Friday, February 23, 2007

New Toys

Today is a momentous day in our house. Mark the calendar, Feb, 23, 2007, the day we got a new washer and dryer. And that’s not all, with the delightful purchasing power of my Dad’s credit union check book, we went for a trifecta and bought a dishwasher too.

What’s so special about new appliances? I’m sure that every day someone goes into Lowes armed with the Sunday sales papers ready to do business. Even when the TV ads use the deceptive make-them-feel-sorry-and-they-will-come ads about the lonely Maytag repairman, I bet people buy Maytag washers all the time. What makes our purchases so extraordinary is that the washer and dryer had given us almost 20 years to the day dedicated and loyal service. TWENTY YEARS?! I don’t have the receipt to prove it, but I’m pretty sure the dishwasher was less efficient, with only seven or eight years to its credit. But in an age where manufacturers expect us to throw products away instead of repairing them, I think seven years is still a pretty good run.

I didn’t even realize the washing machine was on its last leg. Except for the anticipatory thrill I get every time I think about the initial load of whites, I feel a little sad about having to say goodbye to what I’ve recently discovered was a trustworthy friend. I can’t help but think back over the last 20 years and all that’s happened, in the world, in my family, and even in the garage where those work horses were employed day in and day out. I wonder what stories they could tell.

While killing time in an antique store one day, I passed by a long, pine plank dining table. It had the look and feel to it of something that might have been at the first Thanksgiving. I know it wasn’t that old, but standing in its presence I had an almost spiritual connection to the table. I wanted to run my hands over the wood and try to make sense out of the water marks, or better yet, check for carved initials. Think of the stories that table could tell – tales of family meals, birthday celebrations and festive holiday repasts. Think of the people who must have come on and gone, eaten a solitary bowl of oatmeal or candlelit, romantic fare. Think of the emotions shared – tears, laughter, generational arguments, political discussions, homecomings and farewells. Ahh, if only those wood planks could talk. I feel the same way about the washer and dryer that now, sadly, are on their way to some metal garbage dump, their stories silenced forever.

As I sit here writing, I’m trying to imagine how my mother might have felt on the day her new appliances, the one's I just gave away, were delivered. I know from experience, nothing new comes easily in this house. I’m sure her new washer and dryer were purchased only after my father, a spry 70-year old retired public works officer, whose hands didn’t shake so could still fix just about anything, had tinkered and duct taped the old ones into their last ounce of service. Who could have known then that these two appliances would provide the remnants of my mom’s daily chores after she was laid low by a stroke. She couldn’t talk much, and she no longer participated in many of the household tasks that she had perfected over the years, but when it came to doing laundry, even after her illness, my mom never missed a beat. Unlike me, who can leave clothes in the dryer long after the permanent pressed articles are permanently wrinkled, my mom had some kind of 6th sense when it came to knowing when the clothes had taken their last tumble. She was there with the laundry basket before the fabric softener sheet had settled to the bottom of the drum.

Over the twenty year life span of a Whirlpool washing machine one can only imagine the number of loads it washed, rinsed, and spun. Baby clothes, underwear, delicates, sweaters, jeans, and church dresses. Sheets and comforters, dish towels, bath towels, pool towels and beach towels. Things that had been spilled on, puked on, and peed in. All I can say is thank God for the person who invented the machine(s) that can do so much and ask for so little in return.

Yes, this is a momentous day. And the new appliances await their Christening. I think I shall go sprinkle them with a bit water and bleach and ask the God of unsung heroes and unnamed friends to bless the work to which they are about to begin. Long may they live.

Merry ME

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Complaint Free World

Yesterday I heard that someplace in New England was going to have -35 degree weather. Minus 35 degrees? How is that even possible? The temperatures dropped some in Florida. I think it’s going to dip into the 50’s tonight. I’ve actually heard people complain about it being too cold.

Complaining seems to come naturally for most people. It must be one of those conditions God programmed into humans around the same time he came up with the idea of free will. One might ask, what was He thinking? But really what would be the point? God is God and no doubt He had a pretty good reason(s) for the things He created.

I don’t think humans are the only species that complain. I heard a mocking bird the other day who was pretty upset about something. And my dog was none too happy about having a visiting dog get living room privileges when she was locked up for having poor manners. The cat, however, doesn’t complain. He just turns his nose up and walks away. Maybe he’s on to something!

Even though I consider myself to be a nice person, a relatively patient person, and a person who has a slow boiling point rather than a short fuse (this particular fact could be a matter for debate between people who have known me for years. However, since it’s my blog, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!), I’ve discovered recently that I’m more of a complainer than I thought.

I read a newspaper article not long ago about a church in Kansas City whose preacher challenged his congregation to stop complaining for 21 days. As a reminder he passed out purple bracelets with the word “Spirit” imprinted on them. By putting the bracelet on, you make a conscious decision to stop complaining, gossiping or criticizing.

According to the website “Scientists believe it takes 21 days to form a new habit and complaining is habitual for most of us. The bracelet is a powerful tool to remind you of how well you are creating your life with positive intention.”

Here’s how it works: "1. Begin to wear the bracelet, on either wrist. 2. When you catch yourself complaining, gossiping or criticizing (it’s ok, everyone does) move the bracelet to the other arm and begin again. 3. If you hear someone else who is wearing a bracelet complain, you may point out their need to switch the bracelet to the other arm; BUT if you’re going to do this, you must move your bracelet first! 4. Stay with it. It may take many months but when you reach 21 days you will find that your entire life is happier, more loving, more positive and more abundant.”

It sounds easy, but let me tell you it’s not. I’ve been wearing my purple band for three weeks, and haven’t made it two days without changing arms. Last Sunday, I even had to change it in the in the middle of the church service, which was kind of a wake up call for me.

So what’s all this complaining about anyway? Does it do any good to gripe about the weather – too hot, or too cold? Does the line move any faster at McDonald’s if you fuss and fume about the poor service? Does talking about someone else, build you up or tear you down? Is it easier to go out in the back yard and clean up the dog poop, or sit inside and bitch about how nice it would be if the dog shat in your neighbor’s yard? Think about it, then maybe you’ll want to take the challenge.

I’m all for a grass-roots effort that will change the world. Maybe it’s a grandiose idea and will never get off the ground, but how will we know if we don’t try? So far over 126,000 purple bracelets have been sent to countries all over the world. Curiously if you go to the Christ Church Unity website you will see the names of only 20 people who have achieved the 21-day goal. No doubt we’ve got a long way to go, but if everyone joins in we can change the world one person at a time! Koombaya!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I wish for you a world without complaints or cold weather that makes your teeth chatter.

Merry ME

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"Sisters are different flowers from the same garden."*

I wonder if there is a special formula God uses when he puts families together. Probably not. When moms and dads get together to make babies, it’s most likely a random DNA crap shoot as to how the resulting family is going to look/be. Like the grass on the other side of the proverbial fence, or the kind of hair you are born with, it’s a given that even the people who have the most Norman Rockwell-esque family on the planet, might at one time or another want a different one.
Trimmed down to the barest definition, a family is just a group of people who live together. Although we all hope for companionship and support and happy memories none of these are requirements for getting through life. Some degree of love, however, has got to be a basic ingredient for a family’s survival.

Love is what happens when a mom sees her new born baby for the first time. It is not necessarily the same feeling she has when that child uses a bright red crayon to paint a picture on white living room walls; or comes home with a safety pin sticking out of her eyebrow.

Love is what happens when a Dad sees his father’s eyes twinkling on the face of his newborn son. It may not be what he feels when that child gets clocked going 80mph in a 50mph zone the first day he drives by himself.

Love is what two parents think is going to be enough to see them through the sibling rivalry every time a new baby joins the family. Love is probably not what is going through the older ones’ minds as successive siblings arrive on the scene.

Yet, through it all, the good and the bad, the ups and the downs, the joys and the frustrations, God in his wisdom gave us families to share our lives with. Dysfunctional as they can be at times, families are the fragile, and often tenuous, thread that binds mankind together.

Having said all that, I have spent many a dollar and many an hour on a psychiatrist’s couch trying to make sense of the family I was given – or should I say, the one that got me. There’s a lot to be learned from in-depth analysis. There’s a lot to be gained from searching one’s soul. There’s also a point at which one needs to make the best of any given situation and that’s where I am today. Oh, I still yearn for the fantasy family of my dreams, but I’m also grateful that I have a family to bitch about – some people don’t have that.

One of the best things about my family is my big sister, DaDa. There are a number of years between us so we can’t really be twins, but we are like two peas in the same pod... there's no denying our alikeness in looks and temperment. I’m lucky to have her in my life. Taking a cue from another blogger who’s writing I admire and like to emulate [], here are 63 reasons I love my sister:

1. Her birthday is on Valentine’s Day. How cool is that! She is the personification of love.
2. She reminds me of my Grandmother.
3. She LOVES cats and takes very good care of them, even if they live outside and she has to leave food in the bushes.
4. She rescues dogs.
5. She does water aerobics on a regular basis.
6. She has good work ethics, even when she no longer works.
7. She wrote her Master’s thesis on “A Laboratory Evaluation of the Diagnosis and Treatment of Urinary Tract Infections in Patients at VAMC Ambulatory Care Facility with Recommendations for Specimen Management.” It’s over 80 pages long. Who knew there was so much to say about UTI’s!
8. She’s a great mom.
9. She’s an even better grandmother.
10. She makes the best Christmas stockings ever.
11. She loves Christmas.
12. When you go to her house you always feel comfortable. Even if you have to sleep on a futon or wait in line for a shower. It’s just fun to be there.
13. She’s a good listener.
14. She’s the perfect aunt for my kids.
15. She never forgets a birthday.
16. She has the biggest collection of plaid flannel that I ever saw.
17. She followed her heart to Japan and gave the resulting 20 year marriage her best shot.
18. She likes movies.
19. She never hesitates to get in the car and drive somewhere, even if she doesn’t know where she’s going. She never seems to worry about getting lost.
20. She is very brave.
21. She is a better life support system than a ventilator.
22. We have the same hair.
23. We climbed into the Grand Canyon together.
24. Even though we are both grown up, she’ll always be “DaDa” to me.
25. We share a love of quilts.
26. She sends tulip bouquets and Teddy Bear-grams.
27. She voted for George McGovern when everyone else was voting for Richard Nixon.
28. She stands up for what she believes in.
29. She roots for the underdog.
30. She knew her way around LA.
31. She is very friendly.
32. She doesn’t use the “F” word but doesn’t flinch when I do.
33. She likes iced tea loaded with ice.
34. She’s a good sport.
35. She likes to hike, and follows the “Take only pictures and leave only footprints” rule.
36. She likes clocks.
37. She can hang closet shelves like a pro.
38. She forgives.
39. Sometimes when I need to talk to her, she calls out of the blue, like she’s psychic or something.
40. She let me spend summers with her when I was an angst-ridden teenager.
41. When an earthquake hit Northridge and the hospital she worked in was all torn up, she still went to work.
42. She has all the negatives from all the pictures she’s ever taken. Sometimes that seems a little over the top, but I know if I want a copy of a picture taken in 1973, she can get it for me … and she will.
43. She has a hard time letting go of things like Madame Alexander dolls, Time magazines and coffee mugs.
44. We share secrets (until I forget them!)
45. She grows lavender and daffodils.
46. She’ll ride a roller coaster with you even when it has a 360 degree loop in it.
47. If her car breaks down, she doesn’t get all excited like I would. She just waits on the side of the road and waits for it to cool off.
48. She visits once a year even if there are no airline specials.
49. She is the keeper of our family’s genealogy.
50. She bought my daughter a pink panther cup to make her feel better after I spanked her in a store for doing something to her brother.
51. She convinced me to let my son fly to Hawaii by himself when he was only 10 years old.
52. When her husband died, she didn’t break into 10 million pieces. I think her heart was broken, but it didn’t show on the outside.
53. She’s loyal, trustworthy and true blue. She is the best cheerleader a person could have but doesn’t seek the limelight for herself.
54. She taught my daughter how to crochet.
55. She has the biggest Nativity scene collection of anyone I know. This may be because I buy her a new set every year! I can’t wait for a Christmas when we are together and every nativity is set up.
56. She donates to charity just because I ask her to.
57. She takes care of people, even if she doesn’t know them very well. One time she witnessed an accident and held a man’s hand until the ambulance arrived.
58. She gives books as gifts.
59. She never smoked or did drugs.
60.She will rise to any occasion, even if it is driving across Seattle to Ikea to pick up 100 pounds of shelving before the store closes.
61. She once drove 50 miles to find my cat that had jumped out of the car window along Highway 95. I thought the cat was a goner, but my sister, God love her, went right to the place where I last saw the Houdini-like feline making a mad dash for the tall grass on the side of the road, called her name and the death defying cat came to her like she'd just been out for a Sunday stroll not trying to make a daring escape. Now that’s what I call a miracle. It’s like she is a cat’s guardian angel.
62.We swam with the dolphins in Hawaii.
63.When my mom died, she encouraged me give the eulogy but she had a back up speech ready in case I couldn’t do it.

It's true what Desmond Tutu says, "You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you, as you are to them." I love you, Linda Lou. Happy Birthday!

* Author Unknown

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Birds of a feather

Last Friday night I declared that Saturday would to be a "pajama day." No one ever participates in pajama day but me, but I always feel if I declare it ahead of time, my housemates won't look down their noses at me like I'm some kind of sloth. Pajama days aren't necessarily about being lazy, although naps are often a natural side effect of the comfy, cozy feeling that pajamas bring. Wearing pj's all day is just a way of saying, I don't think I'll go anywhere today.

Well, you know what they say about best laid plans and mice and men; or in this case, birds and pajama girls. Once I was up and moving, but still comfortably encased in flannel, I mosied out to the kitchen to fill the morning's breakfast orders. As I was saying hello to the birds, I couldn't help but notice that Hoppin' John, my red-headed, yellow Gouldian finch, was hopping with less finesse than usual. In fact he looked more like a tequila-tippling Mexican jumping bean that a bird. At one point he fell off his perch, and landed in a lump in the corner of the cage which must have reached out and grabbed his right foot. Clearly he wasn't getting very far very fast.

Upon closer inspection the problem became evident. The claw on his back toe had somehow wrapped itself around his upper leg. Granted his nail was a little too long, but how he mastered this acrobatic feat I'll never know. Luckily, I was able to grab him, unhook him and get him back in the cage without hurting him anymore. Once back on his perch, however, his hopping had slowed to a one-legged flamingo imitation. He wasn't putting any weight on his left foot. This did not bode well for my little feathered friend.

Although I had no idea what a vet could do for a broken or sprained bird leg that is all of an inch long and so thin you can just about see through it, I knew I had to call to find out. The Exotic Animal vet is really just another name for the "come-on-in-and-drop-some-money-in-the-till" veterinarian that people with birds have to frequent because most dog and cat vets don't handle parrots, finches, canaries or other feathered and scaled animals that are considered exotic.

All my interactions with the people at the Exotic Animal Pet Clinic have been good ones, and except for the case of one little bird who was just too sick to save, my birds have been well-cared for. Maybe too well.

It took three visits, a bunch of lab tests, some antibiotics, and some bright green, fishy smelling spirulina supplement to boost the immune system before determining that the reason our canary had stopped singing because his circadian rhythm had gotten all screwed up (don't ask me how). The relatively simple (and cost-free) solution was simply to cover him up earlier in the evening so he had more hours of darkness. In no time at all, he was back to singing canary arias.

Regardless, when one is a pet owner, one needs to consult the experts when it looks like a leg might be broken or something could be seriously wrong. Erring on the side of caution, off to the vet we went. Maybe he thought we were going on vacation and not to the doctor, because I couldn't help but notice that as soon as I packed him up and had his cage strapped in the back seat of the car, his leg no longer seemed to be bothering him. Is there such a thing as a bird hypochondriac?

After a good going over and having his nails clipped, we got the good news that nothing was broken, bruised, or swollen. In other words the Hoppin' John was A-okay. Whew! Except for having to pay an extra emergency visit fee, I got out of the place with my wallet in tact.

I came home energized (so much for pajama day). It made perfect sense to me, that good bird care demands good nail hygiene, so I decided to have a nail clipping party. While Ewell (another Gouldian) wasn't particularly keen on the idea, he took his medicine like the half-pound man that he is. Ernie, the canary, however, was another story.

Every time I came near him, he flitted around his cage, crying for help in his pathetic bird voice to anyone who would listen. When I finally cornered him you'd have thought I was coming at him with a chainsaw instead of little birdie nail clippers. He bit and clawed with the last vestiges of his pterodactyl ancestory. Somewhere in the process, he got away from me; he flew right out of my hands and smacked into the wall. The term bird-brained comes to mind!

He must have knocked the wind out of himself, because I managed to catch him, finish the trimming, and put him back in his cage with little more trouble. He sat in the corner sulking; his ruffled feathers told me to stay away. He wasn't even interested in the piece of lettuce I offered as a gesture of peace. There he sat, staring into the corner of his cage, perhaps nursing a headache, but definitely not feeling like being social or singing.

I was a little alarmed to find him in the same place the next morning. Who knew a bird could hold a grudge for so long? Then I noticed that he was favoring his left leg; like an avian version of Long John Silver, when he moved to the opposite side of the cage, he did it by dragging a leg. Not again! I gave him a few more hours to shake it off, but it soon became clear I needed to call my friends at the bird hospital again.

I made the appointment and treated Ernie to what they told me was hospital cage. It resembled a room in a mid-sized bird hotel - small, but comfortable. First, I moved him to a smaller cage and stocked it with all his favorite food - a spray of millet, a honey treat bar, some fresh water. Everything was close enough for him to reach without exerting any pressure on his leg. Then I wrapped the cage with a heating pad and covered that with his nightie night cloth. "Sweet dreams, Ernie. I hope you feel better tomorrow," I cooed, but even with his new surroundings he wasn't speaking to me.

The next morning, Ernest was like a new bird. No limp. No droopy wing. He even serenaded Dad with a short rendition of his favorite trill. I've read that birds can hide their injuries (for what reason I'm not sure) so I wasn't totally convinced he'd had an overnight recovery. Like the true worry wort that I am, I insisted we go to the doctor. Not only was it important that the bird be examined, but I felt the need to have my bird nursing credentials verified. I really didn't want to believe that a bird who is no bigger than my fist could have outsmarted me.

So back we went, and sure enough, after a thorough examination, he was given a clean bill of health. On the way home I gave the disgruntled bird my best "it was for your own good" speech but it was clear he wasn't buying any of it. Like a sullen child he sat on his perch refusing to even look at me. When we got home and I put him back in his every day cage sans the heating pad, he puffed himself up and plopped himself down with what might have been a canary-sized hrumpf. I don't know whether to expect him to sing tomorrow or not.

They say bad things come in threes. I happen to have three birds. But I've already decided, anything short of Bird Flu I can handle right here at home, because tomorrow's going to be a pajama day.

Merry ME