Wednesday, December 31, 2008

OK, Just Two More Observations About Airline Travel and Then I'll Move On. Really, I Will.

Observation Number One:

Many people complain about not getting full meal service on the airplanes these days.  However, I am very happy to bring my small snacks aboard and just get complimentary drinks. Why?  Because these meals paralleled perfectly my dating experience in college, bringing back memories I'd just as soon forget.

Come back with me, if you will, to the days of full food service:

The magic metal cart is being pushed ever so slowly by the cabin steward who serves everyone else in front of you.  They seem to be very happy with their food and you want your tray of food so very badly.  Then it arrives and your stomach growls in anticipation.  This is going to be so good!  Then you discover the truth:  after the first initial bites, you realize this is nothing like you expected.  The roll is stale, the lettuce is wilted and the chicken has grease floating on the top.  You try to be polite and not say anything disparaging but inside you are screaming, "Oh, please, get all of this out of here!"  However, the cart is nowhere in sight and you are stuck with that tray of half-eaten, stale, cold food and you just want the space on your tray table back!  Time passes so slowly!  When, oh when will this end?  When the cabin steward comes, you bless that person for taking that whole thing away and you relish all that tray table in front of you once again!  You can't believe you ever thought it was that small.  It's wonderful to have all that space again and get back to that book you were in the middle of.

Compare this experience to my dating life in college:

 I would spy a very cute guy and anticipate meeting him.  He was slow about his approach and with each passing day I would get more excited about the possibilities. (Are you seeing the parallels here?)   I saw others around me dating, forming relationships and they seemed generally satisfied.  Then it would happen:  a date.  (Food finally arrives.)  There he would be in front of me, shiny, with lots to be discovered, and it was a warm and happy time with so much promise.  Then, in only a short amount of time,as  I poked around and investigated him as a person, I discovered that there was not really that much there that was appealing to me. (Are you still with me?  Do you remember the meal scene?)  I discovered that he was a little stale here, his personality wilted over time and pretty soon I was done.  Still he hung around.  There was no polite way to get out of the relationship, but I knew I wanted it gone.  I just wanted my old life back.  When he finally left, often taken by another girl (thank you!  "Oh, no, he was fine, just not my taste") I was so relieved.  I could finally return to reading my beloved books and have my own space back.

Just as I would not want to go back to dating,  (HOB--I love you!  You are not an airline meal!  You are my always surprising and satisfying Fruit of the Month Club delivery!)  I am quite happy to no longer deal with the psychological ramifications associated with the full meal service on airlines.

Tomorrow:  Observation #2.  Look for it!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Back on the Plane With Betty

I find it interesting that the airlines do their best to hide/disguise in an HGTV kind of way most of the life-saving items that may be needed during flight. For instance, the seats that double as flotation devices are decorated with a cheery blue/yellow fabric, the big rubbery (even if deflated) life raft is discretely hidden from our view under the attractive smooth plastic panel above the main aisle. Even the bright yellow masks that may be our only link to oxygen at some point are tucked away under the panel that displays the sleek light and service buttons. While I understand why they do this, (freaking out some passengers leads to a decrease in revenues, blah, blah, blah) my question is: Is this really in the best interest of some passengers? Don't the airplanes have some sort of obligation to help those with little or no perspective to understand just what they may be getting themselves into when they enter the metal tube and allow themselves to be thrust into the sky by powerful and potentially deadly giant engines?

Perhaps the stripping away of all of these facades is exactly what those disinterested/grumpy passengers I witnessed in the waiting room at LAX need to slap them back into reality and make them put down their Star magazines during the safety video. Who knows? Understanding the potential danger of the activity they are about to undertake could just lead to a renewed interest in other activities such as hiking or helping out with Habitat for Humanity, improve their relationships with others and strengthen their atrophied muscle of appreciation for all good that technology, capitalism, and clever interior design have poured into their lives.

Airline officials: This is what you have been waiting for. Betty has an idea that she gives you freely and without expectation of remuneration. (Although it's really fine if you want to cut me a check too.) Here it is: There are two planes parked on the tarmac, each with its separate walkway connected to a single waiting area. In that waiting area, trained psychologists (I'd be happy to head this up) stand, observing the waiting passengers. Those who display general nonchalance or boredom, or extreme overreaction (eye-rolling, general cussing) to announcements concerning delays will be directed to one walkway where they will proceed through the doorway and then be confronted with a plank and rope bridge sort of situation to get to the Plane o' Reality.

At the door of the plane, passengers (those who make it this far) will don thin orange life vests (the hairshirts of the airline industry) and proceed down the uncarpeted aisle looking like a strange, sad choir on tour. On the way their their seats, they must duck under the the semi-inflated life rafts which hang above the main aisle like trapped anorexic manatees. They reach their naked floatation devices and sit, staring ahead at the bright yellow oxygen masks that dangle in front of them like mobiles in this narrow metal crib in which they are now trapped. Transfixed by the masks and all they represent, they think back back to that flight to New York when they made the scene in the cabin about delayed beverage service due to turbulence. They shake their heads at their past behavior and grip the cold metal bar that has replaced the small treasure box, encasing the volume control and selection control twelve channels of music once provided by the benevolent airline.

Back in the airport waiting room the other, cheerful, grateful, gum-chewing passengers will be escorted through the normal, carpeted walkway and walk through the carpeted aisle to our pretty upholstered seats to eagerly, but patiently await our cold drinks and the entertainment provided on the overhead screens.

I mean think about it people. We are FLYING for goodness sakes. Do you think if birds were granted the privilege of using hands say, three to five times a year, for three to five hours at a stretch that they would complain about anything connected to that privilege? No! Those Seagulls who finally got to pick up french fries in the parking lot of McDonalds with their ten fingers would love it and enjoy it! Do you think the crow who finally gets to pick that piece of walnut out of the top of his beak with that handy finger would get impatient or irritable? No! How about the wrens who are able to weave nests in mere hours instead of days? They would never grow nonchalant or bored. They would all say, "Man, this whole thing is pretty amazing!" That, my friends, is exactly what we should be saying after every airline flight. We should be cheering and high-fiving the pilot as we leave the plane, amazed at the journey in which we took part.

Let us learn from our Bird Brothers. Do not be one of those candidates for the Plane o' Reality. Pack your bags with goodness, enthusiasm and a sense of wonder. Take those bags on board with you and keep them handy. (Check them and you never know where they'll end up. I mean, don't get ridiculous. Take some precautions. That's just common sense.)

Happy Flying, Everyone!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Bossy Betty Boards The Big Bird

Betty loves to travel.  There's nothing like a trip to clear out the bowels of the mind and lube up an arthritic brain, forcing it to pop out old air bubbles and respond to exciting new stimuli.  Even a short jaunt can give us a heightened awareness of our place in the family of humankind, a much needed perspective of our global responsibilities, insight into our belief systems, and a reason to buy great new clothing (especially hats!)  Betty recently had the privilege of flying to Nashville to see some family members and give those country music producers just one more look at what they could have had if the the teaching profession wasn't so darn glamorous and I hadn't figured out how to work glitter into my everyday wardrobe. 

There I was, sitting at the airport, finally through security, with my backpack chock full of candy, gum, graham crackers, books and my I-Pod, thoroughly enjoying myself and probably smiling a bit too much for the comfort of others.   I limit my gum-chewing in life to airplane trips and even though I was only in the waiting area of Gate C-3 at LAX, I had already opened my jumbo pack of Ice Breakers Sugar-Free Ice Cubes Kiwi-Watermelon with Cooling Xylitol and was chewing vigorously.  In a wild  and reckless moment of spontaneity brought about the excitement of the impending trip, I popped TWO pieces of gum in and was thoroughly enjoying my foray into impetuousness when I looked around at my fellow passengers slumped in their chairs.  Some looked just downright miserable. Perhaps they needed the incredible cooling power of Xylitol I thought, popping in a third piece.  

When the announcement came over the loudspeaker that our flight would be delayed by fifteen minutes, there was a lot of horse-like fluttering of lips, the accompanying sounds that come with that fluttering, and a lot of eye-rolling.  When the second announcement, the one letting us know there would be an hour's delay, the crowd generally reacted as though they had just announced that since they had run out of Littl' Smokies to serve in First Class, everyone with ten toes in Coach would have to have one chopped off before boarding, thereby replenishing the stockade for the Upper Crust.  

We finally boarded the plane, toes intact, and found our seats.  The flight was now late and the even the flight attendants were getting testy about people in the aisle and the obviously blatant misuse of the overhead bins.  I had to admire the way they made their announcements, in tightly controlled voices--selected words like tiny tasers directed at the people moving too slowly in the aisle. "We DO (buzz) ask for YOUR (buzz) cooperation and ask that you DO (buzz) have a seat as SOON (buzz) as possible as there ARE (buzz) many passengers waiting to be seated."  (Can't you just smell the smoke?) 

Tomorrow:  We buckle our seat belts low and snug across our laps and prepare for departure.  

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bossy Betty Gets High and Then Gets All Philosophical and Stuff

When my friend's baby would get fussy from time to time, she would prop him up in his little baby seat, place him on the floor in front of the long pantry doors and then open the doors for him.  He'd immediately calm down as his eyes surveyed all the different colors and shapes of the cans and boxes therein.  The oatmeal box, the can of kidney beans, the bag of rice, the long slender cellophane-wrapped bag of spaghetti--all fitting together in a strange puzzle calmed him and kept his brain busy for a very long time.  

I thought about this recently as I stared out of the window of an airplane and looked down at the mosaic below as we flew into Nashville and then back to Los Angeles. The knowledge that I had absolutely no control over the flight only added to the peacefulness I felt.  I was entranced by the different shapes and sizes of the fields, the rivers that ran through the land, the way we as humans have divided, separated, attempted to make boundaries, to control the scope of our immediate worlds.  Occasionally, there appeared  a surprising jewel of a swimming pool, pond or lake that reminded me of when I found my first piece of blue sea glass on the beach or when was a kid and spied an absolutely excellent rock.  I wanted to just reach out and pick each one up, put it in a jar and keep it.  

Imagine if you could see your whole life from above.  What would the countryside look like?  What rivers would you see cutting across the landscape?  What boundaries and fences?  Were they/are they necessary?  Do they make sense when seen from above? The rough ground, the tough trails may not seem seem as insurmountable from above when you see the whole picture.  Are the paths too narrow?  Are you missing some great views because you are too busy getting to a destination, too hurried to make detour to a an unknown place?  Are there jewels along the way?  Do you recognize them for the glittering gifts they are or view them with nonchalance?

There are limited times in life when we get the opportunity to view our landscapes clearly, some only see them on the take-off of childhood and the ultimate landing of life itself.  We spend the majority of our flights high above the fluffy cloud cover, oblivious to the picture below.  However, if we are alert to them, life provides those opportunities (sometimes painful ones) when the clouds part and we take stock, and really look at it all. 

"Oh Betty!" you cry.  "Shut the doors of this pantry, for my brain is about to burst!  You have given me too much to think today!"  I slowly, reluctantly, and dramatically swing those doors shut for today, but readers be forewarned:  Betty had a lot of time to think when she was in that airplane, sipping Diet Pepsi and perusing the "Sky Mall" catalogue.  (Possibly the best catalogue of all time!)  Our time for reflection from the sky is not over and could continue for some time.  Betty has turned off the seat belt sign, but asks you to remain in your seats unless it is absolutely necessary to get up.  (Did you bring your Shamwow with you?)  Betty thanks you for flying with her today. Do not turn off your electronic devices until Betty tells you to do so, for I WILL be coming back through the cabin with more for you to consider very soon.  And for goodness sake, figure out the difference between that Assistance Button and your Overhead Light Button before you push anything.  It's just not that difficult, People.

Friday, December 26, 2008

I Did Not Get One Of These For Christmas and I Want To Know Why I Did Not Get One Of These For Christmas.

Blankets can be such a hassle!  What a pain!  If only I had a Snuggie!  I love this video and  the creepy cult-like appearance of the wearers of the Snuggie when they have their non-blankets draped on the front of their bodies.  I especially like the shot of the family at the sporting event in their Snuggies.  "Hey!  Is that your family in the bleachers looking like a bunch of monks high-fiving each other?  Wow, they ARE really cool!" 

I am, frankly, shocked that no one got me one of these for Christmas.  Am I not exactly the kind of sophisticated gal whose glamorous lifestyle screams out for a Snuggie?  I have brooches (aka "Serious Bling") suitable for pinning to the front for Saturday night get-togethers here at the house.

I would love a Snuggie, but since I know myself so very well, I must also request an additional gift to be packaged with the Snuggie.  Drinks on one side, snacks on the other, my Snuggie draped over my body, and my hands free to hold my book or the remote control, I might just never get up, not even to go do the essentials, which is why I humbly ask for the following product as well, fashioned into a seat cushion, of course:

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Christmas Eve

Our family's tradition was to get our Christmas tree the first weekend in December. It was a day I looked forward to. Since we lived out in the country, we had our pick of any number of trees surrounding our farm. Inevitably, the tree would come from our neighbor's field. I am not sure why. Perhaps it was because the field that had such trees was near the road and we could eye them from the car for months ahead of the date and watch for the the one that we liked.

After we brought it in, we made the star for the top out of the Cheerios box and wrapped with aluminum paper. We also spent quite a bit of time cracking English Walnuts directly down the center, separating the two halves, hollowing them out and then placing a dime in the center and gluing the halves back together with a string coming out of the top. We'd wrap these in aluminum paper too and hang them on our tree. Then there was the stringing of popcorn and the paper chains made from newspapers. Oh yes, it was a big day for all. I was in my element, the family was together and at tree smelled oh-so-good.

The Christmas I was twelve was turning out to be a pretty dismal Christmas. Three of my sisters had already left home and one had the nerve to get married, meaning we would have to share her with her husband's family. The solid Christmas traditions of Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas morning present-opening were starting to break down in order to accommodate everyone's different schedules. As the youngest, I watched as things changed and did not like it one bit. However, I clung to the knowledge that we would still get the tree on that first weekend in December though and I had my tree picked out.

The day arrived. It was time. My sister who was four years older than I was already in the unattractive teen angst years we all go through. She had to be prodded to go on the tree expedition, but she finally agreed, hands thrust deep in her coat as we received instructions from my Mom, who never went with us--this was a Daddy and girls' tradition. Mom was holding a yard stick. "Now, I want you to take this with you and and bring back a tree no bigger than this. I want a decent-sized tree this year." I was so sad when Daddy took the yard stick and said, "OK. We won't get you a tree any bigger than this one."

Mom was the boss of such things and I knew Daddy would not risk going against her. Our living room was a small one and the trees we usually got crowded us more than usual. She was determined it was not going to happen this year.

On the ride up to get the tree I sat there, trying not to cry. Our traditions were changing, my beloved older sisters had left me, the one sister I did have left at home was entering some strange teen territory where I was not welcomed, and to top it all off, now we had to get a little tree.

We arrived at the field. Daddy lifted up the barbed wire so we could duck underneath. We walked through the deep snow until he spotted a small tree and he held the yard stick up to it, pushing it down into the snow. It didn't even make it up to the top of the three foot mark. He swung the axe lightly, brought it down and we took it back to the car, silent. I looked up at my sister and her sneer down at me confirmed that life was hard and I had better get used to it.

I had my hand on the car door when I heard Daddy say, "Well, we got your Mother' s tree; now let's get one for us."

I stood for a minute, stunned, but then danced back over to the tree I had picked out and Daddy swung the axe hard to bring it down. I may have even detected a slight smile on my sister's face in the car on the way home. Daddy carried Mom's tree in the house first and she praised us to no end for getting a "decent-sized tree." We were about to burst and then Daddy carried in our big tree and set it down in the corner. I was excited to see how big and beautiful it was in that little room, how it crowded out some of the emptiness I had felt earlier. Mom protested, of course, but Daddy said "Now, we followed your instructions. We brought you back a little tree." She pretended to be disgruntled, but we could tell she was happy to see me so happy.

I decorated the tree that year with an unmatched fervor. I glued chains together until my fingers were sore. More aluminum foil
-covered walnuts than ever before swung from red embroidery thread on the branches. My mom took her little tree, set it up in coffee can with rocks and decorated it too. For several years she had her own little tree and we had our big one.

When traditions change it's most likely the youngest children in the family who feel it most acutely. They are just getting on board the train and enjoying the ride when people start to get restless, want to slow down or speed up, change the route, or just get off the train completely. I have no idea if my dad knew what he was doing the day he let us get that tree. Those changes that had pushed their way into our lives would continue to push and shape our traditions in totally new ways, some for good and some not. But for that holiday season, when I needed it the most, time slowed down and those changes were held back, if only briefly, by the lush green branches of that big beautiful tree.

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

All I Want For Christmas...

Ever since I saw my first Spike Strip, I knew it would be a handy device to have.  In case you are one of those uninformed people who actually changes the channel when the high speed chase comes on,  a spike strip is a device used by the Highway Patrol that can be shot across a street or road and deflates the tires of the speeding driver.  I've done some research, and, understandably, these devices are not sold to the general public.   While I understand the reluctance of our law enforcement officials not to share this technology, I do think I should be an exception.

I have provided above the proto-type of the spike strip device I am requesting.  It looks like tape measure and like a tape measure would have a clip on the back that I could easily attach to my attractive  jogging pants.  (I also ask that the clip be made of a smooth metal so as to avoid rips and tears to the material of my pants--these suckers are are not cheap.)  I would simply attach this device to the waistband my pants for my early morning walks (any chance of getting an I-Pod built in?) and proceed as I do each and every morning, walking down my street.  

Now, there exists in our society certain people who believe that just because it is 6:00am, they have the right to barrel down a street at excessive speeds, ignoring all traffic rules and regulations.  One person in particular springs to my mind when I think of Hell-Bent Nut Jobs. Both his mouth and his exaggerated muffler serve as exhaust systems in the early morning air as he wantonly steers his Super Raised Ram 680 Turbo-Powered Super-Stroke Dominator Truck/Crisis in Self-Esteem.   The Cancer Stick writhes like a sardine between his crusty lips, as he careens down the street at top speed in the early morning light.  What this gentleman needs is just a little reminder to slow down--that life passes by all too quickly and we need to stop and enjoy ourselves instead of crashing through the solace of the early morning, creating havoc and sending decent people out walking in the morning scurrying for the safety of front porches.
That's where Betty's Little Helper comes in.  One little push of a button from my personal spike strip and I help another fellow human being gain perspective and a real appreciation for the importance of safety on our public roads.  I promise to use the device judiciously.  (I hope you can create one that can retract and I can use over and over again!  I promise to keep the spikes nice and sharp!  I'd take really good care of it! Oh Pleeeeeeeeese?)  

Let us all sing with the Collared Lizard my new favorite Christmas Song:

All I Want for Christmas Is My Own Spike Strip
My Own Spike Strip,
Yes, My Own Spike Strip.
All I Want for Christmas Is My Own Spike Strip,
So I Could Bring Joy and Peace to My 'Hood! 


Friday, December 19, 2008

Bossy Betty Says "Stop the Badness!"

Betty's a With-It Gal. She gets the whole idea of re-gifting. I'm all for being frugal, for ditching the excess material goods that are not exactly our style. I can dig it; I recycle. It should be noted, however, that because of my extreme inclination to honesty, I think the recipient should be notified of the re-gifting action. This can be done in a dignified and respectful way, and I recommend augmenting the re-gift with with a small accompanying purchased-by-you gift . "This basket of potato-based make-up from Idaho is not exactly in my hue, but I think it would look lovely on you. Please note the catsup-colored lipstick I have included that was not originally part of the cellophane-wrapped basket."

However, there are some instances in which it is up to YOU to stop the chain of re-gifting. It may be tempting to pass on the Basket-o'-Sausages o'-the-World you are appalled to get from your neighbor. You have SEEN this sucker on her kitchen counter through your binoculars for a solid year. Quickly, you pass it on to that snarling Administrative Assistant at the office. She will take it and, with tight lips and a forced smile and thank you for it, secretly thinking, "This is hideous. and perfect for that fat uncle of mine who I can't stand. Perhaps all this saturated fat will make him die even sooner than scheduled." Her fat uncle receives it with a hearty laugh and a smile but thinks, "My God, who eats this stuff?" and passes it to his neighbor who dresses her dog in sweaters and annoys him to no end by parking directly in front of his house. She takes the basket, says "Oh! How nice!" and swears she's going to park on his damn lawn next time. She gives it to her hair dresser who smiles and says, "Oh! My favorite!" but thinks, "What did I do to her to deserve this?" She gives it to her son's teacher, who passes it on to her accountant who thinks, "What did I do? Why does she hate me so much?" and passes it on to his mother-in-law who... Well, I think you get the picture. The present is a leaden burden around the neck of the recipient. The whole system is a virus and it needs to be stopped. Do you really want to perpetuate this? I mean, people, it's a basket of really old (by now) sausages. I don't care if the expiration date of 2020 is stamped on the side of the Garlic Saucisson from France. It needs to come to an end.

This is where you come in. It is time to stop the Badness. Someone has to do it, and Bossy Betty fans (well, most of you) have the strength of character to do just this. When you receive that can of candied chicken hearts, do not pass it on. When you get the dusty basket of Lotions of the Galapagos Islands, do not pass it on. And when that bottle of oil with all those squishy peppers and chilies (this is Betty's personal arch enemy of a present; it's the equivalent of throwing a shoe at me while in Iraq) arrives at your door, do not pass it on. Have some backbone. Take responsibility. If someone gave you a badly injured squirrel, would you put an additional bow on it to cover the wounds and pass it on to your mail carrier, with a card wishing him a "Healthy and Happy New Year"? NO! Put these presents out of their misery and end the horrible cycle.

It's time people. We can end the re-gifting of bad presents in our lifetime. Join me.

A simple guide:

Eat this if you must, in a dim room, with your doctor's phone number beside your chair, or perhaps a do-it-yourself angioplasty kit, but do not pass on to others:

 No one wants to bathe with the Gingerbread Men.  Well, maybe some loose Gingerbread Women, but it's not mentally healthy for the rest of us.

Do I really need to say it? OK:  Never. No.  Don't do it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Daddy's Favorite Picture

My dad carried this picture in his wallet for years. It's our Christmas picture from 1965. My mom managed to get out a family picture for Christmas every year for about 20 years, a fact which amazes me after doing it with just two children for about that many years. More amazing still is that she made most of our clothes and did it all with a minimal amount of money.

I miss my dad at Christmas time. His traditional gift to all us in the early years was a box of chocolate covered cherries. Then he switched to Whitman's Samplers as we got older. I remember the first year after he died, and how I knew I would miss that box of Whitman's under the tree. Lucky for me, one of my males anticipated this and wrapped up a box for me.

I am not sure why my dad choose this particular picture to carry with him. I suppose he liked seeing his daughters all lined up like that, in living color. When he was in his 70's and even into his 80's he liked to wait on the bench at the front of WalMart while my mom shopped and he'd talk to people. He'd strike up a conversation with just about anyone, and soon enough, he'd say, "Would you like to see a picture of my five daughters?" He'd take out his wallet and pull this picture out. By this time, we were all grown, married, and most moved to other states, but there in his wallet, we all stood, frozen in time, lined up, side-by-side.
Merry Christmas, Sisters. I'm glad you are in my life.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Walk Down Ornament Alley Ends

Fourteen years ago I walked into my friend Karen's house and found that she had the exact same ornament that I had, placed at the exact location I place mine.  We both hang this bird with outstretched wings near the top of ours tree and we both count this ornament as one of our favorites.  Freaky.  Almost as freaky as the fact that our mothers share a birthday and we both joined Facebook within the same hour without ever discussing it with each other.

I've had my bird for about 26 years and it makes me so happy to look up and see it year after year, there gracing the tree, wings outstretched.  Both my boys know it is special to me so last year when we were taking down the tree and I dropped the ornament on the floor, shattering one of the wings, there was complete silence.  I must admit I teared up when I swept what remains I could see in the dustpan and asked Evan to throw it away.  He wanted to try and fix it, but I knew it was beyond repair and told him just to forget it and I went back to packing up the tree. He kept coming in searching the floor, picking up tiny pieces I had missed, going out to the other room, coming back to search some more and thirty minutes later, Evan called me out to the table where I found my bird, patched up with fabric glue (the only kind he could find).  

Now this ornament is more special and beautiful to me than ever before.  My boy took the time and effort to fix my angel bird and the cracks in the wing remind me of his love and persistence. I keep this bird out year-round now, placing it in a glassed-in bookcase when it is not on the tree. When I talk to students, beaten down with all their responsibilities,  about to give up and drop out of school, I remember this bird and I offer words of encouragement (and sometimes extended due dates for their papers).  I remember this bird when I talk to friends going through divorces or dealing with parents' illnesses.   Maybe I can't heal the entire broken wing, but my hope is I add a little glue they can use to find their own strength and courage.  

To all those who made the long walk down Ornament Alley with me, I thank you.  Here's hoping your wings are strong and take you where you want to go.  And if one of those wings ever breaks or weakens, I hope there is someone there to help mend it.  Is there any greater gift we can give another person than encouragement, faith, and love?  

Sunday, December 14, 2008

It's Only a Paper Heart...

Back off, Hallmark. This is my one-of-a-kind ornament made by our Sonny Boy #1. He was in first grade when he brought this home. It is made out of scratch paper, the text on the back having something to do with the school budget. Now, this is the same boy who refuses to let me use his name and image in my blog, but he can't stop me from spouting off about one of my favorite ornaments here.

I am not the kind of mom who saved her children's artwork, or every ceramic ashtray or macaroni-covered picture frame. I don't even remember what present this was attached to, but I knew when I saw this tag, I would never throw it out. It is just a paper heart that says "I Love Mom and Dad and Evan." He cut it out himself, and being six or seven years old, he probably relished using scissors to make the slash at the top where the ribbon went in.

Today he is a tall, lanky 20 year-old, but it is absolutely effortless for me to picture him exactly the way he looked at the time he made this heart for us. My mind goes back shockingly quick to that blond-haired boy sitting at my table, pen in hand, practicing his letters and looking up at me with a smile that still makes my heart jump up. Do all mothers keep their young alive in their hearts this way?

This paper heart hangs on our tree, a gift from my first-born son.

Merry Christmas to all the moms, and those with mothering spirits, everywhere.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sweet Knitted Bells

My mom is a knitting genius.  Ever since I can remember, she has had some knitting project going and as one of her daughters I was the recipient of many of those projects.  I didn't appreciate it when I was young, a fact that now makes me sad.  I wish I could go back and retrieve all those sweaters and vests she made for me over those years.  I'd hug them tight and marvel at their construction.  The things I do have, the sweater, the slippers and the afghans, I do treasure and I recognize their worth.  I have these bells she made for me and attached to a Christmas present she sent through the mail.  I hang them on the tree every year as a tribute to my mom.  

Over the years I have finally recognized that my mother did not express love with her words as much as she did with her deeds.  I know that every inch of the yarn she uses goes through her fingers and then is woven into the item she creates.  Knitting is her way of saying all those things she wishes she could but finds difficult to do because of her background and upbringing. 

My creative urges go towards making cookies and writing short essays, things that are gobbled up, and then forgotten.  My mother leaves behind literally hundreds of items that people hold, use, wear and wrap around themselves to keep out the cold.  Because of her eyesight, she rarely, if ever, knits anymore.  I know the knitted items I have now are the only items I will have from her.  So does that mean I box up the beautiful afghan  and never use it?  I am tempted to do so, but, no, I use it.  There is no other blanket like it for making me feel warm.  And on Christmas morning, I will wrap myself up in it, feeling the hug I know is there, and sit with my family by the tree, looking up at the bells my mom made for me.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Kasey's Heart

My niece Kasey was born when I was a sophomore in high school. She was, and is, a true gift to me. Since I grew up the youngest of five sisters, up to that point no one had every really looked up to me, depended on me, or really saw me as a leader of sorts. That all changed when Kasey came into my life. She was the first to give me that fabled status of Aunt.

All my sisters had left home by the time I reached high school, so the farm was a pretty quiet and lonely place. Luckily, Kathleen (mother of Kasey) lived 20 miles away and so when Kasey was born, I was able to go to the hospital and wait for her arrival. I had to wait until she got home to hold her, but the minute I did, I knew things in my life would never be the same. I was crazy about this brown-eyed beauty and I knew that I was important to her. I was there to watch her as she grew and explored her world. Her eyes would light up when I came in the room. We played and played and played together, and she brought me so much joy. Her gift to me was showing me parts of myself that I never knew existed, that the rest of the world had never brought out.

Now I have thirteen nieces and nephews and every one of them is special to me. Being an aunt is just plain cool. Kasey, herself, now has four nieces and nephews and knows exactly what I am talking about.  

One of the hardest parts of moving to California was leaving Kasey. She was around seven or eight when I left. A few years passed when she sent me this heart to hang on my tree. Little does she know how I have treasured it all these years. She stitched the G in counted cross-stitch on this white cloth, but hope she knows she knows that she stitched herself into my heart when she was born and remains there even now.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bossy Betty Gets All Mushy All Week Over All Things Christmas

Even a pragmatic gal like Betty starts to get a little mushy when those Christmas ornaments are pulled out. Each one is like a seed that has been buried all year in that dark tin in the garage. When I hold it in the warmth of my hand, it blooms with memories until it fills up the tender folds of my heart. Is it any wonder I have to sit down and collect myself by eating chocolate-covered Oreos and drinking Diet Pepsi at least three times while decorating the tree? Oh yes, Betty can get quite mushy over things like this and in this season of sharing, I have decided to ooze all this sentimentality over you as well, like warm minty-flavored toothpaste, so put on the Elvis Christmas CD and prepare to hear about my five favorite ornaments over the course of the next five days.

Today, however, we discuss the canvas upon which these ornaments are hung. I'd like to tell you it's a lush Scottish pine, selected by our sweater-wearing, hearty family one cold and snowy afternoon and felled by the local red-faced tree farmer who bore a striking resemblance to St. Nick and who waved to us as we drove away with our tree tied atop our station wagon. However, it's actually a skinny pre-lit Target special plucked this year from the rafters of the garage by disgruntled family males on a freakishly hot, windy afternoon in December here in Southern California.

I used to insist on a "live" tree and the whole tradition of selecting it. I was frenetic to get the right tree, and I was on high alert for any family member not displaying what I considered to be the proper amount of excitement over the traditions of hanging ornaments, etc. Sensing any sign of less-than-maniacal enthusiasm from others set my holiday Spirit-O-Meter off like an overly-sensitive hotel sprinkling system. I would immediately rain down a torrent of Christmas spirit that would send others running for cover in other rooms while the Christmas Clown continued her reign of red and green terror in the living room, happy Christmas carols blasting from the stereo, oblivious to the fact that her family members had thrown themselves overboard to escape the horrific ride on the Good Ship Christmas Spirit.

I look back now and understand that, far away from extended family, I was determined to carve out my own traditions, and to make the holiday fill in the gaps for all Christmases past and present and not just my own. HOB had his own set of Christmas baggage and would have just preferred to skip the holiday entirely, so I was even MORE determined to make him and everyone around me happy, happy, happy, HAPPY!!!! This, as any psychotherapist will tell you was a monumental task, even for the strangely-energized delusional person. Add children to the mix, and then just call the local mental hospital and ask for the Family Plan.

One year it was clear the tree needed water, so I crawled under the prickly branches and poured the water in the basin, praying that it would not overflow on to the floor. I lay there waiting for the water to settle, listening to Jose Feliciano sing “Feliz Navidad” on the stereo. I was deep under the wide tree so that if anyone came into the room at that moment, they would have flashbacks of scenes from “Little Shop of Horrors.” I lay my face on the cool floor and began to think. It seemed to me that, in our house at least, if you had female organs you were the one to select the tree, nag until the tree got put up, belly-crawl under the tree on a weekly basis to make sure it had water, de-decorate the sucker after the holidays, wrestle it down, drag it out, leaving a trail of water and needles, and then clean up the pine needles for months afterwards.

Jose Feliciano was still singing when I lifted my head up, scraping my scalp on the branches and thought, “This part of Navidad is NOT Feliz.” I extracted myself from beneath the tree and proclaimed, “Basta, Yah! No Mas!” and that year, just after Christmas, I made my way to Target and grabbed the first sad fake tree priced to move. That pre-lit wonder that now stands in our living room. We snap the sucker together, bend out the boughs, hang the ornaments and voila! Bring on the presents.

Here’s the Christmas miracle: What I learned was the fully-loaded and tinseled tree, the five singing wreaths strategically placed all over the house, the plastic Santa and Rudolph in the entryway, and the flashing bells belting out tinny Christmas Carols mean nothing if the Mama of the house is not relaxed and happy. When I calmed down, and stopped resenting all those who were not matching my level of expectation for the holiday, the Munchkins of the village came out, came out, wherever they were and actually picked up decorations and hung them on the tree without being asked to.

So, Betty has calmed down A LOT from past years. Oh, don’t worry. Betty is not getting up on Christmas morning, scratching herself, having a ciggie and a beer and then going back to bed. No, we have all the traditions, the special dinnerware, the stockings on the mantel. And on Christmas morning we gather around that fake tree made out of an oil-derived material with its plastic pine cones and artificial boughs, and we smile at each other with real love.

Tomorrow: We begin our trip down Ornament Alley. Dress appropriately.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Are You Just Happy Or Should I Fix My Hair and Put On Some Lipstick?

Betty had a lot of time on her hands when she was a child and this was good.  My busy brain was at work even then, imagining what could be and one idea has stuck with me through all these years.  Though HOB is somewhat skeptical, I think it is time to unleash it upon my adoring public.  

First some background: 

I have always loved taking pictures, and even as a kid I longed to have a handy way to carry a camera with me at all times.  Alas, this was before tiny digital cameras and cell phones, so I imagined the Tooth Camera, a tiny camera that is embedded in your front incisor, invisible to the eye and put there by nature.  

As a child, I had a rough hewn sort of set of rules.  Now that I am an intelligent, mature, sophisticated woman I have updated these rules.  Here are the boundaries and limitations of the Tooth Camera.  This could get complicated, so try to focus and we'll see what develops. 

Ground Rules:
The Tooth Camera arrives with your set of permanent incisors.
The Tooth Camera is not operational until your 21st birthday.
The mechanism for turning on the Tooth Camera is located behind your last molar.  Turning it on is an intentional act.  It cannot be turned on accidentally, not even by egomaniacal dentists.
The shutter button is located on the back of the right front tooth and is operated with the tip of the tongue.
You are allowed five pictures during your lifetime.

Pictures taken with regular cameras fade, get put in albums, stored away, or get lost. Memories slip away, or the Photoshop of the mind goes to work, fading out some details, sharpening some features, perhaps even adding backgrounds and people to the pictures.  However, pictures taken with the tooth camera remain in your memory in sharp focus, exactly the same images that you saw that the time you took the pictures and you can call them up at any time.  No one else can see them, and only you decide what five pictures you take and at what points in your life you take them.  

When would you use your tooth camera?  Would you take your pictures when you are young?(By the way, would you lower the age at which the Tooth Camera could be used?)  Would you take the pictures when you are old?  Space them out? What would you consider a Tooth-Camera Worthy Picture?  Would you take a picture of your parents, smiling, holding each other?  Would you take a picture of the first day of your child's life?  Would you take a picture of a terrific sunset?  The house where you grew up?  Would your picture be of an event or of everyday life?

Bonus Question (for all you Deep Thinkers out there):  Would the Tooth Camera actually upset the natural order of things?  Does the memory with its metaphorical sandpaper and decoupage glue actually make our images even better than they were in real life?  Is this a built in survival mechanism?   Example:  You click your Tooth Camera and capture a picture of your beloved on your wedding day.  15 years later you remember that moment and in your mind's eye you see it all, his/her face, smiling up at you, full of love and devotion.  Then, in bed that night, you pull up your Tooth Camera photo and you look at it for a pleasant image to go to sleep by.  Wait a minute!  Was that a sneer on his/her face?  Do you now detect a look of hesitation, even regret?  Is that a pimple on his/her chin?  Hummm.  Sorry, there's no Delete button here except the Ultimate Delete ALL Button, and you've got miles to go before you sleep, miles to go before you sleep.

Speak to me my people, and take care of those Tooth Cameras!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Bossy Betty Brings Up The Past

My life pretty much changed in eighth grade on that fateful day when Bobby C. threw up his recently ingested school lunch of ham and beans, milk and yams during Mr. Dillard’s eighth grade World Geography class. As fate would have it, Bobby leaned toward his right where I was seated, my bright and eager brain soaking in knowledge. I turned and watched in horror as he spewed the vile concoction, which hit the multicolored tile and splattered like a Jackson Pollock painting.

In one fell swoop, Bobby had destroyed any future career I may have considered in the medical profession. Ham and beans, yams and milk would never be a part of my diet again and abstract art would always leave me feeling a little queasy. Since the shrapnel from the attack had also managed to bounce off the floor and reach my opened book, my traveling to meet “Our Friends in South America” was out of the question. Days later, I dared to open the book again and to my horror I found dried flecks of partially digested yams on a map of major exports. Although I know better, given a $1000.00 question on a game show, I am still likely to cite yams as a major export of Argentina. Who knows what my life would have been like had he leaned to the left and vomited in Sharon L’s direction instead? I might be a nurse, saving lives, serving up ham and beans to South American orphans after teaching them the joys of abstract painting—a skill that would lead them to create greeting cards and lift them out of crushing poverty.

It was during my stint as a worker at Rock Springs Ranch, a summer camp, between my freshman and sophomore years at college where I was brought face-to-face with the vomit dilemma again. My official designation was Co-Custodian and as such I had a variety of glamorous jobs such as mopping, cleaning toilets, and washing dishes. Though it sounds bad, and it was hard work, it was offset by some outrageously cute male co-workers who believed that parties every night were mandatory. Now, my fellow Co-Custodian was not a cute male, but she was a strapping girl, who was willing to swap jobs with me if there was any vomiting action at the camp. Most of our campers were 4-Hers, decent children who were counseled not to gobble their food (one of their H’s being health) and were not particularly prone to upchucking. The days went by quickly, and the nights were fun, fun, fun. The scenery was fabulous: the cute male co-workers got stronger and more tan as the summer progressed. Life was good.

Then it happened: The Future Farmers of America came to camp. Instead of organizing themselves by the names of Native American Tribes or Flowering Plants of the Plains as the 4-Hers had done, they organized via the names of breeds of cows. They would gather under large banners on the wide expanse of lush green lawn. Junior leaders would yell out the names of the breed to gather the herds of campers. “Holsteins!” “Angus!” “Charolais!” “Herefords!” “Jerseys!” The FFA campers would move into their groups and join in frenzy of yelling and calling out of the names of their appointed breeds in a competition for superiority. These campers, just assigned their breed’s designations a short time ago, developed an enthusiasm, a true devotion, a zeal for their herds that was astounding and of which I was reminded of just the other day while watching a documentary on Jonestown.

These herds of boys and a few stray girls ate their food with the same zeal and threw it up with a similar dedication. On the first day of their four-day stay at the camp, the Vomit Alert calls shot up to three calls in four hours. The second day we averaged around seven calls. The Herefords were the worst. Those bovines vomited at the drop of a hat. The Angus herd and the Charolais were not much better, but I am happy to say the Holsteins, those peaceful black and white beauties, adjusted to camp life quickly and had very few incidents by the end of Day Two. Go Holsteins! Yahoo! Number One! You’re the best! (By the way, I recently Googled information about the breeds of cows most likely to vomit and there is a shocking lack of information about this on the web.)

The night of Day Two, my Co-Custodian came to me with tears in her eyes. Her aunt had died and she had to leave immediately to be with her family. Tears welled up in my own eyes, thinking of the now-dozing herds in their bunk-bedded corrals, just saving up energy for vomiting out of their four stomachs each for the next day. She hugged me, telling me I was a “good friend” to be so moved by her aunt’s death and then left.

They say you never know what you can accomplish until you are challenged in your life and I must say this is true. The next two days at camp were eye-opening for me and the growth I experienced can never be calculated. This opportunity to mature and recognize my strengths was invaluable. Here is what I learned:

1) I learned the value and inherit goodness of volunteering. If someone needed to go into town for supplies, I was there. No questions asked. I took those long trips in for the good of the camp. I took my time and did the job carefully, taking extra time to make sure it was done right.

2) I learned about helping the less fortunate. Staying at the horse corral with the frightened camper while the rest of her group went on was my duty as a compassionate person. I can’t imagine where she got the idea that the only horse left for her was an innocent-looking, but deadly stallion that had killed the last five campers who had ridden him, his rough, cruel hooves crushing their skulls like grapes.

3. I learned about physics. I learned that handfuls of kitty litter thrown at a pile of vomit from a distance of eight feet causes the kitty litter to scatter, not land neatly atop the steaming heap.

4. I learned that giving others purpose and a sense of contribution is a gift in itself. When I wore the short white shorts and red midriff top to throw the kitty litter, I had no idea how much I would be helping the strong, virile, brave young men who just happened to be standing by, aching to help out a fellow worker, one with great legs, in a time of need.

I know not if those men will ever see this tribute, but to all of them I want to take this opportunity to say, “You’re welcome.”

Until next time,

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Exclusive: A Betty's Story

Betty does not believe in calling in sick. As you know, I recently continued to go to the office even though I had the Cold That Would Have Put Another Woman In Bed For A Week. My condition at the time even prompted one of my colleagues to send the school nurse to me who merely confirmed that, while I was a nut, I was a nut with no fever and, while not blessing my continued existence there, she did leave my office without telling me to do the same. However, when the recent twenty-four hour bug hit our house, even Betty-O'-Steel was down and out. I won't go into the vivid details, but suffice to say that stepping outside of class to blow your nose is one thing, but stepping outside of class to blow out your entire lunch is quite another.

Taking every opportunity as a learning opportunity, and being completely off my regular schedule which Betty does not appreciate, (think Rainman and Dustin Hoffman's character's reaction to missing "The People's Court") I decided to try stabilize myself by staying on the couch (the one near the bathroom) and spend the daylight hours investigating the strange, intriguing world of daytime television. I found the usual soap operas and novellas, of course, but the real intellectual excitement started when I flipped to one of the upper channels and I discovered America's fascination with birth as we followed couple after couple every half hour as they 1) prepared to have a baby 2) went through labor and delivery and 3) took Baby home and settled in. Then, on the next channel up the dial, I discovered America's fascination with murder and gory details as a man with a spooky voice narrated the details of a horrendous murder, running through one murder every half hour or so.

Now, I may have missed some of the finer points (having to get up and vomit every so often) but soon the Academic in me started to emerge and I began to plot the sequencing of events, comparing the Baby Channel Show with the Murder Channel Show and I began to draw chilling parallels. Here are my findings:

The somewhat bland, but eerily cheerful introduction of characters comes first. It is about 7-8 minutes into the show when the tension and suspense begins. A mystery, a conundrum appears. There are vital questions planted in the mind of the viewers just before commercials. Will the couple arrive at the hospital in time? Why hasn't the normally-punctual employee arrived at the dry cleaners where she works? Commercial. Then the show returns. After two minutes of bringing the less-than-bright (LTB) viewer up to speed on what had just happened four minutes ago, there is a bit more action on the screen followed by more questions, piling up like snow on a windshield with broken windshield wipers. We can not see the answers, only travel down the treacherous road together in this vehicle of public entertainment which we have all gotten in of our own free wills. Will the baby have to be born via C-Section even though the couple has practiced for weeks for a vaginal birth? Is the disappearance of the gun and knife from the house of the troubled teen a sign that a murder is about to take place? Will Grandma and Grandpa flying in from the west coast make it in time for the birth? Will the ex-girlfriend call the current girlfriend to report the erratic behavior she has noticed from the maniacal, unbalanced boyfriend? Finally, (after more commercials and reviews of the action for the LTB) the climax occurs approximately 22-23 minutes into the show. The baby is born, the murder occurs; there is momentary stunned silence from all involved. There is the messy afterbirth/aftermath to deal with. Life completely changes for all the people involved. There are sleeping problems, visiting family members, ceremonies and rituals to go through. The shows end with reports on the main characters months after the events. Both are now used to their new environments adjusting fine to parents, siblings, cellmates and wardens alike.

Oh I think you can see by the time I had studied this, flipping back and forth to these channels in the middle of the shows, charting and graphing my evidence in an old notebook I had grabbed from the floor, I was pretty exhausted. I knew I had to conserve my energy and divert my attention, so I changed the channel to The Cooking Channel and then took a look at Home Improvement Channel. OH OH. I won't go into the details of the following four hours of intensive research, only offer this scratch outline of comparisons of programs :

1. Introduction of Raw Ingredients: Butter, Cauliflower, Bacon/ Drywall, Paint, Spackle.

2. Time Limitation Dilemma Introduced: Dinner ready in 30 minutes/Contractors with rug coming in hour.

3. Possible Problems/Areas of Concern: Heat up too high so food may burn/Humidity high so that paint does not dry fast enough.

4. Presentation: Plating, uncooked kale on white plate, candles on table/Staging, placing of sprigs of holly on mantel, candles on table.

5. Consumption of final product: "Oh, this is SO good! I love it!"/ "Oh, this is SO good! I love it!"

After discovering that National Geographic's "Predators of the Wild" and MTV's dating game show "Next" are on simultaneously, I am tempted to stay home and continue my research. However, my students need me to unravel the mysteries within Hamlet, so I must return to the mundane world of the bard.

Be forewarned, my readers, I did not sleep well at night during my illness and thereby also discovered the world of late-night AM radio. If this happens again, be prepared for my reflections upon various commercials for Erectile Dysfunction medications and discussions of Alien Abduction. Apparently, there's a lot of these things going on between the hours of 1:00am and 4:00am.