Sometimes it’s as simple as changing shirts

I’m still nursing some injuries and working from home when I can (and this morning, I can).  Last night I was chilled, so I put on a men’s long-sleeved t-shirt as a pajama top.  It worked out great for sleeping, but as I went about my morning routine, I found that the too-long sleeves were getting in the way.  I tried pushing them up, and then I tried rolling them up, but the end result was that no matter how I pushed and rolled, the sleeves kept creeping back down over my hands and getting in the way.

The solution was simple – change shirts. It’s warmer this morning, so I put on a short-sleeved shirt. When I finally changed shirts, I wondered why I had tolerated the pushing and rolling for so long.  Now I can type without annoyance.  I can staple papers without pushing my cuff out of the way.  I can pet the dog without the fabric getting in the way.  It took about 15 seconds to locate and change the shirt.

I’ve spent a lot of my life pushing back metaphorical “sleeves.”  I keep doing the same things that aren’t working over and over, thinking if I roll the sleeve instead of pushing it up, it will be different this time.  It seldom is.  In truth, if it works out, it’s probably because the shirt shrunk in the wash.

Changing your life isn’t as easy as changing your shirt.

My family is “changing shirts” right now.  I’m continuing to practice law, and my husband is going to continue to practice his professions, too, but the model is changing.  It’s a much bigger deal than changing shirts.  It’s a lot like replacing your wardrobe with a new look and giving the old stuff to charity.  We could go back to the way we used to do things, but why would we really want to?  We’d have to go back to pushing up our sleeves every 15 minutes.

When you don’t have to spend a lot of time pushing up your sleeves anymore, you have time to do other things, like crochet washcloths and go to Cedar Point.  You may have time to branch out into another business or to write blogs.  You may find time to find new interests and new friends.  Who’d have thought that simply changing a shirt could be such a big deal?

Just write what you know…

~Be~

Comfort and Joy

Happy New Year!  I’m quite late for a New Year post, I know, and believe me, that’s actually a good thing.  You see, 2016 is the year when I make good on my promise to be good to myself.

“You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” – Eleanor Brownn

Historically, I have run in the new year and then spent hours poring over journal entries and blog posts from the previous year, decade, etc. to see where I’ve come from, and what track my life is taking.  This year was different – the clock struck midnight and my husband and I shared a sparkling grape juice toast with our youngest son before heading upstairs – together – and falling peacefully asleep.  There was no attempt to review the past – no tears shed at past hurts, and only one resolution:  to be good to myself.

2016 is the year of comfort and joy.  This is the year of self care and learning to say, “no,” when necessary.  I’m taking time (and making time) to do the things that bring me joy.  I’m allowing myself to enjoy the things that bring me comfort.

This is the year of silly songs at the break of dawn, loose leaf tea in fancy teacups, essential oils that smell like liquid joy or comfort in a bottle, and beautiful fibers that wind themselves into scarves and blankets while my eyes watch the television.

Thanks to the efforts of my husband and children, I once again have a “sacred space,” (named the Betty Room by my hubby) where I can sit quietly to read, pray, meditate, and contemplate.  I’m also getting a new bathtub with enough depth to soak – more comfort (and some joy, too).

My first bit of advice for 2016 is to make room for comfort and joy in your own life.  Experiences that comfort us and that allow us to feel joyful replenish the energy that we deplete when we give.  Although giving to others without expectation of receiving anything in return brings its own rewards, when people take from us without giving, over and over, it can take a spiritual and physical toll.  Seek out joy.  Seek out comfort.  Make your own happiness, and then share from that vessel that is no longer empty.

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” – Psalm 23:5

We can pray for comfort and joy, or we can seek it out. I had a difficult Monday with a difficult adversary in a difficult proceeding at work.   It was bitterly cold, and when I stopped my car for gasoline, I opened my back door to retrieve a hat.  When I went to shut the door, it would not latch.  Believing it to be frozen, I took it to a local auto repair place hoping they could quickly thaw it so that I could be on my way to a court proceeding.  It turned out to be a broken latch, not a frozen one, and replacement parts had to be ordered.  There was no way to fasten the door shut (except, possibly the rope and duct tape that my cousin suggested) for the 45 mile drive, so I had to beg for mercy from the party with all of the power in that situation.  The tone for the tense email exchange that followed was probably largely imaginary.  The tone of the voice in my head as I read the email response was set by the morning I had already had.

I wouldn’t go nearly so far as call that person an enemy, but it nevertheless the terse nature of the exchange (real or imagined) created a drain on my joy.  I set my little table with one of my favorite teacups as I brewed a fragrant pot of tea.  I rubbed a few drops of my favorite essential oil blends on my temples, and I allowed the aromas from the tea and the oil to surround me with beauty, comfort and joy.  That’s probably not what the Psalmist had in mind, but soon I was singing again.

My husband said, “boy, you’re in a good mood!”  I explained my quest for comfort and joy.  Sometimes you have to “fake it until you make it.”  When you’re faking joy, though, it quickly becomes real as it infects others with smiles (or even laughs).

I’ve had a tough week so far, but my cup runneth over.  Being good to myself is my only resolution for 2016.  Actively seeking comfort and joy is the first step toward achieving success.

Happy 2016.

~Be~

How Do You Love Me? (Sorry, Elizabeth)

(With all apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1806  1861

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

I had this conversation with a good friend the other day.  We both have spouses whose “love languages” differ from our own.  It’s so very easy to get caught up in mentally listing all of the ways that we show love to our significant others.  On a regular basis, I show love by saying it (words of affirmation), and by reaching out to rub a back or hold a hand (loving touch).  I cook dinner on a regular basis (acts of service), and I buy little remembrances (gifts).  Over time, my primary love language has shifted from “gifts” to “words” or “touch.”   (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, pick up a copy of Dr. Gary Chapman’s wonderful book, “The Five Love Languages.”  In a nutshell, we each have ways that we tend to express love.  We feel most loved when we receive love in our own “language.”

When a couple speaks different “love languages,” it’s easy for one or the other to feel taken for granted.  That’s where I think we get into trouble sometimes.  Instead of recognizing the things our partner does for us, we keep a list of the things that we do that “go unappreciated.”  Or worse, we keep a mental list of what we’ve done for others expecting them to reciprocate in kind, and we miss it when they express love in their own way.

My husband is an “acts of service” guy through and through.  He does the laundry and cleans up the kitchen.  He mows the lawn, builds things, paints rooms, and makes coffee.  There is literally nothing that I have ever asked him to do for me that he has flatly refused to do for me.  He does these things because they need to be done, but HE does them because he loves me and because they free up my time to do other things (like help run the family business, or write in my blogs).

My husband is not big on gifts, which caused a big problem early in our marriage.  I felt unloved when I didn’t get my birthday, anniversary or valentine’s gift – especially because I invariably would buy one for him.  what was even worse was that instead of getting excited about the gift, he acted like he could have not cared less (which truth be told, was often true!)  It wasn’t until I read The Five Love Languages that I realized why he didn’t “care enough” to buy me gifts and why it hurt me so when he didn’t.  We learned to adapt.  I either buy my own gift or give him a list to choose from.

How does he love me?  This weekend he hung an antique mirror for me.  He installed shelving in the pantry.  He helped me clean the house on Friday evening.  On Saturday, he went for groceries with me.  On Sunday, he worked very hard putting things away for winter and cleaning while I had fun doing some recreational shopping.  He also told me that he loves me.  He wrapped his arms around me while I slept.  He made the coffee.  The list goes on and on.

Here in Ohioland it was Sweetest Day on Saturday (for those of you in other parts of the country, that’s like a bonus Valentine’s Day- it’s a flowers and candy and fancy dinner kind of holiday).  We talked about the fact that Saturday was Sweetest Day on Wednesday or Thursday.  The conversation went something like this:

Me:  Saturday is Sweetest Day – I know you think it’s a Hallmark holiday, right?

Him:  Yes.  I do.  I will buy you something if you want me to.

Me:  That’s okay – I’ll find something for myself.  Is that okay?

Him:  That’s perfect.

My sweetest day gift consisted of chocolate and a wonderful bar of sweet smelling french-milled soap – my favorite indulgences.

Once in a while, he surprises me and picks out a gift for me, and when he does, he knocks one out of the park.  The gifts are perfect every time.  In the meantime, I will count the ways he shows me he loves me, and forget about keeping score.

All The Colors of the Rainbow (An Unbiblical Marriage)

My husband and I have been married for 15 1/2 years.  We have a child together.  We disagree sometimes.  We make up again.  We have been through some real trials and tribulations, but we have weathered the course and I can say with all sincerity that I think our love and our commitment to each other is stronger than ever.

With the marriage equality issue squarely in the limelight right now, I have devoted a lot of thought to the issue of marriage.

I’ve been delving into the scriptures, and I realized that I have the privilege of being married to my wonderful husband only because the State does not put Biblical constraint on heterosexual marriages.  You see, I have been married before.  I was married at age 19 and divorced some 8 plus years later.  Both my first husband and I have moved on.  We are each married to new partners.  If, however, the State had taken the position that is consistent with the scripture, I could not have remarried.

 In 1 Corinthians 10-11, Paul stated, “10But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband 11(but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.”

My husband and I eloped.  The only “guests” at our wedding were the other people waiting at the little chapel for their turn to state their vows.  We did not have to seek approval of clergy.  We did not go through pastoral counseling (not that it would have been a bad idea), we just paid our money, said our vows and signed on the dotted line.

I have close friends in the gay and lesbian community.  I attend services at a church that has taken an “all are welcome” stance on the issue.  They have welcomed my divorced and remarried self with open arms.  Their love has shown me what I have been missing in my life as I worshiped in solitary.

I have witnessed first hand in both my personal and professional lives the havoc that can result when a gay person marries a straight person who is unaware of their sexuality.  Although those marriages are Biblical, they can leave broken hearts in their trail, and frequently do.

As a sinner, I leave the judgment to God.  I have never attended a gay wedding, but I will if invited.  Perhaps gay marriage is not sanctioned by the Bible.  Neither is remarriage after divorce.  Perhaps there are florists and bakers who would have refused to cater my wedding reception if I had planned one.  They’re not making the news, though.   I respect the right churches to refuse the rites of marriage to those couples whose unions are inconsistent with that church’s teachings.  I expect we will see more on that issue soon.

I thank God for my husband.  I thank my family, who may or may not have agreed with my decision to remarry, for accepting us and encouraging us.  I realize that on this issue, we may not agree.  I learn from them, and I am thankful for every opportunity for me to consider my stance on issues where law and faith intersect.  They have always been respectful when disagreeing with me, and I am confident that will continue on this issue.  I love them, and I know that they will continue to love me, just as they have in the past when we have disagreed.

I quietly celebrated yesterday.  I have many men and women in the LGBTQ community who I am honored to call “friend.”  They welcomed me with open arms into their circles.  They did not care that I was once divorced, an unwed mother, or a morbidly obese person.  They simply called me “friend.”

Just as they do not refer to me as their “obese, divorced and remarried heterosexual friend Betty,”  I do not think of any one of them as “My gay friend Max,” or “My lesbian friend Sally” – they are simply my friends.  I love them.  I will celebrate with them.

I am an Ally.  I am a welcoming Christian. I have chosen not to discriminate in my business or in my friendship.  I cannot personally use the scripture to deny the right to marry to anyone whose union doesn’t comport.  I gave up that right when I chose my own path.

Growing Up Gilliom – Memories of an Idyllic Childhood

This blog post was begun in 2011 or 2012 and sat, unfinished, on my PC for years. I would come back to it from time to time to try to finish it, but it just wouldn’t cooperate.  Finally, I posted it in its original form on my Facebook page last week.  My cousins told me, “keep writing,” so I did.

I’ve always said that I wanted to write a book. Between my adventures with my cousins and my many childhood neighbors, I truly have enough memories to fill a volume.  I’m not sure they would interest anyone who wasn’t involved, but they would truly be a joy to write.

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Growing up Gilliom

Once upon a time, a lawyer sat on the living couch, still in her pajamas at a time when all respectable people are hard at work, sipping her 4th cup of coffee.  Avoiding the land of “grown-up people,” she posted on Facebook, “I feel like writing a story.”  It seemed like a good idea at the time.

She’d had in mind a short narrative of a wooden box that held nothing but dreams, and the magical places that the box took its owner – but fate had another idea.  From a thousand miles away, an online voice invoked memories of real magic – and a childhood that few children in today’s busy world will ever enjoy.

A few lines of memories slipped out onto the internet, and an instruction to “write that story, cousin,” turned the task on its head.

The cold, gloomy morning slipped away, and the writer was transported to the countryside outside of the little town of Ontario, Ohio – near Mansfield – where sunshine lit up a hot Saturday afternoon in late June somewhere in the early 1970s.

My mother was one of seven children.  Roy and Esther Gilliom were blessed, during the Great Depression with six daughters…followed at long last by a son.  My mother was the third daughter, and the only one to have moved more than two miles away from the homestead.

It was always a happy thing on an early Saturday morning to hear, “We’re going to Grandma’s.”  We would start the hour-long journey in the family station wagon, anxiously anticipating the adventures ahead.  From the back seat, my brother and I would identify landmarks, such as the “hot pants station,” (a gas-station where the attendant in hot pants sold us ice cream sandwiches), or the narrow bridge/tunnel where the car horn would echo when Dad tooted it when we begged.

Summer or Winter, we would sing, “over the river and through the woods,” because, you see, to get to Grandmother’s house, we would cross over rivers and through woods in our trusty car, which, if it had only been a Pinto, would have been a perfect fit to the lyrics.

When we reached our destination, we were in little kid “heaven.”  Grandma and Aunt Betty lived in the first house.  Next door were Uncle John and Aunt Miriam and four cousins.  In the third house were Aunt Helen and Uncle Jim and their three daughters.   Not far away were more Aunts and Uncles, and more cousins… and we would often all end up together.

After running in to give Grandma a quick hug and kiss, we would be set free to run and play.  There were dogs and cats to play with.  For a while, there was even a horse.  We would play with Laddie or Dutchess, Reb or Tobie.  Behind the three houses ran a creek with a stone bottom where we would find crawfish, and build dams of stones that would wash away after an hour or two.  When our feet were blue from the cold, clear water, we would run to the top of the hill, where we would get a drink from the hose attached to the artesian well that ran day and night – and sometimes hose down an unsuspecting cousin or two with icy water.

If we were really lucky, we would all get to cross the creek and walk back the lane surrounded by woods and wildflowers.  Not far down the way, the trees would subside into a giant clearing where we had a whole lake to ourselves.  Mom and the Aunts would take a picnic lunch to the pavilion by the water’s edge.

Piles of black innertubes from car, truck and tractor tires sat waiting for us to float the day away.  My favorite had a bulge where the rubber had grown thin.  One could never rest too comfortably, though, as a cousin or three was always waiting for the right moment to swim up under a tube and flip the unsuspecting occupant into the cool water.

We would swim to the little bridge that crossed over to the island (but I dared not go to the island – because my cousins had convinced me that it was full of snakes!)  Cattails grew by the water, and we would pluck them and tear apart the fuzzy heads.  Dandelions grew by the thousands, and we would dig the leaves so the adults could have their salads with hot bacon dressing.

From the beach, off to the left you could see the steep stairs going up the hillside.  Above them, a thick rope, anchored high in the trees tempted young and not so young alike to yell like Tarzan and plunge into the center of the lake.  On the opposite shore sat the diving bell (or as I called it, the submarine) that my cousins built to explore the depths of the lake.  My cousins could build anything.  I sat in awe of John, Rob and Rick.

When we had burned off our energy running, swimming and climbing, lunch would be waiting in the picnic shelter.  There was no shortage of food.  All of the Gilliom ladies were (and are) excellent cooks.

Between the houses and the lake was the creek lined with rocks of all sizes.  My cousins taught me to skip flat stones across the surface of the creek.  My record was 12 bounces.  I’m looking forward to teaching that trick to my grandchildren, but they’ll have to settle for Lake Erie on a calm day.

On rainy days, we might change locations to Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Jim’s barn, where we would build tunnels out of hay bales and try to catch the half-wild barn cats.  Only the bravest of the brave would attempt the feat of crossing from one side of the barn to the other by climbing on the metal rafters twenty feet or so above the barn floor.

We had the luxury of a large family.  My cousins were my first friends.  We didn’t have technology.  There were no text messages or snap chats to distract us from our games of statue tag or hide and seek.  Our imaginations were well-exercised.

Nick, Carolyn, Rick, Ted, Andrew, Joe, Shawna, Dawna, Melody, Jim, John, Bill, John, Rob, Kristi and Lori, I love you. Collectively we have travelled the world, raised beautiful families of our own, and had experiences we could never have dreamed of while we were eating slices of watermelon that had chilled in the springhouse forty-odd years ago.

How blessed we were.  How blessed I am, now, to spend a rainy Saturday morning recalling those times.

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Author’s Note: Dad, too, was one of seven. The Fulk cousins and I had other wonderful times.  That part of my family, too, is cherished.  The memories are no less fond – but deserve their own post.

A Subtle Sunrise

Easters were special growing up.  We colored dozens of eggs.  Mom made homemade candies and molded bunnies.  I wore a new dress every year.  Some years Mom made the dress for me.  The white shoes came out of storage (forget Memorial Day!) and we posed for pictures in the back yard in our finest.

My Aunt would buy bags and bags of the left-over Easter candy and a week or so after Easter, we would have a big candy hunt with all of the cousins.  Life was simple.

We didn’t always attend sunrise service, but I remember being excited to go.  Some years, it would be very cold, and I would insist on wearing my thin Spring dress (often sleeveless) no matter how loudly my teeth chattered.  Although I can vividly remember some of those dresses (and the hand-crocheted shawls Mom made to go with them), I cannot remember the sunrises.  In my imagination, they were vivid  – as we sang hymns, the bright ball of the sun peeked over the horizon and the angels sang.  In my imagination, it was quite a spectacle – worthy of motion picture awards.

This morning, My dear sister-in-law and I decided to go to sunrise service.  It was cold (low 40s), and the service was being held on the shores of Lake Erie, where ice covered the water mere days ago.  I had no Easter dress, and as an adult, common sense ruled and I wore my heaviest wool pants, two sweaters, a winter jacket and woolen socks under my winter boots.  I carried a travel mug of steaming coffee.  I was prepared.

The rest of the early morning worshipers dressed like me.  Nary a light spring dress with bare arms was to be found.  In the pitch black darkness, we sat on rough wooden benches, our backs to the frigid lake.   As the service began at 6:45 a.m., the sky began to lighten just enough to read the prayer on the bulletins we were handed.

Our Pastor shared the scripture from Mark 16 – “…trembling and bewildered, the women found the empty tomb and fled from the tomb.  They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

This account lacks the drama from the Passion Play.   Mark doesn’t tell us about Jesus’ appearance to his followers.  There are no vivid beams of light streaming from the empty tomb.  No heavenly chorus – no trumpets – only frightened women fleeing.

As we said the closing prayer and sang the remaining hymns, the sky continued to brighten. There was no startling contrast, no brilliant colors.  The lake didn’t sparkle.  It was quite dreary (and still very cold).  Pastor told us how some evenings when vespers is held at the same location, the sunset is stunning.  Other times, like this morning’s sunrise, it is just a subtle transition from one day to another.

I wish that I had more time this morning to sit and contemplate that subtle sunrise.  Instead, I came home, downed a cup of coffee and cooked breakfast for seven.  After breakfast, I boiled eggs to color with one of the grandchildren who had spent the night. As my daughter helped him dye the eggs, I began preparation for the family celebration as we came together to enjoy fellowship (and food!)

After lunch, the children scampered through the yard looking for brightly-colored plastic eggs filled with candy.  While I was inside the house being busy, the day had transformed completely.  The cold had disappeared and the sun shone brightly. It was too nice to go back into the house, so we visited on the front porch.  It was a wonderful time.

With the last of the family guests gone, I took my opportunity for that quite contemplation that I missed earlier.  I donned my running tights and shoes and headed for the high school track.  I reflected on the cross, and the excruciating pain that would be involved in crucifixion.  I remembered Christ’s pleas for forgiveness for the people who were torturing and killing him.  I imagined the empty tomb, and this time my mental movie included this morning’s subtle sunrise, as the black night gave way to the soft gray of a cloudy morning.

My own life has changed a lot in the past year or so.  It’s been a slow process.  Some days I am disappointed that the changes aren’t mind-blowingly vibrant.  Other times, like today, I am grateful for the calm that fills me when I’m alone with the only sounds being those of nature around me and my feet striking the pavement.  As I took my final lap around the track, the sun began it’s gentle descent toward evening.  The bright ball in the sky was too bright for me to capture with my iPhone camera.  It was the kind of light that chases away any kind of sadness left in the corners of your mind.

I sat in the car and watched the light.  It was the kind of brightness that would be perfectly accompanied by angels’ voices and trumpets.  It filled me with awe, and calm.

Last week was difficult.  My mind was occupied with current events and political thoughts.  I spent energy uselessly pondering issues that are beyond my control and problems that aren’t even mine to solve.  While I was alone, in that moment, none of it mattered.

My subtle sunrise brought me calm.  The light that ensued brought me joy – and peace.sunset

The emotions today brought with it may be lost in translation, but the message for me came loud and clear – even a dreary, subtle sunrise can become a breathtaking day.

As the Easter hymns of my childhood echo in my mind, I am filled with joy.

He is risen [He is risen indeed!]

Thanks for the Memories

Sorting through a box of things that once occupied a drawer in my late father’s desk, I stumbled upon a non-descript white business-size envelope. It had some stains, but didn’t look particularly old. There was no writing on it, but it was stuffed full. From it, I pulled an odd assortment of papers.

The envelope contained a letter from an attorney to my Maternal grandfather. Written in 1939, the letter concerned settlement of a complaint regarding vehicle that a neighbor borrowed without consent and returned with damage.

The envelope also contained a postcard that I mailed from a Junior Achievement event in Bloomington, Indiana in 1984, a drawing I did at age 17 (in the style of a small child) of “My Family” in magic marked on notebook paper, and a handful of photographs of my brother and myself, my grandparents, and my own children.

There were a couple more letters — one from a missionary in Mali, and one from my grandmother to Dad about a run of the mill Sunday in July 1952.

These photographs and documents seem to have little in common to warrant their inclusion in a single white envelope. The unifying feature is only that Dad found them significant in some way. These documents, spanning some 70 years or more, somehow belonged together in my dad’s mind (and filing system).

Why do we include this one, and not that one? I find myself asking that questinoa lot these days as I sort through boxes from multiple years spanning multiple marriages and multiple homes — differnt worlds, differnt lives, it seems.

Today I went through a large carton of notebooks and research/theme papers from my undergrad years (1999–2006). When I finished with “when in doubt, throw it out,” a large garbage can was full, and my “keep” stack measured approximately 1.5″ thick. Why, exactly, my paper on one subject needed to be kept, while another went into the trash is hard to put into words. Looking back, I kept the ones that contained personal stories — my written history. Some day these might mean something to someone. Even 10 years later, they bruoght to mind things I had forgotten — once-treasured memories buried by new experiences.

I can’t bear to discard Dad’s white envelope. It doesn’t take up much space. Perhaps it was just a holding spot for things that meant something to him — memories that resisted classification. The envelope is now in my own desk drawer, where it will likely stay until someone is clearing it out because I’m no longer able to use the desk myself. I think, perhaps, I will add to it my own memories that resist classification – a time capsule of unrelated things that hold a secret meaning, waiting to be rediscovered.

All Stuffed Up [Learning to Let Go]

I have a huge job ahead of me.  I’m loving and hating every minute of it.  I have too much stuff.  Some of the “stuff” I have hasn’t seen the light of day in years.

My husband lived in this house when he met me.  He had stuff already when I moved here, and when I added my stuff to his “stuff,” the house was stuffed and we both had to give things up.  The years passed, and we each tossed some stuff and bought some more stuff to take its place.  Before long, he lamented to me, “we have too much stuff.”

I did my best to pare down the stuff.  I went through the boxes and tossed some stuff, but there were things that held too many memories.  I couldn’t bear to give up some stuff, so I stuffed it back into (fewer) boxes.

Some years later, my mom and dad moved from their four bedroom home into a two bedroom apartment.  They had to get rid of stuff, but they let me go through their stuff before they sold their stuff at auction.  I loaded up a car or four with more stuff.  I was opening my professional office, so some of the stuff went there, which made room for more stuff at the house.

More years passed, and the ‘rents moved into an even smaller place with less room for stuff.  Once again, I carted boxes of stuff to my house.  I couldn’t bear to let them get rid of the stuff that I had grown up with.   The stuff has sat, stuffed into boxes and untouched since I stuffed it into the garage, basement and attic.

Mom got sick, then Dad got sick and died, and Mom got sick again.  I was so stuffed full of feelings that I couldn’t bear to go through the boxes that stuffed the corners of my life.

I [re]discovered thrift shopping (thank you, Macklemore!) and brought home even more stuff.  Recently I needed to get something from the basement, but the floor was so stuffed full of boxes stuffed full of stuff that I couldn’t find the stuff I wanted.  I realized I had a stuff problem.

My darling, patient husband understands.  The stuff is stuffed full of memories.

When I hold my grandma’s old root beer mug, it ceases to be just stuff. It takes me back to Grandma’s kitchen.  I can see the Hires root beer bottle (the glass kind that you have to open with a bottle opener).  I can taste the vanilla ice cream that has crystallized root beer on the edges.  I feel the long-handled spoon she gave me with my root beer float.

The caddy of red-striped glasses stuffed with newspaper take me to the dinner parties my parents would host.  Mom’s fancy glasses would come out only on special occasions. I felt like a grown up when I could drink my iced tea or lemonade from those glasses instead of the jelly jar glasses or the plastic cups we used for every day.

There is the birch bark tee pee and the Indian chief doll that my Dad bought on a trip out west before I was born. I hold them and hear Dad tell about the steak dinner he bought in Texas for 10 cents with a steak that was bigger than the plate that held it.

It’s all stuff.  The real value is in the memories that are stuffed in this head of mine.  The older I get, the more my house looks like my parents’ home circa 1975. I have my parents’ coffee table, my Dad’s desk lamp, and the piano that Dad taught dozens of kids to play on.  I almost brought home the church organ that he had… but there was no room.  The place was stuffed.

My head is stuffed full of memories.  They are sweet and bitter. Each doo dad and knick knack triggers a mental movie. Dear husband brings the boxes for me one at a time. It’s like Christmas when I unwrap the stuff that was carefully stuffed in newspaper years ago.

I have to let go. There is so much old stuff – mine, my parents’ and my children’s that there is no room for new stuff to make new memories.  I have to part with my stuff.  I’ll keep the treasures that hold extra-special meaning.  The other stuff stays only if I would buy it if I saw it in a store.  As I send the other stuff on to other people who will appreciate it, I will savor the memories that I unwrap. Perhaps I will photograph the items that have the best stories.  As I stuff boxes full of stuff that has no place to be displayed, I should save those memories somehow.

Perhaps one day my children will receive an album stuffed full of photographs and words from their mother recalling moments from the years she spent collecting the stuff.

So far, all but one item has been unpacked intact. The lone casualty is a painted cookie jar.  I’ll admit I nearly cried when I saw it lying in piece.  I asked my husband to glue it.  He said he would… but I’m not sure it’s necessary.  As “stuff,” it’s not worth much.  There’s nothing special about it.  I have the cream pitcher, tea pot and sugar bowl that match. Any one of those things would evoke the same memories.  I’ll never use it as a cookie jar.  Now that it’s broken, nobody else would want it.  Instead of repairing it, I think it’s time to (reverently) stuff it in the trash.

When it comes right down to it, it is, after all, just stuff.  The memories are inside me, waiting to be shared.

Dear “Mom” – Why are you in Havana and who is Terry?

I have had the same email address since just after Google introduced gmail. It’s my first initial and last name @ gmail.com. Pretty simple.  Other people evidently employ the same simplistic strategy, but fail miserably somewhere in the execution.

I get lots of email intended for other people.  Brianna, Bernice, Brian, Brittany, Blake and Barath receive a lot of mail in my inbox. Those emails, I suppose, make sense if they really do share my last name.  I also receive email for Sherkeydra, though.  She’s applying for student loans, and my email address makes no sense at all for her name.

Brittany orders a lot of stuff from Alibaba.com.   Bernice is having problems paying her phone bill. Brian gets a payment from Wells Fargo every Thursday night, and Blake is looking for a roommate.

Brianna’s family is a real hoot.  They travel a lot and seem to have a sense of humor.  Her mom and dad (Terry) are in Cuba right now.

When I began receiving all of these emails for strangers, at first I responded to let the sender know that they had sent the email to the wrong address.  I received a very nice email from one of Brittany’s high school teachers a year or two ago.  I also had a heartwarming exchange with a woman who was trying to reach one of these strangers to participate with a group who was taking food to a family whose loved one was in her final days.  She reached the wrong person, but I surely would have taken a casserole if we lived in the same state.

Another time I began receiving a lot of email from someone’s dad.  I responded to let him know that his messages were reaching the wrong person.  He didn’t believe me.  He asked what I was doing.  I answered honestly – I was looking for a nursing home who could take my father.  Since he believed I was his daughter, he didn’t take kindly to that one.  I replied with a photo of my tear-stained face next to the headline of that day’s newspaper. I never heard from him again.  Most often my replies are usually ignored.

I tried to get AT&T to stop sending me Bernice’s messages, but after 20 minutes on hold, I gave up on that cause.  Now, when I receive messages for the other “Bs,” I just hit delete.

I receive vacation pictures, invitations to Thanksgiving dinner, and emails showing me the newest listings in Bel Air, MD.

The weirdest misdirected email that I received advised me that the “subject” had left the “perimeter.”  When I clicked on the link provided, I got the feeling that I was venturing into super-spy territory, and I wondered whose car was being tracked.

Terry and his wife have, previously, been advised that I am not Brianna, but they don’t believe me.  Brianna’s sister has already replied. Her brother was copied, too.  Mom and dad must wonder why Brianna never replies.

I talked to my own dear mother a few minutes ago. I know she’s not really in Cuba.  Brianna’s mom enjoyed seeing Hemingway’s apartment and like Mojitos.  She had a scary experience in a decrepit building where she followed a shady guy to the 3rd floor because he had a “good deal” to show her.  I’m happy Brianna’s parents lived to tell THAT tale.  I’ll pray for their safety.

I’m assuming that the other people who use my email address primarily give it out as a “spam” address.  If only I had their true email addresses, I could forward their emails from Mom, Dad and the crazy stalker person who has set a perimeter.  I don’t, though, so I’m torn about whether or not to wish “Mom” and Terry a safe voyage from the daughter they never knew they had.

Life is strange sometimes.

Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys

I once read a popular book on relationships by John Gray, PhD.  It was titled Men are From Mars, Woman are From Venus.  The general concept that I gleaned from the pages was that men and women think differently.  When someone presents a problem, a man’s tendency is to try to solve the problem rather than responding with empathy or sympathy.  Women share their problems hoping for emotional support, rather than a problem-solving session.  The failure of the woman to appreciate the solutions offers is unsatisfying to the man, and the woman feels slighted because the man hasn’t given her the emotional response she had hoped for.  Chaos ensues.

By birth, I am a woman.  By vocation, I am a lawyer.  While I am still a woman (and happy that I am), my law school education changed how I respond to other people’s problems.  I have developed a tendency to listen, identify the problem, and offer a solution.  Sometimes I put hours of (unpaid) time into figuring out a legal solution to a problem that has been shared with me.  Imagine my shock and horror when, instead of thanking me for doing free legal research and offering a tangible solution, the person with the problem got ANGRY with me.

While it is not uncommon for lawyers to be maligned, most of us are pretty nice people.  We charge money for our time because it’s all we have to sell, but many of us provide pro bono services to indigent clients, help family members and volunteer our time for other good causes. Forget everything you learned about lawyers from reading lawyer jokes (please).

This week I had a conversation with a friend who was frustrated.  Her frustration stemmed from problems in an area that I have training and experience with.  As she shared her pain and frustration, my mental wheels started spinning.  I had solutions to those problems!  Just as I took a breath to deliver my well-thought-out plan, I heard a little voice in my head say, “Not your circus, not your monkeys.”  I swallowed my words and said nothing.  I listened.  I realized that not only did my friend probably already know the legal solutions to the problems, but she was also not the person who needed to act.  The situation was largely beyond her control.  She was telling her problem to her friend – not her lawyer.  Instead of giving in to the urge to fix the problem, I needed to offer emotional support to my friend.  She just needed to vent.

I’ve been a worrier since I was young.  If I’m not worrying about my troubles, I’ll worry about yours.  I finally understand what Mom meant when she warned me, “don’t borrow trouble.”

I posted earlier about wearing many hats.  Sometimes those many hats lead to confusion.  I am learning that when I am wearing the “friend” hat, I need to put the “lawyer” hat in the closet.  The lawyer hat tends to make me look like I’m from Mars, anyway.