Wednesday, July 29, 2015

How to Make a Difference

So you want to change the world? Okay, here are some thoughts.
You may think that you need to develop a new weight-loss drug or overthrow the government or make a killing on the stock market. Please don't. Big plans aren't always good plans.
Instead, think about how to contribute.
Do you have ideas for making it better, or are you just angry?
If you have a rant, keep it to yourself. If you have a solution, start telling people.
Contributing means trying to build something sustainable.
It means integrity, compassion, generosity and kindness.
It means trying not to make things worse than they are.
How about starting small? You can smile at your neighbor, pick up litter, cook someone a meal. You can give people the benefit of the doubt. Open a door for a stranger. Thank the bus driver.
You can take responsibility for your actions.
Tell your friends when they've lost perspective.
You can state your truth even when everyone around you might disagree.
You can try to be the person you wish you were.
You may not think you are important enough to make a difference, but that's not true. Every day, in everything you do, you have a chance to make the world a better place.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Bad Luck

The universe wants something from me: I'm just not sure what it is yet. That is what I think as I scan the campground, the one by the gas station.
At the campsite next to mine a group of men have just strung up a banner that says "Guys Camp", and they have unloaded approximately ten cases of beer onto their picnic table. You might think that I could go someplace else, but I lost control of the situation a long time ago.
While I was trying to get to the mountains there were all these delays: a family crisis, a trip to the emergency vet, that problem with the computer. The computer should have been the easy one, but that was where things really fell apart.
You know how sometimes while you're keeping a responsible, detached eye on the crisis part of your life you end up having a tantrum about something unrelated? Okay, I'm talking about me. Maybe you don't do that. My meltdowns usually involve electronics.
Now, I am aware that I have a high-voltage temper, and that when I get upset the forest falls silent and strangers cross to the other side of the road. The other thing that happens is that electronics go on the fritz. It's like they do it on purpose just to taunt me.
All of a sudden, overwhelm sneaks in the back door. I know that yelling at computers doesn't help. As a matter of fact, it always makes things worse. I do it anyway.
The cats hide. The dogs try to climb into my lap. I take a time-out, lying on the floor. The camera and computer decide to cooperate, somewhat. I get the job done, more or less.
Shopping for camping supplies (and beer, of course, because I deserve it), I check my bank balance and it says zero (ATM's are not immune to my electricity).
The sun is on the down side of its arc.
Finally, finally, I throw camping gear into the car. Yes, I throw it. And I whistle for the dog that doesn't have a cone on her head and we roar off to the gas station where (I swear I am not making this up) they are out of gas.
But that's okay, I think, because I have a quarter tank, so I'll drive up into the mountains first  and then fill up.
And later that afternoon at the last Kum-N-Go before the Continental Divide, the gas refuses to go into the tank. It simply overflows onto the side of the car. I check the fuel type, adjust the positioning of the nozzle. I try a different pump. You might think I'd never pumped gas before. You might think the tank is already full. Alas, no. Why is this happening to me, I think? Do gas pumps count as electronics? I'm calm now, I think. Well, calmer.
So now I have--maybe--enough gas to get home. I can either give up on my camping trip and return home to the continuing family crisis and the dog with the cone on her head and my lovely husband who will be happy to see me or I can camp by the gas station. Yes, there's a campground. I's not like I pitch my tent in the parking lot. I am stubborn so I choose option two.
So there I am, hunkered down by the gas station. It rains. Then it thunder-hails. And while I am in the outhouse, the dog chews a hole in the tent the size of a basketball.
But it's all good. I spoon with the dog. I have beer. I am in the mountains.
In the morning I crawl out of my tent, stretch and yawn. My attitude has improved. This could be an adventure! Standing by the picnic table, I think, perhaps I'm here to meets someone who will share with me their vast wisdom. A few cars drive by without stopping. Oh, well.
No use waiting around for my adventure. The way things have been going, it's unavoidable. So I go for a hike and drink a beer and stare into space. And nothing happens. I don't meet anyone or rescue any orphans or have any epiphanies.
As an adventure, it's kind of lame, honestly, but it's pleasant. It's okay.
Is the universe trying to tell me to go home and wade into that family crisis? No. I refuse. Is it saving me from death or dismemberment on the high mountain pass where I had planned to camp?
I'm not sure, but I stubbornly stay there for three days, then  load up my dog and my camping gear. The gas pump works just fine on the way back to the city. My husband and cone-head dog greet me cheerfully. Apparently I wasn't needed at home.
Days later I am still obsessing, because there has got to be a reason for all of this, right? I scan the news. I Google "accident", "psychopath" and "death". And then I find it: a woman was killed by lightning, hiking a trail that I might have hiked, if I'd had my way. In an alternate reality it could have been me. But it wasn't. And isn't that a little over-dramatic? Like thousands of other people enjoying the mountains that day, I probably would have been just fine.
So that leaves me back where I started: still looking for a reason.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Lip Veil

Years after the ordeal of the lip veil I wish I had a picture, but at the time I was too embarrassed. You see, I needed a lip veil because my lips fell off. I'll bet you're wondering how that could happen. Well, it's complicated. Before I explain, let me ease your mind: they grew back, eventually.
It starts with a hike in the Alaskan wilderness. The trail is overgrown with cow parsnip, a plant with flowers the size of dinner plates. They're so pretty, you'd never expect them to be poisonous.
My hands swish through the vegetation. Of course I don't think about it. I am looking at the view, well, what I can see through the cow parsnip.
Back at camp that night, I feel rain on the backs of my hands. The funny thing is, it's not raining.
And then the backs of my hands grow hot and (this is where things go horribly wrong), I bring them to my lips to cool them.
After that, my hands break out in tiny blisters, which swell and merge into bigger blisters.
In the morning, the same thing happens to my lips.
We are days from the nearest town. It's a little uncomfortable, but I'll manage.
Then it gets worse. The blisters burst and my raw lips ooze with pus. They are sticky and the gentlest touch cuts like a razor.
Talking, smiling, eating, drinking: all very difficult. When I close my mouth, the pus glues my lips together. Unsticking them tears off the skin in chunks like bloody little bricks. I carry on, mouth agape like a fish. I'm disgusted with myself. Also, it hurts.
I smear my lips with antibiotic ointment from our meager first aid kit, and to keep myself from swallowing the ointment I stick a hunk of gauze to each lip. No, I don't need tape. The pus and blood and Neosporin and chunks of lip harden into the gauze, holding it in place.
So I have a lip veil, and nobody has to see what I look like under my epidermis, and I can close my mouth.
Now, out in the wilds of Alaska, people are short on words, and plus, they've seen weirder things than a woman in a lip veil. After all, Alaska is where you go to escape mainstream society, so there's a certain amount of tolerance about these things.
A couple of days later, we stumble upon a general store at the intersection of two dirt roads where I purchase a drinking straw to help get liquids past my burning lips. Glory be! I can't smile, but I'm happy. The proprietor of this lonely outpost looks me in the eye and says, "Bunged your lip, eh?"
"Ungh," I reply through the lip veil. He nods, satisfied.
And I am grateful that I don't have to explain.


Wednesday, July 8, 2015


Meow-Fest is a celebration of all things Meow, and usually begins at about four a.m. Ostensibly, it's about food, specifically about a lack of kibble in the bowl on the shelf. To bring attention to the enormity of the problem, the empty bowl is flung from the shelf. Preferably it makes a loud clang.
Putting kibble in the bowl doesn't always fix the problem (We could have starved! We might have died! We deserve better treatment!). But a chest cuddle and some ear rubs might help, unless it does not seem repentant enough.
In that case Meow-Fest escalates to Phase III: The Biting of Body Parts. It could be your toe, peeking out from under the covers (Gotcha!) or maybe your scalp (Feels scary? Well, now you know how I felt when I almost starved this morning!).
Meow Fest ends as you're slumped blearily over your morning coffee. The cat is now sleeping on your pillow.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Neighborhood Watch

The first time I saw him, we had just closed on our new (to us) house--hadn't even moved in yet, and this skittish middle-aged man walked past my streaky new bay window in a halter top. His sneakers were spray painted blue. And was that a skirt or just a T-shirt tied at his waist? It was a little bit ambiguous. 
And I had that sinking feeling. 
This new neighborhood was supposed to be friendly. No gunshots in the night. No SWAT teams swooping in, and definitely No Crazy Neighbors. 
So much for that. 
We couldn't back out of the new house deal, but maybe this was an anomaly. 
Sigh. That afternoon he walked past three more times. 
Over the next week I saw him regularly. And since he seemed to be there to stay, I toyed with positivity. He was a charming feature of my new neighborhood, along with the house painted aqua blue and the classic cars with flat tires melting into driveways, and the little neighbor girl driving her tiny pink Jeep in the street. 
And when I thought about it I realized that he was providing an important service for free. In wealthy neighborhoods, you see, they actually pay creepy guys to go on patrol. The only real difference between my guy and theirs was the way he was outfitted. Instead of strange but harmless halter top things, their creepy guys wore pseudo police uniforms and carried guns. To my mind, that made their guys much more dubious. 
So I dubbed our guy "Neighborhood Watch". 
I started to wave when he came by, and eventually he got over his fear of me and waved back. 
He continued to loop past our house, month after month, stopping home to change his outfit between laps. Sometimes he wears two hats. Sometimes, a backless T-shirt/dress. 
Forcing myself to embrace him was a good decision. I've come to think of him less as a threat and more as an ally. After all, if any sinister strangers come to our neighborhood, he's sure to notice, and when we go on vacation we feel secure knowing that our house is being watched. 
It's been six months and I've become fond of Neighborhood Watch. As a matter of fact, I think that if he stopped walking by every day I'd miss him.