Rules, Respect, and Giving a Rip

There was a time when, with a carload of friends, I, as the driver, was caught in a stop-and-go situation in a parking ramp after a basketball game.

“Look!” my friend Kathy said, pointing at another car. “They’re going the opposite direction! Let’s do that!”

We should have, and I had a split second to decide. There was no law, no rule really, against it. Nothing would’ve happened other than getting out of that ramp an hour or so earlier. But I couldn’t do it. The signs told us which way to exit. Going the other way was wrong.

I can’t help myself. I’m a rule follower.

I’ll tell myself and everyone else I’m being respectful, but bottom line, I’m scared of getting in trouble.

You bet I follow the red light/green light rules. Always have, always will.
You bet I follow the red light/green light rules. Always have, always will.

I even make sure I’m going in the “Enter” door when I shop at Walmart, and veer to the other side if I find I’m headed for the “Exit” door by mistake. Keep in mind the automatic doors have sensors on both sides, and no one so much as blinks if you go through the “wrong” door. On your average shopping day, there’s no danger or inconvenience in entering through the exit door (on Black Friday, it is, of course, a different story).

This wouldn’t bother me so much if I didn’t feel like I was being controlled by these rules. That, I think, is the dividing line for me between what is right and what is compulsive. I do not, for example, compulsively follow traffic laws. I do it for two reasons: safety, and I don’t want to get a ticket.

No, make that three reasons. It’s the law. Following it is what you do.

When I was in college — the first time —

it was a VERY conservative school, and students could receive what were called “minutes” for infractions of a plethora of really stupid rules. I think breathing too loudly on Saturday morning before 10 a.m. was one of them.

You’d get three minutes per infringement, and if you flouted your rebellion to a point of getting 30 minutes, you received what was called a “campus”, and “volunteered” three hours of your time to the school pulling weeds or some such.

In the history of the school, only a handful of students had made it until graduation without any minutes. I could’ve been one of them, except for two things: 1) I didn’t graduate, and 2) one Saturday morning I slipped up and talked to another student in the bathroom before 10 a.m. (I almost wasn’t kidding above).

She talked to me first, but no matter. And she was an RA, so I was screwed.

It would’ve been good for me to blast my radio

after hours a night or two, or (really bad) show up after curfew (there may have been more serious consequences for that. And, oh yes, curfew). It would’ve been really good for me to kiss a guy on campus (again, I’m serious, a violation of school policy), but that rarely was an option anyway.

I say it would have been a good thing for me because I might have understood what I only now am fully grasping: breaking certain rules doesn’t make you a bad person, or even untrustworthy. There are boundaries and I probably held mine closer than was healthy.

Certainly I didn’t need to trap me and my friends in that parking garage for more than an hour. If I’d gone the wrong way, worst case scenario half the other cars might have followed me. As it was, my decision cast a pall on the evening; that’s what we always remembered about an otherwise fun night.

Who's in Charge smStill, old dogs, new tricks. Forget dogs — I should be like my cats. They (reluctantly) follow the few rules I absolutely enforce and don’t give a rip about much of anything I else I ask of them. Somehow they know what really matters. I rarely reprimand them, or think any less of them for their indifference.


Photo credit (stoplight): © Graphic Stock; (Kitty and Candy) © geosap — stock.adobe.com

 

how to pretend you care about football

Cesar and me are ready for the game!So you’ve been invited to a friend’s house to watch the football game on their ginormous TV. Everyone is going, and you don’t feel like sitting at home alone.

I’ll never be an expert, by any definition, of any sport, but I do have some expertise in pretending to care.

First, a little insight into my own level of knowledge of the game of football, and then a few tips for getting through enjoying the game, or at least letting your friends think you do:

Some years ago,

I was late for my first date with a man who ended up being my boyfriend for an eternity. “I’m so sorry,” I said as I sidled up next to him at the bar (classy date, huh?). “I just had to watch the end of the football game. I know it’s only pre-season, but so-and-so is back from injuries and I wanted to see how he’d do.”

Condescending look. “That’s okay,” he said, “How did he do?”

I went into a two-minute recap of a game it turned out he’d watched in its entirety at that same bar. As I spoke, he had a look of increasing surprise, and when I finished he said, with a tone of incredulity, “You really do know football!”

So I know a little. However, I could have grasped only one fact about football — where the fifty-yard line is — and he would have been equally amazed. My point being, you’re probably not facing great expectations, and I can help you meet them.

50 yard line US Football s
Damn right you should be impressed.

Okay, that’s tip #1, illustrated. The fifty-yard line is smack-dab in the middle of the field going the long way. Once you’ve got that one down, here’s how to further pretend you love the game:

#2 Wear team colors

in some sort of tacky fashion. Mismatched socks will do. This will take a little pre-game research, but it’s important if for no other reason than you shouldn’t be wearing the other team’s colors.

#3 Bring a beastly yet delicious snack treat

and call it your “traditional football (name of food).” Don’t over-think this one. Remember, football fans love melted Velveeta cheese mixed with canned chili. The bar is not set high.

#4 Listen to the others gripe about the game,

and take your cues for shaking your head and saying, “you are SO right about THAT!” This tip is a little tricky since someone may ask a for a follow-up, so only do it if you dare.

#5 Every time you hear someone on TV say,

“it’s first and ten…”  yell, “FIRST AND TEN! DO IT AGAIN!”

(If someone points out the other team has the ball, smile sheepishly and say, “just another chance for our guys to sack the quarterback.” What that answer lacks in logic it makes up for with perceived quick thinking and advanced beginner knowledge.)

#6 Forget it.

You’re not fooling anyone. Take out your cell phone and text all your real friends about how bored you are.


Image Credit: (football field, w/o writing) © gomolach — Fotolia


back to school

This week the children in my area go back to school.

Of course that brings back memories of my own school days. Kindergarten, when we all had bird stickers to identify the cubby where we hung up our jackets and placed our lunch boxes. (My bird was a Baltimore Oriole.) Lunch boxes, perhaps with Barbie or Mickey Mouse, their thermoses and the way they smelled. The daily peanut butter & jelly sandwiches.

first grade
Me in first grade.

First grade and learning to read. “See Tag. See Tag Run. Run, Tag, Run.” I already knew how to read and zipped through that book in a flash. My teacher didn’t know what to do with me. It remained that way all through grade school.

Second grade, we’d moved cross-country, so a new school. Sixth grade, another new school. High school, going from our small K-8 to the very large school “in town.” College, first a community college, then away in the dorms, then at a local university at night while I worked full-time.

I miss it and I don’t. I miss the special day of shopping with my mom when I was in grade school, picking out patterns for dresses she’d make, choosing the new shoes I’d have to break in. When I was in college, seeing the syllabus and believing this semester everything would be done on time, the books read, the tests prepared for, the papers written, no last minute panic.

Yes. I have those dreams where I didn’t go to school all semester and now it’s finals. More often, I have dreams that no matter how hard I try, I cannot succeed in college. At some point in my sleepy state I stop getting frustrated and say, “why am I doing this? I already have a degree.”

(Probably a good thing I have no training in psychology or I’d be analyzing myself into a frenzy trying to figure that one out. The broad meaning might be clear to experts, but the application in my life would probably elude me.)

crayons lightstock_142210_medium_user_7579580 lr
© Alex Workman – Lightstock

I still like learning. I like being challenged. I take online courses, both credit and non-credit, whenever I can. I’d like to brush up on my French, or more practically, learn Spanish.

If I lived closer to my mom, I’d take her shopping for some new shoes and go to lunch like we used to when I was little. Those outings meant a lot to her, and a trip like that would do my heart some good.

facing loss

My stepdad died suddenly at the age of 51.

Initially I was so caught up in notifying friends & family, making sure we had enough soft drinks & water for everyone who stopped by, and convincing the pastor of the church Jerry grew up in she should allow us to hold the service there I didn’t stop to cry.

It wasn’t until the afternoon of the third day after his death I slowed down enough to go home, sit on my sofa and…let go. Then I remembered one more call needed to be made, to our friend Sue, who was also a top stylist at a local salon. Many of my family were clients of hers, including Jerry, and she’d grown up with my aunt as well as his niece. Sue was in a meeting, and I asked to wait, even though they tried to get me to leave a message.

spattered heartFinally, I said, “This really isn’t something I can leave a message about.” I hesitated. “Sue’s a friend of the family, and one of the family just died.”  I started crying. By the time Sue got on the phone, I had pulled myself together enough to tell her what had happened. She began crying and we said good-bye.

I leaned back on my sofa and turned on the TV. This was back in the 80s, when MTV and VH1 actually played music videos all day long. I turned the channel to VH1. Almost immediately one of my favorite songs of that spring was playing. It’s not about losing someone to dying, it’s about the loss of love, but at that point loss was loss. I didn’t stop crying for more than an hour. It was a good thing. I needed to cry.

Yet another friend of mine is facing the end of his marriage.

I saw him today, and the sadness in his eyes reminded me of that day. He said he hadn’t been sleeping much lately; I told him to take a Sunday afternoon nap. I wish I knew of a song that would help him sleep just as this video helped me cry.

To all my friends or anyone this blog reaches, I pray you find a way to cry when you need to cry, and a way to sleep when you need to sleep. God be with you.

Image Credit: (Weeping Heart, top) Spattered Heart © stoekenbroek — Fotolia; Sky Background © Pakhnyushchyy — Fotolia; Raindrops © Naeblys — Fotolita

where I am, who I am

(c) Belinda Ostrowski

Apparently, by modern definition, I am a cat lady.

I have two, and according to a recent New York Times article, that’s all it takes. Back in the day, it was somewhere in the double digits. Okay, maybe less than that, but having two cats then was called being a pet owner.

Walter Kitty
Walter, the cat who melts in your lap

So now, add “cat lady” to never married and avid knitter. Let’s not forget I lived with my mother for a time. Laughably, I fit a stereotype I can only hope is now as outdated as the former definition of “cat lady.”

If not, so be it. I fit it on paper only. I’m not to be pitied or mocked. Yes, I do get lonely at times. Everybody does. I remind myself then how many people my age are single for one reason or another, or worse yet, in bad marriages. Quite frankly, my situation is better than many, and not worse than most.

It took me years…

…to genuinely realize I’m valued and appreciated by others, and how essential true friendship is to contentment in life, how key it is to have people around me I can relax with and not fret about whether I’ve said or done the wrong thing.

I’ve learned to stay away from people who make me feel bad, whether or not it appears to be their fault. Sometimes I’ve taken the blame for things I’m not responsible for and find myself crashing and burning trying to right a wrong situation when the blame lies elsewhere.

In the past, and to a lingering extent still today, I tended to focus on the negative and be suspicious of sincere offers of friendship. What’s more, I always believed it was impossible for a man of worth to love me. Now, I apologize to any man out there who may have wanted to date me but didn’t because of the wall I put up. I never considered it this way before, but that’s a pretty rude attitude on my part.

I’m a bit offbeat, and happy about it.

There is somewhat of a dichotomy here, a flip side to that deeply held insecurity. On my best days, after a little mirror time, I’m confident in my appearance. I know I’m personable, kind, and empathetic. As one former boyfriend once told me (and although he meant it as a slam, I took it as a high compliment), I’m also a bit offbeat, and happy about it. In other words, I do have a fair amount of confidence in myself when I call on it.

That growth in attitude doesn’t change what I’ve done to get me where I am today. I can walk out the door, spinning on my heels with the belief I’m a brunette heartbreaker with the intellect and wisdom of, well, None Other, and thinking, men, I challenge you to be strong enough to take me on. (I have to clarify – I absolutely do not do that, and if I did, I can guarantee you with my next step I would, characteristically, slip on a banana.)  It wouldn’t instantly bring me what I may desire at that moment.

Here’s the thing:

I like cats, love mine, and I love to knit.  I wouldn’t give them up, the cats or the yarn, just because they might make me look laughable to someone cocky enough to think he or she will never be an object of scorn.

I am where I am because of who I am, along with the choices I’ve made and the choices made for me, twists and turns in life I have no knowledge of because they took place before they could be visible. I’ve made the life I have the way it is in part because that is the life I’ve wanted.

I believe in the power of subtle changes…In the meantime, I’m content.

A few years ago I had a glimpse of what it would be like to have someone in my life to be a support when I needed it most. I’ve handled sad and difficult situations on my own for so long that having someone by my side was new to me. It turned me around in the way I think about relationships, and I started to open up to the whole idea of something permanent.

Of course it doesn’t change the route I’ve taken to get where I am today, the reasons why and the consequences thereof. Being open to something doesn’t mean it will or even should happen, and I’m still not sure what I ultimately want. I have a comfortable lifestyle created from living alone.

Some of my family who have always been there -- and always will be.
Some of my family who have always been there — and always will be.

Yes, there are days when I sink into sad thoughts, but I know enough to realize a little time and maybe a good night’s sleep will bring me back to myself.

I believe in the power of subtle changes. In the meantime, I’m content with what I’ve been given, the friends and family who never fail me.

Just don’t expect me to ever change how I think about my cats. Only two, mind you, only two.

how to effectively waste your time

Thankfully, I had to think about this one.

Sadly, there came a point when the ideas, all based on real-life (mine), came a’tumblin. For the record, I haven’t done everything on this list — at least not #4.

Anyway, here are some ideas for how to effectively waste your time:

1. Write your acceptance speech for your Academy Award.

Then give it — tears and all — to your pets, stuffed animals or your own image in the mirror.

2. Play computer solitaire.

This is an old-time favorite, and there are plenty of newer or more complex games out there as well. But I chose this because a friend of mine (friend — yeah, right. no — really.) has played an incredible number of games, as evidenced here. (I wrote the number really large. You may have to click on the picture to believe it.)

Number of solitaire games my friend has played as of August 2015.
Number of games my friend has played as of August 2015.
3. Take selfies. Lots and lots of them.

I started to take a bunch of myself and post them here, then I remembered photos from these posts end up on Google Images under your name (check it out if you don’t believe me).

4. Oh yes, check Google Images for the disconcerting pictures that come up under your name.

Then check all your friends’ names & images. Then save some of the more intriguing images, e-mail them to the corresponding friend and ask them what it’s all about.

5. Make endless amounts of bookmarks.

Fifteen years ago I discovered blank bookmarks at a craft store, along with small stencils & stencil paint. I had a couple dozen pots of paint, about eight stencil sheets and a handful of brushes. I made more than 200 bookmarks, and it’s taken me all this time to get rid of half of them. And, I laminated as many as I could. This is a portion of what I have left:

bookmarks sm

6. Watch my all-time favorite YouTube animal video.

It’s mesmerizing:

Goats on Sheet Metal

Before you judge me,

I know you have a list. I’d love to hear it.

bottom line: my life is better with cats

If you know me at all, you know this post was inevitable. Yes, I’m one of those – a cat lover.

walter kitty sm
Walter

I’m not going to say “cat lady,” because that sounds like I have 17 cats in my house on the outskirts of town where I play Bobby Darin records, eat bon-bons and watch game shows. Alone.

Right now that sweet little guy on the left, Walter, is trying to get settled in my lap as I sit at my desk and type this post. He’s my snuggler, the first lap cat I’ve ever had.

They soothe me. When I’m stressed, lonely or despairing, they’re there to protect me from all evil.

Like so many cat lovers, I want to show my appreciation for them. In my home, I have to keep myself from over-decorating my apartment in cat-themed art. It’s really startling to one day look around and lose count of how many inanimate cats there are in your home.

mimi beanie sm
Mimi

I decided it was time to move away from it, and at the same time look for something I hadn’t tried at all before, Modern Art.

I thought, check out Andy Warhol. Guess what I found out? Mr. Warhol did a whole series of cat pictures. I now have a print of one in my bedroom. It’s called “So Meow” and the colors are perfect. I’m not sure if I won or lost with that one. Let’s face it, wherever I go, the cats are going to pull me in,

Almost twenty years ago I picked up the cat of my heart, Paco. I love every cat who’s ever been a part of my life, but Paco was special. We were both lonely souls at the time who desperately needed each other. I saved him, and he saved me. It was a bond I don’t expect to have again.

When I got him, he was the squirreliest looking thing ever — great big ears, great big paws, a great big tail and scrawny everything else. Kind of like an awkward teenager, although at first I simply thought I’d inherited a homely cat.

Paco, sometime between really squirrelly-looking and beautiful.
Paco, sometime between really squirrelly-looking and beautiful.

“Mom,” I said in a panic when I called her. “He’s so funny looking and he ignores me!”

“I’m sure he’s not that funny looking,” she replied, “and he just needs to get used to his new home.”

Right on the second part, wrong on the first. But eventually he grew into the big beautiful cat he remained until he died at the age of 16.

Paco would sit at the door and wait for me to come home at night. I moved in with my mom for a short time, and she said he got in place about 30 minutes before I was expected home. I made sure I was never late.

One weekend I visited my brother out of town. I left at the usual time in the morning with a bag Paco didn’t recognize. My mom told me (after I got home) that he waited for me until 10:30 that night, until she finally picked him up and brought him into the living room to sit next to her. He pretty much stayed there until I came home. Then he was really mad at me, and hissed for an hour. Then he wouldn’t leave my side.

Montero watching Law & Order sm
Montero was a big fan of “Law and Order.” I also just realized how old my TV set is.

I’m crying a little as I write that story. I miss him, but I love my current babies, Walter & Mimi.  I hope I always have a cat in my life. These are pictures of some of those who have made my life better just by waking (me) up in the morning.

And I confess, I do listen to Bobby Darin from time to time. So do Walter & Mimi. We’re romantics. But I’m still a cat lover, not a cat lady.

I am not Rosie the Riveter…but I can hang curtains!

I believe in being as self-sufficient as possible.

Don’t get me wrong, I like having the right guy help me around the house. What’s more, the right guy can tease me a little about mistakes in my efforts at home improvement, as long as he doesn’t make me feel like a fool. There’s a difference.

Once upon a time I dated the wrong guy

for way too long. Despite oodles of proof to the contrary, he believed I was utterly incompetent when it came to things like changing a tire or replacing hardware on kitchen cupboards, and felt quite comfortable saying so.  Frankly, I think he would have preferred someone who didn’t know a hammer from a nail, but that’s not what he got. With me, anyway.

So no way was I going to ask for his help hanging my curtains. Even though in this case I was clueless about how it was done.

You see, I’d never heard of a level.

So instead I took a ruler, measured a reasonable amount above the window frame on either side and once in between, and marked each spot with a pencil. Then I took a strip of painter’s tape and stretched it across, so I’d have something I could check for a straight line.

Looked good to me. I took out my screwdriver and the screws that came with the curtain rod and went at it.

Now, I only had an old-fashioned manual screwdriver. It took FOREVER to get the task done. FOREVER.

On occasion I cheated and pounded the screw with a hammer just to get the thing moving.

Finally, it was ready. I slid the curtains onto the rod and placed the rod in the brackets.

You guessed it – crooked. I eyeballed how much and set out to adjust.

Again, FOREVER.

Still not right.

This went on for I don’t know how long,

until finally I had the whole thing looking perfect. Except, I had so many holes it looked like teeny mice had built a teeny mouse-hole condominium complex. That wouldn’t do.

Curtains! Victory!I knew about spackle, though, and Krylon paint. The curtains came down again, and I set out to fix the wall.

Well, I did a reasonable job with that. The curtains were hanging straight and looking good. Feeling almost smug, I made the mistake of watching some DIY show on the very subject of Mission Accomplished — and learned about anchors.

Oh Lord have mercy. Now I needed an electric screwdriver. And some sort of reward when this was done, because I was headed for the finish line, and I was going to finish a winner.

Finally, after getting this newly discovered aspect completed efficiently

— I did have an expert explain it to me, after all — it really looked good. Darn good. Good enough that when Mr. Wrong came over, his suspicious and close inspection didn’t reveal the truth. And certainly I didn’t.

Today, I have a plethora of electric screwdrivers, each designed for specific tasks l rarely perform. Perhaps more importantly, I have a level.

Now I just need to learn how to sew the curtains properly. Kidding, just kidding.

a run is better than a re-run (revisited)

I’ve decided to run a 5k. My first run, ever.

woo-hooActually, I didn’t really decide to do it. It was somehow decided for me. In the course of idle conversation with a friend whose husband and kids ran a 5k the morning before, suddenly the two of us were committed to running the same in exactly eight weeks.

I may not be sure how I ended up making that commitment, but I’m glad I did. I believe I can and I will. Yes, I’m scared of making a fool out of myself – mostly by having a time comparable to the world’s worst marathon runner. Yet I got on the treadmill this morning and did surprisingly well. Maybe, just maybe, I can get through this and not only have a successful run, but within a moderately successful time. After all, I can walk it in less than forty-five minutes.

Wow, that’s more than I ever would’ve thought I could do

only a few short years ago. But since then I’ve been through hell & high water and survived. Now I’m ready to willingly take on some challenges outside my comfort zone, even my general “desire” zone. I’m picturing myself crossing that finish line with my friend’s teenage daughters, who finish well before me, cheering me on.

This will involve some other challenges for me as well, such as tossing a few dearly-held habits. Maybe coming to terms with one or two medical realities. Probably should invest in some running gear. I know I’m going to have my ups and downs in my desire to run this thing, but I am going to do it.

When I was going through the aforementioned hell & high water,

I frequently would hear the frustrating words, “everything happens for a reason, and someday you’ll understand.” I still don’t know if I believe that. Years ago my dad told me this: whether life is good or life is bad, we always think it’s going to stay that way. Meaning, life has its ups & downs and we tend to be pretty short-sighted when we’re in the middle of either state. I think I follow my dad’s way of thinking a little bit more. Not that I have to discard one belief to accept the other, but my pragmatic side is overruling the mystical in this case.

Still, lessons learned and applied during hard times make the good times better, and challenges taken on as a result of growth keep life from being re-runs. I’ve faced tough times before, but never those that changed me as deeply as what I faced three years ago. I think they changed me for the better, and that will make the good times really good. I just hope the good times last a while. I’ve earned it.

 

Time IIUpdate:

Since I first ran this piece in January, I’ve tried training for a 5k twice, and found my body won’t go for it. I can walk endlessly at a very brisk pace, but shift into running and everything falls apart. I’m proud to say I tried and I’m also glad I was smart enough to quit before trying a third time.

I’ve also started to see some possible purpose come into my life

from those trials of recent years. I continue to resist the idea that “everything happens for a reason” because it hurts to believe there could be justification, if you will, to the malicious deeds of others. But life goes on in a good way, and I continue to grow.


Image Credit: (clock) © Jakub Krechowicz; calendar © Stillfx — both, DollarPhotoClub.com

my oasis of chaos

In my doll-sized apartment, one of the first things you see is my coffee table. Therefore, I strive to make sure it reflects me, the real me.

incredibly messy real me coffee table sm
This is a fictionalized depiction of what my coffee table would look like if it reflected the real me. FICTIONALIZED.

Well, if that were true, this is what it would look like on a good day. (Note the January 26, 1986 issue of People magazine: Sexiest Man Alive 1986 — Mark Harmon. Every few years I come across that magazine and think, I need to throw this thing away. But, how can I? WHAT IF I MEET MARK HARMON A WEEK AFTER I THROW IT OUT and miss my greatest chance ever for a celebrity autograph? Like I’d be carrying it in my purse if I did meet him when he traveled here to Arkansas [I hear it]. So it stays.)

Fortunately I have enough sense to decorate to a higher standard than my muddled mind. I won’t bother to show you a picture of that (the decorating, that is), since A) everyone’s taste is different and what I think is So Classy you might think is So Garage Sale and B) as you can see, the available photography isn’t going to do it justice anyway.

people magazine 012686 sm
Sure, I could put this on my coffee table, but nobody would be allowed to touch it.

Still, I do want that table to make a quality statement. So sometimes I put out a really cool book of photography my dad gave me, or other times I’ll trade that out for my favorite childhood picture books (I saw that done in a decorating book once and it looked good there, but never quite translates in my living room). Mostly I leave room for any magazines or books I might be reading, but I leave the esoteric ones most visible.

My copy of “Why Men Love Bitches” is in a basket under the table, buried beneath a couple of phone books. It always remains out of sight, but rarely out of  mind.

When it comes right down to it, I could really overthink this thing. Like I said before, my apartment is tiny. Everything needs to serve a purpose. While some of that purpose is ambiance, more of it is practical.

So maybe a little oasis of chaos would work.