Thursday, January 31, 2008

Childhood Mischief Grows Into Good Deed

When I was a kid, we were only allowed to Trick or Treat on our street. At the last house, on the last Halloween I'd be deemed young enough to participate, we learned about the "Trick" part of the deal.

There were three of us: my 13 year old best friend from next door, 12 year old me and my 10 year old sister. At this last house, an obviously disgusted-to-be-stuck-with-handing-out-treats teenage boy opened the door and glared at us. We cheerfully sang out, "Trick or Treat!" to which he grinned evily and yelled, "Trick!" With that, he reached INTO our bags and took out as much candy as possible before slamming the door in our face. The two older of us were stunned. The little one was furious. Pounding on the door like a rabid Storm Trooper, when the teen opened the door she bellowed, "Give us back our candy!"

From the wry smile on his face, I'm pretty sure he had no plans to meet her demand. However, his mother heard the bellowing sibling and came rushing to the door. Before he could explain, little sis spit out the entire story like a well practiced attorney. Not only did he have to give the candy back, he had to double what we got from him. And then we had the added treat of hearing his Mom ground him for a week. As the tables turned and his weekend evaporated, he glared at us as my sister smiled at him so sweetly it's a wonder he didn't develop diabetes on the spot.

Segue to today. One of the senior citizens had contacted a local company about donating paint for our Dining Room, which is an awful Institutional Green in color. She told me the guy's name, which is a fairly common one, but it made me think of that Halloween years ago. When a very polite gray haired man walked into my office today to discuss the paint, I burst out laughing and said, "It IS you." Before I could shoot myself in the foot and ruin the deal, I merely offered that we'd lived on the same street. He was amazed it was me and began asking about my family. Before he left, the offer of paint, which would've been applied by Inmate help, had evolved to me picking out the color of my choice and letting his professional crew of painters do the work! Step One of reclaiming the Center has begun.

Sometimes an apology is a long time in coming...even if it's subconsciously motivated. :)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Remarkable

Sometimes my job can be a bit surreal. Yesterday morning I cooked and served lunch to my senior citizens, which I do every Tuesday. I was encouraging them to fight to keep their Center going before budget season kicks in and uncertainty takes the lead. Some of them wondered how I was adjusting to turning 50. I just grinned, knowing no matter how I answered, someone would offer words of advice. To them a grin means I'm still winning the war against their enemy Arthur Itis.

How am I adjusting? That afternoon I sat down to teach the kids how to play Jacks. Yes, on the floor. Is there any other way? That's when I discovered how "un-childlike" these poor kids have become.

A little girl held up the plastic bag containing several small rubber balls and the jacks and with a perplexed expression asked me,"What do you do with these?" Another kid came up and at least knew they were called jacks but had no idea what they were for. So I sat down on the floor and showed them. They were amazed. I was surprised at how quickly it came back to me, that rhythm of toss, scoop and catch. When it was their turn, I just felt sad. It wasn't just their lack of coordination, which is understandable when you're learning a new task. It was the fact they couldn't remember simple things, like to toss the ball UP. It took 10 minutes of me chanting, "Up, scoop, catch after one bounce" for one of our 4th graders to grasp the concept. I kept on until he got it and grinned from ear to ear. In my head I heard a ghostly, "Remarkable!" that one of the Little Rascals use to utter in a drawl. One minute I was grinning, the next I felt sad. Who is their "Little Rascals" reference? A talking sponge? Or worse?

I worry about these kids sometimes. Not just because I'm older but because I still remember childhood so vividly. What will they remember? Eating junk food, playing computer games and watching movies they are way too young to comprehend. I worry because of the time they are growing up in. The neighborhood where they're growing up has citizens more interested in who has the most expensive sneakers rather than who made the Honor Roll at school. No, their badge of honor is learning gang signs and talking tough. What scares me is most of the time they don't know what they're talking about and the slightest innocent misstep could get them hurt. Badly. If you ask them what their favorite song is, all they can name are rappers. I can tell you where I was if I hear a song from my youth. When the get to my age, how are they going to hum along to "tunes" where men brag about violence, Hos and bitches wanting their bling? Where's their balance?

Sometimes I think that's why I'm there...as a counter balance. As a kid I remember not liking classical music. My best friend's evil brother, who used us as his human guinea pigs in ways the military hasn't come up with even today, told me I should listen to it. First I was shocked because I thought of that music as definitely more cultured than he was. The second shock was finding out he was right...that to grow, you have to be willing to have an open mind.

So I bring my childhood to work with me. I tell them stories about being their age without resorting to stories that begin, "When I was your age..". They like to hear that I was shy, unsure and how I dealt with stuff. Instead of the adult who lords it over them with never ending rules and yelling, I'm the one who, in their eyes, survived childhood and can still laugh. Like a kid.

And I did see a little bit of "just kid" in them after all. When they finished playing jacks, they found the joy of spinning them like tops. Maybe there's hope for them yet.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Different Tactic

I practiced the art of Remaining Calm today. The results were interesting. I ended the day feeling less stressed out than I have in months. No, it wasn't due to my vacation. I worked my butt off during my vacation but the To Do list was penned in my own hand, so it wasn't a chore. Laundry...now that's still a chore.

And no, I did NOT simply roll over and play dead while awaiting inevitable defeat. For every person who called me today in an agitated state, I let them vent, followed by heartfelt consolation, THEN my opinion. I got a lot more done today utilizing that method. Minus the stress of feeling like I am constantly going into battle, I asked questions I'd been putting off. Apparently my laid back approach was so under the radar that instead of the automatic "NO!" such questions usually elicit, I was given the courtesy of being heard, with a promise of an answer which will be born of conversation and deliberation. May not sound like much to you, but after almost 15 years, it's quite an improvement over the usual reply.

Gee, who needs Dr. Phil when a deep breath will do? :)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

New Beginnings..Sort Of

Most people do spring cleaning and make new year's resolutions. I do new year's cleaning and resolve in the spring that I will plant more flowers. To each their own. Which probably explains my vacation this week.

My announcement that I'd going on vacation was met with one question by all my senior citizens, "Where are you going?" With a sly smile I answered, "Away from my desk." Everyone needs a break from being the one in charge, as well as the one doing all the work. Just to not have to be anywhere at a certain time is a gift for the always-punctual like myself. They just shook their heads in dismay. I added that since it was going to be my birthday, I was giving myself the gift of a week off. Actually, I was giving myself the opportunity to do what I wanted in a time frame of my choosing.

Some will say I've wasted my week, others will wonder what part of "relax" I forgot to put into play. To begin with, between various family members, I managed to stretch my birthday out for three days. Not bad. On my birthday, hubby took me out for Lunch and Dinner of my choosing. Let's just say my first choice was better than my second. The latter had the same result as drinking the water in a foreign country. And yes, it was a restaurant that Montezuma's family might've been familiar with, although I will be kind enough not to name names. I'm only grateful I wasn't that hungry, so I didn't eat much.

I got the oil changed in my car. This isn't an obvious highlight unless you're a female facing the dreaded task of seeing the gleam in a mechanic's eyes when he sees a purse come through the door. I chose the local mechanic this week. As I walked in to ask about an oil change, this mountain of a man comes around the corner, calls me by name and wraps me in a bear hug of joy. He use to work for a big dealership, but had just bought the place in my small hometown. He pointed out that the young man behind the counter, who he referred to as "the chunk off the old block" was the same kid I use to watch him bring to baseball practice behind my center. I was glad to see this man for two reasons: I know he's honest and he has a sense of humor. I swore I'd never again patronize the previous oil change business because they were always intent on selling me every service known to mankind while being...well, patronizing. The Mechanic grinned and asked, "Did they do the little demonstration where they put the clean fluids on one side of the tray and then a sample of your car's? Stupid, huh?" Finally, a man with a garage who was aware I have a brain and know how to operate it. When I came back later, his son greeted me with a solemn face and said, "Just so you'll know, I let all that dirty air out of your tires and replaced it with clean air."

You gotta love hometown friendly, with a sense of humor.

The rest of the week has been preparing for income taxes for hubby's business and the aunt in the nursing home. Consolidating records, weeding out stuff more than five years old and finding the bottom of what I call my office at home. I've printed pictures on my new printer...which was even more fun because I made copies of a photo of my maternal Grandfather that my Mom had never seen. After copying it for Mom and her sister in N.C., I made that same aunt copies of a Family Tree "video" I'd made of the maternal side of the family.

Tomorrow we'll paint our bedroom. Sounds boring but it was the only room in the house we didn't paint when we purchased our home 10 years ago. It was an odd shade of green, not very well applied and it's starting to look like an ancient chalkboard. So as the curtains got a bath, I sat down to eat lunch and watch a little t.v.. The writer's strike is very effective if you're a viewer and has increased our consumption of the Discovery, History, Sci-Fi and Bravo channels. Sadly, reality t.v. has taken over. I flipped around and discovered [a] that "reality t.v." bears little to no resemblance to real life and [b] people with too much money don't have a clue. I saw 45 year old actor Scott Baio flip out when he finally asked his girl friend of many years, [she appeared to be a "fill in" between romances with a variety of starlets] to marry him. When she whispered, "We're going to have a baby", he threw a temper tantrum, telling her he couldn't handle her feelings as he literally ran away. I didn't know a 45 year old man could act so childishly. I feel sorry for the baby. The one in diapers, not the one turned 46 and whimpering that he didn't know what he'd do if the baby was a girl. I'm guessing the first order of business would be to protect her from guys like her Dad the Jerk. Insert rolling eyes here.

I flipped once more and laughed so hard I had to turn the t.v. off. Some California pampered wife was bemoaning, on her husband's yacht during her lavish birthday party, that she was turning 40 and her life was over. She was old. She should see a plastic surgeon. And all her friends rushed forward to tell her she looked wonderful. Well yeah, if you like the hooker with money look, she was swell. Her angst melted slightly when her hubby gave her a diamond encrusted Rolex. Her friends oohed and ahhed. One pouted when she realized her friend's "old watch with just a diamond face" had also been a Rolex...because she wanted one and had never gotten one. All her friends had a Rolex, so she starts pointing at her husband to demand he get her one.

My hubby got me a watch for my birthday. It also ends in "ex" and tells time just fine, thanks. We were sitting in his limo, which looks surprisingly like a large truck, when he presented it to me in the company of our two 4 legged children, Smokey and Boudreaux. In fact, Bou leaned forward and sniffed my gift, then wagged his tail. I think he realizes that poor 2 legged critters have to consult their wrist to know when it's time to eat or do other things. He licked my cheek in consolation. Smokey simply sat still and looked sage.

My reality is that my car will be safe for my daily commute, my house is somewhat more organized, the bedroom will be a cheerful color tomorrow in direct contrast to the rain muck outside and I think another birthday simply makes me happy to have made it through another year.

Besides, not being a slave to fashion, I was actually allowed to eat birthday cake. And enjoy it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Birthday Follow-up

You know how you request something, often out of necessity, yet don't see the potential for humor until later? I did it to myself on my birthday. Twice.

My watch has been on its last leg and the time has come when a new battery no longer solves the problem for very long. I'd mentioned this before Christmas but when I got a laptop, I figured a new watch could wait a while longer. I have an "old fashion" watch with a second hand and the kids I work with like to have me time them in foot races. Hey, any kid in this day and age who'll actually run without the goal being food or a computer game, I'm all for it. I have a stop watch, but the kids like sitting around me and counting as the second hand ticks away. Any time I can make the mundane both educational and fun, I'll take it.

So for my birthday, hubby got me a new watch. And in his defense, he did add to my antique collection with a beautiful side by side cabinet. [Definition: think curio style glass doored cabinet on one side, a lady's writing desk and drawer space on the other.] The new watch has a link band which needs to be adjusted and since my wrist is one of the few things which hasn't um...expanded over the years, a couple of links need to be taken out. I was holding up my arm to show hubby exactly how many when I began giggling. He had that worried look of,"She SAYS being 50 doesn't bother her but what if she's starting to crack right now?"

I smiled at him and said in a sane tone, "Don't they give watches to people when they retire? Am I suppose to retire now that I'm 50?" He laughed, but encouraged me to continue working just as soon as I finish this week's vacation. After all, there's still four years of house payments ahead of us.

We went on and ate lunch out. As we exited to pay the bill, we had to go through a Gift Shop. Before I could say,"Do you see that?" hubby was pointing at the same wind chime. Remember, we live in a 124 year old farm house in the country, one with a front porch and rocking chairs. The wind chime topper was a rocker so similar to the ones on our front porch, we both reached for the box at the same time. I must say it has the most melodic tone...not that annoying, high pitched tinkling sound that some have which sets nerves on end and makes neighbors want to suggest where you could put it.

Some people will review the above and see that on my 50th birthday I got a watch and a rocking chair. I see a hubby who still understands me and what I like. I may not be the same 16 year old he fell for years ago, but we've grown up together. Time has been our friend.

And that may be the best gift of all.

Monday, January 14, 2008

An Unpopular View...or are they just jealous?

On Jan. 15th I will mark one of those "milestone" birthdays and turn 50. I'm slightly amazed that it's gotten here so quickly, but I seem to be taking it a lot better than everyone else. No. Really.

I've gotten comments indicating my body will start falling apart at warp speed. This declaration often comes with a detailed explanation of when that party's body turned on him/her. The difference is, I tend to key in on the word, "party." To me, a birthday should be celebrated, no matter what your age. It's physical proof you've outwitted the world and it's elements [especially in a political year] once again. I consider it a victory. I've been told I'm wrong.

We'll see.

The thing is, I formed this opinion early...and I'm not talking about on my 49th birthday. When my Mom turned 50, I remember her being depressed for most of the day. And that was just for starters. When I finally asked why, she sighed in a depressed manner, "My life is half over!"

And therein lies the difference.

I think of all the things I've learned and all the things I STILL need to learn. Because if you ever lose that need to know, they might as well plant you in the ground now. There's a lot I haven't gotten around to yet and I'll need at least another 50 years to get it all done. Besides, I made my grandmother Memaw a deal that we'd both live to be 100. She got ill, but was only a month away from 98 when she died. I'm pretty sure with modern technology I'll make it. Living....not existing.

I believe the portion of longevity not lorded over by genetics is all attitude. Stay positive, stay active, stay alive longer and ENJOY life! I reminded my Mom, as she bemoaned the fact that I her eldest was almost 50 and she couldn't be old enough to have a child that age, that at 50 she went to college. And graduated. There is no statute of limitations on what a human is capable of based on age. Which is why I chuckled when my Mom-in-law gave me a card that read, "If life begins at 40, then you're only 10."

Probably explains why I still enjoy celebrating birthdays...CHOCOLATE CAKE.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Say...do I know you?

When you live in the country, you get use to seeing all kinds of critters that you don’t see anywhere else. In my driveway alone on any given day I can find tracks for deer, fox, coyote, birds, mice, cat and/or dog. And with the size of Boudreaux’s huge doggy feet, his are the easiest to identify. I’m also familiar with more birds than I ever saw in my backyard as a kid. Think the usual backyard menagerie, then add doves, owls, killdeer, cowbirds, black birds, bald eagles and crows. The last ones I could do without.

Why? Because crows are my mortal enemy during pecan season. They like to sit in the top of the tree and pick off the best nuts before they can plummet to the ground. Pecan trees have cycles: produce one year, take the next year off. When the tree is back from vacation, so are the crows. This year is our bumper crop and I’ve never seen so many crows before! Hubby will blast at them with his shotgun while I prefer the adult method of yelling, ”Get out of my tree!”

Driving to work, in the city, I see the metallic balloons with streamers that some farmers have placed in their fields to keep the crows and their cousins the black birds, from eating all their wheat before it has a chance to sprout. And once I get past the fields, I don’t give those loud freeloaders another thought.

Until this past month.

This past month I’ve found crows at my office. Not the stray one or two on the back 5 acres where the baseball field use to be. A dozen, sometimes more. And no, they don’t just graze out back. No, they like to perch on the roof of my building. Over my entrance to the building, to be precise. To drive up and find 10 crows sitting over your door in the CITY is like waiting for Stephen King to peek around the corner to whisper “Boo!” It’s never happened before. I suppose part of it is our drought and the crows are taking what they can find. Still, it’s weird.

Then last night I was watching a program where the woman had a crow keep coming to her house. She didn’t live in the type of area where crows are prevalent, so she believed in an old legend that stated a crow is the soul of a dead relative. In her case, she’d decided it was her Grandfather. I have no idea how she came to that conclusion but her legend included the belief that the crow was a loving spirit whose job was to watch out for her and her family.

Got to work this morning….crows. Okay, I had to laugh. This month is when the senior citizens pay their membership dues. I wonder if these crows are simply members who have passed on, but wanted to say “Hi!” in lieu of paying their money. One of them even has an attitude like one of the men who’s since passed on…very verbal with a tendency to be cranky. Hey, it’s better than believing Stephen King is behind my door.

You know, I’ve picked up so many pecans at this point, I’ve quit yelling at the crows. What if one of them really was the spirit of someone who lived there before I did? Mom always said it was nice to share. Besides, if people can have a black sheep in their family, why not a crow? :)

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A Tentative Step into the Future...once more

A new year. Again. Already. Wow!

I've already confessed that I gave up New Year's Resolutions at a tender age. Seems I was always 16 going on 35 anyway. My goal for this year is simple: to get it right.

Get what right? Everything. No, that's too much like self imposed stress. Something. Okay, that sounds like I have a plan. Anything. Okay, so my heart is in the right place I just don't know if the world will cooperate. My true goal is to merely do my best while neglecting my worry gene. Oh, and believing it's permissible to concentrate on just me. Occasionally.

I started today by doing a good deed for hubby by playing "take your kids to work day", meaning I brought the dogs to work because nothing is scheduled. Besides, our lovesick Romeo has been howling for over a week now, almost non-stop, because his beloved is in heat and the mean ol' people he lives with won't let him out....unattended. So instead of making hubby listen to what sounds like a grumpy old man huffing and puffing about not getting his way, I'm giving hubby's ears 8 hours of peace and quiet. And yes, there is much grumbling coming from beside my desk but when I play ball with him and his son, who is much less lovestruck, the world will be fine again. For all of us.

Now all I have to do is figure out what the human equivalent of playing ball is and I'm good to go.