A Bitch Of A Pitch

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The light bulb over our heads lit up and we had an “Aha” moment not too long ago, when we had our backyard dug up due to problems with our septic system.

For years, our house has been plagued with plumbing problems.  We’ve had plumbers galore.  Repair after repair.  Each time thinking that this was finally it, we’d solved the riddle and our plumbing problems were finally behind us.

No such luck.

From things we’ve uncovered, and conversations with our realtor, we know that the people who owned the house before us had problems too.  They were just carefully covered up before we bought the house, jimmy-rigged enough so that the home inspection didn’t catch it.

I’m not going to go into the repair details, but let me just say that it has cost us a pretty penny and lots of inconvenience.  In fact, it’s been costing problems for home owners of this house for the past 29 years – which became perfectly clear once our backyard was dug up.

The amazing part to me was that it all came down to a three-inch mistake.  One crucial pipe in the plumbing maze, buried under several feet of dirt, was pitched three inches too high.

For those of you that are familiar with plumbing, you know that it’s not some complex, computerized, technologically savvy marvel that drains the water through your pipes and away from your house.  It’s just gravity.

Water simply does not drain uphill.

Once the pipe was reset and pitched correctly, our problems were instantly solved.  Years worth of costly repairs, frustration and (on the part of the prior owners) a certain amount of deception – all resulted from one person’s choice to lay one pipe three inches too high.

It looked like he tried to make a new septic system fit into old pipes from the house, and he started from the wrong end.  Rather than go back and redo, he changed the pitch.

Once fixed, I watched the water flow from pipe to pipe like it’s supposed to, and it made me think about how easy it can be to do that to ourselves. We go in the wrong direction, and it can muck up every other aspect of our lives.  One lousy decision and the flow of our life becomes clogged.  Stagnant.  Leaving us unable to find our way out of the maze.

Yet I think our biggest mistake is not that we went in the wrong direction – hey, we’re only human – it’s that we take the easy way out and try to “fix” our problems by taking shortcuts, digging in the muck elsewhere, ignoring the consequences of our choice.

Like a lot of people, I tend to look at the wrong end and make decisions on the end result when I as yet have no clear idea of how to even get there.  Like that quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, that everyone compares to a train ride: “Life Is a Journey, Not a Destination.”

I certainly can’t read the future.  Mine or anyone else’s.  I hesitate to rely only on my own judgment, because practically everyone thinks they are a good judge of character, but surely we can’t all be or the world wouldn’t be in the mess it is.  We define ourselves a certain way, so when our choices take us down paths made of muck, it’s easier to blame circumstances or another person than to change our definition of ourselves.

This is one reason why I choose to believe in God.  It’s comforting to ask for guidance from an all-knowing spirit that see’s the road ahead when I cannot.  And I’m all about comfort.  I think God is too.

Faith, you see, does run uphill.  It has the power to overcome the wrong pitch and reset the flow in the right direction.  Or at least, to add on a new pipe!

The hardest part is to stop digging in the muck, and remembering to ask.

Today, my wish for my readers (and myself!) is that our paths become ever clearer, giving us a journey worthy of the life He’s given us.  God’s blessings to you all,  Debbie.

 

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”  Psalm 119:105


Getting His Whiff On

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Ah!  The smell of spring in the air.  When you ecstatically throw open the window to the light and enjoy the first warm breezes marking the change of seasons.

The sun is shining, the snow is reduced to patches dotting the landscape, the first tiny snowdrop flowers appear in the garden bed and – hard as it tries – winter cannot hold sway over the days to come.

Just a month ago I would take Sylvester out and hold his leash in one hand, balance the recycling bin on top of the garbage can with the other (as I dragged it all to the curb) and tuck the days mail under my chin.  All in an effort to do everything in one trip.

Sub-zero weather calls for creative maneuvering.

But today it’s going to be 65 degrees, so I hook up the mutt and we take countless jaunts up and down the street.  In fact, I purposely find reasons to pop outside.  I’m behind on the housework – but Sylvester and I have to get the mail first.  I seriously need to do my filing so I can complete my taxes – which I will get to right after I take down that winter wreath adorning the carport.

Sylvester and I make so many trips outside that he doesn’t even find any more bushes he wants to mark.

If only the outside looked as nice as the warm sunshine feels.

Instead, I see garbage and mud.  So much soggy ground and mud that my desire to get out in those garden beds and clean up the rotting, winter-dead foliage is impossible to fulfill.  I’ll have to wait until the thawing ground is firm enough.

And the garbage, uncovered from beneath the snow!  Where does all this trash come from?  Plastic bags trapped under bare bushes, water bottles in the middle of the lawn, an unbelievable number of old newspapers… delivered by someone with equally unbelievable aim.

It’s all incredibly ugly.

I feel like I live in a dump, but the neighbor’s lawns don’t look any better and I’m not inclined to wage war with the mud, so I try to ignore the way it looks and concentrate instead on enjoying the newfound warmth.

There’s still a chill if you stay out too long, so these jaunts are fleeting, and I retreat back inside, where I leave the door open and slip up the pane of glass on the storm door, the breeze flowing in through the screen.

As the day continues to heat up, another first sign of spring comes wafting through the house.

Sylvester is thrilled.  It’s clear he thinks this is even better than when I grew kumquats (The Kumquat Thief).  He runs to the door and presses his nose against the screen, audibly sniffing in huge breaths.

Getting his whiff on.

Sylvester’s eyes are shut tight in ecstasy.  His jowls shake in excitement.  And as I run around the house, slamming the window’s shut, I remember what else is out there, soft and gooey, waiting for me to clean it up… a winter’s worth of Syl’s potty breaks, augmented by the corresponding mounds left by neighboring canines.

Ah.  The scent of spring.


Butterworth Is Not Just For Pancakes

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Hubby and I were driving home one day, the light of dusk darkening what had proved to be a stressful day.  My old knee injury was bothering me, so at one point I was waiting in the car while Hubby ran into a store.  I pushed the radio button and started flipping through channels.

I like most styles of music but for a car ride I usually settle on soft rock, classic rock, or country.  Occasionally, I listen to classical, but the problem with classical in the car is the road noise when you drive.  Classical music tends to have very soft sections and very loud sections, all in the same piece.  So you’re bumping along down the road, can’t hardly hear it, and turn up the volume until you do.  All’s well until suddenly the brass section comes blaring in with a forte, and it just about blows you out of the car!  Which is why I tend to keep my classical listening outside of our vehicle.

This particular day, while Hubby was in the store, I couldn’t find one song I wanted to listen to.  Except, there was a particularly nice piece by Claude Debussy playing on WFMT.  So I let it play… and by time Hubby came out the Debussy had ended and a narrator was discussing pre-WW1 music.

It was the tail end of a two-day program highlighting music before the Great War came along and changed the face of composing.  As we drove home, the narrator gave a summary of his playlist and introduced the musical piece he was ending the program with.  It struck me funny, because the musician’s name made me think of the fancy skirted bottle of maple syrup fame.

It was an English composer, George Butterworth, who has little music to show for himself as he really had only gotten started before the war broke out and he joined the British Army.  Before he was deployed, he destroyed many of his musical compositions himself, fearful he wouldn’t return from the war and have the chance to revise them to his satisfaction before someone else heard them.

I think it’s safe to say he must’ve been a perfectionist.

Some of his music, however, had been previously published and he had already gained a reputation as an important musician.  It was generally felt that he would’ve become one of England’s finest composers if he hadn’t died in the war (he was only 31).

Hubby and I pulled up in our driveway and turned off the car engine just as Butterworth’s orchestral rhapsody, A Shropshire Lad, began to play on the radio.

I haven’t the words to tell you how truly peaceful and calming this pastoral rhapsody was.  From the very first notes, lovely images of a sunny, summer day in the English countryside came to mind.  We both just sat there, mesmerized by some of the most beautiful music we’d ever heard.

It could be that the contrast between a stressful day and the salve of the music was so vivid.  Or it could be that I don’t often hear a piece written in the Dorian scale (also called Russian minor).  Either way, it was an unexpected blessing I won’t soon forget.

It also made me sad, thinking of his destroyed compositions.  What beauty have we been deprived of in Butterworth’s quest for perfection?  And I wonder… what gifts do each of us have that we purposely squelch, because we are embarrassed by not meeting our internalized standards?  Who could we have helped with our ‘meager offerings’?

I went online and found a YouTube recording of the whole rhapsody, performed in 1944 by the NBC Symphony Orchestra (Stokowski conducting).  I listen to it now, from time to time.

What if it wasn’t a co-incidence that my knee was bothering me that day?  Or that Hubby wanted to stop at that store?  And maybe Debussy was playing at that time to act as the proverbial dangling carrot, drawing me to that station at just that moment.  (Doubtless the good Lord knows how I feel about impressionistic music.)

I realize not everyone thinks everything happens for a reason.  And maybe it doesn’t.  But be it luck or blessing, isn’t it amazing when you get exactly what you need, exactly when you need it?  Perhaps someday, when we are in heaven, we will all have the opportunity to hear Mr. Butterworth’s destroyed works.  I like to think that heaven will include concerts by our favorite musicians.  Heavenly music the likes of which are heard nowhere here on earth.

If you are having a stressful day, or you just need a reminder of summer, I highly recommend you listen to Butterworth’s music too.  I hope it will be a blessing to you as well.

 

 

Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands.   Psalm 66:1

 

… singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.   Ephesians 5:19


Traditions Of Love

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Valentine’s Day elicits strong feelings in people – positive and negative.  There’s the V-Day haters (who’ve had bad relationships or feel pressure because they aren’t currently in a relationship), and the V-Day lovers, (who go about annoying all the haters by declaring how wonderful love is).

I confess, I’m in the lover group, and I live with a romantic man (Mr. Romantic), so there’s no ignoring V-Day even if I wanted to.  Which I don’t.  So sue me.  I believe in love.

Nevertheless, I haven’t always been happy in love, nor have all my relationships been good.  Some have been pretty darn awful, and I’ve put in my time feeling irritated with the whole February 14th “rubbing my nose in it” day!

Plus, as I’ve said before, I think our modern Valentine’s Day is harder than ever on couples (see Love Is Harder Online).

But all that aside…  does anyone even know how this red-filled, expensive card, long-stemmed roses, dinner out, pressure to express our love event even started?

According to the “experts” (whatever that means), apparently not!

Ask most people and they’ll tell you it’s because of Saint Valentine.  But did you know there was more than one Saint Valentine?  I sure didn’t.  Until I looked it up.  No one seems 100% certain which saint it was.  Not to mention that the stories of how it all started are just that… legends… about priests performing forbidden weddings, doing miraculous healings, and spreading the gospel of Christ.

Then there’s the folk traditions and various customs that link Saint Valentine’s with the advent of spring.  One earth-type version has Saint Valentine doing something mystical with the roots of plants, and causing the season’s new growth.

They weren’t all priests either… there’s a ‘Jack’ Valentine that left sweet treats for children at their back doors.  Not sure why he did this, but apparently the kids were scared of him.

My favorite story is that Valentine’s day is when the birds sing songs of love to each other, pick their forever mates and get married.  S-tweet!

Valentine’s Day is celebrated in lots of countries around the world, by lots of different names with lots of different legends and stories.

It’s not all just about romantic love either.

In fact, romance didn’t seem to be the main focus in most of the origins surrounding the celebrations.  Even now, not every country relates the day with romance.

Some interesting facts, according to Wikipedia:

Estonia and Finland translate Valentine’s Day into “Friends Day”.  It’s about showing your friends how much you appreciate them.  In Iran, it’s a festival that combines a celebration of the earth with love towards mothers and wives.

Valentine’s Day is illegal in Saudi Arabia, because it’s seen as a distinctly Christian holiday, not sanctioned by Islam.  The ban has created a black market there for V-Day shop items, like roses.

The countries that spend the most on Valentine’s Day are China, South Korea, and Singapore.

Sadly, much of the local customs and origins of V-Day are being lost around the world, as the westernized, commercialized version of Valentine’s Day spreads and trumps a lot of the original celebrations.  Still, it’s clear that Valentine’s Day is not just about romantic love.

It’s about LOVE, period.  Religious love.  Love of nature.  Love of family and friends.

Just LOVE.

I definitely think that’s something to celebrate!


It’s Coming… Again!

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Am I talking about Valentine’s Day?  Or Jack Benny’s birthday?  Well, yes, those are just around the corner too.   But what I’m here to relay is information on the second annual Orchid Show at the Chicago Botanic Garden, which runs daily from February 14th through March 15, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

If you missed reading my orchid post last year, highlighting some of the interesting sexual propagation strategies of the orchid, click here to read and see pictures, then go to the show and discover more of the interesting orchid patterns yourself.

(Hint):  Guys – taking your lady to see the more than 10,000 orchids at CBG would be a great Valentine’s day outing.  Plus, if you go to the preview opening on the evening of Friday, February 13th, there are also cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and a jazz ensemble playing.  Each weekend they also have orchids for sale.  Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m. also feature various music performances.

Hubby and I must have attended last year’s show on one of those special days (just by luck), because I remember being serenaded by a string quartet while we viewed the orchids.

Tickets cost $8 each for members, or $10 for non-members.  Be aware that if you are not a CBG member you will also pay for parking ($25 dollars at the gate or $20 online advance parking, CBG members get free parking).

Here’s the website for more information and to pay your parking online:  http://www.chicagobotanic.org/orchid.

And just to whet your appetite, here are a couple more of the pictures Hubby and I took from last year’s show.

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Causing Trouble

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What is it about gossip that draws us in?  I recently got caught up in the gossip mill myself, and I’m still kicking myself over it.

I wasn’t born yesterday.  I know better.  Gossip and bad behavior, apparently, has no age limit.

It’s not just me.  I know that.  We all run on gossip.  Some of it is “real” news and it helps us.  But much of it is just plain hearsay.  Information regurgitated from one source to the next.  Or – worse – we filter what we hear through our own imperfect prejudices and experiences.  Like a huge game of Telephone.  (In case you’re not familiar with the party game of Telephone, click here for how it’s played.  It’s a classic example of how differently we all interpret what we hear others say.)

Not to blame everything on the internet but, while it’s improved communication, it’s also done a too-good job of improving our gossip skills.  We’re more addicted to gossip than ever.

Someone posts a copy of an unflattering letter they received from their mother-in-law.  Or an embarrassing photo makes it online, taken at a wedding.  A mother, angry with the way her child was treated, makes a public statement.

Case in point:  Remember the guy that made a video of destroying his daughters computer?  As a way of punishment for what she’d posted?  These things go viral because we all love to gossip.  We can actually get very worked up over events and comments that don’t even concern us!

It’s not all bad.  Gossip, I mean.  We learn a great deal from these things.  Avoid future mistakes, do good things for ourselves and others, etc.  Laws are created and securities tightened as a result of gossip.  Plus, some of those things are funny, light-hearted, and make our days brighter and more joyful.

We can’t stop gossip either.  It’s in our nature.  We’re always curious about what the other person is doing.

Nor is it just a human trait.  We’re not the only ones.  Take any dog into a room that holds 10 people and one other canine, and what do the dogs do?  They make a beeline for each other.  They may not even get along (and then you have a dogfight!), but the gist is… dogs are just as curious about other dogs as people are curious about other people.

Why is that?  Did God design His creatures this way as a protection for us?  Is it an instinctive urge to band together?  Safety in numbers?

Whatever.  I’ll leave that to the professionals to theorize over.  The main thing that disturbs me today, as I write this, is how destructively gossip can be used.  Like those fighting dogs, we all have an opinion on someone else’s business and, sometimes, we just can’t stop ourselves from putting our two cents in.

That’s what I did.  I caused trouble.  I stirred the pot.  I opened my mouth and let my lower brain rule my behavior before my good sense kicked in.

The damn thing is, once you sink to that reptilian-brain level of behavior, you can’t go backwards and undo the words.  Like water passing under the bridge, it’s already gone.

I apologized to the person involved.  I gave penance to God.  I’m publicly declaring myself an idiot on my own blog.

But I’m still kicking myself.

Hubby tells me that God has long since forgiven me this sin.  HE knew I was going to do it before I ever did.  This should be a comfort – and in a sense it is – I’m happy to know that in heaven I won’t have to pay for this sin again and again.  But I’m not God.  It’s more difficult for me to forgive myself than for Him to forgive me.  Human arrogance, I suppose, that I expect better of myself than I actually am.

Which takes us to the subject of:  just exactly how do we forgive ourselves from the mistakes we’ve made in our lives?  We all have regrets.  This whole subject of “forgiveness of self” impacts our health, our relationships, our spiritual life, and our happiness.

But, that’s a post for another time.


The Money Pit

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How many of you have seen the movie The Money Pit, starring Tom Hanks and Shelley Long?  (Spielberg was a co-producer.)  The actual house used for the movie is located in Long Island and was put up for sale this past summer, to the tune of $12.5 million with annual property taxes of just under $66,000.

The scenes shot inside of the house were actually done on a movie set, and didn’t reflect the condition of the real house, which was only used to shoot the outside scenes.  I don’t know if the real house has since sold or not, but I do remember reading where the owners said they had remodeled it so much that they felt like they were living the movie’s sequel.  (BTW… at the time of listing, the house was in tip-top shape.)

If you’ve seen the film, you know the story.  It’s about a couple that gets an incredible bargain and buys a gorgeous looking mansion needing (supposedly) just minor repairs, only to discover they’ve been duped into buying the mother of all fixer-uppers.

The movie is hilarious.  Reality is something else altogether.

The main reason the movie is so funny – besides the great comedic acting – is because anyone who’s ever owned a house can relate to the feeling of impending doom when they realize their home is nothing more than a sink hole in disguise.

Okay – show of hands – anyone ever been there?  Still there?

Our home is the first house Hubby and I have ever owned.  (That entire sentence being an oxymoron, of course.  We don’t “own” anything except “upkeep” and the tax levied on the property.)

When we first bought our home, I remember telling a friend of mine about the lovely patio we had out back, and how I envisioned myself relaxing out there on a lounger, a cool drink in my hand.

My friend burst out laughing.

“You aren’t going to be lying around anywhere,” she said.  “You’ll be busy working your *** off just to keep it up.”

Naive as I was, I discounted my friend’s statement as mean and negative.  That night, I lay in bed and counted the ceiling tiles, running the numbers through my head.  Based on our down payment, our mortgage loan and interest, and how many ceiling tiles there were in the room, I calculated what percentage of our bedroom – and yes, the entire house – we actually owned, and how much was owned by the bank.

Guess how much of the house we own so far?”  I told Hubby.  Then, every so often I would recalculate (just for fun?) and update Hubby on our “progress”.  We would get into bed at night and point at the tiles on the ceiling that were “ours”.  In the evenings, you might find us standing out in our driveway, looking up at stars (this was when there was less light pollution and you could actually still see quite a few stars).

Hubby would wrap his arms around me and point to the sky.  “Those right there are our stars,” he would say.  “Because they are over our house.”

This is totally romantic of Hubby, (see Mr. Romantic), and the whole tile counting thing was crazy obsessive on my part, I know, but I come from a family of bean counters so we’re all a little nuts that way.  Plus, it served its purpose… we had a physical, visual representation of the monies we put into our house as the years passed.  And just like the stars that have disappeared from view, so have the monies.

Ah.  The dreams of the totally ignorant.

In the beginning, we did own some of those ceiling tiles.  Lien free.  If the bank came and took our property away I probably would’ve considered removing them before we left.  My money – my tiles!  (If only I could sell them for what they cost.)

But over the years, I’ve added up the costs of a new heating/cooling system, remodeled rooms, appliance repairs, and landscaping.  Then there’s the lawn man, snow removal, roof guy, chimney guy, dead trees removed and branches churned into oblivion by a horde of guys clambering up and down our property like monkeys.  Where do all these guys come from anyway??

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I realized the grand truth that we were never taught as kids – owning a home is not a good investment – it just means you’re the tenant responsible for all legal interests.

I’ve never included real estate taxes and utilities in my ceiling tile computations, because – let’s face it – those are the only real expenses first time homeowners actually think about before they sign that devil’s bargain they call a mortgage contract.  Most of us have no real concept of how much it costs to “own” a home until we’re already buried up to our eyeballs in debt.

Remember when the housing market blew up?  We all lost a lot of equity.  Some of us lost all our equity.

Reviewing the past year, we’ve had our septic backup into the house, water damage and re-construction.  Floors ripped up and walls knocked out and humongous industrial fans roaring 24-7 to dry everything out.  We’ve dealt with contractors, and layers upon layers of sub-contractors.  We’ve had to buy new appliances and learned about telescoping pipes (little cameras they shoot through to see the condition of underground plumbing), the cost of relying on Laundromats, how to wash your dishes in very little water… and my new, pretty little backyard garden (see My Family Intervention) is now dug to shreds, full of mud clumps and root killer.

All told, Hubby and I are now in tile-deficit.  We would need to build an extra ceiling to house the tiles we figure we owe to the house.  Or rather, the house owes us.  Maybe two ceilings.  I’m not sure, because after a certain year, I stopped figuring it all out.  It just raised my blood pressure.  Best to preserve my sanity.

In The Money Pit there is one scene where Tom Hanks “loses it”.  He goes down to the kitchen where he has been heating water on the stove, because the water heater’s broke.  He carries his heavy water bucket up the derelict stairs to the bathroom, where he pours the bucket of water into the bathtub.  The water added to the tub is too much weight for the rotting floorboards and the tub crashes through and smashes to pieces on the floor below.  Both Tom and Shelley stand there, their faces covered in dust and grime, staring through the huge hole in the floor, and Tom goes into a hysterical, maniacal laughing fit.  Shelley just stares at him as he continues to explode from pent-up stress.  It’s my favorite scene.

When I think about this, my own house problems seem funny too.  I just wish Tom Hanks was here to laugh beside me.

Oh… and for you movie trivia fans out there…

Alexander Godunov played the character of Shelley Long’s ex-husband, a drop-dead gorgeous, narcissistic symphony conductor.  He was also the rejected love interest to Kelly McGillis in Witness (sorry Harrison Ford, but if I was Rachel I would’ve chosen Daniel over you), and the angry, brooding terrorist Karl in Die Hard.

His real life was far more interesting than the characters in his movies.  Godunov was a Russian dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet who defected to the U.S. and caused an international incident involving President Carter.  He was pals with Mikhail Baryshnikov (who later fired him from the American Ballet Theatre), and eventually he became an actor.  Sadly, he died at the age of 45.