Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Isabel Archer

I am only 100 pages into The Portrait of a Lady, and already I LOVE Isabel Archer. I want to be her. Here's why:

  • She's confident and sensitive: "The young lady seemed to have a great deal of confidence, both in herself and in others; but this abrupt generosity made her blush."
  • She speaks her mind: " 'Ah,' said Isabel slowly, 'You must be our crazy Aunt Lydia!' "

  • She has an active imagination: "Her imagination was by habit ridiculously active; when the door was not open it jumped out of the window."

  • She has great energy for and deep thoughtfulness about life: "...she had an immense curiosity about life and was constantly staring and wondering. She carried within herself a great fund of life, and her deepest enjoyment was to feel the continuity between the movements of her own soul and the agitations of the world."

  • She has a clever sense of humor: " ' He thinks I'm a barbarian,' she said, 'and that I've never seen forks and spoons;' and she used to ask him artless questions for the pleasure of hearing him answer seriously. Then when he had fallen into the trap, 'It's a pity you can't see me in my war-paint and feathers,' she remarked; 'if I had known how kind you are to the poor savages I would have brought over my native costume!'

  • "She's an independent thinker: " 'I shall always tell you,' her aunt answered, 'whenever I see you taking what seems to me too much liberty.' 'Pray do; but I don't say I shall always think your remonstrance just.' 'Very likely not. You're too fond of your own ways.' 'Yes, I think I'm very fond of them. But I always want to know the things one shouldn't do.' 'So as to do them?' asked her aunt. 'So as to choose,' said Isabel."

Who's your favorite character in literature? Why?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Letters: On Being Jesus

Dear M.,

I am always willing to talk to C. about spiritual things, but I will not force that conversation on her or on anyone else. I used to do that to people, and I regret doing so. I think it's generally counter-productive, serving only to damage the relationship rather than to bring someone closer to God.

I feel like my job with C. is just to love her exactly the way she is -- which at the moment means not going to church, not willing to talk about spiritual things. God is responsible for changing her heart and her mind, not me. I believe that God is more likely to use me in her life if I do everything I can to have a good, open relationship with her.

Also, I think the focus on external things and on "Christian" activities, like going to church and talking about God, is misplaced. I don't want this to sound harsh, and I'm afraid it does--but I do want to be honest with you, M. C. does not need us to talk about Jesus to her--C. needs us to be Jesus to her.

What does that mean, you ask? Well, I'm glad you asked. Here's my take on it: Being Jesus to C. means

--don't try to change her. Love her and accept her exactly the way she is right now. Before you say anything to C., ask yourself, "Am I saying this because I want her to change?" If so, don't say it.

Trying to change another person is not only feckless, but it can also be destructive to the other person and to the relationship. I know from experience--it puts the person on the defensive. The only way to change another person is to pray for them--but sometimes prayer "backfires", and the one who prays is the one who changes. God is sneaky that way.

--serve her. Serve her in big things and little things. Helping her set up her craft room is a great example of serving her. You knew what was important to her, and you put your time and energy into making it happen. Good job with that! Serving her with little things sometimes means talking less and listening more, or picking up a crafting magazine on the way home from work, or putting gas in her car before she even asks.

Mr. Peevie is truly wonderful at these kinds of humble, daily acts of service. It makes me fall in love with him all over again. Every morning he re-sets the alarm clock to wake me up at the right time. When I cook for him, he's grateful and appreciative. If I need something ironed, he'll iron it for me. He buys me small gifts because he knows how much I love presents. (That's my love language--gifts.)

(What's C.'s love language? http://www.fivelovelanguages.com/30sec.html)

You know what--it's almost midnight, and I'm tired and losing focus. More on this later.


E. Peevie

Sunday, June 24, 2007

My Strong Friend

This blog's dear friend Roseanne (names have been changed to protect the innocent) has just told me that she has stage two uterine cancer. This causes me deep distress--mostly on her behalf, but also on my own, because I love her.

She faces a total hysterectomy, plus some tests to determine if the cancer has spread beyond her womanly parts. But that's just the medical stuff. She also has to somehow figure out how to pay her bills while she's off work for six weeks after surgery. (And we're not even thinking beyond that at this point.) Her employer has informed her that she gets three weeks of short-term disability--but of course, that probably pays about half of what she normally makes.

There's no help from her husband, Kirk Van Houten, who has not worked at the cracker factory for at least seven or eight years. All he's able to do is watch cable, wash dishes occasionally, and fall apart at the thought of losing his meal ticket, I mean Roseanne.

His emotional maturity never grew beyond pre-teen self-absorption, which is to say he just doesn't understand about taking responsibility. He's not a bad guy, or a toxic guy--he's just kind of emotionally retarded, which makes him more of a liability than a life partner.

Kirk Van Houten has been known to proudly say things like "I cleaned out the cat litter for you" or "I mopped the floor for you" to Roseanne when she gets home at midnight from her second job. No lie. And he says these things without the slightest trace of irony or shame. I honestly do not know how Roseanne does not smack him with a frying pan.

Roseanne's younger sister died from cervical cancer at age 36 about six years ago. Her out-of-state brother has some kind of brain cancer. Roseanne's mom--let's call her Narcissus--had this response to Roseanne's news: "I'm just sitting here wondering what it is in my genes that has given all three of my children cancer." Because of course, her daughter's cancer is all about her. I'm not even lying. She might as well have said, "Why me, God? Why me?"

Narcissus is retired on a humble fixed income, and doesn't drive. Roseanne's kids are old enough (14 and 17) but not emotionally healthy enough to be helpful.

And yet, facing all of this, my strong friend Roseanne laughs in the face of danger. She makes fun of herself, she cracks jokes about "pulling the cancer card" to get away with a moment of well-deserved crabbiness, and she lets me weep on her shoulder about my own comparatively minor troubles. Nobody makes me laugh harder than this woman.

Roseanne gets me. When I recently had a brief bout of depression and anxiety, she said to herself, what would cheer E. Peevie up? And she brought over The Departed to watch with me, because she knew that there's nothing like a bloody action movie to lighten my mood. "Most folks, you'd bring a light-hearted comedy to cheer them up," she told me, "but not for you. You need explosions and shooting!" And she was right.

How lucky am I to have a friend like this.

God, I'm asking for a special dispensation of healing for my friend Roseanne. She could use a break.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Body Image

I wonder why all the lifeguards here at Wisconsin Dells are Eastern European. But that's beside the point.

I've been looking at a lot of people in bathing suits this week, and I've seen thousands of regular bodies and so far not one single body that looks like the kind of airbrushed perfection that you see in a glossy mag or on TV.

This is the right place to come to get your body image re-adjusted. You'll see plenty of imperfect bodies at play here--chubby, lumpy, hairy, jiggly, bony, disproportionate. Regular and plus-size women boldly wear two-piece suits; most of the men are regular guys with love handles or six-month-pregnant bellies completely undisguised.

And speaking of six-months pregnant, some women are willing to show their awesome pregnant bellies now, and I think it's a good thing. (I know my in-laws disagree. I asked my MIL if she minded bikinis on women who were not pregnant, and she said she does not. She and my FIL just don't think it's appropriate for a pregnant woman's belly to be on display. I don't really know why not, and I didn't ask.)

Occasionally, I'd see an outstanding figure of humanity, but this was rare. A couple of bathing suits were actually shocking, like the tiny brown crocheted bikini that left almost nothing to the imagination. (Nice wax job, girlfriend.)

But mostly I saw people like me, with regular, flawed bodies: saggy boobs, dimpled thighs, flabby pecs, an extra roll around the waist. Slender folks are not exempt from body imperfections: otherwise perfectly-proportioned women had saddlebag hips or thick ankles.

This blog is taking the opportunity to remind you to love your body. Excise from your mind the ridiculous, artificial standards set by media images; they're not real. If you need to lose weight or tone up, fine; get started. But do it for health reasons, and not because you feel like you need to look like Jennifer Aniston or Matthew McConaughey.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Zero-Depth Stress

We have abandoned real life for artificial life in Wisconsin Dells. I didn't even check email for three days, and my cell phone has only intermittent coverage. That's what I call roughing it!

I'm watching other parents with their children, playing in the zero-depth pools, floating leisurely down the lazy river, bobbing wildly in the wave pool--and they all look engaged, happy, attentive, loving. I don't hear any moms screeching, "Stop that right now!" or looking like their 2.5 perfect children are on their last nerve. I don't see any dads checking their watches or working on laptops. I haven't even seen one tiny tot temper tantrum, or any sibling squabbles.

This is how I know it's not real life. Not to be cynical or anything, but seriously. Maybe it's different back in the condos--maybe that's where it looks a little more like reality. But I'll bet even behind the mini-blinds things are calmer, friendlier, more even-tempered. At least, they are in 104-B.

Vacation gives us a chance to hang out, play, have fun, relax, and enjoy the company of the people that we love the most--without the ineluctable burdens of bills, broken appliances, deadlines, and dirty dishes. We can be on our best behavior--be engaged with our kids, be patient, be unselfish with our time and energy--because we don't have the crappy stuff sapping us physically, mentally, emotionally.

Thank God for vacation. Thanks, God. (Also, thanks Grandmom and Granddad.)

But what about people who don't have time or resources to afford a real get-away type vacation? I'll bet if you studied families who went on regular vacations and those who didn't that the vacationing families would score better on a family system function evaluation than non-vacationing families. Research that, would you?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Next Isaac Asimov

Here's what A. Peevie wrote in his third grade journal:

"If I was elected to be the president, I would make the food lower prises and I would make everything in stores have lower prises and I would give pore people money."

Maybe that actually makes him a socialist. Whatever. I love that he has compassion for pore people.

And here's a little science fiction from the next Isaac Asimov (you read it here first):

"Here's our hero in space blowing up alien ships and planting apple seeds on diffrent planets. He is a good man. He has too blow up planet Zorgan before they unplant the seeds, and the Zorgan captain is Lallea Lorgoe. He is the leader of all Zorganes. Captain Appleseed beat Captain Zorgo ones, but he is back. Don don don."


Sunday, June 10, 2007

C. Peevie Turns Twelve

C. Peevie is officially at the end of his tween years. In fact, he started his 13th year a few hours ago.

Here's where we went for lunch today: http://www.thechoochoo.com/. Cute place, excellent burgers, evil onion rings, and yummy apple pie.

He's still at the age where he wants to please me and doesn't want to disappoint me. I know it won't last, but I'm enjoying it while it does. He has a tender heart and a friendly, engaging personality. Some day, in the far, far away distant future, he'll be quite a catch.

Meanwhile, C. Peevie was happy to get for his birthday a bike, a video game, some Pokemon cards, and lots of money.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Faith and Politics

In a faith and politics forum on Tuesday night, Soledad O'Brien asked North Carolina Senator John Edwards what's the biggest sin he's ever committed. It's hard to tell, he told her; I sin every day.

It would not be hard for me to tell. It's idolatry.

In the Old Testament, God tells his people, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deut. 6:4).

In the New Testament, a Pharisee, an expert in obeying the law, tests Jesus with the question, "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" (He's kind of mocking Jesus by calling him "teacher", since everybody knew that Jesus was just a carpenter's son, and the Pharisee had years of learning under his belt.)

Jesus answered him: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment" (Matthew 22:36-38).

Any time we put anything ahead of God in our heart or mind or actions, we are committing idolatry. I can't speak for you, but I do this all the time.

I know that O'Brien was looking for something a little juicier than this, and Edwards was thinking along the same lines, which is why he kind of wiggled out of it. But there was no need for wiggling. He could have said idolatry, too. We all put things ahead of God in our lives: our comfort, our families, our health, our careers, our happiness, being right, having wealth or financial security, our possessions, our reputations, pleasure--the list is as long as human desire.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Chemo Update: Inspiring Nausea

Taped to the inside of the bathroom door at the chemotherapy clinic is an "inspiring" anecdote entitled "Attitude is Everything." It goes something like this:

A woman looks in the mirror, sees that she only has three hairs, smiles like a maniac, and says, "I think I'll braid my hair today!" And she had a Fabutastic Day.

The next day, she looks in the mirror, sees that she only has two hairs, smiles like a freakshow, and says, "I think I'll part my hair in the middle today!" And she had a Wonderific Day!

The next day, she looks in the mirror, sees that she only has one hair, smiles like a chimp on acid, and says, "I think I'll wear my hair in a ponytail today!" And she had a Lovely, Lovely Day!

The next day, she looks in the mirror, sees that she doesn't have any hair, smiles like Hannibal Lecter, and says, "Oh, goody, I don't have to fix my hair today!" And she had a Super Amazing Day.

Attitude is Everything!!!

I call bullshit. Attitude is not everything--and don't tell my sister how to feel. Or me, for that matter, about my sister's suffering. If she wants to not feel happy or optimistic, she gets to.

The person who wrote that little piece of drivel probably doesn't have cancer, or isn't watching her sister cope with the several huge and many small challenges that come with cancer and chemo. Or else she's in denial herself--one of those people that force optimism on herself and others like a parent force-feeding broccoli to a recalcitrant toddler.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Chemo Update: Putting the Hat in Hatboro

My sister Uppie has started losing her beautiful strawberry blonde hair. She's got it cut in a cute, short boy-cut so that when the serious hair loss starts to happen it won't be such a drastic change.

I've been trying to imagine what that feels like, to lose something that's been such an important element in your appearance for your whole life. It must be a little like an amputation. I imagine that she might reach up to push her hair out of her eyes, and suddenly realize it's not there anymore.

One time, a super-long time ago, I gave Uppie a really bad home perm. Why she ever let me get near her hair with harsh chemicals, I will never know. But she did, and the results were, well, freakish.

That's not what I said at the time, of course. I lied like the devil and told her the curl was youthful and springy, and that it would relax after a couple of washings, when really, it was more like a white girl's afro: brittle, damaged, and more tightly wound than a control freak at a slob convention. Poor, unsuspecting Uppie. Never trust an enthusiastic but inexperienced kid sister when it comes to your hair.

But back to the present. Today Uppie and I went shopping for wigs and head coverings. We struck out on wigs, but grand-slammed in the head covering category.

When we first walked past Pat's Hats in Hatboro, we were underwhelmed. We peered in through the dirty store-front window; the shop seemed tiny, old-fashioned, a bit dirty, and under-stocked. The sign on the door--"Back in 15 minutes"--was hastily hand-lettered, almost like an after-thought. I felt a little relieved--I was not optimistic about our chances for success. I was hoping for a more boutiquey experience.

Well. Apparently you can't judge a hat shop by its dim interior. Pat turned out to be the good will ambassador for medical hair loss. She showed us scarves, hats, turbans, beanies, caps, and one wig. She was kind, helpful, knowledgeable, professional, and compassionate. By the time we left, we had purchased two sleep caps, one bandanna-like covering, and four scarves for Uppie, and a bonus crushable straw hat for me. Oh, and a free pink-ribbon breast cancer scarf, too.

Plus, we exchanged phone numbers with Pat, and made a date to have dinner together next week. Except for the date part. And the phone number part. But my point is, we could have--she was that great.

Oh, and remember that hand-lettered sign on the door? It turned out that Pat had zipped off to help her elderly mother who had fallen and hurt herself.

Anyway, if you're in the area, and you need some help with hats or head coverings, give Pat a call. She puts the hat in Hatboro, PA.

And here's a link to a nice article about Pat and her hats: http://www.montgomerynews.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=17690091&BRD=1306&PAG=461&dept_id=562922&rfi=6.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Where Not to Rent a Car

I reserved a car on-line with Budget. The print-outs showed no confirmation number, so I called the night before to confirm that everything was OK with my reservation. I was assured that it was, that I'd be fine if I just brought the sheets in with the car and price info.

You know where this is headed. They had no record of my reservation, and no car for me, and no offers of any further help. Since I didn't have the name of the person I had talked to the night before, they were unwilling to take any responsibility for the mistake.

Their lack of of helpfulness was spectacular. After 10 minutes of fecklessly arguing with the rep behind the counter, I waited another 15 minutes to speak to the manager, only to have him tell me that the office was closed and there were no more cars available. He offered me the use of his phone so I could call Budget reservations myself to try to figure out a solution. Nice.

Judy at Budget reservations was the one helpful and sympathetic person I encountered in this whole debacle. She found me a car nearby at a rate only slightly higher than my original reservation. She tried--unsuccessfully--to get the Budget attendants on-site to find me a ride to the other Budget location five miles away. She empathized with me about their astonishing rudeness, and after we were done, she connected me to customer service and urged me to make a complaint.

I heart irony. I waited another 15 minutes to receive the lame-assiest customer service that ever masqueraded as customer service. I told him my sad and frustrating tale. I said, "They told me it was my problem, not theirs." And he said, "Well, it is." I am not even kidding. Oh, wait. He did say "Ma'am."

I confess that I was not very Jesusy during this entire mess.

I took the shuttle back to airport, boarded the train for downtown, and tried my luck at another Budget office. I handed over my card, only to have them point out that it expired in January. Crap.

I handed them my other card, a debit/credit card. "We don't take debit cards," they said. But it's both a debit and a credit card! Doesn't matter. Can't take it. How about cash? Nope. Must scan a valid credit card.

Finally I realized what the universe had been trying to tell me all afternoon: The car rental was just not in the cosmic plan for today. Once I let the car go, it was all good.

The moral of the story: listen to the universe the first time. And get a frackin' confirmation number.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

God at the Dance Recital

The Princess of Everything (AKA M. Peevie) danced her heart out tonight during her two-minute recital performance.

We were getting ready for the dress rehearsal (DH) yesterday, and the Princess resisted putting on her pink tights because they looked like they had been Swiss cheesed by a pit bull. We promised to buy her new tights today before the recital.

At the DH, they ran through every dance number. I noticed a grand total of three boys participating in the dances. One of them was a surly pre-schooler who hilariously stood in the middle of the stage with his arms folded while ten pink ballerinas twirled around him. He won that battle: the ten pink ballerinas plied without their young Baryshnikov during the actual recital.

Today I fixed M.P.'s hair in the ballet-approved fashion--bangs twisted back off the face and her long wavy layers bobby-pinned into a bun that immediately started plotting its escape. I carefully applied mascara, blush, and lip gloss to her already-perfect face.

I opened the package of new tights and discovered that they were footless. Oops.

All day the sky threatened rain, but the downpour only started moments before we headed for the car. We grabbed jackets and umbrellas and made a dash for it. We didn't find out until we were headed into the school that in the hubbub, M.P. had put down her dance bag with her ballet shoes and left it behind.

We noticed that M.P. had somehow gotten her new footless tights grubby in the half hour since she put them on. Mr. Peevie bent down to try to clean her off, and somehow the two of them klonked their heads so hard that they both had enormous hematomas sprouting from their foreheads. "Any harder and I'd be unconscious," Mr. Peevie said.

The ballet princess wailed and sobbed, and her tears made rivers of mascara run down through perfectly blushed cheeks. I spit-cleaned her up as best I could, and we headed to the check-in point. That's when we realized we didn't have the ballet shoes. Back to the car we headed, with M.P. praying, "Please, Jesus, let my shoes be in the car, let my shoes be in the car."

They weren't. "Jesus didn't answer that prayer," M.P. observed.

"Well, then, we need to keep praying that God will bring you a different pair of shoes," I told her. "And if He doesn't, then we'll make the best of it, and you'll dance barefoot."

So, she revised her prayer, and we told the program helper about our problem. Later, after the recital, M.P. told me that God had answered her prayer. Right before it was time for her performance they found another dancer with the right size shoes that M.P. could borrow.

God is in the little things.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Crusty Batch of Nature

Remember back in this post (http://greenroomthoughts.blogspot.com/2007/05/self-indulgence.html) when I said I was a horrible housekeeper?

Well, operationally, this means that upon occasion science experiments grow unhampered in the refrigerator, and crusty, fetid dishes wobble in stacks on the counters and in both sinks. If you want to have a bowl of cereal you have to first wash a bowl and a spoon.

So. This was the dire situation in my kitchen on Wednesday. I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. A couple of hours and an 42 ounces of Palmolive later, you could actually see the counter-tops. The redolence of bacterial life forms had been replaced by the bouquet of scented candles on a platter artfully centerpiecing the kitchen table.

A. Peevie came home from school and headed to the kitchen for his snack. Moments later he ran out screaming and flailing his arms. "What's that horrible smell?!" he screeched. "It's gross in there! It smells sick!! Get it OUT!"

The boy would rather smell crusty batches of nature than white gardenia truffle and coral hibiscus. There's no accounting for taste. Or smell, rather.