Helga the Cleaning Nazi

Seventy-four days ago I decided to be a good steward, get rid of our bi-monthly housekeeper, and try to shave off some rather unnecessary expenses from the budget.  Seventy-four days ago I realized I have some big issues, and seventy-four days ago (I now acknowledge), I became Helga the cleaning Nazi.

I blame it on my step-mom, a darling German woman who believes tidiness is sacred and dirt is of the devil.  I grew up in one of those homes-the kind where the living room was off limits-and if the mere trace of an errant footprint was spotted on the carpet, somehow frau-mama knew who had done it.  I rarely saw her without a broom-seriously, I think she slept with it.

One time my best friend in high school climbed in through the window and had a small but secret soiree when our family was out-of-town.  My friend cleaned up so well, none of us could tell the house had been violated, but my step-mom knew instantly, like one of those canine narcotic bloodhounds, she could smell the perpetrator and discern that her vacuum strokes on the carpet were millimeters off the usual pattern.  It was CSI, Bourne Identity, and Murder She Wrote all wrapped up in her calculating sweep of an eye and I was in serious awe of her super-power cleaning prowess.

But now here I am, years later, with a home full of mess-makers (i.e. my husband and three kiddos) trying to maintain the elusive façade of cleaning Holiness that was modeled to me in my tender and formative years. 

I have to be über clean like frau-mama. Right?  It’s my step-birth-right; my pseudo German legacy.

My husband pointed out that lately I have been muttering under my breath ferocious threats to the dust balls as I stroll around our home fixated on destroying suspicious specks with a Clorox wipey.  He says my obsession makes him feel like he can’t relax in his own home, because he might actually (gulp) mess it up. 

And if I’m really honest, he’s right. Sometimes when he walks in the door I just look at him and get mad. When he appears, it feels like he immediately starts creating havoc.  His backpack winds up on the floor and clothes too, his keys are dropped somewhere where he will never find them, cords are everywhere from iPhones, iPods, laptops and techie gear, cabinets are opened and never shut, dishes are left out,

And the best part is-he doesn’t even notice. I don’t know how, I mean it’s right there-this ginormous mess, like “how could you not see this?”  But he doesn’t. It’s like he’s blind to it.

And my kids do the same thing-all three of them.  It’s me against the dirt of the world and I’m so tired and it’s utterly exhausting being the only soldier in this battle, and I really, really…really miss my housekeeper, because she was my ally and I love her and I need her.

Because I miss being able to see a fully clean house (not half clean) and release it with a happy heart to get dirty again, because in the back of my mind I know it will be clean again in two weeks.  And I can still clean myself in between and then it will be really really clean. And cleanliness is next to Godliness-right?

Does anyone share my pain?

And does anyone have the number of a good cheap housekeeper? Because if I don’t get some help soon, the therapy alone for my cleaning neurosis will be more than the money I saved on getting rid of the help.


Signs along the Road

So I’m driving to work, shooting up some popcorn prayers to the big guy, when I turn my head and see these cool signs. I roll down the window, grab my iPhone and snap a shot.

I’m transfixed. There’s a sign that says ONE WAY with an arrow that got a wee bit cut-off in the picture and another sign proclaiming WRONG WAY.

It’s like God is whispering to me (maybe because he knows I’m attracted to danger).

Sam-You can go down the wrong way, the long way and the hurts like hell way to find me or you can jump straight into my arms baby girl.

I sat at that sign until the cars honked behind me.

Each day I get to choose between life and death, beauty or destruction, love or selfishness…

Choices, decisions, judgements…

I can choose to make the extra effort and snuggle into to my husband’s arms tonight or pretend to be asleep. (Yes…I’m referring to sex for all of you scratching your head about what snuggling means)

I can bite back my critical comments when I come home to a ginormous mess after a long day at the office and instead simply say, “Hi there kiddos, I missed you.” (Breathe in peace, exhale bitchy mommy)

I can make the effort to call my friends when I’m sad or I can park my butt in front of a basket of chips, salsa, and a skinny margarita nursing my emotional boo-boos all alone at Casa Ranchera (Not that I would…just saying I might).

I can choose to take baby Kolby to the park, rub Faith’s back, or listen to my son Kyle go on and on about expensive blue Nike’s  until my head spins or I can check my Email and be distant mommy.

I can choose to not launch back verbal abuse to my co-worker after he has just asked me to cut up his steak for him at an office luncheon. (Ok, maybe that’s too much to ask of anybody?) 

I turned my car towards the ONE WAY sign.  At least for today, I’m heading in the right direction.

 Oh Jesus–I need HELP!

Bad Neighbor/Good Neighbor

Colonial Street

Image via Wikipedia

I get puppy-dog tail wagging happy driving home into my neighborhood.  And it’s not just because it looks like Wisteria Lane.  I honestly think I might live in an RV, as long as my neighbors parked their RV’s next to me. But it hasn’t always been like this.  I lost my “neighbor” way for a while. Oh, I said “hi” to the guy down the hall in my condo complex, and took flowers to an old lady once, but I never had them over for dinner.  I didn’t lean in and my friendliness stopped at the threshold of the door. For at least a couple of years, I have been an admittedly bad neighbor.

But this place I have moved to is different.  It’s, dare I say…”magical?”  I can’t bring myself to shut the door.  It cries out to be open.  I could be the poster girl for Ladera Life.  It really is “that” good.

Something in my heart is being reawakened to the acceptance and warmth of a community that embraces and doesn’t let me hide. I couldn’t tell you when my “neighbor “light burned out.  I can’t remember the day I started rushing into my home and avoiding people. Maybe it was after my divorce. Maybe it was when the explanations and tears ran dry.

The problem with neighbors is that they “know” things.  You can’t hide the proverbial white elephant when he’s pooping on your neighbor’s lawn. In my old neighborhood, everyone knew I got I dumped. It’s not like you can hide the single mom status.  We pretend that everything’s ok; deluding ourselves in a fog of denial, but in all reality, Mrs. Busybody down the street has got our number.

For the last year, I prayed for God to bless me with some friends that I could connect with and relate to.  I sorely needed companionship, though I really didn’t have a lot to give.  Yes, I know that’s a selfish request, but it’s where I was at.  Moving into a brand new community with my relatively new husband, having a baby, three kids, a career, and starting a church just didn’t leave a lot of time for fun. So, I specifically prayed that I would find friends that were also convenient; in the midst of all this chaos I call my life. I wanted healthy and low maintenance friends.  I find it best to be specific with God.

And God is so ridiculously faithful.  He amply provided a bevy of beautiful gals, right in front of my stinking house, that I can laugh with, delight in and wail to. How’s that for a loving and merciful God!

Sometimes I feel like I am eight years old again, walking across the street to see if Keri can play.  I keep my eye out for Stacy ambling down the street with her little girls, or I look for my fun friend Lindsey who can hear the tinkle of the ice-cream truck a mile away. 

I never expected God would heal my “neighbor” wound by restoring the very thing in me that I resented.  And, oh by the way, answer my friend prayer with these same neighbors, the ones that come over for just a second and end up staying two hours.

Chocolate Rivers

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

Image via Wikipedia

I started to cook again this week.  

 Food and the preparation of said food, i.e. – cooking, is an uncanny indicator in my life regarding the true state of my heart.  If my spirit is peaceful, cooking seems amusing and diverting, but if my soul is weary and overwrought, the very same task feels like a loathsome chore.

 In the Christian world, it’s common to hear the wise and mature folk ask younger leaders, “So dear, where are you at spiritually?” 

And my response would be, “well, my kids had a frozen TV dinner consisting of macaroni with a side of zapped peas last night.” Translation…my cup over runneth with too much activity and my kids are getting neglected again in the kitchen realm.

It’s such a vague question, really, when considering the totality of a human being, this “Christianise” vernacular of “where are you at spiritually,” as if we could point to a spot on the map or a quadrant and define our status.  Call me complex or multi-faceted as my friend Krista likes to say, but who, in all reality, could ever chart the condition of their heart on a graph?

Husband (9), kids(8), writing(7), cooking(2), status of garage(-10), ministry (7) health (5) workouts(3), quiet times (5), time for friends(1), time for me(-5), talks with God (7), rest(1), work (5), sex life(well, that’s private)

My graph would make Jack’O Lantern teeth; consistent only in the up and down, ebb and flow…of highs and lows and in and outs.  Nothing static…but a tornado of emotions, physical peaks and valleys, and spiritual growth and setbacks all tumbled together under the umbrella of God’s grace.

My points average out to about 2, which puts me right back to cooking.

These days, it’s popular for food to be referenced as a metaphor for emotional undercurrents. Cooking is suggested as an alternate form of therapy, sometimes revenge, and even self-punishment. 

I thought I was above using food as a weapon, but I was clearly wrong, because the first thing I did when my husband recently traveled for a week was to go directly to the store and buy all the food he doesn’t like or approve of. 

My shopping cart resembled the chocolate river from Willy Wonka; peppermint Jo Jo’s, peppermint chunk mocha sipping chocolate, chocolate dipped strawberries, and Swedish dark chocolate. The checker looked at me with disdain, a subtle suggestion that maybe my chocolate binge was hormonal.  I stared back belligerently.

It was passive aggressive at best…a defiant move that asserted my sense of self apart from my husband.  Call me crazy, but sometimes, I need those little moments for my soul to scream out, “I am woman. A chocolate fiend of a woman.  Hear me roar.”

Notwithstanding the  chocolate fiasco, my life has begun to calm down lately.  Rest has moved up the graph and peace has burst through the dam of exhaustion.  

So, where am I at spiritually?

Well, last week my girls and I ate pork-chops with mango papaya salsa and green bean casserole,  Lasagna and salad with fruit and pear-gorgonzola dressing, salmon with chocolate mole sauce, and divine home-made turkey soup from Thanksgiving left-over’s.

Translation…my spirit is fruitful with a little dash of spice, dark, meaty and sweet, sometimes nostalgic and often saucy.

Maybe that’s why God gave us manna, asks us to fast in prayer, and calls himself the “bread of life,” because somehow our spirits are mysteriously and deeply intertwined with food. No pun intended…but maybe we really are what we eat.

When I Grow Up…

Cover of "When I Grow Up"

Cover of When I Grow Up

“I don’t want to grow up, because baby if I did…I wouldn’t be a Toy’s R Us kid!”

My nine-year old daughter chimed in to the commercial jingle while shaking her hips with gusto.   I smiled at her in agreement.

“Being a kid is pretty great, isn’t it?”  I asked her.

“Yep mom and my favorite part is that I don’t have to go to work every day,” she replied.  “Some people hate their jobs.”

Her response took me by surprise. I could hear echo’s of her father’s voice complaining about his job through her little statement. My ex-husband hasn’t loved his on-again, off-again profession in about ten years.  It’s amazing how perceptive children are.

I quietly acknowledged the work comment and then suggested we focus on finding her a job she adores, so that work would be a blessing and not a curse.

“I want to be an actress mommy,” my daughter said. 

I nodded in approval, thrilled that she has moved on from professional cheerleader to actress. 

Mommy, what did you want to be when you were little?” my daughter inquired.

My eyes filled with tears as I thought about her innocent little question. 

“Well honey, I wanted to be a writer,” I said passionately. “I wanted to tell stories and entertain other people the way my books carried me through dark days.  I also wanted to read and get paid for it.  Read and write for a living… all day, every day, forever and ever!”

She gave me a quizzical look, slightly concerned at my over-dramatic response to her simple question. 

“Mommy, you are a writer.  You just took a long time to figure it out.”

Off she skipped, leaving me to process the ramifications of her statement. 

How is it that thirty-eight years slipped through my fingers before I finally pursued my childhood dream of writing?  I don’t remember saying as a child, “When I grow up I want to play it safe!  Minimize risk and avoid failure at all costs.”

And yet that’s exactly what I have done and what I see so many of my friends do.  We bury our dreams, escape into destructive coping mechanisms, and little by little lose the fiery spirit God gave us each one of us to uniquely live out loud. 

Isn’t this really the essence of a mid-life crisis?  We simply forget our identity and think hot sex or a Porsche will make the aching hole vanish.

So, when I grow up, hopefully before I turn 40 (I have about 18 months to go), I want to be bold like my daughter.  Reclaim my courageous spirit beaten down by years of life, and like a little child, have faith that with God all things are possible.  

Oh yeah…and I want to write, read books and tell stories, every day, forever and ever.



A Little Help Please…


Image by LiminalMike via Flickr

Last night my car broke down. Not that it’s ever convenient to have car problems, but I was parked behind a high school, deep in an isolated canyon with nothing but tarantulas and mountain lions around for miles.  My son was one of the last kids off the football field after a late practice and as he hopped in, I heard a clicking sound instead of the engine coming to life.  It sounded like a dead battery.

Fortunately, one of the mom’s also exiting saw my waving hand and stopped.  She sent her husband home for the jumper cables and we hung out in the cold night, with growling stomachs, kids running around and the baby howling along with the coyotes for a bottle.  Shockingly, a few last stragglers walked by and observed our little woebegone party-two women, three children and a baby standing around a car with the hood open, obviously in distress, and not one of them stopped or asked if we needed help.

It’s a story told all too often in our society… of people passing by and not heeding the call of those in distress.  Now obviously we weren’t in imminent danger, and we did not ask for help, but the other mom seemed pretty indignant that we were ignored.

I would suggest that their lack of concern is more normal than not, and I am generally more surprised when people do offer assistance.  Heroic acts these days are few and far between, and when they do occur, somebody probably has a video to capture it for YouTube.  Because, when nobody else is looking, when the credits don’t roll, it’s just too easy to turn our eyes away and pretend not to notice. Ignorance is bliss right?

The Darwinist mentality seems to have pervaded our culture so deeply that survival of the fittest means we overlook the ageing, disabled and stranded. What this reveals about our society is a startling lack of compassion and an indication that somewhere along the way we have learned to care more for ourselves than for the greater good.

I know that if I am honest, my own heart is inherently selfish and my gut reaction is rarely to stop what I am doing, surrender my agenda, and dive into the need at hand. More often, I feel a tug in my spirit, choose to heed or ignore the nudge, and then usually, but not always, try to help.

When I look at the ministry of Jesus, I am struck by how the interruptions of need seemed to define his entire ministry. He did more healing, teaching and revelation in the unplanned moments than any organized preaching.  His agenda seemed to incorporate the unplanned and invite the messy in. 

And so, I am challenged to create space in my life for the unexpected, the things I can’t put in my agenda but may define my identity far more than my busy schedule.

The journey of compassion is the road less traveled. It whispers to look beyond ourselves and glimpse that which is sacred. It loves our neighbor simply for loves sake.

That’s the message I want to teach my kids. It’s the banner I want to wear across my own heart. To never be so busy that I can’t stop, engage in humanity, and get my hands a little bit dirty.

But if your car breaks down…my help might consist of a little company and a cell phone. Mechanics are just not my gift!

First steps and last steps…

Baby steps

Today my kids and I went on an unusual adventure. After church, I packed up my little tribe and hustled them to the car, explaining that we were heading over to the Vintage Sr. Center for a high tea and a little socializing with our elderly neighbors.  My twelve-year-old son, who is generally amiable and warm-hearted seemed up for the occasion, though he did comment under his breath that old people smell.  My nine-year old drama queen on the other hand, ran and asked her dad if she could stay at church to clean up, tried to arrange an impromptu play-date and looked for any loophole possible to avoid accompanying us.  The baby was on board, but then again, at nine months old, she didn’t have much of a choice.

I dressed the girls in costumes, both for Halloween’s s sake and because I thought the Sr. residents of Vintage would enjoy seeing a cute baby dressed as Wonder Woman and my older daughter decked out as an 80’s style Valley Girl.  But poop happens, and the baby had a blow out all over her costume and the left half of my body as I walked into church.  I cleaned myself up, but I reckon if you sniffed real close, I was borderline stinky.  It was one of those days.

So, in we marched to Vintage Sr. Center…a weary mom, a hyper baby, a reluctant pre-tween in a pink tutu, and my easy-going son. We stopped on the patio and greeted a few seniors who were taking some air.  They oohed and ahhed over the baby and we smiled and made small talk before heading in.The Sr. Center was surprisingly lovely.  I was caught off guard by the soothing decor, calming fountains, and tableaux of lush flowers and inviting spaces. The communal area was set up for the tea with tables decorated in harvest linens and china resplendent with tiny sandwiches, fresh fruit, and sweets. 

About twenty elderly ladies were assembled for the tea and we jumped in to join the festivities.  I made the rounds with the baby, and let her simple charm and utter innocence bless the ladies. And the baby obliged, smiling and giggling, while proudly showing off her two new teeth.  She clapped and waved, danced and performed for her audience of approving grannies, reveling in their attention and genuine delight.  But babies have limited attention spans, and after a while she whimpered to get down and explore on the ground.

Like lightening, the baby crawled over to the one solo male, sitting alone with a walker in front of him. She climbed up on the side of the walker and to her surprise, it moved.  On the cusp of walking, the baby had found a strong sturdy aid to help her take her first steps.  I glanced up at the man, hoping he wouldn’t mind that the baby had absconded his only source of mobility, but he seemed enthralled by my wee tyke now making circles with the walker.

He leaned over and said in a raspy voice, “You know, I never thought I would walk again, but I’ve been working hard with the physical therapist to strengthen my legs and I can even do the stairs now.  Soon, I should be able to get around with just a cane.”

As the baby made circle after circle with the walker, fiercely determined to take one step after another, the man talked about losing his good friend to a stroke only a few days before. His matter of fact demeanor appeared callous at first, but then it began to dawn on me that in this environment, he was getting used to loss. I scooted close to listen, recognizing the sacredness of an open heart and a lifetime of wisdom being shared.

He told me there were two types of residents at the Sr. Home, the terminal and those in transition. The transitional folks were there for a set period of time to recover from a surgery or a fall while their families arranged a way to bring them home with assisted care, but the others were there until they died.  It was their final home on this earth. He said it made all the difference in the world how the residents identified themselves. He said the terminal were hopeless and sad…their spirits bitter and hard. But the transitional residents had a promise of recovery and home, a reward at the end of a long and painful journey.

The man smiled at me and proclaimed,” I am going home again when I can walk. Just like that baby forging ahead, I refuse to end my life here.”

I caught my son’s eye and winked; delighted he was engaged in helping set up the slide show for the poetry reading. Then we drank tea, listened to Casey at the Bat and enjoyed cupcakes. I saw my older daughter drawing pictures and presenting them to the elderly ladies, smiling and preening in her costume. Eventually, the baby grew tired of her game, crawled into my arms and fell asleep.

As I gathered up my kids to go home, and hugged my new friend good-bye, I asked him if I could come back and play cards with him.  He nodded “yes”, excitedly muttering something about Gin Rummy.

I drove off pondering his statement about the two types of residents at the Sr. Home.  I was struck by how profound his observations were and how it also applied to a much bigger realm than just the Vintage Sr. Center.

Our perspective on life, our very identity rests on how we view ourselves on this planet, either as transitional–with the hope of eternal life and a greater kingdom awaiting us, or as terminal—life consisting of a limited time and place, with a beginning and end, and then no more. Even the most decadent Sr. Home in the world would feel like hell, if you looked at as your last step to the grave.

The man knew that to have a life, he had to change his perspective.   

Later that night, I asked my son if he enjoyed himself at the Sr. Home. He responded with a decisive, “Yes! They didn’t smell bad at all, but you on the other hand, need to take a shower.”

Profound Lessons from Aspergers Syndrome


Image by Norma Desmond via Flickr

It was the night of the Volunteer Appreciation Dinner at our church.

 As the pastor’s wife, I am generally required to attend these sorts of things with the unspoken expectation to always smile, be nice, and glow with the joy of the Lord, even if I have to, dare I say… fake it.   I was running late that evening, overwrought with juggling three kids, sports practice, and a cranky baby. My plastered on smile thinly hid tears of frustration leaking out my nose.  As I stood and perused the room full of familiar faces, the tension in my spirit only clogged my throat more.  I felt like an intruder interrupting a play in the second act. The crowd was engaged in conversation and gaiety and I felt like I was barging in with a bag full of awkward.  I stood on the outside, trying to find the right moment to break into the group, but none seemed to be forthcoming.  Then I saw him, a boy with an apparent disability, obviously struggling to find his place, and something in my heart connected, his outward instability mirroring my own inner turmoil.

I sat down next to him and smiled, possibly the first of the evening with any emotion behind it.  The seats were close and our shoulders brushed when I scooted in my chair. He looked up at me and frowned, his large eyes expressing scorn at my presence.  In a cheery voice, I stuttered, “Hello!

Instead of “hi” in return, he groaned, “ughh,” and rolled his eyes, disgust dripping from his every breath.  Stunned, I could only laugh.  Peals of tension rolled away in a glorious moment of self-deprecating humor. Not that I would ever show it, but I too, have moments when I want to turn and run the other way from people. His complete transparency was a treasured gift.  There was no guile or charm about him, just raw emotion spewing from his soul.

His mother jumped in and apologized profusely.  “Our son has Aspergers Syndrome” she whispered in explanation. Both the mother and father appeared exhausted and overwhelmed.  I noticed they had two little boys sitting next to them as well.  Their weary faces told a story of resignation and personal agenda’s relinquished that I couldn’t even imagine.  My little pity-party quickly faded in the light of their self-sacrifice in caring for a child with special needs.

I nodded my understanding, but was determined not to leave, even though I could sense her apprehension regarding her son’s erratic behavior. Just then, one of my favorite ushers sat down on the other side of the boy. He started to talk to him, just jabbering really, anything to try to help relax the boy’s parents. He told the boy that I was the pastor’s wife and that I used to volunteer with High School Students.  The boy covered his ears.  He went on and shared with him how I had helped start our church with my husband.  This time the boy yawned. My usher friend shrugged his shoulders and looked sad, but somehow I knew I wouldn’t break through his walls with an assortment of credentials.

The boy turned and faced me. “So what do you do now…right now?” he asked.

His question caught me right in the middle of bite of pasta, which slipped off my plastic fork and landed on his right foot.  “Well,” I said, willing to throw caution to the wind, “Sometimes I like to throw noodles.” And I launched another one at his left foot.

The boy burst into laughter along with the rest of the table and a gentle wave of release rolled over us.  His protective walls came down and he suddenly he began to chatter away, allowing us for a short time, to enter his world. He told us all about his love of McDonald’s desserts and how Korea had the best dessert menu of all.  His mom jumped in and shared that he had memorized every McDonald’s menu in the world, country by country.  Clearly brilliant, opinionated, and passionate, the boy seemed to have exaggerated mental gifts juxtaposed with irrationality.  He was both at once delightful and overwhelming. But for a brief moment, his mother relaxed and let go of her tension, sitting back and joking with his two younger brothers.

The boy’s father came back to the table with an enormous piece of carrot cake for him.  He gently placed it in front of him with a plastic knife and fork and smiled at him.  In one fell swoop, the boy inhaled half the cake. The fathers smile quickly disappeared.  “Slow down bud!  Use your fork and knife!”

But the boy did not like to be reprimanded and he grabbed the knife like a dagger and stubbornly resisted his father. In a battle of wills, the boy reluctantly cut the remaining piece in two and shoved them both in his mouth in rapid succession.  Trying not to tremble, the knife only inches from my face, I dared not move an inch.  In lightening speed his father grabbed the knife, cleaned up the frosting smeared all over his face and sent him off to explore the church. His mom trotted after him, glancing back with an apologetic look.  The father collapsed into the chair and rested his head in between his hands, exhausted and embarrassed. 

“You know you are doing a great job, don’t you?” I said.

His eyes filled with tears and he whispered, “I don’t know.  He’s better at home. He feels safe there” 

Our eyes met, acknowledging a difficult situation at best, recognizing that sometimes there are no words.  I could see his fierce and unconditional love for their first-born son mixed with sadness, disappointment and struggle. His wife came back to the table and the little boys ran off to play and care for their brother, another reminder of how their whole family was affected by Aspergers. 

“Does he ever get lost?” I asked, noticing how he would become entranced by an object and take off at full speed only to have his attention caught elsewhere a moment later. 

“Not usually”, they said in unison.

His mom laughed, “Then again you don’t see us exactly running after him.” They smiled at each other, an inside joke perhaps, all the tenderer to the observer because of their apparent love for each other. “But he always comes back,” she said in exasperation and acceptance.

Then we took communion together, a group of broken people…acknowledging our Savior’s sacrifice.

 I watched them pack up the boys and head home.  Neither of them had been chosen as one of the volunteers to be publicly affirmed in front of the crowd that night, but then their offering to the Kingdom and the church wasn’t a loud one.  It was a quiet and daily surrender, a desert journey of faith that these two humble Saints had said “yes” to.  In the light of their obstacles, I was amazed that they even showed up to volunteer more. 

And, as I gathered up my own little flock for the night, my heart encouraged and challenged by the sacrificial love of this family, my burdens didn’t seem quite so heavy anymore and my church felt like home once again.

Why I hate the grocery store…

Example of an American grocery store aisle.

Image via Wikipedia

My husband can attest to the fact that I am, at best, a reluctant recycler.  After living in Newport Beach where they sort your trash, and then moving to the ‘burbs, it’s been hard for me to jump on the two trashcan bandwagon…one for recyclables and one for pure trash.  As a purger, unlike my hoarder husband, I dare to take a stand and boldly say, “I like to throw crap away!” One time I even dumped my trash in a restricted trashcan when mine was full(Yeah I know I am a green traitor).  I despise clutter and so I am quite content throwing away something we may or may not use in the next twenty years.  But, for all my obsessive tendencies, I have given a yeoman’s effort to be a better environmentalist.   Much of this is due to the guilt trip of my children.

The schools have successfully brainwashed our children into depicting my generation(30-40) as a gas guzzling, landfill hogging, ozone destroying enemy.  And the children have been indoctrinated with a Go Green message to infiltrate the homes of the worst offenders…namely me.  And it’s working, because I am slowly, one plastic bottle at a time, separating my trash.  I have also bought one of those cute reusable grocery bags, not that I’ve used it, but it’s there, as tangible evidence to the shift in my heart.

And then one day, out of the blue, I knew I had crossed over to the other side when I had an unexpected reaction at the grocery store.  It’s not the bad service, the long lines, or the mass commercialization of the cereal aisle that gets me, it’s the lousy coupons.  When you check out, after going through the mental anguish of deciding between paper or plastic and then weigh the ramifications of either choice to the environment, the checker proceeds to print out about 500 little pieces of paper to save you money on your next visit. 

Really??? After all the work you and I have done to clean up our acts, clean up our beaches, clean up the oil spill, sort through the trash, drive fuel-efficient cars, go paperless at the office, recycle, recycle, recycle…and the checker just used enough paper to wipe out a forest for coupons that I can never even remember to bring!

I am mad!  Mad enough to raise public awareness and have a mini-fit!

That’s why I am going to Trader Joes where all the bohemian hummus eating people go to shop.  They don’t have coupons, just pure and simple low prices.  And I will sleep better at night knowing I did my part to save the planet


Un balle-à-leunettes - a jack-o-lantern

Image via Wikipedia

My family moved into a suburban neighborhood like no other this last year.

It is akin to Wisteria lane on steroids.

Currently there are 49 children on our block.  Our home, a taupe colored shingled Craftsman, sits on the corner with a large wrap around porch and is dead center in the hub of activity.

Summer nights are filled with shrieks and laughter, street barbecues and ditch’em, hide and seek and babies in diapers crawling around on the grass as mommies linger outside to milk in the last rays of light.

Every fantasy I envisioned of a loving community of people doing life together has been more than fulfilled when I look out my window in the morning and see neighbors smiling and waving.

Coming from a cramped condo with three kids, there aren’t enough words to describe this bliss.  Now as Fall approaches, we are being indoctrinated into a new series of neighborhood rituals.

The Halloween decorations are beginning to pop up…pumpkins and spiders, webs and ghouls.  The trees are glowing with orange jack-o-lantern lights and scarecrows smiling at sinister zombies.

Our street is reminiscent of a Normal Rockwell painting juxtaposed with cheap Costco decorations.  It is Americana at it’s finest…awesome and over commercialized.

A few nights ago, I was at home cuddled up on the sofa writing. My older kids and husband were at sports practice,while the baby played at my feet and dismantled the neatly kept playroom, one toy at a time.  Out of the blue, the doorbell rang and I heard leaves crunching, feet running away and heavy breathing.

I nervously peered out the peephole, and saw nothing but ominous darkness. Wisteria lane had become Hysteria Lane in my mind as I conjured up home invasions and kidnappers.  I bolted the door and walked to the window.  Then it rang again, but this time I spied little feet running away and ascertained that it was a small child and probably not a big threat.  I slowly opened the door and looked around.  In front of the doorstep was a big bag filled with goodies.

On the outside of the bag…was the word BOO!

Inside the BOO bag were Halloween crafts, pumpkin decorating tools, outdoor decorations, candy, shoelaces and a letter.  It explained that we needed to display an orange pumpkin cutout that said BOO on our home and within two days repeat this activity to two  neighbors.  If the plan worked, by Halloween our whole neighborhood would be a BOO friendly zone, and every child would share in the excitement.

My kids were so excited when they came home and quickly dug into their booty.  Then we plotted and planned who would be the recipient of our booing.

Choosing which neighbors to BOO was the hard part, but we unanimously decided upon the new family across the street, with two little ones and our neighbor behind us, who is a widowed father. First we assembled the bags.  Dog bones, pretzels, ghost marshmallows, assorted candy and freshly baked cookies for the neighbor behind us.  For the young family we found Halloween cut-outs, plastic spiders, candy, cookies and toy boats handmade for their toddler boy.  We giggled and delighted in our efforts, then headed out the door on a mission to spook our neighbors and bless them.

First, we hit the neighbors with the little kids.  They live in a beautiful yellow clapboard home with a white picket fence and large front yard.  A little red baby swing hangs from the eaves of their porch and toys are scattered askew.

My son slowly opened their front gate, tip-toed up to the door, rang the doorbell and bolted.  The baby and I watched from our front window, while my daughter hid behind a car in their driveway with my son.  The young dad peered out his front door,  but didn’t see anyone. They have a beveled glass top door, so we were fortunate to be able to watch his reactions.

He looked around suspiciously, then slowly opened the door and spied the BOO bag.  He looked around again as my kids, hiding in his driveway stifled guffaws, then picked up the bag and upon realizing it was a surprise, called out for his little boy and they happily tore into the bag.  Mission accomplished!  We tricked them and then treated them…mmmm, I wonder if that’s how it all started?

House number two was a different type of BOO.  Not long before we moved in, our neighbor behind us had lost his wife to cancer.  He was still living in her dream home, a romantic Spanish style abode with a lush yard and arched entryway.  His daughter, a beautiful girl in her mid-twenties, had moved home to help with her mother’s care in the last days.  She is still living with him, and slowly recapturing her spirit after the devastation.  The younger son is in college but also lives at home.  He doesn’t smile much and keeps his distance.  They are fragile, at best, and we desperately wanted to make things better.  So we BOO’d them.  A simple but intentional move to show them we cared.

Our plan was to plant our nine month old baby on the doorstep, armed with a glow stick and the BOO bag.  I hid closely behind the arch as we rang the bell.  But in our sneaky plans, we forgot about their dog.  Bullet, a large Siberian Husky bounded up to the door barking furiously.  In a flash, I grabbed the baby who started crying.  Tim opened the door and there I stood…with a crying baby, a BOO bag, and two older kids yelling at me, “abort, abort.”.

I was a BOO failure!

Then Tim called the dog off and asked me what I was doing.  Before I could say anything, he saw the bag.  “Are you BOOing me?” he asked.

“Yes, but I didn’t do a very good job,” I said.

He didn’t say anything more, took the bag from my hands and slowly shut the door. Just before it closed he looked up at me and smiled.

So , maybe our covert operation was more awkward than finely tuned, but our hearts were full and our souls nourished as we headed home. The BOOing had allowed us, for a moment in time, to be a part of something bigger and to step out of the ordinary and mundane in our lives.  We learned that being a  neighbor isn’t just about living in a neighborhood…it’s about engaging in the stories of humanity. Mr. Rogers put it this way, “If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”

And as I drifted off to sleep that night, a familiar song of childhood came to mind… “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day in the neighborhood.  Won’t you be my neighbor?”


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