Wednesday, September 12, 2007

One God ... Many Lamps

While driving to St. Augustine last week, my sweetie and I spied an incredible billboard. Although we read the words individually we commented in unison. "Wow! Did you see that?"

It wasn't your typical Florida roadside message. It didn't advertise all nude dancing girls or the many wonderous sights of the Alligator Farm. It said nothing about surfing, or sleeping or eating.

Stuck out in the middle of nowhere was a sign that simply said: "One lamp, many candles." Oh sure we had to keep driving because we were traveling a 70 miles an hour. But for a moment we stopped everything else so we could process the message. It bypassed your head and went straight to your heart. I've never had that happen before, have you?

We continued on our way but made a point of searching for the sign on the way home. We wanted a closer - deeper look. When we found it, I got out of the car with my trusty Sony sidekick and tried to capture the essence in pixels.

Strangely the pointedly non-denominational advertisement for a loving higher power was partially covered in mis-spelled graffiti. How is it that the quiet message of love is often overshadowed by a cacaphony of hate? It seems like it should be the other way around.

What we didn't see at first, was that the billboard was sponsored by the Bahai faith. The only thing I know about Bahai, is what I learned from a classmate in a world religion class I took last summer. As you might expect in a class set in the heart of Jacksonville, most of the students were bible carrying members of one Baptist church or another. But there were a handfull of Episcopalians (split right down the middle on the issue of human sexuality), a Moslem or two and one quiet, yet sincere, young man who proudly claimed his Bahai faith. It wasn't so much that he preached his religion but lived it. He didn't cram it down your throat, but, like a piece of homemade chocolate cake, he offered you a piece of it knowing after you'd tasted it, you'd come back for more.
You could tell just by looking at him, this young man was from somewhere in the Middle East. He reminded me of someone from the moment I laid eyes on him. He was young, yes, perhaps a freshman. Yet, you could tell he was one of those "old" souls. I stared at him for awhile before realizing in looks, body language, demeanor he reminded me of Zubin. He also possessed the same sparkle in his eye that Zubin used to his full advantage. Ah Zubin, Blessed Zubin.

I don't believe in coincidences. I believe the great puppeteer in the sky places people and billboards in our lives for a purpose. I didn't learn a lot from this classmate. His Bahai religion is a lot deeper than he could share in a few hours. His main message, however, like that of all the great prophets, was to love one another the way the Father/Mother (of our understanding) loves us. It doesn't get much simpler than that.

So I ask you to keep your eyes open as you travel the many roadways of your life. You might see a giant evergreen tree or a rainbow through stormy clouds. You might see a hawk circling overhead, or a giant alligator, or a sanddune covered in sea grass. It's possible you'll see an advertisement for God if you can see past the graffiti.

On this post 9/11 Wednesday, I bid you peace and offer these words from Bahai:
“The divine purpose is that men should live in unity, concord and agreement and should love one another.” ‘Abdul-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 32

Merry ME

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 11, 2007

Sometimes I have trouble remembering what I did last week. Sometimes I forget that I bought milk and leave it in the back of the car to turn yellow in the Florida summertime heat. Should I even admit that I'm still trying to find the butter I'm pretty sure I took out of the freezer days ago but has not been seen since? I've looked for it in every new kitchen nook and cranny. I've checked the pantry, the linen closet and under the bathroom sink. I'm beginning to think the night I downed a few too many margaritas followed by a few too many Tequila shooters has come back to haunt me. Like the gas gauge on my car, I fear my supply of brain cells is nearing empty.

But I can tell you where I was six years ago today. Surprisingly, I can also tell you where I was when John F. Kennedy was shot. But then why wouldn't I remember it? September 11, 2001, like December 7, 1941, is a day "which will live in infamy." My ostrich-style way of dealing with stress was not even an option that day. I stared at the TV too numb by the horror of what was happening to turn it off. In the freakishly unbelievable reruns, planes flew into buildings over and over again. Ironically on a day when evil was personified, ordinary people who lived every day lives died doing heroic, superhuman deeds.

Years have passed. A debateable war rages on. Americans stand in airport security lines and probably don't even think about anything other than their own personal discomfort. I suspect most of us have forgotten our pledge to be more friendly and smile at strangers. A world at peace seems little more than an ancient dream.

I'm not throwing stones. I'm as guilty as the next person. I have been feeling sorry for myself lately. I've been wallowing in self pity. It's not a particulalry pretty sight. And for sure I'm not real proud of myself.

So this morning as the news blasted yet another story about Osama Bin Laden, I decided I needed to take stock of things, put my life in some kind of perspective and [re]start being grateful.

My list started with a glorious summer shower. From out of nowhere, with a bright blue sky overhead, the clouds opened up with a gentle rain. I stood at the back door watching, smelling. Don't you just love the smell of rain? Without giving much thought to the clothes I had just donned, I stepped outside and stood in the shower. Not too hot, not too cold. No thunder. No lightening. It was just right! And I felt it right down to my soles, and especially in my soul ... gratitude.

Ahhhh, gratitude!

My post today is going to be 11 reasons for/quotes about gratitude. I hope it will inspire you to pause for a minute or two and make your own list.

1. Summer showers.

2. "At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us." Albert Schweitzer

3. Cats that can't quite say a real "meow" but say "I love you" by rubbing your leg.

4. Family. Fathers, daughters, sons, sisters, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins, et al. Put them all together and they might spell "dysfunction" but the family is also "a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another's desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together." Erma Bombeck

5. A man with beautiful blue eyes who loves me. Having the good luck and good sense to love him back.

6. A house over my head, food in my stomach, clothes on my back and shoes on my feet. Not to mention hot water, CocaCola, cell phones, and peanut butter. "The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving." H.U. Westermayer

7. Ginger flowers that remind me of mama. Flowers in general. "Cut flowers can increase compassion and kindness – and decrease anxiety and worry, a Harvard study showed. People who lived with fresh-cut flowers for a week reported feeling less worried and less depressed while at home than people who lived with a decorative candle." Rosy Outlook – AARP, March/April 2007 pg 18

8. Friends. "Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom." Marcel Proust

9. Being a non-smoker.

10. Table linens. For example the 1910 Victorian napkins that look like they have never been used. [How is that possible?]

11. "Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful." Buddah

I'm on a roll! ...

12. School supplies and schools to use them in. When you get the chance be sure to read Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations ... One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. Then find a way to help.

13. "Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." William Arthur Ward

14. Books. Let's face it, books are a true blessing. Picture books, alphabet books, mysteries, non-fiction stories about animals, cookbooks, coloring books. MMMMMM, I love books!

15. Tea. Iced tea on a hot day. Hot tea on a cold day. Tea in the kitchen with a good friend. Tea at Paneras. Tea in France. Paradise Island Tea. Earl Grey Tea. Jasmine Tea ....ooohlala, I love tea.

16. "If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, "thank you," that would suffice." Meister Eckhert

17. Songs. All kinds of songs. Especially John Denver songs. "I believe that we are here for each other, not against each other. Everything comes from an understanding that you are a gift in my life - whoever you are, whatever our differences.” John Denver

18. Babies. Girl babies and boy babies. Monkey babies, tiger babies, whale babies, elephant babies. Don't you just want to hug a baby? Even stinky ones!

19. I tried to sign up for a breast cancer research study called The Sister Study.* I was rejected. I fit all the criteria except one. Even though I have four sisters none of us has had breast cancer. This is a good thing. Lucky for us, we come from a relatively cancer-free gene pool, but I don't want to tempt the fates. Our ancestors have had its share of maladies. I'm grateful there are other sisters who will participate in this program to help find a cause and a cure. *

20. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Jesus Christ

21. Mostly I'm grateful for life. For love. For me and for you.

"I don't think it's enough to just say 'God Bless America.' We must say 'God Bless the World.'"
Marianne Williamson

May Peace be with us all,

Merry ME

P.S. If you don't feel up to making a whole list of your own, feel free to add to this one via the comment section. :)

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Friday, September 7, 2007

A Day in the Life

Once upon a time in the land of sunny days and humid afternoons, there was a house. It was a nice house, with a brand new kitchen. I live in the house. My job is to make it a comfortable place to live for both the people and the animals who share the space. My pets include two birds, two cats, one dog and an untold number of dust bunnies. [Photo L to R: Ewell and Hoppin' John]

For no reason other than that's the way the chips fell, the four-legged animals are all black. The dog, Black Beauty, has a muzzle full of white hair and a blaze of white on her chest. However, in the wee hours of the morning, on the way to the bathroom, it's hard to see the little spots of white. In fact it's hard to tell that there is even an animal sleeping in the hall at all. Suffice it to say black is even blacker when one is half asleep. [Photo L: Him and Her]

Like most of us who live in the house, Beauty is old, perhaps 70 in dog years. She has arthritis in her hind end so she moves kind of slow. Being the only dog, she is also the alpha dog. Or she was until the kittens moved in.

Boy Cat and Girl Cat have not officially been named. Girl Cat, aka Miss Priss, and/or AC (Angel Cat) wears a green collar. This is so we can tell the two cats apart when they go streaking through the room, or which one has a penchant for peeing on the leather couch. Except when it comes to staking his territory, Boy Cat, who has also been called Buddy, DC (Devil Cat) and F*#!*! Feline, is a great big scaredy cat. But, let's face it, if you were a baby kitty who was one day drinking from your mama's bosom with no cares in the world and the next thing you knew you were at the bottom of a well swimming for dear life, I think you'd be a litte skittish too. No doubt the time they spent in the well damaged their socializing skills.

Although stemming from a retriever gene pool, Beauty might have been outside rolling in something stinky when God was handing out brains. When it comes to this particular canine being pretty, loyal, and loving are her most endearing qualities. She is not, however, the smartest of dogs. The good news is that she is the kind of dog that foregoes her own breakfast to sit by the bed of the last person sleeping. Her day doesn't really begin until everyone is awake and accounted for even if this is almost lunchtime. Which would you rather have, a dog that knows how to speak and rollover, a dog that could call 911 if you experienced chest pains, or a dog who wags her tail every time you walk in the door like you are a long lost lover?

Beauty has lived in the house with the brand new kitchen for years. The cats are newcomers. While not exactly friends, the animals have learned to tolerate each other. (With the possible exception of the birds who have not yet learned to appreciate the cats' ability to hang from the bottom of the cage.) The cats know to give Beauty a wide berth while she is eating, and Beauty has learned to share her people with impertinent feline lap jumpers. It would seem that the animals have been able to do what most humans have not yet mastered - how to respect each others' space; cats on one side of the room, dog on the other.

Until yeserday when I happened to notice a certain synergy taking place. A lizard had been spotted at the dining room window and a silent alert sounded. The humans were oblivious to the impending danger. The guardians, however, answered the "all hands on deck" call. Like a finely-trained military team on combat maneuvers, the four-legged commandos instinctively rallied round the window to get a glimpse of the enemy. No matter that the foe in question was all of 2 1/2 inches long and on the outside of the window, the hunters were clearly on a mission of great import.

The land of sunny days and humid afternoons is unquestionably a lizard paradise. While the "Year of the Lizard" is not an actual month on the Chinese calendar, lizards are worthy of some serious consideration. Lizards come in all sizes and colors and rid the world of annoying pesty insects. Like cockroaches, lizards have survived the millenia. Lizards can be arboreal, oviparous and vivparous, and in the case of the chameleon greatly influenced by environmental and emotional stimuli. In other words, they are adaptable and have staying power. A lizard's skin is tough and scaly yet, unlike cockroaches, it is pretty enough to be turned into a pair of Manolo Blahnik pointy-toed shoes. [Photo R: Not the kind of lizard even a commando cat should mess with.]

To the bane of 5 year old lizard catchers, the little buggers are often fast runners, which may or may not have to do with the fact that they have five toes on each foot. Lizards don't take themselves too seriously unless it's mating season. That's when the male of the species takes a break from sunbathing and bug catching to attract the lady lizard of his eye that just happens to have a moveable eyelid. Vigorous headbobbing and inflating the throat to show off his lizardly good looks is the reptilian equilvalent to saying "Your place or mine?"

Some lizards are tiny and green and mind their own business. These are often the biggest vexation to a team of house protectors. Like a U.S. Senator running for re-election, I surveyed with interest the tactical maneuvers and measured their effectiveness. It became readily apparent that Boy Cat was the team leader. He had reconoitered the area, found the enemy, then called for backups. Beauty and Miss Priss moved in quickly and quietly. Except for Beauty's wagging tail, their precison movements were impressive. [Photo L: I know there's a lizard there someplace.]

When it comes to lizard snaring, patience is the name of the game; outwait your enemy and he is yours. I'm not sure if this works for U.S. Marines but domesticated cats come from a long line of waiters. Like a pride of lions lolling around by a Kalahari watering hole, sooner or later dinner is sure to show up. Or in the case of DC and Beauty, the lizard in question is sure to walk into your sights.

There is a lesson to be learned from these intrepid lizard hunters. I am just not exactly sure what it is. But when cat and dog join forces, it could be a glimpse into a world where teamwork abides, coorperation prevails, and homeland security is more than a government agency. Of course the lizard might not have this same view of a world at peace. I think, however, that is why God gave domesticated animals the inside of the house in which to play and reptiles the muti-colored great outdoors.
[Photo L: A somewhat camoflaged lizard]

From the land of sunny days and humid afternoons, I wish for you a life where kittens are rescued, dogs smile and lizards run free.

Merry ME
[Photo L: Going ...]
[Photo R: Going ...]

[Photo: Gone!!!!]

Sunday, September 2, 2007

I'm a Big Girl Now!!!

Now that the kitchen is done, I am faced with the challenge of cleaning up the things I've been neglecting for awhile. For a girl who really believed she had multi-tasking down pat, I've had a rude awakening of late. It seems I'm barely able to focus on one thing at a time. I chose a new kitchen over washing the car, pulling weeds, dusting, any king of exercise and going to the dentist, so you can imagine I've had a few things to tend to.

Because I've been in a post-whirlwind funk for the last few days, my sweetie offered the suggestion that I'm "project oriented." He thinks I feel at loose ends because I have no project waiting in the wings. Project,of course, means something different to different people. Jack must must not consider dusting quite the same undertaking that I do.

Anyway yesterday, out of the blue, I decided to clean both vans - inside and out. I admit my true motivator was the ghastly odor emanating from some unseen but not unsmellable source. As soon as I opened the tail end of the car, I spied the bottle of milk that had been left behind earlier in the week. There was no mistaking that it had been there for awhile as the plastic was bloated to twice its normal size and the color of the contents was not white like milk should be. Let me just say it for you ... P!U!

Once I began the job I went the whole way. As you can imagine it was way past time to vacuum the floor mats and clean the windows. Normally the seats are a burgundy color, but there was enough dog hair on the back seat to give the burgundy a more mottled look. It felt good to get the Mary-mobile spic and span again. The MacDonald's wrappers have been disposed of and my straw collection neatly arranged in the visor. Ah, life is good.

As for the smell, I have some confidence in the Febreeze commercial propoganda that its "active ingredient, cyclodextrin, will bind the various hydrophobic compounds that cause odors." It remains to be seen, however, which is greater -the smell of putrified milk or the binding power of cyclodextrin. I don't know about you but I'm envisioning a Japanese B-movie kind of battle going on in the back seat. Can't you just see a lizard turned monster, Cyclodextrin, trading blows with an impermeable and stinky, Milkzilla, for the championship of the world? I also read "that although Febreze and other products based on cyclodextrin reduce odors successfully, they are not replacements for actual fresh air." Personally, I believe there are few, if any, replacements for fresh air.

You may be asking yourself, where in the world am I going with all this? Well, I'm trying to get to the place that I can tie in the fact that along with assorted cleaning projects I have neglected for awhile, I have also passed on taking care of a few health issues. Take, for example, having my colon inspected.
I had a friend and coworker for years who was kind of like my guide to, if not adulthood, the glories of middle age. Pam (God rest her soul) was like the poster child for how NOT to take care of yourself. Most of her trips to the hospital in her latter years were brought on from oversight, neglect and just plane orneriness. Because of our closeness and times spent together in an ER (Pam telling the nurses she was going to smoke a cigarette, so they could just wait to take her vital signs, and me combing the halls for unopened servings of jello because Pam was hungry) I got to where I could tell Pam just about anything. As well as a lot of laughs, we shared a few secrets.

It was no secret, however, that if I had my way, no one was ever going to take a look/see into my nether regions. I was pretty adamant about that. Pam promised if the time ever came, she would take me out to a beautiful mountain pasture and put me out of my misery before she'd let some doctor and a sigmoidscope come near me. It was our blood-sealed pact. Alas, Pam has been gone now for 7 years and I've been given the "grow up" speech by the two men I live with. When my gynocologist suggested I was overdue (by five years) for THE test, I gave it enough consideration to discuss it with my Dad's spicey, Latin gastrointerologist.

Now I won't say that Luther enjoys having colonoscopies, but I know for a fact that he doesn't argue when it's time to visit Dr. Corregidor. She wears fishnet stockings and stiletto heels and manages to pull off the look without looking sleazy. Much to my dismay, she reiterated, in her Spanish style (i.e. sounding a little like Ricky Ricardo) the fact that I was years overdue for the exam du jour PLUS I have a family history of rectal polyps. [Thanks, Mary, for sharing!] Just like that, I'd run out of excuses and people willing to shoot me.

So I did it. I hiked up my big girl panties and made an appointment to have a colonoscopy. I laid down a few ground rules -i.e. no way was I going to drink a gallon of anything. I tried to act like a grown up when my inner child was stamping her feet and crying "That's not fair! You promised!"

For those of you who sleep under a rock and, as such are blissfully unaware, or simply put your head in an ostrich-sized sand dune, I've got to tell you one this. The word "colonoscopy" is the worst part about the whole thing. In fact, I think there should be a law against the words colon and scope being used in the same sentence. Don't let the name scare you. For obvious reasons, I think one's private parts are called private for a reason. I don't think God ever intended for one's bottom to be the object of so much observation. However, once you get past the idea of it, and then you get past the "Prep" the actual test is a breeze.

My preparation consisted of a liquid diet the day before plus the ingestion of 32 vitamin-sized pills each followed by a glass of water. Toward the end of the evening, I was feeling rather bloated, and a little afraid of having the faucets turned on at both ends (if you get my meaning) but I never did throw up ... thank you Jesus! Strangely the thing that caused me the most discomfort the morning of the exam was that I was so thirsty and not allowed to drink anything. [Photo: One rather large pill bottle full of colon cleansing pills.]

I had every intention of staying awake for the procedure. I mean, come on, I'm a journalist, right? Well, not a real journalist, but I fancy myself a writer, a storyteller, a purveyor of prose. How could I write of my experience if I didn't stay awake? If Katie Couric could be followed into the examining room with an entourage of cameramen, the least I could do was stay awake - right?

Wrong? Every nurse I talked to -Leslie, Tiffany, Danielle and Supressa (you'll not a finer group of ladies decked out in hospital scrubs) - as well as the doctor in control of the drugs, told me, "Go to sleep." All it really took to convince me was being wheeled into procedure cubicle where, on one side of the room, there was a Diet Coke resting on an equipment table. I would have paid a king's ransom for just a to taste of its contents. When I turned my head to scope (no pun intended) out the other side of the room, my eyes fell on a rather l-o-n-g looking instrument that was clearly meant for my hiney. Suddenly good advice won out over dreams of a Pulitzer Prize. In other words, I opted for the sleep meds.
Not long after I closed my eyes, I was awakened by a gentle, yet urgent, voice saying, "Mrs. Ellington you need to pass some gas." Talk about nightmares! I think I've mentioned before that I am a private pooter. Being lined up in a row of other semi-conscious patients all being asked to "pass gas" at the same time was enough to make me poot, roll over and go back to sleep.
And that was it. Dr. Corregidor breezed in, told me I had an excellent looking, polyp-free colon and needn't worry about it having this bit of medicinal exploration done again for five years.
Because of all the air they had blow up into my colon for a clear view I was warned not to drink any carbonated beverages for 24 hours. Yeah, right! On our way home, my sweetie who was very proud of my "big girl" approach to the whole thing stopped and got me a super-sized Coke. God I love that man! [Photo: One rather large Coca Cola!]

So there you have it. I had a colonoscopy and lived to tell about it. And you will to. If you are 50 or over, go ahead, get it done. Like cleaning your car, you'll be glad you did.

Facts and Figures: According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in men and women in the United States (excluding skin cancers). Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States and is expected to cause about 52,180 deaths (26,000 men and 26, 180 women) during 2007. More than 90% of colon cancer cases occur in people age 50 and older. For this reason, the American Cancer Society recommends you start getting tested for the disease at age 50. People who are at increased risk for colon cancer -- for example, those with a family history of the disease -- may need to begin testing at a younger age. You should talk to your doctor about your specific situation and when you should begin getting tested.

Signing off because I still have a few chores to do,
Merry ME