If you haven’t heard about Dinovember yet, take a look at this post. What an amazing project, and how lucky are those kids? We all need a bit of the magical in our lives.
My final semester of college, I was really sick- barely holding on sick. One day I came home to my room to find it had been invaded by a leprechaun who left green footprints on my floor and treats on my bed and dresser. That memory still makes me smile. It was how the lady I was living with at the time made St. Patrick’s Day a delight for me while showing an enormous amount of love.
Like these parents do for their children. Even if you don’t have kids, I think you will want to check it out to enjoy a bit of happy.
I love that my book collection contains books from exotic places all around the world including China, Australia, Germany, Britain, France and Dayton… Ohio. Yeah, that Dayton, Ohio one is my most recent bit of happy where books and packages are concerned. More so because it came with a note that made it even more exciting and special to me than it already was. I love having books that were loved before me. And I love this book.
Plus it’s always nice to get mail that isn’t a credit card offer or my burn bill that is slowly being paid down to zero as we speak. A few more months and my leg will once again belong exclusively to me. Yay! Another bit of happy.
One of the benefits of being a reader of books without a large following is the joy in tracking them down and giving them a home with me. It’s the thrill of discovering them in the first place. Of becoming friends with someone who is unappreciated and overlooked. It’s holding books printed over a hundred years ago in the palms of my hands- of feeling their weight and history, it’s smelling and breathing the wisdom of them in. But I’m talking about books when I intended to talk about packages.
But that’s what most of my favorite and most exciting packages contain, so it’s hardly a huge mental leap. I love packages that have tracking information that I can follow until they arrive. I especially love being surprised by packages that come earlier than I had anticipated or been led to believe. I MOST especially love when a package arrives at the precise moment it will bring the most joy to me. Those packages in particular feel like angels hastened them into my arms.
The Robert Pace Teacher’s Guide arrived all the way from a music lover in Dayton, Ohio last week. Yeah, baby, definitely an exquisitely magnificent form of happy.
This episode of Cosby is one that always makes me smile. It combines several things I enjoy: Cosby, Shakespeare, and a delightful performance by Tom Conti as the Bard. It is a quirky, fun reminder of how wonderfully exciting living in our time is, and it also addresses one of the main reasons I enjoy studying Shakespeare myself.
Bill Cosby wants to know why he needs Shakespeare in the first place. In a small way, this episode shows how experiencing Shakespeare can help you to feel understood, and can help you to see and live your life a bit differently, hopefully, a little better.
For me, my personal Shakespeare moment came in a play few people are familiar with- Cymbeline. There is a passage in Cymbeline that opened up a part of me that is difficult for most people to understand. It was my best friend as a teenager who gave details and information about me and my family to the men who were trying to kill us. It’s hard to process that kind of betrayal. How could you love someone who could do something like that? What happens when you still do? King Cymbeline experiences this same difficulty when he finds out after her death, that his second wife was a horrible, evil person and that she hurt the daughter he loved. He laments:
Were not in fault, for she was beautiful;
Mine ears, that heard her flattery; nor my heart,
That thought her like her seeming; it had
To have mistrusted her: yet, O my daughter!
That it was folly in me, thou mayst say,
And prove it in thy feeling. Heaven mend all!
“That thought her like her seeming.” It’s been very difficult for me to learn to trust again, but somehow this passage helps. I am not the only one who has misjudged someone to the detriment of someone they love. Even though Cymbeline is fiction, it helped me to feel understood and also to realize that being taken in by someone doesn’t automatically mean that we are a fool. It can be because we have the virtue of looking for and trying to believe and draw out the best in others. We can be deceived whether we look for the worst or the best. I try to be careful in not endangering my loved ones again, but I think generally speaking, it is still better to try to find and trust the good in those around us. That’s how my family ended up having drug dealers protect our home for us. Crazy story, but a true one.
Now for a Cosby episode that is clever, fun, enlightening, and a bit of happy:
Where we live has been a massive construction zone for years. Road work everywhere. I keep thinking there must be something about road construction that I don’t know that makes putting every road on all four sides of a subdivision under construction at roughly the same time make sense. Ditto with every freeway around us, which makes quite a few. And the streets that parallel one another. And the freeway exits, three to four in a row. I’m not seeing the wisdom in it, though I do thank Heavenly Father as we maneuver our way through it, for giving people jobs, people who probably really need the work.
My mom has her own way of dealing with the exasperation. She treats those massive orange END ROAD WORK construction signs as protest signs. “End road work,” she reads aloud as we gain freedom for two blocks, “YES!”
When my niece was here, she joined in the fervent and perpetual plea of those signs to “Make it stop! Please make it stop!” I still hear her voice and feel her enthusiasm and delight at turning those signs into a message that was not the original intention. And it makes me smile.
There are many things outside of our personal control that affect us personally. When we can’t change them, or hurry them up, it can be incredibly frustrating. Often, the only thing we can really change is how we see these things, and how we react to them.
In high school, when the student parking lot jammed to a stop as we tried to leave (as it always did until the year our school stopped teaching driver’s ed and the local economy crashed to the point where fewer students had vehicle access), one of the guys who carpooled with a friend who had a sun roof would stand up and would signal the drivers around him to take turns sounding their horns, to test their pitch and tone. He would then conduct us in impromptu renditions of songs like “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. He turned a daily frustration into a fun experience. I remember we actually reached a point where we felt a bit cheated and disappointed on the days traffic moved too quickly for our silly symphonies to conclude or commence.
Which is why, though I will be glad when all this construction finally ends, I will miss the protest signs that bring my mom and me a bit of happy… eventually!
I remember one night in Georgia when my mom’s boss and her husband came over for dinner. I believe it took an entire two minutes before the husband turned to my sister and me and told us, “You two are something else.” That comment left us puzzled. Something else good? Something else bad? What about us exactly was “else”?
I’ve learned not to stress over that question too much. After all, wacky as my family may seem, we are definitely the tamer of the branches in our family tree… er, perhaps.
Looking back I just can’t see how we could really be expected to be “normal” either environmentally or genetically. I think some of that “else” is best demonstrated by my aunts- my dad’s aunts, actually… some of whom were, and some of whom weren’t, related to us biologically. Somehow, either way, the DNA of their personalities matched us, or we evolved to include strands of theirs. At this point, it doesn’t really matter.
I grew up being nurtured and bossed and, to be honest- at times- aggravated, by three eccentric women I knew as “aunt”. I grew up hearing stories of my Aunt Mary Jo being one of the only women at her school because women in her day didn’t study anatomy with cadavers in order to become doctors and chiropractors. During WWII she joined the navy, doing electrical/mechanical work like her brother. She also did a stint at a night club where she would come out in a bathing suit and toss fresh tangerines to soldiers. By the time I knew her she had mellowed some and become a rancher who ate pickily and organically- and smoked cigars. She volunteered a lot and devoted the later years of her life to rescuing animals. I was asked to help present a special award to her for her years of service and ended up on television doing it.
This is in contrast to my shy, bookish, six foot something aunt who hailed from Michigan or Wisconsin, worked for the telephone company for most of her life, left Hollywood when the crime rate there spiked, and spent her retirement painting, having luncheons with friends, loving her cats and dogs, and driving an extra half an hour if necessary in order to make all rights (the thought of making left hand turns scared her to death). She was the one who introduced me to Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. She was the one who let me play with her tin village, her rag doll, and her father’s mountain man doll that had been carved from a stick and painted ages before I came into existence. My life at her place was a bit Laura Ingalls Wilder (though not as much as when I lived in a small town in Wyoming). I played with her things as she and her friends talked about books and family and history around me, happily tuning in to their stories as it pleased me.
As a teenager this aunt came to believe that my medical difficulties stemmed from poor posture and my blood being bad. Each time I saw her, which was weekly for many years, she tried to rectify the situation. She wouldn’t let me leave her home until I had eaten an entire can of beets by myself and had stood for some time in the center of her living room, my arms outstretched towards the walls, to improve my posture. When I left home for college, the standard phone call I would get from her went something like this:
“Where’s your broom?”
“In the kitchen.”
“You know your broom should be next to your front door.”
“My kitchen is next to my front door.”
“Well if a man tries to break in, you grab that broom and scratch his eyes out. It’s okay, he’s a bad man trying to do you harm. Don’t try to be nice- you scratch his eyes out!”
The standard “letter” from her during those years was an envelope addressed to me filled with news clippings, most of which contained pictures of people with bad posture with my Aunt Mary Kelly’s written admonition across the top of them reminding me to “Stand up straight!”
She feared for me all the time. She was afraid I would get hurt, afraid that, like her, I would never marry. She used to scan the left hands of every man she saw in airports for wedding rings, trying to find a husband for me. When she found out I was going to study in China, she got panicky. That is until she came up with her favorite joke to comfort herself with that she then shared with absolutely everybody: “Melanie can’t find Mr. Right, so she is going to China to find Mr. Wong.”
My Aunt Mary Jo handled the people who tried to scare me out of going to China by pulling me aside and advising me: “Any time you get the opportunity to travel, take it!” She was the main reason I went to Europe shortly after my first heart surgery with the money she had left me at her death, without permission from my first heart surgeon but with a cousin who was willing to accompany me and watch out for me as necessary.
Then there was my other aunt, a model who, like my Aunt Mary Jo, had a short stint of military service in her history during WWII. Not a wallflower by any means, she married, divorced, and was widowed many times. I do not have a clue what her maiden name actually was- the sheer number and variety of her last names we encountered in her personal correspondence after her death was staggering.
I’ve been able to wear some of her suits in my day; suits I’ve always been complimented on, along with my hats. By the time I knew my Aunt Charlotte she was chronically cranky with an even crankier poodle and a passion for knitting and crocheting over everything. There is no way to exaggerate her hobby. She crocheted over the toilet paper in her bathrooms and the canned food in her cupboards. She gave us crocheted tins of butter cookies with brightly colored sugar crystals on top for Christmas. Being with her was always a bit of an adventure and an enduration but, in the end, I do miss her. It takes decided and persistent effort to be as confidently wacky and opinionated as she was.
My mother once told me that the difference between being weird or eccentric was money. If you were poor you were weird; if you were wealthy you were eccentric. Personally, I feel the non-quirky are the poor ones in this equation. I guess it’s because I equate quirkiness with the confidence to be yourself.
For years I’ve bemoaned the fact that the real me spills out into every conversation I have, every post that I write. It’s aggravating for me to have so much of myself out there, publicly. Of course, there’s more to me than what can be read or heard. Believe it or not, even with the spills there’s still quite a bit that I keep to myself. But I realized for the first time yesterday, as I was spilling to friends, that years ago, around the time that these spills started happening, I had decided that I wanted to be loved truly for myself- who I really was, not who I was trying to be, or who someone else wanted me to be. Guess what the flip side of that desire seems to be? Spilling out. Being exposed in weakness and strength and in the parts that make us different from each other- the quirks, the crazy, the weird, the clever, the odd, the eccentricities. Does it mean rejection and teasing? Sometimes, with some people. But it also means a much greater chance of connecting to someone on a real level. It’s a stronger foundation for trust. It’s a greater opportunity to be loved deeply and truly.
With all of everything, I love my aunts- in ways and depths that are as unique to them as they were with me and with each other. Were there fights? Goodness yes. I remember a family event when I had one aunt on either side of me, talking to me but refusing to associate with or acknowledge the other. That’s part of that side of my family- adopted or otherwise. They cut each other out of pictures, referred to certain family members as “the one who shall not be named” in their correspondence in the late 1800’s on down. Some of them weren’t very nice people. Some of them were angels on earth. Most of us are a fair mix of the various possibilities. All of us benefit from loving and being loved- truly.
So I hope you spill out: in conversations and emails, in words and deeds. I hope you’ll give us the chance to know you and to love you. Truly.
Because that is much more than a little bit of happy.
I like setting my alarm to odd and unusual times. Have to be up at 7:30? I will set my alarm for 7:27 or, if I’m feeling vigorous and daring, 7:32 or 33. It’s odd to get a thrill from such things, but the reality is that I do. And if you have to be up and going anyway, why not do it in a way that makes you happy? Just sayin’.
For those of you who don’t get happy tingles from such things, I am posting a video of a song that helps me to go back to my life with a sense of greater calm and faith when I feel like time and my life are out of control and not listening to what I have to say. It’s Burt Bacharach’s “Everchanging Times” sung by Siedah Garrett, which happens to be one of my favorites.
Sharing 30 bits of happy before Thanksgiving because happiness is better shared. Have a magnificent day!
You know you have it at your house: vegetable prejudice. It’s everywhere! But slowly, in my house, I’m combating it… one vegetable at a time.
I figure that most of the time when someone hates a vegetable, it just means that they haven’t had them cooked or prepared correctly (except for lima beans- lima beans are truly evil that way- but I am open to suggestions if any of you have found a way you REALLY LIKE them that doesn’t require drugging or intoxication).
Now I am most definitely not a four star cook, however, I am improving and my efforts this year have made my mother rethink her anti- brussel sprout and butternut squash prejudices. That’s right folks. I haven’t just been able to get her to taste these vegetables and give them another try, I’ve even had her ask me for seconds (on the squash).
Combating vegetable prejudice and becoming a better cook… Boo-yah! A bit of happy.
Hoagy Carmichael was the first composer whose music I ever played. Cousins taught me to play a duet of his song “Heart and Soul” with them when I was four. I didn’t know his name then, but I certainly enjoyed playing his music with whoever would humor me or could be pressed into service at the time. Later, I even taught myself to play a version of “Heart and Soul” I could play by myself and, eventually, that I could play upside down. (Because everyone needs a parlor trick.)
As I’ve grown, I’ve had the opportunity to become familiar with more of Hoagy’s songs and to see him in the movies. I love his understated way of performing. Most movie enthusiasts will know him from The Best Years of Our Lives, though I also like him a heap and then some in a movie where he again costars alongside Dana Andrews called Night Song.
Homer, Wilma, and Butch are my favorite characters in Best Years and I watch it from time to time to see them, because watching them touches me every time and makes me want to be a better person. Harold Russell, the double Oscar winner who plays Homer, played a duet with Hoagy (Butch) on the piano (something I would have LOVED to do). Unfortunately this clip isn’t available to share but another great scene with Harold and Hoagy is.
I think Hoagy Carmichael does a particularly good job of demonstrating how to treat someone who is different from the norm in some way; you treat them as they really are- a person.
(That song he plays in the clip above, “Lazy River”, is one of his songs by the way, and if you click on the Harold Russell link above, he shares a little of what it was like to play with Hoagy (happy!) and how he learned to move forward in his life after losing his hands during WWII.)
Dear Helen, Dear John,
It happened again. This whole reliving conversations from the past as I find myself having almost the same exact ones in the present, and it’s like a decade didn’t happen. I survive the conversation with a certain amount of grace. I leave the people I’ve been talking to smiling and laughing and in good spirits, but something that I said in order to do it was true, and that same something was also a little bit false, so I have a hard time letting it go and I go home thinking to myself, after all these years, can’t you come up with something that is wholly true and takes care of the conversation? And the answer is no. Perpetually and forever no. And something inside me jars, and something inside me hurts.
It’s simple enough really. I can’t have children. You’d think that would be easy enough to say and be done with it. But it isn’t something that is easy to say to strangers, and it isn’t something that is necessarily easy to share with friends, but often enough, sometimes more than you would expect, you almost have to in conversation. Usually in a crowd. Usually surrounded by people who can, and do, have children.
It’s hard to know how I get into these conversations in the first place. Now, it’s probably due to my age and what people my age have and are doing- but it wasn’t always like that.
I was fifteen when the first doctor gave me a long list of reasons why I would not be able to conceive, stay pregnant, and survive delivery. My mom wished that he had waited to tell me, but it was just as well for several reasons. One, he was honest. Two, there would be a long list of doctors who would add a significant list of reasons of their own as to why I couldn’t, or shouldn’t, have children. The quickest way to get my second heart surgeon to drop his poker face to one of near terror, in fact, was to use the word “pregnant” in a sentence while I was in his office. It wasn’t me, it was my mom. My mom who asked almost every doctor I had about my chance of being able to have a baby, in the hopes that one of them would contradict that first opinion.
All through my twenties, even knowing what I did, I based my medical decisions on what would give me the best chance to possibly, miraculously be able to have a baby. Of course you don’t usually say that out loud to the doctor, especially when that doctor is your second heart surgeon- the one who immediately following your second heart surgery tells you as you are waking up that you have no restrictions. So you ask him if you can start to walk, and he looks at you astonished and answers with a firm and resounding “No!” So you try again, “I can take medicine when I am sick?” “No!” he immediately shoots you down. And now, because I have a bit of the dickens in me, I continue on to the next thing I am now certain will show how ridiculous this whole conversation truly is. Coming out from anesthesia I sing-song the last with confidence: “I can drink any kind of soda I want.” To which he looks at me for a moment in silence, before he asks with authoritative gravity, “Where is your mother?”
My mother later told me that she was in the waiting room of the hospital, nervous because of the complications that had occurred during my first heart surgery, when my second heart surgeon strode into the room. His words to her were disturbingly few- “You’re going to have to watch her.” And that, my friends, is what a heart surgeon means by “no restrictions”. At least when they say those words to me. Which is why, now, I never ask permission for anything. I just do my own thing, trying to use my head, and ask for forgiveness later (if it happens to come up in the course of normal, doctor’s office conversation- which most of the things I attempt to do, don’t *smile*).
But I am digressing.
What do you say when someone starts talking to you about whether you have kids? Or a guy is interested in you, and he obviously wants kids? And you know and they don’t. What do you do?
I don’t normally like to give out spoilers when I discuss a movie or a book, but I’m making a slight exception in this instance because there is an absolute dearth of movies that address this situation at all, let alone honestly and well. It’s one of the many reasons that I love My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend with Christopher Gorham and Alyssa Milano. It’s cute, it’s clever, and it shows a dilemma that several of the women I know- even the ones without major medical problems- have faced.
For me, finding out at the age I did, I was pretty open about it and pushed guys away from me pretty quickly. This frustrated my mom and my family doctor a lot, but it did make it so that when one of my friends ended up in the same boat a few years later, she could call me and get straight to it. My phone rang and when I answered, I was immediately greeted with a cheerfully dramatic, “Hello, fellow infertile one!” She laughed at first, and then she cried, and I was able to be there for her because she knew that I would understand.
Because I had been one of those four-year-olds who walked around the house with a pillow stuffed beneath my shirt. I had been the seven-year-old in school who all I wanted was to be a wife and a mother. Much of that dream went *Poof!* for me as a teen. The sicker I got, when even adoption turned into a highly unlikely possibility, it pretty much crumbled all together.
But I had a slightly different background than most. I had had to help out with children from the time I was child myself and so I came up with the response that I used in response to some of the difficult, awkward questions. Because some people don’t readily take no for an answer. And some have no idea how to respond to the truth. So I used to tell them laughingly that I had already raised my kids. Some, especially those women who had found themselves in a similar part-sister/part-parent role growing up, would immediately jump on it and we would have an animated discussion about some of the stresses and joys and resentments and frustrations that come with that, while the rest of the people around us looked on.
But that choice of response bothers me some, because it discounts the part of me that has always wanted to have children. But you don’t talk about that with most people. Quite frankly, most people simply cannot fathom what that means. They also don’t understand how it can make a difference nearly every day of your life, in how you design and live that life, and in how you are treated by people in that life- especially by women.
The women who I met last night genuinely wanted to be my friends. They weren’t trying to pry or poke at an old wound. I knew that. Part of the reason they took it for granted that I had children was because I have a good grasp of what it means to raise them. I don’t know if there is a “good” way of handling this. Changing the subject, silence, addressing it quickly and directly- all have their pros and cons but none of them work in every instance, in every conversation. What I said following “I don’t have children” helped ease the embarrassment and distress of the women I was with last night and in that respect, I feel like I did right. But it’s never great to head home after a social interaction where you reverted to 22. I thought I had moved a bit beyond that now. To be fair to myself, it happened in a social setting in which I didn’t expect to be talking about kids or my lack of them. I was there to show support for a friend by playing the piano. I hadn’t planned on saying anything other than a heartfelt “Congratulations!” to her before I left that night.
But you see, that’s one of the difficulties of infertility. You are whacked with it at unexpected times in unexpected places and you handle it as gracefully as you can under the circumstances, cry some afterwards, and redirect yourself to the good you can do in the life that you’ve been given because ultimately, that’s what everyone needs to do whether they have kids, or not.
For me, in part, that means having friends’ kids who love to spend time with me and who run up for hugs and to share their current exciting with me. It means that when I “mother”, many of my babies are older than me. Because motherhood is really about helping to love someone into being. Kids are loaned and entrusted to us really; as children of God we were, and are, his first. That’s how I’ve come to see the women who are heaven’s foster mothers. They live and love in such a way that when one of Heavenly Father’s children need help and that kind of love for a little bit of time, or perhaps for a lot, he can send one of them; he can send one of us. Just like it is one thing to father a child and another to truly be one, it’s really about how you live. I believe there are many tremendous men and women who serve without title here, but who are known in heaven as fathers and mothers.
Without further ado, here’s a clip of one of the dating scenes that makes My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend such fun to watch, though to see my favorite favorite parts, you’ll have to watch the whole film all the way through, probably twice, ‘cause there is a twist in there that’s bound to catch you and alter how you’ll see everything the next time around (sign of a good movie, in my opinion).
Alyssa Milano as Jesse does a FABULOUS job. Christopher Gorham, Beau Bridges, and the script are witty and delightfully likable, and Jesse’s brother is absolutely hilarious- something that you can’t tell at all from seeing him in the trailer here:
On a side note, this movie did get me to splurge on Spry gum and mouthwash when I found it at our local whole foods market. I honestly didn’t think it was a real brand until I saw it as we were checking out several weeks ago. Though I’m not one who likes to succumb to marketing, in this case I’m not sorry I did. The mouthwash ended up being my favorite one I’ve ever used. I have to smile at myself every time I chew the gum because even though it’s not necessarily my favorite, every time I chew it I remember lines from the movie, giggle, and enjoy a brief rush of happy.