Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Helena Handbasket

When I was a little girl, I would occasionally hear adult members of my family say, "the world is going to Helena Handbasket." "Who is this Helena Handbasket?", I would think, "and what is so special about her that she deserves the entire world?" I could almost imagine some sort of awards ceremony playing out in my young girl mind......"And the world goes to......... Helena Handbasket!" Of course, now, being much older and perhaps a bit wiser, I have come to learn that the expression my parents and grandparents kept referencing was that the world was going to "hell in a hand basket." I have also come to realize that the Star Spangled Banner is to be seen by the "dawn's early light", as opposed to the "donzerly light". I am sure many children, including Ramona Quimby (who actually thought it was the donzer's lee light) have likewise wondered exactly where and what this donzerly light is. My five-year-old son will tell you very emphatically that a "life saver" is a sword made of light that can kill bad guys. Oh the things kids say.....back to our title faux pas, Helena Handbasket. I can't say that this phrase altogether makes more sense to me now that I know it is "hell in a handbasket" and not "Helena Handbasket." I actually google searched this phrase trying to find it's origin. No one seems to know exactly how it originated. So, I will take a gamble at it. The first half seems self-explanatory. Society's morals are decaying daily. It is clear that the world, in some ways, is "going to hell." The means of conveying the world to said location is the baffling part. Why a handbasket? Is it supposed to be ironic? Did whoever coined the term just really like alliteration? Does it have something to do with Little Red Riding Hood taking her basket of goodies to the big bad wolf?
I'm still not exactly sure. But I think it may have something to do with the fact that the things which are dragging us, as a society, one step closer to the fiery abyss, are often wrapped in pretty packages. Girls are having a nationwide identity crisis because they don't look like the 5'7", size double zero, airbrushed model on the front of Vogue. People's pain and humiliation is on prime time, disguised as entertainment for public viewing. So much about the world we are living in is pretentious, dolled up, tricked out. It's hard to get to the heart of things these days, because there is no heart in hollow, empty shells. Last Friday night, Dirk and I were watching "What Would You Do?" It's a hidden camera show which records actors playing out various scenes exhibiting often the worst of human behavior, and catching people's reactions to it. It is always inspiring to see people stepping up and speaking out for the underdog, or standing for something they believe in firmly. The disheartening part is that the scenarios depicted generally come from real life situations. Often, the people caught on camera are relieved to find out that the awful things they have just been witness to were all part of an act. But the ideas behind the show come from somewhere. They come from real life scenarios that happen all around us every day. I have witnessed a few scenes which have caused me to peer around the corner, just waiting for John Quinones to come waltzing out with his camera crew.........no John, no camera crew......just humans behaving inhumanely.
If you don't think the world is going to Helena, just turn on the news for five minutes and you'll change your mind. Here's the thing, though: I don't think we should just hand the world over to this "Helena Handbasket" without putting up a fight. But what can one person do in the face of so much relentless and discouraging darkness and meanness? It was just this question that I was pondering a few nights ago. I went outside to say my prayers under the stars. Doing this puts me in my place, so to speak. It helps me to realize my own nothingness in the vastness of the universe, while at the same time allowing me to commune with the one who made both myself and the stars. On this night, I prayed for purpose, for some meaning in all the madness. I prayed to know what, if anything, I could do, to make a tiny mend in the ever tearing fabric of society. The answer I felt was strange, and not what I expected........"Don't add to it. Be positive." That was it. No striking revelation about some mass movement I could start or viral video I could make......just "Don't add to it. Be positive." After puzzling over this answer in the past week, it has become sort of a mantra playing over and over in my mind. And I couldn't help but think of my last blog post. It was truth. Women are mean. They can be spiteful. But so was I. I realized that "hating the haters" won't help. Two negatives may make a positive in principles of mathematics, but they do not in principles of morality. With the help of my new mantra, I have decided that from henceforth I will try harder to project positive energy into the world. When I see a story on the news of a child who has been horribly abused or neglected, I will hug my own children that much tighter and give them an extra kiss before bed that night. When I hear a story of a teenage boy facing 10 years in prison for a foolish, thoughtless prank, I will write a note of appreciation to a teenager in my neighborhood for his exemplary behavior. When I hear of war, I will try to find peace within my own heart to love someone who has hurt me. Will any of this delay the hand off of the world to Helena Handbasket? Probably not. But, it is certainly a better solution than sitting idly because I can't save the entire world. And just imagine, if everyone adopted and truly tried to live by the mantra....."Don't add to the negativity. Be positive." Change has to start somewhere. And within the walls of our own homes is a good place to start. You see, Helena Handbasket may think she's got this whole thing wrapped up. What she doesn't realize is there is this underdog waiting in the wings called Hope. Hope is by far the stronger contender. She just needs a little encouragement sometimes. We can help with that. Each smile we give a stranger on the street; each prayer we send up for the fallen soldier; each word of encouragement to the overwhelmed mother in the supermarket, is a lace in Hope's boxing gloves. If we could all just cheer her on, by cheering one another on, she could have Helena up against those ropes in no time.
As for my blog, I know this post went a little toward the serious side again, but be assured that future posts will contain plenty more humor and quirkiness. One way I personally like to cheer Hope on is by making other people laugh; at life, at me; at themselves. But, I also vow to try and steer clear of posting anything mean spirited again. I will fight for the underdog by trying to lift him up, not by trying to beat the oppressor down. And now, you must excuse me, to go and grab a late night snack, because, I'm so hungry, I could eat a corpse and chase the mourners..........something my great grandma used to say.......another phrase of unknown origin. So, as my mother would say, "I'm off like a dirty shirt."

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Top Dog

Women are dogs. I hate to be so hard on my own sex, but there it is. It is often said that men are dogs and that women cat fight, but society has gotten this all mixed up. I say it is the other way around. First, let's take a look at cats and men. Cats are anti-social. They generally like to do their own thing. There are entire days when they barely leave there favorite spot on the couch except to find food. When cats do have a sudden productive urge, they often express it by hunting down weaker prey and leaving the entrails of said prey for the lady of the house to clean up. And every cat fight which I have been witness to has involved plenty of blood and gore. Also, cats generally go to the litter box by themselves. I have yet to see a group of felines waiting in line for the Fresh Step. Cats and men are both solitary beings.
Now let's take a look at women and dogs. Dogs are needy. They are territorial (if you don't think women are territorial just try to flirt with one of your friend's husbands and see how long you stay friends). They like to antagonize one another. Instead of beating the tar out of one another as cats do, dogs will stand for hours just barking at one another from opposite sides of the fence. Dogs are people pleasers. In fact, it is their main goal in life to please almost every one they meet. And, last but not least, dogs, when in the wild, travel in packs. Where there is a pack, there is always a leader of the pack (where there is a leader of the pack, there is always an irritating eighties song that plays over and over again in your head- maybe that's just me......). We hear so much about the alpha male of society, but the alpha female is scarcely mentioned. Perhaps some of you reading this post are alphas. I myself, am not. But we have all had our fair share of experience with the alpha female. She is the woman in the room whose jokes are always hilarious, who can make snide, jabbing remarks and play them off as charming. There is a threat of retaliation always lurking behind her perfectly set, Crest white teeth, should anything upset the delicate balance that keeps the rest of the pack firmly and fearfully at her flank. Her clothes are the best because she wears them the best. Her husband is the best because he is married to her. Her children are the best because.......hello.....they are the offspring of perfection itself! She will rarely admit these truths in a direct manner, but every body movement, every girlish giggle, every, "Truly darling; you are too kind" conveys that perfectionism is her territory. And if another member of the pack were to dare to endeavor to surpass her in any area, that member would be promptly ousted from the pack and become a lone wolf. The most telling sign that you may be in the presence of the alpha bitch (what?- it's a female dog) is this- whenever you are in her presence, you automatically go into compete mode, whether you are by nature a competitive person or not. I have never had much of a competitive edge myself, but I can always tell when the alpha is near because some deep instinctual urge rises up within me.......some primal drive to acclimate, to follow the lead of the alpha; to do what she is doing only better. I have non-alpha friends whom I feel perfectly comfortable hanging out with in sweats and no makeup. If, however, I know I may be in the presence of an alpha that day, I spend an inordinate amount of time in front of the mirror, and still leave feeling defeated because I do not look like Angelina Jolie, and Angelina Jolie is the only person in the world who could possibly throw off the alpha's game.
For these reasons, I spent most of my time in high school hanging out with guys. There was no drama, no behind the back open-mouthed gapes upon spying a jean label that wasn't designer. As a result of my hanging out with guys to avoid being dominated by the alphas, I was voted "biggest flirt" in my high school senior class.......basically the same thing as "most hated" by all of the other females in the senior class. I naively believed that the female pack mentality would end after high school. Was I ever wrong! The packs are perhaps even more impenetrable when the alphas reach adulthood.
I know I am coming off as being bitter toward all other women. This truly is not the case. I have some very dear, life long friends who happen to be other ousted pack members who just didn't make the cut. And I think I am finally beginning to realize that most of us leave the pack by choice. We reach a breaking point; then have a moment of clarity when we finally realize that we have been running our whole lives, out of breath, paws bloody, trying desperately to keep up with a pack of wolves, when we were really born to be lionesses.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Names of persons in this blog have been changed so that those persons involved may avoid further humiliation. Last night, I was out with my friend, Petunia. We had met for frozen yogurt, and naturally, had headed to Walmart afterward, since it was after 10:00, and nothing else is open in the city of Idaho Falls at that time. We thought we might even get lucky and be able to snap a few photos to submit to the People of Walmart website. As we headed toward the home decor department, Petunia tripped over a dolly full of palettes, barely avoiding a total face plant. We laughed until our sides ached and then began swapping stories of our clumsiest moments. When it comes to being clumsy, I think I could rival the Three Stooges. We are talking about the girl who blackened her eye with a pair of pliers while canning apples, after all. Petunia and I relate on so many levels. Our aptitude for turning simple every day objects and occurences into potential death traps is just one of the many qualities we share, along with having a total and complete lack of direction. Between our talent for creating slapstick comedy while simply attempting to walk through a supermarket aisle, and a sense of direction that could get us lost in a cul de sac, I don't think my dear Petunia or myself would make it far in a Hunger Games scenario. Petunia and I share everything. I didn't think there were any skeletons in our friendship closet..... until last night, when Petunia shared with me the story of the hurdle....... She was in middle school track. I think she usually ran long distance. One day, with absolutely no prior training, she decided that she would like to try hurdle jumping. How hard could it be? You run, you jump. Simple as that.
Now, keep in mind that we are talking about the same girl who, moments before relating this story, had been inches away from forming a closer acquantance with the Walmart floor, courtesy of a crate dolly......back to middle school, where Petunia is preparing to jump the hurdle.....with the typical determination that Petunia puts forth in everything she does, she began running at a full sprint toward the hurdle. Closer and closer........faster and faster..... until it was there, right in front of her. Petunia had reached the hurdle, but she did not jump. Instead, she stopped dead in her tracks, and screamed. As a circle of concerned onlookers formed around her, she decided she had to try to retrieve whatever shred of dignity she could. She would still jump that hurdle! From a standing position, a few feet from the hurdle, she attempted to do just that. It doesn't take a vivid imagination to visualize the end result. Knees met hurdle, followed by face (as well as sprawled arms and legs) meeting floor. For the remainder of middle school track, any misstep, trip or close encounter with a hurdle was referred to as "pulling a Petunia". Enough years have passed, that Petunia can now look back at this incident with humor. In fact, by the end of her anecdote, both of us were laughing so unabashedly that the guy wearing two flannel shirts and a mullet was glaring at us like we were the strange ones.
To be fair, I must now relate my own recent tale of humiliation. Though I have many stories of nearly landing myself in the E.R. while performing mundane daily tasks, the incident which I will now relate involves a piano and a bad case of nerves. A few weeks ago, I was asked to play a piano solo in church. I decided on a beautiful song and proceeded to practice it until I'm sure my family never cared if they heard it again! The climax of the song was full of runs and chords. I practiced this portion of the song until I could have played it in my sleep, knowing full well that I would be a nervous wreck during the actual performance. When the day arrived, I sat rigid, trying to focus on the words of the speakers. Instead, all I could focus on was the clammy cold sweat covering every inch of my hands. I wiped them on my dress over and over and tried to breath deeply. But I could feel the panic setting in. The moment of truth arrived. The song began beautifully. Then I came to the climax. A wizard must have sneaked out of one of my beloved Harry Potter books, followed me to church, and cast an obliviate spell on me. For at that moment, I, who had been playing the piano since the age of nine, could no more play the piano than fly to the moon! The page was blank, and I couldn't feel my fingers. They fumbled numbly for the right keys, but the resultant sound was less than harmonious. Then, I pulled a Petunia. I stopped dead in the middle of the song. For a few brief seconds, I considered standing and walking off the stage, with an apologetic curtsy. Then I thought of my children sitting in the front pew, and I knew I had to continue. I had to be an example to them of not giving up. I took a deep breath, reoriented myself and finished the piece. I was humiliated.
In the two weeks since my colossal piano flub up, I have had countless words of encouragement from members of my church congregation. I have recieved an overall sense that those people love me even more because I am not perfect (something which I have always been painfully aware of, but which was made very visible to them), and because I didn't give up. And I suppose that's the point. When Petunia met her hurdle, she was afraid. But, after only a moment's pause, she decided to try to jump it anyway. In Petunia's post-middle school life, I have personally witnessed her overcoming emotional hurdles which would make the strongest of us back down, with such quiet grace and strength, that "pulling a Petunia" these days would be one of the highest goals any of us could aspire to. We all have our own personal hurdles in our lives. Our children may go astray, but we jump that hurdle. Our husband may lose his job. We don't back down. We find out we have pancreatic cancer. We keep on running full speed ahead. Our spouse is tragically taken from us. But we lift our head, look heavenward and pray to God that we can make it over that hurdle. The hurdles are the moments which define us. My piano mishap was a relatively insignificant incident in the scheme of things. But I have learned important lessons from it; the first being that it's o.k. to not always be perfect (a hard thing for a chronic perfectionist to come to terms with). Secondly, I have learned that it's o.k. to fall flat on your face (literally or in a manner of speaking), as long as you get back up. And thirdly, I have come to realize that we never truly realize the beauty and wonder of the sky until we have had a mouthful of dirt. I have also learned that I am no quitter. From now on, when I come to a hurdle that seems insurmountable, I will stare it down, lace up my running shoes,and think, "It's time to pull a Petunia."

Thursday, March 8, 2012


As the title suggests, this will most likely be one of the only serious posts I share. I promise with my next post to return to my typical self-deprecating humor. I am sharing this because I felt inspired to. With the controversy surrounding the KONY 2012 movement, I have had the topic of human suffering and injustice constantly stirring in the back of my mind and in the center of my heart. I came across this entry from my "inspiration journal" and realized it describes exactly how I feel about the KONY campaign as well as other related issues. I am not a political activist by any stretch of the imagination. I don't have a solution. Is this journal entry simplistic? Perhaps. But that's kind of the point. Let's strip away the rhetoric and look at this from a basic human level. After all, that is what we are dealing with here: human lives. Lives of children which are being destroyed in the worst ways imaginable. I, for one, would like to raise awareness about it, and this is why:

I first came across this poem in fifth grade. It moved me so deeply that I have remembered it all these years. Coming across it a few months ago, it still moved me to tears. I have now memorized Dunbar's heart-stirring words:

I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals-
I know how the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing,
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting-
I know why he beats his wing!

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings-
I know why the caged bird sings!

This poem inspires me so much because it describes vividly one of the most basic human desires: freedom. During Dunbar's life, in this country, there was an entire race of people who were not granted this God-given, most basic of human rights. Today, through the efforts of many who followed Dunbar's call , blacks enjoy the freedom and equal rights every human being should have. But many people in this world do not. Many people are still caged by fear, oppression, and bigotry. How can this be happening anywhere in the world, whether on a large scale, like the women in Afghanistan, or on a more personal level, like an abused or molested child, who has had their freedom to believe in the goodness of humanity forcefully and brutally taken from them? How are there still cultures who feel the right to oppress hundreds of thousands of human beings? Has not humanity become more enlightened than this? Dunbar's words are so stirring because they are universal. I think everyone has, as some point in in their life, felt trapped or caged by something out of their control. For some, it may be an abusive situation or a debilitating addiction. For me it was a crippling depression. But through all that we endure seeps that primal, yet divine, most basic of human yearnings; to be free. I also believe that this poem is meant to do more than simply cause us to empathize with Dunbar, or the caged bird. It is a call to arms to help all of the other caged birds. As I read it, another great literary work centering around a bird comes to mind; Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Finch plead for the freedom of a wrongly accused black man; a battle which he ultimately lost. I am also reminded of words from one of the greatest fighters for freedom; Martin Luther King Jr., who said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." The words of Dunbar, Lee and King are a call to action; a cry for justice; an invitation to use the freedom we enjoy to fight for the freedom of the oppressed everywhere. For, if the person living next to us is being oppressed, are we truly free? Or are we all together in one giant cage with bars of hatred, apathy, ignorance and intolerance?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Confessions of a Facebook addict

I have a love/hate relationship with technology. I love that it allows me to access information on virtually any topic with a simple Google search ( I don't think that my brother-in-law who works for Yahoo has ever read a single one of my posts, so I think I am safe to admit that I Google search). I also hate that technology allows me to access information on virtually any topic with a simple Google search. I will now morph into an 80-year-old woman.........drum roll please..........the technology of our day is turning out a generation of kids who don't know how to work, don't know how to write or speak basic English, are incapable of having a face to face conversation with an actual human being, and who have serious issues with entitlement and instant gratification. In my day, when we had to do a report for school, we actually had to look in an encyclopedia.........one with pages.......it's called a book.......ever heard of it? We had to research, write and rewrite. Kids these days can click a mouse a few times, copy and paste and voila! We learned how to write in cursive! We learned how to use proper grammar and how to address others with respect and in complete sentences!!! We would have thought that lol was a spelling error by someone trying to write about a temporary pause or decline in activity. We would have thought that LMAO was a secret government code.
Writing that, I can almost imagine what I will look like 50 years from now.......I will probably be shrunken to about 4' 7" with a bad purple/gray dye job. The thing is, my 27 year old self shares many of the same sentiments. In my very first blog post, I described my husband and myself as being "Mormish" (Mormon Amish). This is because, two years ago, we didn't even have the Internet and I had never owned a cell phone. Fast forward two years......We now have 10 meg high-speed Internet and I have an Android (for the less tech-savvy, I do not have a space-aged robot named Data in my closet....an Android is a "smart phone"). I had actually had a Facebook account for a while before we connected to the Internet at home. I would check my account once a week at my grandma's house. For the first little while after we got the net at home, I would log in to Facebook maybe once every couple of days. I would update my status once in a while and I rarely posted pictures. Soon, I started thinking of witty things I could post at random times during the day.... I began reconnecting with more old friends and losing track of time as I mindlessly scrolled through their 20 albums, each containing 100 pictures. I started craving the acceptance I felt when people "liked" my status, and feeling rejected when no one did. I became the Sally Field of Facebook......."You like me, you really like me!" I began comparing my paltry attempt at homemade bread to the gourmet deserts my friends posted gorgeous pictures of online. Shamefully, I even began to post a few "brag posts" about my own children.....something I said I'd never do. A few weeks ago, a brick fell out of the sky and conked me in the head (maybe we should go with an anvil.....sounds more exciting).......an anvil fell out of the sky and conked me in the head, pulling me out of my cyber daze. "This is not me!", I thought.......this girl who was numbly scrolling through status updates about everything from the latest weather forecast to people's bowel habits (not joking......one reason I am leaving Facebook.....there really isn't anyone that I want to get to know that well........TMI......Lol.......LMAO). Where was the girl who used to read essays by Ralph Waldo Emmerson or poems by Emily Dickinson when she had a few moments of quiet time? Where was the introspective writer who used to sit in silence (in the rare moments when all three children were occupied) and contemplate the purpose and direction of her life? She was lost in a world of people pleasing virtual reality. Shortly after this "aha moment", I was talking to my best friend on the phone. She had been having similar feelings about her relationship with social networking. Together we decided to bite the bullet......to go cold turkey.....to delete our Facebook accounts. It was a hard decision. The "love" part of my relationship with technology comes from the fact that I am now able to sneak a peek into the lives of good friends who live far away, and who are doing amazing things with their lives. However, on the "hate" side is the fact that I was beginning to feel like I was wasting valuable time staring at a computer screen; time which I could have been using to enrich relationships with people who were often physically in the same room with me!
Step number one of my Facebook detox has begun......I have a problem and I know it. As happens any time one tries to give up an addiction or obsession, no sooner had I made my decision to leave Facebook, than I started having doubts and making justifications..... I can limit my time........I will only check it once a week......no one will read my blog anymore.....I will have no way to keep tabs on friends I never see. With the help of another anvil (would whoever keeps throwing those things please knock it off?.......) I realized that I had to give Facebook up totally and completely, or I would eventually revert back to my status scrolling ways. I explained it to a friend this way: "Me keeping my Facebook account would be like an alcoholic locking booze in the liquor cabinet." It has become apparent that I do not have that much self control when it comes to social networking. It has also become apparent that I need to stop spending so much time reading about other people's lives and to start more fully living my own life. Looking back on my "Mormish" days, I remember having more of an overall sense of peace and contentment with my life..... tucked away in my own sleepy corner of the world, trying to make a difference in my own little sphere. I was not bombarded by a constant stream of information, and yet, in a way, I was more informed, more aware. So it is with mixed feelings that I say goodbye to my network of cyber friends. I have been inspired by many of you. However, it is time to once again remember how to feel inspired by my own life. I will continue to write blog posts. I usually post once a week or once every other week. This blog is one of the few things that has kept my creative juices flowing. But I need to get a life! It's hard to find material to write about when you don't have one! As of March 12, 2012, I will be Facebook free. I am delaying my exit from the social network for a bit so that friends can get me their contact info and sign up to follow my blog (hint hint......I have never said I was above shameless self promotion), or at least take down the url. Until that day, you can probably expect to see me on Facebook quite regularly. Like any good addict, I am getting my last fix before I have to quit!