Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Santa the Stalker and other Holiday Mishaps

I was one of those little kids that hated to sit on Santa's lap.  I put up with it - but that was just to insure that I got what I wanted.  My mother even insisted that she proof read my Christmas list before I sat on his lap to make sure there were no typos.  She would even let me know if there was something on the list that Santa might have a hard time getting it into the house.   Down the chimney was not an option since we lived in Miami and fire places were rarely needed when most of the December morning temperatures were in the 60's and you could play outside in your shorts by noontime.  

Standing in line to meet Santa always seemed to me what it would be like after you die and you're waiting at the pearly gates for Saint Peter to peruse his naughty and nice list to decide if you made the cut into heaven.  To me, Santa was omnipotent and in a sense more real than God - I mean his branding was the white beard, red suit, reindeer and a bag full of toys - that was a form of omnipotence that any kid could grasp.   I knew that God was out there but short of the Sistine chapel and Michaelanglo's vision, you didn't have a consistent view of what God looked like and he sure wasn't known for giving toys out on a specific night.   Santa could "see you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake." If that is not Godlike, I don't know what is.  

So I would stand there and see kid after go cheerfully and sit on Santa's lap.  Sure there was the occasional crybaby - but for the most part kids were excited to be there.   I always had to share my Santa time with my youngest sister, Sharon who I nicknamed Dee-Dee. I stood there year after year trembling wondering if any of my past misdeeds would haunt me like the time my mother gave me money for the ice cream man and I lost half if it and told Dee-Dee it was her half that got lost.   I used to scratch and bite up until the age of three but after that, according to my siblings, I grew out of it and was a pretty sweet kid.   Dee-Dee never seemed to be phased by Santa, maybe it was because she was more fearless than me or maybe she honestly never thought she did anything wrong - being the youngest she could get away with more than the rest of us.   Each time a child finished his appointment with Santa meant Dee-Dee and I got closer to the all knowing one.   The "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" lyrics continued to haunt me as we were just feet away.   Was he stalking me - always watching through some sort of digital camera from the year 2011 that only he would have access to in 1969?  Did he see me shove clothes into my toy chest because I didn't want to put them away?  Did he see me not make my bed for the fourth day in a row?  Or did he (gasp) see me pour my milk down the drain because it got warm during dinner and now my mother expected me to drink it.   How many points did you get counted off for each of those transgressions before you officially crossed over into the naughty list?   How could anyone be expected to be perfect - the strain would be too much. 

Finally, it was time to face the Santa.  My sister and I were put on his lap and he looked to me as the oldest and asked my name.  I always wondered how someone who would stalk you year after year could forget  your name, but I went with it and told him.  "Well, Kelley, have you been good this year?"   My blue eyes got bigger, my face got flushed and even my white gold hair seemed to turn red, I stammered without saying a word.  Finally, my mother spoke up, "They have both been very good girls this year."   A good word from the mother must have some pull in spite of the hours of video he probably had to the contrary.   "What would you like for Christmas?" the jolly old elf asked.   We both answered in unison "A Mrs. Beasley doll!"   For those that don't know the show Family Affair, Mrs. Beasley was Buffy's favorite doll and every girl her age wanted one.   Santa spent the rest of the time talking to Dee-Dee who also rattled off a few more things that every younger sibling had to have.  I was happy just getting out what I wanted and feeling like I had a pretty good shot of getting it.    Sure enough, on Christmas morning, we both got Mrs. Beasley dolls which prompted many a tea party with the other dolls and stuffies.   It was one of the most perfect Christmases I can remember.   

The next year, I felt a little more confident and a little edgier.   I asked for a Flip Wilson doll.    Again, for those that didn't grow up in the 1970's, Flip Wilson was a comedian who also did a character in drag named Geraldine.   That was back in the days when the whole family could watch sketch comedy shows that came on before 11:30 p.m. on Saturday nights.   They had made a doll of Flip Wilson in a groovy suit on one side and Geraldine on the other.   I remember asking Santa for that and getting a bit of judgement from Kris Kringle.    "You're parents let you watch that show?" he asked quizzically.  "Yes," I replied -  again surprised that after stalking me all these years, he didn't know my favorite TV shows.   The great thing about my sister and I both getting the Flip Wilson doll was that we could turn one to look like Flip Wilson and the other could be Geraldine.  They generally had some funny things to say like "The Devil made me do it" and "I'm going to sick Killer on you!" at the tea parties.  Mrs. Beasley actually got most of their jokes.  Who says a white doll with glasses and polka dots is not hip and urban? 

Another holiday photo ritual was capturing the five of us in various poses for the holidays.   My mother would try to color coordinate and pose us somewhere in the house to present a perfect group of children.    The outfits needed to look just right and hair in place - an image of perfection that just wasn't us.   We were a group of very diverse people even as kids.  It's always fascinated me that the same group of people could have the same parents and the same upbringing and be so totally different.   In the beginning for the holiday photos,  it was probably a chore to get Dee-Dee and I as toddlers to sit still for the photos.   But as the years passed and the older siblings got into their teen years, tempers were bound to flare during the quest for the perfect family photo.  Finally, the night of the guitar holiday photo, it all came to a head.     My brothers Bill and Steve mouthed off to my teenage sister Kathy who finally had enough and seconds after this photo was taken, took a guitar and hit both my brothers over the head.   They didn't need medical care, and all three got a stern look from Mom and sent to their rooms.    She still managed to get a good shot and sent out copies of the photo with the holiday cards but that was the last year of the Christmas family photo.  The pursuit of perfection ended with near concussions.  I'm pretty sure this is not what the baby Jesus had envisioned.  

I'd like to say that I've learned that you don't have to be perfect to still make the nice list.   But when you're a kid and you ask Santa for something and it magically appears under the Christmas tree just as you had imagined it - you get a sense of euphoria and belief in the impossible that is very enticing.   That sort of  high comes just once a year and you want to make sure it happens again so that it can sustain you for the next 12 months.   It's Christmas, the lights are up, people are happy and life is perfect as you move to that one day when all is right with the world.   But as you grow older, you realize it's not as simple as it was when you were six.  So in your adulthood, you try to recreate that for yourself and your children or the nieces and nephews.   You want them to have that same buzz and to feel that anything is possible.    It's that drive towards the perfect Christmas that can make you lose your compass of what the season is all about.    I'll be the first one to admit that I'm guilty of that.    Each year my husband Max asks me not to go crazy for the holidays and my initial response is "Crazy is the only way I know how to do Christmas!"  I've come to the conclusion that I'm a Christmas crack addict.  I got that first high during the Mrs. Beasley Christmas and have been in search of the same fix ever since.    It was great when I was a kid, but now that I'm a seasoned addict, I need more from Christmas than I'm getting.  It means that I keep needing a bigger and bigger December 25th crack rock but the reality is that I'm not six years old anymore and chasing that feeling just leading me down another alley of disappointment just like a real addict.

So this year, I'm scaling back.   I'm not blowing my budget.   I'm not buying a ton of gifts and I'm not making a ton of gifts (I've done as many as six quilts for gifts which sounds good unless you enjoy being at your sewing machine until 3:00 in the morning on December 24th just to get it all done and sobbing uncontrollably when you have to rip out a seam and start over).  It's smaller and more meaningful and I'm beginning to look forward to the holiday and letting it build slowly.   It's not going to be perfect  - it's not going to be grandiose and I'm not going crazy.    I'm not going to martyr myself in the name of Christmas.    I'm going to have it all done so that I can enjoy a glass of wine on Christmas Eve in front of the fire place, tackle my husband and kiss him hard without a speck of mistletoe in sight - and if he asks what brought all this on -  I'll tell him in my best Geraldine voice "The Devil made me do it!"

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ann Coulter and Me

Up until a few years ago I had no idea who Ann Coulter was.   Being a liberal, she simply was not on my radar.  But after being either told by total strangers how much I looked like her or being asked if I was her - I decided to do some research.   After watching a fair amount of clips on YouTube, I realized that this was a woman who shrieks like a fishwife while dismissing liberals as lower than pond scum.   She openly admits that her good looks and short black dresses give her the ability to say things that men just can't say - sexist and racist comments that sometimes go unchallenged by her fellow conservatives because she's easy on the eyes.   She has no shame in who her targets are, for instance calling the 911 widows harpies who are happy their husbands are dead so they can rival in the notoriety and spend the insurance money.   She calls other women ugly and then claims that criticizing a woman for how she looks is the worst form of sexism.   She even got confused during an interview in which she was angry at the Canadian government for not sending in troops to Iraq and mentioned how they used to support the United States during the Vietnam War with their army.   When the commentator corrected her and said that was not the case and that young men from the US went to Canada to avoid the draft, she was dismissive as if it was impossible for her to even consider being wrong.  Saying the most shocking things you can think of has worked for the last 20 years, but with this week marking Ann Coulter's 50th birthday, the days of the hot outrageous blond in high heels are starting to tick away faster then her biological clock.  

Make no mistake - Ann Coulter is a bully.   Luckily, my way of dealing with bullies is to laugh at them - so I decided a few years ago to use my good looks to mock everything she stands for.   From my experience, if you can make a bully look foolish or worse -- vulnerable, you rob them of their power.    I was also preparing to have my improv group do a live web show and knew that the internet could be a cold cruel place.  I figured that I would test the waters with these spoofs since she is a very polarizing figure.   She brings out strong emotions on both sides of the aisle so if I was going to parody her, I needed to get used to some push back.  I decided the first video would parody her need to get married (she's been engaged three times but never closed the deal).   James Carville (a liberal) and Mary Matalin (a conservative) have had a fairly successful marriage I had Ann reach out to the liberal media and "Matalin it" since Peter Alexander and Matt Lauer are a lot sexier than Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.  I even did a fake book entitled:  Liberal Women:  Guiltless, Godless and Big Fat Skank Hos!"   The video ends with Ann's larynx dancing to the song All the Single Ladies.   The responses have been interesting - either I'm a transvestite, or I'm morbidly obese or I'm way hotter than Ann or I have a botched nose job.   If the comments are not obscene - I leave them on the YouTube page.    It was a good training ground for a full assault with other videos - if I could handle jibes about my weight, I could handle anything.   Click here to watch the video. 

The next video featured my son Daniel, as "Skippy" - Ann's "adopted" son which was a Ann's ploy to get the attention of liberal Hollywood, specifically Brad Pitt and George Clooney.   As with any premise of comedy in which you are dealing with a character that is arrogant and self serving, young Skippy always gets the upper hand and steals the show.   The reactions to that video included me being called a Nazi by a conservative and a liberal.   For the conservative, he felt I was using a child for propaganda which was a page right out of the Third Reich play book.  The liberal thought I was the real Ann Coulter and banned me from Canada.  I came to the conclusion that those people really don't understand what a Nazi is if you can confuse horrific crimes against humanity with a silly video.  Click here to watch this video. It's just a sign of the times I guess to use a word like Nazi whenever you don't agree with someone - it's very Ann Coulter like. 

I've done about five other Coulter spoofs which have included other guest stars like "Jigsaw", "Samera Morgan", and "Hillary Clinton."   The reaction is usually predictable - if you're a liberal, you love them and if you are a diehard Ann Coulter fan, you hate them.   However, not every conservative that I know (yes, gasp - I do have friends who are conservative) agrees with her and they think she's bad for their cause.  One conservative Christian writer named Dan Borchers actually asked me to do a video of Ann on her 50th birthday for the release of his new book - The Beauty of Conservatism - The Seduction of Ann Coulter and Cuckolding of Conscience.  This latest video is  another parody with Ann in her basement celebrating her birthday with her stupid cat named Stupid and a skull named Yorrick reading the unflattering portrait and freaking out.   The book is a very good read and makes valid points about how she never takes responsibility for what she says and claims victim status when she created the mess.   It makes you think about how ambition and the thirst for fame can mutate you into a swirling vat of vitriol.   If you are interested in downloading a free copy of the book you can go to

In a parallel universe, I am the nicer, kinder Ann Coulter.  The one who has worked in non-profits all her working life and has tried to help people when she can.   The one that knows what it's like to love a man through good times and bad and in sickness and in health - to have two children that you adore and who teach you that  you are not the center of the universe.  Sure I might have a bitchy sardonic comment to make here and there, but it's usually for someone who deserves it not for a widow coping with the loss of husband or a mother grieving over the loss of her son in Iraq.    No, I save my barbs for commentators who will say anything to get attention no matter how ridiculous it sounds - like how conservative blacks are so much smarter than liberal blacks or that if there was a prenatal test for a gay gene, liberals would abort homosexual fetuses because they believe in abortion.   I mean, who the hell really says that?  Besides the liberal mothers I know would love the fact that they would be the only woman their gay sons would ever love.  

I guess now that she's hit the big 50 - I feel some compassion for her.  In reality, you can trade on your looks for only so long.   There will always be someone younger and prettier with bigger boobs who will be ready to take over.   Sure, being attractive gets your foot in the door, but if you don't have more to say for yourself other than a tirade of hateful demagoguery eventually people will get tired of you.   So far, she's had a good run but as the years pass, she won't be as hot any more and her rhetoric will become more outrageous just to get attention.  Bill O'Reilly will eventually move onto someone younger and more appealing.   

My prayer for Ann is that this holiday season, she's visited by the three ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.   Maybe when faced with the reality that in the next 20 years,  she might be reduced to nothing more than the mean women on the corner who yells at the kids for laughing in the street and tells them to get off her lawn, she'll be scared enough to change her ways.   Maybe she'll want to help with an Extreme Makeover for a family who is facing hard times.  Maybe she'll want to help the 911 orphans.  Maybe she'll stop smoking and help the American Lung Association - so much good to do and still so much time.   The holidays are the time to make mankind your business.   While being good and kind might not make her quite as interesting a guest on FOX, it will help her life become more fair and balanced.    Oh, and that sound of a short skirt rustling in the background of the O'Reilly Factor- that's Megan McCain.  God bless us everyone!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Toy Drive

I've done quite a few things working for non-profits but by far, the best and hardest thing I have ever done was run an annual toy drive at Children's Home Society of Florida for 500 to 600 children who had been abused, abandoned and neglected.    I was playing Santa for kids to whom a present for the holidays meant everything and it was a huge responsibility to get it right.    I liked working behind the scenes with a team of elves to help St. Nick bring hope to these kids who needed it most during that time of year.  Short of raising my own kids, it's probably the most important thing I've ever done.   

Back in the early 90s, Children's Home Society (CHS) had emergency shelters for young children, an infant center for abused, abandoned and crack babies, a daycare program for kids with HIV, group homes for teens, HIV foster care and regular foster care.   In an average month, they had between 500 to 600 kids who needed services.   I worked in the administrative offices which was on the second floor of the emergency shelter.   You'd often see the children as they were entering the shelter.  Sometimes they were very scared - sobbing and clutching the hands of their caseworker or sometimes very happy like they were checking into a hotel holding all their possessions in nothing more than garbage bags.   I would look out my window and see those children be very reserved their first few days at the shelter, but once they got a warm bed to sleep in, three meals a day and a predictable schedule, they really began to thrive and smile - seeing that always made me work harder.  

When I first took over the toy drive, it seemed like the kids in McLamore Emergency Shelter got the lion's share of the gifts - after all they were the ones that people could see and visit.   We'd have all sorts of well meaning groups bring tons of toys and sweets to the 22 shelter kids not realizing that it was the literal tip of the CHS iceberg.   There was no one person handling the donations, so the program managers that had contacts with community groups were the ones that got presents for their kids - the ones who didn't have the time or connections to ask, went without a gift for their kids for the holidays.   To me this was not a fair situation - no child in the program should wake up on Christmas morning without a present to open.  I decided to take on the entire drive to make sure that every child in the programs got something for Christmas.   So as the CHS "Santa" I would ask the program managers to get lists from each of their kids.  I would then type each Christmas list into an excel list and sort it by program, age, sex of the child, program and donor company if I had one.   That was as computerized as you could get in the early 90's and I was able to keep track of the toys coming in and what to send out. 

The first year was a learning curve.   It was hard getting the managers who had their contacts to open up and share for fear that their kids would lose out but once you explained that there were kids in the programs that barely got anything - maybe one toy from the Dollar Store that their case managers bought them versus the kids who got 10 to 20 gifts that were worth hundreds of dollars from other donors - they saw the light.  I got access to a large office space to sort the toys as they came in.  I needed to get the deadlines from the foster care programs because their items needed to be ready two weeks before Christmas so that the case workers could have plenty of time to deliver them to their clients who lived all over Miami.   We needed to tell our donors not to wrap them because we needed to see if they were appropriate.   We once had a well meaning person donate a father and son boxing set which under normal circumstances would have been fine but as a gift for an abused child, not so much.  

I coordinated with businesses and got them to adopt a program and gave them the wish lists which sometimes I had to modify.   The teen girls would ask for half carat diamond earrings and large TVs which was understandable but not realistic - so we'd ask for gift cards, costume jewelry and small TVs they could have in their rooms.  I always asked for books for the kids that were age appropriate and the donors got to pick those - it gave them a chance to share the joy of the Cat in the Hat, Hop on Pop, and Good Night Moon with another child.    The important thing was to give them a good Christmas but not one so extravagant that when they got placed in a home it would be hard for their parents, foster parents or new parents to live up to the a very grandiose CHS Christmas.    

I learned to start contacting businesses in September to get on their radar and ask if they wanted to do a general toy drive or adopt a program.  I would make sure to ask for batteries for all those toys that needed them.    I learned that kids from ages 4 to 10 got the largest number of the donations so I had to educate people that we had infants and teens in the programs and they needed things too, like gift cards for the kids 14 and up and socks, diapers, onsies and pajamas for the infants.   

By mid December my office would became Santa Central.  Toys coming in every hour on the hour.   I also had people asking me every 30 minutes where their toys were even through their deadline was a few days away.   The interruptions became so bad that I decided I needed a spokesperson who would answer the gift questions for me.   So I would find a talking Barbie, put a ribbon around her and wear her on my neck.  When some asked me for the 20th time that day when their presents would be ready, I'd ask my spokes model who usually had some words of wisdom like "I love the sun!",  "Ken and I are going shopping!" and "My job is great."   I would smile and tell them they had their answer and I would call them when their gifts were ready. 

Each year, the drive got bigger and bigger and I would end up working 10, 11 12 hours a day for a month leading up to Christmas and managed to lose seven pounds each year because I never had time to eat.   It didn't matter, getting the presents to those kids was the most important thing.   I needed to give them their faith back and let them know that people cared about them.    I was usually exhausted by Christmas Eve and wondered how Kris Kringle did it.   I only had 600 kids to help - he had billions. 

We'd usually have people bring toys unannounced on December 23rd or Christmas Eve hoping to save the day but the toys had already been distributed or were ready to be placed under the tree at the shelters for Christmas morning.  What we did with those toys was put them in the gift closet so that kids could have a present on their birthdays or we'd give the extreme overflow to charities whose toy drives were not going so well. 

Once the holidays were over, I'd clean up my office and get back into my regular schedule.   I'd wonder how Christmas morning at those homes and shelters went.   I knew that me and the CHS team had pulled off another Christmas miracle and all our kids had a wonderful day.    A week after Christmas, one of the case workers named Andrea called me and I could tell she was holding back tears.   "Are you okay?" I asked trying to figure out what was wrong.   "I just got a call from Octavos' mother -" she said quietly.   I know that Octavos was in the HIV daycare program and I really wanted to make sure that they had a good Christmas since his mother had full blown AIDS and Octavos was HIV positive.  "He didn't get his gifts?" I asked as my heart sank.   "Yes, yes,  he did get his gifts and it was wonderful.   His mom is very sick and could barely talk but she kept on saying 'Thank you, thank you, thank you.'  I thought you might want to know."   We were both quiet and you could hear us both sniffing on each end of the phone.   "I wanted you and your donors to know what a difference it made to that family."   I thanked her for sharing that, closed my office door and cried while I heard the sounds of the McLamore kids play outside with their new toys.  I learned later that it was the last Christmas that Octavos and his mother would ever spent together.  She died a few months later and Octavos died that fall.   
I guess that people who give to toy drives don't always get to see the faces of the kids they help on Christmas morning  - they are with their own families having fun or trying to prevent a meltdown either from a child or an in-law, but I can tell you from my experience that anything that you can do helps.   It doesn't even have to be for kids, it can be the elderly who are in assisted living or nursing homes, they need things too like blankets, socks or big print books.   It doesn't matter if you can give money.   Volunteers that help sort cans for food, clothing or toys drives are priceless.   Just call the charity you want to help in advance and ask what they need.   Trust me, they will be grateful that you asked first and will be more than happy to let you know.   Because my guess is that there will be a Santa's Helper on the other side of the line who hasn't had time for lunch but who believes in what they are doing so much that they don't need have a spokes Barbie to say "My job is great!"

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tales from my Cats

The first time Max saw Skittles in the summer of 2005, he was a feral kitten who had been found at the door of Max's workplace.   The woods around the print shop had been bull dozed for a new building so this family of cats must have scattered.   The workers found this six week old little black and white fur ball and put him in a box to get him out of the elements.   Every person that came near that kitten to help him got hissed and spat at.  Max was curious and looked over to the box to see this little tuxedo looking back at  him.   The cat started to hiss when Max -  just like in the movie Babe - said "That will do, cat, that will do."   Skittles calmed down immediately and started to climb up Max's arm and into his hair.   At that point, Max knew this was his cat.   He called me and sheepishly asked if we could have him.  Not that Max thought for a moment that I would say no, but when I had brought up the subject of a pet for the kids a few weeks earlier, Max thought it was a bad idea.   I told him that of course he could bring him home and we loved him as a member of the family .

I love all types of animals.  Generally "cat people" get a bad rep for not liking dogs - but I've met very few animals that I didn't like.  Okay, I'm not a huge fan of ferrets - they just don't seem trustworthy.    As far as pets go, I've always had cats.  Maybe it's because they are independent, don't need to be walked and you can leave for a day and not have the house destroyed.  On the downside, they generally don't greet you at the door with the same enthusiasm as dogs - but they also don't knock down your house guests or smell their crouches.  As any pet owner can attest, pets of all stripes teach you priceless life lessons.   For me, they are the closest things to guardian angels that we have on earth that we can actually see and feel.   How many stories do you hear of dogs or cats warning their owners about a fire or a child that in trouble.    Dogs will protect their owners with very little regard to their own personal safety.   Scarlett the cat went into a burning Brooklyn building in 1996 -  not once but five times to rescue her kittens without regard to the smoke or flames that were burning her eyes, ears and paws.   They are loving and loyal if that's what you train them to be.  If you train your pet to be vicious then don't be surprised if that's what you get.  They are not snarky or sarcastic and frankly don't care how many friends you have on Facebook.  They won't diss a video on YouTube or tweet something embarrassing about their owners on Twitter.  Their job is too love you - that's it.   If you are lucky enough, you can learn some life lessons along the way.  

The first cat I ever had was named Cocoa.   She was a little Siamese who always looked like she was too good for the rest of us.  She was not an affectionate cat and when you got a glimmer of approval, you were grateful.   I remember bringing my cat Gizmo home from college during a holiday break.  He was a huge cat - 20 pounds or more whereas Cocoa was maybe 8 pounds soaking wet.   The amazing thing was that she was not afraid of Gizmo.   If she was sleeping on the couch and he walked by, she would wake up, hiss and smack him on the back of the head as a preemptive strike - or to say "I don't take crap from anyone especially someone twice my size."  It worked, Gizmo would rarely try to chase her and when he did, she would jump up on a cabinet that she knew was too high for this fat cat to reach.   He would get up to where his paws would reach the top but just didn't have the momentum with his back legs to get the rest of his ample behind up on the counter.   He would fall back only to look up at Cocoa who would hiss and then walk away.   Gizmo would sit up, look around and then start to clean his paw, which is cat for "I'm really embarrassed and maybe I'll distract everyone if I bathe," or "I meant to do that."  The lesson I learned was that it doesn't matter how big you are, you can  lure your adversary who might be twice your size into a situation that you can manage easily and they can't - using their own strength against them is a great defense. 

My cat Gizmo was my best friend in college.  He know everything about me - the good, the bad and the ugly.  He helped me weather hurricane Kate in Tallahassee and he was always there when I needed a stomach to cry on (cat shoulders are not the best things to sob into - too bony even on a fat cat).   He, unlike my other cats, he started out as an outside cat.  One night he didn't come back and when I opened the door to my apartment the next day, I saw something moving in the bushes.   It was Gizmo - he had been hit by a car and had crawled back home.  His jaw was broken and his paw was flattened but still he had to come back to me.  I wrapped him up in a towel and took him into my vet's office.   It was Good Friday.   The vet told me that he would give him IVs and if after the weekend he was stable he might repair his jaw but he might not make it through the weekend.  I left the office devastated and went to a cathedral near the FSU campus.   I sat in a pew by myself and cried quietly.  A man came over to me and asked why I was so sad.  I told him what had happened.  He told me to have faith, say prayers and that God would take care of things.   I looked down and then looked up to thank him but he had vanished - I mean way too fast to leave that big building so quickly.   I realized that I might have been visited by an angel and hoped that a miracle had occured.  I went back that Saturday to see Gizmo.   He was not doing much better and I had to resign myself to the reality that I might have to put him down the day after Easter.   

That Monday, I went in expecting the worst but found, much to my and the vet's surprise, that Gizmo was walking the best he could and demanding food.  He looked so much better than on Saturday.   They vet wired his bottom jaw which had multiple breaks.  I took him home to feed him through a syringe with baby food and kitten formula.   I also had to give him baths every other day with baby shampoo to get the dried food off of him.   He got used to the baths and would stand on his hind legs with his paws on the soap dish while I washed him.   I was pretty sure we were out of the woods when the vet discovered another complication - his hard palate had split and if it did not fuse together then it would expose his skull to infection and then not much could be done.   I again prayed that my little tiger kitty would get over this hurdle and be okay - we had come this far.   So the day for Gizmo to get the wires off his jaw came and as the vet snipped he noticed something hanging from the top of his mouth - it was his hard palate.  We both gasped and then the doctor looked at the top of Gizmo's mouth - a new hard palate had regenerated completely.   "I have never seen this happen in my 20 years of practice, I'm going to have to write this up in a Vet Journal."   My Gizmo was whole again and would be back to eating on his own - which as you can see from the photos is something he remembered in no time.  My lesson learned:   don't ever give up on someone you love -  no matter how insurmountable the odds.  Some miracles take time.     

That brings me back to Skittles who grew out of being a kitten and into a young cat who would do unspeakable things to furry slippers who were doing nothing but minding their own business.   We would take the slippers away, but he would find them and then literally hump them.   It became obvious that we needed to get him fixed because he was spraying too.  We explained to the kids that Skittles needed an operation.   Daniel - my son who is never satisfied with a simple explanation - asked what sort of operation it was.   "Well," I said, "He's acting aggressive and spraying so we have to get him fixed."  "What's fixed mean?" Daniel asked.  "It means he's getting his testicles taken off so he won't be able to make kittens, spray and won't be destroying our slippers," I replied.   Daniel thought for a moment and said "So you're basically cutting off his nuts."   "I guess that's one way to look at it - yes, but nuts is not a nice word for testicles," I explained.   This seemed to satisfy him until show and tell time came along and when it was Daniel's turn to share.  He volunteered to his first grade class that "My mom is having Skittles' nuts sliced off."    

Since Skittles started out as a feral cat, it was natural for him to want to get outside.   There was a group of very puffy feral kittens who would play in the backyard and who Skittles loved to play with.  We'd watch them frolic in the backyard.   One day I let him out and brought him in before I left for work.  Nothing seemed out of place until Max came home and found blood all over the house and Skittles with a very bloody mouth.   Once again, another frantic trip to the vets only to find out that Skittles had sliced off a third of his tongue in what must have been a rat trap.   I got a call from Max to ask me if we had the money to help him which with the tax check having just been deposited, we did.   So Skittles got  his tongue fixed and managed to do well with 2/3s of what most cats take for granted.   He could still eat and groom himself.  He couldn't go outside anymore and we knew he was lonely so we decided to adopt another cat named Sonny.   For the first few days, they did not like each other.   But by the end of the weekend, they were grooming one another and were best friends. 
Then a few months ago, Skittles began to lose weight - he would eat but he seemed to get thinner and thinner.   For the last two months, it was obvious that he was starting to waste away.  There wasn't much the vets could do.  I got a medicine dropper and would feed him a type of Pediasure for cats and give him turkey or any other food I could get my hands on that he might not reject.   I was elated if he would take few ounces of the formula and just a small slice of turkey.   I would bathe him in baby shampoo because he was not able to clean himself.   I would pray to the same angels that saved Gizmo, but as time went on I realized that a miracle was not going to save him.  He was my wounded warrior and he was getting awfully tired of the fight.  He didn't seem to be in pain, but very tired.   I told the kids that Skittles was dying and that they needed to spend as much time with him as possible before he died.   They helped me feed him and bathe him.  They would wrap him up in warm towels and hold him.    They learned to not be afraid to love someone who was dying and to treasure the time you had left with them.  On Thursday night, I held Skittles for the last time and talked to him softly.   I held his paw and patted his emaciated body.   I told him how much I loved him and sang "This Little Light of Mine."   He wanted to sleep in the upstairs bathroom on the rug so I put him there with a clean pillowcase.   Max got up at 5:00 a.m. and watched him take his last breath a few minutes later.  

I guess that I could shake my hands at the heavens and ask why Gizmo got the miracles and Skittles didn't but the truth is there are so many miracles that Skittles brought into our life:  that he got Max to let him be our pet and our friend; the fact that he survived having his tongue sliced which led us to adopt Sonny who is one amazing cat; and how to love and cherish someone who is dying.   Those are the miracles -  those were my lessons learned and that will do. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Thelma and Louise Conspiracy

At the risk of being asked to turn in my woman card - I have something to confess.   I have never liked the movie Thelma and Louise.  I know that as a liberal this probably comes as a shock but I've always felt like the movie was a cop out and the fact that this movie has become a feminist icon really baffles and bothers me.  I saw it first in my twenties and left feeling angry and frustrated.  I wanted to see if after 20 years some of those feelings had subsided.  So I decided to watch it again. 

I wanted to find out why so many women loved this movie - so much so that if you dared to voice your opinion about not liking it, you were told basically - "You have to love it - men can't know we're not all on the same page with this."  I mean I've literally been surrounded at parties and brow beaten by feminists who would make me out to be a simpleton who was basically parroting my husband's opinion.  In their eyes, descent is not an option.   

There were a few things in the movie I could identify with.  Like Thelma, I was in an abusive relationship in college with a man who treated me like a child and who belittled me every chance he got.   It didn't start out that way.   At first, he seemed charming -  offering to do anything for me - being too helpful too fast.  That's how these guys worm their way in.  They want you to give up control so they can take over.  Then he started to isolate me - to come between my friends and family so that he became my world.   I remember being at a frat party with him one night and he was being so overbearing that my younger sister said "My God, why don't you just pee a circle around her."  I made the mistake of laughing and was berated the whole way home.   He was my first real boyfriend and I had no experience on what a normal relationship was.    You start to lose your compass of who you are.  To keep the peace, I had to call in on a regular basis to reassure him that I was not out having sex with every guy I saw.   You even take responsibility for the things you have absolutely nothing to do with.   He once called me up on a Saturday and yelled at me because it was raining and he couldn't go fishing.   I sat there on the phone apologizing somehow convinced I had caused the thunder storm.   Maybe on a physic level I had - I was having crying jags in a regular basis and that rain storm was nothing compared to the tears that I had shed over this man. Yet I still went back over and over again because he had convinced me that I couldn't do better.

So at the point when Thelma breaks away, I cheered her on.   She was finally doing what she wanted to do rather than bowing to the wishes of her husband.   That sense of freedom eventually gets Thelma into trouble as she meets  a man named Harlen in a bar who goes from charming to a monster in a nano second.   He starts  to rape her in the parking lot when Louise comes to the rescue holding a 38.  It looks like they'll go on their way when Harlen stupidly tells very pissed off woman with a loaded gun in her hand to "Suck my dick."   Louise turns and shoots him in the heart killing him instantly.    Okay, so that part of the movie was actually satisfying and I'm thinking the movie might have more to say for itself.   

But as it goes on, the plot for me begins to unravel.  During their quest to flee to Mexico because of the murder - they meet a young handsome drifter named J.R. played by Brad Pitt with whom Thelma is very smitten - the same Thelma who was almost raped by another charming stranger less than 24 hours beforehand.    Later,  J.R. shows up and seduces Thelma.  You see them making passionate love - just a day after she was almost sodomized in a honky tonk parking lot.    Worse, she leaves him alone in the room and he steals Louise's life savings and any hope for a decent future.  Many feminists defend the movie at this point because Thelma and Louise are completely victimized -  but frankly you can't claim victim status when you created the mess which is what Thelma did.  

What really hurts and offends me about Thelma's night with J.R.  is that it sends a message to women who have been sexually assaulted that "Hey ladies, you can get over rape pretty fast -  that feeling of violation, of violence, of pure fear, helplessness and having something that precious ripped from you - you'll forget all about it if the next guy you sleep with is as good looking as Brad Pitt.   Thelma did it and you can too!"   It trivializes rape in such a profound way that it's hard to believe that a woman wrote the script.   Here's the reality  - one in four women will be a victim of sexual abuse in their lifetime.   That number includes me.  I was assaulted in college after I had too much to drink.  Someone I thought was a friend - that I trusted offered to drive me home.    Afterwards, I did what the U.S. Department of Justice says that 70% of the women in the same situation do - I didn't report it because approximately 5% of the time, a man who rapes ends up in prison - 95% of the time he does not.   Why go through all the pain of reliving what happened and having the other side try to make it out as something you wanted if the chances of your attacker going to jail are very slim?  It's a truth that victims of this sort of crime understand all too well and that the people that tout Thelma and Louise as the greatest film about women don't.  In a group of four women discussing this film - one of them might have been sexually abused at some point in their lives.  It's not something you get over easily and you sure as hell aren't jumping into bed 24 hours later with a handsome stranger.  It takes time to build that trust again even in you're in a long term relationship and not feel as if your core has been violated - like you're not worthy of being loved.   I can't speak for all the women who have been through this, but please understand some of us have very good reasons for not wanting jump the Grand Canyon with Thelma and Louise. 

Probably the saddest words in the English language are the refrain - "But he says he loves me."   Even though I've been in an abusive relationship and sexually assaulted the good that has come out of it is that I can size up a similar situation almost immediately.  Women who are being abused have a telltale sign when they are with their abusers.  When you engage the couple in conversation and ask the woman a question - she will do a split second eye flick to see if it's okay to answer because saying the wrong thing could get her physically or emotionally smacked down later.  I've seen it in celebrity interviews and know right away what's going on.   I pray that I never see it in my daughter or her friends, but if I do, I know how to talk to them.  I was lucky enough to get myself out of that bad relationship and I survived being raped.  I didn't have to go on a crime spree to be the woman I am today - I did it on my own terms without having to drive off a cliff. 

I know that many women say that Thelma and Louise changed their lives.   I think that if it gave you the courage to stand up for yourself and get out of a very bad situation, then I congratulate you.   But please don't castigate another woman for not seeing this movie as a feminist milestone.   In fact, I would suggest an alternative to Thelma and Louise that has some of the same elements but a vastly different outcome - Waitress.   In this movie Kerri Russell plays a woman who is in an abusive relationship.  She is also looking to escape her life only to find out that she's pregnant.  She falls in love with her handsome OB-GYN and things get complicated.  She too has her life savings to escape from her husband only to have him find it and then she has to make an excuse about using it to buy things for the baby.   It takes the kindness of an old curmudgeon to help her see her own worth and stand up to her husband and her lover and send them both packing.  In the end, she has her own business and walks hand in hand with her two year old daughter down the road of life - a healthy road that Thelma and Louise chose not to take.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Thanksgiving Lost and Found

I was just recovering from a fun Halloween with the kids and an evening of way too many Reese's peanut butter cups when my Outlook reminded me of a tree lighting the next day.  After 8:00 p.m. the door bell ringing got lighter and lighter as the trick or treaters were getting ready for bed because it was a school night.   All that Hallows eve on TV there were references to the spooky holiday.  Then the inevitable happened:  a new slew of Christmas commercials started running around 9:00 p.m. before Halloween's body was even cold (okay, granted I had tombstones on my yard, and a fake dead body that was parked next to the one that said, "I'll be back).  This grand rush to Christmas seemed to be a bit premature and annoying.  The next night, I was watching an 18 foot Christmas tree get it's first lighting to great fan fare for an event at work.  It looked beautiful and put everyone into the Christmas spirit, but what about Thanksgiving? Didn't anyone care about that holiday anymore?  I mean it's two and a half weeks away!

You hardly see commercials for Thanksgiving anymore.  Maybe that's because the industry that profits the most from it are the supermarkets - not departments stores, not toy stores, not computer stores and not car dealers.  Thanksgiving is all about food and football.  Who really needs to think about preparing the feast aside from the holiday martyrs (moms, sisters and grandparents) that volunteer to have the dinner at their house?   Thanksgiving is not about anything material - it's about being with the people you love or at least have to stomach one or twice a year to keep the family peace.   Besides, the next day is Black Friday - the greatest shopping day of the year.  Thanksgiving has now become a speed bump between Halloween and Christmas.  

Unfortunately, I think the act of giving thanks has been lost along the internet highway.  As our society has gotten more tech savvy and let's face it - more snarky - it's not cool to think about all the gifts you have and to be grateful for them.  It's easier to hide behind a laptop and send instant messages rather than talk to someone directly to hear their voice and really gauge how they're doing. It's so much easier to make snide comments on YouTube  anonymously about Lindsay Lohan or Kim Kardashian's 72-day marriage rather than praising your spouse and children for sticking it out with you.  You can share a link to a pithy saying on Facebook rather than just taking the time to actually thank the people who need thanking.   You see and hear folks being rude to each other on TV on a regular basis and unfortunately our kids are beginning to model it themselves based on the diva fits they see on Real Housewives and other reality shows.   But few programs show people taking someone's hand, looking into their eyes and just telling them how much it means to have them in their lives and making it look cool. 

I began to believe that we had lost the art of being grateful.   It's not easy to  say a heartfelt thanks to those that help us rather then just assuming that they know how we feel.   So we numb ourselves into silence hoping that we'll get appreciated without taking the step of showing it first.    So I began to wonder if with all the bad economic news, the political backbiting and negative media stories, was the United States losing it's optimism?  Were we becoming the snarkiest country on earth - unable to appreciate even the smallest things?  I was wondering if I had lost that ability myself as I struggled to deal with a recent job loss and now know first hand the anxiety that many Americans feel in this questionable job market.   

I was driving into work on my last day and listening to the Bert Show on Q100.  They had recently completed Bert's Big Thank You and had asked their listeners to hand write letters to thank every soldier serving overseas for their service so that they would know that someone took the time to tell them how much they cared.  Amber and I had done some letters through our church.  The drive had been iffy - they needed over 400,000 letters and just a week out from the deadline only had 40,000 - but human nature being what it is, a slew of letters came in that last push and they had actually received over a half a million.  Now that they had the letters, they needed volunteers to help sort them out.   Realizing that after today, I'd probably have some time on my hands, I signed up to help. 

I went to the radio station and was brought to a large room with hundreds of mail tubs full of letters.  They asked us to take a tub, count by sets of 100, and spot check the letters to make sure they were appropriate, i.e., were not greeting cards that someone had just signed, pictures without any writing on it or had anything political or inappropriate.   As I combed through my large mail tub, I saw stacks and stacks of letters from people in Atlanta, Indianapolis and Nashville - the three markets that the Bert Show presently reaches.  They were on notebook paper, construction paper, personal stationary, artwork with a note inside, etc.  A lot of the letters were from kids who expressed how proud they were of the soldiers who were helping other children overseas.  There were letters from retirement homes that expressed support as many of the residents had served in WWII and the Korean War and knew what it was like to be far away from their own families for the holidays.  Letters from mothers who prayed for the soldiers safe return to their mothers, wives and children.   Many expressed in simple terms their gratitude for the service that these brave men and women were giving to our country.   It was inspiring and humbling to see so many people pour out their hearts to these strangers - praying for them and knowing that on Thanksgiving a soldier they wrote to would read their words of love and support.   

I also loved the artwork that some of the people included in their letters.   There were a lot of drawings made by tracing a little hand and coloring it to look like a Thanksgiving turkey complete with pilgrim hat.   There were letters with kids dressed as Harry Potter who represented the soldiers and a picture of Valdemort who represented the people we were fighting.   There were also pictures of the children holding the soldiers' hands and smiling.  Perhaps the one that touched me the most, was a picture that a teenage girl who was an art student drew on the back of her letter.   It's of her giving a soldier a hug.   Her notation on the back reads:  "not finished yet, but you get it :).  Me being thankful for the soldiers."   I love the expression on their faces - it's so genuine - something Norman Rockwell would be proud of. 

I left that day feeling very proud of the people who had written those letters and of helping to sort them so that they could go overseas in time for Thanksgiving.   It seems that Americans do what we've always done:  listen for an appeal on a way to make the world better and respond the best way we can.   Do we still have problems in this country?  Hell ya, but what country doesn't?  Instead of each political party vilifying each other, let's appreciate what we have here, which is that we can talk about what's wrong with the government without being hulled into prison for having that conversation. We can be grateful that our daughters can aspire to be Secretary of State or President instead of treated like second class citizens in countries where many of our soldiers are based.  In short, I got my Thanksgiving spirit back.   

I'm grateful for what I have and plan to play that forward.   Sure my job future is uncertain, but I'm trying to look at it as a chance to reinvent myself and when I apply for a job - that is one more opportunity that I didn't know about yesterday.   If I see a serviceman in uniform, I'm going to thank them for their service to our country.   It's all any of us could do no matter which side of the political aisle you sit on.  You can hate the war, but love the warrior.  Probably the best line I saw all from those stacks of letters  was from a teenager who wrote, "Heroes don't wear capes, they wear dog tags."  That's a great line - it made me realize how much people care and for that I'm grateful -- very, very grateful. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

Funny Girls

When I was a small girl, the Saturday night line-up of comedies on CBS was about the best thing in the whole world.   I got to see smart funny women being smart and funny.   The night would start off with All in the Family with Edith and Gloria getting the best of Archie and Michael (most of time).   Next the Mary Tyler Moore Show came on and our gal Mary Richards worked relentlessly to produce the WGM 6:00 p.m. Newscast with an over bearing boss and an inept anchorman named Ted Baxter.  Then there was The Bob Newhart Show where Bob's brilliant wife Emily tried to keep things in perspective between Bob's crazy friends and even crazier patients.   Sure, M*A*S*H* was in the line-up too, but I never really saw Major Hot Lips Houlihan as much of a role model even after she lost the "Hot Lips" and just became Margaret.  Finally, we had my patron saint of comedy, Carol Burnett.   I would have to beg my mom to let me stay up until 11:00 p.m. to see the entire show.   I got to sit at the altar of funny ladies every Saturday night and in the 1970's - they ruled network TV.   Back then, aspiring to be a funny girl did not seem that outlandish.   It could be feminine, sexy and intelligent.  You did not have to be Lucy and have to outsmart Ricky to get laughs.  You got what you needed on your own terms and if a man wanted to come along for the ride, all the better.   

Maybe it was because in the heyday of the Equal Rights movement, anything seemed possible for girls.  You had women in Congress like Bella Abzug and Shirley Chisholm daring to question Richard Nixon and his administration during Watergate.    You had Margaret Thatcher's rise to power as a women who wore pearls and puffy hair but could easily stare down her male counterparts just as easily as Winston Churchill.   Golda Mier was the Prime Minister of Israel and was first called the Iron Lady before Thatcher got that title.   Then in India, there was Indira Gandhi -- another nation ruled by a very strong woman.  It seemed conceivable that women were making strides everywhere and if you could dream it, you could be it.   I dreamed of making the world a better place through comedy. 

Praying at the CBS altar of those sacred Saturday nights helped form the comic sensibilities I have today.   The stand-up comediennes of the 1960's like Phyllis Diller, Totie Fields and Joan Rivers had to denigrate themselves to get laughs.  Samantha Stevens and Jeannie had to pretend they were less powerful then they were to assuage the insecurities of Darren and Major Nelson. But these new women of the 70's, these comic goddesses could hold their own with their male counterparts and had the strong ratings to show for it.   I loved them as extended members of my family.   I'd wear a bright paisley head scarf to my fifth grade class like Rhoda and pretend my desk was like the one Mary had in the newsroom.   Sometimes I would pretend my bully Lisa was Sue Ann Nivens - the Happy Home Maker - it made Blue Lakes Elementary a more bearable place to learn.  Once I was in Junior High, I'd get to stay up and see a little of Saturday Night Live.  Gilda Radner and Jane Curtain were a revelation.   Never mind that John Belushi once said that women weren't funny - who needed Samurai Deli and the Blue Brothers when you had Roseanna Danna and Candy Slice?  These women were writing and pushing the envelope in a very subversive way and I loved it! 

In the 1980's the trend continued with shows like Kate and Allie, Designing Women, Golden Girls, Roseanne, Murphy Brown, and Grace Under Fire but for some reason they just didn't resonate with me like the my old CBS Saturday nights.    I liked the Designing Women and no one on TV could monologue like Julia Sugarbaker.  Murphy Brown seemed to be strong in a one note kind of way and every now and again you got to see her vulnerable.  I loved Claire Huxtable and her no nonsense way with her husband Cliff and her five kids.  I could identify with being in a large family and not wanting to tell your father that something around the house was broken for fear he would try to fix it.   God bless my dad, but he was not a handy man like Cliff and we would pretend that the dishwasher was working before we could get a repair in while he was out of town, just like Claire. 

But then in the 1990's - things changed.   You a had few stand out sitcoms like Seinfeld in which a character like Elaine was out numbered by three other male players.   I loved Mad About You and identified with Jamie Buckman during the early years of my marriage to Max.  We even got pregnant about the same time.   Ellen was very funny but the networks bulked when she came out.   When was the last time you saw a pair of lesbians on a sit-com like Cam and Mitchell on Modern Family?   I guess the networks were and still are more comfortable with Will being gay than Grace. 

I'd all but given up once the year 2000 hit.   It seemed like the new millennium was not ushering in new comedies with women at the helm.  Sure you had Friends, but no strong females pushing the boundaries.   Just when it looked like another season of sitcoms with men in the leads and women as copilots - Tina Fey came along with 30 Rock and the comedic embers of my youth were rekindled.   She, like Mary Richards, is the head of a motley crew of actors and writers whose egos lead to comedic chaos.  Her boss is a network executive that is way hotter than Mr. Grant.   The writing is intelligent, irreverent and not politically correct.  Liz Lemon faces being forty, unmarried and having that ticking biological clock with a charming mix of goofiness and brains that makes it one of my favorite sitcoms.   In fact, NBC Thursday nights are my new CBS Saturday nights with sitcoms either created by or starring women who are trying find that yoga-like balance between work and family that seems to elude them each week and many of us as well.   

I've written before about how comedy is my drug of choice.    Having an improv troupe and the ability to make very silly videos gives me a positive outlet for my frustrations.    Acting like a crazy lunatic all these years on stage and YouTube has kept me very sane.  My comedic idols taught me that women can show strength through humor and that laughing at yourself is the best medicine of all.   Edith, Gloria, Emily, Mary, Rhoda, Phillis, Carol, Gilda, Jane, Claire, Murphy, Julia, Jamie, Leslie, Ellen and Liz, you have been there for me when my life has been at a tipping point and I needed a compass to find my way.  Your comedy has been that needle to help me find my way out of an emotionally dark jungle of fear and gave me the courage to believe in myself even when other people wanted to write me off.   That gift, my comedy goddesses, is one I'll always treasure and pass down to the next generation.  

What I've learned is that these funny girls can teach our daughters more than the Kardashians or the Real Housewives ever could:  that life is funny, sweet, ridiculous, you don't always look hot and yes, sometimes it's really, really unfair.   Ellen came out of her career tailspin with a great talk show and a burgeoning entertainment empire.   She survived on her own terms much like my favorite sitcom heroines.  Learning to roll with the punches and laughing at ourselves is what life is all about.   Taking yourself too seriously is a sure recipe for a reality Diva meltdown.   What our girls need to see today are women who know how to be strong, smart and funny.   Women who know how to throw their hats up in the air  and smile because they know they are going to make it after all.  

Monday, October 24, 2011

Pennies from Heaven

My dad used to love to pick up pennies.   If he saw one on the ground he would happily pick it up and say "I got a visit from the good fairy" and would put it in his pocket.    When I was a little girl and I would find a penny, especially a shiny penny, it was as though I had been visited by my fairy godmother - that finding a penny was a sign that I was special.   Even now, as an adult, when I get a shiny penny, it makes me smile.  My father used to tell me that after he was gone that if I saw a penny in an unusual place, that it was his penny from heaven.   I've found pennies in some really random places, like the dishwasher where you would not expect to see them.  My dad loved to cook so seeing a penny in the kitchen let's me know he's around checking out how Max is making seared salmon with a caper and dijon lemon sauce.   It's comforting because I know he's watching over the family. 

I'll be the first one to admit that I lean on my guardian angels for help and recognize when I've gotten a little divine intervention.  It can be as simple as feeling lost and finding that turnoff at the last minute that gets you to your meeting on time or that little voice that told you to grab that important paper that you almost forgot as you rushed out the door.   When my sister Kathy and I drove down from Tallahassee to Fort Myers Beach for my mother's 80th birthday, we found a guardian angel charm on the ground near our car when we got out to get something to eat.   It looked like the angel on the pins that Kathy gave us at my Dad's funeral and that she put on my father's suit in his casket so that we all could still all be connected to him.  For Kathy and me, it was a sign that Dad was with us on the trip and would guide us to our mother's birthday celebration safely.   Sure it could have been pure coincidence, but it made me feel a whole lot better once I found it.  I still have that guardian angel charm on my key chain. 

It's interesting how in this day and age when we have access to computers, the internet, smart phones and any number of technological advances that scream for us to be logical - that many of us still believe in a the supernatural or a higher power.   It not only can make you feel less alone, but it also makes society a more cooperative place to live in.   It's even been studied by a psychologist who is an avowed atheist who experienced his own epiphany when his mother died.    Dr. Jesse Bering's mother passed away on a Sunday night around 9:00 p.m.   He went to bed trying to find some rest before the rigors of planning a funeral would occupy his time.   At 7:00 a.m. the next morning, he heard the chimes outside his mother's window ring softly in the otherwise silent house.  

"It seemed to me ... that she was somehow telling us that she had made it to the other side. You know, cleared customs in heaven," Bering says.  This thought took him aback.  Being an atheist, his perception was guided by the here now.  He prided himself on being a scientist, a psychologist who believed only in the measurable material world. But, he says, he simply couldn't help himself.  "My mind went there. It leapt there," Bering says. "And from a psychological perspective, this was really interesting to me. Because I didn't believe it on the one hand, but on the other hand I experienced it."   He went on to do a number of studies that verified his simple hypothesis:  when we believe that something other worldly is watching, we're more likely to behave in a moral fashion.   We're more cooperative and less likely to cheat.  If the world as we know it does not ask us to answer for our sins, the next one will.   That knowledge has helped guide me in how I treat others.   In fact, the Golden Rule - "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" is a basic concept in almost every religion known to man with the exception of Satanism in which the the main conceit is "Do unto others as they do to you" which just escalates a bad situation and certainly doesn't foster forgiveness.   

Seven years ago, the kids and I went to visit Kathy.  We went with her and my mom to see Dorothy Oven Park which has an annual holiday light display.   We were touring the park when my mother took this picture on the way out.   I had to leave Tallahassee with the kids and my mother the next morning to drive back to Duluth, Georgia so we took the film (35 mm) to be developed at Costco.  When we looked at the photos, it was clear that at least one or more other worldly figures had been caught on film.   When I showed it to Max, he thought that we might have captured images of ghosts.  One of them seemed to have a tri-cornered hat similar to that of someone in the Revolutionary War.  I wondered if it had been some sort of photo processing mistake and yet none of the other photos had the same image or light spot on them  - this was the only one.    We asked some ghost experts to take a look at it and they asked if it was a digital photo.  Apparently, digital photos can sometimes create abnormalities and "orbs" to fill in pixels in photos.   When they were informed that this was taken on a 35 mm camera, they said that it could be ghosts or something other worldly, but it was inconclusive.  

The next year, we went back more the see the lights then go ghost hunting.   My mother once again had her trusty 35 mm camera with her and took this photo of the kids on a bench swing.    This time, when the photos were developed by my sister. we saw four images standing around the children - seeming to say "Hi - it's us - Happy Holidays."   What's even more striking is that the figure with the tri-corner hat seems to be on the left with with it's mouth wide open.    We really had not gone expecting to capture anything.   We looked at the other photos and there was no cloudiness on the rest of the roll.  I felt a little uncomfortable seeing these misty figures around my kids.   I sent both photos to another ghost expert who e-mailed back something surprising.   To her, they did not even look like ghosts because the apparitions were so white, but rather spirit guides or guardian angels who wanted to let me know that my children were well protected.   She even felt that one of them could be an ancestor who was keeping an eye on the future generation.   My sister felt that the one in the tri-corner hat might be our dad since he was a Revolutionary War buff.   We went back the next year and the next, but have never caught anything other than what we captured those first two times.  Maybe that was all we were meant to see and it was way more than many people get to experience. 

I guess my point with all of this is that we are not alone and we're not meant to be.  I can't provide a pat answer to all the ills,  unfairness and tragedies in the world - to me saying that it's God's will is always such a cop out.   It's up to us to handle what gets thrown our way and hope that our guardian angels are there to catch us.   When it's our time to leave this earth, they'll help to take us to that next level - whether it's heaven or another life if you happen to believe in reincarnation (personally, I don't count anything out because for me anything is possible).   I just try to value the people that I meet as best I can and treat them as I would like to be treated -- with dignity and respect.  And when I find a random shiny penny - I smile, give it to my kids and tell them that it's from their grandfather.  Because at the end of the day nothing is more priceless then a penny from heaven.