Monday, March 31, 2014

What I Learned in March

Linking up today with Emily at Chatting at the Sky and sharing what I learned in March. I learned:

1. There is  a wolf sanctuary nearby. I've never given much thought to where rescued or unwanted wolves may live, or even the fact that there are rescued or unwanted wolves. A visit is definitely in order for 2014. These are the kinds of things you learn when you compliment a massage therapist's top emblazoned with paw prints and ask her if she's a dog lover. (Yes, but apparently also a fan of the wolves.)

2. When someone offers you a helping hand, at least consider the offer without dismissing it out of hand. And so I hereby thank the kind, kind woman who stopped after seeing me trip and slam my head on the sidewalk last week. She offered to hold the dogs while I got my bearings, but I, fearing Cooper's reaction, said no and that I was fine, even after she pointed out my nose was bleeding. In retrospect, as Brian pointed out, Cooper may have been fine and I should have let her at least try. Hindsight, 20/20 and all that, right?

3. Sweatshirts make good triage bandages. My nose was not bleeding; my head was, so once I realized (through the veil of blood streaming down my face) what was going on, I took off my coat and sweatshirt and wrapped my sweatshirt around my head to put pressure on my wound. I'm sure I was a sight to see.

4. Flesh-colored butterfly bandages are not available at the pharmacies closest to our home. I didn't do too extensive of a search, but when you need to apply one to your forehead, "flesh" is a preferable option to blazing white.

5. My entering-the-tween years nephew still has plenty of impish kid left in him ...

6. I feel mentally, emotionally and physically better when I am warm. So thankful for the opportunity to have several days of sun and warmth during/toward the supposed end of The Winter That Will Not End.

7. Some snacks just aren't all you hoped they'd be.

8. The name of our first granddaughter, but mum's the word on that for now. I don't think it's up to me to publish that on the WWW.

9. Time really does ease the pain. The sense of loss is always there, but poignant memories bring joy and beauty as the calendar pages turn.

10. Sometimes "God blesses you in more delicious ways than you dreamed possible." True words spoken by our server as she served us this free "oops" dessert originally made for someone else, which was a perfect blend of our favorites: chocolate, peanut butter, caramel.
11. Arena football is an, well, interesting experience, especially sitting in the front row and having a player nearly land in your lap. The best part, however, is that I got a date with The Three Amigos.
March was a busy month, full of stories, adventures and memory-making. Our basement renovations continued, so I suppose I could say I also learned how to cut and install ceiling insulation, that epoxy floors take longer than anticipated to dry and "renovation schedule" is a bit of an oxymoron. I was already well aware of that last one, though. And so we march on ...

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Beginning

Today is the third time I'll remember her birthday without being able to call her, email her, send her a funny card, or make dinner for her. The last birthday she celebrated here on earth, I had the privilege of making dinner for our families and sharing an evening of quiet, reflective conversation together. Just three days earlier, she had gotten the diagnosis that the cancer was back and had metastasized to her liver. We both knew, without saying it aloud, that the medical odds were not in her favor. But we also knew our faith would buoy us through the journey to come. I will forever treasure the gift of sharing that last birthday evening with her. By my birthday, two months later, she would be gone.

Today, I want to remember her vibrant spirit and the joy she brought to my life. And to do that, I went back to where it all began.

Pam in the Netherlands on our study-abroad European Adventure, 1989

We met the first day of Fall Welcome Weekend our freshman year of college. I can't recall the moment we met, but Pam remembered it being during some crazy, probably ridiculous, game involving shoes. During that weekend, there was a formal banquet and I was sitting at a table with one of my roommates. The details are fuzzy, but I remember inviting Pam to join us. Perhaps I wanted to share my fascination that a guy at our table spelled his name Wray.

After that weekend, Pam and I naturally went our separate ways. We lived in different dorms and had different friends. We had some overlapping classes since we were both business majors, but we didn't really interact until our junior year. We remembered sharing an economics class during our sophomore year. I knew she was in it, but her attendance was, well, less than regular. One day she showed up on what she thought was the day before an exam, hoping to participate in a review, but the professor had moved the exam to that day. She remembers me wearing my then-boyfriend's black leather jacket to class and walking in like I was Joan Jett. Cringe.

Fast forward to junior year. We're living in the same dorm on the same hallway, but far enough apart to rarely interact. We were little more than friendly faces to one another. One evening, I was headed out for an informational meeting about a summer study-abroad trip through Europe. As I reached the end of the hallway, I ran into Pam and asked where she was going. She was going to the same meeting and so we went together.

And that's where a friendship spanning more than two decades began. We became fast friends and had great fun the rest of our junior year. She was a rock as my friendship with my roommate disintegrated quickly for reasons then unknown to me. We'd watch Days of Our Lives between classes and I can still see her doing a volleyball roll down the hallway to my room. We argued emphatically with our New Testament professor over Bible passages regarding the role of women. We were in the same business law class and I invited her to sit with me and three guy friends and share whatever I'd gotten from the snack shop before class. One of those friends starting calling us "The Entity," because where one of us was, the other was likely not far behind.

The summer between our junior and senior years, we spent 10 weeks studying international business in 10 countries, including Russia. We weren't quite as much of The Entity on that trip, interacting with other Messiah students and making new friends from other schools, but that trip definitely cemented our friendship. That's likely to happen when you are 21 and sharing a room on an overnight train into Russia where the train stops for soldiers to board and demand (in Russian) to see your passports.

In London, at the conclusion of our European Adventure, 1989
We roomed together our senior semester. We were the "old ladies" of our dorm, as most juniors and seniors were living in apartments. We may or may not have given our younger RA a bit of run for her money. During those college days, we navigated classes, bad breakups (which ultimately were fabulous turns of events) and job searches. She was there when I caught my hair on fire. We shared deeply, laughed loudly, and were virtually inseparable.

Back then, like most college students, we had no idea where life would take us. We didn't realize that we were building a foundation that would serve us well through the seasons of life ... and death. I didn't recognize then - she might have - all of the blessings wrapped up in those early years of friendship. As time marched on, we really did grow up together.

So today, I celebrate her life and the friendship we were privileged to share. I count it as one of the best gifts of my life.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

These Eyes, They are A-Changin'

The earliest photo of me wearing glasses is my fifth-grade class photo. (I loved that navy corduroy jumper that was a hand-me-down from my cousin in Arizona, and look at me sporting our school colors, blue and gold. Go, RBS Crusaders!) I remember feeling scared and a little sick in my stomach when I failed the vision test during fourth grade. What did this mean? Was I going blind? The note went home to my parents and off I went to the eye doctor. Afterward, we went to Sterling Optical where I picked out brownish-butterscottish frames. I suppose huge, owl-like glasses were stylish back then. Of course, last weekend in the airport I saw a senior citizen sporting pure white round spectacles that likely cost a fortune, apparently thinking she was stylish, but maybe it was just a Miami thing.

I remember coming out of my bedroom after I got the glasses and could not believe that I could actually see clearly across the living room. "So that's what I've been missing," I thought. I had become so accustomed to my vision that I didn't even realize I couldn't see well. I must have sat close enough to the board in school so that I wasn't affected. Or maybe I just thought if you sat toward the back, like most kids whose names are close to the end of the alphabet and the class is seated in alphabetical order, the board was supposed to be unclear and fuzzy.

I wanted contacts in the worst way, starting probably when I was 12 or 13. My parents said I had to wait until I reached the more responsible age of 16. Lucky for me, my dad went back to wearing contacts after years of wearing only glasses when I was 15. He had such success with those lenses that he was featured in a brochure promoting them. And somehow (because we'll ignore whatever parental politics were occurring at the time) I received permission to get contact lenses, accompanied by The Responsibility and Money Doesn't Grow On Trees lectures.

My senior year of high school, I ripped a contact in Miss Lamison's first period psychology class. Luckily, my dad hadn't left for work and could drop off my glasses for me. My old-prescription-with-a-broken-stem glasses, that is. Back then, you didn't have spare pairs of contacts waiting for you in a drawer. You had one pair that pretty much lasted you a year (or longer). I made it through the rest of the day by propping my glasses up with my finger while in class and foggily navigating my way between classes without vision assistance.

I'm still wearing contacts as I'm not a good candidate for LASIK and I'm too much of a chicken anyway. My current eye doctor is so young I refer to him privately as Doogie Howser. We like to joke a bit, Doogie and I, as I attempt to get him to lighten up a bit. One year, I read a line of type and said, "It's a backwards E." He replied, "Or you could call it a 3."

For the last decade or so, I've been determined to read the smallest line on the vision test, so as to avoid bifocals or "readers." Two years ago at my last appointment, Doogie laughingly told me I was borderline and wouldn't be able to avoid it much longer. I scoffed a bit to myself and thought, "We shall see."

Well, this girl is no longer scoffing and I think there will be a more definitive prescription next month at my appointment. It's become harder to read in low light and to read small print. I have multiple pairs of readers and I'm often grabbing a pair to make it easier to read a recipe or a menu. Earlier this week, I grabbed a pair to read the small print on the instructions for John Freda Medium Brown hair color so I could wash those grays right out of my hair. I laughed as I thought how far that fourth grader has come since she got her first pair of glasses.

These eyes, and times, they are a'changin'.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

P is for Personality

Several years ago, I took a personality assessment before joining a team. The quiz was to help determine how my leadership and personality traits meshed (or didn't) with the other team members. I took the quiz, printed out the results, and then Brian and I hit the road for the cabin. Sometimes on road trips, I read something aloud to entertain us - I'm our very own, live and in person. We've read 52 McGs., a collection of New York Times obituaries (fascinating) and The Two Sides of Love, a book on understanding how your personality strengths can improve your relationships. (Are you a lion, beaver, retriever or otter?) We've amused ourselves reading through a local paper picked up in a rural general store.

But on that trip, I brought along the results of my personality test. We howled as we read the 22-page report which painted what could be interpreted as a harsh picture:

Elizabeth can be incisive, analytical and argumentative at times.
Elizabeth likes people, but can be seen occasionally as cold and blunt.
Elizabeth may display a lack of empathy for others who cannot achieve her standards.
She is not influenced by people who are overly enthusiastic. They rarely get her attention.
[In communicating with Elizabeth]:
     Keep at least three feet away from her
     Don't ramble on or waste her time
    Don't touch her when talking
[Elizabeth wants]:
     Limited socializing
     Time to perform up to her high standards
[Elizabeth needs]:
     Time to warm up to people
     An awareness of the parameters or rules in writing

As we reached the end of the assessment, Brian laughingly said, "Wow. From the sounds of it, I'm not sure I want you on my team." He was joking, of course. After all, he gave me a card on our wedding day that said, "I'll never vote you off my island."

I came across those results this week, and I laughed again as I read the description of myself. I'm not arguing with the results - they contain varying degrees of truth - but read verbatim, one page after another, the assessment seems to focus more on the negativity of my strengths instead of how those strengths can be used for good.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the topic of women's Bible study at church this week was "Made Precious by a Gentle and Quiet Spirit." As I said to the group last night, "That's not something anyone has ever accused me of having." But as I did the study and looked up the scriptures, I began to realize that a gentle and quiet spirit provides a sense of well-being, an anchor regardless of whether life's lovely breezes or threatening gusts are blowing. A gentle and quiet spirit is a source of strength and can be manifest in any personality type (including mine).

This morning, after seeing a friend's results on FB, I took a Buzzfeed quiz entitled, "What Biblical Heroine Are You?" Another Buzzfeed quiz I took told me I should live in Georgia, which I found fairly accurate, so I thought it would be fun to see who in the Bible it compared me to. I was skeptical when I saw the first question was to choose a Disney movie. What does that have to do with biblical heroines? Anyway, my result was Abigail:

Gorgeous, driven, and professional, you're the person people call when there's a problem that needs sorting out or an important decision that needs deciding. You're smart - scary smart - and are easily annoyed by people who aren't on your level, although you never let it show. A gifted negotiator, quick thinker and loyal friend, you're the kind of person people brag about knowing. Although you could take over the world if you set your mind to it, you prefer to be the invaluable person in the background responsible for making everything run smoothly. You're basically Olivia Pope, but with healthy family and romantic relationships. Congrats.
Like the leadership personality test, these results made me chuckle. Again, some truth, some exaggeration, and I'm unsure about how Abigail, Olivia Pope and I all line up, seeing as I've refrained from ever viewing a single episode of Olivia in action. I needed a refresher on the story of Abigail (I Samuel 25). Through some strategic, quick thinking, she rallied her household troops (I don't have any of those) and prevented David from killing her husband who was a fool (I don't have one of those either, thankfully, and the Bible used "fool," not me, lest you think my blunt personality is speaking). As much as I like to be prepared, Abigail sets a pretty high bar for being prepared for any situation. That girl had some serious resources:
Abigail wasted no time. She took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five bushels of roasted grain, a hundred cakes of raisins and two hundred cakes of pressed figs and loaded them on donkeys. (I Sam. 25:18)

It's been an interesting few days of introspection, seasoned with amusement. How does my personality contribute or detract from family relationships, friendships, team work, my business, my volunteering? What traits can I harness for good and what do I need to tone down or flat out change? How are my personality traits viewed positively or negatively?

Clearly, I'm a work in progress, but want to use my strengths to build up and not tear down (unless a wall really needs to be torn down. Then I'm on it.).

You can call me incisive, argumentative or a rule follower. You can even call me Abigail. Just don't call me Olivia Pope. That would be scandalous.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Oil Change

As his wife, I try hard not to take Brian for granted. I try to consistently tell him how much I appreciate how hard he works and everything he does for our family. I attempt to be an encourager versus an arguer. Some days I'm more successful than others, but I do my best to remain cognizant of all he contributes to my life, our life together, and the lives of our family, friends and community.

There is, however, one area where I do take him for granted and that is in the area of our vehicles. Now, as a single lady, I was much more aware of my vehicle's upkeep and maintenance. I was responsible for getting gas every week and making sure my oil was changed regularly. I will say I had help with the bigger issues. I'll never forget my friend R helping me one night with my beater car and him telling me as he wrestled with whatever the issue was, "You should just go in the house because this is going to get ugly." I'm so grateful for my friends who lent me their husbands to help with such matters.

But Brian enjoys taking care of the vehicles and making sure I don't have to worry about pumping gas, so he keeps an eye on the gas level and 98% of the time makes sure the tank is full. This isn't anything we ever discussed; he just does it as a gift of love. He changes the oil in our vehicles, so no more going to the quick-lube and being concerned about being taken advantage of with all the add-on services.

As a result of his attentiveness to this area, I pay close to zero attention to the fuel level in my car - until the little pesky light comes on, telling me I'm empty - and I haven't taken a vehicle to get an oil change probably in the last 15 years. Until yesterday.

Basement renovations have been accelerating and the weather has been colder than usual, so it's been a little challenging for him to find time or inclination to change the oil in the truck. Who wants to change oil in single-digit temps? So I offered to take the truck for an oil change.

Me: I think I'll run the truck up for a quick oil change. I have a coupon.
B: That would be a big help.
Me: OK.
B: Now just get an oil change. Nothing else. Nothing extra.
Me: I know. I remember doing this before I had a wonderful husband who took care of such things.
B: And don't get synthetic oil.
Me: OK.
B: I want whatever oil it is spec'd for.
Me: OK. OK.
B: Thank you.
Me: You're welcome. I'm sure I won't get as great customer service as I do when you take care of this.
B: They better not kiss you at the end.
Me: Uh, I'll say.

So off I go with my coupon. And all goes well until they tell me to pop the hood. Hmm. Well. Where is that pesky little lever? I'm embarrassed to admit (but I'll do it right here on the Internet) that I couldn't find the lever. Now, in my defense, I was looking in the right area but it is tucked up pretty far under and even the tech guy had to search for it. So there was Little Miss Independent, feeling like Little Mrs. Clueless Housewife. Oh, how far I've come.

But as my grandpa used to say, "All's well." The oil is changed, I've been reminded where the hood lever is located (because I'm sure I've popped the hood to jump start the tractor or boat or some other vehicle once or twice upon a time) and most importantly, I wasn't fleeced for an air filter I didn't need.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Fabulous February

Today I suppose you might say I'm double-dipping a little. I'm linking up with Chatting at the Sky's What I Learned in February and using it as my seventh post for Conversion Diary's seven posts in seven days challenge. February is invariably a long month for me, despite its relatively short appearance on the calendar. Despite the cold and grey and snow, it was a pretty fabulous month. This month I learned:

1. Our first grandbaby is going to be a girl. She's already captured our hearts and I'm completely convinced she will have her Pop wrapped around her tiny little finger as soon as she makes an appearance.

2. Thirty degrees on the thermometer can feel downright balmy when the polar vortex has been hanging around and just.won't.quit. Actually, I don't understand enough about the polar vortex phenomenon to know if it is a singular vortex that comes and goes or if we get a new one every time the weatherperson starts talking about it. All I know is it's been cold.

3. Cobia is a mild fish with a light lemon taste. I tried it when we went to dinner at 4:30, like early-bird grandparents who have an expiring coupon do. It was delish.

4. My neighbors pay far more attention to me walking the dogs than I realized. When I was walking them (the dogs, not the neighbors) one at a time, several  neighbors asked me where the other one was. One broke my heart when he called out, "Please tell me something didn't happen to your other dog!" I was and am pleased to report that both of our loveys are thriving. They're ready to be able to run in their yard without the icy snow remnant, but other than that, all is well.

5. Plenty of details about the life and times of Huguette Clark, the millionaire heiress who spent the last 20 years of her life living in a hospital even though there was nothing physically wrong with her. I made it all the way through Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune. I think the authors did a good job of presenting the facts and letting readers draw their own conclusions as to whether or not people took advantage of Ms. Clark's goodwill, generosity and reclusiveness.

6. Dogs have a third eyelid called  a nictitating membrane. This I learned when I hit Google after my neighbor texted me a pic of her dog and said, "Have you ever seen a dog's eye look like this?" It wasn't pretty. Poor girl.

I'm sure I'll remember other things I learned in February as soon as I hit "publish," but I'm happy to have come up with six. I hope if I do the "Things I Learned in March" link-up that I'll be able to say March came in like a lion but went out like a lamb. I know the first part is true; I'm hoping the second is as well.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Grandparent Mode

We don't feel old enough to be grandparents. I think we hearken back to our memories of our grandparents and think of them as older, slower and in a different phase of life than we are. All of those things may be true, but our grandparents lived active, busy lives.

Classic storybook visions of grandparents look something like this: grandpa sitting by the fireplace in his recliner smoking a pipe and grandma with her gray hair in a bun baking cookies in the kitchen. A fairly stereotypical description and in reality, nowhere near what most grandparents look like.

In the past few days, I've had to chuckle at a few things that may or may not be related to this stage of life we're entering. First, I'm surrendering to the fact that I need "readers," especially in low light. As we were driving home from finding out "the baby" is a granddaughter, I had to put on my old lady readers to read something on my phone. Oh, my aging eyes. At least my readers are a little sassy (and that includes some of you).

Last night we did another quintessential "old person" thing: we went to dinner at 4:30 p.m. Who eats at that hour aside from shift workers and older people? In our defense, because I feel like I need to provide rationale for this out of character Early Bird Special-like endeavor, it was the only reservation open before 8:30 and we try not to eat at the Hour of Europeans. Why not go elsewhere, you ask? Well, because we had a coupon that expired yesterday. We couldn't just let $20 slip through our fingers, could we? Grandparents are more responsible than that.

Although I still feel like I'm 27, I guess I have to accept the fact that I am, in fact, old enough to be a grandma with readers who occasionally eats at unusually early hours if she has an expiring coupon. And I'm totally looking forward to baking cookies with my granddaughter, but I'll forego the gray hair in a bun as long as I can.