2011), I’m going to republish my favorites. Keep in mind that this one was funnier when I originally posted it because I do a lot of editing between the time I write my posts in Word and finally hit Publish on the tweaked version. But I’m not going to go back and edit this one. Much.

If you’re the type of woman who takes sports bras with spaghetti straps seriously, stop reading this now and race to the nearest stick-thin-supermodel website (I have no clue what site that might be).

I mean it! Stop reading now! You obviously do not need a sports bra, because you are flat chested and will not be able to relate to the rest of this post.

Go ahead; move along.

Okay, now that they’re gone, I can talk to the rest of you ladies, who know what it’s like to stuff your girls into a real undergarment:

In November [2010] I took up the “sport” (some might call it “exercise in self-torture”) of running. I hadn’t run in a few years, and I had exactly three leftover athletic bras in the bottom of a spare dresser drawer: two black, from 10 years ago – the first time I tried to be a “serious” runner – and a white one from a few years later. All three have shrunk over the years of bouncing, sweating and washing (but hanging to dry), and my body has gone the other direction. (I now refer to myself as full figured, with homage to the recently departed Jane Russell.)

I had been complaining about the old, uncomfortable bras for weeks, so when Bruce and I went to North Little Rock recently for my annual cardiologist checkup, we went on a quest for a sports bra or two (I had tried to find my old brand online and in local stores but couldn’t find my size in the style I need).

Let me tell you, there are gazillions of sports bras out there, but, for one reason or another, most of them do not work for full-figured women. Let me count the ways:

1. Most of them nowadays go over your head rather than hooking in the back or the front. I wish you could have seen me in the first dressing room, trying to pull one slightly stretchy (not too stretchy or it won’t support) contraption over my head and down into place without causing major tissue damage (or under-my-breath swearing).

On second thought, I don’t wish you could have seen (or heard) me. It wasn’t pretty. At all.

I didn’t even get the thing all the way on before I knew (with that sick feeling a small furry creature gets right before the snake eats it for lunch) that it just wasn’t going to work. It would have been stupid to continue trying.

But you know what was even stupider? In another store, I tried another over-the-head contraption. Same result: Back over my head before it was fully in place.

(Why do they think pullover bras should even exist, anyway? The only thing I can think of is, they’re a fashion statement. For the women who are no longer reading this post.)

2. Most sports bras are too stretchy and not supportive enough. You know, for full-figured gals. The entire point (no pun intended) of a sports bra is to smash you flat so as to prevent bouncing – or so I thought, until I met the sports-bra saleswoman of my dreams (more on that later).

Don’t the sports-bra designers know that the women who really and truly need sports bras are those of us who weigh more than 80 pounds soaking wet? Last time I weighed 80 pounds, I hadn’t hit puberty and running hadn’t even been invented.

3. Sports bras for full-figured women come in exactly two colors: White and black. You could bust me (no pun intended, really) right here for being a hypocrite because of the whole spaghetti-strap thing, but we full-figured gals do like a little variety  in our fabric choices every now and then. While I do not believe in wearing your underwear on the outside – as a fashion statement or, poor you, because it’s just so darned hot you have to take your tiny little shirt off when you run – it is nice to have more than two colors to choose from. I personally think white underwear is boring, and I like to have a rainbow of colors to choose from. (And, as far as the lack of variety in big-girl-sports-bra colors goes, thin women do not even realize this is an issue.)

(Apologies to those who think the preceding paragraph was TMI [Mom, that means “too much information”].)

So, by the second pullover-bra fiasco, I had learned my lesson, meaning I had exhausted all hope of finding an appropriate bra in my new hometown and would have to go to my old, larger hometown to shop. (Do you know how much I hate to shop? Probably not, but that’s a topic for another day.)

So off to central Arkansas we went.

Bruce and I, intrepid explorers that we were (on that particular day, at least), went to two big-chain sports superstores and two locally owned running stores (we like the latter better, but the two big multipurpose stores were closer – plus we were also looking for bowling balls – so we went there first).

At the first store created exclusively for runners, a new place in the Heights called Go! Running, we found not only a brand I had never heard of (Moving Comfort) but some of the best customer service you could ask for. The owner, Erin, won me over with her knowledge, friendliness and willingness to serve, even though I left the store without making a purchase. She did order a bra for me, after I had tried on one that was close to my size. She explained that a sports bra shouldn’t just mash you flat and that this particular bra had features that made running more comfortable (I’m trying to spare you the details). She also told me I had several colors to choose from!

She had to take a phone call, so she told an employee what bra should be ordered for me (in a nice bluish-purple) and sent me to the front of the store to leave my contact information. (That evening when I got home, the employee called to say she was about to order the bra but that I would need to pick another color. My size comes only in two colors – you guessed it: black and white.)

After we left Go! Running, we went to Easy Runner, an older, more established store well known to Arkansas runners. (It has moved to the upscale Pleasant Ridge Town Center on west Cantrell Road.) There, they had the Moving Comfort brand in my size (but not the same model), so at least I know that this particular brand runs true to my size. I did not buy anything there but left convinced that the bra I ordered at Go! Running would work for me.

Afterward I wrote a thank-you note to Erin for her outstanding customer service. When she received it, she left a message on my answering machine to thank me for the thank-you note and said it was going up in her office.

I may not be rich, but I am willing to pay a few dollars more for an item (especially an item that is as much sought-after as this bra was to me) when I am treated with the respect, courtesy and friendly service that Erin showed me that day. (I got good service at Easy Runner, too.)

Tomorrow we go back to North Little Rock to finish painting the house and to plant some spring flowers, and I’ll go pick up my black Moving Comfort bra at Go! Running. I hope Erin is there so I can thank her again, in person, for treating this full-figured gal as though I were as fit and thin as a triathlete.

Ladies, that is how to buy a sports bra.

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Multifunction dogs

Suzy with Pepper, Bruce with Salsa. Chase Race and Paws, Conway, Ark., March 10, 2012.

At our house, we have a multifunction printer. It does three things: prints, scans, copies – hence its model name, HP 750PSC.

But that ain’t nothin’ compared to our multifunction dogs, whose functions are too multiple to mention in one blog post – too numerous to sum up with a succinct model name. I’ll stick to the highlights.

In some ways, our canines’ services are similar and work in tandem; in other ways, they are different yet still complementary. A few examples:

Emergency Response System (ERS): The girls (or the Spice Dogs, as we like to call them) carry out this function in various ways, not all of them necessarily effective. Salsa (ERS Dog 1) barks a warning – loudly – when she encounters something she perceives as evil. In this category would be squirrels, cats, large flying insects, leaves falling from trees, vampire bats, snakes, representatives of the U.S. Postal Service and small children on bicycles. Pepper (ERS Dog 2), on the other hand, cannot be relied on in emergencies, as she barks at whatever moves or breathes in her general vicinity. That includes people entering the kitchen to feed her, people trying to have a conversation over her head (and many things are over her head) and subtle movements of the human body (for instance, crossing or uncrossing one’s legs, reaching for a tissue or taking a sip of one’s beverage – all perceived as evil acts that must be addressed. Loudly).

Pepper likes to make her opinions known. A lot. And you never know when you’ll get one.

Cleanup Crew: Both Spice Dogs are punctual and efficient at taking care of unwanted food, or food that has dropped to the floor, your lap or, in Pepper’s case, within 100 feet of where she’s sitting. When food falls, she’s Johnny on the Spot. I occasionally time Pepper when I feed the girls breakfast. When she was on dry food: 12 seconds to consume her little 2-ounce scoop (she doesn’t chew, she inhales). Now that she’s on canned food (very specific reason for that – more later), I’ve seen her suck it down in a flat three seconds. Right before she burps – loudly. This dog weighs 3.9 pounds and could put a third-grade boy to shame with one of her belches.

Pepper puts Salsa under the table, so to speak, when it comes to eating. In fact, helping Salsa eat is one of Pepper’s many food-related functions. When we got Salsa from the animal shelter in August 2005, it was hard to get her to finish her food. She’d rather play. The experts said to keep her on a schedule, putting her food away after a few minutes if she didn’t eat it. I established a twice-daily meal schedule and began following the suggestions. It helped some, but she’d still rather play and would leave her dish unattended. Same with Potty Outside. I followed expert advice, taking her out on the leash (even though our yard was fenced), walking her back and forth along a short strip of real estate and repeating “Go potty” over and over and over. In the summer, I often gave up after about 20 minutes. Too dang hot to stay out there trying to get her to poop.

The acquisition of Dog 2 changed all that. We inherited Pepper (long story) from relatives (who inherited her from other relatives) on Thanksgiving Day 2005 – three months after we got Salsa. Now, with Salsa and the bowl of food, there was the threat of another little dog stealing what was rightfully Salsa’s. So Salsa started finishing her food before being sent outside to potty. I’m not sure what did the trick on the Potty Outside, but that miraculously resolved itself with Dog 2’s arrival.

Pepper sleeping under her bed. Yes, that’s her tiny heiny peeking out.

Bed Warmer: If we ever worried about being cold in our house, such as during a power outage in the winter, those fears were set aside when Multifunction Dog 2 (also known as Our Little Space Heater) came along. The first night she was with us, Pepper slept curled up in a tiny ball right under my chin. I tolerated that for one night, but if you know me, you know that I have to have near-perfect conditions for sleeping, and having a dog for a beard ain’t one of them. The second night, Pepper slept curled up at my back so that if I tried to roll over, I’d have to disturb her beauty sleep or risk flattening her. Also not ideal, although I did come up with a work-around (which I won’t bore you with). Before long, I had the brilliant idea to put her little doggy bed on top of our king-size bed and pile it with fleece blankets. She burrowed under (under the doggy bed itself, actually) and was more or less content. She is a burrower. (Bonus fact: Pepper fits inside one of Bruce’s sweatshirt pockets.) She’d much rather be glued to a human being than in her little bed, but the bed suffices. Because if Mama don’t get no sleep, ain’t nobody happy. And lest I forget Salsa’s function in this category, let’s just say she, too, is happy to be a bed warmer but knows how to take a hint.

Party Animal: When we take the Spice Dogs to events (festivals, farmers markets, Nanny’s house [where the “event” is a treat they’re not allowed at home]), they get a lot of attention. Pepper gets most of it because she’s tee-tiny and can be picked up by small children and generally doesn’t mind being handled. (Our girls are people dogs.) Salsa is just too happy to be out among people, smells and the occasional dropped hot dog to care that everybody loves tiny little Pepper. Everyone loves tiny little Pepper because they don’t live with her. She may be cuter, but Salsa is by far the gentler, more humble (although not always the quieter) of the duo. When given a treat, Pepper will race up, snatch it out of your hand and zoom away to her treat-eating spot without saying thank you. She acts like it’s the last morsel of food she will ever receive, and you have to count your digits in the aftermath. Salsa trots up, looks at you for a second with her soulful brown eyes, gently (really: gently) takes the dog biscuit from your hand and trots away to her designated treat-eating spot. Which brings me to …

Creature of Habit. If ever we could learn something valuable from our dogs, it’s in the area of consistency. For instance, each dog has a precise spot where she likes to eat her treats. And Pepper can tell time with her biorhythms. She knows when it’s precisely 7 p.m. (the final evening-treat time) or any other time she’s entitled to get a free piece of food. Salsa knows when it’s 4 a.m. and time to be let outside to alert the neighbors to the presence of squirrels, falling leaves, vampire bats and what-not. And you never know when a kid on a bike may be riding past the house at 4 o’clock in the morning.

Public Service Announcer: This is really Pepper’s function alone. She lets us know when Salsa should go outside, when Salsa should be let in or when Salsa is occupying her sister’s spot on the couch or the bed. And she is not above subterfuge. Pepper likes to sit outside on the deck in a sunny spot, or occasionally just inside the sliding door in a sunny spot on the carpet. When the sun moves, Pepper’s sunny spot moves, and sometimes action must be taken. If Salsa happens to be in Pepper’s newly positioned sunny spot, Pepper will helpfully let us know that Salsa would like to get up and go outside (or come inside). Sometimes we misunderstand, assuming that Pepper herself wants out or in, but we quickly realize that she just wanted the sunny spot vacated so she could take up residence.

Pepper also helpfully announces to us that she has just made potty on the floor. This is usually about 30 seconds after she has made an announcement that we misunderstood as a need to go outside to potty. It might be 2 a.m., but we’ve learned not to ignore her when she wakes us up like that – just in case it’s legit. We’ll go to the door, assuming she’ll trot right over and go out. She’ll stand 12 feet away looking at us, we’ll grumble and go back to bed (or back to whatever we were doing), and a half-minute later we’ll hear another announcement: “Hey, look what I did! I peed on the carpet! Again! Clean it up!” She’s very helpful and conscientious in that way.

Reminder of the Delicate Balance of Nature: In the aforementioned Cleanup Crew category, I alluded to Pepper’s switch from dry to canned food. My awareness of this necessity came quite by accident. Pepper had been sick, and the vet put her on soft food for a few days. One morning I noticed that when she ate the canned food, she didn’t run up on Salsa and antagonize her after sucking down her own food. It was almost vicious, this daily exchange over Salsa’s food dish. I would have to yell at Pepper in order to break up the fights, which almost came to physical violence sometimes. I thought the wet-food phenomenon might be an anomaly, so the next morning I gave Pepper dry food and stood by to watch. Sure enough, she “attacked” Salsa again. Morning 3: wet food, no fighting. So now we spend a little extra to buy canned food for Princess Pepper so that she will leave her sister alone at mealtime. Little twerp.

Morale Officer: When Bruce had his latest Crohn’s disease flare-up, his buddy Salsa may have saved him. She might not have saved his life, literally, but she saved his morale. In early 2007, Bruce had to quit working full time and before long couldn’t work at all. By October, he didn’t have a job. We had to sell his vehicle, so he didn’t have transportation during the day – even if he had felt like leaving the house – because I had to leave my work-from-home freelance job to get a 60-hour-a-week position with health insurance (but no overtime pay). The lingering effects of this flare-up lasted until 2010, so Bruce considered himself nothing more than a dog-sitter for a really long time. (Bruce literally learned to speak Dog. He could identify what was going on outside by Salsa’s different bark sounds.) And, yes, Pepper is a morale officer, albeit a more aloof one. She’s somewhat like a cat; if you can’t do something for her (feed her, keep her warm, toss her squeaky toy), she’s not always interested in your company. But she, too, is a constant presence and cuddly companion.

Loyal Buddy: We complain about soiled carpet, hairy furniture, middle-of-the-night prowl-fests, stinky blankets, loud barking and the fact that we can’t go anywhere for very long on the spur of the moment (it’s almost like having small children), but we wouldn’t trade our Spice Dogs for any amount of money, any material possession or any other creature on the planet. We’ve grown quite attached to the little goons.

The Spice Dogs. They’re stuck with us. And that’s a function with multiple rewards.

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Goodbye, Sheriff Taylor

(CNN) — “Actor Andy Griffith, who played folksy Sheriff Andy Taylor in the fictional town of Mayberry, died Tuesday at the age of 86, his family said.”

A quick glance at my iGoogle news page while I ate a turkey sandwich during my lunch break Tuesday made me alter what I had planned to write about. The first headline that caught my eye, and that prevented me from reading any others: “Actor Andy Griffith dead at 86.”

I had just spent a hot hour-plus standing in the drive-through lanes at one of my bank’s branches, handing out little flags, patriotic wristbands and bottles of water, just like we employees do each July. In the minutes between cars, I was pondering the Fourth of July and what I would write about it.

I’d been trying to compose a July Fourth post in my head for a week or two, and I had no idea how I could do this day justice with my words. My dad, Bruce’s dad and many of our relatives and friends gave of themselves to their country, something I’ve never done – at least not in the way they did. I’ve never experienced that living sacrifice that so many demonstrated so ably and nobly, many of them before I was born.

So how could I write with any depth of insight about what it took for them to serve their country, both in times of war and beyond?

I can’t.

I can only say how grateful I am to my dad, my father-in-law, my uncles and countless others for what they gave up for me. They gave me a country where I could work, worship, play and love my family, then go to sleep at night without fear.

They gave me a country where a town like Mayberry can exist in every state, if we want it to.

Sure, those days of Mayberry were the 1960s, and we’re much more sophisticated now, aren’t we? We have touch-screen phones, spray-on tans, automated teller machines, and refrigerators that remind you when you’re out of eggs. Heck, I bet that fridge would even order you a dozen eggs and a gallon of milk and have it delivered to your door if you asked it to. We barely have to lift a finger to get through life these days.

But is that such a good thing?

We talk to each other by emailing, IM’ing or texting, not by picking up the phone, dialing and listening to a live voice (yeah, I’m guilty of it, too). The chirping bird I listen to the most? It’s the ring tone I hear when Mom calls me on my cell. At my Nanny and Papa’s house, if you wanted to make a phone call you had to wait for one of the other parties on your party line to hang up. I bet kids today don’t even know what a party line is.

Remember Sarah, the operator on “The Andy Griffith Show”? When Andy or Barney needed to call Mount Pilot or Raleigh, they talked to Sarah first. She had to put the call through.

Sarah knew everybody’s business.

So did Gomer, Goober, Floyd, Emmett, Howard, Aunt Bee and her friend Clara.

And when an outsider happened by, he wasn’t an outsider for long. Some of my favorite episodes involved needy “strangers” who came to town not knowing quite what they had gotten into, but leaving all the better for it. And by the time they left town, they weren’t really strangers anymore. They were just folks.

Remember Malcolm Merriweather, the very proper English butler? He rode a bicycle and taught Opie to draw faces on hard-boiled eggs. We missed him when he went back to merry old England.

Or the businessman whose car broke down in Mayberry on a Sunday – the day before an important meeting in Charlotte? He learned a lot about living the quiet life, just hanging around Mayberry, sitting on Andy’s front porch and listening to the sheriff quietly hum and strum his guitar. (Didn’t you love Andy’s front porch with its swing, where he could peel an entire apple with his pocketknife without breaking the strand?)

If you watched the show as much as I did, you’ll remember these sweet, funny, crazy and wonderful people and their shenanigans:

  • The Darlings (pronounced, of course, Darlin’s). Oh, how they could sing and play that mountain music.
  • The high-strung, rock-throwing Ernest T. Bass. Remember when he tried to get educated to impress “Romena” (Ramona)? Andy tried to teach him geography and such. Ernest T. would sooner throw a rock through a winder than learn manners.
  • Sweet, lovable Otis, the town drunk.
  • Aunt Bee and her pickles that tasted like they were canned in kerosene. Too many Aunt Bee stories to tell.
  • Barney Fife. There’s so much to say about goofy but lovable Barney, but probably my favorite Barney moment was when he told Andy he could recite the Preamble to the Constitution from memory, and then tried to prove it. Classic Barney and Andy.
  • Andy and Barney’s girlfriends, Helen Crump and Thelma Lou. (And before Miss Crump, Ellie the druggist.)
  • Gomer Pyle making a “citizens arr-ay-est!” of Barney.
  • Gomer’s appropriately named cousin, Goober. “Hey, Andy!” “Hey, Goob.”
  • Opie being mama to a nest of baby birds after he accidentally killed their mother with his slingshot. I still cry right along with Opie when he realizes the mama bird is dead.

Some of these were merely moments (or brief minutes) rather than full episodes, but they stuck in our memories and have touched our hearts over and over, no matter how many times we’ve watched. (And if you don’t get the warm fuzzies from watching Andy, Barney and the rest of the folks of Mayberry … well, then, you’re just an old grump!)

1960s Mayberry was a simpler time and place, and I think we like it so much, still today, because our lives have gotten so busy and complicated. And because our good-hearted Andy Taylor was so wise and patient (most of the time). All the town folk took their problems to Sheriff Taylor. With all the goings-on in Mayberry, both silly and serious, they knew he would always come up with the right solution to their problem.

Sometimes the stories made us laugh, and sometimes they touched our hearts. Much of the time they did both. The show was a unique combination of heart and humor, and I hope I get to watch episodes until the day I die. And who knows? Someday I may be watching it in hologram, or with some technology that hasn’t even been invented or imagined yet. Wouldn’t that be ironic?

And when past meets present, old meets new, technology ain’t always such a bad thing.

As I was writing this, a friend posted on Facebook: “Andy Griffith marathon on TvLand.”

I immediately turned on the TV, saw what episode was playing, and texted my brother: “Andy Griffith marathon on TVLand. You working today? The Darlin’s are singin’.”

JT texted back that he was watching, then a minute later: “You did know that Andy Griffith show’s 1st show debuted on Oct 03, 1960.” I texted back: “I knew it started in 1960 but didn’t know Oct 3. That was a great day all around!”

Andy Taylor and Jim Taylor, born the same day.

Who knew a text message could give me the warm fuzzies?

Ain’t technology great?

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Only half the BS, but twice the fun!

One of my favorite things about being married to Bruce is that we laugh a lot. We laugh at our dogs, at each other, at life – at pretty much everything. We’re pretty silly people, and we love to laugh.

Laughter is healing. Just two weeks ago, we attended the memorial service of a dear friend … and we laughed. The chaplain and the loved one’s son – both of them spoke at the service and told funny stories of the person who had just died. In the car on the way to and from the service (a six-hour round trip), Bruce and I, along with my mother, reminisced about our friend … and laughed. Barney would have liked that.

While Bruce and I are similar in many ways (both analytical, pragmatic, left-brained types, both trained journalists [it’s how we met], both lovers of words and books), we are also very different in some ways (the key difference being our approach to matters of faith; I’m a born-again Christian, and he’s an atheist).

And while we have similar senses of humor, there are some differences: He’s more into things like Monty Python than I am. I’m more into a toned-down version of MP; give me Food Network’s Alton Brown any day (he’s the best comedy writer on TV, in my opinion). Bruce likes AB, too, but I am more likely to watch a Good Eats marathon, while he is more likely to watch all of the Monty Python movies or TV episodes without moving from his spot on the couch – while I do a few loads of laundry, pay some bills, balance the checkbook, bake something, paint my fingernails, write a blog post, check my email and catch a few episodes of Law & Order on the other TV. (But the division of household labor is for another post … which, in the interests of marital unity, probably will never get written.)

Bruce and I are both “writers.” At the art and craft of writing, he is the more elegant. When we were copy editors at the same newspaper, he could write me under the table when it came to headlines – still can. He has a way with words, both written and spoken, that I don’t possess. I plod along, hoping to make someone think, or do, or laugh (and a combination of the three wouldn’t hurt); my writing kind of disappears into its pedestrian nature. (The same could be said of our running styles. He is efficient, light on his feet, can finish a workout in no time flat, and I’m there plodding along, just trying to get enough oxygen to my lungs so that I don’t collapse before the finish. I wear shoes marketed to “heavy runners.”)

Sometimes he and I follow the rules, and sometimes we break them, but usually not the same ones at the same time. I’m more likely to be rigid and legalistic in how things should be done, and more likely to be frustrated with him for not following said rules … until it’s the other way around. Sometimes he chooses to be the good boy, standing in contrast to my rebellious streak.

And a lot of the ways we communicate, with others and with one another, are different. That can be frustrating at times (he’s sanguine on some topics that I think are important and worth some effort, and I try to put a positive spin on things sometimes when he tends to be negative; we both can get defensive and a little testy when we’re tired or stressed, but usually it’s not at the same time – there again, we tend to balance each other out).

With the “positive spin,” you never know which pole one of us will be sitting on. OK, sometimes you know. For instance, when our merry band of runners (I’m talking about the remnants from the women’s running clinic, not the local, official running club we belong to) gets together on a new course for the first time, the ladies always ask Coach Bruce the route. “Are there a lot of hills?” is one of the first questions.

I quickly figured out – and I try to spread this gospel – that when you need information about hills, you don’t ask Bruce. Talk to Suzy.

Bruce has been running for three-quarters of his 52 years. He refers to hills as “bumps.” Suzy will give you the straight talk. She is a newbie like you, overweight and overstressed, physical ailments, job pressures, crunchy knees, whiny attitudes and all. Coach Bruce is not trying to put a “positive spin” on hills; he actually believes they are MERELY BUMPS. We have established in previous posts that he is insane (I believe he was brainwashed in running school), so we know that when you want to talk hills – unless you’re in a gas-powered vehicle – talk to Suzy.

So when we were wogging (walking/jogging) this morning, I by myself because my surgically “repaired” knee was feeling funky, I got to thinking about hills, and the different ways that Bruce and I approach them (not so much physically but philosophically).

And I came up with this handy formula that pretty much fits the way we approach most matters of communication:

(B + S) / 2 = A

In words: Take what Bruce says, add what Suzy says, divide by two, and there’s your Answer, somewhere in the middle.

So if you just remember that simple formula, you’ll get only half the BS but twice the fun. And you’ll be A-OK.

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Book review: ‘Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me’

I don’t know where to start.

I just finished reading Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me: A Memoir … of Sorts by Ian Morgan Cron.

Maybe the jacket blurb from the archbishop of Canterbury (!) will help: “This is neither a simple memoir of hurt endured, nor a tidy story of reconciliation and resolution. It is – rather like Augustine’s Confessions – a testimony to the unfinished business of grace.”

Ian Cron grew up with an alcoholic father, a reality that shapes his life to this day. At age 16, he discovered the surreal truth that his father was a member of the CIA. When he wasn’t unemployed.

This is not a typical memoir.

Having grown up in a family of teetotalers, I can’t exactly relate to Cron’s harrowing, sometimes bizarre tales, but he has a way of telling the story that puts the reader in his shoes. Each sentence puts us closer to understanding – and feeling – his pain.

Ever since I began reading the book, I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe his writing style. Understated hilarity. Reverently irreverent. Dry witted. Brutally honest, no doubt, but in a gentle way. (Can you be brutal and gentle in the same breath?)

Cron is Anne Lamott for the clean-mouthed crowd. No F-bombs, no I-hate-Republicans rants. Just honest – and real.

Cron finds grace in the simple yet profound truths of life and makes them, yes, hilarious in an understated way (maybe that’s the definition of a dry wit). At times I laughed out loud, many times I chuckled, sometimes I merely smiled.

“The music at St. Paul’s [Episcopal Church] won me over as well. I’d never been in a church where people sang with so much enthusiasm. Catholics don’t sing – we murmur, then look surprised if a melody emerges.”

The simple. And the profound:

“I can see the couch from the kitchen. I stop cutting parsley and remember that [my mother] taught me how to ride the Dragon Coaster and what to do when you’re flung into the mouth of whatever it is you think will kill you. Throw up your arms and laugh until you come out the other side. That lesson has saved my life once or twice.”

I’m no good at writing book reviews. I just know when I like a book, or when I love a book – this one, for example – and I enthusiastically tell my friends they should read it. Some books fit into a niche, useful for a particular segment of the population; this one doesn’t fit into a neat category. It is for everyone looking for grace.

Aren’t we all?

This review is part of my agreement with BookSneeze. The publisher sends me a free book, and I agree to post a review of it on my blog and one other online publication. No pressure is put on me to write a positive review – just an honest one. (Click here to learn how you can get in on this sweet deal.)

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Stop the insanity (pods)!

A giant insanity pod has descended upon me and has taken up residence on top of my head. For the past few days, it’s been trying to make its way through my dense thicket of hair to creep into my cranium and wreak havoc with my internal circuitry. It threatens to annihilate me if something is not done to stop it.

What is an insanity pod, you say? You won’t find the precise definition in any dictionary, but an insanity pod is much like the humidity pods that descend upon Arkansas about this time of year and don’t leave until October or November. It’s a presence you dislike, but you learn to live with it, much like you learn to live with oily skin, or a husband who steals the covers. Until it’s time to cry out, “Enough is enough!” or “Out, out, darn pod!”

But, unlike with the humidity pods, you have some measure of control – within predetermined parameters – over an insanity pod. For instance, you can control how large it gets and how long it stays attached to your brain – or whether it makes it past your scalp in the first place.

In case you have never heard of insanity pods, we offer this helpful Q&A:

How do insanity pods form? No one knows for certain how the first pod came to be, but it grew and spawned other pods (much like Amish friendship bread). They approach the most vulnerable victim first (they can tell who you are). They begin by spotting someone with an overloaded schedule, too much stress from the challenges of life, a poor diet, the inability to sleep through the night and a merely compulsory reading of the Word. To that they pile on more stress, which leads to impulse eating, more insomnia, uncontrollable drooling, chocolate cravings and a worried mother (well, that last one is just a fact of everyday life, but it becomes more obvious as the insanity pod tightens its invisible tentacles around your nerve endings).

How do insanity pods manifest? The list of symptoms is exhaustive, but, among other things, the pods cause forgetfulness, crankiness, night blindness, a messy house and the Scary Mama Voice when the dogs misbehave (which means when they act like themselves).

Who suffers from insanity pods? As mentioned above, the pods attack the most vulnerable members of society first. The most likely victim is female, age 35-55, premenopausal, works full time, goes to school part time, volunteers at church and takes care of children, an aging parent, a chronically ill spouse or at least two pets – or all of the above. (We should mention that the sufferers include not only the victim, but relatives and members of the victim’s work and social circles.)

What can a loved one of an insanity-pod sufferer do to help? Just stay out of the way, baby.

How does one “stop the insanity”? As with an addiction to alcohol, food, shopping, gambling or Dancing with the Stars, the insanity-pod sufferer, or IPS, must admit her affliction. That is the first and most crucial step. (If the malady is caught early enough, there is no need for a formal 12-step program.) Then she must recite the insanity – er, serenity – prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and sufficient distance from sharp or heavy objects that can be used as weapons.

The next step is to begin removing obstacles to sanity, starting with items (even seemingly important ones) on her social, business and volunteer calendars, even if others don’t understand why this is happening. Would they rather find out about it in the newspaper or on the 10 o’clock news? (“Disgruntled worker takes out 23 colleagues, then turns the staple gun on herself – coming up after the break!”)

Relief can be immediate, much like when an Alka-Seltzer grants the first gut-relieving belch. In fact, when the first one or two items fall off the calendar, the IPS begins feeling lighter and the furrowed brow begins smoothing out. Then recovery can begin in earnest.

Within weeks (or perhaps days, depending the sufferer’s commitment to the program) a balance has been struck – the schedule is more manageable, school is out for the summer, the sufferer’s mother and the dogs are speaking to her again, the husband has stopped sleeping on the sofa. At this point, it is probably safe to approach, but proceed with caution. There could be a relapse. It is best to monitor the IPS from a distance for a few days to be sure equilibrium has, indeed, been restored.

How can you tell when the insanity pod has left for good? As there is no immunization at this time, there is no way to permanently remove the threat of insanity pods. But you can minimize the risk by remaining vigilant. The sufferer should get adequate sleep and exercise, stay hydrated, restrict caffeine, take long baths, play with the dogs, spend time with her husband, immerse herself in a few pieces of quality literature (no, we’re not talking about People magazine), work/play in the garden, write in her blog, eat 1-2 ounces of dark chocolate daily, watch Saturday morning Food Network and/or HGTV, listen to music, visit her mother more often (this should go without saying), pray and read Scripture regularly, and start reading the Sunday funny pages again.

This way, when the fall semester begins and the cycle threatens to repeat itself, the insanity pod will be less likely to try to park its ugly head on top of this particular victim’s. It will simply move on to the next unsuspecting forty-something woman and try to suck out her brain.

Help researchers find a cure for insanity pods! Contribute your suggestions by leaving a comment below. Or just send me a check.

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Capers in Cambridge

A year ago, I wrote about reconnecting with Lynn, a friend I grew up with. Reconnecting is a sweet pleasure, and I’m grateful for blogs and social sites (even though I don’t use the latter) for allowing me to renew friendships.

Last week I reconnected with Dianne, one of my college roommates. The only e-mail address I had for her was one at her husband’s work, so we never really e-mailed each other, and because of the magic of cyberspace I have become terrible at letter writing (even my handwriting has deteriorated), so we hadn’t kept in close contact. Dianne’s Christmas letter contained an e-mail address just for her (and a note that they were going to spend four months in England), so I e-mailed her with a brief update. I also made a brief reference to her in my Jan. 10 post.

Tonight I logged on and had an e-mail from Dianne, along with a link to her new blog, Capers in Cambridge. Check it out.

Dianne is probably the funnest person I’ve ever met. She is always looking for an adventure – not so much for adventure’s sake but so that she can expand herself: her mind, her understanding of people, her empathy and her ability to serve God by serving people. This also makes her one of the kindest (maybe the kindest) people I’ve ever known. She’s also really smart, funny, literate and well traveled, so you will gain by getting to know her and her family. Check out her blog. I’m adding Capers in Cambridge to my blogroll at right.

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