From My Mother at Christmas

The year I was nine years old, my mother lost her life to a sudden cerebral hemorrhage two weeks before Christmas. I think about her every year at this time.

I was so young when she died, I didn’t really get to know her. I can’t remember anything she told me back then that could have helped me on my way, but, now, I hear much she might have said. I think perhaps she’s been telling me things all along; I just didn’t know to listen.

Daughter, as you grow up and go out into the world, make sure to learn to make some noise.  Laugh like a child.  Swear like a trooper when it’s needed. Speak what’s on your mind.  Be opinionated, and let the world know what your opinions are, even if it disagrees and wants to debate you over them.

Dress outrageously if it pleases you, and live up to your clothes. Wear stiletto heals. Wear plaids with stripes.  Wear your favorite T-shirt until it disintegrates.  Wear your individuality with confidence.

Picture your fantasy, and make it come true.

 Take risks. Do the things you dream but don’t dare.  Climb up a mountain. Jump from an airplane. Dive down to the ocean floor.  Go to Tibet and visit the Dalai Lama. Go to the movies alone.

Be whatever you want to be.  Be an astronaut.  Be a ballet dancer.  Be the President. Be a revolutionary.  Be true to yourself.  Be proud.

Don’t be afraid to express yourself.  Paint a picture. Write a novel. Throw a pot.  Weave a rug.  Dance with abandon. Sing loudly as though you could carry a tune.

Talk to children and to old folks; both have a lot to tell you. Talk to strangers. Talk to animals. Talk to yourself. 

Share your journey with good friends.  Share your good fortune with those less fortunate.  Share your expertise with anyone who needs it.  Share your life with someone you love madly. 

Marry a prince. Marry a poet.  Marry a doctor, a lawyer, or an Indian chief.  Marry your very best friend.

Explore your talents. Play the piano. Play hostess at the party of the year and wow them with your culinary skills.  Play tennis like a pro.

Be competitive, but play fair.  Play Scrabble with your husband, and let him win now and then. Play dress-up with your children and love them unconditionally.  Play on the floor with your grandchildren and spoil them every chance you get.

Live with love and laughter and joy.  Live your life fully and without fear. Daughter, live your life as if I were still in it. 

I hear you, Mom. Merry Christmas.


Mischief Afoot!

If you are lucky, the people you work with become like another family, your “office family,” if you will.  You share your triumphs and failures with them, confident of receiving warm congratulations or sincere sympathy, as appropriate.  They know your “home family” and are frequent participants in the major events of your life.  They dance at your wedding (hopefully not on the table) and happily accept the pink or blue bubblegum cigar (and in one case, both!) when your child is born. They come to parties and celebrations.  They grieve with you at family funerals.  And you do all the same with them.

As with all families, office families play jokes on each other. Naturally, in the course of day-to-day office activity, you get to know these people very well, and they you.  You learn their preferences and they appreciate your idiosyncrasies.  And sometimes, this knowledge erupts into delightful (and frequently hilarious) office shenanigans.  My favorite job and my favorite office family were at a software company.  Because it stands to reason that the software industry would draw some pretty creative people, it follows that office shenanigans could also be quite creative.

To wit:  Mike (the names have been changes to protect the innocent) had a thing about his “stuff.”  You could borrow his stapler or tape dispenser, but you had better return them.  Alas, because people are people, some didn’t, and Mike would be forced (in high dudgeon, I might add) to go in search of his stuff the next time he needed it.  It became a “thing,” and poor Mike took some world class teasing about it   One Monday when he came into work, Mike was greeted by the product of  his co-workers’ creativity.  Every single object on Mike’s desk – his phone, his computer, every pencil, every piece of paper, every paperclip, everything – had been labeled with Mike’s name.  We were all issued notepads bearing the company logo at the top and our names at the bottom.  Mike’s weekend marauders had cut his name from the bottom of his note pad sheets, and taped it to everything on his desk.  Gotcha!

To wit: Mary was a little obsessive about order and organization.  Everyone had an 18-volume set of documentation at our desks, and nothing drove Mary crazier than to have one of the books out of order on the shelf.  These manuals were not numbered, you understand; they had subject matter titles on them.  But Mary knew what order they should be in (and it wasn't alphabetical), and heaven help anyone who returned a manual to anything but its proper position in the rank. Too good to resist, right?  The weekend marauders hit again.  Monday morning, Mary came in to find every manual in the wrong place on the shelf.  With much grumbling and grousing, deep frowns and deeper sighs, Mary immediately restored the books to their correct position.  I mean, really, who can work when things are not as they should be?  It didn’t take her long to discover that she had been yet another victim of the aforementioned creativity.  Turns out, the manuals were never moved from their rightful place on the shelf at all.  But the paper title labels that slid into a sleeve along the spine of the books had been removed and shuffled.  When she meticulously rearranged the books to put the spine labels back into the right place, she had actually been moving the books out of order.  Gotcha!

To wit:  One responsibility of the job was to teach week-long customer classes, during which one was out of the office. Because the company was growing so quickly, there was always a shortage of desk chairs.  When someone was out of the office, their chair was often moved temporarily to the cubicle of a newbie for whom a new chair had not yet been delivered.  I really liked my chair.  It had good back support and tilted just enough.  It was a great chair, and I was MUCH more productive in that chair.  You know what I mean, right?  Right?  I was one of the lead instructors, so I was frequently out of the office.  And, sure as the day is long, I would return to find my chair gone.  Off I would go, examining every chair (which all looked the same) to find my special chair.  Well, I finally got smart, and attached my name to the back of the chair.  Now I could just walk up and down the rows of cubicles and easily retrieve my chair.  One Monday I returned after a week in class to find a lawn chair at my desk, bearing my name on the back.  (Very funny… bunch of wise guys!)   I started down the row of cubicles, and lo!  Every single chair in every single cubicle had my name on the back.  Gotcha!

I really loved that job, and I miss it.  But it’s not the work I miss.  I miss my crazy family.


100-Word Challenge: Hope

This is my response to Velvet Verbosity's 100 Word Challenge: Hope.  This week's challenge is in honor of Blog Nosh Magazine's online blog carnival, Loads of Hope for the Holidays.

Hope is a small word, but a powerful emotion.  Though this little verse meets the challenge of just 100 words about hope, hope deserves so much more.  I hope you will read my previous post about Hope for the Flowers, a wonderful little book by Trina Paulus which does hope far more justice than I ever could.

When hope burned out and was gone,
It took with it optimism and joy,
Leaving a void filled with ashes
Of anguish, despair and cold.

But hidden within,
In a spot halfway between heart and soul,
An ember of hope flickered dimly,
Refusing to give up and go.

With a breeze of kindness, a waft of goodwill,
A gust of love and support,
With a warm hug just when needed,
The flicker was fanned and soon caught.

The ember began to grow warmer,
It glowed, then burst into flame
Hope once again burned brightly,
Bringing optimism and joy back again.


Hope for the Flowers

Hope and direction can come from unexpected places when someone feels he has lost his way.  Years ago, at a time the future looked really bleak to me, a little book came along to boost me out of my funk.  Hope for the Flowers awakened new hope in me.

When my daughter was about ten years old, someone gave her this book for Christmas.

"Mom, will you read it to me?" she pleaded.

At the time, I lived in a state of perpetual exhaustion.  I was the single mother of three children.  I was a working mom, trying hard to forge a career.  I was a housekeeper, cook, laundress and chauffeur.  I was depressed and I was tired.

"OK," I told her, "but only ten pages. We'll read a little each night until we reach the end."  Hope for the Flowers is not a big book, with only a little over 150 pages, and many of them have illustrations.  But ten pages were all I thought I could manage.

I began reading, and much later than I expected, I finished.  "The End."

The little book was mesmerizing.  I've never really known what the author Trina Paulus had in mind whan she wrote this story about two caterpillars named Stripe and Yellow. I initially thought it was a children's book.  After all, it had been a gift for a ten-year-old, and it was filled with pictures.  But after reading it, I wasn't so sure.

Apparently, I'm not alone.  Over the years, I have given Hope for the Flowers to many people.  I never know where in a bookstore I'll find it.  Sometimes, it's in the Children's department, sometimes Philosophy, sometimes Self-Help.  Amazon describes it as a story for ages seven and older.  The book's cover says that it is "a tale--partly about life, partly about revolution and lots about hope for adults and others (including caterpillars who can read)."

Whatever she had in mind, Trina Paulus produced a book that is so much more than an entertaining little story (though it certainly is that).  This anecdote illustrates that more than anything I could say.

Years after reading the book to my daughter, I was a department manager at a software company.  A member of the department was just not working up to par.  We sat down to talk about it, and I asked him what the problem was.  He told me that he didn't know if he really liked his job, even though he had spent his college years preparing for it.  He sounded really discouraged, and I didn't know what I could do to motivate him to do better.

The next day I brought in my copy of Hope for the Flowers, and suggested he take it home over the weekend and read it.  On Monday morning, he returned the book to me, along with his resignation.  I was stunned!

"But what are you going to do?" I asked him.

I've taken a job with my brother-in-law," he answered, looking happy for the first time in months.  "I going to be a fishmonger."


100 Word Challenge: Thinking Out Loud

This is my response to Velvet Verbosity's 100 Word Challenge:  Thinking.

Thinking Out Loud

If ever I go missing,
I won’t be out of town.
I won’t be in the office, the kitchen, or
Wandering about in my nightgown.

I won’t up be to my ears in paperwork
Or my elbows in flour or dishsoap.
I won’t be battling calories or crowds,
Or the feeling there’s just no hope.

I won’t be in a hurry,
A tizzy or a snit.
I won’t be out of my head, or
Out of energy and ready to quit.

I won’t be off my rocker, or
In a fit of pique.
If ever I go missing,
I’ll be in Martinique.

The Healing Place

Years ago, I thought of a hospital as a healing place.  Oh, yes, certainly I knew that some people were not healed, and some went in never to leave.  But my experience with hospitals was positive, until it wasn’t.

It was in a hospital that I first met my three children.  I waddled in, holding my aching back, convinced that “this” would never end.  And then, after many hours of ever-louder moans and complaints, a nurse laid a perfect little person in my arms, and I realized how very “worth it” all the discomfort was.

I worked at as a Candy Striper in a hospital, delivering flowers, helping the elderly eat, and generally pitching in where I could.  I found it very rewarding.

Several times, I was admitted to be repaired in some way.  Fix this broken bit, take out that unnecessary bit.  My care was excellent, attentive and caring, and I left in better shape than when I’d gone in.

And then, fifteen years ago, my positive view was dashed against the rocks of reality, and I learned that a hospital can be far from hospitable.  I was admitted for a simple “band-aid surgery.” Actually, I was not even meant to be admitted at all, because my procedure was so simple, it was categorized as “day-surgery” and I was scheduled to go in, be fixed, and released within hours.

Not so fast, Grasshopper.  After the procedure, I had a slight fever, and the surgeon kept me overnight “just to be safe.”  By morning, the fever was raging, and one of the tiny surgical incisions was a little red.  Three weeks later, I finally left the hospital, limp and exhausted.  I had fought (unsuccessfully) one of those flesh-eating bacteria that was killing people all over the globe, ingested huge doses of the strongest antibiotics available (to no avail), slipped in and out of consciousness as my little “guests” dined hungrily at my table.  I suffered surgical removal of the infection, which left my abdomen looking like someone had carved a two-pound filet from it. I lay placidly in my bed as doctors younger than my son traipsed though for Grand Rounds, and honed their craft in the classroom of my pain.  And I learned to think much less positively about hospitals.

This week, I spent a week in one of the best hospitals in Boston, supporting my daughter as she was repaired.  I waited for 19 hours while she was in the OR having complex microsurgery, alternating between optimism and fear.  I returned every day to sit at her bedside for eight hours: three days in the ICU and three days in a private room. 

I questioned everything the nurses and doctors did to her, gave her, and told her.  I looked to be sure they washed their hands or used an antibacterial before they touched her.  I watched her struggle to sleep, constantly interrupted by an endless stream of staff members who came to poke, prod, measure, listen, and ask “How are you doing? Have you been able to sleep a little?” I listened to the cacophony of the hospital, the constant beeps and boops, honks and bonks, whacks and wooshes.

And I wondered how anyone ever manages to heal in this healing place.  Thankfully, my daughter did, and at the end of a horrible week, I was able to drive her home.


Crabby Old Man

This came into my e-mailbox this morning, as so many of these things do every day. Normally, I scan them, dismiss them as schmalzy at best or pure hoax at worst, and delete them. But this one gave me pause. Coming so closely on the heels of my 100-Word Challenge offering on Kaleidoscope, "The Weather Report," which features a grumpy old man, this spoke to me. I have no idea if this is true. But even if it is pure fiction, I see the truth in it. I don't usually post outside material; this time, I make an exception.


When an old man died in the geriatric ward of a nursing home in North Platte, Nebraska, it was believed that he had nothing left of any value.

Later, when the nurses were going through his meager possessions, they found this poem. Its quality and content so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital.

One nurse took her copy to Missouri. The old man's sole bequest to posterity has since appeared in the Christmas edition of the News Magazine of the St. Louis Association for Mental Health. A slide presentation has also been made based on his simple, but eloquent, poem.

And this little old man, with nothing left to give to the world, is now the author of this 'anonymous' poem winging across the Internet.

Drawing by Leonardo Da Vinci

Crabby Old Man

What do you see nurses? . .. ..   What do you see?
What are you thinking . . . ... .      when you're looking at me?
A crabby old man, . ... . . ... .       not very wise,
Uncertain of habit .. . . . …. . .     with faraway eyes?

Who dribbles his food . . ….. . .  and makes no reply .
When you say in a loud voice ..  'I do wish you'd try!'
Who seems not to notice . . . .    the things that you do .
And forever is losing . . . . . .       a sock or shoe?

Who, resisting or not . . . . .         lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding . . . .    the long day to fill?
Is that what you're thinking?. .     Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse . .  .you're not looking at me.

I'll tell you who I am . . . . . .         as I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding, .. . . . .    as I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of Ten .. . . .      with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters . . . . .. . .    who love one another.

A young boy of Sixteen . . . . .     with wings on his feet
Dreaming that soon now . . . . .  a lover he'll meet.
A groom soon at Twenty . . . . .  my heart gives a leap.
Remembering, the vows . . . . . . that I promised to keep.

At Twenty-Five, now . . . . . . .     I have young of my own.
Who need me to guide . . . . . .   and a secure happy home.
A man of Thirty . . . . .. . . . .        my young now grown fast,
Bound to each other . . . . . . . .   with ties that should last.

At Forty, my young sons .. . . .   have grown and are gone,
But my woman's beside me. . .   to see I don't mourn.
At Fifty, once more, . . . . . . .      babies play 'round my knee,
Again, we know children . . . . .   my loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me . . . . .. . my wife is now dead.
I look at the future ... . . . . .        shudder with dread..
For my young are all rearing . .   young of their own.
And I think of the years . . . .      and the love that I've known.

I'm now an old man . . . . . . . .    and nature is cruel.
Tis jest to make old age . . . . .  look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles . . . . . .    grace and vigor, depart.
There is now a stone . . . . . .     where I once had a heart.

But inside this old carcass . . .  a young guy still dwells,
And now and again . . . .. . . . .  my battered heart swells.
I remember the joys . . . . . . .     I remember the pain.
And I'm loving and living. . . . .   life over again.

I think of the years, . . . . . . .      all too few gone too fast.
And accept the stark fact . . .     that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, people. . .   .open and see.
Not a crabby old man. . . . . . .    look closer . . . . see ME!!!