Pumpkin party

We had some church friends over last night for a little Halloween fun. We ate homemade chili, carved pumpkins, and then had hot dogs and s’mores around a campfire. It was great fun!

Here are the results of our labors. I did the cat on the limb and Honey did the amazing witch!

pmkns1

pmkns2

I want to give a special shout out to my wonderful friend, Alyson, who’s having a birthday today – Happy Birthday, Alyson!! Happy Halloween to the rest of you!

Blogbits

Debt – As of yesterday, I am officially free of credit card debt! I had over $6000 of charges racked up this time last year, so the relief I feel is exquisite.

Cats – I cannot stand having pets in the house. Don’t get me wrong… I love my cats, but life has become a constant cycle of lint rollers, cleaning up cat vomit, and scooping litter boxes. I’m beginning to think that it’s really not worth all the effort.

The Strangers – This was one of the most suspenseful, terrifying movies that I’ve ever seen. I screamed so loud that we were afraid the neighbors might call the police.

Neighbor – Our 90-year-old neighbor took an ambulance ride to the emergency room last night because she was feeling really bad. Turns out the bottom number of her blood pressure was only eighteen! This resulted in her temporarily losing her vision, but after a full checkup and some fluids, she was able to return home around 1 o’clock this morning.

Wal-Mart Sucks – I know I shop at WM way too much, but what other alternatives do I have in this pathetic town? Anystore, I found a bed-in-a-bag set that I really liked and bought it last night. Today, after washing the sheets twice with fabric softener to get them nice and comfy, I discovered that a Wal-Mart “queen” must be a completely different size than anywhere else. The sheets wouldn’t even begin to fit on our bed.

Dear God

I don’t talk to you much any more. I used to pray quite a bit, but now it just feels like there’s no one listening or I’m being incredibly selfish asking for anything when my life is so blessed. Typically, when I do come to you, it’s to offer a prayer of gratitude for something simple, since those are usually the things that make life so grand.

Still, there are times when I do ask for little favors. Like today when I requested protection for my partner – who had literally been up all night long writing a paper for school and had to drive 25 miles to class and back. I knew he was so tired and the roads were wet from rain, so I wanted to make sure that you realized how much his safety meant to both of us. I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to him. The thought is almost more than I can bare.

I’ve lost a lot of my belief in prayer over the years. I remember begging you to make me like everyone else when I was a teenager. It felt like you just ignored my requests, even though it seemed like you would have surely wanted me to change. I remember crying out to you when I was drowning in despair and feeling like you were a million miles away and my pleas were just bouncing off the ceiling.

I’ve been feeling like that quite a bit lately. Not really desperate, but certainly disconnected. It’s hard for me to separate you from all of the ways that the world tries to package you – in little despicable and distorted forms that we call “religion.” I wonder if you ever have a good laugh over the absurdity of it all.

A few weeks ago, a new friend told me a story that has me rethinking this whole prayer thing. Her story was one that might have made me roll my eyes a few years ago, but she told it in such a beautiful way that it just had to be true.

She said she died on the operating table and was clinically dead for fifteen minutes. She described going to heaven and what she saw and how she felt. She said she couldn’t even look at you because you were so bright, but that she felt the most intense love – so intense that when she was told that she needed to return to her still-living husband and daughter, she didn’t want to leave.

As she drifted slowly back down to earth, she noticed little beams of light passing her on their way up to heaven. Some of them were moving fast and some were slow, but they were all rising. She said she suddenly realized that they were prayers… and the fastest moving ones were the prayers of mothers. Despite all my cynicism and doubt about most things spiritual, I believed this story with all my heart.

So, I’m going to start praying more. And I’m going to imagine those prayers as little beams of light slowly rising to where you are. It’s okay if they don’t get there the fastest, because some of those other prayers are much more important, but I’m going to keep the faith that they’re going to arrive eventually, and that you’re going to know how grateful I am for every opportunity to communicate with you.

Until next time,
Brian

Ninety years

Note: Mrs. J’s funeral is tomorrow, and I can’t think of a better way to describe her and how much we cared about her than this post from 7 years ago.

Today was our neighbor’s 90th birthday – a milestone that we figured deserved a celebration. We started talking about what to do months ago, but being the eternal procrastinator that I am, I didn’t start pulling things together until three days ago. Somehow, I was able to plan a surprise birthday party in a town 25 miles away that not only included decorations, but also 14 of her family members and friends. To say that I’m proud of myself would be an understatement, but enough about me. This was an evening to celebrate a phenomenal woman and to reflect on all the ways she’s impacted those around her.

mj_90thMrs. J is like a surrogate great-grandmother to me. She was there when I was a child living in the house on the other side of her, and she’s been here ever since I moved back to the neighborhood. She loves me like I am one of her family, and never hesitates to express those sentiments to those that actually share her DNA. She even gets a kick out of thinking it makes them a little jealous.

She feeds me homemade fried chicken, sweet potatoes, and chocolate pie. She joins in my complaining about everything from the price of gasoline to how long it’s been since we’ve had rain. She never backs down on something she believes in, no matter how archaic or irrelevant it might seem decades later.

She thinks people show too much skin on television and talk too dirty, but she never misses her favorite soap opera (she calls them “stories”). She met and immediately liked my female pastor, but told me that women shouldn’t be preachers. She doesn’t believe in interracial relationships, but she’s going to vote for a biracial presidential candidate. She tells me that she doesn’t care about “how I am,” while complaining about the declining values of other Americans.

She loves to watch movies, even though it’s easy to tell that she has no idea how a DVD works. She seems somewhat fascinated by computers, although it’s clear that she doesn’t understand how the internet works. She laughs at me for constantly swapping cell phones as she pushes the buttons on her clunky handset that doesn’t have caller ID. She didn’t even get touch tone on her phone service until a few years ago because it was going to add $1 to her monthly bill.

She worries that tree roots are attacking the foundation of her house and that moles are destroying the foundation of her detached garage. She worries that her copper pipes are leaking and frequently has one of us check the water meter for unexplained dial movement.

She never ever stops working in the yard, even though her doctors, nurses, and physical therapists have all joined in chorus to tell her to stay in the house and use her walker at all times. She can work a hoe better than most people 50 years her junior and she has the arm muscle to prove it. She cleans house like the Queen’s coming over, with particular chores assigned to particular days.

She keeps leftover vegetables in the freezer and combines them when she has enough to make soup. She makes fabulous fried green tomatoes and a mean pan of cornbread. She keeps soft drinks in the refrigerator just because she knows we like them.

So tonight we celebrated this incredible lady; her quirks, her contradictions, her passion, and her compassion. We expressed our affection with song and brightly-colored helium balloons, with strawberry cake and cards and presents – all a feeble attempt to make her feel as special as she makes any one of us feel on a daily basis.

If her smiles were any indication, we did.

Just in time for Halloween

We started feeding a stray cat that came up this past summer, and it wasn’t long before we noticed she was getting rather fat and decided that she must be pregnant. Sure enough, several weeks ago she had a litter of kittens, and although we didn’t know where they were or how many, but we could tell she was nursing. Finally, our neighbor discovered them under the wheelchair ramp at the front of her house, so we peeked under and saw several gorgeous balls of fur. Unfortunately, they were completely feral and scared to death of humans.

Fast forward several weeks and only one kitten is still around. We have no idea what happened to the rest of them, but he and his mother frequent our back patio to take advantage of the food and water. It is impossible to touch them, but I am gaining their trust on a daily basis. Surprisingly, the kitten is the most trusting of the two, and he almost turns cartwheels trying to get to the food bowl when he hears kibble pouring in.

It’s rather cute to see them together, because he is the spitting image of his mom – only smaller. Both are pitch black, which seems just perfect for the season. Imagine how festive it would be if I could train them to sit motionless on the front stoop beside the big yellow mum and jack-o-lantern…

Saturday play-by-play

7:00am – Got up and sent Dad a text so he wouldn’t have to call to wake me up. We had plans to spend the day with my sister and her kids – cooking and hanging out.

8:15am – Dad picked me up and we headed for the grocery to get items that we needed to prepare lunch.

8:30am – Arrived at Wal-Mart and split up to gather items as quickly as possible. I heard a woman screaming at what appeared to be her three young grandsons. I even saw her smack one of them on the back while using the “f” word, and heard her refer to another one as ignorant right in front of him. Other customers saw and heard the exchange and we simply looked at each other without knowing what to do. By the time I made it back to where Dad was to tell him that we needed to do something, she was heading for the express checkout lane.

This incident literally almost ruined my entire day and I could kick myself for not speaking up. I kept thinking that if she would act that way in public, I couldn’t imagine how bad it must be for those kids at home.

9:00am – Dad and I stopped by our workplace for a few minutes. While leaving, Dad backed his truck right into a fork lift. The impact was hard enough to throw us forward and spray my open container of orange juice all over the dash and windshield. After going back inside for a wet paper towel to clean up the mess, I informed Dad that I should probably take over driving for the remainder of the day.

9:45am – Arrived at my sister’s house and spent the next several hours cooking, gossiping, and laughing. There was even some piano music and singing thrown in for good measure. My baby nephew is just the cutest thing in the world and he can really let some toots.

4:45pm – Returned home to see Honey, who had just gotten off work.

6:30pm – Our friends, Liz, Alyson, and J came over and we all loaded up and headed for Olive Garden.

7:30pm – Liz, Alyson, and I ordered fruity, girly drinks. Mine was much stronger than usual, but the effects wore off pretty quickly as I downed chicken alfredo and breadsticks.

9:00pm – Went to Wal-Mart again (a different one) so J and Alyson could pick up an early Christmas present for one of their kids. Unfortunately, the store was out of stock, but we picked up a few other things and played with a Halloween item that was sitting by the checkout – a plastic outhouse with a button on the outside. When activated, the door would open and a goblin would peek out and say things like, “I put the die in diarrhea!” We marveled that anyone would pay money for such a thing.

9:45pm – We stopped by bowling alley to play a few rounds (or whatever they’re called). This was literally only the second time I had ever bowled, but we had a wonderful time picking on each other and looking like complete fools.

Midnight – Returned home and visited with friends for a while.

2am – Went to bed. While snuggled up with my partner and a big, fluffy kitty, I realized that this was one of the most splendid days I’d had in quite some time.