Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Time Dad Got Rid of the Tomcats

It was a hot and humid summer in central Indiana.

The night, indeed, was sultry.

And the tomcats  were a-prowlin'.

In fact, I remember waking up in the middle of the night to the most raucous racket I'd ever heard. It was a tomcat fight in the backyard.

We lived across the street from the church. I don't know if the tomcats bothered the church. But they loved our house.

Many was the morning my Dad would step out onto the front porch and run back in, infuriated by the reek of multiple toms marking their territory. Apparently, our house was their territory.

But how to get rid of the tomcats? Dad's logical, and primal, answer, was basic. The house needed marked - as our territory.

When asked how old he was at this time, Younger Brother replies, "well, I didn't have my toy velociraptor yet, so I couldn't have been older than seven." He recalls the battle plan: "I remember Dad's fervent insistance: his fire-eyed jihad upon the cats had begun."

Loathe to use actual violence to discourage the neighborhood toms, biological warfare seemed the most humane response.

"I remember thinking, even then, 'this can't be normal.' Does my friend Randy have to do this? Alas, my friend Randy did not have a Dad. But he missed out on these unique father-son moments." 

So, taking inspiration from Kevin Costner, Dad combined two of his works: "Message in a Bottle," and "Waterworld."

"The battleplan was as follows," recounts Younger Brother, flickers of expression moving across his face with the memory of the field of battle. "Dad's reason led him to the conclusion that we must fight fire with fire. So, in response to the cats' hormonal discharges, Dad concluded that to fight their instinctual battle and assert our own dominance, we would simply have to overwhelm their own scent with our own."

My own recollections of this time inevitably center around searching for something in the bathroom. After opening the cabinet door under the sink, I recoiled: a partially full 2-liter bottle stood, waiting, ominous.

Younger brother describes, "I remember waking, bleary-eyed, one morning, stumbling to the nearby bathroom,the insistent pressure from my bladder telling me what must be done. Relieved, and slightly more awake, I went to leave the bathroom, only to find my way blocked by my father."

"Did you pee in the bottle?" he demanded.

Confused, my mind cast about in my early morning haze, trying to decipher what he was talking about.

"OH," I said. "No Dad, I'm sorry. I forgot."

"Well, that's alright, just try to remember to pee in the bottle, Ethan."

Brother continues, "While I had, indeed, forgotten, I was not very remorseful, as the struggle of a seven-year-old boy trying to urinate in a 2-liter bottle was not an obstacle easily overcome. The slowly increasing weight of the bottle made it difficult to fulfill my father's wishes. My inherently acrobatic nature was called upon."

While Younger Brother was attempting to remember to "use the bottle" every time he visited the bathroom, the tomcats were still wreaking havoc nightly on the front porch. Time was running out. I avoided the bathroom cabinet. So did Mom. 

Slowly, the accumulated efforts of my father and brother began to spell the end of the carefully planned assault. It was just as well: it was difficult to avoid the cabinet indefinitely.

Finally, the bottle was deemed Full Enough. Younger Brother and I went to bed one night, anticipating the morning's outcome.

Stalking in the moonlight, the silver light bouncing off the fury in his eyes (the battle rage had taken him), Dad took a midnight stroll around the house with the bottle.

The results were immediate. The tomcats got the message - all 2 liters of it. It was a Mason-Dixon line of urinated fury. Mom rolled her eyes, glad the campaign was finished. I could once again open the bathroom cabinet, free from the ominous green glint of the Mountain Dew bottle. Ethan could pee freely without balancing a soda bottle full of old urine.

When later questioned by parishioners on the method used for so effectively ridding the parsonage of the toms, Dad became increasingly cagey, shying away from the discussion altogether.

And so it is, on this hot, humid July day, we raise our glasses - and bottles - to battles past, and victories fought with blood, sweat, tears and urine.  The tomcats were banished forever.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cane Fu

From USA Today...

I think this is fantastic. Increases confidence, provides practical training, helps maintain coordination and balance. The most important part, I think though, is the increase in confidence and independence.

Perhaps your church should check into hosting a series of lessons!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Whatever Happened to Tin Type?

Sweet husband with $5 worth of Florida blueberries. $5 buys like one blueberry in Kentucky. We picked these.

Sweet husband's birthday party included his quick study of magic tricks.

One morning at camp, mist clouded the area. The 100+ temp quickly burnt it off.

My nephew sometimes wears pensive, thoughtful expressions.

This nephew bounds up and squeaks "cheeeeese!" every time I handle a camera.

My father in law takes a break from packing the U-HAUL he drove from Texas.

So I thought the lightbulbs in the lamp were covered. A burnt Kleenex box later, I discovered they were not. Almost burn down campmeeting? Check.

A lizard perched on an exterior wall. Yes, I touched a lizard. Yes, I didn't know they jump. Yes, I jumped too. Onto a bench. After screaming.

I heart nephew's JC Penney pose: legs crossed, engaging smile. 

Sweet Husband with nephews. He always looks relaxed around tots. This bodes well.

"Who's the most beautiful mommy in the world?"  "You are!!!" yell the hairbrush-wielding nephews. They bestowed adorable kisses - but never in front of the camera.

Father in law and Grandma at Sweet Husband's party. They played lots of dominoes that week.

World's best mother in law with squirmy, squirmy (did I mention squirmy?) youngsters.

The youth choir sings at an evening service. I like open air tabernacles. The only place you ever use the word tabernacle? Old Testaments studies and holiness campgrounds.

The soaring trees of Bethlehem Family Camp.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Shopping Cart

    Why, Elizabeth, surely you have some Favorite Things to share with us from your shopping cart?
   How do you always read my mind?

   These are pretty basic things, mind you. Recently, Pioneer Woman asked this question of her readers for entry into a giveaway: "what is something you purchased recently just for fun?" And the only thing I could come up with was this:

   Granted, that's some super cool shampoo. It's SWIRLY, people, like a tangerine and pineapple smoothie - for your hair. The inquiring public should note that this is Herbal Essences Hydralicious. 

   Okay, so the economic downturn has me listing shampoo as a fun purchase just for me. But sometimes it's the small things in life.

   Like my brother just walking into the room and teepeeing me. Yes, with toilet paper. Me.

   It helps to enjoy the small things. I've had a gorgeous yellow lily blooming the past several weeks that my sister in law (Hi, Becky!) dug for me out of her flowerbed. I plunked it square in the middle of my front flower bed where its showy blooms were nicely complemented by blue bachelor's buttons. I was going to take a picture of it for you as show and tell. I kept forgetting. Now its season is over. But I do have lots of photos from camp this year. I'll show you some of those later.
Anyway, what else have I been enjoying these days? An old Single Meal favorite: tortellini. Listen up, single gals. You know how sometimes you live in a small apartment and you don't want to cook a whole four person meal but you can't afford to eat out every single meal?

    Insert fanfare for tortellini! Here was a great solution from back in my tiny, cosy apartment days: get refrigerated tortellini from the store, along with a jar of Newman's Own pesto and tomato sauce. Make sure you have cheese on hand - mozzarella, roughly grated parmesan, even goat cheese. Thaw a chicken breast you individually froze for Just Such A Time As This. 

   Grill the chicken breast on your little Single Woman's Foreman grill with oregano, basil, salt and pepper. Cook the tortellini on the stovetop. Heat the sauce in a pan or the microwave.

   BAM! You have sliced grilled chicken and cheese over tortellini and sauce, without leftovers that would feed Lichtenstein for a year. (Usually it yields one serving plus a small serving for part of lunch the next day. Or, if it's a Friday night and you're in by yourself watching Sandra Bullock movies, the tortellini will yield One Large Serving.)

   What, those days are past? Fear not! You can still make this yummy dish, just get the larger family sized package of Buitoni three cheese tortellini, instead of the smaller package. They also have several varieties, including herbed chicken tortellini. You know what else would be good? Sauteing some portobello mushrooms and adding them to the sauce. OOOH, or sauteing some black olives and portobello mushrooms and throwing them in. I'm in HEAVEN.

    So what Free Delights have I been relishing lately?

    Well, for starters, Pioneer Woman's new recipe networking site, Tasty Kitchen. Wow. There are a lot of cool recipes on there that you can store in your website recipe box. You can search recipes or search members. Like for instance, I found other members from central Kentucky that I'm now Tasty Kitchen friends with. I also found other members who like to listen to Over the Rhine. I'm friends with them too. 

    I feel so loved.

   Another free delight? Don't laugh: cool weather. It's so delighfully, unseasonally cool today I have my windows open (saving on energy bill) and my hands are chilly! This makes my heart sing. It makes me think of school supplies and sweaters and apple cider. My toes are wriggling and my face, I'm sure, looks serene. My Sweet Husband relishes hot, sweaty weather. I endure it - in the air conditioning. I think it's his Cuban blood and my Highland blood coming into conflict. But he would move to The North and I would move to The South for the other. It's sweet, really, the depth of our sacrificial, beyond-state-line love. If I wrote it in the Civil War days, I would probably have a Mason-Dixon line romantic bestseller on my hands. 

  Another free option: this didn't work well for me, but only because of my....shall we say, my forgetfulness. is a great site where, well, you swap. Books, CDs, movies, you list on your profile what you have that you'd be willing to part with, and the site automatically matches what you have with what other people want - and vice versa. 

   So you have two lists: have list and want list. The site alerts you saying HEY! You have a book so and so wants, and so and so has a movie you want, do you want to trade? And then you say yes, and you're sent the person's address and they get yours and then they send you your part of the bargain, and then you forget to send them theirs because it's crazy in your life and you just found out you're unemployed AND knocked up, and then the website starts sending you threatening emails about how you promised them this book and now they're actually wanting to receive it. So then you finally send it, after they threaten to hang you by your toes. 

   And then you realize maybe Swaptree isn't for you.

   But it could be great for people whose lives aren't turned upside down and chaotic.

   Right now, you're asking, "good grief, you're not even working, how could you fail to mail a stupid book?" I'll TELL you. First of all, it just wasn't a big priority. Second of all, have YOU puked your guts up lately in a first trimester haze of nausea? I didn't think so. 

    Anyway, it's a great program for trading books and movies and whatnot and works really well when everybody does what they say they're going to do. 

    Anyway, off to cross my fingers and hope I win the Kitchen Aid mixer Pioneer Woman is giving away. I never do, but I live in hope. Yes, I already have a Kitchen Aid mixer. But think of what I could do with an extra! I could keep it, give it away as a present, sell it on eBay, throw it out my car window at people who do stupid things on the road, present it to Someone In Need in a high-profile ribbon cutting ceremony. The possibilities are ENDLESS.

Thank You, Lord, for Chinks in the Wall

     Sometimes victories aren't measured by distance run, mountains scaled, or merits achieved. Sometimes victories are, rather, the art of not collapsing; the placement of one marathon-weary foot in front of the other; the quiet, negative space of simply not giving in. These are quiet victories. No horn blasts. No headline proclaims. No ticker tape floats majestically. But you know that you haven't given in. You know the deep shadows of your soul. You know the abyss well, the cracks and crevices in which you placed your fingers, feeling for a more sure grip as bloodied knuckles scrape against the cliff you cling so desperately to.

   Not much is said about the temptation of giving up. Giving up hope; giving up faith; giving up your own determination; giving into fear; giving into despair; giving into sour cynicism; giving into sarcastic doubt of the goodness of God.

  Anyone who's fumbled for candles in the long, dark night of the soul knows this temptation well. This temptation always brings a guest, fear: fear of fatigue so deep you'll never escape; fear of a betrayed trust in God; fear that your worst fears are true: that when you wake up in the middle of the night from a nightmare, that there will be no one there, by your side or cosmically, to comfort you.

   Prolonged battle is wearying. Each spiritual muscle aches just from fending off the enemy, much less hurting from injuries suffered and wounds endured.

   Do I hear an amen?

   Recently I've become blessedly aware that many women and men across the country are finding themselves in the same dark night as I have. I don't wish those long, dark hours on them - but I'm glad to know I'm not alone. Lights are shining from windows from coast to coast in the wee hours, sleepless inhabitants numbed and bleary-eyed from the stretch and strain on endurance. A lot of it circles around to job loss, loss of income, loss of home, loss of the ability to give provision to loved ones; loss of health, loss of the ability to procure rest, vacation, and relaxation; loss of peace.

   Let me give a pastoral word of comfort, if that's okay: when you find yourself in the abyss - and make no mistake, you will at some point in your life - when you find yourself there, too tired to cry, too frustrated to move, remember something. 

   It's okay to not be normal for a while. But it's also imperative to keep. To keep trying, to keep dragging yourself up, scanning for chinks in the wall. I saw a movie once that portrayed a more than average joe attempting to run a marathon with little athletic experience. It visually portrayed the wall he hit - brick on brick, blocking his road. He stopped. He started slowly weeping. He was already the last runner on the trail. Hours had passed since the beginning of the race. He swayed and almost fell from sheer exhaustion. Then, slowly, he started putting one sneaker in front of the other, moving one brick at a time. Brick by brick, step by step, he plowed through the wall.

   How do you eat an elephant? the proverb asks.
   One bite at a time.

   One of the defeating elements for me when I find myself in an abyss is the way I feel unplugged from my faith. When I look at my Bible, I feel like an ill person suffering from an epidemic a hundred and fifty years ago: I'm looking at a bowl of soup, hungry, sick, and tired, knowing I need the nourishment - but I'm too weak to lift the spoon to my mouth. When I wake up to find myself still in the dark night, that's how I feel about Scripture. I manage to swallow a few verses from a Psalm. And then I lay my head back on the pillow, feeling feeble and drained.

   And that's when I'm desperate for a chink to appear in the wall: music calms my soul because I simply sit and receive; encouraging fiction, like Jan Karon's "Mitford" series feeds my mind from the back door to my heart. I found myself encouraged today by, of all things, the nativity story. Why? Because with my steadily progressing pregnancy, I find myself sharing something new with Mary. I look forward to being very lo, with child, this Advent season. I think it will feed my soul, feeling a baby kicking in my womb while I sing Christmas carols about the Christ child. Christmas in July, you ask?

   It's my chink in the wall, a space to slip my fingers into, grasping, pulling aside bricks to widen the stream of light coming through.

   I think it's important to compare and contrast the dark night of the soul and clinical depression, because sometimes they overlap, coincide, are tangled up, or are one and the same. Not always - but I do believe they often interact. Here's one of the best descriptions of (the poorly named) depression that I've ever read: 

"I had had a short and really quite catastrophic marriage and I'm left with this baby and I've got to get this baby back to Britain and I've got to rebuild us a life," Rowling recalled. "...Adrenalin kept me going through that and it was only when I came to rest that it hit me what a complete mess I had made of my life and that hit me quite hard."
     Her deep depression inspired the creation of dementors, "the foulest creatures that walk this earth," who prey on people's happiness and suck out their souls in the Harry Potter series.
     "I was definitely clinically depressed. And that's just characterized for me by, a numbness, just a sort of coldness and an inability to believe that you will feel happy again or that you could feel light-hearted again," she said. "It's just all the color drained out of life really."
     That may or may not sound familiar to you. But maybe this does:
"You ask if I have ever faced such a thing as you are currently facing. My friend, exhaustion and fatigue are a committed priest's steady companions, and there is no way around it. It is a problem of epidemic proportions, and I ask you to trust that you aren't alone.  Sometimes, hidden away in a small parish as you are now - and as I certainly have been - one feels that the things which press in are pointed directly at one's self.
I assure you this is not the case.
An old friend who was a pastor in Atlanta said this: "I did not have a crisis of faith, but of emotion and energy. It's almost impossible for leaders of a congregation to accept that their pastor needs pastoring. I became beat up, burned out, angry, and depressed."
The tone of your letter does not indicate depression or anger, thanks be to God. But I'm concerned with you for what might follow if this goes unattended.
Keep a journal and let off some steam. If that doesn't fit with your affinities, find yourself a godly counselor.
I exhort you to do the monitoring you so sorely need, and hang in there. Give it a year!
(excerpt, "At Home in Mitford," letter from Bishop Stuart Cullen to Episcopal priest, Fr. Timothy Kavanaugh)
Keep this in mind: if enough lamps are burning in kitchen windows at three a.m., representing sleepless women and men awake and experiencing every minute of the dark night of the soul, eventually, the pools of light will melt together in combined radiance, and will chase away the darkness. 
You are not alone.