What are we talking about today?

I'll get back to theme days once I find a groove of posting regularly. In the meantime, most of my posts are about some variation of books, bikes, buses, or Broadway. Plus bits about writing, nonprofits, and grief from time to time.

This blog is mostly lighthearted and pretty silly. It's not about the terrible things happening in the world, but please know that I'm not ignoring those things. I just generally don't write about them here.

03 April 2018

Waitlisted. Worth It.

This is the second book I picked up at the library last week, and I'd better read it in a hurry because there's a waitlist. (And it's huge, by the way. The book, that is.)

I managed to see two different ALW shows in the past six weeks that I hadn't seen before-- School of Rock and Jesus Christ Superstar. The one I haven't seen yet but would really like to is Sunset Boulevard, but since it's closed on Broadway and I may have missed my chance for a while. 

On the other hand, Cats is coming to Cincinnati and I really enjoy that show, plus Phantom of the Opera is sitting right here in my living room, so it's not like I'm lacking ALW in my life.

And even less so once I finish reading his book.

02 April 2018

Slow Steps

I walked away from my first trip to Broadway a few years ago in a daze and a happy fog* that took me ages to come down from, but also with a nagging thought that (I've heard) plagues us all at times:

I suck.

My running shoes like it when I let them outside.
I reminded myself later that obviously I was going to feel this way when watching people at the top of their field, a field which is not my field, and perhaps my time would be better spent working on the things I can do rather than pining over the things I can't. And this is one of the many times that I reminded myself that running is a thing I can do and always get better at. It helps to start off so slow, so that I can only get better, but the steps to getting better can be so incremental it doesn't have to suck a lot. Which is great, because I've reached a point that my willingness to do things that suck a lot just for the sake of doing them is low. Small amounts of suck I can still deal with.

So! New week, new month, new goal race: the Queen Bee Half Marathon in October.

What's a thing you can do this week?

*Speaking of a theatrical fog: Jesus Christ Superstar live. If you missed it, wow, did you ever miss out. I've heard it's on Hulu.

01 April 2018

Out of the Darkness

I've lived my whole life with a risen Saviour. It's never been a question, it's a thing I can't remember not knowing. Easter Sunday is but another confirmation of that which I live with every day: He is risen indeed.

You know who didn't know that? Jesus' original followers. And this is another thing I've always known, that they went through Holy Saturday filled with grief and despair, not knowing how close hope and joy was. Not knowing just how brief this season of sorrow was going to be. They looked ahead and could only see an endless stretch of empty days filled with discarded dreams--how could they possibly go back to their old lives after all they'd seen and done?

But knowing that this was what they felt is a different thing, on this side of Resurrection Sunday, than feeling what they felt. I have a pretty vivid imagination, and some experience of grief, and you probably do, too, so we have an idea of what that day was like. Which means we also have an idea of what it was like on Sunday, when they friend and leader they thought was lost turned out to not be, when grief mingled with surprise and disbelief and finally gave way to joy. A joy that I now share in but likewise can't fully know on this side of eternity.

I keep coming back to this verse in 2 Corinthians, particularly in the springtime when the whole world feels new. The Cincinnati weather for the past couple weeks has not given me a lot to celebrate in the way of spring arriving, between our freezing temperatures and our gloom, but on Easter Sunday the joy and newness comes from within, no matter what the skies are doing. It is a time to rejoice.

A time to remember that even in the darkest moment, hope remains. All things will still become new.

27 March 2018

Together. Apart.

I put this book on hold at the library before Ash Wednesday, thinking it would be a good Lenten read. My turn to borrow it finally came up yesterday, with less than a week of Lent left to read it in. Oops.

I'm staring at the cover, now,* instead of reading it. For a few weeks I've been in one of those seasons when I walk through a dense fog of numbness, and while on so very many levels it's better than some of the alternatives, it means that words like Life Together jangle around in my head and can't find a place to belong. What does life together mean when you are forever apart?

I know that's not what the book is about. I don't know how familiar I'll be with the words inside until I open it up and read it, but this is a book Chadwick loved and talked about often, so I'm sure I'll meet some old friends inside. I know this isn't a book about that relationship. It's about community, and I'm nothing if not wildly enthusiastic about embracing my community. But this is something Chadwick and I shared--one reason I never read it was because he loved to tell me about it. And now I'm about to read about being together, alone.

I thank God every day for the community I have. A church family who are some of the best on the planet, coworkers who I don't understand how I'm so lucky to spend every day with. (We have some new folks who have absolutely brightened my past couple of weeks. To say nothing of the ones I already knew were bright.) I don't know how this happened, but there's a part of me that thinks that life together is already going pretty great, and I'm not sure how one little book will make it any better.

So. I'd better crack this thing open and find out. I'm sure the library still has a waitlist of other people who need it, too.

Maybe one of them is you. What's your community like?

*Unrelated tangent: there's an actor who I like, who I follow across all his public social media accounts, who has a strange relationship with commas. Sometimes it's all I can do to hold back from telling him that I'm taking all his commas away until he learns what they're for. Other times, like now, I find the urge to slip in an extra comma à la that guy too strong to resist. Sometimes it's more comforting than frustrating, so I can see why he's embraced it.

12 March 2018

Start Again

Do you make Daylight Saving (no really, there's no 's' at the end) resolutions? Because I'm thinking it should be a thing.

In all my years of living in places
that observe Daylight Saving Time,
I've never been more ready for more of
this than I am this year.
 Bring it on, DST. Source.
I mean, if you did make a New Year resolution, we're two and a bit months in, and that's a great time to reevaluate, refocus, and perhaps redo. If you didn't, now's a good opportunity to consider what you'd like to do with all the non-winter days ahead of us, perhaps especially things that go well with longer sunlit evenings.

And here's a bonus for folks like me who enjoy hibernating in the winter months: Saving Time lasts 8 months. So if I make a Saving Time resolution, then I can make a Standard Time resolution for the other four months, when the days are short and my motivation to do anything at all is low. Managing my own expectations, as it were. Plus, that beats the rush for the next round of New Year resolutions--I'll be saying, "Already been going on this one for a couple months, thanks!" while everyone else is writing their hot takes on why they set goals instead of making resolutions.

I'm thinking today of my wise friend Ruthie's words about Lent a year ago: "I love that the opportunity keeps coming around. ... I love that even if you've forgotten New Year resolutions, you can start again with new habits/determination/focus to be a better you." Indeed--even if a DST resolution isn't your thing (and seriously, when it's abbreviated that way, it kinda sounds like a drug), maybe there's another time that is. New year? Beginning of summer? Beginning of the school year? Random Tuesday?

Whenever you start a new goal, Ruthie's point still resonates-- you can always start again. Don't give up.

11 March 2018


Lent always last a couple weeks longer than I think it will. It's not like I go into Ash Wednesday unsure if Lent is the same length every year, or like I don't know when Easter is, but I still always get a couple weeks in and think, "We're about done with this, right?" Case in point: I almost wrote this "halfway there!" post last week.

So, we're halfway through Lent now, and as spring creeps closer and Easter is almost upon us, I'm seeing more than usual the wisdom of having Lent as a pre-Easter preparation rather than before other Christian holidays. Last year, my first winter back in the Midwest after a 20-year absence, was barely any kind of winter at all. I said then and am still saying now that last winter was God's way of easing me back into the climate that I fled for good reason, but this winter has been a little bit closer to the early dark and freezing temps and one-warm-day-haha-fooled-you weather yoyo that I remember from my childhood. And it is wearing me down.

People were walking past these daffodils
like it's no big deal! Like the winter is not
sucking their lives away! I don't know how
other people do it. I saw these flowers and
did quite the happy dance right there on
the sidewalk.
The past week or so I've been eagerly checking every bush and tree that I walk by for signs of new life, and I'm finally seeing signs of reawakening--some tiny buds here, a set of early leaves there, and reliable bulbs like daffodils and lilies saying "ready or not, here we come," to the ambient temperatures and shooting out of the ground right on cue. These signs of life are giving me strength to journey on, and also to walk through the streets of Cincinnati singing "Wick." (No word on how my fellow citizens feel about my musical interludes. I like to think of it as a public service.)

Lent begins in the darkness of winter, at a time when the sunlight- and warmth-loving among us (me) are just about ready to throw in the towel and go hibernate for a few weeks until the weather gets its act together. But to take on Lent seriously is to push myself even when it's hard and I want to give up, so that on Easter Sunday and beyond I can rejoice at the new growth and rebirth taking place in my own life, for having gone through the hard days and persevered through the struggle. And then I'll look around at the trees and flowers and all of creation rejoicing with me.

Halfway there, friends. Let's persevere through these last few weeks of winter together so we can rejoice together in the spring.

03 March 2018


Today's post is inspired by a Facebook post I saw this morning. Now, I normally try not to respond to those, because Facebook is the waste treatment plant of the internet. The post I saw, though, was interesting--it was about "adulting" classes (in quotes because while I think that word is fun as slang, I don't yet know how I feel about it being a real word) for young adults who lack life skills. Examples in the video included changing a flat tire, boiling an egg, folding a fitted sheet, and hulling a strawberry (I don't think I'll ever need that last one, but YMMV).

And while it's easy to say, "kids these days, amirite?" and roll right along, the truth is that skills have to be learned. We aren't born knowing anything. Every skill that I have, I've learned along the way, either from someone teaching me directly or by trial and error. There's nothing inherently irresponsible or shameful about not knowing a thing, and it's silly to expect that people will learn everything they need to know in the first 20 years, some of which years were spent pickup up random things and putting them in our mouths.

By the way, the person who I saw share this on Facebook was not being snide about adulting classes. It was when I made the mistake of clicking through and reading some comments that I decided to write an entire (long) post about it.

XKCD is a marvelous gem of a website. Source.
I remember my mother describing a personal finance class she took in high school, in which she learned to create a budget and balance a checkbook, a class that was long gone by the time I went to the same school 20 years later. There just wasn't room for it in the curriculum. And now, 20+ years later again, schools are even more pressed for what's included and what's not. New information comes at us constantly, testing is ever more intense for teachers and students, colleges have high demands for admission so students are swamped with extracurriculars--who has the time for a life skills class in school?

And the culture we live in bears some blame. I knew a dude a few years back who told me that he didn't teach his kids life skills because he wanted to keep them dependent on him, so they would come home for the weekends when they went to college. That was his plan for keeping his kids out of trouble, and I doubt that he was the only person who thought this was a good solution. I think of him often when I see the local college students struggling in Kroger, because I wonder if their parents ever let them into a supermarket before. My own father refused to teach me any mechanical things (including driving a stick shift, when I specifically asked him to teach me) on the grounds that "girls don't need to know that." Please, please, parents--do not do this. I get that your lives are already overflowing, the world puts way too many unrealistic demands on you, and that the years are short. But please try not to shortchange your kids this way.

There is a certain kind of human, and I'm related to an unfortunately high number of them, who believes that some things are just "common sense" and people "shouldn't need to be told that." However, that's just not true. I agree that there are many things that are caught rather than taught as one grows up--the aforementioned supermarket example springs to mind--but to presume that everyone caught the same information, or that we all have the same kind of upbringing, or that the human brain has a built-in program for knowing exactly what to do all the time, is just to invite frustration and misunderstanding into life.

By the way, as an adult I've had to learn how to drive a stick shift (at age 30) and how to change a flat tire on my bicycle (at age 34). A few months back I asked my brother to show me how to change a flat tire on a car (at age 39), although since I haven't had occasion to practice that one I'm sure I'll have to ask him again. (Mad props to my brother for being a lot more gracious and mature about that request than our father was. Maybe have a young widowed sister has helped him see the world in a different way than was possible for our father at this age.)
↑ This applies to more than just literature.

Repeat after me: There's nothing inherently irresponsible or shameful about not knowing a thing. It is okay to ask for help and seek out the skills that you're lacking. In fact, it shows incredible maturity to do that kind of self-assessment and look for self-improvement. What is shameful is mocking or belittling someone who's doing their best to fill those gaps. Everyone has something they don't know or haven't learned to do yet. Let's move forward together with that in mind, please.

01 March 2018

School of Listen Up

I'm going to talk a little bit about School of Rock, and it will contain spoilers, so I'll do my usual things that I do so you can get away quickly if the musical is coming to you next and you've been avoiding internet reviews and whatnot. (By the way: this is not a review. I don't really do that.) I did not see the movie that inspired the musical--folks seem really keen on asking that question. I'm sure it's great, but I'm not a movie gal.

Okay, that should cover the few lines that pull from Facebook. Everything else after the jump.

28 February 2018


I watched rather a lot of television in February, thanks to the Winter Olympics. So much, in fact, that I think I'm all TV'd up until the French Open. While it's not a hobby that I'm into, I do at least admire other people's resolve to sit still for that long. 

In the course of all that TV, I saw many, many car ads. That was a lot of car ads. Some of the tactics used to try to sell me a car are silly, some are funny, and some are downright wrong. For my amusement, I started keeping a mental list of all the people who were enlisted to sell me a car in the month of February:

Sharlie is not impressed by all these attempts to replace
her. She doesn't have anything to worry about, of course.
Oh, by the way, the Ohio River just had its biggest flood
in 20 years.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.;
Jesus, Moses, and Muhammad;
Real people, not actors;
Sesame Street Muppets;
Six women on snowboards;
Every Paralympian;
Ashley Wagner;
A high school band;
William Henry Harrison; and
(my personal favorite, by a car company that is a sponsor of USA Bicycling, for heaven's sake)
Needless to say, they were unsuccessful. Better luck next time, advertisers. Don't worry; I'm sure you convinced someone. Just not this someone.

You want to see a great ad, one I never got tired of seeing in two weeks of Olympics? Check out this one from St. Elizabeth healthcare. My favorite is the young man struggling with his math homework who's ready to give it another shot after his dad says, "You got this." Love.

27 February 2018


Tuesday is supposed to be my book day, but my book post for this week accidentally turned into a Sunday post instead. So, here's a non-book-related story for you. I've thought about sharing it before but have always held off, just in case the day I tell it is the day that my dad's side of my family all suddenly start reading my blog. (If they are already, then they're being very very quiet about it, which is... unlike us.) But I finally got a chance to tell this story to the relevant cousin at our uncle's funeral, so I no longer feel weird about sharing.

Every time I think the suggested pics
on the free images site couldn't get
weirder, it manages to outdo itself.
Searching for "name" is no exception.
I truthfully wasn't expecting to find
one that was usable, but lo and
behold. Source: blogmonkey on
When I took Chadwick's name when we got married, it was not a decision I took lightly. It wasn't a matter of course for me, even though it probably seemed like it was to anyone who didn't get to be there for my months of back-and-forth. Essentially, it boiled down to this: I liked his name better than my own. Wilcox it was going to be.

But then along came a day, a decade and a degree each later, when I was about to earn my MA, and I pointed out to Chad that while both of our BAs had his family's name on them, my own family (I was the first of my grandparents' descendants to go to college, although #2 was right on my heels) had no such honor in our house. Chadwick agreed that this was pretty unfair and that my granddad's name should get equal representation.

We were still talking through what that was going to look like--I knew I wanted both my last names hyphenated on my MA, but beyond that I hadn't decided whether to use both names professionally from then on or just stick with Wilcox. I for sure didn't want to have to write fourteen letters plus a hyphen every time I signed my name, so it wasn't going to be a formal change. But you all know what happened next--Chadwick died suddenly three months before my graduation date, and that settled it. There would be no hyphenating or honoring anyone else's legacy apart from his and mine with my diploma. My cousin who was only a year away from earning a JD already carries the family name, with no hand-wringing required. He could represent for all of us.

So I told him this after the funeral, and added, "Thanks for having my back," and we had a little chuckle over that. The family legacy is better off in his hands, anyway. I would probably just drop it and accidentally break bits off.

No, no, no. I'm not spelling it like that.
Source: Grant Oyston on freeimages.com.
Various relatives have taken turns, and my grandmother more turns than anyone, at asking if I'll ever get married again. Not having a crystal ball, I don't know the answer to that, but if it does happen it won't be any time in the foreseeable future. I can't imagine opening my heart that much a second time, not when it's already fractured. But this much I know for sure: I'm not changing my name again. I'm leaving this earth a Wilcox.

Because Chadwick's legacy is safe in my hands.

26 February 2018


I'm not certain that there's anything in our 21st century that isn't a disruption, despite the tech industry's relentless quest to claim the word for their own. (Of all the things to pick as a buzzword... but as has been pointed out by many, it does sound slightly less aggressive than "breaking.")

 Because whose brain isn't filled to
overflowing? Source.
So when life gets disrupted, by a tough week at work or a school schedule or an unexpected basically anything, there are things that are quick to go. I don't know what yours is, although for many people, exercise is on that list. (Mine also includes reading, writing, and all my crafty things. Which makes me wonder what the heck I'm doing instead, since those are the only things I do.)

The problem I have, and maybe you do, too, is that letting exercise go first just disrupts things more. I need running to keep my emotions on an even keel, to sleep better at night, to sort through angst and troublesome thoughts, and generally to be more fun to be around. So to allow that outlet to be disrupted is, in fact, even more disruptive. Maybe your outlet is your favorite TV show, or writing in a journal, or playing a game of solitaire with real cards. Maybe you don't know what your outlet is.

Your mental health matters. Your self-care matters. And while things get disrupted and there's nothing that can be done about it, the "first to go" list may need some tweaking. Maybe things get rearranged. Maybe you have a friend you can call in a hurry. Maybe your outlet needs a couple backups that are portable and flexible enough to go along with you in the daily scramble.

I'll be headed out to run in a little while, because if I don't, my day is already disrupted.

25 February 2018

To See the Face of God

Last week, I picked up A Million Miles in a Thousand Years again and have been re-reading it. You know, because when you have 1000 books on your to-read list, and 30 on the real, live to-read shelf in your living room, why wouldn't you reread something instead of trying something new?

There's probably a whole post in that last sentence, but it is not today's post.

So! Reading A Million Miles, which is all about the story we're writing with our lives, always reminds me of bishop from Les Misérables. Now there's a guy who was living a great story. His treatment in the musical version is brief but beautiful:

Now seems like a good time to say that this version, while great (Colm Wilkinson! What's not to love about that guy?), has nothing on the stage version. Ramin Karimloo as Valjean in the scene with the bishop remains one of the most powerful couple minutes of theatre I've ever seen. This is a moment that is best experienced live, and if you're very very lucky, from close enough to the stage to clearly see the actors' faces.

In rehearsal and on Broadway. I don't have the words for how incredible
Ramin was in this scene. (Adam Monley as the bishop also amazing.) The
whole plot of forgiveness and redemption really begins right here.
Image sources: Rehearsal, Broadway.
Anyway, the bishop--Monsieur Myriel--lived an amazing story, and it's that story that he invites Valjean into when they meet. My beloved Signet Classics edition of Les Misérables has 1460 pages. I don't usually recommend that people read the whole thing--it's quite a slog for the modern reader and you have to really hang in there through some completely unrelated and quite lengthy chapters--but Monsieur Myriel is the star of the first 104 pages. If you want to read about someone who used his life to write a great story, that's the part you should read.

To love another person is to see the face of God. But the better task, I think, is to choose to see the face of God when we see those standing before us. Seeing the face of God on someone else will surely call me to love that person as myself--as a human being, as a fellow traveller on this planet, as someone else who is also doing the best that she (or he) can to navigate a world gone mad. A great story, indeed.

Edited to remove a video of Kyle Jean-Baptiste as Jean Valjean that is no longer available on YouTube.

24 February 2018


I feel a bit weird, most days, writing about nonsense when the world is on fire. I don't want to give anyone the impression that I don't care or am unaware that there is more to be done in the world than share something I thought of while running last weekend or whatever random thing I'm on about. But it seems to be through the unimportant that my brain occasionally accesses greater truths, and when I manage to get those down, sometimes it touches people or makes them think (although that's not likely to happen today). I don't know how or when or why that happens, but the fact that it does is enough to keep me writing even when I fell pretty silly about it.

So! That being said, let's talk next year's Broadway in Cincinnati season. It's gonna be a doozy.

I was hoping, so very hoping, that we were going to get Come From Away next year. It launches its national tour from Seattle in October, and we get so many national tours in their first year that I had high hopes, which were promptly dashed when I got my upcoming season email. Seriously, though, this place is lousy with the arts and I have no complaints. My friend Bill knew what he was talking about when he told me to take a closer look at Cincinnati, and just this week I realized I've finally moved to loving it here instead of just liking it.

But never mind what we aren't getting. Here's what we are: Nine touring shows, eight of them either freshly off of or still running on Broadway, six of them (if my Broadway brain is working properly) in the first year of their tour, five of them in the first U.S. national tour of the show, and two of them the last two Tony winners for Best Musical. I was at a show at Aronoff Center last night and we're all keyed up for next season, on a heightened level of excitement that launched us into the very-energetic-on-its-own School of Rock. Love. It. Here.

Yeah, I think I'm okay with this lineup.
The one I'm most excited about? Not Dear Even Hansen, not The Play that Goes Wrong. (Look that one up on YouTube. I'm delighted it's coming here.) Not even Hamilton, although I'm in a differently excited realm than usual for that. Nope, I'm most excited for Fiddler on the Roof.

Why, why, why that one? After all, I saw it on Broadway. I've seen it live more than any other show, ever (that's counting high school and community theatre versions). What's left to be excited about?

It's my mother's favourite show. And as such, it's the first musical I ever knew existed. I knew the words to "Tradition" and "Sunrise, Sunset" practically before I could talk. I had wanted to take her to NYC before the show ended on Broadway, but timing and money didn't work out for that, so I promised myself that as soon as it came near either of us on tour, we were going. I cannot wait to share this with her--I'm going to trade in my great-but-miles-from-the-stage subscription seat to get us seats in the front orchestra instead so she can see every emotion on every actor. It's eleven months away and I'm already counting the days until we have what is certain to be one of the best theatre experiences of my life. (She already knows this is my plan. I'm not ruining the surprise.)

And that's why I'm so excited for next year's Broadway season in Cincinnati. 

23 February 2018

In the Bag

I know, I know, a green post is so boring after all the weeping and gnashing of teeth and other stuff that comes with this time of year at Cheekyness. Hop back a few days and read some sad things, if it makes you feel better.

Finding a plastic bag photo was more challenging
than I anticipated. Apparently there are not a lot of
photographers doing still life of grocery bags.
Source: Mentor Public Library.
Today, let's talk shopping bags. Specifically, the flimsy plastic kind they give you at the checkout. If you're very lucky and the cashier is in the right kind of mood, you might get one bag for each item. (Tangent: my grandma hates it when I refuse a bag for one item and just carry it out. She's convinced I'm going to get arrested, even though I usually have the receipt in the same hand. Going to the store with her is an adventure.) So, what to do with all of them?

The first thing to remember is not to put it into the trash. The only time you would ever need to trash one of these bags is if your raw meat leaked icky juices all over it. A little bit of condensation from your cold/frozen items, though, is not a good reason to throw the bag out. Let it air dry; it's fine.

The pre-first thing to remember is to take your own reusable bags (which you are properly washing every couple weeks, of course), but for the sake of this post we're imagining that you forgot them all at home. Put them somewhere where you won't forget next time, then read on.

These suggestions are in order from the least amount of effort to the most. Determine your energy level and then go:

1. Use them as liners for your small trash cans.
You probably don't have enough trash to use all of your bags this way, and will end up with a surplus. Not to worry; just move on to the next step(s) with the rest.

2. Ready-made lunch bag.
It has handles and everything! Of course, if you're like me and have managed to accumulate more reusable bags than you can possibly put groceries in, then you may have a more permanent lunch bag already. Moving on to...

3. Take them back to the store.
Just about every supermarket in America has a collection bin at the front of the store for used bags. Good news: You can also put other soft plastics, like your bread bags, into those bins. They'll take bags from other stores, the plastic that covers your dry cleaning, and pretty much any thin plastic. Do make sure that it's clean--this is not a place for potato-salad-encrusted Saran wrap. And if you are returning a bag with a zip top, remove the zipper first.

You can also take them back to the store the other way--by taking them all the way in for reuse to carry your groceries home a second time. More power to you.

4. Donate them somewhere not at the store.
This may be a bit trickier, but a little bit of Googling should reveal local organizations that will either use a plastic bag or turn it into something else. Here in Cincinnati, there's an org that makes them into sleeping mats for homeless folks. This is a pretty common thing--try your local American Legion Auxiliary if you can't think of anyone else. Not every Auxiliary does it, but the ones who do make the mats exclusively for homeless vets. Anyone who makes things out of bags will be happy to take your (clean and dry) unwanted stock.

5. Make your own reusable bag.
This one is just off-the-wall enough to be true. It involves some melting and sewing, depending on the tutorial you use, but might be a fun activity with kids who are old enough to assist. Here's a video to get you started.

6. Make your own many other things.
Remember those bread bag rugs all our grandmas and aunts were making in the 80s? Want to try one of those mats for the homeless I mentioned earlier? Need some non-wilty flowers in a hurry? The world of instructables is wide open to you, friend. Have a good time.

Seriously. Don't throw those bags away. There's no reason to send them to a landfill when they have so many other potential uses.

What else do you have in your house that might need a second life?

22 February 2018

Just Be

I took a couple days off at the beginning of the week, which turned out to be a fantastic choice when Cincinnati got up to 79° on Tuesday. My bicycle was happy to finally go somewhere interesting after weeks of sitting around when we set out to run a few errands.

Despite my tendency to forget it from time to time, I was remembering well that I live in Cincinnati now, and this week's warm temps were not here to stay quite yet. So, to avoid bitter disappointment later, I kept reminding myself, "Don't get carried away. Just be here in this moment." Normally, that is a strategy that doesn't work well for me.

I ended one of my errands at an intersection of two one-way streets, both going the opposite direction from where I wanted to go, so I thought I'd just go a block and then turn.

Well. This is one of the few times in my life I've managed to convince myself of something and make it stick. A few blocks later, I realized I'd completely forgotten to turn because I was having such a good time rolling right along. There's a great deal to be said about being in the moment and ignoring everything else--not thinking about what I'm doing later or making a mental grocery list or imagining the stack of paper my coworkers were cooking up in my absence. From time to time, it's a good thing to just be.

It's less of a good thing when your sense of direction depends on you being able to think at least a couple minutes down the road, but one can't have everything. But going the wrong way meant I found a thing. Last spring, I did a Cincinnati-themed A to Z Challenge, and when I got to Union Terminal I learned about the mosaics that were specially commissioned for the building. I read at the time that some of them had landed at the Duke Energy Building, and I lodged it in the back of my mind to go look harder for them one day, since I'd been around and inside there a couple times and had never seen them. Guess where my wrong turn took me?

I had crossed the street and was admiring the Firefighters Memorial Park when I happened to glance over and, had I been walking, I would have stopped in my tracks. As it was, I said aloud to absolutely no one, "Wait! Is that them? It has to be!" And crossed back over to see them. They are every bit as amazing as I had imagined they would be.

I only took pics of these two, because the glare made them not look so great.
I'll head back on a cloudy day and get them all.
So there's one more thing to be said for being in the moment. You never know what you may find.

21 February 2018

You Are Here

A couple months ago at work, I was expressing my difficulty in climbing stairs while carrying something that blocks my view of where I'm stepping. I asked, "What's the word for knowing where you are in space? Prio-something?" A coworker called back, "Proprioception!" I said, "Yes. That. I don't have it."

An exhibit in MOMA. I like it.
That's just a little story for you, and not really what this is about. No, this is about my ongoing struggle to build a map in my head. Places I go often--work, church, Kroger--I could find in my sleep, if necessary. Downtown has been a bit more tricky, even though I'm down there a lot. (Parts of downtown are tricky. I can find the Aronoff Center just from the excited twinge that comes over me when in range of live theatre.)

But when I try to visualize where things are in relation to other things in Cincinnati, I often realize I'm picturing a different city. Perhaps this is my brain rebelling against my forcing it to learn its way around a fifth city. How do people who move a lot do it?

There's research that suggests that people who walk and people who drive have similarly accurate mental maps of a place, while regular transit users lag behind them and folks who are exclusively passengers lag even farther still. And there's a cool study on how the brain changes and builds synapses on repeated exposure to the same route. The research mentions neither bikes nor how many cities you can pack into your brain before it explodes. Obviously that's a gap for academia to address.

I'd like to see more research on
Hemingway's experience of building a
mental map. I agree anecdotally, but I'm
all about gathering more data.
Here's one that's even more interesting: kids who live in walkable and bikeable neighborhoods have not only a better sense of place--as in, where things like the park or their school are--but they also feel better about the place they live. Kids who are driven more and rarely walk are they opposite--they have a harder time knowing where they are, and their neighborhood seems more scary. I wonder if being scared of their surroundings is entirely because they haven't gotten the chance to know them well, or if it's also from internalizing the fears of the adults around them. I'm not a kid and I absorb other people's feelings, so it's not hard to imagine that less emotionally developed people do it.

And one more before I go: many studies have found a connection between exercise and thinking/memory skills. So it is the right choice for your or your kids to walk rather than drive when the opportunity presents itself? Only you can answer that question, but even if you can never head out for school or errands car-free, at least try to build in a walk around the block a few times a week.

Your brain will thank you.

20 February 2018

Hope for the Best, But...

Nobody wants to prepare for the worst. It's a very persistent brand of optimism that says if we aren't ready for tragedy, then tragedy can't possibly strike. Would that it were.

I posted a similar thing a year ago, and friends who have been through non-death but still yucky seasons of life, like a long illness or a divorce, told me that many of these suggestions can be adapted for things besides sudden widowhood. And with my family's sudden sad reminder earlier this week that life is short and tends to take a turn exactly when we're not expecting it, I decided this was worth updating and posting again.

However, I do hate writing this only days after children were murdered. My heart breaks as we grieve with the parents currently living their worst nightmare. The somewhat lighthearted nature of this post is not intended as disrespect, as I wish that we lived in a world where no parent need ever bury a child, whether by illness or accident or calculated intent. Indeed, my suggestions are 100% meant for adults, and if I sound flippant, it's only because death comes to us all and I'm still trying to get used to the idea.

Source: St. Mattox on freeimages.com.
You're going to need a Keely.
I don't really know how one finds a Keely, since mine just kind of turned up one day and she's been stuck with me ever since. Basically, no one should be going through life without their own Keely anyway, nor should anyone go through life without being a Keely. (I'm doing my best. I don't know how she does it. She has magical powers.) With apologies to Aaron Sorkin, here's the best way I can think of to find your Keely: Do you have a best friend? Is she smarter than you? Do you trust her with your life? Will she jump in between you and any needlessly irritating folks?

Find your Keely now, so that you can bank lots of good times together before a crisis arises.

You're not going to be ready for the stupid stuff people say.
Unfortunately, my cousins are having to experience this right now. And it was my turn to be on the other side of the coin: your experience with tragedy will not stop you from saying stupid stuff in your turn to the next person. It's part of being human, so unless the current goofball has a history of being thoughtless/causing trouble/etc., and as long as they don't repeat the ugliness over and over, chalk it up to temporary idiocy and let it go. If it's either of those first two things, though, it's okay to reduce or cut off altogether the time you spend with them. Don't be a martyr to someone else's stupidity.

Dying is expensive.
Your bank account is going to take a ding. It's a bummer, but it's true--if you haven't started paying for a funeral, burial plot, etc., there's no getting out of it now. I managed a funeral on the cheap, so it can be done, but you'll still have to shell out some cash. Even for younger and/or childless folks, consider a small life insurance policy just to cover final expenses should the worst happen. (If you have children, you should already have a policy.) Also, that bill you get for the final ambulance ride/ER trip/DOS pronouncement is going to be the worst bill of your life.

Your credit score will likely fluctuate as well when you change all your joint accounts to individual ones--it's been three years and I've only just gotten my credit back to where it was before. This will be all the more true if you, like me, had little to no credit of your own before.

Single and with no one else to consider? If you don't want to buy life insurance, at least sock some cash away somewhere in a just-in-case fund, to help out your family if something goes horribly wrong.

Married folks need to be sure both names are on every account. Unmarried folks need to name an authorized representative.
It never occurred to us that by letting Chadwick take care of all our bills, we were effectively locking me out of all our accounts. I had to send death certificates to everyone just to get anyone to talk to me. (Special shoutout to City of Austin utilities and Bank of America, who were much more kind and sympathetic than, for instance, Verizon.)

Married, life partner, long-term relationship, whatever--make sure that if something happens to you, the person you trust with your life and things can continue taking care of your business. In fact, if you have a friend or next of kin who you trust, having a third authorized person on the account who might be slightly more clear-headed for speaking to your rubbish collector might be something to consider. Also, this seems as good a place as any to point out that you'll have some extra paperwork to do at tax time for a couple years. (Death and taxes, though--the IRS has customer service folks who are great at this. Call them. They're incredibly helpful.)

If you don't have someone you're sharing your life with, pick a next of kin, trusted friend, whatever--someone who is capable and trustworthy for closing out your accounts.

Similarly, share your passwords. To everything.
I mean, if you don't already have access to each other's accounts anyway, that's probably something you should talk about. I'm all for respecting each other's space, but to keep passwords secret is to invite some problems in. However! The real point here is that if you're felled by serious injury, hospitalization, or worse, your spouse will probably need to get into your computer sooner or later. Make sure passwords are stored somewhere everyone can get them.

My sister knows the password to my computer, but sooner or later I should write them down somewhere for whoever is the first one who has to get into my electronics. I don't really have a good solution for this yet. I'm sure someone does. (One of my baby cousins knows my phone pin, because I let her play with my phone at every family get-together. I doubt anyone will think to ask her.)

Any special instructions/bequests need to be written down.
I'm lucky enough not to have had interfering relatives on either side of the family. (Of course, they were all far away, so...) But if you think there may be a relative, friend, neighbor, etc. who will muscle in at the worst possible time to claim Great-Aunt Myrtle's antique vase as his or her own, make sure your partner has some ammunition to fight back. People as young as I am may not want to go to the bother and expense of writing a formal will (unless you have a condition that you know will shorten your time on this earth), but at least write some stuff down.

Know your rights.
I can't speak to separated or blended families, couples of different nationalities, same-sex couples, common-law marriages, or others that are outside my experience, so I urge you: do your research for your particular situation and make sure all your bases are covered. Y'all may be in need of legal documents that I didn't necessarily have to have.

If you have any ideas for a final send-off, it's never too early to say so.
The only things Chadwick and I talked about ahead of time were donating organs and planting trees with our ashes. The first one obviously had to be dealt with right away, but I still haven't planted a tree. I don't know when that's going to happen, so in the meantime, I keep the ashes put away somewhere that visitors aren't likely to see it and ask, "What's that box?" Because there's no good way out of that conversation.

You're not going to be ready for the outpouring of kindness.
Tell the first person who asks, "What can I do?" to bring over some tissues. You're going to need them for more than just the obvious reasons. Humans can rise to amazing heights when called to it. Be willing to let people do things for you that you can't do for yourself.

This is a time when it's okay for it to be all about you.
People who bring you down, people who insist on telling you what you're doing wrong, people who refuse to respect your boundaries--these are people you can do without right now. It's okay to banish them for a while and then only let them back in when you're ready. Recruit some folks to run interference, if necessary. This is a great job for your Keely.

Get things written down, prepared, put away, and then let it go. One less thing to worry about.

19 February 2018

What Not to Say, Again

I wasn't going to bother with this post in 2018. I've written it down a few times now, with updates as appropriate, and I thought, "People who are reading my blog have probably already internalized this and don't need to hear it again." But then just a few weeks ago, a Facebook friend announced a loss, and I watched in resignation as her page filled up with dumb stuff and I thought, "Yeah, I need to write it down again." I said so on Twitter, and this happened:
I took a bunch of pics in a cemetery
once. Those pics have really come
in handy.
Indeed. And even if I hadn't reached that conclusion, my cousins' experiences last week have only served to underline this need. So, here it is again, and please feel free to share it as broadly as you like in the hopes that well-meaning but poorly equipped friends can get some fresh ideas. And maybe that the insensitive clods will at least have a go at keeping quiet.

For the times that you don't manage to stop yourself in time, shake it off and do better the next time. Whether we like it or not, the wrong words will pour out of our very human mouths when faced with other peoples' grief. Also, it's good to remember that while most of these things that I suggest you not say are pulled from the consensus of widows groups and similar sources (yes, I did more research than just living through it), grief is idiosyncratic. It's possible you'll run across someone who's okay with these statements. But it's easiest not to count on people in grief hearing what you mean and not what you say, not when there are other options.

Part 1: Things That Are Better Left Unsaid

1. For the love of everything, please don't race to be the first post your condolences on Facebook

If you don't know for sure that all family and friends who should hear the news firsthand have been informed, find something else to do with your fingers while you wait for the closest relative to post first. I recommend a good cup of tea and perhaps a crossword puzzle. Honestly, the deceased is not going to get any less dead if you don't say something right away. Even if your intentions are good, please wait. Go ahead and send a text to the widow(er) if you like--but again, don't expect an immediate response, or indeed any response at all. It's not a grief-off.

Also, if you think you should have been among the first to get a phone call and weren't, or you read it from someone on Facebook before you got the call, take any aggravation/resentment you may feel and find a healthy way of dealing with it that doesn't involve airing your grievances to the bereaved. Ever. This does not have a statute of limitations. Give the family some slack--there are only so many times anyone can say, "My [family member] died this morning" before it gets to be too much.

2. "Did you know he was sick?" or "Was this a surprise?"

My aunt and cousins have just had to deal with (and are probably still dealing with) being asked this. I cannot stress this enough: if you don't already know, it's none of your business right now. Full stop, no exceptions, especially in the first few weeks when the bereaved probably don't want to share what happened hundreds of times. Other people have almost certainly asked before you, so please restrain yourself. Ask a more distant relative, if you must, but not the people sitting in the front row at the funeral.

I got asked this so many times that I started telling people that a pulmonary embolism is an acute condition that can happen to anyone at any time, which is not 100% true, but usually gave the questioner reason to ponder his or her own mortality, preferably somewhere else. If you don't want this treatment, it's best not to ask.

Caveat: after a while, people started to phrase it as, "Can I ask what happened?" which at least gives the bereaved a chance to say "I'd rather not talk about it" if that's how they feel. (And if that is the answer you get, back off immediately.) If some time has gone by and you've still never heard what it was, this is probably the way to do it. Just please don't assume that every dead person was harboring a secret fatal illness.

3. "S/He's in a better place."

This may be true, but you shouldn't say it out loud in the presence of family members who are struggling just to stay upright and survive the next minute. Hawaii is also a better place, but I wouldn't want him going there and leaving me behind, either. If this is comforting to you, say it to yourself. Don't say it to the family.

And the next is like unto it:

3. "It's comforting to know that s/he's with Jesus."

You don't know whether this is comforting or not. (Spoiler alert: For me, it's not, even though I believe that it's true.) So also keep this one to yourself, if it helps you.

And the next is like unto it again:

5. "God needed him/her more that you did."

No, God bloody well did not. I don't understand why people of faith have so many awful platitudes we've cooked up for times of crisis, but it's time for us all to forget them. If this is the best you can do, just sign the guest register and take a seat with your mouth closed. This is a terrible thing to say, not only because it's not comforting, but also because it turns God into some kind of weirdo body-snatching alien from a bad horror movie. Just don't.

6. "How are you?" or "How are you, really?"

I know, I know. It seems like a well-intentioned, innocent enough question. The problem is, everyone wants to put the emphasis in those exact places. The further problem is, when asked with any kind of emphasis, the question carries a connotation of "You can tell me the truth, even things you don't want to tell other people, because I'm being all kind and understanding!" Yes, even if that's not what you mean, that's how it sounds, and that being the case it can imply a closer relationship than you truly share with the bereaved. Steer clear.

On the other hand, asking "How are you?" without any weird emphases and being open to an honest answer, or to no answer at all, is not as bad. If nothing else, "How are you?" is how we open a lot of conversations, so it's at least a common convention and is less likely to be misunderstood. However, know in advance that the answer may well be an exasperated, "How do you think I am?" So tread carefully.

7. "Were you close?"

Okay, I pulled this one from my personal archives. Obviously, this isn't something people ask widows. (At least, I hope not!) When I lost uncles in 1997 and 2001, this was all anyone could ask me. Fortunately, I haven't heard it this past week. So this one might be an age thing, the result of young people overall having less experience with grief. Whatever the reason, please don't ask this. They'll probably tell you without you asking, anyway.

8. Anything that might be trying to get the person to look on the bright side.

We're not going to get to the bright side any faster just because someone is trying to "help" get us there, no matter how good your intentions are. This is, in fact, one of those times when looking on the dark side is totally appropriate. There's a road out, but in no universe does someone come out of the darkness faster if you forcibly shine a Maglite into their face.

I've probably missed some important ones, but this should be enough to get you started. Above and beyond all else, think before you speak. Always. That's the best way to save everyone some aggravation, embarrassment, and heartache. And of course, I'm not leaving you hanging without some replacement ideas. Keep reading:

Part 2: Things that are good to say

1. "Please text/call/Facebook me, even if it's the middle of the night."

This is not for casual acquaintances. You should only say this to someone with whom you already have a text/call/Facebook relationship. You should also edit it to fit your own boundaries--if you have small children in the house, 2 AM phone calls may not be how you can help, for example. Only say this if you are able and willing for the person to take you up on it.

2. "What can I bring you?"

This one works for anyone, unless the bereaved has some sort of restraining order against you. Be prepared with suggestions if the person says "I don't know." Be prepared with non-food ideas if the person says "My fridge is full." Be prepared to get a gift card if the person says, "No, thank you," but gift-giving is still one of your love languages. Stick it in a card and drop it in the mail--they'll appreciate it later. Promise.

Caveat: Don't bring or give anything if you will be in a huff later if you didn't get a thank-you card. It's possible that the family will run out of steam for writing all the thank-you notes they intended, or will never conjure the energy in the first place. Give with no strings or expectations, or don't give at all.

3. "Can I go to the bank/supermarket/library/etc. for you?"

Yes. Yes, you can. Again, maybe this isn't something you'd say to someone you've only said hello to twice. If you don't know them well enough to know if they're too private to accept this offer, skip straight to a nice sympathy card with some kind words inside.

4. "Do you want to go to [fun thing you've always done together]?"

Give this one a little while before asking the first time, and keep in mind that the answer will likely be 'no' the first few times you ask. (Make sure you're spacing out your invites appropriately. This is also idiosyncratic--weekly? Monthly? Maybe next year? Pay attention to your friend's response to decide when to ask again.) Please, please don't give up on your friend. One day, the answer will be 'yes.'

5. Sharing a favourite memory or something you liked or appreciated about the departed person is nearly always welcome.

This means other kinds of stories, like "most embarrassing moment" or "something horrible he did to me when we were kids," are probably not welcome. Don't be the weird cousin who tells awkward stories at the wake.

Also, don't hold back on telling stories even if it's been weeks or months or years since the deceased passed. The idea of not wanting to remind the bereaved about his/her loss is silly; it's not like we're going to forget. If someone says they don't want to hear a memory right then, accept that in the moment, but that doesn't mean that they'll feel that way forever. In fact, there's a good chance they may reach out to you to hear that story once they're in a better frame of mind.

6. Go to the funeral.

This is not one of mine; it comes from a wise friend (who came to Chadwick's funeral, btw), and she is 100% correct. It's the best chance to show that you care. You don't even have to say anything. I'd be lying if I said I have instant recall of every person who was at Chadwick's funeral, but I do know that every person who stepped through the door made my heart swell a bit more. Especially those who travelled long distances and were a surprise. You never know how much your presence will bless someone.

7. "I care about you."

Just don't be creepy. If you don't know the person well enough to be non-creepy, there's always the standard-issue and perfectly acceptable:

8. "I'm so sorry to hear of your loss."

Cliched? Sure. Appreciated? Oh, yes. Even in those dark moments, we all know that there are no words. Better to say a few and let your presence speak for you than to try to "fix" it.

So if you've read all this and you're mad at me now or think I don't know what I'm talking about, congratulations! You are my target audience. Don't send me an angry comment; instead, re-read this through a few times and try to memorize the things in Part 2. Print it off and hang it up, if you need to. Take it along to the next funeral as a cheat sheet.

Above all, thank you for trying to lighten the load for someone else. That's my point for writing this again--to help you help your nearest and dearest through an awful time. Keep in mind that your words have power and you'll do just fine.

18 February 2018

To Be Happy You're Alive

Reading my Facebook memories in the days leading up the anniversary of Chadwick's last day is a bit like, well, a Crockpot fire. It's like Mrs. Landingham leaving the office to go pick up her car. It's like Henry getting on that chopper. I get the same jolt of realization as I do when I watch beloved characters going about their normal business with no idea that their lives are about to be irrevocably shattered.

Last year, I wrote about what went down that day, so if you've never heard the whole story, that's where you can read it. I'm not writing all that down again.

There's nothing not to love about this picture. Even if you
didn't know him, this pretty much says it all.
A few months ago for Chadwick's birthday, a dear friend sent me a message addressed to him that read, in part: "You are with her everywhere. Every adventure she takes, she takes you along." I certainly hope that's true. For all that I can't make up my mind about whether I like the idea of his spirit hanging around, I hope I'm living a full enough life for two people. If nothing else, I want to honor his spirit by experiencing every moment as fully as I can, even the moments when I'm frustrated or disgusted by this world we're living in.

This life isn't fair. Some days, nothing goes right. This is one of those days. In a life gone horribly wrong, I'm doing my best just to keep going. And I hope you are, too. That's the least we can do for those who've passed on from this life and who are no longer allowed to participate, but who may well be watching.

Post title is a line from "Light," from the musical Next to Normal, which is still basically my life anthem. You're on your own if you watch any more of it than that song.

17 February 2018

Strands of a Life

Legacy may be planting seeds in a garden you never get to see, but that doesn't tell us what to do with the gardens that are left to us. What we leave behind matters. But so does what we do with what's been left.

An old episode of Theatre People caught my ear recently, when Jeanine Tesori said, "A lot of the middle ages is taking the strands of your family's history and trying to decide what you're going to use in your own embroidery." I may not be quite to the middle ages just yet, but choosing my own strands is a thing I'm definitely thinking about this week.

Some literal family embroidery--my
grandmother's. This is a thread of hers that
is also in me. The fact that we shared this
was the sort of thing she might have
mentioned while she was still alive.
Some strands I left behind long before it even occurred to me that that's what I was doing, when straight out of high school I decided I needed to move away from my family and its history and see what I could embroider on a clean canvas. I brought them with me, though, with the needing things just so and the snark and the hanging onto things because I'll find a use for them later, plus wherever the writing thing came from.

My grandfather's nickname in his final years was "Mr. Wonderful," because whenever anyone asked him how he was, he would say, "Wonderful." He said that to me when I saw him the last time in the hospital--I walked in when he was alone, he grinned the same smile that my mother and uncles and brother all inherited, but not me--I said, "How are you, Grandpa?" and took his hand. He said, "Wonderful," before telling me he was in too much pain for me to hold his hand like that.

My Chadwick greeted the world with arms and heart open every day. I said of my uncle's passing earlier this week, "the world just got a little less kind and open-hearted." The pieces of my family's thread that are already in me are so deeply embedded that I don't even have to think about them, I can't even see them most of the time, but this open-heartedness and embrace of the world and everyone in it--those are threads I have to fight for. They aren't in me, because I have, at least somewhat from necessity, closed off my heart. I wonder what I'm missing, what kind of tapestry I could be making, if I could access those threads that I've left in the box for now. Who knows how my embroidery will change as the years go by?

I can't use all my family's thread. And I certainly don't want to. We have some ugly colours that I've purposely avoided, because that's not the kind of legacy I want to leave behind. And I've added some that are just me, which means leaving even more of everyone else in the box. 

What threads are you using?

16 February 2018


Humans, we need each other. We need connection. We need someone who cares. We need to know we aren't alone.

This is a pretty tall order. Due in part to our current disconnectedness, it's not always easy to know who needs a word of encouragement. Or who the person is who I can make a difference for. And who doesn't have more things going on than hours in a day?

I don't have a solution, except that my usual throwing my hands up in the air and retreating into a book to avoid actual human emotion is probably not one. But I do have a teeny tiny thought.

Some of the postcards on my ribbon board. It's possible
one of these is not so much a postcard as me showing off
that I got a thing.
This thought started when I was perusing my Facebook memories a few days ago, and found an old comment of mine that sending a postcard instead of a Facebook message is only marginally more expensive and you get a pretty picture, too.

Remember when we used to send letters? I loved writing letters in pre-internet days, but that dwindled away until the only person I was writing letters to was my grandmother, who is no longer around to receive them, so for the last three years I've sent the odd postcard from D.C. or NYC, and that's it. I think it's time to change that.

How is this an environmentally friendly idea? I don't know, but what I do know is that the postal service runs whether I'm using it or not, so I may as well give them something to carry that isn't junk mail. It is possible to tear the front off a card you've received that you weren't sure what to do with later (does anyone else have this problem? I can't bring myself to recycle a card, no matter how many years it's been gathering dust) and use that as a postcard, so that's a good way for a bit of reusing to sneak in. Plus, happier humans = better planet, at least I certainly hope so.

So I'm challenging myself starting right now to send out at least one postcard a week in 2018, and to do that I need your help. Want a postcard? Send me your address via DM and I'll put you in the queue. Why am I doing this? Because I care about you and want to brighten your day a little bit. Because we need a bit more connection in the world today. Because I want a reason to go buy some postcards.

What will you do today to make the world a more connected place?

15 February 2018

Saying Good-bye

The sad posts weren't supposed to start this soon, but as always, the universe had other plans for me.

On Saturday night, I got the call that my healthiest uncle was in the ER in critical condition. I started getting ready to head to Indianapolis in the wee hours, and in the meantime, fired off a text to two very sensible friends: "I can't lose someone else in February. Can. Not." They talked me down off the ledge, and it turned out that yes, in fact, I can: about 15 hours later, he was gone and I'm still very much here.

I keep banishing February and it keeps coming round again. This is the fourth family member that we've lost in February in four years, and that's only counting the ones I'm actually related to, because my extended family's other families (on both sides) have suffered losses in (or near) February the past few years, too. Winter sucks.

I let one of the baby cousins play with my
phone on Christmas Eve. Thank goodness.
Anyway. Today we say good-bye to a kind and gentle soul who somehow managed to cope for 45 years with the so-very-not-those-things family he married into. His cheerful demeanor and voice of reason are lost to us forever. He filled a deep need in the extended family, and I don't know that anyone will ever step into that void that he has left behind. We are bereft, and no one more so (naturally) than my auntie who has had him at her side for so long.

I've been trying to think of stories to share and I settled on a few, but most of them are recent and not from when I was a kid and saw him all the time. Because, I think, he's always been more of a constant presence than someone with whom I have a series of happenings to write about later. Always there, always ready for a chat, always going to be around forever. Until he wasn't.

Uncle Buster (not his given name, but that's what we call him) worked for Indiana DOT for years. Sometime around the third or fourth grade, we were assigned to interview someone for a report. Apparently I was already a budding transportation enthusiast, because I decided to interview Uncle Buster about highway things. I don't remember what we talked about, except that I was keen to know what the control boxes near traffic lights were called. Looking back now that I've become an active transportation advocate and a technical writer, I'm high-fiving both of us for having such a great idea.

It's ridiculous that all of my pics
of my family are from 15 years
ago, but whatever. My sweet little
flower girl is now in her first
year of college and has gotten
slightly taller since then.
Skipping ahead a few decades, I think Uncle Buster was pretty excited about Denise and I coming home (her for a visit, me to stay-ish) two summers ago. I was doing something in the deep recesses of Grandma's house a couple days after we arrived when there was a knock on the door, and she said "hello" in the voice she uses for strangers, so I thought it was a Jehovah's Witness or something. Then a familiar voice said, "I'm looking for a couple of girls!" and I screamed, "I'm coming!!" from wherever I was in case Grandma decided to call the cops before she realized who was standing in front of her. (She knows all of my dad's family very well and figured it out pretty quickly; she just didn't recognize him right away.) We ended up on the back porch talking about my bicycle for an hour while Grandma tried to get him to eat something. Poor Grandma and Denise were bored out of their minds having to hear us talk bike things.

Last May, I ran the Indy Mini and so did my oldest cousin's husband. He finished something like an hour ahead of me, and I didn't even know they were there until I got home and checked Facebook. That afternoon I got a phone call from Uncle Buster to ask how the race went, and he asked if I'd seen my cousin (his daughter) & her husband there. I said no, that he'd finished about an hour ahead of me and I never even laid eyes on either of them. Uncle Buster, who up until then was apparently confused about how running works, said, "But he's older than you!" Once I stopped laughing, I explained that any advantages a few years' younger runner may have, especially at our age, are easily overcome by things like training, genetics, better diet, longer legs, and not being 30 pounds overweight. I think he was reassured by that answer. Or perhaps he spent the rest of his days convinced that I'm the faster runner and last May was just a fluke.

Another recent visit home, sometime last spring, he asked how I'd gotten here and I told him I took the bus. He reacted like he'd never heard of public transportation, and then asked why I'd never told him I needed a car, because he would have helped me find one. I told him I don't need a car, and he said, "You just said you don't have a car."
Me: "I don't."
Him: "But I can help you get one."
Me: "I don't need one."
Him: "You just said you don't have one."
Me: "I don't."
This went on for a few minutes, me keeping it up just to see how long he would keep going, until my auntie finally couldn't take it any longer and told one or both of us to can it. We started talking something else, and she finally commented on my patience for long conversations with a man who could talk for America. I told her, "I was married to one of these, too," and she said, "Oh, yeah, I forgot about that." I dearly hope Chadwick and Buster run into one another on the other side. In eternity, they may finally get through all the words they always intended to say. (Unlikely.)

And finally... Uncle Buster and I had a nice chat for an hour or so on Christmas Eve. At one point, he asked me if I was a member of the Christian Singles Network in Cincinnati. (I don't even know if that's a thing, btw.) I asked him if he was high.
Him: "I'm serious!"
Me: "So am I!"
Him: "Well, but don't you want--"
Me: "No no no no no. Whatever is at the other end of that sentence, I do not want it. No."
Him: "... Well. Okay."
And then we moved on to something else. Airplanes, I think.

Goodnight and joy be to you, Buster. We'll see you on the other side.

(This video really does work, even though it's grey in some browsers. Go ahead and click.)

14 February 2018

The Replacements

Ash Wednesday is upon us. Not ready? It's not too late. Really. I've started late a few times, and had to re-start more often than that. Tomorrow is always a new day.

So! I'm not sharing my fast, because I don't. And this year's fast was really quite an easy choice. The more difficult preparation for me was deciding what to do instead.

I will definitely fall into this hole if given half a chance.
Source: Asif Akbar on freeimages.com.
Maybe other people don't have this problem. If you don't, I salute you and hope you'll write your own blog post about how you succeed. But for me, I can't just take things away and be done with it. I have to have something to fill the space, or the same old things will fall in again when I'm not looking. If I want a change to stick, even if I decide this one is only for the next six weeks, then I need a smooth surface to build on, not one riddled with potholes.

My process was pretty simple: I looked around and thought, "What are some things I've been neglecting that I can give attention to during Lent?" I'm going so far as to create myself a pretty list to hang up on my wall for when my brain starts getting tugged in the direction of something that's off the table until Easter, because I will forget without something there to remind me. I have, it seems, learned some tricks for accommodating the gaping holes in this brain of mine. This is similar to my practice of not bringing chocolate into the house so I won't eat a ton of it in one sitting, except from the opposite direction.

Here's what I came up with:
1. Reading
Kevin Tuerff's Channel of Peace is on my shelf and ready to go. I have Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together on hold at the library. And I realized earlier this week that my skills at finding something quickly in a paper Bible are almost non-existent after many years of using an ebook version, so I have one likewise on a shelf where I will see it and remember to open it up.

2. Writing
Between this blog, the Women in the Marketplace blog I've neglected even more than this one, and a still very much unfinished school story that I would really like to find out how it ends, I have plenty to keep my keyboard busy. Incidentally, sad blog posts are coming this weekend. I know some of you only come round for those, but if that's not you, I won't be offended if you run away until the sad stuff is done.

3. Crafting
I've lost track of how many projects I have in progress, but there are three in particular that I'd like to finish soon, and one I need to start because it has a hard deadline.

I'm not certain what this hand is doing, so I'm off to a
good start. Source: John Hughes on freeimages.com.
4. And some other things...
There are some things on my list that I think it's best that I keep to myself. Things that should remain, like the fast itself, with the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. Maybe after Lent is over I'll share some more. We'll see how it goes.

How do you deal with changes you'd like to make in your life--temporary or permanent? Do you fill up the gap with something else right away, or are you able to leave it alone and let it heal on its own?