Category Archives: people

Borrowed Bliss

Standard

Of the myriad tiny joys embedded in my day like so many Easter Eggs in the green grass, one of the sweetest occurs in the early evening, when my route home invariably takes me past a little wooden-faced building nestled in the heart of Coeur d’Alene, a place called The Hitching Post. Often, especially in the summer, the golden rays of late sun illuminating the small brick and clapboard structure also fall upon a wedding party milling around on the lawn outside, where a bride and groom and their retinue of devoted friends are either coming or going from the short and intimate ceremony inside the small chapel.

Sometimes the bride is in full regalia–veil, train and all–resplendent and rapturous beside her tuxedoed groom and matching taffeta-encrusted wedding party. Many times, though, she is less formally attired. Passing by the Post day after day, I have seen a Western themed wedding, a Medieval wedding, and even a wedding where everyone involved, including the happy couple, wore matching tee shirts. Whatever they’re wearing, they usually stop and pose for photos in front of the Hitching Post’s famous sign, sharing hugs and smiles with gathered family as passers-by honk and wave their congratulations in the spirit of bonhomie.

Even when the whole wedding party is dressed in jeans, it’s easy to tell which ones are the bride and groom: look for the couple that is gazing intently into each other’s eyes, giddy and slightly off-balance, as if they’ve just been hit over the head with a pillow-encased anvil. Glancing at them is like glancing into the sun. The joy lingers, radiates, spreads out in concentric circles from its source to wash over even me, driving by in my dusty red car, and suddenly I’m grinning like an idiot.

I do love a wedding.

Administrative Assistant 2.0

Standard

The administrative assistant at Paul’s office is pretty cool. Actually, Melissa’s not his administrative assistant. She greases the organizational wheels for a whole fleet of geeks, and in that capacity, she puts up with more than her share of hacker hijinks. Like the day they kept using a remote command to make her CD drive slide open and shut over and over until she called in a hardware tech to find out why it was malfunctioning. Or the oh-so-hilarious fake error messages that pop up on her computer screen from time to time. Whatever they throw at her, she handles it all with the aplomb and good humor that must have been at the top of the list of job qualifications on her resume.

Melissa and her husband have a daughter around Caleb’s age, and our families have enjoyed getting together outside of work to hang out and get to know each other. She’s wonderful.

Today, though, I had to bump her up a few more notches on the Katrina Scale of Awesomeness when Paul walked into the office to find this t-shirt in his mailbox:

Apparently, Melissa and Chris came across it while shopping and thought of him immediately. Is it perfect, or what?

McOops

Standard

Several inches of snow made the park an unappealing choice for Katie’s day off from school on Friday, so instead I took the kids to McDonalds for an afternoon french fry snack and an hour of wild rumpus in the playland’s giant gerbil tunnels.

I wasn’t the only parent hoping to burn off some excess kid energy under the golden arches; there were probably thirty children careening around the plastic structure, screeching and laughing and bouncing off the walls like electrons in an excited molecule. As you might imagine, the nine or so tables in the playland area were full; we were lucky enough to walk through the door just as another family was leaving, and seated ourselves with relief. After the kids hoovered their fries, they scampered off to play, leaving me alone at the fourtop amidst the confetti of crumpled up napkins and empty ketchup packets.

I may have been imagining the dirty looks in my direction as I took up a whole table by myself, but when I sensed the presence of someone standing behind me, waiting for a place to sit down, I gladly turned to offer the empty side of my table.

Smiling what I hoped was a friendly smile, I leaned toward the mother and baby and said, “Excuse me, ma’am–would you like to share my table?”

The moment he opened his mouth to speak, I realized that the “mother” was a man. “No, thank you. We’re just waiting for my wife and son to get back with the food.”

“Oh, okay,” I said, my face suddenly aflame. Quickly, I turned around and busied myself in cleaning up the fast food detritus scattered over the table. Oh no oh no oh no! I can’t believe I called him “ma’am”! Did he hear me? It’s pretty loud in here. Maybe he thought I said “man”? I hope, I hope, I hope…

“Excuse me,” his voice intruded on my self-recriminations. His wife hovered behind him, tray in hand. “Could we take you up on your offer after all? Our son would like to play for a while before we eat.”

I motioned weakly to the empty chairs across from me, and they sat down. At this close proximity, I was able to see the man more clearly. How could I have thought he was a woman? He was holding a small baby, sure, and carrying a diaper bag, and in his ears he sported a pair of silver hoops, but that was where the resemblance stopped. If he did hear me, would it have made him feel better or worse to know that I didn’t think him a particularly attractive woman?

Usually after saying something embarrassing (and believe me, it happens more than I’d like), I flee the scene. But with my kids lost somewhere in the middle of a rocking and rolling plastic jungle, I was tethered to my seat. Looking up from where I was hiding behind my bucket of Diet Coke, I accidentally made eye contact with the baby, who was grinning at me as if she knew how uncomfortable I was.

Oh, well, I thought. If he’s going to pretend it didn’t happen, so am I. Surprisingly, we ended up having a pleasant conversation, during which I learned that they were just passing through town on their way from Seattle to Missoula (so I’ll never see them again, thank goodness.) Ten minutes passed before I was able, at last, to disentangle my children from the horde, get their shoes back on, and wish the young family well on their journey before making a merciful retreat.

My face is finally cooling and the sense of embarrassment is fading away, but just to be on the safe side, I’ve decided that from now on I might give up gender-specific addresses altogether and opt instead for a hearty “Hey, you!” when talking to people I don’t know.  It may not recommend me to Miss Manners, but I hope at least it will keep me from becoming someone else’s blog fodder!

This Little Light of Mine

Standard

I firmly resolved to have all of my holiday packages mailed out by December 1st this year, so naturally, this morning, eleven days later, found me at the post office, scrambling wildly to get three very large boxes out of my trunk and balanced on top of each other in such a way that I could carry them while still holding a four year old’s hand tightly in mine as we crossed the icy parking lot.

The he showed up: my hero. He was a middle-aged man, dressed for working in some downtown office building, smiling warmly and surrounded by a faint corona of angelic light as he asked, “Can I give you a hand with those?” The heavenly gleam was joined by the clear sound of an otherworldly hallelujah choir as I eagerly accepted his offer of help. I carried a box under one arm and steered Caleb to the post office doors while my benefactor hoisted the other two packages. We landed them in a stack on the countertop inside, and with a heartfelt “Have a great day!” he was gone, probably on his way to rescue a trapped child from a burning building or thwart Lex Luthor’s latest evil plot.

Good Samaritans. They’re out there. And never do their glowing good deeds stand out in starker relief than during this crazy, hustle-bustle season of love, goodwill, and bloody gladiator death matches over the last Cyber Stompin’ Bumblebee Transformer in stock.

I’d like to thank a few of them.

To my post office rescuer: Thank you for noticing what a hard time I was having juggling all those packages. Thank you for stopping in the middle of whatever else you were doing this morning and giving me three minutes, a smile, and two very needed helping hands. You were Christmas spirit personified.

To the lady who let me pull out in front of her when it looked like the horrible rush hour traffic was going to keep me locked in the gas station parking lot forever: Thank you for thinking of your fellow drivers. Thank you for pausing for a moment on your journey home from the office to help someone else get home faster, too. Thank you for the friendly wave you gave me and the understanding smile that made my tensed up shoulders and craning neck instantly relax.

To the older gentleman in front of me in the checkout line: Thank you for the sweet, spontaneous gesture of paying for my items along with your own. I wasn’t expecting that, and your “Merry Christmas!” and jaunty salute as you walked away sealed the silly grin on my face. I know it was only a few dollars for you, but it meant a fuller stocking for my kiddo, and a growing sense of gratitude in me. I hope you whistled Christmas carols all the way home.

To the three guys from my apartment building who helped me carry in a month’s worth of groceries last week: Thank you for lending your strong backs and arms to one very tired mom, fresh from wrestling a young child through several stores in an increasing state of grumpiness. I know you had just come back from playing basketball, and were probably tired yourselves, but you offered your help cheerfully anyway.

To the anonymous gift giver from church who paid for Paul and I to enjoy a night out at Wolf Lodge that first lean year we lived here, when we barely had money for rent:  Thank you for seeing how much we needed a date night, and for providing a wonderful one.  I’ve never had such delicious steak!  And it tasted even better knowing that it was the generous offering of a heart that gave for giving’s sake, without expectation of return.  That was a rough winter, and the loving family that surrounded us reflected a lot of warmth into our lives.

To the guy who pushed me out of the snow bank I was stuck in:  Thank you for stopping to help when you saw another helpless Idaho transplant hung up in the snow like a tourist.  Thanks for not laughing when I accidentally gunned the engine and dug myself in even deeper.  This Georgia girl is still learning a few things about driving on snow and ice, and you made me feel better.  Thanks to you, I got to school in time to pick Katie up.

To all good Samaritans: I’m glad you’re out there, shining your light, spreading your joy, lifting people’s spirits, and giving of yourselves so freely and without reservation that it clearly comes naturally. Whether it’s changing a flat tire or returning a shopping cart to the cart corral, the kindness you’ve shown has really made a difference. I promise to pass it on!

***

Have you met (or been) a good Samaritan?

Daniel and Amber, Sitting in a Tree…

Standard

Amber and Daniel 1

Last night I drove into the city to pick up my sister, Amber, and her boyfriend, Daniel, at the airport. They’ve just returned from Georgia, where they spent the week staying with our Mom and Dad and visiting all the extended family we have down there.

It was a chance for my parents to finally meet the guy who has turned Amber all moon-eyed and super shiny over the past several months. Not only that, but in a charming display of respect and tradition, Daniel asked my Dad for his blessing on his intention to ask Amber to marry him. Dad said yes, of course, but only after the required (and entertaining) interlude of good-natured ribbing to which Dad has subjected every aspiring suitor who has shown up on our doorstep since Amber and I were old enough to date.

I am thrilled.

***

Amber and Daniel 2

Watching my sister fall in love over the weeks and months that she has known Daniel has been a source of deep satisfaction to me. I’ve seen her boyfriends come and go, but I have never seen her like this before. It’s been clear since the night they met that Daniel is someone extra special.

It was a late spring evening, and our church was hosting a community barbecue. Daniel was there as a guest, and Amber had just made a decision to extend herself beyond her comfort zone and talk to at least one new person at the cookout. Almost immediately, she spotted Daniel, took a deep breath, and went up to say hello. They ended up talking for half an hour. At one point, I elbowed Paul and motioned to the two of them standing next to the food table, grilled hamburgers half-eaten and forgotten in their hands. “Something’s happening over there,” I said with a grin. It turns out I was right.

He called her three days later, and the rest, as they say, is history.

***

Amber and Daniel 3

A few weeks later, she came by to talk to me.

“So what do you think of Daniel?” she asked, trying to play it off as a casual question. I assured her that I thought he was great. The two of them had dropped by our place several times and we’d been enjoying getting to know him. The first time he came over, Caleb crawled up into his lap, fingered one of his dredlocks, and proclaimed, “I like your hair!” Daniel’s a great storyteller, and our conversations around the dinner table have been sprinkled with laughter and have covered everything from movies to world politics. Most of all, I’ve enjoyed seeing the glow in Amber’s eyes when Daniel reaches over to take her hand, and the easy way they relate to each other, as if they’ve known each other a lot longer than it seems, as if that first meeting was merely a recognition of someone they’d each been expecting for quite a while.

“Is there anything you don’t like about him?” she wanted to know. “No, not that I know of,” I answered. “Good,” she said with a smile, “but if there is, you had better tell me now, because I think I’m well on my way to smitten!”

I think smitten is putting it mildly.

***

Amber and Daniel 4

Amber has always had a questing, restless spirit; she loves to travel and she takes in new experiences like food. Daniel’s mission work has taken him across the world, from his birthplace in Zimbabwe to China, where he worked with underground house churches, to the United States, where he has been involved in evangelism for a startup church. He has experienced amazing things, both good and bad: Christ’s love breaking down walls between classes and races amidst South African believers, government persecution in China, travel-related adventures that we can’t really conceive of in this land of bus schedules and good roads. Amber has a strong faith, and her conversations are thoroughly adorned with her passion for God. She loves to talk about Christ, and the gospel, and how the good news works in her life. So does Daniel. They are already united in their deepest beliefs, and I know that God will use the two of them together to bring His wonderful invitation to others, wherever they end up.

Amber and Daniel 5

Anyway, the news is not official…yet. There’s still a ring to be bought, a proposal to be made, and an answer to be given. I expect it soon, though.

Paul suggested to Daniel that he should forego the ring altogether and propose with a carton of Breyer’s Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream instead. After all, I said yes.*

***

*What? I haven’t told you that story? Sounds like a tale for a future post…

Midnight Caller

Standard

Paul and I haven’t been getting much sleep lately.

Okay, yeah, there’s that. (What are you giggling at?) But there are also a whole slew of other, less enjoyable reasons for our recent insomnolence. It all started about a month ago when Caleb developed a sudden and unexplained fear of the dark and wouldn’t get up to go to the bathroom without yelling for one of us to get up and turn on the light for him first. His little bladder fills up twice a night, like clockwork. We tried cutting back on his liquids, which actually did reduce the number of nocturnal bathroom visits. Now, instead of calling out for us to turn on the light so he can go potty, he wakes up moaning about how thirsty he is and asking for drinks of water.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, the kids’ internal clocks went haywire, and they started waking up at 5:30 (an hour and a half before our alarm), ready to get out of bed for the day. At first we told them they could turn their light on and read while Paul and I caught a few more winks, but “read quietly” doesn’t translate exactly into kid language. The closest approximation is “get up and do whatever you want with steadily increasing volume until a sleep-deprived parent bursts in, roaring, with dark circles carved deeply under its eyes and smoke curling from its nose.”

Throw into the mix a few late night events (LAN, anyone?) and a three a.m. trip to the airport, and you can understand why I cry every time I see that beautiful, bittersweet Lunesta commercial. (Cruel, cruel butterfly.)

Last night, about half past midnight, Paul and I were peacefully snoring away (still two blissful hours to go before Caleb’s first potty alarm) when a sudden knocking on the front door jerked both of us out of sleep. We waited, not sure what had startled us. The knocking came again, more urgent this time, and Paul leapt out of bed and started for the door, me trailing along behind him, hissing helpful advice like “Ask who it is before you open the door!” and “Wait till I find the pepper spray!”

Early morning knocks at the door just turn your composure on its ear. Who could it be? Police? Fireman? Ambulance? Friend? Your heart hammers in your chest and every terrible possibility known to man crosses your mind at once. As we advanced on the door, I mentally prepared myself for worst case scenarios, wondering whether I should leap for my cell phone or the butcher knives first if the hand doing the knocking turned out to belong to a fugitive from America’s Most Wanted.

“Who is it?” Paul called out. There was no answer. He called a little louder: “Who’s there?”

“It’s your next door neighbor,” came a woman’s tentative voice. Paul opened the door halfway, carefully keeping a foot braced behind it just in case there was someone in addition to the voice’s owner outside. She was alone, though, an attractive, fortyish woman in pajamas and bathrobe, asking if she could use our phone because she couldn’t find hers. I didn’t recognize her as a neighbor, although we know everyone in our building. There was a vacancy in her stare and a telltale stumbling over her words that made it clear she was well on her way through a bottle of something, and though I felt bad about it, I told her I couldn’t let her inside at this time of night, since we didn’t know her. “I know, I know,” she kept repeating, “it’s okay.” Instead, I handed her my cell phone to use on the porch.

We stood there, the three of us, while she called someone, asking him if he could come over. It sounded like he said no. She seemed to be holding back tears as she handed us back the phone, swaying a little on her feet. Paul asked her if she was okay. After a pause, during which I thought she might not have heard him, she said, “Not really, no.” He asked where she lived. She told us her apartment number. It turned out she was a neighbor, after all, just from another building. She seemed to be unfocused, rooted to our porch and unable to decide what to do next. Worried and uncertain, I asked her if she was hurt. “No.” “Are you in danger of being hurt if you go home?” I asked her, thinking maybe a domestic disturbance had driven her out of her apartment. Another “No.” Then after a pause, “Not physically, anyway.”

Paul asked her for her name, and that seemed to jar her out of her reverie. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I think I’ve been drinking too much. You know how that is.” Paul kindly asked her name again, and she turned and fled, as if suddenly aware of where she was.

Bewildered, we closed the door behind her.

We went back to bed, but, as exhausted as I was, it took me a very long time to close my eyes.

***

(After she left, Paul dialed the number she had called from my phone, explained to the friend who he was and what had happened, and asked him to make sure she got home okay. He said he would.

Today, I went over to her apartment to see if she was all right. When I rang the bell, I saw the blinds move as someone peered out at me. Right after that, the lights went out inside and no one ever answered the door. I imagine either 1)she recognized me and was so embarrassed that she decided to pretend she wasn’t home or 2)she didn’t recognize me and was afraid I was a fugitive from America’s Most Wanted.

I still wonder-what should I have done?)

Dirty House Friends

Standard

“Company’s coming!”

As a child, I knew what that meant. My mom would put us to work picking up clutter, vacuuming the carpet, and cleaning the kitchen, while she ran to the pantry to survey our stores and choose ingredients for a meal worthy of visiting dignitaries. The house took on a shine that it never wore when it was just the five of us, and we gathered around the table to marvel at the pristine tablecloth and the regal centerpiece looking like some foreign piece of art sitting there, where, on normal days, we folded laundry, did homework, and played with Legos.

Now, as an adult, I also love to invite people over for dinner, and the ritual is much the same. I press Paul and the kids into service to clean the apartment from stem to stern, trying to see it through a stranger’s eyes and discovering dirt in places I usually overlook, like on the baseboards and inside the stove’s fume hood. I scrub the toilet, sweep the floors, eradicate the rapidly reproducing dust bunny population, clean the tub (as if dinner guests are going to take a shower while they’re here), and order all the kids’ toys confined to their room for the duration. I even light candles to make it smell as if I bake.

Then, since I used up all my time cleaning instead of cooking, we order pizza. But that’s another post.

The point is that while I enjoy special occasions and inviting new friends and acquaintances over to showcase my masterful housekeeping and pizza ordering skills, when it comes to socializing, my favorite moments are those I spend with my Dirty House Friends.

Dirty House Friends are the ones you call up on a whim to ask, “What are you doing? Come over and watch Phantom of the Opera with me!” And they come, despite the fact that you’ve made them watch Phantom of the Opera six times already (rewinding all the good parts with Gerard Butler.) They sit on the couch next to your unfolded laundry with their feet resting on the wooden blocks and puzzle pieces and Happy Meal toys that are scattered around the living room like shrapnel from an explosion in Santa’s workshop, and they don’t see a thing. You never say “Sorry about the mess!” to a Dirty House Friend, because they don’t care, and when you’re with them, neither do you.

Dirty House Friends let you glimpse their clutter, too. I always rejoice when a friendship crosses the boundary of company clean into the intimacy of Dirty House-ness. When I walk, invited, into a friend’s house to see crusty dishes in the sink and stacks of papers scattered over the dining room table, I smile inwardly, knowing that I have stepped into the inner sanctum of my friend’s genuine living space, her real and disheveled and authentic life.

And that’s what I love most about Dirty House Friends. A friend who’s not put off by my messy house won’t be scared away by my messy life. A friend like that can take it when you lose your keys, lose your temper, lose your mind. A friend like that will be around when you’ve really screwed up, passing over recriminations in favor of a much needed hug and some help in picking up the pieces, knowing that you’ll be there when the pieces are hers. A Dirty House Friend won’t think you’re a bad mom when you drop the kids off at her house just to get an hour or two alone. She isn’t freaked out when you burst into tears, and the word “overshare” doesn’t apply to her. She’ll take you seriously when you tell her to call anytime, and the resulting conversations will cover everything from peanut butter brands to deep spiritual struggles.

A Dirty House Friend sees the clutter in your home, in your mind, and in your life, and loves it all. Loves you, the you that lies beyond your Yankee candles and your clean baseboards.

So if you’re thinking of inviting me over, do me a favor. Don’t bother to clean. Let’s just clear a space in the mess, pull up some chairs, order pizza, and talk.

Let the dust bunnies live to see another day.

***

*Dedicated to my own dear Dirty House Friends. You are such a blessing to me!

Judy

Standard

“A smile is the light in the window of your face that tells people you’re at home.” ~AnonymousHer name is Judy, and she’s definitely at home. I met her that first day as I have met her many days since, across the counter at the Chevron station, where she handed me my receipt and woke me up by starting an actual conversation, as if she and I were friends leaning across the back fence, with all day to shoot the breeze. There was interest in her face, in the smile lines around her eyes, in the friendly way she really looked at me, as if seeing an honest-to-goodness person and not just another debit card paying for beef jerky and a tank of gas. It reminded me, all at once, that she was a real person, too, not some robot behind the cash register. It made me see her—and not just her, but everyone else who entered my sphere as I went on my way.

That first time, it was the sign outside the Chevron that brought me to my favorite corner convenience store. It said “FREE POP WITH FILL UP”. I had an empty tank and an empty 52 ounce 7-11 Extreme Gulp keg just begging for cubed ice and Diet Coke gurgling and fizzing up to the rim, so I stopped. But it was Judy and her particular brand of cheerful solidarity that kept me coming back.

That was six years ago.

My Extreme Gulp cup (affectionately nicknamed “Big Red”) eventually developed a terminal leak, so I bought another one, this one an all black model with OC Choppers on the side that makes me feel a lot cooler. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know Judy in hundreds of five minute increments, and my first impression of her only grows more indelible. She calls me Kat, the only person in my life who does. And it’s not just me she treats to those amiable smiles and flashes of warmth. Judy’s “regulars” are many; I’ve seen her greet a steady parade of them by name as they come through the swinging glass doors. She’s bought gas for a stranded motorist, shared her lunch with a hungry friend, and listened to more hard luck stories than a bartender. She remembers them, too, asking after husbands and children, checking to see how the job interview turned out, noticing new outfits and lost weight. Judy has her own stories, as well, and if you hang out long enough or often enough you’ll probably hear some of them, and appreciate the smile she usually wears even more.

This past year, for my birthday, Judy bought me a scratch-off lottery ticket, my first. Using a nickel, I scratched it off there at the counter with her looking on. (“You’re not supposed to scratch it in front of me, Kat! Think how I’ll feel if you don’t win!”) It wasn’t a winner, as it turned out. But looking up at the smiling stranger-turned-friend standing in front of me, I couldn’t summon up any disappointment at all.

The world could use a few more Judys.