Thursday, May 25, 2017

WARNING: CAT MAY BEHAVE...LIKE A CAT



I spent the last two days in training about product liability.


In it's most fundamental, pure conception, product liability is meant to ensure that people who make things make them:


1) as safe as possible


2) consistently in that safe way, and


3) warn a user of any dangers that exist even when said product is as safe as can be.


It sounds deceptively simple. I was sitting there listening to detailed outlines as to product exposures common to specific industries and court cases where dumbassery (pardon my French!) was not only excused, but rewarded,
and got to thinking: what if we had to do this with everything? Like weather, or basic bodily functions (teeheehee), or....pets.


And this is what happened.



So, yeah, it may be hard to hold Mama cats liable for their "products." Not only is English not their native language, but also, the just don't give a damn. At all. In lieu of an opposable thumb, they've figured out how to flip us off with their eyes. And if you think you're going to get a dime out of a cat, just try collecting your own hairbands that they've stolen and then hidden in some pocket of the universe that doesn't exist in the normal space-time continuum.


But beyond that, after trying unsuccessfully for
two Halloweens in a row to get Jellybean to wear his adorbs little fireman costume, and Nilly her
precious lion mane, I don't think there's a breakable's-chance-on-an-elevated-surface that the warning labels are going to last the lifetime of the product.



 I have no concrete solutions to either the challenges of cat liability, or the challenges of product liability. But I propose that we make May 25 National


Manufacturer's Day. Hug someone who makes something!


And maybe get them a cat.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Remember that one time?

My grandpa was a boy during the great depression, and for a spell after his dad walked out on a wife and three boys, they lived under a pecan tree.

"Just try it," she said. Oh why the hell not? His legs had just
started to tremble when she went slack, having passed out
from the blood rushing to her head. Just then the boat hit a
wavelet, and she tipped, landing heavily on the industrial
carpet and dragging him with her.
In my mind it was almost Swiss Family Robinson.  A temperate day in Oklahoma (again, this is in my mind, so those exist)  and three rowdy boys coming up with clever schemes to get to the pecans while their mother, wearing a faded apron, does the wash in a metal tub.

The reality would've been extreme heat, or ice storms, depending on the season, no bathroom or shower to clean up in, and a persistent fear of where the next meal is coming from. Because when you can't afford a roof, food isn't guaranteed.

I'd like to think grandpa might not have realized some of that at the time, since his mama probably tried to shield him from it. But poverty is hard to ignore when you're living it.

She pressed into him, grinding sand further into places
it was never meant to go. But he didn't notice. He was too
distracted by the boys splashing nearby, and their
 snickered comments about "boobies." 
Now, somehow, his mama got back on her feet, remarried, and built a life in Arkansas with her family that included the boys hunting rabbits for dinner sometimes, and an outhouse that got super fancy when my grandpa came home from college and installed an electric light. (Them college kids and their highfalutin' ways!)  So not quite a rags to riches story, more like a rags to frayed-hems-and-worn-elbows.

I wish I could have met her.

I spent the last year addicted to historical romances.  They've got the best gowns.  But when the heroine swishes into the packed ballroom wearing shimmering silk and a culturally improbably independence, and the titled hero spots her from across the room and slides between couples, unable to resist seeing up close the way candle-light gleams off her hair and those bewitching eyes, a  small voice in the back of my brain says, "yes, but they both smell like BO, as does the rest of the packed party, and she's probably pitting out in her silks. Of course with the limited light sources, maybe that's not obvious. And I love me some strong heroines, but sass probably didn't go over quite that well with men who were raised to literally believe God made them better than everyone who wasn't aristocracy, and most of the people who were."

Their lips met first, then their teeth. They both giggled a
bit awkwardly, but in for a penny...He slid his arms around her
pulling her close.  As her fingers drifted through his soft curls,
she whispered, "Is that a tick?"
It's not just historical, they just make an easy example. Heroes and heroines of every genre are tall and graceful and quippy, and have indefinable scents that are just them. I can't say I've walked up to someone on first meeting and smelled their person in any positive way. I love me some cologne, shampoo, and being female, Axe turns me to jello (yeah, thanks to sarcasm I wouldn't have done well in historical eras.) But I honestly can't say I've ever been drawn to person-scent. Granted, my nose works at about 80% of normal, so maybe I'm just missing out.

As a romance writer, I'm not opposed to idealizing things in story. I don't want to think about Scarlet O'Hara's BO, or Jamie Fraser's morning breath. The good guys always get the bad guys, and the last word.  I don't want my own stories, set in the South, to include the tang of bug spray and the way mosquitoes hover just beyond its reach looking for that one little inch of skin you missed.  Nobody gets dandruff or snotty colds. Because the point of most stories is to escape those things, and indulge in a dreamy adventure.

The problem is when the idealizing doesn't stop at novels and enters my real life because its a setup for recurring disappointment.  If I pull out the Hallmark channel moments of Christmases past, and wrap them in golden cellophane, then every Christmas after is not quite as good, and I can't figure out why. Because if I've forgotten the things that didn't go splendidly, I can't make changes to address them.  Same goes with birthdays, and chocolate cake.  I spend my time trying to make the people and places around me be what I manufactured in my head, and then when a pecan tree isn't a tree house, life feels overwhelming, unfair, and disastrous.  Why can't I get it right?

Love could be tough,when you belonged to a cult
that didn't believe in standing less than two feet apart.
And it was even tougher when, after you finally figured out
how to kiss without breaking the rules, you didn't
notice the Civic barreling towards you through the snow,
it's headlights capturing your first and last moment of
romance sans PTSD.
I don't mean I want to dwell on what didn't go the way I wish it had in the past. I just mean when I'm tempted to pick and choose pieces to save, I need to stop, unwrap the memory, and let it be real. Christmas morning was still filled with laughter and a conga line through the kitchen. The cake was still delicious. Three boys probably did come up with harebrained schemes to get at the pecans.

But those moments were beautiful pieces of a whole experience.  The tiffs or boredom that slivered the laughter happened too. And if I can figure out why, next time I can make plans or changes--or even just bring my expectations back down to earth--so the holiday is more enjoyable. And while that cake was lust-inducing, this piece is delicious too. (And it's here, which makes it instantly wonderful.) And though great-grandma couldn't have changed her pecan tree story on her own, the reality of it makes me see how strong she was and how diverse grandpa's life has been.

Aw, and this is the real thing right here. True love.
(And I'm going to assume the soldier is super hot.)
I guess what I'm realizing is this. There's fantastical beauty in the stories we read and tell. Characters struggle, but they always overcome, and there's almost never a less than stellar kiss.  I love this. I don't want to change it or belittle it.  And the best stories are when you embrace all of this with the hero, and come away having reflected in a way you will carry with you.  But there's also beauty in the reality of life. In the imperfect, whole truth of the past. And when it comes to actually living, the whole is much more powerful.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

When Nothing Else Mattered

"Where have you taken him?" Her throat burned with the words, barely a whisper, after days of sobbing.Tears ran over swollen, red cheeks, blurring her vision as she wiped the snot running from her nose with her sleeve.
Not this. Not now. Not after everything.
She loved him desperately. Because he was the first man, maybe ever, who didn't look at her and see an object he might use.  If a man ever looked far enough North to meet her eyes, she saw disdain. She'd always thought the only alternative would be pity, but god, how wrong she'd been.
The first man who hadn't asked anything of her had won her heart.
And now they'd killed him.
Her chest ached, everything in her wishing bad things could be undone, but years of life made that impossible to believe. It wasn't the first time she'd seen life leave a body, but it was the harshest.  It still made her want to throw up.
Yet, Jesus did the impossible. He healed people all the time, and she wasn't sure why he hadn't healed himself. but he had a reason. He had to.
All those stories he told, all those mysterious things he said while looking so hard at them, like he was willing them to get it, well. She didn't get it, but obviously there was more going on than any of them could fathom.  All those stories ended with hope.
Still, all that had to wait. The heaving loss took up every thought, ached in every joint, weighted every breath.
Even if he was gone, she loved him. And she would see him buried with all the honor she could.  Part of her wished she'd saved that jar of perfume. But he'd been so delighted when she'd washed his feet,  she couldn't really let go of that memory. Still, it'd be nice to have that to go with the herbs she carried through dark streets. Most people would've told her not to go out before the sun came up. It was dangerous for a woman, especially with so many foreigners flooding town. And even though she made it to the graveyard, Roman soldiers weren't known for their high regard of Jewish women.
But none of that really registered. She had no more capacity.
Because he was gone.
Well, it didn't matter. Wherever they'd taken him, whatever they'd done, she'd give him a proper burial. She straightened, pushed the hair back from her face, and lifted stubborn eyes, ready to stand here all day if she had to until they told her why they'd moved the rock set to protect his grave, and what they'd done with his body.  "Where have you taken him?"

I went to a sunrise service on Easter this year. It was beautiful. Set at Red Rocks, with the sun rising over the city, it kind of had to be. But add to that music that ranged from wood flute to operatic to contemporary, encouraging, joyful words, and the breakfast picnic complete with mimosas we brought, and it was a truly memorable experience.

But equally memorable was the quiet, simple Stations of the Cross I visited on Good Friday.  No actors or talks, simple music, and silence.  They asked no one to speak, but handed out readings of scripture that follow the events of that heart-shredding night.  It breaks me every time, not from guilt but from the stunning idea that anyone, even Jesus, could find me lovable enough to choose to die for me.  And to remember the horrid, nerve-searing pain, and loneliness so utter that he called out asking why God had forsaken him...I hate that he had to go through it all.

I thought of Mary Magdalene on Good Friday. Jesus was in the tomb.  His disciples were holed up, terrified for their lives, that they could face the same torture Jesus did. And on top of that, after all his talk of eternal life, he'd died. Brutally. Was any of it true?

But Mary got out of bed after another sleepless night, gathered the herbs and ointments to anoint a corpse, woke up the herbalist and dealt with his vitriol to get the last few items on the list, then hiked out in the dark and cold to a graveyard.  She'd figure out how to move the stone guarding his tomb when she got there.  Because she loved Jesus in a way that went beyond his deity. She loved HIM. She didn't have answers the disciples lacked, and she may not have asked the questions yet, or ever. She didn't feel betrayed, she just felt the gaping loss of the dearest person she'd ever known.

And because of that love, she was the first to see the resurrected Jesus.  She was there, not out of faith, but out of love. And he loved that.  I think it was no accident that Jesus appeared first to Mary and the women. And while it speaks a lot against gender-based scales of spiritual importance, I don't think it was primarily for that reason.  I think it was because they were there. Because they loved him to bits, whether or not anything made sense, and he loved them right back.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Bake Your Heart Out

In general, I'm not one for reality shows. Not because I'm too cultured, but because in an effort to engineer drama, they bring out the worst in people and I just don't enjoy that.  BUT I have found one I love. 

The competitors on The Great British Baking Show are all amateurs. They don't live together in a drama house, they go to work all week, see their families, and practice for the next weekend.  They don't fight over space in an overheated kitchen, they're in a tent set among rolling green hills and gamboling lambs. Really. And they don't have judges shredding them with harsh words, they have two hosts encouraging and sometimes helping them, and two judges giving direct, but not unkind feedback.  Even the music has no ominous bass. It's classical.

If you compare it to the setup for most reality shows, it sounds like a recipe (ha!) for failure. But the show has done well and I am addicted. It's fun to see normal people create extraordinary things...even if I question the British definition of dessert on a regular basis.

Week one, something happens.  Everyone cries. well, not the judges, but almost all, if not all, the competitors cry at some point.  It's interesting for two reasons. One, I didn't think British people did that, like, ever. Two, after seeing other reality shows, the comments or situations that spark tears don't seem that bad.  But when I step back and look at the situation, I get it.

These people are truly good at baking. They're probably the best of anyone they know. But now, everyone is good. It's intimidating. It makes you question if you're actually talented, or if you just thought you were.  And while you're intimidated, two famous experts point out the flaws in your work, which, again, is definitely a first. It feels like confirmation that you're an imposter. You aren't actually good at this, and you're embarrassed that your best isn't good enough. Add to that time limits, and camera people watching you, and I'm pretty sure anyone would shed a few tears.

The other thing about it is I don't look at these people and think, "Suck it up, sissy. You're too sensitive. Get over yourself." I feel for them in that moment, knowing what it's like to put your best foot forward and wonder if it's enough. 

After the first week, no one really cries again (unless they have an absolute disaster, or if they have to go home. And then everyone else cries too because they're going to miss the person.)  It's like, that initial cry is almost necessary to clear the glut of emotions the new, scary situation brings up, and after that, they're fine.

It makes me wonder if sometimes, when I'm working super hard to hold it together, to suck it up, sissy, and not be so sensitive, maybe I need to just have a good cry instead of tamping emotions that just continue to back up like a clogged drain.  And I don't even have to do it on national television, which is awesome because sister is not a pretty crier. But if I clear those emotions, maybe I'll be free to metaphorically bake dessert while lambs gambol around.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Scaredy Cat Vs. The Big Bad Owner

Everything is different in the dark.

While that works on a metaphorical level, the literal meaning led to a little bit of havoc the other night. It started when I put a pan on the stove top to heat and then didn't get back to it in time. Smoke started to build up in the kitchen and crept ever closer to the smoke alarm. I turned off the heat and moved the pan, but it kept smoking. So I took it out back, reminding myself to shut the screen so the cats wouldn't get out. Which of course I forgot to do when I went back inside.

Moments later I heard a semi-panicked meow. Jellybean had taken a half dozen tentative steps and then decided he wasn't sure about this whole "outside in the dark" business.  I called him and he came happily back in for a handful of treats. He's really not a rebel.

Nilly on the other hand... Nilly saw me coming and hurried down the steps.  So, with the screen door now shut so JB wouldn't work up his courage and go outside, I went outside and tried to find a black cat in the dark, while using my most syrupy voice to tell her what a good girl she was (even if she was actually being a brat) all the while frantically praying Nilly would NOT jump the fence.

It didn't take too long to get her back up on the deck, because the dark really isn't that much fun--especially without a brother to pounce on. But once she was up there, she wouldn't let me catch her. She darted out of reach and into the shadows. I sat at the top of the stairs, so she couldn't get back to the yard, and waited. Several times she ran to the screen door to go back inside, but it was closed. I continued to sweet-talk and waited for her to finally come over.

It took longer than it should have. I mean, she wanted inside, and I wanted to take her inside. I've never picked her up and heaved her off a deck or out of the house, so why I was suddenly the boogie man I have no idea. But eventually I nabbed her, and by the time she laid off struggling, we were all back in the house where we belong enjoying cat treats. Well, two of us were. I had wine.

I wonder how often I dart away from God's hand because I want to go in the house...when he's just trying to pick me up and carry me inside for the human equivalent of cat treats.  I don't know. But next time I feel a nudge and I'm tempted to hide behind the grill until I figure out how to get past the screen door, I hope I'll be smarter than a cat and just come to Him already.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Feeling, Better

Last week someone came at me. Not like a bear or crazed dog, a person.  And not even physically--though I really should take a self defense class--but verbally.

I looked for angry photos and this emerged and it
was way too funny NOT to use. Plus, in the heat of
the moment, I'm probably about this sane.
If it had been my work life it still would've sucked, but I get paid to deal with the occasional butthead. But this was in my personal life, so no paycheck to comfort me.  With some distance between me and that moment, I can see it wasn't actually about me at all. It was about fear of change
mostly, and a little about wanting to be in charge, both of which I totally understand.

I've been reading Brene Brown in book club. We're on our second, Rising Strong.  Brene is a shame researcher, who discovered early on that people who are able to deal with that emotion are people who embrace vulnerability. She was as excited about that news as I am. (If you haven't watched her TED talk you totally should. It's fascinating, and also if you want to feel pretentious you can name-drop TED in conversation. Here is the link.)

One of the first steps is identifying what you're feeling, acknowledging that, and trying to get down to the root of it. Am I mad, or am I really sad but mad feels safer? Am I embarrassed, and if so, is it because I failed or because I feel like I've been successfully projecting perfection and that image just face-planted on the sidewalk?

The concept is simple, but the action is not. In that moment I got as far as "I'm feeling angry and defensive. My face is hot, my body tensed, and I want to lash out." Then I stopped processing and just got pissy.

It was a few days before I was like, "Ugh, I should probably try to live wholeheartedly. Bleh." And a few more days before I was like, "Fine, fine. I'll explore the emotion" (said with more snark than eagerness.) And a few more days still before I'm finally doing it. These are the questions we're to ask:

What is the story I'm making up in my head about what that person thinks, how they feel, what they're going to do, and why?
What are my emotions?
What is my body feeling?
What am I thinking?
What beliefs about myself and/or others are driving the story/emotions/feelings/thoughts above?
What am I doing with all of it?

See? Not a fun process, but it gets at what the root of those situations is so those lies, or insecurities, or fears can be faced, maybe with a few safe people, instead of stockpiling hurt that never goes away.

It's super not easy, especially when immersed in a torrent of emotion, but yeah, I'd say its worth it. Because to protect myself from hurt would require I insulate from the good emotions too. You can't deaden one without losing the other.

Though sometimes a glass of wine and a good book are way more fun.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

So Many Lessons, So Little Time

Nothing makes you realize you're not a natural decorator like deciding to remodel.  I tend toward ALL THE BRIGHT HAPPY COLORS!!!! But that tends to look like the Skittles factory exploded, and nobody wants to live in a decimated Skittles factory.

The adventure started yesterday when I went to look at flooring and promptly learned you do not match your floors to your cabinets. You go at least a shade or two darker. Yeah, news to the non-decorator.

Then I got home with a sample that was as light as possible while meeting this criteria and discovered that actually, the darker color does look nice against the cabinets. In fact, my how-light-can-I-go choice was maybe...too light?

Then I decided my ignorance was getting in my way--I mean, I still have to pick counters!--and went to the expert for some advice. Google. Where I learned that you want your cabinets to be a contrast to your floor and counters, and then have an accent color.

Okay, accent colors still seem a little advanced, but contrast I get. So then I started looking at all the colors of counters that exist. So. Many.  And realized I'm going to need advice on this too.

I'm willing to listen to the experts, or even the sales guys, and am confident I'll get a good result.

But I want it now.

And that's not how remodeling works. That's not really how anything involving contractors works.

So I'm in another lesson about patience, and realizing I haven't changed since I was a tyke waiting to open an Easter basket when every second took a millennia, and it felt like my very heart would pop if I didn't get to it soon.

All this to say, if before this process is complete, I start to seem a little crazed and/or have heart trouble, please give me an Easter basket.