Thursday, March 31, 2016

Being Thankful for the Frogs

A few days ago, I wrote about the dreaded tasks we face each day, comparing them to the LIVE FROGS we should eat first thing, so nothing worse can happen to us for the rest of the day. In other words, I need to stop procrastinating the things I don't want to do and get them finished early in the day so that the dark cloud hanging over my head can dissipate, and let the sun shine again. If we tackle the harder things early, the rest of the day we can feel a sense of accomplishment, and perhaps even joy, knowing we can look forward to the rest of the day.

Well, this morning, I had determined to tackle three big frogs: dusting, sweeping, and vacuuming. I jumped right in first thing, taking on the dust bunnies while chatting to Chuck who was driving to work. I got about half of my dusting done, and decided I'd like Chuck to keep me company while I rode the stationary bike for a half hour. I got my exercise frog eaten before breakfast, and went after the dusting frog after that.

Things were going pretty well with the dusting until...I found things that had to be put away in other rooms. <croak-croak> When tidying up the bill pile, I discovered paperwork that needed to be submitted TODAY to meet the deadline for reimbursement. <croak-croak>  I found a medical bill that had to be paid. (Let's just say it was more than $100. A lot more than $100.) <croak-croak> Before I could submit the expenditures, I had to set up our online account. <croak-croak> These croakin' frogs were going to be the death of me. 

I hate paperwork. I hate filing papers. I hate submitting forms. There are many reasons I did not pursue a career as a secretary or personal assistant. Not wanting to hate my life was the biggest reason of all. I pretty much suck at typing, and all other things secretarial. 

My usually cheerful demeanor began to change the longer I sat at my computer. I sent a few whiny texts Chuck's way, and when the man-who-has-to-commute-nearly-three-hours-a-day-to-work-his-eight-hour-day-at-a-stressful-job began to feel sorry for me, I knew I needed to stop what I was doing immediately. I could feel my heart racing. I was taking shallow breaths. I was becoming agitated at the smallest inconveniences. I inhaled slowly and deeply, and then let all of that tension go with the exhale. That always helps.

The first thing I did was thank Chuck for listening to me whine, and then I promised to adjust my attitude, realizing it was my HONOR to get these minor tasks done while Chuck was at work so that when the weekend arrived, we could play and relax together. He deserves that, and so much more. 

Then I set up my iPad with some relaxing music, and made myself a cup of green tea in my favorite mug. My command central post was starting to feel like more like a spa than a disorganized office. A few more deep breaths, and then I realized just how lucky I am to be where I am right now. I'm retired. I'm at home. I get to do what I want to do all day long. And SOMETIMES, I have to do a few things I'd rather not. 


I knew if I just kept plodding along, I would eventually get the paperwork frog done, and I would figure out the bill frogs. (See what I did there?) The housework frogs were still croaking their chorus, but one of the advantages of being the only one home is I get to decide which frogs will get eaten today, and which ones can wait until later. 

The croaking has all but subsided now. The urgent things are done. It's not even noon yet, and I will futz and putter for the rest of the day, and eventually my housework will get done. Sometimes an adjustment in attitude can make everything better. Nothing really changes, except my outlook. For now, I'm going to be thankful for the frogs. While they may not be a delicacy, they are certainly edible. 

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Any Time's a Good Time for an Egg Hunt

Egg hunts: not just for children any more.

Who doesn't love Easter egg hunts? As a kid, I hid, and re-hid our eggs, and begged siblings to return the favor. I just liked looking for eggs. When I had children of my own, hiding eggs for my kids made me happy. Even as late as last Easter, I was still hiding eggs on Easter morning for my then 17-year-old.

This was my first Easter without my kids at our house. Should I have an egg hunt this year? My husband is diabetic, and limits his exposure to sugar. I really don't need tons of candy. (I WANT tons of candy, but I don't NEED it.) What to do? What to do? 

I bought each of us a special candy bar as a token Easter candy gift, but something was missing. I realized I didn't have to fill plastic eggs with candy; I could improvise.

So the day AFTER Easter, I went shopping. After Easter is over and done? Why not? Any time is a good time to hunt for eggs, if you ask me. You might want to try this to put a smile on YOUR partner's face! 

For 44 cents, I bought a dozen plastic eggs. (Gotta love post-holiday sales!) When I got them home, I cut twelve strips of paper, and on each one, I wrote something my husband would appreciate; you know, things like: "5 minute massage," "let me tell you five things I love about you," and things like that. Use your imagination and have fun with it. 

When Chuck gets home from work, he is pretty exhausted, so I wanted to make sure my egg hunt idea wouldn't be perceived as "one more thing to get done." I tried to keep things low-key and relaxing, and my goal was to show him how much I appreciate everything he does for me. 

One of the unusual things I wrote on a note has been a long-running joke between us: I asked him to read me a chapter from his favorite book. 

Chuck has had the book from childhood, Trooper, US Army Dog by Helen Orr Watson. It was published in 1943. He can talk about that book for HOURS. (Okay, maybe not hours, but for longer than perhaps anyone else might want to discuss it.) I could tell from the time we met, he has had hopes I'd scoop up Trooper, and read it cover to cover so we could discuss the finer points of this fine piece of literature. So, during his egg hunt, I gave him a chance to expose me to his favorite book. You should have seen his eyes light up. It made me happy to make him so happy.

What are you waiting for? Grab some eggs, write out a few tasks you KNOW will make your partner smile, and have some fun tonight. It doesn't have to be Easter to look for eggs, especially if it makes you feel like kids again. Chuck had so much fun, he said he would do an egg hunt for me sometime. Oh, GOODY! 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Feel the Burn?

"OUCH!" is something I say often. Honestly, I might say something more colorful, but that's what I MEAN when I say those other words that pepper my vocabulary from time to time. 

Recently,  I was making breakfast for the kids, and as I grabbed the handle of the frying pan, I spun the pan around, and accidentally seared the skin on the underside of my forearm. Using my first aid memories, I immediately ran cold water over my arm, but not for too long. I still had breakfast to get on the table. 

As we were sitting around the family room later, I realized the burn was deeper than I'd thought. It began to sting. A lot. 

Sierra suggested I put mustard on it. 

"MUSTARD? Are you serious?"

She was. She'd read about it. So of course, I had to read about it. Google turned up a plethora of articles.

While I didn't find many big name references supporting the healing properties of yellow mustard, there were plenty of sources touting its benefits, including The People's PharmacyLifehacker and The National Mustard Museum. There was an abundance of anecdotes praising mustard's soothing properties. 

To be fair, I wanted to investigate what the naysayers have to say. Here is one example of what I read, thanks to Google. 

Apparently, there is a blog section of WebMd, and there was a PA/PhD who wrote an article advising AGAINST any food product to treat burns. I took his comments with a grain of salt, though. How seriously can I take a medical professional's advice whose article has obvious need of a proofreader and/or editor? These were his parting words:

"If [you] grandmother insists on putting tomato slices on your sunburned back, just do it. Other than cooling down your skin, don’t expect a miracle cure. You do need to be nice to your grandmother and not hurt her good intentions. Besides, you support our struggling tomato farmers." 
-Rod Moser

Okay. Well, there you have it. A "professional" opinion discourages the use of yellow mustard or any other food to soothe a mild burn. 

I can add my testimony to the many other testimonials that after initially running cold water over the burn, the refrigerated mustard lessened the burning sensation, and after awhile, my arm felt much better. For severe burns, of course, you will need to seek medical treatment. 

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, and just tend to make fun of the medical professionals who publish articles with mistakes in them. This advice is my opinion only, and is not intended to replace your doctor's advice, whether s/he writes well or not. 

Worked for me!

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Country Mouse Takes the Train

Brrr...snowy days of travel.

Growing up in rural Virginia, and raising my own children in rural Utah, in no way prepared me for getting around in a big city. The four months I lived in Chicago as a newborn did not help me, even though my mom and dad used the El (elevated train) and cabs and the metra system. 

Planes, Trains and Automobiles was one of my favorite comedies featuring John Candy and Steve Martin. Thank goodness my journeys between Chicago and Salt Lake City don't involve riding in the back of a moving van with a polka band and Del Griffith, but my travels are anything but boring, and I'm learning so much. 

As for the many modes of transportation, I think I've got most of them covered when I travel the 1,400 miles between our houses. My brother had always driven me to and from the airport, but a change in careers was going to make that very inconvenient, so I bravely offered to learn how to use the Utah Transit Authority system. Eric and Cristina assured me it was so easy, and they offered to help me figure it out. 

When I flew to Utah a few weeks ago, I checked the Weather Channel.  Sunny and near 70 degrees. A typical day leading up to the vernal equinox. I donned my capris and sandals and wore a lightweight, long-sleeved top to the O'Hare airport. 

A typical day of travel between Chicago and Salt Lake City takes me about 12 hours. Chuck drops me off for my 10:25 AM flight before he had to arrive at work. The flight is less than three hours from O'Hare to Salt Lake City. My brother kindly drops my car off at the Trax station near his house so I don't have to walk 8 blocks to his house, and then I drive the two hours and forty-five minutes to our house in Joseph. The journey involves one plane, two light rail trains. and two automobiles. 

When it was time to head back to Chicago. I once again checked the Weather Channel. Uh-oh. The chance of snow was about 90%. And the temps were going to be in the low 30s. I wasn't going to bother with wearing mascara or doing my hair if I was going to land looking like a drowned rat with raccoon eyes anyway. I sent Chuck a text of warning. 

In keeping my Illinois and Utah closets balanced, I generally wear back to Illinois whatever I wore on the flight to Utah. It was going to be a cold, wet day for capris and sandals, but I'm pretty tough. (As long as you allow for tough folk to whine periodically via texts and phone calls about their experiences, I get to stay in the tough folk category.) 

In a panic, I texted my brother to see if I could leave my car at the depot and have them pick it up after work. He is so good to me; I needn't have worried. They would take care of my car, and I wouldn't have to trudge almost a mile in the snow wearing my strappy sandals. (Okay, strappy sandals sounded so much cooler than what I actually wear. They're honestly clunky Birkenstocks. Orange ones. They're totally me.)

Luckily I only had to wait about two minutes once I purchased my Trax ticket. I rode the red line for forty minutes or so into downtown Salt Lake, and then I only had to wait about 10 minutes to switch to the green line that would deposit me at the SLC International airport. 

Just listen to me, tossing in phrases like "red line" and "green line" like I'm so urban; so metropolitan. About a month ago, I was shaking in my Birkenstocks about having to use the public transportation system. 

Just because the first time I rode the Front Runner train with Bridger, and we missed our connection into Salt Lake didn't mean I would always be confused by the transit system. Just because in rural Utah we stick to cars and four-wheelers to get where we're going doesn't mean I'll never figure out public transportation. Just because the only time I have had to worry about a traffic jam in rural Monroe is when the Nielsons are moving their sheep off the mountain, and the whole flock takes up both sides of Main Street, doesn't mean I can't manage getting through a big city's rush hour. And just because I am so naive and trust everyone, but am afraid of making eye contact with city people doesn't mean I have to act afraid. This city mouse has had so much to learn, and slowly but surely, I'm getting the hang of things. 

When I saw the Chicago skyline out my airplane window, I felt so accomplished. I began texting Chuck immediately, so as soon as the plane touched down and we were allowed to use our cell phones, he would know I had made it back home to him. This country mouse had missed her city mouse so very much. It was good to be back!
Taken a few days after I got back to Chicagoland, ready for Easter Sunday!

Any Frogs on Your Agenda?

I'd be the first to admit I don't know if this is a frog or a toad.
I also don't care which it is.

Way back when, probably as far back as high school, I heard the quote, often attributed to Mark Twain, "Eat a live frog first thing every morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day." (Google is my friend and my foe. Apparently, there is controversy as to the origination of the quote. If you want to get in on that, look HERE: Quote Investigator..)

Many mornings when I have a task I'm dreading, I think about that frog (and not who may or may not have said it). I want to get my least favorite things out of the way early, so the rest of the day is mine to enjoy. What if there are several things I'd rather not do? I do the worst first, and then the next worst, and so on, and then as my tasks get checked off, the day, and my attitude, continue to improve. 

After two unsatisfying nights tinged with insomnia, I didn't exactly want to spring out of bed this morning. I reached over to rub my husband's back, and enjoyed the fact that at least Chuck was with me, and he was sleeping soundly. Not even the temptation of freshly brewed coffee moved me today. I couldn't sleep, but I intended to rest. 

Once we finally got up and moving, I knew I had a couple of frogs on my agenda: working out and shopping for groceries. 

As far as working out, we all know that if we multi-task, the time passes more quickly. Some of us listen to music, others watch movies or TV, and I like to  talk to Chuck during his commute. I realize there are some who say if you do two things at once you don't get the complete experience of either one. In this case, Chuck and I are happy to pass the time of his drive and my exercise by talking to each other. I'm more than glad to not have the complete experience of aerobic exercise. It's a less tiresome task with Chuck for company.

Grocery shopping has never been my favorite thing to do. It takes so much time away from home, it costs so much money, and then there's the getting all of those bags in the house, and the groceries don't just put themselves away.

As soon as I had eaten breakfast, I took off for Walmart. It was so nice to have my shopping done by nine, with a whole day ahead of me to enjoy as I pleased.

What frogs are you staring down today? Rather than putting them off and allowing their presence to put a damper on your day, maybe you'd like to get them eaten as soon as possible! Frogs first, enjoyment later!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

We Interrupt this Snow with a Word from Our Flowers

Chuck got me out of the house yesterday, and out of the chilly breeze by taking me to the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago. Spring blossoms are trying to make an appearance in Chicagoland, but the recent snows and rain make it hard to enjoy being outside to look for them. Add a big old greenhouse to the picture, and two photographers can have a heyday!

Here are some of my favorite shots from yesterday. I hope you enjoy this sneak peek of beautiful things to come this spring. Happy Easter, friends. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Heart of a Photographer

A child's Christmas arrives.
Heart quickens as torn wrappings
reveal a Kodak Instamatic
with a box of flash cubes
and a roll of film.
The first dozen shots
snapped in rapid succession.
Film dropped into an envelope;
the mail order lab
entrusted with her
prized prints.

Waiting begins.
Sitting on the rock wall
across from the
big, black mail box
on route 56.
Straining her eyes
for the first glimpse
of the mail truck.
The agony of waiting.
Black and white
because meager
allowances don't allow
like Kodachrome.
The heart of a photographer
beat inside the young girl's chest.

Another Christmas 
season comes to pass;
a real camera,
the Canon SLR
opens up the possibilities.
Still film, but color
this time.

Wandering aisles
waiting for
one-hour photo labs
to deliver on their promise.
Whole rolls of film
reveal only the slightest hints of
budding talent.
The heart of a photographer
yearning for perfection.

Babies come;
creativity takes a backseat
to documenting firsts:
first smiles, 
first steps, 
first days.

Digital allows
many more shots,
many more mistakes,
quickly forgiven 
and forgotten
with the ease of deletion.

The heart of the photographer
filled to overflowing as
scrapbooks filled
with photos and mementos
of her children.

Retirement arrives.
There is time once again
to compose the shot,
consider the light,
and critique the results.

Black and white
captures mood;
creates clarity and contrast.
Occasional bursts of genius
encourage the heart
to follow its beating rhythm.

Love is found.
There are nearly always
two cameras now.

The heart of this photographer
joins the heart of another.
Their pictures tell the story
of two hearts
beating as one.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Wearin' o' the...ORANGE?

Once upon a Saint Patrick's Day many years ago, I was a little girl in a panic, looking for anything green to wear to school. As any elementary school kid can tell you, if you don't wear green you're going to get pinched. After I was suitably dressed, I headed to breakfast, and expressed my relief at finding green clothes for the day.

My dad told me the most bizarre thing that day: wearing orange is just as acceptable on Saint Patrick's Day. I knew Dad just didn't understand the way the day would play out if I wore anything but green. He explained to me something about history and Ireland and religion, and I'm sure my eyes glazed over, and most certainly did a little rolling. I just chalked it up to Dad's love of history trivia, but I wasn't about to wear anything other than green on this particular day.

In honor of Daddy, here's a brief history of Saint Patrick's Day from ABC News:
Click HERE to watch a brief video about Saint Patrick's Day by ABC News
Yesterday it occurred to me that I never did understand what it was he was trying to teach me, so I Googled it. "Orange on St. Patrick's Day." And all sorts of articles popped up.

The flag of Ireland has three vertical stripes of color. The field of green represents the original Catholic Ireland, the orange on the other side represents the Irish Protestants, and the white in the middle is the hope for peace between the two. So, Dad knew what he was talking about after all.

This morning as I hastily dressed to get to the tire store before my 8:00 appointment, I grabbed the only short-sleeved shirt hanging in my closet, which just happened to be light green. It was cold out, and I took my white hoody off its hanger, leaving the other jacket behind which was a white windbreaker. The first pair of socks I grabbed had owls on them, and just happened to be orange. I accidentally have all my bases covered for Saint Patrick's Day today. (If you're shaking your head at my chosen outfit, keep in mind I HASTILY dressed without much thought about fashion (as usual), and I was headed to the TIRE store.)

So, if anyone asks if it's okay to wear orange today, the quick answer is yes, but there is more to that than meets the eye. Irish Protestants might proudly wear their orange, but it can be perceived as offensive to others, showing disrespect to the Irish Catholics. 

If you are an American school child, I can only hope you remembered to wear something green today. Getting pinched is no fun, and I'm not sure any of your little friends will wait long enough to hear a mini-history lesson before they pinch you and run away. As for me, I'm celebrating with the wearin' o' the green AND just a bit o' the orange. The wearin' o' the white makes me feel good about paying homage to both sides today. 

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Ignoring everything I've learned about Saint Patrick, here's a little gratuitous humor
to commemorate his day.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Mulling Over Memories

Three years ago today, I awoke early, as I always have, and wrote down my thoughts as my retirement from a thirty year teaching career approached. So much has changed since then, and yet one thing remains constant: my gratitude for the students I taught and their parents, and the faculty and staff who were my coworkers. 

March 16, 2013

It is too dark to see the clouds at this hour, but I can sense their presence. The only stars that are visible are directly overhead. The snow has melted from the creek behind us and the water is rushing downstream. Neighbors' dogs are waking with their occasional barks to one another. The air is still and the night brought no frost. Spring is entering the canyon and my senses are on alert for the changes that are coming.  

This morning I find myself tender with emotion, and my heart filled with gratitude. Thirty years of teaching is drawing to a close, and I find myself mulling over the memories. 

There were a couple of extremely challenging years, but overall, this career has been the best choice for me, living and learning and teaching among these children. The support of their parents allowed me to do my job with confidence. The love of my family made it possible to fully enjoy my life as a teacher and a mom. The support and kindness of friends and coworkers made the burdens easier to bear, and the joys more rewarding.  Thank you. Thank you all for the part you have played in the great scheme of things that make me feel so blessed and loved.  

The sun is starting to make the darkness less black. Soon this dark grey will give way to morning. The snow-capped mountains are silhouetted by the lightening sky behind them. This day brings with it another chance to learn something new and to express our love and gratitude to those who love us. I didn't want to waste this opportunity to tell you how grateful I am for you, my children and parents, my friends, and my former students. You have touched my life and I just wanted to let you know. 
My last full year as a teacher. 5th grade.  2012/2013. Monroe Elementary.
35 of the best people I've ever had the pleasure to know.