Stray dog creates hitch in family’s getalong

Ever since our wonderful family dog, Sousa, died two summers ago at the age of 16, and even before that happened, my children were teasing for another dog. They wanted a replacement. I understood their sense of urgency because except for three years of apartment living following college, I have never been without a dog.

I explained not all dogs are created equal and the odds of finding a dog with a personality as winning as our last dog’s was just that – odd. Even if you get a dog with the right genetic stuff, you still have to employ a great deal of training to shape its behavior and to nurture its relationship with family. I’m not interested in acquiring any old dog, I want a good one.

Life being what it is, instead of a new dog, I acquired a new job with hours so unpredictable they weren’t conducive to houseplant tending, let alone dog ownership. As I knew better than to add any more moving parts or mouths to feed to my already overloaded dance card, I moth-balled the replacement dog idea until that “someday, when it’s a better time” fabled future parents use to cushion their children’s landing as we pinprick their more far-fetched dreams.

You also don’t need an actuarial to calculate the added risk pet ownership adds to your life. My propensity for attracting stupid situations told me said pet would likely get freakily hurt and saddle me with a dead horse of a veterinary bill. Or I’d suddenly have to replace living room carpeting due to chewing by the new dog to which I would be having trouble finding enough time to pay attention.

In short, all signs in my life surrounding new dog acquisition were octagonal and red, with the word “STOP” printed across in bold, white letters. But dogs can’t read. And apparently no one read the signs to the one that took up residence at my place for most of last weekend.

When I opened the door off my side porch at 5:30 AM Saturday morning to let in our two cats that had spent the night on midnight prowl, instead of hungry meows, I was greeted with loud, hearty barks. What the heck? Taken aback, I threw on the outdoor light and found myself face to face with a strange, snarling canine.

Nothing quite prepares you for such a scenario. I was startled, but took a step forward toward the danger to assert my dominance. Sometimes, that actually works. It did in this case, with the stray dog jumping backward in comparable surprise. But no sooner did he land than he went back to barking at me.

“No need to get all defensive on my account because this was MY house when I last checked and you’re the one who is the trespasser.” I said accusingly to the flashing set of eyes. The dog only growled in response. I stepped back inside the porch, two startled cats diving in after me for cover. They were equally unimpressed with our guest.

When I left to run errands on Saturday, the stray dog circled me and barked menacingly as I got into my vehicle. This necessitated me swinging my medieval weapon of a purse at him. When I returned late afternoon, the dog was still there, hanging out under my front porch. He rose to greet me with a series of vicious barks and lunges toward me.

I left the door to the house open when I carried in groceries and the dog slipped inside, subtle as a stealth bomber. I nearly tripped over him as I carried in two large bags. “GET OUT” I screeched in my least hospitable tone. My collarless friend tucked his tail between his legs and trotted back outside to his under-the-porch-squatter’s digs.

Saturday night after dark, no matter what room of the house I was in, he followed around the perimeter of the house, barking at me. Oh, c’mon! When my children arrived home Sunday night, they used the barking dog’s hindquarters as an Airsoft gun target and outshouted his barking with shrill kid tones. Come Monday, the dog was gone. Replacement test reject.

Adolescent version of the seven deadly sins

If I had a nickel for everyone who has told me lately, “Your son isn’t a little boy anymore,” I would have enough money to pay someone else to put up with him. Or at least be able to afford replacements for the great number of pairs of pants and shirts he’s outgrown at a breakneck pace.

Most all of the clothing I had bought ahead for him last year, like I have been buying ahead for him annually since he hit school age, ended up being about three inches too short when I hauled it out of storage as the weather turned cold. I might as well dye his hair bright red, put rainbow suspenders on him and plop a propeller beanie on his head as make him go to school in the high-water pants created by his unprecedented growth spurt.

I’d like to report my son’s new height is helping us see more eye-to-eye, but the opposite is true. The closer our gazes approach meeting vertically, the more opposing our perspectives. But don’t feel sorry for me as a single-parent, trying to lion-tame her was through her children’s turbulent teen years. For alas, I am only reaping the bad Karma I sowed earlier in life through being a pain in the butt teenager, myself.

How bad is it with Connor? Well, not nearly as bad as some of my friends are having or have had with their children. My son is basically a good kid (yeah, I know all parents insist that, including those whose basically good kids just blew up something or shot down someone). But he’s become more sneakily defiant. Just the other day, I caught him changing out of the shirt I had grabbed for him to wear – because it wasn’t cool enough. Not cool.

While it’s not against the law to be a teenager, it surely feels like it’s against something. With hormones kicking in, everyone under the age of 18 is at least close to being in violation of something. While that something may not be illegal, it may be unethical or mean-spirited. Or, on a religious note, somewhat sinful.

I came across a workbook about the seven deadly sins, also known as cardinal sins or capital vices. At first I thought it was to help a person become better at wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony. As if we need the help! But it was actually to help eradicate them. It got me thinking about what I would classify as the seven deadly sins of adolescents. Here’s my list:

1. Sloth – This is one of the two carry-over deadly sins from the adult list. Laziness looms large in adolescent life, where helping others is in direct conflict with and takes away time from helping self.

2. Omniscience – Defined as having complete or unlimited knowledge, awareness, or understanding; perceiving all things, this word is usually associated with God’s powers. It applies here, as many teenagers believe the world should pay homage to them, if not outright worship at their feet. After all, they’re smarter than the rest of us.

3. Entitlement –Mistaken belief that the world and especially their parents owe them something, including responsibility-free room and board.

4. Envy – Another carry-over. Constant monitoring of what others have, wear, or get to do, used for leverage in parent/child arguments to lobby for unearned privileges to become entitlements.

5. Moodiness – Ongoing personality fluctuations of greater disparity than the Dow-Jones average, but subject to periodic crashes every bit as dramatic as the 1929 stock market.

6. Obliviousness – Similar to “digital dementia,” a condition where a teenager cannot focus on anything except the electronic device in front of him/her, plus non-recognition and non-caring about the effect his/her behavior has on others. “It’s all about me.”

7. Blame – Surely none of these behaviors originate within the teenager. No, they are in reaction to living in an unfair world run by unreasonable adults who just don’t understand!

Maybe I should develop a workbook to address the seven deadly teenage sins. Trouble is, the people who most need it would never buy it. Well, maybe a digital version . . . .

Mundane episodes jog childhood memories

Funny how some of the most mundane happenings in life can trigger rich memories of other, mundane at the time, happenings from the past. While I was on the front porch with my kids the other morning waiting for the school bus, the weather was foggy. Because I couldn’t see very far, closer objects seemed to take on greater clarity. My eyes became riveted on the closest porch pillar.

It’s the same kind as on the porch at my childhood home, but two inches wider. I recalled getting in trouble on a regular basis with my dad for my insistence on swinging around the pillars on my parents’ porch. While at the time I thought him incredibly unreasonable, as an adult, I recognize how precariously pillars are perched, more for show than support.

When I wasn’t porch pillar swinging, I was playing a game of “Mother, May I?” while my older sister and I waited for the bus. We two could only play the game when a cousin who lived up the road stayed overnight with our grandmother across the road. More players were needed.

The caller would try to trick the other players into moving or taking action without first asking permission. He/she would bark orders and attempt to startle us into action without askance. Sometimes a command as innocuous as “take three steps back” launched an unsuspecting contestant into reverse without first verifying permissibility. Gotcha!

I’m ashamed to admit we played that game day after day, without ever infusing any appreciably new material into it. There’d be the predictable commands to walk, hop, skip and jump, as well as the gross ones, including, “Mother says pick your nose” or “wiggle your rump” or “eat your earwax.” They served the dual purpose of preparing us for the later teen game of, “Truth or Dare.”

Overall, the Mother May I game was as tame as it was lame. It just made the time pass more quickly. I seriously doubt I will someday find myself on my deathbed saying, “I sure wish I’d spent more time playing Mother, May I.” It wasn’t that meaningful.

Game playing is not my only remnant from childhood. Sometimes I still behave like a child or at least with childish carelessness. Left unsupervised, I heathenly drink out of the milk jug or throw something at a wastebasket, miss the shot, then neglect to retrieve and correct my misfire. I even tracked mud all over my own clean rugs the other day.

Also childish are my clumsy attempts to engage in lunch trades with people at work. They do little to boost my popularity. Colleagues usually politely decline when they learn all I have to offer is a Spam and Swiss cheese sandwich with banana peppers and mustard on whole wheat bread. Their loss, to be sure.

There are times when I engage in semi-dangerous behavior, such as when I nearly rear-ended a semi-truck on the highway while I was retrieving an item from the backseat of my car. It was the mini-legal pad in the pocket behind the driver’s seat. Ever try to grab something from that pocket and accidentally knock it onto the backseat floor? It leads to steering with your knees while your hand hopelessly gropes for the item perfectly out of reach.

But this particular time, I managed to knock the mini-legal pad onto the backseat of my car. Visually guided by the rearview mirror, I reached back and touched the edge of the notepad, but could not get a grip on it. Just short of screaming in frustration, I caught my sleeve on something behind me and couldn’t get my arm disengaged.

The scene was reminiscent of  the classic “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” movie scene with John Candy driving down the highway at night with Steve Martin as his dozing passenger. Candy attempts to slip off his coat while driving, but ends up getting both sleeves caught. No hands on the wheel. To avoid that bad, I lowered my seat backwards while highway driving so I could reach my notepad and snagged it the first try. Didn’t bother to ask, “Mother, May I?” because I already knew the answer.

Lies of the soul are disproved through action

Not long ago, one of my students asked me which kind of lies I thought were the worst. Recalling a previous discussion we’d had on the difference between mortal and venial sins, I suspected he had somewhere he wanted to go with the topic.
Sure enough, he wanted to chat about the difference between white and black lies. I threw him a curve: “I think the worst type of lies are the ones we tell ourselves.” He was baffled by my answer and immediately set about shooting it down. Until I elaborated through one of those discussions you may need to be of a certain age to appreciate, so it may have been totally lost on him. Nevertheless, I continued because I needed to hear the explanation again, myself.
To quote Steve Chandler, from his book 17 Lies That Are Holding You Back and the Truth That Will Set You Free, “There are everyday lies, and there are lies to the soul. A lie to the soul runs deeper than an everyday lie. It’s a lie designed to kill the spirit. We are powerful, but we lie and say we are not. Awareness is the road out.”
Chandler targets the following lies, not necessarily in order of most prevalent or important (he just had to start somewhere): 1. It’s who you know; 2. There’s something wrong with me; 3. I’m too old for that; 4. I can’t because I’m afraid; 5. I’d love to do that but I don’t have the time; 6.There’s nothing I can do; 7. I worry because I care; 8. I’m sadder but wiser; 9. The longer I have a habit, the harder it is to break; 10. People really upset me; 11. Winning the lottery would solve everything; 12. They’re too beautiful for this world; 13. You hurt my self-esteem; 14. It’s a shame we didn’t capture that on video; 15. That’s just the way I am; 16. What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger; 17. I am helpless.
Unarguably, each of these soul lies is arguable – if we are willing to take the time (that we claim we don’t have) to dispute and disprove them through action. Really, action is the only thing known to effectively kick the butt of soul lies. What discourages us from taking the necessary action is that like slick informercial product hawkers, each of these lies cleverly self-perpetuates through carrying at least a small grain of truth that appeals to our secular, non-spiritual thinking. They address the reasonable, path of least resistance, attracted to the simplest explanation parts of our brains that are always more than happy to allow the good to be the enemy of the better.
Complacency kills. Or at least seriously maims through managing to significantly delay us from taking immediate action that would help us fulfill our considerable individual and collective potential. While I try to practice prayer and waiting on God’s timing, soul lies counter-convince me to wait even longer on something or someone else, usually outside help, my ship to come in, the cows to come home, etc., long past their estimated arrival time. All time wasters.
Chandler quotes Tracy Goss, author of The Last Word on Power, on buying into soul lie-suggested inaction: “Death is not the most profound loss or tragedy in life. That which dies inside of us as we live is a far greater loss. The loss of possibility, a loss that comes from running our personal rackets, has ravaged the lives of too many individuals who could have otherwise transformed the world.”
Yeah, I know it’s a variation on another famous quote, but I like this one better because it references the personal rackets, or soul lie schemes we scam ourselves with, resulting in spiritual paralysis.
So, what are we waiting for? Effortless spontaneous change? Poof, we’re all better? While I’ve occasionally experienced spontaneous electronic healing with appliances, I have yet to experience a personal rekindling of spirit without first having to strike a match under my own bottom. Sometimes a flamethrower is required to do the job. Blast yourself off your laurels. Require more of yourself than being just the way you think you are.

Hard to part with a well-seasoned wallet

While I have previously guiltily admitted I like Spam in the form of lunch meat, I really hate the other kind of spam I receive via e-mail. I don’t know which is more digitally disgusting – unsolicited offers to help me increase the size of body parts I don’t even possess, or the bombardment of unknown someones proposing to titillate the body parts I don’t possess.
I receive daily offers to engage in racy talk with women with exotic-sounding names. Operators are standing by, wearing and doing . . . . well, goodness knows what! But it’s not likely in a plaid flannel nightgown like your grandma’s. And if you’re more of a visual than an auditory learner, you can opt to view unclad body parts.
In addition to the above-described smutty spam, I also receive multiple phishing scams, often from hacked e-mail accounts from friends of mine who are allegedly away, visiting foreign countries, and in need of my immediate financial help. This week’s cry for cash came from a family friend who used to teach high school with my mother. Her spam story was highly compelling and every bit worth dragging out of my junk e-mail box.
“I’m writing to let you know that my family and I are stuck in Manila. Philippines has been a mess. We got mugged last night at gunpoint and lost all cash, credit cards and cell phones. It has been a scary experience. Thank God we still have our lives and passports saved here with us. We’ve been to the Embassy and the police here but they’re not helping issues at all and our flight leaves in few hours from now but we’re having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won’t let us leave until we settle the bills. We really need your financial assistance…….” – Dianne.
Oh, no! Our family friend was being held hotel hostage! This news was very disturbing to me, especially since I had just spoken with Dianne and her husband Saturday night at my nephew’s wedding. She had not indicated she would be traveling abroad, probably because she was too overwhelmed with excitement about it. Then to find herself robbed at gunpoint and to lose all cash, credit cards and even her cell phone. How awful! My heart went out to her.
So I reached for my billfold/wallet to see if I had money to spare. Fortunately for Dianne, I had just consigned a couple of pair of my kids’ shoes at Once Upon a Childhood and returned pop bottles, which left me with an extra $6.75. As I groped for the cash, The sad state of my wallet registered with me. I’d been carrying it for the past decade and it looked in as dire straits as Dianne sounded.
The once crisp plaid fabric was stained and tattered, the leather trim battered and dramatically splitting in places. The inside seams were falling apart. The outer snap holding the mess together had grown tired and resigned from the job. It was pathetically worse for wear.
Fortunately, I had a back-up I’d purchased three years ago for the occasion, but I’d been stalling on the wallet excavation process. Even though there wasn’t time to launch into a project of that magnitude, I made myself. Wallets are strange things: portable combination attics and time capsules. You slip into them things you can’t part with or tell yourself are important, then promptly forget about them. Replacement means dealing with the backlog.
Wallets are an area where men may be worse than women. Many men go through life carrying but two wallets. The first one they receive from their parents upon high school graduation. It gets replaced by one their children make for them as a leathercraft project at summer camp. Men who never reproduce have to make do with a one-lifetime wallet, sometimes the one they made at summer camp.
I sorted through business cards, expired coupons, faded receipts, courtesy cards from out of business stores, and photos of people I no longer recognize. I didn’t stop until I’d made adequate room to start collecting a fresh crop of soon to be forgotten stuff.

Tozer test answers promote self-knowledge

From David Letterman, to Hollywood’s unofficial directory of “A” people to invite to post-awards ceremony parties, to the scratch pad containing “to-do” items people carry through retail stores on weekends, most everyone pays attention to lists. You might as well add my name to that list because I never met a list I didn’t like.
I frequently find myself on other people’s lists. Some folks let me know – in no uncertain terms. Other people hate me from afar, silently seething over a sub-list of my qualities they abhor, hoping their resentment will boil into a steam fine enough to permeate my mind and make me change without their ever having to tell me how I have wronged them.
If only I could hear the words they cannot say, I might understand and change. I have my own list of people who have frustrated me by withholding timely feedback, long after when I might have been able to dial down my irritating behavior, only to sack me with it later, like an 300-pound linebacker to the gut. While it’s hard to learn without feedback, it’s easy to resent someone for not responding to information you never bothered to supply.
My love of lists led me to purchase a 1999 Multnomah Publishers book called, “Lists to Live By.” Complied by Alice Gray, Steve Stephens and John Van Diest, this “Lists to Live By” book was the first volume in a series subtitled, “For everything that really matters.” It’s chock-full of solid advice to prevent problems and/or gracefully resolve them before they get worse.
The lists it contains range from relationship to business advice, with a decidedly Christian bent. One of my favorite lists in the book was from renowned Christian pastor and writer A.W. Tozer, cited from his post-humus-compiled book, “The Quotable Tozer.” Characteristic of Tozer, the list is concise, as everything Tozer (1897-1963) gets directly to the point, down to the epitaph on his humble tombstone, “A. W. Tozer – A Man of God.” Less is more.
Tozer’s list of questions to promote greater individual self-knowledge were as follows: What do we want most? What do we think about the most? How do we use our money? What do we do with our leisure time? What company do we enjoy? Whom and what do we admire? What do we laugh at?
By answering these questions about ourselves, provided we’re honest, we have a better idea about what is driving us and how smooth of a ride it is/isn’t going to be. While my mind immediately started generating a list of what other people I think should be asking these important questions of themselves, I also answered them for myself. It’s a good practice. Everyone should periodically self-examine to promote personal accountability and to prevent mission drift, or the tendency to stray from the path(s) we should be following.
Most days, what I want most is to make an appreciable difference in the world, but that desire is often offset by my deep-seated fear that the peace rug I am trying to offer to someone else is actually the same one that is simultaneously being pulled out from under me.
What I think about most is if I am doing enough to make the world a better place. A lot of the time, my efforts feel like they amount to spitting into the wind. Not too encouraging. Keep spitting anyway, I guess.
Where does my money go? After the 10-15% to church and charitable causes, the rest goes to basic bills, sheet music, used books, shoes and clothing. Not terribly exciting and the latter often wasteful. My leisure time is spent cooking, playing piano, reading, writing and praying. The company I most enjoy is those with whom I share those simple gifts.
What and whom do I admire? Thinking people, simple truths, minor victories, inspired writing and speaking: Jesus, Will Rogers, Garrison Keillor, A.W. Tozer and my pastor. Their good-natured, self-deprecating humor and humanness greatly amuses me while validating my own humanness.
What’s your level of self-knowledge? Like Santa, you might want to make a list and check it twice. Know where you stand. We can all stand to improve.

Good pair of pajamas is a hard thing to toss

Normally I don’t start out conversations describing what I am wearing. In the same way, I don’t entertain unsolicited phone conversations with strangers who call, breathe heavily and ask me what I’m wearing. But for the record, it’s a pair of seven-year-old Nick and Nora sock monkey pajamas.
The monkeys on the light blue flannel fabric are pictured in several ridiculous poses: holding hands, wearing their clueless sock monkey grins; watching an old-style television; reclining in a hammock under a palm tree; bowling, and, of course, slipping on a banana peel. What more could you expect of caricatures of animals that naturally look like animal caricatures?
Stylish? Maybe in a retro-trendy way back when I got them, but scores of washer and dryer trips have considerably diminished their charm. Even the word “ratty” wouldn’t do them justice. The cuffs on the sleeves and hem are frayed, set-in stains abound, and the fabric has worn through in places.
I reached to put my hand in their right pajama top pocket the other day and accidentally caught my fingers in the hem, tearing a six-inch horizontal strip. I felt terrible. Not just because of the damage, itself, but due to knowing what it heralded: an undeniable beginning of the end for the favorite flannel PJs, as ominous as a senior falling and breaking a hip.
Sometimes, on those rare occasions when I don’t have more pressing menial mental demands, I wonder what my kids’ school bus driver thinks of the tattered pajamas he sees me wearing when I wave them off to school at 6:30 AM weekday mornings. “Poor woman! Probably doesn’t have a job and is forced to hang out all day wearing those shabby things! Too bad she can’t afford something better.”
But I already do have something better: a pair of off-white cow-print PJs of similar men’s flannel pajama style, with purple and black spots. They hang like a jilted beauty pageant runner up in the guest room closet, just waiting to make their triumphant entrance, should some harm befall the reigning favorite sock monkey pajamas. I’d hate to break those out too soon, not until after the official demise of my sock monkey nightwear.
Truth told, I don’t have the heart to get rid of them. Not only are they frumpily comfortable, but they were the last birthday gift from my grandmother. The year before her death, when she was 95, she also gave me a pair of matching sock monkey slippers for Christmas, six days after my birthday.
Should I blame the tacky pajama choice on my grandmother? I can’t. The sock monkeys came after she’d given up driving. At Christmas, she’d request her grandkids just go out and find something they wanted and then bill her for it. Grandma Kate was certainly delighted when I showed up with the wacky jammies and the equally silly matching slippers. Some things really appealed to her sense of humor. These were one of them. If still alive, she’d no doubt be laughing at my having difficulty parting with the darned things.
It was almost as bad with the nasty-looking, fleece, lint-balled, dark green pair of pajamas the sock monkey ones replaced. I had purchased them extra large on purpose while I was pregnant with my first child. They were associated with a far happier and more hopefully expectant time in life. Therefore, they could not be parted with until the elasticity had left the elastic and they no longer stayed up around my waist. Thank goodness the sock monkey pair showed up like a relief corp.
I am just as bad with my summer pajamas, which have zero sentimental value. I purchased the pseudo-quilted looking, lounge-style pajama bottoms at the St. Vincent DePaul thrift shop to use when painting, as they already were paint-splotched. Because I liked them, I used a toothbrush, vast quantities of paint thinner and elbow grease to remove the paint. The matching print nightshirt was later located at a Salvation Army donation center and was cause for great, pathetic celebration with my great, pathetic self.
It doesn’t take much to make me happy. Only a monkey’s uncle would think otherwise.

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