Happy Birthday



Yesterday, we celebrated my Aunt Anna’s 90th birthday.  (Thanks, Courtney for sharing the photo.)

On the way home, I was confronted with a simple fact,  I  love my family.  Forgive me for being a bit surprised at the depth of my feeling.  My family isn’t fluent in the language of feelings and neither am I.  Collectively, we’re a pessimistic, stubborn, undemonstrative lot.  Years before when visiting my Grandmother Hendricks in the hospital, she first commented on “how corn fed I’d become.”  Totally in character and dead on.  She also said how much she loved her family.  This statement was totally uncharacteristic and I figured she had to be sicker than we thought.  I’ve also never forgotten it.  It was a rare moment when she spoke from her heart.

When we were young and in the thick of family potlucks, birthday celebrations, hay rides, weddings, baptisms  and funerals, time seemed to stand still.  My large family provided companionship, connection to something larger than the self and belonging.  We cousins ran in packs, like wild little animals and for the most part we loved our tribe.  We’d run in to grab food or a drink and race outside again to join the little marauding horde.  Yesterday, I see all of us sitting on the other side of middle age, or rapidly crossing or approaching the land of senior discounts, gray hair and wrinkles.  How can this be when only yesterday we were all young and time stood still?

Years ago, I had no awareness that this day would come and that we would celebrate my Aunt’s birthday without my Dad, her twin.  I never thought that I’d see my best friend cousin, Gwen with hair of gray or that lots of us would pause in our conversations to pull the right word out of the lifetime of memories trapped in our heads.  We are all so much older now.  Maybe we’re also wiser, not just because of our lives filled with experience but because we have learned how valuable this imperfect family of ours is and always has been.

How recently we celebrated Grandma Hendricks (Grandma Gen’s) 90th birthday.  On a warm, August day, her patio tables filled with food, we ate, laughed and posed for pictures.  Our lives were full of promise.  Choices stretched before us on a gently laid ribbon of time.  The ribbon is no longer a gentle one.  We cling to the ends of it lashed to a time that races.  It’s been a heck of a ride.

What we took for granted was a blessing that we didn’t comprehend.  What some times felt like obligation  was really a gift.

In the corner of the Hall, a display of family photos was a tribute to Anna and family.  Looking over the photos, my Dad, the absent twin was still very much present.  My aunt and dad are as identical as two fraternal twins could ever be.  Time and death can’t alter that.  I’m sure that Anna’s husband, Harold, must have also enjoyed the celebration.  How much he would have loved holding his great grandson, Roman on his knee.  I’m sure he and Dad would have talked World Series.

Our family has its shadows, those parts of ourselves that cause trouble, the things that separate and divide.  Our German stereotypical traits are not all pluses.  Yesterday, I saw that it doesn’t really matter.  It’s okay to be on different pages.  It doesn’t have to sever the connection unless we think it does.  Our perception of what family is and how it functions is what feeds our need to come together and still mark those family milestones.

And so, to copy a line from Grandma,this middle-aged, corn-fed gal says  “I love my family!”  And, I do.  Thanks for being there.  It has made all the difference in a world often full of challenges and shadows.  Family, you have been an anchor, an ever-changing constant, a place to come home to, a tribe to which to belong.  You mean the world to me.


Displacement, says it all.

“Displacement is a vector quantity that refers to “how far out of place an object is”; it is the object’s overall change in position.  (The Physics Classroom.)

Never having taken physics, I have no idea what a vector quantity really is but I’m pretty sure my vector has shifted a lot lately.   That mysterious vector idea has been darting around the back of my mind.  How far out of place can some things get?  How far out of place can I get?

At first, I was using it as the Freudian defense mechanism.  You know the one.  The man is mad and takes it out on his dog.  The dog chases the cat.  The cat toys with the mouse and leaves its dead body on his keeper’s doorstep.  The dead mouse comes back to haunt the man for having a stupid dog and cat in the first place.  The man convinced he’s losing his mind goes to a psychotherapist to understand what the mouse symbolizes and pays $250 per session, three times a week for ten years.  If that isn’t displacement, than I don’t know what is.

But back to vectors.  Physics classroom lists characteristics of vectors and among other things I don’t understand also says this:

“a vector arrow (with arrowhead) is drawn in a specified direction. The vector arrow has a head and a tail.”

Now, I’m even more confused.  Apparently, some physicists got together and disassembled the laws of motion in the universe and when they put things back together they ended up with vector arrows with heads and tails.  Things are starting to get really creepy.  No wonder my day felt like I was fighting against gravity and at any moment apples might fall from the heavens like evil A-bombs.  It’s all those vector arrows out there upsetting the natural order with their heads and tails.  No wonder I feel  displaced.  I’ve walked around this planet for a few years now and haven’t fallen off or floated out in space or suddenly got sucked into the liquid lava layer of the earth.  I also haven’t been hit by a vector arrow but there is always a first time.

Maybe vector arrows are invisible?  Maybe I’ve already been hit by one?

That would explain this sense of displacement that has been hanging over me like a bad neon sign with half the letters missing and a squadron of dead flies laying underneath it.  It’s the vector arrow’s fault.  Mystery solved.


Facing the Nation on Sunday Morning

By 7 a.m.  I am awake.  By 7:20, I’m up.  I turn on the TV to watch CBS’ Sunday Morning.  The last segments are mostly happy ones.  I feel happy!

Then, I watched “Face the Nation.”  This is one face that would have been happier not to face the nation on a beautiful Sunday morning.

Maybe, Mr. Schieffer had two of the biggest nincompoops to represent the opposing sides.  It is clear that they were politicians in the worst sense of the word.  Mr. Schieffer would ask an intelligent question, one that I would have loved to hear a clear answer too, and both guys wouldn’t answer them.  It was enough for me to question my sanity but only for a moment.

What bothers me more is that these two “elite” Americans aren’t “the smartest eggs in the carton.”

At one point, Schieffer presented an analogy and asked for comment.

The following is my paraphrasing and in no way claims to capture the actual words of the interview.  For that, I am grateful.  I’ve got enough nonsense rattling around my head without adding to it.

Shieffer [It would be like my saying that I would like Congress to support funding for a cure for cancer and if they don’t approve my pet funding, I refuse to vote to pass the budget.  Isn’t that what is happening now?]

Nincompoop:  [Well, Bob, I actually do support cancer research and have actively sought funding through Congress, blah, blah, blah.]

Shieffer:  [That’s not my point, Senator.]

Nincompoop: [You bring up a very good point, Bob.  If only Mr. Obama would be willing to talk, we could resolve this. Blah, blah, blah]

I didn’t know that you could be that off topic on a nationally televised interview (1/2 of which is rescheduled for 2:05 a.m. Monday morning because of the football game.  Wait! This isn’t a bad idea since Schieffer was the only one making any sense.)

Apparently, you can be that bad of an impromptu speaker and still get elected.  My awakening was not yet complete, I hadn’t completely accepted that you can be that “slow on the uptake” and actually hold a position in Congress but then again, I hadn’t really thought about it.  I just hoped there were smart people in charge some where.  What was I thinking?

I deliberately close my ears to most political blabber.  It worries me.  It upsets me.   I don’t want to know how a few nincompoops in a city/district clear across the country can screw things up for so many people so easily without a bloomin’ clue.  Thanks for shattering another illusion, Face the Nation.

Wait!  Face the Nation!  There is a silver lining.

You made me feel like a genius compared to those two.  Maybe, I should run for political office.  Think of what a world it could be if every Senator and Congress person, were smart enough?  Think of what a strong nation we could create if normal, every day people put to use the knowledge they have about what it means to be the common American and applied it to the larger problems that plague this country.  Think of the amazing country that might develop if honesty, integrity and fairness drove politics and not the hunger for reelection.

Maybe, this was all a bad dream.  I can hope, can’t I?

And, The Point Is?

If there was ever a question for this day this would be it:  And, the Point Is?

My body was so comfortable in my bed.  Quilt pulled up around my neck, my first conscious thought when I wake up is, “Is there any way, I can just stay in bed today?” That will be the question for another day to answer.  I made the mistake of getting up.

After a shower, I slip quietly out of the bedroom.  The house is dark and I steady myself along the walls of the hallway.  A lovely case of middle-aged shingles several years ago left me with the equilibrium of a drunken astronaut.  Staying upright in the dark can be a challenge.

Flipping on the light in the kitchen, I hear the blurping and swalurping of the coffee pot which sounds a lot like a drunken astronaut.  There is coffee all over the counter, down the sides of the coffee maker.  Coffee grounds have been carried on the tide and add a lovely garnish to my morning breakfast surprise.  I spin around several times, literally, I spun around.  I’m like a rat on a shock floor in one of those crazy mazes.  My routine is a shambles.  I can’t comprehend where to begin.

A moment of vengeful genius hits me.  Husband preps coffee pot each night in his never ending quest to be prepared.  (It’s like living with a extra large Boy Scout.)  I go right to the source and wake my extra large Boy Scout and let him view the carnage in all its messy glory.

Time to face my favorite part of the morning, waking the boy.  Honestly, I’d rather tangle with a hungry badger.  The boy groans loudly.  I swear it’s enough to make the dishes rattle.  I tell myself I love mornings and go to my happy place.

I’m ready to leave for work.  The fan belt in the fan has been squealing with a disturbing frequency.  When I’ve had my husband check it, the belt was silent.  This morning, husband, holding our dog, is a witness to the capricious belt’s shenanigans.  It sounds like I have a banshee under the hood.  I do not love the smell of burning fan belt in the morning but it could be worse. . . the smell that is. . . the morning ?  Jury is in deliberation.

The day rolls on.  School: 1700 plus teen agers.  The bell schedule is changed today for assembly.  It is a unique bell system that has students wandering like confused but noisy lemmings with bags over their heads who argue with teachers who are adamant they’ve got it figured out but are still mostly wrong.  Arguing noises and lemmings add to the weight of the morning.    So do two very grumpy students who really needed some assistance but resent every attempt.  If I enjoyed grumpy people, I’d still be home trying to pry my own grumpy badger out of bed.  Snarl at me with thinly veiled contempt again, please.  I can’t get enough.

I make it through the work day, slightly worse for the wear.  Home.  Off go the uncomfortable togs of the day.  On with the pajamas!

Taking a very happy dog outdoors to relieve herself, we are surprised by the growl of the hound next door, the door who barks a lot.  No, A LOT!!!  Talking to our neighbor results in him having fits of rabid swearing.   Since most of the barking occurs when the neighbor is gone, his absence automatically exonerates him from responsibility.  I wonder if that works for kids????  NO!

So, here we are startled by his loud barking dog when I hear him say not once, not twice but at least three times,  “Dog (must be what he names his dog) go stop that neighbors dog from barking.”

I’d forgotten that some adults can make their words sound like they are coming out of a sassy 13-year-old girl.  I’m more than a little creeped out.  I text absent husband, who calls back.  He’s been working on screwing on a license plate for 20 minutes.   I end up talking with a sheriff who basically says we’re on our own and here are a few options but “jerks like that don’t usually get it.”

As long as that “it” isn’t me, I’m good but after all the swearing I’ve heard coming from his corner of the planet, I’m not feeling very comfortable.

Then my door bell rings.  I open it in pajamas, covered with a robe.  The young guy standing there looks at me and blinks.  I swear I heard a few crickets chirp.  Finally, I say,

“Who are you?”

I don’t really hear his reply.  This day has been building up to a good boil and I’m steamed.

He finally states his name, I think.  I hold up my hand.

“Hold it,” I say.  “If you’re selling anything or looking for donations, you’ve come to the wrong house.  I’ve got zero money.”  I make a zero with my fingers and hold it in front of my face.

I guess he didn’t clue in to the full steam I had generated.  He goes on to say in a surly tone, “I’m not selling anything.  I just wanted to offer you an estimate on fixing your roof.”

Like that isn’t selling a service?

“Do you roof for free?  Cause, if you do, hammer yourself silly up there.  We could sure use a new one that doesn’t have shingles fly off in every wind storm.”  I think to myself.

I’m too angry to be very civil.  If flames could have shot out of my nostrils, he’d be crispy and in an ICU some where.  Some weeks we get a half dozen roofers out in our neighborhood trying to rustle up business or in some cases, criminals posing as roofers who want to case the joint.

I’ve waded through coffee, survived grumpy, cringed to the sound of a squealing fan belt.  I’ve spent my day with surly and uncooperative.  I’ve got a crazy neighbor next door who frightens me.  Now,  I have a guy on my door wasting my time talking about roofing estimates for a house that won’t be mine a year or two from now.

I shut the door on him in mid sentence.  I didn’t have anything nice to say.

I close the blinds and the garage door.  Calling the kids together, I say in a strong firm voice.  “That’s it.  We’ve shut down.  We’re not answering the door.  We’re taking a break.

And, the point of this day was?  Right now, I don’t have a clue.


Several years ago, I checked a Whitney Otto book out of the library.  It was called,  Now You see Her.  

On Whitney Otto’s web site , a summary of the book includes this sentence, “The insecure central character, Kiki Shaw, is single and nearing 40 when she notices that she’s becoming transparent.”

It didn’t take me long to put the book down, not because I dislike Otto’s writing style.  No, it was the idea of transparency that was too painful.  It had tapped into one of my deepest fears.  Some times, the things one fears the most are destined to come to pass.

This fear is about more than simple transparency.  It is invisibility, of a non-being caused by not being seen.  It is being so insignificant as to not matter.  This transparency, this invisibility, this non-being is a negation that creates a pit of shame, frustration and failure at the center of my soul.  It is a feeling that surrounds and punctuates my life more often than I care to admit.  In the admitting, the trap door to annihilation opens more than a crack.

Lately, I’ve often felt this door opening below me.  I often dangle above it like a broken puppet.

On my way home from work today, I look at the gas gauge inching below the quarter tank mark.  I mentally note the day of the week and wonder if there will be enough to get me through.  My mind starts to tally all the things that are wrong and could go wrong but I push my way in this tumble of panic and change my thoughts to something lighter, something that provokes less anxiety.

Stopping at the pharmacy, I discover that I’m out another $45.  I ask for a verification of the price, hoping for a tiny miracle.  The clerk is impatient and unsympathetic.  Embarrassed, I sigh and hand my debit card to her.  “You can try.  Hopefully, it will go through,” I say

At times, I’ve written candidly about being poor.  My primary motivation is to share a significant part of my life in hopes of giving it a human face.  Few people expect to struggle below the Federal Poverty Level.  Many of us do and we often aren’t who you think we are.  (I’d share some US Census Bureau statistics here if the web site wasn’t shut down along with parts of the Federal government.)

There is a lot of shame involved when you can not adequately provide for yourself and worst still your family.  Honestly, despite my own personal experience,some times I still judge others harshly.  Society associates poverty with failure, with character flaws or even laziness.  I have been judged of those same things and it has been a very painful thing to endure.  When I have judged someone else, it’s to hide the pain I feel.  I want to create a barrier between me and them so I can feel safe, superior, exempt. It is an illusion.   The sense of frustration and failure can be profound especially when the years drag on and the hope of the “ship coming in”  grows cold.  Blaming the poor for the poverty is easy but living it is something very different.   Indulging in denial at times, is a fault that is built on the difficulty of dealing with the moment by moment reminders that nothing tangible separates us from them.  I’m convinced that this lies at the center of judgment and that this is too painful for most people to admit.

I will go to my grave believing that every one has a moral, social,  and human responsibility to help the less fortunate.  It’s not pity or free handouts that the vast majority  of the poor want or need.  The poor need human respect.   The need to be acknowledged.  They need to be encouraged.  They need legitimate ways to improve their lives and their financial situations.   They need to be seen.

Some times life will bounce your out of your place with a swift sudden kick.  There isn’t any insurance against it.  It’s not because you did something wrong.  It isn’t fair.  It leaves you lying awake at night crying.  It can paralyze you with worry.  It can start to destroy your hope and your desire to keep trying.

So, the next time, you start thinking critical of me and other people like me, hold that thought.  Keep it to yourself.  Don’t tell me all the things I should be doing or what I’m doing wrong.  Speak words of encouragement.  Treat me with compassion.  Have a positive attitude.   Look beyond my job, my bank account, my 14 year-old car with bad brakes, my run-down house that I will eventually lose and see the person underneath.  See me.


I am the person behind the words printed here. I write because my heart will not allow me the option of NOT writing. It has taken me half a life time to discover this basic truth, but now that I have, writing is as natural as breathing. This is where my breath takes the form of words.


I am reading

The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8AM)
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