Christmas cheer-up

What a difference a year makes.

Last year at this time I was in full self-pity mode. I had a job I hated (after less than a month there), Bruce was sick (he spent seven days in the hospital a week before Christmas), we were broke and a friend died on Christmas Day. I had started gaining weight from the stress, mostly from the job. (In the 11 months I worked at that place, I gained 25 pounds. Just from emotional eating.)

I hadn’t put up our big Christmas tree in a couple of years – didn’t put one up at all last year, even the little one. Bruce and I didn’t buy any Christmas gifts last year, either. Yes, this chick had one very blue, blue blue blue Christmas.

Even the truths I knew about God were truths in my head but not necessarily in my heart. He promised never to leave or forsake me, but I sure felt forsaken.

That was last year. I can’t say the pity party is completely over (we still have a lot of the same problems we had a year ago – some even worse), but God has led me through the darkest part (at least I hope so!).

I have dragged out the Christmas decorations (yes, it does seem worth it) and have even put up the big tree. I went to Hobby Lobby this evening to buy a couple of extra strands of blinking lights (with some of my birthday money), and as I left the store a cool wind blew across me. But instead of thinking, “Brrr, it’s cold!” I said to myself, “What an invigorating breeze!”

I used to loathe cold weather, but I have grown to appreciate it. Tonight, after what could have been a frustrating day (because a utility crew accidentally cut a cable, my office lost its Internet connection, rendering me nearly helpless to do most of the account processing I usually take care of each day), I was actually thankful for my job. That, in turn, helped me enjoy the chilly wind and the crystal-clear evening.

Nearly every day I tell God how grateful I am for the job (sometimes I forget – I take it for granted, just like I always will). I could enumerate all the reasons, but that’s for another post. Let me just say again, as I have said a couple of times here, that it is an AWESOME company to work for.

It’s amazing how one little change can be such a big deal. Working at the hell hole I came from, I thought I would always have a job I hated, whether it’s because I deserved to, because I’m just a whiner who’s never satisfied or (and this is what I really thought) that most people have jobs they hate. No one can really love his job. You hear people talking about loving their jobs, but you think they’re crazy (or lying), right?

But now I get it, because … I LOVE MY JOB!

And it makes all the difference in the world. Yes, we’re broker than broke, Bruce is still sick (oh, yeah, and I was diagnosed with a heart problem a few weeks ago), and we still have to sell our house. But my life is pretty good. Bruce asked me today how I was doing, and I replied, “Fantastic!” before I could think. He was surprised. He hasn’t heard me say anything that positive in a long time.

I’ve even lost 13 pounds (and counting) since leaving the other job.

What else is good? I’ve had so much extra time, I’ve started baking again. Can it get any better than that?

And tonight, with the beautiful early evening sky, the tiny sliver of moon and the celestial conjunction of Venus and Jupiter, paired with the invigorating breeze, I felt lighter than air.

What a difference a year makes.

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Just checking in

I’ve started using that phrase with my mom lately – “just checking in.”

For the past 20-something years, I’ve called home once a week or so, even if there was nothing special to talk about. Since Dad died, Mom and I started talking a little more often but still not every day. But since Bruce got sick again nearly two years ago, Mom and I have talked every day, with a few exceptions (usually when I’ve fallen asleep early and forgotten to call). Mom just wants an update on my sweetie; she worries about him nearly as much as I do.

Lately Bruce has been better but still is not as healthy as he should be, so daily updates to Mom are not quite so urgent. But now we’re in the habit of talking every day – praise the Lord for free long distance!

So now when I call just because I’m supposed to, sometimes all I have to start the conversation with is, “I’m just calling to check in.” Sometimes I’m so tired I can barely talk, but I still have to talk to my mom. I just couldn’t end my day properly without it.

And lately I haven’t been posting here much because of so much going on in my life, but I wanted everyone to know I’m still here. I would like to post more, but I do come home tired from my new job (my new job that I still love, love, LOVE!). Learning an entirely new industry has its stresses, but it’s a good stress; I’m expanding my brain.

But that brain is tired, and blogging takes thought and effort. And even though I miss posting as often as I used to, I just can’t keep up the pace. So for now I’m …

… just checking in.

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Out with the old, in with the new

I left my extremely stressful job last week and started a new one Monday. I don’t have a lot of time for detail this morning (groceries to buy, lawn to mow, fall flowers to plant, football to watch, etc.) but did want to update those of you who still check my blog occasionally.

I don’t want to disparage my former employer, so I won’t mention the name, but just let me say that my new company is a breath of fresh air. Or maybe I should say I can actually breathe at my new job – and take lunch breaks, and go home after eight hours. I loved the people I worked with at the other place, and the new job is somewhat a career switch (going from publishing to investments), but the new company is an extremely efficient, well-organized place to work. They seem to know what they’re doing.

The main thing is that I want to serve people by helping them with their finances (and I want to work at a place that doesn’t cause me insomnia).

I have been a volunteer with Crown Financial Ministries for the past few years, and that’s a little different from what the investment firm does, and yet the same. It all boils down to being good stewards of what God has entrusted to us.

So here’s to my new employer and 40-hour weeks!

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Same hospital, different patient

After so many months visiting Bruce in the hospital and having to make trips back and forth, the shoe was on the other foot this week.

Monday morning I went to the ER after telling a co-worker, “I feel kinda funny.” After having a couple of weird little symptoms over the weekend (that I hadn’t told Bruce about) and the co-worker telling me I looked “really flushed,” I decided to get checked out.

After a few tests I was diagnosed with mitral valve prolapse with mitral valve regurgitation. They did some tests Monday and kept me overnight for observation, and today was the TEE (transesophogeal echocardiogram). That test was done after the cardiologist heard a heart murmur during the regular echocardiogram but decided to get a better view by making me swallow an ultrasound transducer. Let me tell you, that was not fun.

I didn’t tell the second doc (the one who explained the TEE yesterday and performed it today) until right before the procedure that I have a strong gag reflex (I can’t even clean wet hair out of the shower drain without gagging – it’s not pretty). He had mentioned that some people have trouble swallowing the transducer. You have to gargle this viscous numbing solution for a few minutes, then swallow the solution, and if that doesn’t quite do it, they spray more numbing stuff down your throat. After the third spray I threw up the viscous gel stuff (I’ll spare you the details – let’s just say there’s a reason they don’t let you eat for several hours before a procedure like that). The doc said he had had patients who had trouble with the stuff but the throwing up was a first for him.

So he had to put me under – or at least he tried, I was told later. (One thing I did forget to tell him is that not only did I inherit the gagging thing from my dad, I also inherited the need for stronger drugs than most people require – Dad once woke up on the operating table during back surgery.) They give you an amnesia-inducing sedative, so I don’t remember, but apparently I was alert throughout the rest of today’s procedure. Let me just say that I’m really glad I don’t remember, although my sore throat is a constant reminder albeit a really good excuse for frozen yogurt when we got home this afternoon.

The bottom line is that many people live with mitral valve prolapse with no problems. The TEE showed more damage to my valve than they were expecting, but after one doctor (the one who did the TEE) brought up the real possibility of surgery (the scary, crack-open-your-sternum kind of surgery), the original doc said he just wants to monitor it closely. I have another echocardiogram scheduled for December, then he’ll see me every six months. I intend to seek a third opinion, however, just to be sure.

One of the lessons here is that early detection is extremely important. I had ignored a couple of things going on with me over the weekend, but when I got to work Monday and had the strange lightheaded feeling, I decided not to ignore it any longer. Ironically, those symptoms don’t seem to be related to the heart valve problem. I don’t believe in coincidences, so the other symptoms, however minor, may have saved my life – maybe not this week but down the road. (The link I provided above says mitral valve prolapse isn’t dangerous, but I also have the “regurgitation” part, in which blood leaks back into the chamber and can cause other problems.)

Bruce was telling the doctors that with his Crohn’s disease we’ve learned a big lesson about ignoring symptoms. In 1998, he nearly died before I could get him to see a doctor. When I finally told him I was taking him to the hospital, they discovered the disease that has taken so much out of him these past 10 years, and especially the past 20 months.

But I told him it’s because I read too many magazine articles about people who ignore little things until it’s too late. Monday morning I just finally decided to stop ignoring the little signs, even though they turned out to be “merely” stress related. Bruce and I joked yesterday that my job, which has caused me an extreme amount of stress in the past 11 months, may have saved my life. Who knows? It may be true.

But as I often say, I think it was “my guardian angel working overtime.”

Thanks to all of you who have been praying for us.

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Happy birthday, Dad

Bennie Lee Taylor was born July 11, 1938, in Izard County, Arkansas, the second of four children born to Joseph Benjamin and Tressie Lee Hinson Taylor. He died Dec. 23, 1997.
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He would have been 70 years old today.
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I had in mind to write a long, glowing tribute to my dad, but time (and my eyesight) has gotten away from me today. So I’m going to try to capture some of his life in pictures and not write all the things that are in my heart (it would take too long this evening).

First up, some photos from when he was a boy. (Descriptions below.)

Dad as a boy with family, 1930s and 1940s.
Dad as a boy with family, 1930s and 1940s.

In the photo at top left, he’s the baby, with his mother and his brother Tom. Top right, he’s the boy on the left. That’s his mom behind him; the other woman is one of Grandma’s three sisters, Retha. In the middle is dad’s sister Joan (pronounced JoAnn), and on the right is brother Tom. In this photo, it seems Grandma is pregnant with Uncle Carlos. Below left is Tom, Joan and Dad. In the last photo, below right, is Grandma, Aunt Ednora (another sister), Uncle Tom, Aunt Joan and Dad. (And, gosh, after staring at this picture for hours, I just noticed two babies in the arms of their mothers. I was so focused on Dad and his siblings! Grandma is probably holding Uncle Carlos, and Aunt Ednora — or “Aunt Gobb” — is probably holding her first born, Janice.) I assume all of these photos were taken in Izard County.

The next phase of his life shown here is high school. Here’s his senior portrait. Wasn’t he handsome?

Dad senior portrait
Dad senior portrait
Dad was VP of his and Mom's senior class

In this photo of the Class of 1957, Cave City, Arkansas, he’s in the bottom row, third from the left (he was class vice president). My mother (with the same last name, coincidentally — they weren’t married yet) is the first person in the second row (Dorothy Taylor). They got married on Nov. 7, 1958, and she didn’t even have to change her name.

Dad loved his family, and here are a couple of photos of us with him.

Mom, Dad and J.T., Christmas 1960

First is Mom and Dad with J.T. on my big brother’s first Christmas, 1960. J.T. would have been just under 3 months old. And the next one is quite possibly my all-time-favorite picture, because …

Dad and me in his favorite chair
Dad and me in his favorite chair

… it reminds me of one of my favorite memories of Dad. I inherited my chocoholism from him, and when I was little (OK, even when I was big), Mom would serve us chocolate ice cream. I would hurry and gobble up mine out of my little blue plastic bowl, then climb into Dad’s chair with him and, ever the little helper, join him in finishing his ice cream. We don’t have photo evidence of this nightly ritual, but this is the place where it all happened.

A big part of Dad’s life was cars. He was a mechanic but also knew how to restore classic cars inside and out.

The photo above is dated June 1963 (when I was 6 to 7 months old), but we have lots of photos with dad and cars. I simply didn’t have time to go through all of them last weekend when we were at Mom’s. This photo was probably taken in Coalinga, California, where we lived then.

As for the two photos above, Dad built this car from a kit just a few months before he died. I’m going out on a limb here, because it’s a little too late too call my mom tonight (and even too late to call Uncle Carlos in California), but I think it’s a 1929 Mercedes Gazelle. I had it in my head that it was a 1937, but I found a 1929 one online that looks just like this one, and 1929 now rings a certain bell in my head. I typically wouldn’t publish something until I was sure, but I want to post this on his birthday. I will straighten out the details as soon as I can. (You would think that after watching Dad and Uncle Carlos work on so many cars in my lifetime I would be better at identifying them.)

I probably should have showed you the shop first. He built it (with the help of older brother Tom — and me, on one of my trips home from California) specifically for working on cars and puttering on his many projects. He had “retired” in his 50s because of a 30-year-old injury and heart problems, but he certainly couldn’t sit idle inside the house. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, he loved to be outdoors when he could. The shop was out back behind our house in Batesville. Dad could fix anything — from a broken record player to an old lamp. Besides mechanical stuff, he could do carpentry and electrical. A Renaissance man. His mind never seemed to stop, and he could answer almost any question I had for him, whether it pertained to politics, the economy, agriculture, the Bible, sports, physics or just about any subject you could name (except maybe pop culture). Most of it was self-taught.

These three pictures show three phases of construction of Dad’s shop:

Barely started …

… well under way …

.. and complete.

I mentioned in a previous post all the work Dad put into the piece of land where we lived. Below is a segment of it. This was the best picture I could come up with in a short time.

I can’t close this without mentioning Dad and our dogs.

In the photo above is Dad with my dog Mesa (a mix of four breeds) and his dog Chance, a miniature Pinscher (a larger version of our Pepper). Chance, named by my nieces after some cartoon character in 1994, was Dad’s little buddy (mine, too). That photo was taken by Barney Sellers in Barney’s yard across from my parents’ house in Batesville. The bottom photo is of Dad and Chance on the deck that he built in the 1970s. My sweet Mesa and little buddy Chance have been gone from us for years now, but you know you will be reading more about them whenever I write my dog tribute post.

This last picture was taken on the deck of my Uncle Tom and Aunt Willa’s house in Batesville when Uncle Carlos and Aunt Judy were visiting from California. (I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it, but Uncle Tom was a carpenter. Of course he built the deck).

Front row: Ben Taylor, Bruce Oakley, Suzy Taylor. Back: Tom Taylor, Dorothy Taylor, Carlos Taylor, Debbie (?), Willa Taylor and Pam Taylor. Not pictured: Photographer Judy Taylor.

The photo was taken on Oct. 4, 1997, the day Bruce and I put our wedding rings on layaway, and less than three months before Dad died.

For now, this is all I can share in pictures, although the memories of my dad are still fresh. For those of you who didn’t know him, I know you would have liked him, and he probably would have liked you.

He was my hero.

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An elegy for copy editors

I was born to be a copy editor, and copy editing is what I’ve done most of my life, professional and non.

I still do it in my job now, with about half a dozen other jobs thrown on top.

Here is a tribute from The New York Times to those of my dying breed. It explains pretty succinctly what we do.

I agree with all but the last line: “If newspaper copy editors vanish from the earth, no one is going to notice.”

On the contrary, readers notice all the time, and are not hesitant to point out mistakes. Copy editors are seldom praised for their good work, for their good work makes them invisible. But they are often condemned for letting someone else’s errors through or when they make one of their own.

Thanks to NYT writer Lawrence Downes for this tribute.

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No complaints, Day 2

Today is technically Day 2, because I started not complaining yesterday. So I have a day and a half under my belt already!

I did a pretty decent job today, but I want to ask you whether these count:

1. Observing, as I drove home from my job at 9 p.m., that the gas at the corner is 10 cents higher than it was this morning, while remembering that last week it rose 11 cents in a day. That’s a 21-cent increase in less than a week! Does making such observations count as complaining? If everyone complains about the price of gas, does it count?

2. Having the phrase “drama queen” leap to mind in reference to another person. Maybe that’s not complaining; maybe it’s judging.

We’ll work on judging next week, right after I’ve mastered the art of complaining without sounding like I’m complaining.

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Just do it!

“Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.” Philippians 2:14-15

Man, I wish I hadn’t gone to church this morning! Harold issued a challenge that was long overdue for me: Stop whining!

I don’t think he actually used the word whining, but he did quote liberally from Philippians 2, which includes the admonition not to complain, with plenty of explication on why we shouldn’t.

I even copied down Verses 13-17 (in two translations) in my composition notebook while I listened to the rest of the sermon. (Gonna pin the copied verses to my cubicle wall at my job, which is what I complain most about.) It’s funny how you can read a passage many times and be only marginally affected by it until, one day, someone makes it come alive for you. That’s what Harold did this morning when he told me the reasons I should stop complaining. It was like a poke in the eye.

Because I’ve been doing a lot of it lately.

I could philosophize for hours about the virtues of obeying these verses, but all I’m gonna do is commit the next seven days to doing it.

And I have to proclaim it publicly so that you all can hold me accountable. Another thing Harold said is that God not only brought us into relationship with Himself, he brought us into relationship with each other, even those we haven’t met. And we sang about needing each other and praying for each other.

I need you.

Because not complaining for seven whole days ain’t gonna be easy.

So, friends, if you hear me complain, shut me up. But do it gently, please.

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A brand new day

My hardworking reporter DJ left me today. There is a whole other post in my head about what we have meant to each other as co-workers in the five months we’ve known each other, but today I simply want to share with you the last story he gave me (he edited it just a bit, and of course I couldn’t resist tweaking it just a tad myself. Wouldn’t be me if I didn’t, would it, Deej?).

One day, there was a blind man sitting on the steps of a building with a hat by his feet and a sign that read: “I am blind, please help.”

A creative editor was walking by and stopped to observe. She saw that the blind man had only a few coins in his hat. She dropped in more coins and, without asking for permission, took the sign and rewrote it.

She returned the sign to the blind man and left. That afternoon the editor returned to the blind man and noticed that his hat was full of bills and coins.

The blind man recognized her footsteps and asked if it was she who had rewritten his sign and wanted to know what she had written on it.

The editor responded: “Nothing that was not true. I just wrote the message a little differently.” She smiled and went on her way.

The new sign read: “Today is Spring, and I cannot see it.”

Sometimes we just need to change our strategy. If we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always gotten.

Thanks, friend.

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