Acting Squirrelly

Thud! Splash!
With spatula in hand, I turned toward the pool area to listen for any further sounds. There was no flapping of wings or familiar noises that a duck would make. There was no scurrying of feet or barking to indicate that one of my dogs had decided to go for a swim. So, what had just landed?

I closed the lid on the grill and cautiously walked up the stairs to look over the fence. I saw a small head frantically trying to stay above water as it paddled to get out of the deep end. For months the structure had sat uncovered collecting melting snow, rain water and every leaf that blew in. The shallow part had no water, so this unfortunate creature had found itself in a cesspool of unattended crud.

From my vantage point, I could not tell what it was. At first glance, it appeared to be an otter, however, that idea faded when I saw the small animal finally reach dry land and flop down.

“Oh, no!” I said to no one. “It’s a baby squirrel!”

In all the years of owning it, nothing like this had ever happened. I called out for my daughter and we determined that I would have to net and release it into the yard.  As I walked to the shed to retrieve what I needed for the job, she said,

“Mom! There is another one in there!”

“No! No! No!” was my mantra as I rushed back hoping she was wrong.

She wasn’t.

While the one panted in a heap after its Olympic medal swim, another was leaning up against the side of the pool looking rather dejected as if all of its attempts to escape had been depleted.

I talked non-stop in sentences that made absolute no sense as I tried to extend the pole to try to keep the animal as far from me as possible on the off chance that I was able to capture it.

I pretended to casually remove leaves as I slowly edged closer to the one that was fighting exhaustion.  Just as I was closing in, he took off back into the water with one leap.

“I am trying to help you!” I reasoned.

Finally, I was able to get him into the net while he chattered and bared his teeth.  I had visions of dirty fangs dripping with rabies biting into my hands as I hauled the screaming furball over the fence and into the yard. With a quick shake, he was slightly airborne, hit the ground running and scampered half way up the tree. He turned to stare me down.

“I can’t do this again,” I said looking at the other frightened little one.

As I pondered how to remove the next one, a terrible smell surrounded me. I looked down into the black water and realized what was going on.  A few days prior, and from a longer distance away, I had noticed what I thought were two large leaves floating near the surface.  Now on closer examination I could see two bushy tails bobbing along.

“Oh no!  Please no!”

“What?” my daughter said.

“I think those are the parents!”

I ran to get a large trash bin with a garbage bag inside.

“I can’t do this!” I shrieked as I reluctantly put my net back in the water.  Bringing it up, I had unearthed a bloated adult squirrel that I quickly disposed of.

“Aw!  Yuck! Some of the water splashed on my legs!  I need an entire hot soapy shower!”  I had lost my ability to talk quietly.  The yelling at the top of my lungs was coming naturally as a way to release my disgust as this horror show was playing itself out.

Quickly, I retrieved the second one and then turned my attention to the living.  With all my verbal outbursts, I had only scared him more.

“Okay,  little guy. This will be over really quick if you just cooperate.”

Of course, he took off like his brother, but the three other rescues had made my net handling skills sharper.  In no time, he was flying up the nearest tree to recuperate from his harrowing backyard adventure.

For the remainder of the evening, I kept checking to see if all was well.  I ended up getting a snow shovel and moved one of the two to the front yard.  He obviously was in some sort of shock. It clung to the earth with its claws as I hefted him gently out of harm’s way. By dark, both had left, and I thought that was the end of it.

A few days later, I heard another splash.  Looking over the fence, I could see another one swimming rapidly. This was followed up by more of the same water fighting, snarling teeth and screeching by me and the baby squirrel before I got him to safety.

This time, he ran as far away as he possibly could.  I wasn’t sure if it was one of the original two I had saved, but my initial thought was that maybe he had to come back to see if his parents really were no longer living.

Why would it revisit a place that had brought it so much pain and agony?  As I stood there, I began to wonder why I do that sometimes.  How many times do I go back mentally to some horrible situation and relive what was said or done to me that was traumatic?  Why is it so easy to let myself go there instead of staying in the present moment and let bygones be bygones?  Why can’t I just let the dead things of former days go?

When I have found myself in the throes of an old memory that is dredging up emotions that I thought I had gotten past, God is always holding out the net saying, “I am trying to help you!  Get out of the muck!”  And, like the helpless animal, I have snarled, resisted and made my own self miserable when I didn’t have to.

In Isaiah 43: 18 it says: Do not remember the former things, or ponder the things of the past. (AMP)

Why not?  Why is it not good to continually go back over and dwell on those mistakes and negative issues from a former time?

Because of Isaiah 43:19: Listen carefully!  I am about to do a new thing, now it will spring forth.  Will you not be aware of it? (AMP)

If I am so preoccupied with what has happened to me before, I will not be able to focus on what I want to happen to me now.  If I let my past take up all of my thinking today, then that leaves no room for a new and good thing to take its place tomorrow.  I have found that to stop myself from unnecessarily going back in time, I must stay on top of my thoughts and allow myself only to dwell on things that will advance me forward into living a better life. Being fully aware that God is with me as a constant companion also restores my peace.  I can pray, release and let go of those things that have caused me pain and not fall into the trap of acting squirrelly.

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A Mother’s Pledge

We met when she was thirty-six. I didn’t know it, but she had five children in her care. By the time we became acquainted, the first four kids were thirteen, twelve, eleven and ten while the fifth one was headed for the age of seven. Unaware of the fact that she cooked, cleaned, washed laundry, cared for the sick when a pandemic swept through the house, made school lunches, and stitched up holes in clothes, I was just another one to round it all out by being the sixth.

She thought her pregnancy years were behind her, but I showed up to let her know she was wrong. According to one of my sisters, after she got home from the doctor and she had learned of her state of affairs, she wasn’t quite herself. She removed her coat, stood and stared out the picture window overlooking the street and absent mindlessly began to remove her blouse button by button. Her idea was to change into more casual clothes but she forgot she was not in the privacy of her bedroom. She was stopped before she got too far and brought back to her senses. She laughed at herself, but it was quite apparent that she was in some form of shock.

It must have been rough to be up at night with a newborn only to have the alarm sound at five a.m. to get breakfast ready so that everyone could be out the door on time for school. Once the house was quiet, much of her time was spent cleaning and making beds. Before she knew it, they were all back home.

As the years went by, life didn’t get any less difficult as everyone had after school sports, activities and jobs. Supper became like a restaurant shift where some had to eat early and others had to eat late. When I was four, she was in the height of carting people from various destinations before everyone had their license to drive or owned their own car.

The one thing she never wavered on was her appearance. No matter the stress, she always wanted to be out in public looking her best with hair combed and clothes neat. She didn’t want the world to see a disheveled woman who looked like she didn’t have it all together.

I always went along in the station wagon while she drove around town. While she was dropping one off, she usually was picking up another. I tried to stick close to her side as she always seemed in a rush during this process, and I didn’t want to get left behind in the chaos.

“Chrissy, we have to go,” she said as she walked through the living room. This meant I was to put away my toys and prepare to leave.  Because of our hectic life, she generally spoke in short sentences to get her point across without explanation.

“Time to get up.”  “Clean your room.”  “Go to your room.” “Go help your dad.”  “Go to sleep.”

I followed her into her bedroom as usual while she went to her dresser. She looked at her reflection in the mirror and began fixing her hair with her hands quickly. I could tell by her movements she was in a hurry. She grabbed a can and sprayed in circles all around her head to be sure all strands would stay in place.  This was the era of big hair and complicated styles requiring many applications of high powered aerosol. She gave herself one quick look and then turned to see me standing waiting for her.

“What smells like lemons?” she asked me.

I didn’t understand, and I didn’t answer. She sniffed the air to try and detect where the odor was coming from.  I saw her eyebrows come together.

“Oh, no!” she exclaimed. “I can’t believe it!”  Her mouth was wide open.

She spun around and glanced at the product she had just used.

“Furniture polish! I just sprayed myself with lemon furniture polish!  I thought it was hairspray!”

We raced out the door with my mother smelling like an end table.

When a woman becomes a mom, there is an invisible document that is signed within the sight of God where an oath is taken to let bits and pieces of oneself go while caring for the family.  It stretches us to our limits at times but in that process we begin to see how wide and deep our love can go. There are moments of such great frustration followed immediately by dandelion bouquets and sloppy hugs in which all is forgiven.

Our world is so fast paced you might not always recognize those who are working in the trenches, and often times, it is subtle. But, the next time you see a mom out in the store patiently dealing with a screaming toddler, stop for a minute and realize how blessed you are that you have just come into contact with someone who has taken a mother’s pledge.

 

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(The other thing…it was never too early to begin your first real novel.  Her favorite hobby is reading)

Bringing It To the Table

As the smell of cinnamon and apples fill my home tonight from a dessert being prepared for the holiday to come, I am reminded of her. Even with the invention of the newest fan-dangled mixer with all the attachments, I still use hers to whip together a recipe that she would have hand picked herself.

When I feel the blades whirl beneath my grip on the handle, I think of her. She has been gone for awhile now. I use the word ‘gone’ loosely because she is more near to me than ever before. We don’t have the miles from Minnesota to North Dakota separating us anymore. She is closer to me than when she was on earth.

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There are times when I feel her standing near me. Watching. Encouraging me to do the best I can. She and I are kindred spirits of the written word. I may not be able to see her with my natural eye, but I can feel her presence surrounding me more than ever when I am at my computer writing.  She loved to write short stories and was quick to pen a poem.

I was always greeted when we arrived at her house with a long hug as if we could make up the lost time just in that moment.  From the minute I walked into her home, I was expected to eat from morning until night. This is how she really showed her affection.

It wasn’t unusual for her to look me square in the eye and say,

“You look hungry.”

People would probably call it a food addiction of sorts these days, but my Grandma Hazel loved to watch someone eat and enjoy the labor of her work in the kitchen. It was her Norwegian descent in full manifestation. No one would ever grace her home without leaving with his or her stomach distended.

Often, when the meals were done and the dishes had all been put away, she and I would spend hours at the dining room table playing cards. When I get too serious about life, I recall the many games of Hand and Foot, Crazy 8’s and Kings in the Corner she and I played. How she made me laugh with her dramatic sighs and feigned sadness if I was winning. If I would play a card that went against her hand, she would always say, “Why are you being so dirty to me?” with a shocked look and high pitched voice. It just made me want to win all the more.

Of course, no match could ever take place without a snack to eat as we battled it out with our Kings and Queens. There was always Brachs candy, homemade caramel corn or some other sweet confection. As we went along in strategy, she asked me questions about my life, and I told her my deepest fears and my biggest worries. I always knew it was safe to tell her what I felt without concern of the news getting back to my parents. She was an ally who truly wanted to know what was going on with me and would take the time to listen.

She would tell me about her childhood and her step-mother who was mean. How her house burned down when she was nine and the woolen dress she despised was the only article of clothing hanging outside on the line that survived. That she only was allowed to complete the eighth grade because she was needed at home to care for all the young children being born. And despite all of her hardships, she had managed to make the most of what she had. At the end of every story she told, she made sure I was aware that without God helping her through, she would not have made it. She emphasized the power of prayer.

Some grandparents leave a fortune to their heirs. Some leave no notoriety. She gifted me with the idea that nothing in life is too hard or complicated to get over as long as heaven is on your side. I am grateful to have known her so I can pass along her wisdom to my daughters not only with oven mitts on but in those times when life is turbulent.

As I prepare for Thanksgiving, and the mixer does its job, Grandma Hazel is still bringing it to the table.

 

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Days of the Weak

Monday Mourning: And so it begins when the eyes have not yet opened, the alarm is set to go off, and that dreamy world is slowly slipping away. The mind begins to conjure up images of the day and the problems that seem unavoidable.  The lips begin to move and form the words, “I hate Mondays.” You crawl out of bed and pick out your best black outfit.  Murmuring into the shower, over the bowl of cereal, and all the way to the dreaded desk in the back office where mounds of work await. And the clock ticks ever so slow as the air is filled with dissatisfaction and not one single moment affords a smile.  Co-workers approach with perky attitudes and depart with heads hung low as if they have just attended a funeral after leaving your presence.  Mumblings continue on the commute home all the way through the evening news until the moment for bed arrives.

Tuesday Tirade: This day finds you at the top of your game demanding and belittling those who are blessed enough to be in your proximity.  You wish you had a missile launcher to clear your path to work because everyone on the road is a moron.  Your colleagues are graced with your snappy responses and treated like something stuck to your shoe that you cannot remove. Even the family dog is not immune to getting ‘barked at.’  You fall into bed exhausted after the multitude of idiots you have had to deal with all day.

Wednesday Whinning:  Why are gas prices so high?  Why can’t anyone put ink into the printer? Why is milk so expensive?  Why do people make stupid decisions?  Why don’t I get a raise? Why do I even work here?  Why do I have to do all the busy work?  Why didn’t I get invited to the important meeting?  Why do people take up two parking spaces?  Why can’t someone else mow the lawn? Why do I have to do all the decision making? Why can’t someone else do the dishes?  Why do I have to always take out the trash?  Why don’t I have more money in my bank account?   Why do I have to get up so early?

Thursday Thin-Skinned:   All questions, compliments and sentences set you off. Whether written or verbal, all forms of communication are going to irritate you.  You find hidden meanings in everyone’s words that send you reeling into a silent simmering anger and possibly tears by lunch.  You ready yourself for arguments that never happen, but you are prepared anyway.  You sit at your desk and rehearse what you will say, how you will say it and practice squinting your eyes to show that you mean business.

Fretful Friday:  You wake up disappointed by the fact that it isn’t payday.  If it is payday, you dread the idea that you have to pay bills and all your money is gone before it has hit your account.  You wonder what you will do all weekend if you are single.  The prospect of a Netflix binge with junk food gorging sounds depressing. While everyone else is out having fun and posting selfies of excitement to their Facebook status, you will be using your shirt as a giant napkin to wipe the excess cheese off your fingers from the crunchy curls you are inhaling.  If you are in a bad marriage or relationship, you wonder what your plan should be this time to avoid the other person for the next three days. You can’t fake being sick every weekend. You clear your throat indicating that a cough is coming on.

Someday Saturday:  You don’t have to jump out of bed today, but this leaves room for the imagination to wander and begin to think about how you are doing nothing that you want to do.  You had big hopes and plans to travel and live the high life, but you have found yourself in the same job year after year doing the same tasks over and over.  Your vacation days are spent at home getting around to all those extra projects that can’t wait.   You make yourself feel better by saying “someday I am going to..” and you repeat this weekly only to find that it never is happening.   The closest you come to taking that big dream trip is watching the Travel station on cable.  With more crunchy cheese curls on hand.

Somber Sunday:  You might as well get into your car now and drive to work.  Your mind is already there filing papers, answering phones and fixing problems.   The entire day is spent dwelling on where you will be tomorrow and you are totally missing today.

I hope none of you are living your days like that.  I know some who do.  When you look for the good things in life, more show up, but it begins with a smile no matter what, having positive conversations with those around you, believing you are here for a reason, and being grateful to God for everything. It doesn’t hurt to pray for help once in awhile either.  Let heaven help make your weak be strong.

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Messy Development

Road construction is disorderly. It’s inconvenient. Not to mention confusing. Sometimes I wonder if there is a sadistic city planner who says,

“Let’s take the frustration level of the commute up a notch and close down every route possible to see if the average person can get to their destination and back.”

And then that person flies to the store in his or her own hovercraft while the rest of us sweat it out with one another in lines of traffic that inch along. I am not exaggerating when I say that every road around me has been closed down with detours or so ripped up that if you choose it as your course, you can feel every extra ounce of fat jiggle on your body.

Oftentimes while jouncing around on such a thoroughfare my daughters have heard me say,

“This road makes me crabby. It reminds me that I should work out more, and I need a better support bra.”

Today I drove down my street to the makeshift four way stop. This has replaced our usual stoplights that left no room for confusion on whose turn it was to go. Now we all stare at one another and see if anyone wants to take a stab at continuing on their assigned path without being broadsided. I turned my blinker on to take a left and found that someone had put up a barricade. When I looked to my right, I found the same option. No entry. I had no other choice but to go straight. Yet, I really wanted to go left because there was no detour. The street I was on was not going to bring me anywhere near where I wanted to go.

After dealing with this type of circumstance repeatedly since April, I decided to find out what was ahead. What a surprise to see more blockades at the end of the street with a sign letting me know I was not going to continue on. I stared out the windshield at the scene before me. Behind the orange and white enclosures, every type of tall grass, wild flower and weed imaginable took up space. All of which was stopping me from going on any further.

I turned the car around and began a series of turns and stops to try and find my way through the maze. As I did so, I began to think about what I had just seen. No further work could be done on opening up that spot until the neglected land was cleared and smoothed out. As long as nature was allowed to grow in all directions unhindered, that section of the city was not fit for travel.

Driving around gave me extra deep thinking time as I saw the connection between the inner ‘construction work’ I have been doing to eradicate fear, worry and doubt from my life in order to accomodate faith, joy and peace more fully. Removing the negative is never pretty work. It can be quite ugly when you have to admit or face the fact that you are the problem. It isn’t a happy notion when you realize the reason why you are not moving on is because you are hanging onto beliefs that are impeding your own progress.

When I first realized this it was awful news and liberating at the same time. No longer can I blame someone else for the troubles I am in. For the first time, I have felt like my life isn’t vague and out of my control. I question God’s love for me less and less as I go about being more mindful of how I am thinking and do not tolerate unproductive thoughts to consume me. Instead of working against myself, I am taking responsiblity in clearing up the field of my spirit to make way for a new journey on a smoother paved road. It might be a bit of a mess getting there but at least it is development.