I Have the Power!!

‘Twas the night before Thanksgiving, dark and quiet. Sounds very relaxing, until you realize it is one day before Thanksgiving and the power just went out after a very bad windstorm with up to 70 mph winds here in Maine. On top of that, we have a well run by electricity, so with no power, there was no running water and we couldn’t flush the toilets. We are also now on digital phone service, so when the power goes, the phone goes, too. Our cell phones receive a very weak signal out here, but they were our only tie to the outside world.

We live in a rural setting neighborhood without street lights anyway, but without any lights of any kind in the houses, the area was pitch black. Inside the house, we got the candles out and sat in front of the wood stove, which was great to have for heat since the furnace was nonfunctioning. I read aloud to Ed from our new book, a biography of Harry Truman, but after a few chapters, I worried about using up my battery-powered reading light, I turned it off and we sat in the quiet. It gave me lots of time to think, of course.

We could have had it much worse. Our daughter, Rachel, and her husband, Chris, and the girls got major wind damage to their roof with shingles all over their yard and resultant leaks inside. Chris, sick already, climbed a ladder in the middle of the rain and wind and took pictures. They still had power. Matt and Sarah in Old Town got lucky. Their house which they just moved into last weekend sustained no damage and they still had power. Three different households affected in three different ways.

Our family celebrates Thanksgiving on Friday so the kids can go to their in-laws on the actual day (they married into big families). So we were lucky in that with the roof damage and power outages, we had an extra day to figure out how to cope. Others were not so lucky. I felt so bad for the thousands of Mainers who were planning on baking and cooking Wednesday, only to find their stoves and refrigerators out of commission. Our power returned at 2:30 a.m. this morning, but when I logged onto the Internet news sources, I saw that many Mainers will still be without power all day today, Thanksgiving. I feel so sorry for those people. No Macy’s parade. No turkey and dressing and pumpkin pie. Some, like us, have some ruined food in the freezer (ice cream I bought for Thanksgiving), and some, like us, are on wells where they have no running water and no toilets, and some, unlike us, have no heat source other than an electric oil furnace. I really feel empathy for those who were to have hosted their family’s Thanksgiving feast, which is hard to do without electricity and running water.

Everything, of course, is high tech these days. The power went out in the middle of the night Tuesday night, and Wednesday when I got to work, I used my work computer to check e-mail and log into the electric company’s web site to report the power outage on our street. By later that morning, thousands were without power. I was surprised when I got home from work that we were still without electricity, and after the aforementioned evening of reading by battery light and candles, we went to bed. The power came back on over 24 hours after it had gone off, again in the middle of the night, and 20 minutes later the phone rang. It was an automated call from the electric company, wanting to verify that, “if your power has returned, press 1,” which I gladly did.

So on this Thanksgiving morning, very early, my main thought is that I am thankful for electricity. How we depend on it! How we are connected by it! My second thought is still about the thousands without power on this special day. My third thought is about the electric crew (apparently from several states) who spent their night before Thanksgiving outside repairing lines.

Oh, well - there is nothing that reinforces the journey to simplicity than sitting in front of a wood fire by candlelight in absolute silence! Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Banana Peels?

In a life such as mine, one filled to the brim with interests, hobbies, fascinating people, work, family and friends, there must be projects that are always put on the back burner. Some things are consistently simmering back there, but occasionally I take one pot off and replace it with another. My stovetop is only so big and my front burners are limited.

Unfortunately, one of the perpetually placed things on the back burner is The Book. No, not the great American novel - this is a book my sister, Joy, and I are writing in collaboration, and it’s a book of children’s sermons.

When Ed was in active ministry, at one point I decided to start the familiar (to me) tradition of children’s sermons in the service. (For those of you who don’t go to church, this is the time in the service where the kids come down to the front, usually sit on a front pew or on the floor, and someone gives a short “lesson” and sometimes hands out “favors” to help them remember the point of the lesson.) I felt there was a need, and boy, I just love stories! I love to hear them and I love to tell them. Over the years I have heard countless children’s sermons. Most were ordinary, preachy, or, well, just plain boring. They either talked over the kids’ heads or were given condescendingly. In the defense of those brave souls who tried to do this, it’s not as easy as it looks to give a children’s sermon. You may have kids whose ages are anywhere from 1 to 12 - quite a broad range. You have kids with limited attention spans. You have kids who have attended church all their lives, and others who never heard of the story of Moses. In addition to all this, you have to remember that the adults are listening, too, and they might as well get something out of it. And in my case, I tried to match the “moral” of the story with Ed’s regular sermon (as well as the hymns), as we always tried to make our church services a seamless entity with a major focus.

In spite of the challenges, I started really enjoying giving children’s sermons. I looked at published books for ideas, but as I had experienced in real life, the sermons in those books were not interesting to me. If I was going to be a good storyteller, I had to really be passionate about the story.

What stories am I passionate about? My own! My life has been so enriched by crazy characters, situations, childhood memories, and I decided I had a fertile background for such stories. So I ditched all the books and started to write my own. I added to these things, tidbits I came across in my reading or on the news, things I observed maybe years ago or just the day before - hmmm...maybe these were actually the seeds for this blog which didn’t germinate until years later!

While I was in middle and east Tennessee giving children’s sermons, Joy was in west Tennessee going to her own church and lo and behold, she started giving children’s sermons as well. People were complimenting us both on our stories, and finally one day the idea began to take root about trying to get them published. Being separated by miles of Tennessee land at first, then by miles and miles of the Eastern seaboard after we moved to Maine, was a challenge, but using the Internet, phone, and occasional visits in person, we formulated a good start for our book. Taking our cue from two of the stories, we fashioned an intriguing title of “Banana Peels and Bumblebees.”

Alas, the demand is not really there for children’s sermon books, it seems. It’s such a specialized niche, and, really, even if a few churches in a city bought it, it would be only a maximum of one copy per church! A friend of mine volunteered to show some excerpts to a published Christian author of her acquaintance to get her critique, and the author gave us a thoughtful response. She detailed our strengths and weaknesses and suggested we might be better off retooling the book for use in families, as more and more families, she said, are having “spiritual” times together. We started the revisions, but life started getting busier, Joy’s girls got to be teenagers with all that entails, and my grandkids started growing up with all that entails, and we sold our house and moved and, well, there it sits on the back burner.

The point to all this: Just like the journey to simplicity, retrieving these stories from our lives required a great deal of introspection. It took observation and awareness - the ability to take any - any - ordinarily mundane and apparently meaningless situation or something somebody said or some other life experience, and squeeze it and wring out the meaning, because I believe you can find meaning in almost anything. There are life lessons in every little thing we experience, every person we come across, everything we see and hear and touch, everything nature gives us, and every other thing life throws our way. The key is to catch the moment and be able to put it into a story.

Frequently, the idea of finding meaning in your life is interpreted as one big thing - what you were called to be, your mission, looking at your life as one big experience. But Joy and I look at meaning in the little things - the memory of our dad picking crabgrass or directing the choir. The memory of our mom eating bananas, or of the time we brought an abandoned kitten back from a cliff in Chattanooga to our home in Memphis. These are some of the stories of our lives. We all have these stories, sitting in us waiting to be observed, given meaning, and shared. The more you find your own stories, the more you learn about yourself, about your relationship with those around you, and about your relationship with God. I encourage you to take some time to find the stories of your life and write some down, for your kids or grandkids or parent or friend - or even just for yourself. You will be amazed at the richness of your life and what it offers to others. Heck, even get a book published! (Then give me the name of your obliging publishers... I have something they might be interested in!)


A thread on clutter and organization on one of my MT sites this morning made me think. What’s so hard about dejunking and decluttering? It’s emotional, that’s what. We may think we are just disorganized or apathetic to clutter, but it’s all a response to emotions. I remember going through my Past Boxes in 2005, trying to decide what to keep and what to toss. I laughed, sobbed, and smiled my way through them. Of course, I put stuff in my Past Boxes for a reason - I thought they were worth keeping.

What about all the other accumulated stuff in the house? A lot of it is created by the emotion of fear: “What if I throw this away and need it again some day?” Guilt: “I shouldn’t have spent good money on this in the first place. If I give it away, it means I’ve wasted my money.” Grieving: “I can’t bear to part with this because is reminds me of someone who’s not here anymore.” Envy: “I can’t downsize because the rest of the neighbors have such nice stuff!” Paralyzing anxiety: “I don’t know where to start, so I just won’t start!” The fact is that it is highly probable that living in chaos is a form of avoidance - our minds are too harried to make important decisions in our lives that need to be made, or to come to terms with our life circumstances, whatever they may be.

I’m not saying emotions are bad; on the contrary, we have to feel them and work through them. That’s what’s hard about downsizing. You have to take a long, hard look at yourself and your priorities, what you consider beautiful and what you consider junk, what you are keeping just for yourself and what you are keeping for future generations to enjoy. It’s not easy; in fact, it can be quite painful - but cathartic.

My mother-in-law and my mother both lived through the Great Depression. Each woman came out on the other side of it changed in some way. My mother-in-law, who was financially well-off when she died, let the Depression turn her into a hoarder. Like Scarlet O’Hara, by God, she was never going to go hungry again! So she became a miser. My mother, on the other hand, came out with the idea that, as she had suffered, she didn’t want anyone else to suffer, so she spent the rest of her life being generous, giving away everything she had to give, living a meager lifestyle herself.

We are all tied up emotionally in our “stuff.” The trick is to dig deep within yourself, analyze the emotions, helpful and debilitating, behind your lifestyle, then act on it. The bad news is that these are decisions you will have to continually remake as long as you live. The good news is that you will learn a lot about yourself in the process.

Happy Birthday, Charlotte!

How did that song go? “....moved to Beverly. Hills, that is. Swimmin’ pools, movie stars.” Yes, some of that and Broadway too was thrown in as the theme of Charlotte’s 3rd birthday party yesterday. Kids could have a photo op for “publicity photos” and take home sunglasses and fake microphones. There were hot dogs and lots of movie popcorn and candy. The annual video documenting the year in creative ways, made by Rachel, her mom, was its usual spectacular self, carrying on the movie star theme in the “premiere.”

One day if Charlotte, the young drama queen (following after her cousin Amelia, the high school drama queen), ever makes it to star status, the pictures of her at 3 years old making faces, wiggling her jean-clad butt, and video of her singing “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” in its entirety will be valuable indeed.

This is the girl who never stops. Getting her dressed is harder than putting a belt on a wet snake (I know - I had to do it yesterday). It is amazing to see the difference between Charlotte and her 5-year-old sister, Caroline. She is totally extroverted, a true party girl, and she will try anything that looks interesting or fun. Yeah, I know. Good luck, Rachel and Chris, huh? Yikes!

So, dear precious Charlotte, happy 3rd birthday! Can I have your autograph?

September 26, 2008, and Beyond

What I’ve learned since Mom’s accident:

1. Life can change in an instant. A few weeks after Mom’s wreck, our daughter Rachel broke into tears on the phone. “Why did this have to happen?,” she sobbed. "Everything was perfect; why did it have to change?” Why, indeed? Because that’s life. It’s unplanned, unrehearsed, and can throw you for a loop in the fraction of a second it takes for you to decide when to turn left, change lanes, go faster in the rain, follow too closely, or even mundane low-risk quick decisions we make each day. Sometimes we all want to shout, “Rewind! Back up! Let’s try that again!” but the die has been cast, and we have to adjust.

2. If you’re in the hospital, please make sure you have a personal advocate, family member, friend, or someone who is concerned about you and can watch out for you. We have had the privilege during this time to meet some dedicated, talented nurses and doctors and hospital staff. We’ve also had to deal with neglect, incompetence, miscommunication, medication mixups, apathy, hostility, and just plain rudeness. It is a scary thing to be a patient in a hospital. You need all the backup you can. Believe me.

My sister wrote everything down - people she talked to and when she talked to them, Mom’s vital signs, condition, improvement or deterioration, tests, what the social worker said, what the doctor said, what the nurse said, what Mom ate at mealtimes, what meds she got (or didn’t get). She started her notebook so she wouldn’t forget all the loads of information she was trying to process, but it turned out to be a detailed journal of Mom’s medical journey. That notebook has been a lifesaver for us - even though it appeared to make the hospital staff quite nervous at times.

3. If life goes according its customary route, we will all get old. Plan for it. I’m not talking just about retirement living expenses, folks. I’m talking about Living Wills, regular wills, powers-of-attorney, names on bank accounts, Medicaid supplements, insurance policies - the works. Organize your information so it is easily retrievable in case of emergency, remembering to shred old documents with personal information. Fortunately, our mother still has a sharp mind and can tell us where to find these things. Some aren’t so lucky. I often use our dad as a role model. He was the epitome of organization, keeping meticulous detailed records of, for instance, utility bills that were 30 years old. He could track decades of expenses. When he died unexpectedly at age 64, we looked in his file cabinet and there was a folder marked “Death” with all the funeral/burial information we needed. Do you have loved ones? Plan ahead. Please.

4. One word - Friends. These are the times when you rely on your friends. From e-mails of support to phone calls to visits to referrals - our friends have been there. Mom, my sister, and I have the most amazing circle of friends, many of them the result of lifelong relationships, unbreakable bonds. Thank God for friends.

4. Just one more word - Family. If you grew up in an abusive or dismal household, try to break the pattern and change that for those you are responsible for. If you grew up in an incredibly supportive household, please pass that spirit on. Our family, always close, has grown closer through this maze of hospitalization, rehab, placement, with so much up in the air and so many details to attend to. My sister, who is local to Mom, has handled the brunt of this mess with responsibility and caring. I love you, Joy, and I am so proud of you. I know it’s been hard and will probably get harder. Hang in there.

So in essence, in the midst of feeling lost and heartbroken and worried, the only thing you can do in a situation like this is learn what you can and pass on what you learn. Consider it passed.