March 2014

The other day I shared the space of a  local Star Bucks with two other people.  Upon pressing down the plastic lid onto the hot, fresh, dark brew, I turned to walk out of the store when the other lone female patron asked the barista, What do you know about Teaching English as a Foreign Language?  I paused, thought really hard, practiced self control and made the conscious choice to leave without speaking.

This may not seem like a big deal to you, but it is to my husband who swears I don’t know a stranger.   If I like your sexy sandals or sassy scarf, I don’t care if you are a complete stranger in a restaurant three tables over, I will find an excuse to walk past you and pay a compliment.  Are you standing in line in the grocery staring at Cosmo and wondering what the heck are the 15 hottest ways to make your man scream for more in bed? I will joke with you that the only screaming we do anymore has to do with the toothpaste being squeezed the wrong way, and BTW, Cosmo is now up to  4,356 ways to make men scream in bed because every month this seems to be a running Cosmo theme, and I’m sorry I’m not attracted to screaming men because at some point all the screaming is going to turn into whining for lozenges.

Is it too cold, too warm, too sunny, too windy?  I know!  Me too!  I empathize.  I think that’s my problem, I am a chronic empathizer and sometimes I can’t help myself when out in public.

Here’s the thing – I DO have experience teaching ESL or ESOL or ESFL or whatever they are calling it now.  I’ve taught it on and off for years, and I love, love, love doing it for many reasons, but that still small voice in me screamed, For once just shut the hell up and walk out the door with your big empathetic yap shut, and I listened…but here’s the story I really wanted to share. …

It happened almost 20 years ago when I was a collegian, who along with six other fellow English majors and our professor, headed to Hungary to work in a church based ministry for six weeks.  The deal was a local Hungarian church offered Learn to Speak English classes free to the community, and spirited young co-eds from the States would come run the program.  This was not long after the fall of communist governments in Eastern Europe, and these wonderful people were opening wide their arms and hearts to Westerners.  They were also opening their vineyards and home brewed beer rations as I found out one Sunday afternoon…not long before Sunday evening services…where I was scheduled to give my testimony.

For those of you not familiar with the evangelical Christian world or its interesting vocabulary terms, a testimony is a fancy word for your conversion story, and boy do we like us some good conversion stories.  The more sin from whence we turned, the better. I don’t remember much of the testimony I shared with the Hungarian church one night because quite frankly, I was hammered.

Here’s how it went down. Our little band of teachers hailed from a small Baptist liberal arts college in the Midwest, and before we left, we were told by our school leaders that while partaking in libations was frowned upon, they understood that we might find ourselves in a cultural situation where it would be offensive to turn down an alcoholic beverage offered to us by our hosts. If  this case were to arise, we were to follow the example of the Apostle Paul, and become all things to all people.  I don’t know if Paul ever found himself teaching Hebrew as a Second Language in a foreign country where his hosts liked their liquor, but leave it to me to find that one Hungarian gentleman who showered me with schnapps, volunteered me with vino and bid me with beer.

Every weekend once classes were over, our students ranging from ages 6-90 would fight to see who got the privilege to have Americans  come to their home for a visit.  I can’t say enough wonderful things about our students and hosts.  I also can’t say enough about the fact that it probably wasn’t the best idea for the six of us to go to the house of a sweet 9 year old student who was in our beginning English class and whose parents spoke not a lick of our mother tongue. Lovely, lovely folks…had no idea what we were saying. I can’t remember the delightful girl’s name, but I’ll call her Eva because Eva was a popular given name among our female students.

Eva’s dad was a large, burly guy who kept pointing to me and saying Marilyn Monroe (I dyed my hair platinum blonde back then. Not helpful in this situation.) and offering our clan shots of something homemade.  Knowing that not downing the stuff was akin to spitting in our host’s eye, I threw my head back and gulped it down.  When I opened my eyes, Eva’s dad, the good host, had refilled my shot glass.  I think this scene was repeated five times before we were called into the kitchen for Sunday lunch…my colleagues keeping an I on me as I stumbled my way to the table.

The meal was as comfortable as it could be with a nine year old girl acting as the lead interpreter for all the adults involved. Her father poured us all some wine and motioned out back to his vineyards about which we could tell he was very proud as well as he should have been.  I don’t know how big his operation was because quite frankly I was seeing double by this time, but always the empathetic character I am, and trying to keep the conversation going for the sake of our student and her parents, I spied a large 7 Up bottle in the corner of the kitchen and asked what it was. The next think I knew, I had a stein full of beer in front of me.  Apparently, dad grew hops as well as grapes, and I was implored to try his newest creation.  Well, as Paul said, When in Rome!  I may be a lot of things, but I am not an ungracious guest even if it means my liver has to age 35 years in three hours.

I don’t remember much after this.  There was a ride home on public transportation which I think my fellow teachers played a big part in getting me on and off at the necessary  stops and transfers. There was also an evening church service where I stood before a large group of fellow believers – many of whom had lives and spiritual journeys much more interesting than a 20 something American seeing as they survived an underground church experience during the years communism ruled the land –  and spoke through a translator about Jesus finding me and saving me. Apparently, no one else in the group asked as many empathetic questions as I did hours before, because none of them found themselves facing a foreign congregation  in a slightly inebriated state.

20 years later, though, I  remembered enough  to have the good sense to keep my mouth shut when, in a coffee shop in northern Indiana, where everyone spoke English.  I didn’t offer up a peep upon someone posing a question regarding teaching English to foreigners. Proud of myself, I told my long-suffering husband how I walked out of the store without sharing my Sister Got Sauced On Sunday story. He did what he always does…sighed and went back to whatever he does when I break in with one of my See I’m Getting Better!  announcements.

Maybe that’s his way of saying next time I should share my fascinating stories with complete strangers..

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What Kind of Sick, Twisted Joke is This?

by Priscilla on March 14, 2014

So, I suffered with Mommy Guilt today as I do most days, and when I was shopping at Target looking for a present for a b-day party the girls were invited to, I saw this puzzle.

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Yes, it’s 1000 pieces.  And yes, I’m that mother who thinks the cat’s in the cradle, and I haven’t spent enough time whipping up home made play-doh in eight colors in between scrapbooking the 520 weeks of the girls’ lives and sewing mother/daughter Easter dresses. I realized this last night when Twin B lay beside me in bed watching Columbo.  Yes, I’m that pathetic.  I was trying to convince my 10 year old that all the cool cats watch Columbo with their mothers.  I also tried to convince her that the phrase cool cats was a term all hipsters use. Where was Twin A during all this cigar smoking detective watching? Oh she was with us – coming in and out of the room showing me things she was taking apart and putting back together – a music box, a doorbell, my smoke detector.  Twin A just discovered a copy of The Way Things Work and declared, I want to be an engineer.  After fielding about 15 questions science related question I declared, Honey, I love you, and I love the fact that you want to be an engineer, but I am not blowing you off when I tell you to ask your father these questions because I was an English major.  I can take apart sentences, and that’s about it. 

Once again I took stock in my life and realized that I was way over my head with these kids, and that I might need to do something besides introduce them to an old cop with weird eyes who drives a beater and tricks the bad guys into thinking he’s a dope until he pins the murder on them.

This is where the puzzle comes in.  I saw it, and then, harkening back to my lousy mothering the night before made the decision to do more hands on stuff with my kids so that when they are interviewed for Architectural Digest they won’t remember all the television watching of their youth and might say something like, I think the first time I got the idea to design the tallest building in the world was when I was doing a puzzle with my mother. She was always so hands on.

Excited to give this good mothering thing another shot, I got the puzzle out, showed it to the girls who seemed halfway interested.  Then again considering just 24 hours before they were watching Columbo and dissecting rotary phones, I’m guessing anything – including a 1000 piece puzzle- seemed a decent option for the evening’s entertainment.

We spilled it out and begin turning each piece over looking for the outer edges.  Well, Twin A and I did.  Twin B was tap dancing to a CD of Ella Fitzgerald and Sinatra and friends tunes – I swear I wish I were making this scene up.  Did I mention that I bought this particular one since it had a Where’s Waldo feel to it?  I should have looked closer. Then I might have noticed these important instructions….

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Seriously?  Okay, it’s bad enough that these people designed a 1000 piece puzzle depicting 85 different scenes and lots of little scribble writing.  It’s bad enough I’m on week six of no sugar, no chips, no dairy – just raw meat and twigs that I forage for myself. It’s bad enough that my kids understand basic electronics better than I and would rather build something from scratch than watch Knight Rider reruns with me.  That’s not enough for the puzzle designers from the bowels of hell.  Now, they’ve cut a scene into 1,000 tiny pieces with the instructions: Hey, this picture on the box isn’t what you are going to put together. You have to imagine what this puzzle will look like in 50 years and then create it!  Also, you have to act like you are having a great time with your kids while doing this so they don’t tell Architectural Digest how lousy you were as a parent.

This is what we accomplished tonight – Twin B finally joined us after tapping her way through L Is For the Way You Look At Me:

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Imagine what it will look like in 50 years.

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Today’s Prayer

by Priscilla on March 6, 2014

I’m still reading Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus.  Yes, I started it eons ago, but I’ve been traveling thru a spiritual desert recently…one of my own making.  If you know anything about the biblical Israelites, you know that when things were good, they would kind of do their own thing for a while, and then over a year or two or two hundred, things would go way south for them, and they’d cry out to God and say Where are you? We need you!  Well, my life, despite this week’s sadness from losing Suki, is in a good place right now. In fact it’s about 180 degrees opposite from where it was five years ago for which I am grateful, but instead of being reminded that God gave me the strength I needed to claw and scrape out of the miry clay, I  bounce merrily on my way forgetting from whence it is my help cometh.

Today’s reading focused on Jewish prayers – especially the prayers of thankfulness that start from the time one awakes, to the time one lies down at night.  They had prayers for everything…I mean everything…including bowel movements. Reading all these various prayers I was challenged how much I’d gotten away from thanking God for all the little things that happen in a day – even the crappy things – because at the end of the day, all those little things result in one more day of life given to me that I really had nothing to do with in the first place.  Nothing. Let’s face it, my being here on earth has absolutely nothing to do with anything I did to get here in the first place.

At the end of the reading, I was challenged to write out a thankful prayer for the day or to have throughout the day.  Being completely ADD, of course, my prayer goes all over the place.  I’ll share it with you, and I hope you are inspired to do the same as well.  (Maybe you are in a place where you are angry with God; that’s perfectly fine. Maybe it’s time you write down all your anger and yell it at God. Get it out. It’s could be the starting point you need to move through the anger and into something beautiful.)

Dear God, thank you that I awoke today.  Yes, the weather is cloudy again and cold again, but thank you for the senses I have to see and feel the weather. Thank you for the warm home I have to protect my family against it. Thank you for the hot  coffee I am drinking and for the workers who brought it all the way into my home and this cup which holds it. 

Thank you that my children are upstairs sleeping safely. Thank you that when they get up they have voices to speak and stomachs that are working and hungry and they will want food, and that I can give them food. Thank you for all the people in my life who looked after them when I was so spent I couldn’t give them all the love they deserve – like Tana, Ken and Joanna, Rebecca, Julie, all their teachers and coaches and neighbors.  All those minutes and hours when people watched them for an hour or two. Thank you for bringing just the right people at just the right  minutes. Thank you for moving us into a neighborhood filled with more people to love them.

 Thank you for the birds outside my window – for in the barrenness of this everlovin’ freakishly long winter, they bring spirit and color and music and vitality into my life every day.

Thank you for allowing my mind to understand words and string those words together into complete thoughts. Thank you for the inspiration to write.  Thank you for Amy who created this blog site since I have no idea what I am doing in the area of technology.  Thank you for the technology that can connect us.  Thank you for all the people I love to be connected with – my family and my friends who along the way who became my family.  Thank you for their stories – the good, the bad and the ugly for their stories inspire me to trudge forward through the blech knowing eventually the blech gives way to the inspiring. 

Thank you for art that inspires. Thank you that my daughter was awarded for her art last night. Thank you for her ability to create art. Thank you for her art teachers and for a school system that values children and the work they do. 

Thank you that my child has awakened to another day, and as she sits beside me poring over her American Girl magazine, thank you that she can see and read and comprehend. Thank you that she still has her innocence and wide eyed wonder of the world. Thank you that she is able to play and create and think and plan – that her mind works in such a way to be able to do such things.

Thank you for all the work that faces all of us today – cooking, cleaning, learning, driving, selling, talking, meeting. Thank you for giving us the ability to accomplish these tasks. Thank you for giving us these tasks in the first place for they force us to take the next steps, and we never know where these next steps may lead.

Thank you for my grumbly stomach for it means things are working as they should and my health is ok. Thank you for the empty spot on the couch where Suki once lay as it reminds me of all the love and enjoyment she brought to us. Thank you for pets. Thank you for vets, and pet stores and the folks who make pet food, pet treats, pet play things. Thank you for a husband with a soft heart towards animals and who spoils them with all these things. 

And now, as I start my day, thank you for using this practice of prayer to change my attitude from one of Ugh to one of Okay let’s do this.

Amen. 

 

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My Girl II (This one is for you pet owners)

by Priscilla on March 5, 2014

I didn’t expect to say goodbye to my 13.5 year old hound mix, Suki, today; but in the end I’m at peace because I never expected to say hello to her in the first place.

Over a decade ago I had one of the most fun and challenging jobs of my now 42 year old life.  I was a research assistant to the anthropologists and archeologists documenting and preserving the federal land of Fort Campbell, Kentucky.  Together, we along with wildlife biologists, foresters and DNR folks worked with soldiers to protect the land from the impact of training while making sure they could remain mission ready.  I  spent hours researching  the cemeteries left on the land after the Army moved in, in 1938-39, and on any given afternoon, if I weren’t hiking around documenting the cemeteries, anyone could find me in my desk in the hall by the bathroom poring over cemetery plots and old land maps.  Yep,  you read that correctly…desk  in the hall…by the bathroom.  You know where you are in the office pecking order when your desk isn’t even in the office, and you have to keep a can of Febreze handy.

One day the biologists came back from a bird survey or a water quality test or a turkey count or whatever it is they did out in those Back 40 fields of Fort Campbell, and in their truck was a little red hound, tail between her legs, eyes forlorn, paws rubbed raw. She was out wandering around the Suchon.  Someone must have dumped her, one of them explained.

The Suchon is a large training area used for soldiers of the 101st Airborne to practice their jumps from airplanes at one time.  I don’t know if it still is.  What I do know is that it’s a huge barren area, and this little dog who had been running aimlessly for who knows how long in the lonely fields and woods of Fort Campbell stole my heart.  I’ll take her, and find a home. I said. What the heck. I already had a dog and two cats, my husband was always off training so I needed to keep busy after work, and how hard could it be to find a home for this cute little thing now curled up under my desk.  I looked at her and said, Well, since they found you in the Suchon, I’ll just call you Suki.  Later, when she was in trouble, she became Suchon Abigail.  Don’t ask me why, it just seemed to fit those moments when I was giving the infamous First and Second Name Lectures.

I didn’t expect the few days to turn into a few weeks and the 40 pound docile dog turned into a 65 pound spaz machine once nursed back to health.  She spazzed at visitors at the front door, bowling them over with her aggressive crotch sniffing.  She spazzed the cats who had no idea what just came into their world. She spazzed at the mailman, the UPS man, the poll worker. She dug holes all over the yard, and when she got bored, she got out of the fence and dug holes in the neighbor’s yard. I expected to give her away, and I did , not long after placing an add in the paper – free dog to a loving home

I didn’t expect the man to whom I gave her to return her back to me in three days with a sad look on his face explaining, She pooped on the bed, and ran away three times. She jumped out of his car and ran straight for me never looking back at the poor guy who wanted to keep her – but with a not-so-happy wife and two year old child, he just couldn’t.

I didn’t expect to spend over $700 for her thanks to the doggie equivalent of a torn ACL much less learn how to perform canine physical therapy five months pregnant with twins.  I never thought I’d be  seven months pregnant chasing Indy who was chasing Suki, who was chasing Lucy the cat who was holding a terrified baby bunny in her mouth up and down the stairs of our Kentucky home.  But these scenes became the norm once Suki entered my life.  If the house grew quiet, I’d look out the back door and see the fence gate swinging, make a run for the car and 30 seconds later find our three dogs, Indy, Suki and Cocoa running shoulder to shoulder the half mile to the end of our dead end road.  I’d just follow slowly behind in my Chevy Trailblazer until they came to the a stop, look around to see me and come, tongues dragging, back to climb into the car.  I quit scolding after the 4th time.

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I didn’t expect to hear the words, She’ll always have a little wild in her, from the dog trainer I worked with whose real job was training K-9 units for the local police. 12 weeks of one hour sessions with him along with 30 minute daily practices in my completely wrecked back yard with her, and she would still bolt the minute she saw freedom.  I expected that instinct would fade away. It didn’t. She practiced her bolting skillsfor the next 13.5 years.

I didn’t expect the ultrasound to show two babies, but it did, and immediately well meaning friends and family members advised us we had too many pets and had to get rid of them for the sake of the babies.  I didn’t expect to think all those horrible thoughts about them and their stupid opinions, but I did.  Suki grew into the dog who wore sunglasses and sweaters, was ridden like a horse and endured more kids climbing in and out of her crate with her. She never batted an eye.  Okay sometimes she gave me that long blink meaning, Mom, are they serious?  That girl was loved.

I give up.  She's never putting that book down. Oh, well, at least my human did something about my demon eyes.  I'll take what I can get from these people.

 

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I didn’t expect to see her face in almost every photo I’ve ever taken from family birthdays to Christmas mornings to funeral gatherings, but somehow she sidled her way into the snapshot much like she sidled into everyone’s hearts. Her image riddles my iPhone, and every single photo album in our house. I didn’t expect her to climb the stairs of every house we’ve lived in every evening and sleep right by the side of my bed…okay so a lot of times she kept on climbing until she was beside me in the bed as well. I didn’t expect to move with her from Kentucky to Michigan to Central Indiana to Northern Indiana, but she did, and she managed to get in every trash can,  lick clean every l0aded dishwasher and bark at every mailman at each address.

I did, however, grow to expect to see her face at the window every time I backed out of our driveway, and every time I pulled in.  I expected her to run out the back door and chase the squirrels every day like she’d never seen them before EVER. I expected her to climb up beside me on the couch for Gilmore Girls or Monk, or Psych or Downton Abbey, the Olympics or the elections.  I expected to have some privacy, but I never did. She’d find me in the garage, in the closet, in the shed, on the toilet. I wasn’t in a room alone long without a door swinging open, followed by a black runny nose poking around, followed by my red hound. I  grew up Baptist and Baptists are big on life Bible verses.  I joked one time with my husband that Suki’s life verse was John 14:3b That where I am there you may also be.

For years I said I was going to blog. One thing or another kept me from it.  I didn’t expect Suki to be the inspiration for my first and most brutally transparent post, The Good Seat. But what could I do – the girl went and ate an entire bottle of Rimadyl and cost me $800 in emergency kidney flushes. I didn’t expect to ever string those three stories together, but somehow Little Red, my term of endearment for her, made them flow seamlessly. I didn’t know what my voice would be as I wrote for you all.  I didn’t expect the most expensive free dog ever to give me that voice.

But that’s what she did. She just gave and gave and gave, and in the end, when she fell, she gave me one last gift…the gift of a goodbye that was as quick as her hello.  The vet said she may have had a blood cot that was popped loose by the fall and that it went straight to her brain. Maybe. But Suki always did things on her terms, and her terms depended a lot on what her mama was up to, and she knew the lady whose desk she crawled under 13.5 years ago didn’t want her to suffer, so she wasn’t going to let that happen. She waited for the man to get the children from school, loaded up everyone in the car, get to the front door of the vet’s, and then breathed her last breath.

Most of us don’t expect to receive so much from our pets, but they have a way of surpassing our expectations every time. So, Suki, Sue-Sue, Little Red and last but not least Suchon Abigail!, thanks for all the love, joy, consternation, chaos, exasperation and loyalty you gave me. I never expected any of it, but you showed up and gave it it me anyway.

Farewell, my sweet friend.

 

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