Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Living my passion as I greet the New Year

New column freshly posted on The Holmes Bargain Hunter

Did 2013 not just arrive on golden wings yesterday? I blinked and it was gone along with several milestones and fresh ones looming on the horizon. Time flying is an adult’s business because when you are young you can hardly wait for things to happen – becoming a teenager, getting a driver’s license, graduating. As an adult the moments and events fly by and you scratch your head as another rounds the corner at full speed. I’ve compiled a list of things I want to accomplish in the new year or have accomplished this year. Maybe it’s just a list of wishes that if I work hard enough, will come true as the moments move along and I try to grasp them:

1) I wish for a reverence for taking care of my body. When we’re young our bodies work. Period. As we get older we start feeling little tweaks here and there and realize that, hey, we might want to start taking care of the shell we walk around in. There’s a good chance it might give up before we’re ready for it to! 

2) The ability to manage money in a better way. I’ve come a long way in this area and I have worked hard at it. I never really learned much about it until it was time for me to all of a sudden be married and pay bills. My husband is a whiz at saving and managing money but I had to learn the hard way. I feel in control of myself for the first time in years and want my kids to be smarter than I was. Imparting money knowledge to your kids is the best thing you can ever do.

3) Start writing that book. I know. If you run into me at the store please keep asking me if I’ve started it…as you all already do!

4) Savor each moment and milestone that comes my way. Stuck in line at Walmart? Look around and instead of getting impatient, smile – and I mean BIG – at the next person who looks at you. Smiles can be heard around the world. I also want to savor my last child graduating. I want to take each wave of excitement and sadness, stew in it for a moment, and let it wash over me. Too soon they are all gone and their voices are but an echo in the rooms they once occupied.

5) I want to learn to listen to God’s nudges, and I mean actually shout back “Yes God! I hear you and for once I will listen!” Nudges turn into blessings and sometimes, very big things. This Christmas season I finally listened to several nudges and am changed for it. 

6) Lastly, I want to start living a life that I want to live. I don’t want to be doing things, day by day, that are meaningless to me. Our lives, these small pockets of time in the universe, drain away minute by minute. What are we doing with them? Yes, we need money to survive. Yes, we need to earn that. There are things, though, that God has instilled in us. Our drive, our needs, our strengths that enable us to earn that living doing what we love. The things that when our passion and abilities combine we become unstoppable. I want that. I will have it. Through His grace I will achieve it. A life lived any other way is just living. 

Happy New Year. Find the passion in your life and really start living, not just existing.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Stop in your tracks and let Christmas find you

My newest column on The Holmes Bargain Hunter touches on whether we actually feel Christmas. I'm choosing to revel in it. 

Christmas week, in all its grandeur and preparation, has arrived on hushed wings in the night. As we are rushing around to gather last minute stocking gifts and food to prepare, the time to celebrate our Lord – tiny yet mighty – has arrived in full flush. Twinkling lights meet my eyes as I gaze upon the nativity scene I put up every year. Bought back in the 90s, my manger scene is lovely with its rustic stable and glass figurines. Every year I threaten to paint the baby Jesus hair because I know that someone made a mistake somewhere. Baby Jesus was definitely not a blonde. Even so, he is nestled deep in his manger while Mary and Joseph stand guard, a stout shepherd herds his sheep nearby, and the colorful wisemen are so very nearly there to bring their gifts from afar. Along with gifts and sparkly lights on the tree, this nativity scene is here to remind me that Christmas, above all else, is to remind us there is a savior.

What is something you remember from your Christmas’s past? Childhood memories flood through me and like scenes from a silent movie I browse through them, sifting and sorting, until the most precious moments come to me. I remember our stockings hung over the mantle with the fire gently burning. Stocking gifts were like tiny treasures, all wrapped up in their miniature splendor. Each one was opened and savored. To this day, my kids take turns opening one stocking gift at a time so the magic is extended precious minute by minute. From my memory banks comes the Christmas my dad made us handcrafted items. My younger sister received a dollhouse, replete with carpet and curtains, while I received a tiny homemade cupboard filled with plastic fruits and vegetables, plus boxes of pretend cereal and soup. The hours we played with these were endless. When I was 12 years old, we opened a box that contained an Atari system and the shrieking commenced. I played it hours on end that break and Space Invaders and I became the closest of friends. 

Most of all, though, I remember time spent with family. Our big event is Christmas Eve when all my sisters and their families get together for our grand shindig. We graze appetizers and exchange gifts. We always went caroling through mom and dad’s neighborhood as a pack, our voices ringing through Berlin, and when they moved it was never quite the same. I remember the excitement when my brother would make the trek home to spend Christmas with us. He brought so much life to the gatherings and when he left us too soon, there was a hole in the festivities that was never quite filled. One by one we got married and added brothers-in-law to Christmases and our numbers grew. Christmas Eve, though, is the one time – no matter how many times it’s hard to get together throughout the year – that we all gather. We make memories for the new generation.

Christmas Rush on Behance

So as you’re rushing through the store for that one final gift, or baking the umpteenth batch of sugar cookies, stop in your tracks. Look around and let Christmas wash over you in a fresh way. Drain from your mind the anxiety we feel to provide the most perfect of Christmases. See your children, really see them. Find your husband or wife and look in their eyes, really look. This is where Christmas is. It’s in our loved ones that co-exist beside us. The ones we sometimes don’t see as we are rushing to Christmas day in a haze of wrapping paper and sweets. It’s not in the perfectly decorated homes we seek. Sometimes it’s in the tangled cords of lights that just won’t come unraveled, balls of knots that still shine so brightly and beautifully that its beauty is piercing. Let go of these expectations and really feel Christmas because all too soon it’s gone - tucked away along with the straggly bits of tinsel to be brought out next year. Moments, wrapped in dark corners of twinkly-lit kitchens, kisses lavished on precious cheeks, and deep chats around the tree with nearly grown children. This is Christmas. This is what we seek along with the ravishing birth of our savior. Don’t let it pass you by.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Who do we consider to be the "other"?

This column is near and dear to my heart. Newly posted on The Holmes Bargain Hunter

This morning, I have a very large mug of java steaming beside me as I type - on a computer with working Internet. This is the norm, it’s a taken-for-granted luxury that I know will be in my cupboard for me to pull out and brew every day of my life. I know when I turn on my computer the Internet will hum into working order. It’s called comfort and the knowing of things that will be. This morning, someone will get up and get dressed, head very early into work hoping to get a cup of coffee there because their cupboard is nearly bare. This person will look very normal, dressed in what our world deems “regular” clothing. They will drive into work in a car that is decent, and will get them to and from where they need to go, but never very far. That mysterious noise it is making might eventually get louder and you don’t want to be on the road when that happens. Taking it in for service is not a choice right now because the electric bill is due this week. Choices are what life seems to be made up of, hard ones and soft ones. Some of us will never have to make tough life choices. Life on the edge of the abyss, where you tread softly and hope there isn’t a major catastrophe to throw you over: a dryer dying, several tires going flat, a stove stops heating. These are the things that for most of us wouldn’t be worthy of batting an eye. Then there are those of us that an incident smaller than these I stated, cause that abyss to yawn even larger and wider. That appliance can’t be fixed with love.

We live in a society that ignores this sector, or doesn’t seem to know they exist. We are either rich or poor. If you have experienced poverty you know there really is no middle class – because the middle class are rich as well. They HAVE. To the world, this section of people looks normal. They own houses, they own cars, they dress in ways not “poor” as ridiculous as that sounds. They go to work, or make the choice to stay home and raise their children. They pay their bills and taxes and sometimes don’t have enough to buy groceries, so the electric bill doesn’t always get paid. But they are working – working and contributing – yet they remain the working poor. These people are invisible to most. They become visible if they get help - and are judged harshly by others that say they are taking advantage of Uncle Sam’s dime. Where has the viciousness come from, my friends? The words, the cartoons, the outrage that spews on social media and elsewhere? We have been reduced to a society that doesn’t care for our poor. We have been reduced to hate for anyone that needs help. We turn the other cheek and get in our working cars and drive away, to our homes that are warm and full of coffee and milk. Homes with freezers full of meat. We each make our own way, and to have is never a bad thing. It’s the not sharing that is the shame. 

Christmas, above all else, should be a time of plenty and not want. I’ve been touched by several souls that have expressed a hatred for December and all it brings. The Christmas season, above all, should be the one time everyone feels loved. Yet for a lot of people, it only reiterates what they can’t give or afford. This is not whining. This is not complaining. This is fact. I have been moved to tears over their feelings of despondency and am trying to figure out how I can help. With Christmas full on us, I’m hoping a way opens up for me to show my love for them. To give with a smile, not a heart that is PROUD about the giving. 

While my husband and I work and provide gifts for our children every Christmas, there were very lean times as well. There were times when I was on my knees begging God to change our situation. With my nose pressed to the floor, I lay there and asked what I could do differently. When situations are dire, you either stay down or you get creative. Even with those feelings of despondency you learn to make the best of your situation. These are the people who learn to live more simply, learn the rules of couponing and find ways to bring food to the table when there isn’t enough money. There is resiliency in the working poor. We must find ways to help them and not turn away because we feel it will create a “dependency” on good deeds. They will continue to work, and they will continue to make choices for their families that – in our ambient light – seem like not good decisions. When you are working and still can’t afford health care, or can’t afford your mortgage that is upside down – then you can say that their decision was not a good one, because then, you will have walked a mile in their shoes. Let’s do better. Let’s love and not hate. Let’s give and not remain selfish.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Let us look past the glitter and see the grit around us

New column freshly posted on The Holmes County Bargain Hunter

As you read this, Thanksgiving will be but a memory from 2013 and Christmas will be coming full force upon us. I’m taking a moment to feel the silence and wonder of this holiday season. Before I put my tree up and let the twinkle lights take over the room, I want to embrace December and all its quiet grace--because once I let the madness in, it’s all over. 

I want to seize the pockets of solitude--those ones before the pressure of finding the perfect gift turns my brain into mush. Every year I decide that the gifts won’t be the focus. Every year I find myself trying to be equal and creative with gifts, yet that awful feeling of “there aren’t enough presents under the tree” tries to creep in. I’m killing that monster this year. My kids are gracious receivers and have told me that they don’t want tons of gifts, just a few meaningful ones. I like the way this is going.

It hits me square in the face though, how I’m already thinking what to buy, and there are so many people that will be lucky to have food on their table or even a place to sleep. I read an article this weekend called “Why I make terrible decisions, or, poverty thoughts” which you can read athttp://tinyurl.com/k3hg2rf.

Her prose slices like a knife and it will either make you mad or make you cry. We oft times sit by our tree or up to a big Thanksgiving meal without giving a thought to the bounty we have. We judge the poor, whether it be in discussion or on Facebook, which happens at an alarming rate. 

I love my Christmas, and I also love my Thanksgiving, and I’m not suggesting that we should give it up because others don’t have. What I’m suggesting is a bit more compassion. The amount of bashing I’ve seen about people on food stamps and various other government programs should cause immense amounts of shame. I have cringed at things I’ve seen and heard. Read this woman’s article and her thought process, and tell me you feel the same disgust afterward. It’s a path most of us haven’t traveled. 

There are angels amongst us, and I wish I could claim it was me. Instead, I will claim her as my best friend whom I met almost 26 years ago. Several years ago she heard God calling her to feed the homeless. She never wavered. One Christmas morning she made a roaster full of sausage gravy and biscuits, and packed some coats and gloves. Her family and her took off to the meanest streets of Akron and opened up the back of their car and fed the people who hesitantly slipped out of the shadows. 

She’s been doing this every other weekend for several years now. She doesn’t want any recognition, none at all, but God has blessed her and her work in a big way by providing her with a trailer to feed people out of. At one end is food, and at the other are supplies and clothing that are all donated. She said, “Lots of people ask me how I can do it. What if they sell the clothes to buy drugs or alcohol? I’m not here to judge these people and ask each one what they will do with what we give them. I’m here to love them for this moment.” 

This is the kind of love we need to have. The kind of love that looks past a junkie and his appearance and gives him a plate of steaming sausage gravy and fluffy biscuits. The kind of love that doesn’t say we “shouldn’t make them dependent” because they will just want more. The kind of love that comes from God and doesn’t condemn. You can find her reluctantly made Facebook page called Love is a Verb at www.facebook.com/loveisaverb08.

With that being said, the gifts I’m concerned about getting don’t seem so important anymore. One by one, they will be purchased and nestled under the tree, and I will gaze in wonder at the twinkling lights in the dark, as I have every year I’ve been alive. 

I want to feel more, though, more than the pressure that’s put on us to get our tree up earlier and earlier. Are we searching for more than just the Christmas spirit we feel decorations bring? This year I saw blinking lights in a few houses back in October. Could it be that we gorge on the feeling Christmas brings us? Does it make us feel happy and content? Or is it a hollow feeling that we try to capture earlier and earlier because regular life just doesn’t cut it? 

As I was doing a bit of shopping this past weekend, I found myself maniacally singing holiday songs that were blaring at top volume in the store I was in. I love the songs, but not the fact that the store had me in its claws, forcing holiday cheer down my throat earlier than I wanted it to. I love Christmas so much. I love the splendor, the smell of fresh pine in my home, and the gathering of loved ones for food and merriment. Are we content, though, when the tree is hustled down and all the tinsel and glitter are swept away? Do we keep Christmas in our hearts as January, cold and chill, sweeps in upon us? Do we remember those that are wrapped inside cardboard boxes so they don’t freeze to death or are we content to keep judging them and the various government programs they take advantage of?

We of plenty and no want. We of overabundant holiday joy. Let us not forget the ones that are less fortunate, because God hasn’t forsaken them. Let their lament touch us, if just for fleeting moments, so we can know that this life isn’t all sparkly Christmas ornaments and lights.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The empty spaces

This Monday morning washes over me like a warm, fuzzy blanket. I’m curled up in my chair, coffee steaming beside me, while I contemplate my life and craziness it has been lately. Soccer season, for us and our senior son, is over. We went on a deep tournament run that ended one game shy of that elusive state berth. What a wonderful season it was, but as with anything that keeps us busy and happy--what happens once it’s over? 

It’s hard to look ahead and see what might be on the horizon because it’s easy to stay in the now. Now was easy--work, attend games, cook supper when I could, repeat. I didn’t really look ahead because I was enjoying all that was around me. After we came home Saturday night, mentally tired from the game, I sat on the couch and let the tears fall. Another milestone done, my baby the senior is done. I have watched my last soccer game as a parent. He will graduate in the spring and we will officially be empty nesters. Saying that it hit me hard wouldn’t quite get it right. 

When our kids are young, a lot of times we put off the dreams we’ve harbored inside. Our younger selves, full of ideas and dreams, are set to the side when children come along. At least this is the case with me. I was more focused on making sure my kids had a great childhood than focusing on me. There are many moms, I’m sure, who are able to do career and kids, but I wasn’t included in that. My make-up meant that I couldn’t go to work and yet give my kids the attention I wanted them to have. This was my choice and I would never go back and do it differently. Now, though, I am faced with that space that stretches after the kids leave. I can almost sense the solitude of the house, which I so longed for when they were little, and I’m a little afraid of it.

My husband ever so gently told me this, “Honey, now you will have me all to yourself!” I chuckled and know that yes, we are still young and are going to have fun rediscovering what WE like to do. It doesn’t need to involve anyone but us. So I’m faced with this barrage of lasts: Hunter’s last home game, his last tournament game, and his last day of school ever. These lasts are coming fast and furious, and that means I must face myself and what I plan to do with my one wild and precious life. 

My middle daughter, she of the sage words, told me this: “Mom, you’re going to find yourself and do what you’ve always wanted to do.” She may be right. For my birthday several weeks ago, I received three separate gifts that point me to what I should be doing full time. Selena gave me a journal; she said to write down my dreams, bits of ideas and make them happen. My sister gave me a wall hanging that says, “A dream not followed is a story untold,” and Belle gave me a beautiful bracelet with a pendant that has a fingerprint over the world--to make my mark, she said, because I make people think with my writing. 

How can I, after those pointed gifts, wallow in pity because my kids are nearly gone? My husband, my support and my rock, knows I have this in me and can’t understand why I’m not going for it. Why I’m staying safe in my little shell that I’ve created. He’s right, of course, and my thought process is slowly changing over to me--to Missy--to what I used to be combined with what my life has made me now. 

The drive inside me is finally revving up. I’ve been shown over and over the way my life is to go. People I don’t even know catch my eye as I’m going about errands. They say “I know you from somewhere, don’t I?” and I just smile and know that they have probably read my column. They probably recognize me from my picture in the paper. I had a lady in a doctor’s office in another town ask me if I was the lady from the paper and say how much she loves my writing. I’m reaching people in ways I couldn’t fathom. My voice is being heard. 

We need to embrace ourselves and the strengths we have. We shouldn’t be martyrs and say to ourselves that it’s cocky or immodest to use what God has given us to use. Just as He gives us gifts, He gives us talents that we are to use and use to the limit. Why else would we have them? To languish inside and be frustrated that they never got to come out? 

I should add to that birthday list a box of chocolates that Hunter bought for me. He knows me well. He gave me a huge hug and kiss last night and you know what he said? “Sometimes you just need a hug, Mom.” He knows me, knew I was sad about the game and the lasts I’m going through. Soon he will be gone too, but I can rest assured that my kids have been well prepared for this world. They will be fine and will flourish. The empty spaces they create in my house when they leave, the spaces in between, will allow me to find me. It will point me even further on the path I’m already on. My kids and husband know this about me because I gave them so much of myself. I can’t disappoint them by staying safe, now can I?

Monday, November 18, 2013

A dollar store and a town I once knew

You can find this article of mine on The Holmes County Bargain Hunter.
There’s been lots of talk lately in our small town about a dollar store that will soon be making its appearance. I’ve heard both sides of the story and from what I’ve gathered it’s split down the middle about 50/50 for approval. Sounds like a political divide, doesn’t it? That being said, the question people are asking is this: “Why does Berlin need a dollar store? It will make us look tacky!”

This is not my opinion. If you want my opinion, I love dollar stores and everything about them. Value, convenience, not walking 12 miles to get what I need in a giant store, and did I mention value? They have everything you need in a bigger store but packed into a tighter space. They also accept coupons -- what could be wrong with this scenario?

The argument is that our town will be tainted by the presence of a dollar store. That Berlin is too high end for one and that it will ruin what our town is. These feelings I have heard over and over in asking people in general what their thoughts are -- and believe me, I’ve asked a lot of people. That being said, I’m not sure what exactly this said dollar store will ruin about Berlin. Let’s go back to the Berlin I knew growing up.

I grew up in the third oldest house in Berlin. The alley behind our house had grass lining the center of it and we used to zoom our bikes up and down until we could go no more. This alley now holds many businesses like The Farmstead Restaurant, Killbuck Savings bank, and several big and fancy hotels. Needless to say I was sad to see my beloved alley become so big, but that’s progress. Uptown held many treasures like the Boyd & Wurthmann Store where I would bike to and purchase candy bars and a bottle of pop. It was a town a 10-year-old could ride through without fear of getting run over. About the only businesses uptown were the Quilt Shop, the restaurants, the bank, and the gas station at the corner of 39 and 62 where they would not only pump gas for you, but clean your windshield and check your oil all in one stop. The Berlin Sweet Shoppe still stood across from the school and I once got in trouble for biking down that far. The coneys, oh, the coney dogs they served there were out of this world and I can still taste them sometimes in my dreams. In my teenage years I worked there one summer and have fond memories. That building is now long gone.

I can still picture how it used to be coming down main street, and I’m sure many older than me can picture it with even less businesses. Stutzman’s car lot, the barber shop, Berlin square with the elevator still intact. That was the place to park and watch cars go by and see who was cruising through town. I remember when Kandel’s store stood where the coffee shop is now. I can see my 5-year-old self browsing the aisles and taking home a water gun without paying for it and mom taking me back in to give it back and apologize. Places where we grew up and learned lessons. All those places are now gone, only to be replayed in my memory.

So you ask me now, will a dollar store ruin our town? No, it won’t. It will simply be added to all the other businesses that line the streets of a town that only exists in my mind. It will be another place we can stop to pick up toilet paper, or poster board for a school project that our kid forgot about. What I mourn for will be the house that was torn down to make way for it -- I mourn for all the houses that have been torn down to make way for progress. I love Berlin, but the Berlin I knew has long since disappeared. It is now a town I drive through with blinders on. It is a town I avoid on a fall afternoon when I know the line of cars will snake past the Burger King. Even the back roads are full of tourists meandering their way around, driving with their tourist glasses on. We should be glad for the money they pump into our community, and we are. Yet I can see that place not so long ago when we could walk through town and still feel like we were a town full of life, full of our people, full of community. A town where we could gather at the old fire station uptown for a Halloween parade, all the of us kids dressed to the nines, and march down main street and end up at the school for our prizes and bobbing for apples. Those times are gone, along with what our town once was. Progress comes and expands us to the bursting. Progress comes and changes us. Progress comes along with dollar stores and big gas stations that pump our cars with gas. It comes and we keep moving along with it. We must preserve our memories though, of the houses that are now gone, the businesses that have moved along, and all the lost spaces in between. A dollar store will not ruin Berlin, because the Berlin I once knew is now gone.

“In those days, at least in my small town, parents didn't seem to worry so much about what their kids were doing as long as they made it home in time for dinner.”  ~K. Martin Beckner

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Guilt, cooking, and a well-used crockpot

It hasn’t seemed much like fall lately, although the leaves are littering my yard in that lazy way that they do. The weather has been warm – downright hot – and when I get hot in October I start to get angry. Not at anyone in particular, just myself. I want to walk outside and feel a crisp breeze with just the right nip in the air. I want to clean my flower beds without breaking a sweat, and so far, I haven’t been able to do that. Come January, when the snow and winds are howling, you won’t hear me complain about the cold because I LOVE winter and everything it brings – snow, wind, blizzards – everything. 

Fall means crockpot time – soups, stews and cuts of meat braised for hours until fork tender. I haven’t much felt like using my crockpot because it hasn’t been cold enough. I know, I know – you can use a crockpot year-round and believe me I do. Maybe it’s just cooking in general. Ever get that feeling that your family may never eat a good meal again? That you might just set up camp on the couch and growl if someone asks you to make them something? This has been me lately, and I don’t like it. Granted, I’m not the mom/wife that hops up to make said family anything they desire at any hour of the day. I make supper, bake snacks, keep the fridge stocked, and when all is cleaned up you are on your own. Have you heard about the woman whose boyfriend told her that if she makes him 365 sandwiches over a period of time that she will have earned herself an engagement ring? Right around 20 sandwiches would’ve been my breaking point. I may have taken the bread, decorated it with ketchup and mustard, and slapped it on either side of his head. No one gets to EARN an engagement ring by making sandwiches – we are not slaves to the kitchen and the old-time saying that women belong “barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.” My love is freely given, as is the food I make with love, not earned with meat and bread. 

My dilemma, shall we say, is that I’m too tired. After work, my thought process has almost ground to a halt after answering phones at work all day. This is where I need to do a little prep work and have my crockpot do the work for me. I’ve said before that I need to plan out my meals, maybe just on the days that I work, so that I feel I’m accomplishing some sort of feat in the kitchen. I know, though, that I’m just not a meal planner type person and I don’t really want to be. That would be too cliché for me. I can be a good wife and cook without having fancy charts that tell me what I need to be popping in the oven. Case in point, it’s a Monday morning and I’m typing this column. I know I should probably get out a package of meat to use for the evening’s meal. Sometimes I forget if I’m in a hurry. As any good and frugal cook knows, there are ways to get around forgetting to unfreeze the meat. A myriad of good things can be made with canned tuna or chicken, ground beef quickly unfreezes as it’s frying, and beef kielbasa just needs run under water. If I was the canning type, I would can beef. We are a resourceful lot, us women, and we don’t let an empty frying pot or pan get us down. 

I may need to be satisfied knowing that my family does love my cooking, even if it’s not every night. I make savory enchiladas, stacks of gooey quesadillas, and spicy salsa that scalds the tongue as you dip into it. My mashed potatoes are smooth and frothing with brown butter, the chicken is tender that has been browned then simmered in my cast iron pan, and the rices I make, whatever flavor, are fluffier than cotton candy. We, as women, need to stop beating ourselves up if we don’t serve gourmet meals every night. We need to rest easy knowing that our families are being fed, home-cooked or not, and that no one will starve. I have a great repertoire of recipes that I can cull from on a moment’s notice, and I welcome new ones that I can add. Cooking is not the all-day affair that it used to be and we need to embrace that and create new strategies that leave us time to be with our families while feeding them just as well.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Sandpaper people

Teacher Tom: The Tradition Of The Sandpaper Gingerbread Babies
You can catch this post on my column at The Holmes County Bargain Hunter 

Blinders, that’s what we need - like horses trotting down the street so things to the left and right of us don’t distract or upset us. So we can travel through this world blindly, untouched, unmoved by people and things around us. So our world stays sterile and unruffled. That’s what we need, blinders.

Our world, the one spinning on its axis as we speak, as it hurtles us round and round so fast that we stand still, has lots of different people in it. There are people that we love, the ones that we gather close enough to count the hairs on their head. They are the ones who exasperate us to the point of exhaustion, but our love and the commitment of life we have given to them keeps us in the game. It keeps us close to that burning fire of love we have, even though it sometimes dims to a flicker. We must fan that flame so it burns bright enough for us to see it even through the dim, shadowy places we walk. It needs to be there to pull us out. If it goes out, we may be lost forever.

People fill our lives. We have friends, acquaintances, “FB” friends, co-workers (many who we count as friends), spouses, children, people we want to avoid and people that you could consider “sandpaper” people – as my good friend and co-worker used to describe people that rub us the wrong way. Thank you, Angie, for this wonderful way of putting it. If I may speak for everyone, we all have a sandpaper person. Don’t even try to say you don’t have one. 

In our world full of hurting people, having a sandpaper person can take you to the limit. We’re going about our day, getting things done and bam – there is that person. Our childish minds want to flee, run, avoid and ignore. The adult mind, at this point, should step in and remind you to act as an adult. Too often, our adult side doesn’t kick in. Our minds start to falter and our shoulders fill with tension as our faces turn into an ugly grimace that just doesn’t seem to fade. We’ve let our sandpaper person get the best of us. It could be that FB person that posts their political views every other post, or the one that is constantly bragging about their expensive purchases. Maybe it’s someone that doesn’t have a lot of money that we see as being too needy and dependent, or it could be someone that thinks too highly of themselves and we want to knock them down. All of these people exist in the world. All of these people are put in our path for a reason. We, and I include myself in this at times, are failing miserably. 

Without God reminding me on a daily basis, I am a person without compassion. I want to run this race being perfectly selfish and only focusing on myself and what I need. Fortunately, the big guy upstairs keeps on whispering (mostly yelling) in my ear to get over myself. He reminds me that when my sandpaper person comes around to put my big girl clothes on and act like He knows I should. How do we know that the other person doesn’t need love in a big way today? If we round that corner at the store and run smack dab into them, then how can we avoid the fact that it’s for a reason? Why do we pass by people that are less fortunate than us, people that life has simply passed by, and think get off your butt and get to work? Maybe those people need a hand up, not a judging word uttered in pure disgust. We are failing at the things God is putting in front of us. We worry about military strikes in other countries, complain about who should get/deserve healthcare and sustenance help, when people are dying a slow death because our country is devoid of compassion. We’ve got our blinders on and are running fast and furious, straight ahead, without looking to the side. Those blinders need to come off. Those blinders need to be thrown in a pile and burned. We’ve got to scoop ourselves up, fill up our lives with compassion and love, and spread it around to the people that stick in our side like a thorn. If we don’t, we will shrivel away slowly without using the love God has put in our hearts. Take off your blinders and see the big world and all the people in it, sandpaper and all.

Monday, October 28, 2013

I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers

Newest column from The Holmes Bargain Hunter:

Fall is simply the best time to gather your loved ones and hop in the car for a little ride. The leaves are bursting with color, the air is pleasantly cool, and you just need to get outdoors. When I was young, we took lots of car rides down winding back roads. You never quite knew where you would end up, but it never mattered because each turn and patch of woods we traveled through was more magical than the last one. Deep hollows, ridges splashed with the fire of stately trees, and huge rocks you could climb all the way to the top on. We would stop, sometimes, and walk around. Leaves, rocks, small sticks found their way into my pockets and would be carefully placed in my box of treasures when I got home. Usually, we would end up where there was ice cream, and a cone with big drips down the side found its way into my hands.

Here in NE Ohio, fall has a bounty of things to take part in. But fall, especially fall, is when Ohio becomes ethereal in its beauty. I was driving home the other day from a shopping trip and I took the time to soak in the beauty of the fall trees. Fog was drifting in slowly, and the trees were not quite to their point of brilliance for the season. Our rolling hills were so beautiful, and sometimes it takes leaving here to really appreciate them. My daughter, who has lived in Florida for the last four years, tweeted something that went like this, “I hope it rains all day so I can be cozy and smell this pumpkin candle and pretend it's actually fall here.” She loves where she lives but when you grow up with the four seasons it’s hard to get adjusted to fall being hot and humid. For myself, I would simply shrivel up in a corner if I couldn’t breathe fall’s nippy face.

Pumpkin patches, corn mazes, and haunted attractions are a few of the things one can take part in when the fall season comes around. We live right across from a corn maze, so I smell the smoke from their soup pot boiling away across a fire, savory blend of beans and ham. The whoosh of the pumpkin launcher reaches me daily, as do the shrieks of delight from kids on the giant slide. The corn maze itself seems huge to me this year, spreading its vast self out over acres, the rustling of dried corn stalks blowing gently. These kinds of places do charge a fee to get in so be prepared to shell out for your chance to run through the maze.

I also must take the time to buy pumpkins for my porch, for what would it be without those wonderful, orbs of orange? As October 31st nears, my kids and I carve them into grinning faces to be lit with a candle for passers-by to see. It’s a tradition that I will never stop, even when my kids are long gone. Pumpkin-carving is a rite of fall for me. Over the years the beloved pumpkin has taken a hike in price so I may not have as many of the huge ones, and I’m a bit more selective in choosing them. I like to get the ones the sit plump and square – ones I know will grin spectacularly in the twilight.

A lot of people don’t like haunted attractions and shun them with a voracity that puzzles me still. For us, it is also part and parcel of fall. Read this post

I wrote from several years ago to get an idea of what trick or treating was like in Berlin long ago. I miss it still. We’ve taken many a spooky ride through Panther Hollow and to the Headless Angel. It’s part of mine and my kids growing up years. As they got older we would sometimes visit “haunted” corn mazes or hayrides, and older still, visits to The Mansfield Reformatory. There is nothing like a good, spirited chill down your spine. What you make of it is your choice. As for us, it’s something we love to do and the thrill of it never falters. Just this past Friday, October 11, it was my birthday and we headed over to the magnificent Mansfield Reformatory. Chills were to be had around every corner, but I still took the time to stop and marvel at the architecture of the place. We were breathless with excitement until we emerged and will continue to go every year until I can walk no longer. The price of these attractions can be steep – the reformatory was $17 to enter – but we spend more than that on pizza some weekends so if it’s something you’re interested in than I highly recommend it.

Fall is an amazing time here in Ohio. Get out in it. Breathe deeply of the fires that are burning leaves, take the time to sit and stare at the majestic trees, and remember that as far away as you may roam – October still remains in your heart as you knew it from home.

“There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir: We must rise and follow her, when from every hill of flame She calls, and calls each vagabond by name.” –William Bliss

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What burns my skin...

“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.” ~Ghandi

We must stop the rhetoric.
The hate-speak.
And the posturing.

We are blinded by our hate.
By the monster it turns us into.
By the hideous words we spew.
Those of us, who live day by day.
Side by side.

We hate those in power.
We rage and spit fire while the innocent get blamed. 
It's a war that sets me on fire.
My heart. My mind.

I am not blind,
yet I want to turn off the world
so I can breathe again.
And not feel the hate that burns my skin

Friday, October 11, 2013

To my 23 year old daughter on her birthday P.S. Plus what I wish I had known when I turned 23

Esabelle Eden,

First of all, can we just stop and reflect on the fact that I HAVE a 23 year old?

I still feel as young as I did when I had you, but the years have moved along and you are now one year older than I was when you were born.  You were but a sparkle in my mind so long ago. I knew you would arrive sooner or later, but when you did it was in a big way. With your full head of ebony hair, and huge brown eyes we lost our hearts to you.

You still have the fire you always had. You are a survivor, a debater, a thinker, an advocate for change and justice, and full of compassion. I’ve decided this year to give you some words of advice as your turn 23 – words I wish I had heard.

     1)  Stop thinking you’re getting old. After the hotly anticipated age of 21, it may seem as if it’s all downhill from here. Stop it. Right now. As women, we are powerful. Be thankful for the body and strength you have now. Own it. Live it. Take care of it. If someone had told me to appreciate myself at 23 I would have laughed and said I wish I looked like I did when I was 16. We need to stop always wishing for what we WERE  and embrace what we are NOW and love ourselves for where we’re at in life.

     2)  Read more. Find books that feed your soul and inhale them. Scour the internet for articles that put things in focus. Take ideas in. Let bad ideas out. Reading takes you to another world that sometimes we must flee to. A favorite quote on books is this, “Stock your mind – it is your house of treasures and no one in the world can interfere with it.” ~Frank McCourt

     3)  Learn to let go of anger. Be angry, rage, and let it flee. I spent too many years hanging on to things I’ve been hurt by. I’ve learned over the years that it’s not worth it. It only serves to give us stress and worry. People have hurt you. You have been trampled, attacked with words, and mistreated so the hurt and anger still live. It’s time to let it go and just breathe in the cool air of forgiveness and life. You are the strongest girl I know. You walked through STORMS and have come out better – sharpened by steel. Anger has become our enemy. Embrace peace. #PLUR

4    4)  Never take something at face value. Be inquisitive and learn about different ways of thinking and living. Just because you’ve grown up a certain way doesn’t mean that it’s right for YOU. Be wary of people that tell you “that’s the way things are” because they are wrong. We forge our own path. Don’t conform. Swim against the current!

     5)  Stop worrying what people think of you. It took me turning 40 to stop caring what people think. I worried about every little thing, action, and step I took and what people might think of it. I was always TOLD “what will people think” instead of “who cares what people think” and it took me way too long to live differently. We are responsible for our own actions, yes, but not for how others think of them. Live on the edge and be YOURSELF because all the action is out on the edge anyway. Who wants to live in the middle?

     6)  Find someone who loves you. Really loves you for you. I pray for your future husband and if I’ve already met him then hey – we love you, Tyler! Life is short, and it’s especially too short to go through life being with someone that bores you to death. Find someone that makes you laugh – EVERYDAY. Find someone who you can fight FIERCELY with yet know that no one is going anywhere. Never let anyone tell you fighting isn’t good for a relationship - just remember to forgive freely. Find someone that doesn’t make you change who you are to please them. Lastly, find someone who can still make your heart go thump after 25 years together – because it’s amazing.

You are my fierce, willful, beautiful, wonderful, and amazing daughter. You are what I wish I had the guts to be in my youth. I am that way now. I feel better, stronger, and more alive in my 40’s than I did at ANY age. Stay true to your heart and your path will emerge. Never forget Jesus walks beside you and has your back. Travel, go to Ibiza, backpack through Europe, and live with zest. We only get one shot at this life. Don’t live to regret what you never did. You’ve been through too much and come too far to become this girl. Embrace YOU.

I love you,


Monday, September 30, 2013

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing

A fairly recent column in The Holmes County  Bargain Hunter. What is risk to you? 

Risk: the possibility of suffering harm or loss; danger.

There is a quote I love that I remind myself of every single day: “A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.” Repeat that to yourself several times until the meaning becomes entrenched in your brain. 

Most of us don’t like risk. We play our lives safe and sound, never stepping out on a limb to reach for the fruit on the very end. We stay ensconced in our safe homes never really feeling the slap of excitement that comes from doing something slightly scintillating. We see others doing mostly the same, every now and then someone breaks the norm, and we say to ourselves under our breath, “Man, I’m glad that’s not me. I would never be so stupid to attempt something like that. They are really putting themselves at risk.”

For most of us, we’re one financial misstep away from ruin. Paycheck to paycheck is our daily bread, and to even think about stepping out and trying some new venture seems ridiculous. There is no money so how can we attain this dream? So we stop, tuck ourselves deeper into obscurity, and live out our lives nary attempting what was simmering just under our placid surface. We are afraid to take the risk and change our entire lives, because risk involves lots of complex things. It can mean loss, change and going where we haven’t before. It involves being brave and shucking our simple notions to the wind. It means coming out from under the safe haven we’ve created for ourselves. Why in the world, you say, would we want to become risky?

I’ll tell you why, and before I do I will tell you this column is for me – and hopefully what it will be for you as well. As positive and risky as I want to be, I defeat myself before I even attempt things. I have several ideas –ideas that are good – that I talk myself out of before I even begin. Several have been ongoing things that I do. There are several more that have stuck their heads out into the light of day. But with a defeatist attitude I won’t get far. I’m good at preaching to the masses about risk and change, but I’m not good about chucking it all and just going for it. I tell myself there is no money for that and I can’t accomplish it, so why even try? Yet, every morning there it is - that big, fat idea with the word RISK written all over it. I have several friends that have so many irons in the fire, so to speak. They go and go and go and succeed with different ventures. I ask myself, “How do they do it? Do they have time to even breathe?” And maybe, there is the kicker, the one thing I’m scared of. I love my downtime, I love my family and will I have time to see them if I’m going after a risky dream? In truth, I only have one child left at home. He will be gone in a year and then where will I be – sitting at home with my risky business yet to be tried. I’m searching for that sign from God, day after day, to tell me, “Hey Missy, get off your butt and get things done!” Really I’m just fooling myself because God has been giving me signs for years and I’m not listening. How many more does He need to give me? Do I need it lit up in a neon sign in my front yard? Maybe. The truth is some ventures are done by faith not by money. If we have faith and are sure God has got our back then we are disobeying Him by NOT doing it. Wow, here I am sitting at my table disobeying God by not being risky. He has a pretty sharp sense of humor. Will He, though, keep nudging me? Will there come a time when I don’t hear His voice anymore because I’ve chosen not to listen? To be afraid? To not even try? Ecclesiastes 11:4 says this, “He who watches the wind will not sow and he who looks at the clouds will not reap.” If we wait for perfect conditions, it will never happen. It’s time to get down to some risky business.