MHH Column May 2017: Siding suspicions

I have some concerns.           

      Two weeks ago, I noticed that the siding on my house needed cleaning. My esteemed counterpart and I made a pilgrimage to the hardware store to purchase a few bottles of “house wash” which could be attached to a garden hose. Sounds pretty simple, right? It’s a one-hour job…two at the max, provided you get right on it and don’t let anything distract you.

It is fourteen days later and I am watching as the nozzle of a rented, pressure washer is being hoisted to an open second story window by way of a 50-foot wet extension cord. Does anyone else see a problem here?

It was bad enough that the job had to be postponed the first week due to rain, but it was further delayed by Johnny-On-The-Spot’s procrastination skills. Not only did he have to watch a few Saturday morning cartoons and catch up on his online video games, but then he felt compelled to take his mother out to lunch and waste 30 minutes playing me snippets of the Beatles’ greatest hits.

“Look, I love you but seriously… either play all of ‘Hey Jude’ or none of it. Don’t jump tracks midway through. It’s hard on my ears,” I told him.

“I’m just killing time waiting for you,” he replied. “I need your help.”

“What do you need me for?” I asked.

“I can’t see the dirt.”

Of course he can’t. He only managed to turn the entire side yard into a swamp, rent a power washer and rig a dangerous system for reaching the top of the house that will result in either his electrocution or the flooding of my bedroom. Yet he hadn’t actually done anything. I firmly believe I am present solely to bear witness to the forthcoming tragedy and have an appropriate statement for when the EMTs or insurance adjuster arrives.

Over the next several minutes, I took several pictures in order to point out certain problem areas and then left him to it. An hour later, my colleague came inside and turned on the TV. He announced that the job was finished and he had returned the equipment. However, I remained suspicious.

“So all four sides of the house have been cleaned?” I asked.

He seemed genuinely surprised by the question. “Well no, I only thought one side was dirty.”

The moral of this story is that if you want something done right, do it yourself. It will be less dangerous. The job will be completed in full and your relationship will be a lot stronger for it.

 

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Glo Magazine May 2017: The Real Winner

When I was a little girl, my mother and I engaged in a bizarre ritual each evening that can only be described as a cross between a friendly competition and an all-out war.

It went something like this: Each night when my father pulled into the driveway, my mother would announce his arrival and declare that she would be the first to greet him when he walked through the door. Never one to back down from a challenge, I would race into the kitchen and wriggle my three-year-old self through the Julie-sized space between her legs in order to plant myself in front of her when my father appeared.

I got the first hug every time.

As proud I am of my undefeated record in this particular sport, you had to give credit to my mother for the way she handled every loss. While I gleefully recounted my victory to anyone who would listen, my poor mother had to contend herself with the consolation prize of putting my father’s Thermos in the sink and hanging up his coat. She didn’t seem to mind getting beat by a toddler and if I didn’t know any better, I would say she actually wanted me to win.

As if losing to me every night was not enough, mom also had a tendency of taking a backseat to my grandmother, especially after my grandfather died and grandma wasn’t as active as she used to be. Not long after I moved out, mom and dad got into the habit of taking my grandmother out to dinner with them every Friday night and every Friday night, my mother insisted on waiting in the car while Dad collected his mother at the door and saw her safely inside at the end of the evening. She sat across the table from the dynamic duo as the two of them chatted happily throughout the meal and more often than not, she was left to put on her own coat while my dad helped his mother with hers.

Yet, Mom harbored no resentment at her second place position in my father’s life. In fact, she told me many times she was proud that my dad and I had a close and loving relationship until the day he died. She delighted in the fact that although he was no longer a little boy, Dad was still the apple of his mother’s eye. By encouraging a strong bond between Dad and the “other women” in his life, mom believed it made her relationship with him even stronger and believe me, my father knew who the real winner was in his life and how without her, he would be nothing.

“I have always loved you…marrying you made my life complete. You are the best thing that ever happened to me and I have received everything from life than anyone should…because of you,” he wrote to her in 1987.

This month, as we honor the women who brought us into the world, let us not only recall the ways in which they “lost” so that we could win, but the selfless ways they put someone else’s needs ahead of their own and how so often they dimmed their own light in order to let someone else shine. Happy Mother’s Day!

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Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: God has left the Building

(This is a reblog of one of my 2016 posts from http://www.acatholicmoment.org) aaaaa

Out of all of the days of the Church year, Holy Saturday is my least favorite. Even though I know it is the last day of my Lenten journey and that Easter is only 24 hours away, there is a strange emptiness to it that I can’t shake. It’s as if God has left the building.

The first time I ever really thought about Holy Saturday was the year I saw Jesus Christ Superstar, the 1970s rock opera centered on the last days of Christ. Unlike a lot of passion plays or movies, there is no resurrection coda to give the whole thing a happy ending and from a plot standpoint Jesus Christ Superstar is a bit of a downer, but it did cause me to wonder what that first Holy Saturday might have been like for those who experienced it.

Was it only six days ago that they followed Jesus into the city of Jerusalem full of idealistic hopes and dreams? By Saturday it had to feel like longer. It always does when everything goes downhill quickly. Even though only a few days have passed, it feels more like 10 years have gone by in a blur. I imagine that by the time the sun set on Good Friday, the family and friends of Jesus went home in a daze, spent the evening in shock and woke up on Saturday feeling lost, alone and afraid that God had abandoned them.

It’s only natural for your faith to be a little shaky whenever you lose someone you love. It happens to us in the 21st Century so it only makes sense that it would have happened to them as well. I wonder if they spent Holy Saturday sitting analyzing every conversation, going over every “what if” scenario and reassuring one another that they did everything they could. I wonder if they really felt absolved or if no matter how much they talked, they ended up back where they started – with more questions than answers.

Did they wonder where God was when His Son was being crucified? Had He given up on the human race? If Jesus could feed the hungry, heal the sick and raise the dead, why couldn’t he come up with a quick getaway plan for himself? Maybe they argued over trivial things like why Jesus gave His mother to John and not Philip. Perhaps there were minor blow-ups that blew over and segued into uncomfortable silences as everyone tried to get their bearings.

Somehow I can picture James breaking into everyone’s thoughts to ask about something Jesus had said. “Remember when He said He could destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days? Did anyone else get what he talking about, or am I the only one who didn’t understand.”

“Nah,” Bartholomew said, shaking his head. “I didn’t get it either. Everyone knows it takes more than three days to get a permit around here, let alone line up a construction crew.”

“Jesus was a good carpenter, but even He isn’t THAT good,” Thaddeus offers with a chuckle.

There would have been laughter. There would have been tears. There would have been memories. They would have done what families do when there has been a loss. At some point, someone might have announced that it was getting late and they should turn in for the night. Sabbath would be over soon and there was work to be done in the morning. Mary and her friends would volunteer to go to the tomb the next day to anoint Jesus’ body since there wasn’t time to do it the day before. Peter might have nodded and warned her to be careful around the Roman guards that have been placed outside the tomb.

“You should probably take someone with you to help with that rock,” he muttered before retiring for the night. “That thing weighs a ton.”

For everyone else, it was just another Saturday, but for the friends and family of Jesus, their world felt shattered. As with the loss of any loved one, it would hurt for days, weeks, months and years to come, but maybe, with a little faith they would eventually come to realize that God is still with them, even when it feels like He isn’t.

It’s that thought that cheers Mary up a little before she goes to sleep. Yes, she thinks as she closes her eyes. Perhaps tomorrow will be a better day.

Today’s Mass Readings:

GN 1:1-2:2; GN 1:1, 26-31A; PS 104: 1-2, 5-6, 10-12, 13-14, 24, 35; PS 33:4-5, 6-7, 12-13, 20 and 22; GN 22:1-18; GN 22:1-2, 9A, 10-13, 15-18; PS 16:5, 8, 9-10, 11; EX 14:15-15:1; EX 15:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 17-18; IS 54:5-14; PS 30:2,4,5-6, 11-12, 13; IS 55:1-11; IS 12:2-3, 4, 5-6; BAR 3:9-15, 32-4:4; PS 19:8,9,10,11; EZ 36:16-17A, 18-28; PS 42:3,5; 43:3,4; IS12:2-3, 4BCD, 5-6; PS 51:12-13, 14-15, 18-19; ROM 6:3-11;PS 118: 1-2, 16-17, 22-23; LK 24:1-12

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April column for Michiana House & Home Magazine: Monitoring the leaks

      One of these days, I will learn. Nine years ago, we moved into our new home and upon settling in, our washing machine began to leak water onto the laminate flooring. As President of this operation, I pointed the problem out to the Secretary of Home Improvement and he acknowledged that Houston, we indeed had a problem.

He proceeded to monitor the situation for the next decade.

Now, I don’t like to nag, but I am the kind of person who was born with a lot of get up and go whereas my counterpart…was not. In fact, he is a big proponent of the wait-and see-method of dealing with problems. Perhaps if we pretended not to notice the washing machine leaking, maybe it would stop doing it.

“It’s not a naughty child making a play for attention, you know,” I commented wryly.

When it became a more pressing concern a few weeks ago, he agreed it wasn’t faking and decided to take a look at it. That’s when he decided I must be overfilling it with clothes.

“You’re kidding, right?” I responded. “That washer can hold up to 12 pairs of jeans in its largest setting. It should be able handle a baseball jersey and a pair of sweatpants without its water breaking!”

“Well it only does it when it has a full load,” he offered.

I asked him if his honest solution to this problem was to divide the clothes in half and do double the laundry. Admittedly, it was a solution, but not a very practical one and considering the washing machine was a high efficiency model, it seemed like a bit of a cop out. In the end we decided to purchase a new unit.

Before it arrived though, I insisted he replace the floorboards I knew to be warped underneath the old machine. We had some extra ones that were included when the house was built. I showed him how they fit together and felt relatively confident that he could handle the repair.

I really have too much faith in that man. My floor is now a unique jigsaw puzzle of mismatched boards with wood putty filling in where there were gaps. Take my advice, if someone tells you they only had two boards, even though they needed four and “made do” by using wood putty, check their work, I beg of you. Don’t try to make sense of it, just check the work.

The other solution of course is to order additional flooring, have it installed or address the original leak before it becomes a bigger concern. Of course you might want to reconsider your relationship choices before they become a permanent part of the household “cabinet!”

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March Column for Michiana House & Home Magazine: Walk this way

sidewalkMy parents moved into their home on July 28, 1972. I know this because it was the day my mother was due to have me however, I did not feel like attending the festivities. Evidently I was not too excited about joining the planet or the prospect of having my own room because I didn’t show up the following day, the day after, or the day after that.

A week later, my mother was tired of hauling me around inside of her and so she called my aunt to come over and take her for a walk. Apparently a walk is the kind of thing that can encourage nature to take its course, but by the time my mother waddled around the block, she was no closer to having me than she was before.

However, it was enough time for an entire crew of contractors to set up camp on the lawn and reduce the front sidewalk to rubble. It was the kind of productivity that would impress any homeowner…if they had ordered the concrete work in the first place.

“What are you doing?” My mother asked the foreman.

“We’re installing your new sidewalk, lady,” he replied, rattling off an address that belonged to our next-door-neighbor.

To this day, I don’t know how they managed to misread the giant numbers posted near the front door, but they did and now there was a giant gaff. My mother was furious that her new home looked like a wreck. The neighbor was mad that her new sidewalk was being installed on the wrong property and how my mother didn’t go into labor right on the spot remains a mystery to me.

“Don’t worry, we’ll get it taken care of at no cost to you,” the foreman assured her, eyeballing her stomach.

And that’s exactly what they did. My parents got a new sidewalk at no cost. My neighbor got a huge discount on her project for the inconvenience and when I arrived a week later, they all had me to thank for it. Naturally, my mother recounted the story of my birth many times over the years, and there are several humorous anecdotes that are part of the saga: My father taking the time to shave and stop for gas on the way to the hospital and how I managed to have an accident all over myself on the way out of my mother’s body, but my favorite story is how my delayed arrival resulted in a free sidewalk proving good things come to those who wait.

 

 

 

 

 

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March Column for Glo Magazine: Parting with the past

emotionalspringcleaning       At the beginning of the year, I made a big decision to reorganize my life. Now, I’m not talking about a simple spring clean or installing in a new storage system to contain my sprawling stash of “stuff.” I mean a comprehensive, conscientious overhaul of the way I live and the things I surround myself with. In short, I am parting with the past, prioritizing the present and focusing on the future.

I’m not going to lie; it is a time consuming and emotionally draining process. In the past few months, I have purged my closet of the items I no longer wear and those I never wore. I have eliminated a number of books from my library that I simply had to buy in hard back (and at full-price) the day they were published and I have tossed out the toys I was hanging onto “just in case” one of the kids wanted to play with them again. Yes, I realize my sons are 27 and 20 and it’s safe to assume they no longer have need of them, but if you saw Toy Story 3 well then, you feel my pain.

If this isn’t enough, I also pledged to cook dinner nearly every night, keep a clothing journal in order to get the most out of my wardrobe and to unplug from my iPad/electronic device at least one night a week. The first two have been relatively easy but the last one is a bit like detoxing from an addiction. If you try this yourself, you can expect to experience a few withdrawal symptoms and plenty of setbacks.

So why am I doing any of this? I’m in a new season of life and I’m making broad sweeping changes. It’s refreshing, but it’s also a double-edged sword. My mother warned me about this several years ago, but I didn’t believe her. She said there would come a point in which I would be able to have a simpler and more orderly lifestyle, but I thought she was crazy. I could not imagine a time in which I was not ensconced in a whirling vortex of entropy. Chaos and I went together like peanut butter and jelly. I suspected we would be together forever. I was wrong.

While it is nice to have a home that stays relatively clean most of the time, I miss the little fingerprints that used to smudge up every surface. Although there is serenity in a home-cooked meal for two, it pales in comparison to those frozen family feasts we used to consume on the fly. And while it is nice not to have to buy new clothes and to unplug from the virtual world from time to time, it comes with the realization that everyone has finished growing and you are no longer required to be a phone call or a text away.

“Julie, when you come home and realize everything is exactly as you left it… it will be the saddest day of your life,” Mom told me.

As with most things, she was right and it happened sooner than I ever thought possible. Yes parting with the past opens up on a fresh new beginning, but it also closes the chapter on the previous story…the one you didn’t know was over until you found yourself bookmarking the last page.

 

 

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December 2016 column Michiana House & Home Magazine: Shoot The Dog

garage         My grandfather believed in putting production into everything that he did. Although he never performed onstage, he possessed the personality of a vaudeville showman and he never missed an opportunity to infuse a little “razzmatazz” into all of his projects. Never was this more evident than the year he bought my grandmother an automatic garage door opener for Christmas.

It was the early 1970s and a time in which such a gizmo was viewed with the same kind of gee whiz wonderment we reserve for keyless ignition systems and talking refrigerators. Garage door openers were expensive. They were considered a luxury and not something everyone could afford. In fact, it you were fortunate to possess such a device, it was a sure sign that you had saved your pennies.            Grandpa decided that the best way in which to surprise grandma with her gift was to install it that morning and then take her out to the driveway for a demonstration after the family arrived that afternoon. Unfortunately, he ran into a few technical problems and had to call in the reinforcement: my father. Needless to say my mother was none too pleased that dad had to go over to his parents’ house on Christmas morning while she was left to get herself and two kids ready, pack the car with gifts and cook her contribution to the holiday meal.

However if my mom was angry, that was nothing compared to grandma’s fury! She was so mad that grandpa and dad were holed up in the garage that she kept up a running monologue about her displeasure for most of the day. She only stopped when the dynamic duo came in to eat dinner and participate in the gift exchange. Then she said nothing at all.

Finally, when the wrapping paper, ribbons and bows were cleared away, grandpa led his thoroughly ticked off wife to the driveway where she was greeted by a stuffed toy poodle laying in front of the garage door. Grandpa handed her a small plastic water pistol. “Go ahead Ruthie, shoot the dog.” He stood behind her and pulled the small remote control from his pocket.

Grandma took aim and pulled the trigger as grandpa hit the button in his palm. The garage door opened and the stuffed poodle rose, revealing a sign that said, “Merry Christmas.” She fired again and grandpa closed the door. Up and down, up and down…I don’t know how long it took grandma to realize what her present was or what was really causing it to function, but her anger melted away and she was delighted by grandpa’s thoughtfulness.

Though I have never instructed someone to shoot an animal (stuffed toy or otherwise) I have been known to organize holiday scavenger hunts, pull out last minute surprise presents and conceal something extraordinary in the seemingly ordinary. You are never too old to enjoy the enchantment of the season, so it’s important to create a little Christmas magic whenever you can.

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