Saturday, January 29, 2005

Whatever Happened to those Foot-Long Rulers?

You have to be a near-saint to even consider teaching a group of 5-year-olds. (at younger ages you are mainly just interested in preserving their lives until they are returned to the parents) Because 5-year-olds have the attention spans of Frozen Peas. Dump them out anywhere and they will immediately scatter far and wide, and they certainly don't come when you call them. I was helping out at my son's class the other day. They were in the school parking lot obscured behind a cloud of dense non-toxic smoke, where Firefighter Jeff and Firefighter Sandy were teaching them how to survive a house fire. They all thought this was a great deal of fun, possibly even more fun than rolling in dirt. Except for one girl who was visibly traumatized, maybe because she realized they were practicing to AVOID DEATH, while everyone else was trying to see whose butt they could pinch as they crawled through the Trailer of Smoke. So the teacher had to console the sobbing girl, which made it all the more difficult for her to get the rest of the Frozen Peas to "settle down" and "stay in line" and "keep moving" as they headed back to class. When they reached the awning over the outdoor hallway, the teacher reminded everyone, "When there is a ROOF over our heads, we turn our voices OFF." Three children at the end of the line then shrieked, "WE'RE not under the roof yet!" And then they dissolved into lumps of hysterical laughter. Thawing peas. One boy leapt from the middle of the line and shouted gleefully, "Now I'M not under the roof either." At this point I helped the teacher horsewhip them all until they cried. Eh, kidding of course. We herded them back into line and toward the classroom. One apparently well-off little boy was shedding change -- QUARTERS, in fact -- out of his pocket, in a purposeful manner, as if he were starring in a private production of Hansel & Donald Trump. (You know, they dropped crumbs...? Not certain everyone is "up" on their fairly tale lore these days.) I tried to retrieve coins as they rolled down a cement ramp and bounced into the grass. I debated opening a small trust fund, but eventually turned it in. You may have to be saint-like to work with 5-year-olds, but I am sure before each day is out these teachers and aides feel more like fascist dictators of a very short nation, because they are constantly trying to get their students' attention and maintain order. One student was moaning because his knees hurt from crawling through the carpeted smoke-filled trailer during the fire escape adventure. The teacher inspected his knees and pronounced him perfectly healthy. The moaning temporarily ceased. Then she began prompting them for words beginning with the letter "B" to write on her giant pad. (I guess they use giant pads more than blackboards these days.) The first kid who raised his hand yelled out, "Brachiosaurus!" Kids know the dinosaur world better than they know their own extended families. Anyone who has ever seen Fred Flintstone devour a Brontosaurus Burger is going to be disappointed to learn that the term Brontosaurus has been retired, and replaced by the aforementioned Brachiosauraus. It is not the easiest word to spell, either. The child with the knee problem then burst into tears. His knees were fine, but now his elbows were in great pain. Although no sign of injury could be seen, the aide decided to take him to the nurse for some Imaginary First Aid. When we broke up into groups, the teacher asked if I was comfortable with "math." Haha. My specialty is the Mangled Metaphor, but we're not talking calculus here. We were measuring common classroom objects such as staplers, scissors and tape dispensers using Paper Clip Units. One girl, who I suspect had early onset signs of ADHDD (Already Doing Heinous Deeds Disorder) was unrolling the Scotch-brand Scotch Tape and affixing it to other students' foreheads so they could be Indians. I unstuck a few tribal members and tried to confine them to the reservation. The worst part was when the book asked us to measure a shoe. Before you could say "macarena" all the children in the group had whipped off their shoes and plunked them on the table. We had to measure each and every shoe in paper clips. Instead of one representative shoe. (Note to self: send educational publisher a nasty letter about that exercise) I spent the remainder of the period as a blacksmith, helping to re-shoe all these 5-year-olds, many of whom had extremely complicated knots in their laces. After two hours of helping, I felt my brain had retreated into my pituitary gland. So next time you see a kindergarten (or younger-aged) teacher socially, offer them a drink. Or a sedative.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

When Appliances Attack...

With apologies to Oscar Hammerstein: Driver that dozes and small household fires... Bites from RottWEILLers and worn treads on tires... Old-fashioned blinds of the kind that have strings... These Are A Few of Our Dangerous THINGS! I was reading an article recently about things that don't seem dangerous, but in reality are about as safe as housing a python in your bathtub. (Oh, I'm sure people do that. Don't get me started.) You must be aware by now that I'm intensely interested in protecting the public from under-emphasized dangers such as bacteria lurking on cantaloupe rinds, mercury thermometers on airplanes and the possibility of a Florida Swamp Monster stealing your boombox at the playground. SOMEONE has to look out for you, and after a hotly contested primary, I nominated myself. So this article on Dangerous Ordinary Things rolled a perfect strike up my mental Bowling Alley. The article was based on an interview with author Laura Lee, whose book is titled, "100 Most Dangerous Things in Everyday Life and What You Can Do About Them." For me, mainly, it's WORRY about them. But I'm not happy unless everyone else is worrying with me. Obviously I can't cover all 100 things in one day, but if I do two a year I can get through all 100 things prior to my actual death, which may ironically turn out to be toaster-related. Today we are covering that most innocent-looking of all creatures in your kitchen, the Dishwasher. You think of it as a "convenience" that will make your life easier. Ha! In reality it is just a built-in booby trap lying in wait so it can severely injure you. Turns out that the Dishwasher Species of the Appliance Family (Kenmore Erectus) has been responsible for at least two actual deaths in the past 10 years. (According to U.S. mortality statistics) That's an average of TWENTY people per century falling victim to homicidal dishwashers. And I'm sure those figures would be even higher if people hadn't washed everything by hand prior to the 1950s! The dishwashers' modus operandi is to wait quietly with their doors open and their lower racks extended. Then the unsuspecting homeowner slips on a convenient "wet spot" (perhaps secretly leaked by the Alleged Dishwasher in question) and impales him or herself on the upturned knives and forks protruding from the silverware basket. MY guess is that a lot more than two deaths have occurred in this manner, but it is underestimated due to the nature of the injury. Thus embarrassed spouses are actually reporting it as suicide by chef's knife, or perhaps a crime of passion involving the special grapefruit blade, or even a Self-Surgery gone awry. Any of these sounds better than "he fell into the dishwasher." Another way dishwashers can harm your family is as a source of poison to children and pets via leftover soap residue in the dispenser. I have to admit, for as many times as I have told the children that matches are radioactive and household cleansers will cause your body and any toy you are holding to dissolve on contact, I have never once warned them not to eat the detergent out of the dishwasher. I plan to remedy this soon, perhaps with a color-coded sign that will also warn Hubby not to spoon the detergent into his coffee either. A final common injury is from steam burns to the face, chest and upper extremities as you lean in to retrieve the dishes immediately upon the completion of the drying cycle. This sometimes results in a red-faced trip to the emergency room, but usually not death, unless you leap backward directly into your garbage disposal unit. So you see, you are definitely not safe in your own home. We might even be better off eating from those paper plates. So the next time you think you can just relax in your easy chair, remember to send someone else to fetch a cup from the dishwasher.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Tips for the Boyfriend-Impaired

Just read an article on the "17 Warning Signs of a Bad Boyfriend." Well, wouldn't two or three signs be enough? Do we really need 17 separate indicators that we're dating Mr. Wrong? Okay, I suppose we do. Those first 16, well, we made excuses for him. But Number 17 was the real deal-breaker. It's sort of like the Top Fifty Signs You're About to be Run Over By a Car: If that persistent horn noise and squealing tires don't get your attention, we don't know what will. But like most people I can't help rubbernecking after a crash, so let's take a look at these signs and see if they make any sense. 1) Your family hates him. Comment: It doesn't have to be actual hatred. It could be the fact that they keep trying to fix you up with others. Or they say how lucky he is to have you. Or when you talk about your future they emphasize you have "plenty of time" to think about that. Put it this way, unless you have a Crappy Family, you should pay attention to family doubts. 2) He is alway bad-mouthing his exes. Comment: Well he probably shouldn't be going on and on about exes to begin with. But if ALL the exes are horrible, well, who's picking them, anyway? 3) He has little contact with his children. Comment: Whether this is by his choice or theirs, it is not a great sign of his Family Man potential. 4) His credit history ensures he will remain mortgage-free for the rest of his natural life. Comment: Anyone can run into money problems at one time or another. But if they aren't able to responsibly straighten things out and develop better spending habits, then you risk being one step from bankruptcy for the rest of YOUR natural life, too. 5) He has a checkered job history. Comment: We all try different things and are finding ourselves in our teens and twenties. By the time you are in your 30s the game should have evolved from checkers to chess -- it doesn't need to be the world's greatest job (and maybe it's grad school or an internship) but there does need to be a strategic design behind it. 6) He has a few fixable flaws. Comment: Men are not home improvement projects. People generally don't change, they become "more so." (Unless it is an improvement project they have embarked on themselves.) So decide if you can live with the current version of him. 7) He has no friends. Comment: This may make you laugh, but really, it's true. And it may be FUN to be the only important person in his life. For a while. Then things get weirdly claustrophobic. He may not understand why YOU have, or even want, friends. 8) He hates all your friends. Comment: At a minimum this should cause you to take a long look at either him, OR your friends. Because something is out of whack. 9) Multiple DUIs and Still Drinking and Driving. Comment: Youthful Indiscretion becomes Middle Age Madness. If he hasn't learned to designate a driver or call a cab, then plan on heartache and maybe even trips to the emergency room. 10) Split Personality. Comment: He shouldn't be a totally different person when he's at work or with friends. You may see another side to him, but he should still be the same basic person. If he's not, then you're dating An Act, not a Boyfriend. 11) He Hates His Family. Comment: This of course comes with a big caveat -- maybe he has a good reason. If so, it would be worth finding out if they are the problem, or HE is. 12) He is Mr. Know It All and/or Can Do It All. Comment: Even if he is wildly talented, a little modesty goes a long way. Or maybe you're the only person on the planet that can put up with Mr. Insufferable. If so, maybe you will do the world a favor by taking him off the market! 13) Emotional or Verbal Abuse. Comment: This would seem to be obvious, but then I see people put up with stuff I wouldn't spend much time with. If I see someone being nasty to waitresses or parking lot attendants, that right there tells me this is not a nice person. Even he is supremely nice to me. 14) Physical Abuse. Comment: I am not good at understanding this level of communication, because for me my eyebrow goes up at rudeness, my back gets turned at name-calling or verbal abuse, and GUESS WHAT...I'm no longer in the room by the time someone is contemplating physical abuse. Really. 15) He is Perfect, so you never hear the words "I'm Sorry." Comment: This is really a good thing to practice saying, "I'm Sorry," because it is so darn useful. The more you say it, the easier it becomes to say. If you are dealing with someone who NEVER says it, well, ick, then I guess they've never accidentally burned your food or forgotten to run an errand for you. Personally, I'm sorry if I hurt someone's feelings even if they took what I said the wrong way and I never intended whatever they felt. I'm sorry if I forgot to do something even if it's one of my remote brain cell's fault for not remembering. I'm sorry if I didn't anticipate something because I could've been more helpful. How about this: "I'm sorry" is simply "I love you" disguised as an etiquette term. Got that? 16) He does something wrong but somehow it's always Your Fault. Comment: I prefer to play Fix the Problem rather than Assign the Blame. As an aside, I am always willing to take the blame for anything on Thursdays. It's my gift to the world. 17) He is mean to children, pets or animals. Comment: Eh, if you make it this far go ahead and marry him. He'll change just for you. I swear!

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Shock & Awe in the School Parking Lot

I wonder someday when I look back on this period of our lives, if I will be able to calculate the actual Tantrum to Angel ratio for our 3-year-old. Because it seems like we are having a major meltdown every other day, but in actual point of fact it is probably more on the order of once a week. Otherwise I don’t think I would survive with my sanity intact. Well I have been following my mother’s advice, giving the 3-year-old specific instructions before exiting the van to pick up the 5-year-old: he is not to run in the parking lot, he is not to kick up dirt into giant dust clouds that send parents into coughing fits, he is not to sit on the fire ant hills. So we had a pretty good non-tantrum week until today. I should note, though, that the 3-year-old gives ME instructions before we leave the van, also, now that he has caught on to that fact. Yesterday he told me, “We have rules. You must NOT climb on trees and NO climbing on roofs. These are my rules, Mama.” I say okay. I have not been on any trees or roofs lately, so I’m in good shape. Today I got a parking spot closer to the pickup point, thus greatly reducing the length of our walk and the possibility of associated tantrums. On top of that, the 5-year-old was one of the first ones out the door, thus also avoiding Unacceptable Activities and Impatience by the 3-year-old. So we couldn’t have been positioned any better for a good day. We headed toward the van, only 15 feet away. Not 50. FIFTEEN. A couple of Umbrella Steps if you’ve ever played “Mother May I.” This will be a piece of cake, I thought. Little did I know it would be Pineapple Upside Down Cake. The 5-year-old is in the parking lot with me, moving in the correct direction, but not close enough for me to be comfortable. I am issuing instructions for him to come nearer and watch out for cars. He is pretty good about looking both ways, but there are so many cars backing up, trying to park, turning around and doing eighteen point turns that you just don’t have enough eyes to see them all. Plus he’s five, so seeing them all is my responsibility, not his. Meanwhile I am nudging the 3-year-old along, one hand on his shoulder because you must ALWAYS keep in contact with him. The moment you lose contact…WHOOPS. There he goes! We’re off to the races. He is competing in some kind of Olympic Trial, I am shouting at the 5-year-old to pay attention, and then suddenly I am running after the 3-year-old to keep him from dashing in front of cars. I reach the 3-year-old and grab one arm, stopping the forward progress. I am telling him he cannot run in the parking lot. He is going from zero to meltdown in six seconds instead of the usual twenty. He is flailing all four limbs, trying his best to flop on the cinders. The 5-year-old is nearby, I can see him but not reach him. A car behind him has its backup lights on. It is an SUV with eight tires and a plow. No, kidding, just a regular SUV, but I have no idea if they can see him or not. I am shouting his name while I have the 3-year-old half lifted up so he cannot roll on the pavement. At this point I have to thank the alert mothers in the parking lot who saw “a situation” developing and acted quickly to avert big problems. (It was a big enough problem as it was, but could have gotten bigger believe me.) One mother who I had never even seen before grabbed the 5-year-old’s hand and said, “I’ve got your boy. Don’t worry about him.” Because she could see the struggle with the 3-year-old was not going well. Meanwhile the 3-year-old, who had his claws out and was trying to scratch me, managed to hook my glasses, which went flying in some direction. Once they’re off, I have no idea. Mother # 2, Katie (God Bless her) said, “I’ve got the glasses!” She handed them back once I got the 3-year-old into the Mostly Upside Down Position so he could not blind me again. He was however still trying to hurl himself at my feet while ANOTHER giant SUV was trying to pull into the space next to where my car door was. Yes I know it looks like a great empty space. Just wait until he dents your door. Anyway Mother # 1 was helping herd the 5-year-old along, while I needed actual physical help getting the 3-year-old into the van. The 3-year-old was shrieking, “You’re RUINING it. You’re RUINING the race!” See I told you he intended this as an Olympic Event. For him it is running. For me wrestling. This is where Mother # 3 came in (Katrena, a personal friend who lives on the street) and helped me drag him to the van and confine him in vehicular safety. She has a 5-year-old and 4-year-old (who is her own personal handful) and is pregnant right now. Shaking her head at the prospect when we have one of our Uber-Meltdowns. My point is, even under the best of circumstances (which we really had today) the 3-year-old can have a tantrum. They are not preventable, although they must be reasonably predictable because my helpers today have seen them before. They did not hesitate to spring into action because they knew I could end up with a tire tread on my forehead or at least crushed glasses. Today the tantrum ended almost as soon as it started. Once he was on the seat he seemed like he was going to cry forever, but I asked him about “the dead frog.” This launched into a conversation between me, the 3-year-old and the 5-year-old about whether or not Frogs Go to Heaven, and he forgot all about the tantrum. If you are wondering about whether there are frogs in heaven the answer to that is obvious. If there are little boys, then there must be frogs.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Photogenic Rescue Heroes Say Cheese

It was not my intention to play an elaborate trick on the 3-year-old. It is hard enough ensuring that he keeps his clothes on and doesn't eat our entire cookie supply in one sitting. Psychological games are beyond my poor frazzled brain. This one evolved quite innocently. My job was, simply, to take the children to the local firehall to be photographed. The Olan Mills people were offering a free portrait to anyone who had donated to the firehall. Now we have not gotten a good formal portrait of the 3-year-old in at least two years. He was okay with photography from about the age of four months to 18 months. We have some great shots of him taken by my friend Sandy Trainer-Kicman who owns Acorn Studios in Buffalo. (Transit Road actually up in the Williamsville area) She did some amazing things with him that made him appear like the heavenly angel he occasionally is. Here is the link if anyone is interested in having their child look MUCH MUCH better than Sears, JC Penney or K-Mart ever could. Anyway, after the age of 18 months our 3-year-old went into his Greta Garbo period. He just wants to be left alone, particularly when it comes to health professionals, barbers and anyone wielding appliances that flash at him. That would be the entire photographic industry. That isn't to say we haven't TRIED to get pictures of him. We have frustrated many a photographer with his dashing off the sets (in a loud-voiced, full-lunged bray, if you are singing along in a Christmasy mode) , destroying their props and having tantrums so loud that other customers have decided to give up and come back when their kids are ready to graduate. I remember one time we had him at the K-mart photo studio, and he exploded out of the studio and had a tantrum right outside in Photo Accessories. (albums, lenses, tripods etc.) Well there was a woman there who had an infant in one of those car seat thingies you can carry with you. The infant was 100 percent peacefully sleeping until our child arrived on the scene, hurling himself into the film display. The mother gave me an evil eye the size of the Cyclops. And believe me I'm sympathetic to people who want their kids to sleep. My philosophy is you NEVER wake up a sleeping baby, or disturb a happily playing one unless they are in the middle of traffic or tarantula is bearing down on them. But the fact remains that I was having trouble budging my son toward a less traveled area, and she could've EASILY sauntered away with her baby carrier. She wasn't looking for baby formula for Pete's sake. The photo accessories can wait! Back to the present day. Hubby calls shortly before the appointment to inform me he is still at work and cannot make it. So it is up to me to manage the photo session and any unpleasant emotions that could result therefrom. (As an aside I should note that the 5-year-old can provide beautiful photogenic smiles on command and will follow any instruction the photographer gives him except to use the women's restroom.) So I dress them up in nice clothes. The 3-year-old is growing suspicious. Are we going to church in the middle of the week? A restaurant? What could this mean? "We're going to the firehall," I announce solemnly. "So we can see the firetrucks." A complete 100 percent bald-faced lie. Which I could rationalize by the fact that we WOULD be seeing the firetrucks. The photo people were set up right next to them. Well the boys wanted to bring toys with them. The 5-year-old chose a plastic GI Joe camouflage airplane, and the 3-year-old chose two of his favorite Rescue Heroes. Now Hubby told me I should simply bribe them by offering a prize if they got their pictures taken. Well this is sort of silly, because the 5-year-old LOVES having his picture taken, and thus doesn't need to be bribed. While the 3-year-old HATES having his picture taken, and even offering him a bike, a dog and an ice cream cone with sprinkles would not convince him otherwise. So our little puzzle of the United States wasn't going to have any effect on either of them. But suddenly as I was saying, "There's a prize for you two if you.." a brilliant thought hit me! And I finished the sentence " the Rescue Heroes get their picture taken! Along with the GI Joe Plane!" Well. This made them both happy. VERY happy. Thrilled even. The toys were getting their pictures taken! I believe their names were Rock Miner and Billy Blazes. Unless he had Brandon Irons and Pat Pending. I get them all confused. We have a whole colony of them. As the session started the photographer told the 3-year-old "I want you to move over there..." I made a big hissing sound and got her attention while his face crinkled and hands went up in a defensive posture. The photographer turned toward me quizzically. "He isn't getting his picture taken today," I explained. "The RESCUE HEROES are." "Oh." She nodded knowingly. We were now reading out of the same playbook. It was quite possibly the most fabulous session ever. She had them say things like "Scoobie Doo" (their favorite show!), "Chuck E. Cheese" (We just went Saturday!) and "Poopy Butt" (my idea!) I don't know if I can extrapolate my victory into any other difficult-to-achieve activities, but right now I'm willing to bask in the flashbulb of success. Can't wait to show my parents the pictures of the two cutest Rescue Heroes I know.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Cholesterol Problem Flummoxes Grocery Shoppers

I ran into some cholesterol in the grocery store yesterday. Not the kind on the shelves, although there is plenty of that too, particularly leering out of the snack and dairy aisles like, well, a nutritional hooker. (what an awful term. did I just invent that? Has anyone ever used the phrase nutritional hooker before?) I blame myself if such a tawdry term catches on in the American lexicon. Anyway, the cholesterol I am referring to has nothing whatever to do with food. I am talking about the people in the aisles who are clogging up the freely flowing passage of shoppers with their carts. There are certain traffic patterns in the grocery store that people need to obey in order to keep everyone from getting trapped in front of the milk. Of course if it is a light day and you have the whole aisle to yourself you can put your cart anywhere you want. Normally, though, if business is brisk you want to keep right, the same way you would in traffic or on the sidewalk. (note: if you ever wonder why Americans keep running face first into other pedestrians in Europe it is generally because they are in a country where the locals "keep left.") You are supposed to stay with your cart until you know what you want, then you go to the shelf and grab it without dropping it on someone's head or elbowing other shoppers. Generally this sytem works for everyone. But then there are people who are nothing but pure cholesterol. They are a giant wad of plaque floating through the store in such a manner that everyone's rhythm is disrupted and the system breaks down. I ran into such a woman yesterday. I first encountered her near the bakery. I could tell right away she was going to be a problem, because in our store the bakery is the first aisle, and it is much wider than the other aisles. Somehow this woman had found the narrowest part of the aisle where a display of french breads was sticking out. (however even with the jutting french breads it was STILL a very wide aisle.) She had angled her cart so it was almost sideways to the loaves. However she had no interest in french bread and probably had never even heard of the term baguette. She was directing her daughter to grab one of the juices ACROSS the aisle from the french bread. So the sequence was: rolls, french bread display, annoying woman with outstretched arm, innocent daughter trying vainly to follow mom's instruction, and JUICE. Meanwhile there is me with my cart (sans toddlers) so I can't dream of getting past this woman. You would think I could just wait for the pointing arm to retract, but no, it is an animated conversation, and the innocent daughter (who, I want to emphasize, is INNOCENT of her mother's obvious boundary issues) has to keep whirling to hear another instruction, or show her mother a different brand of juice. Also the mother's posture keeps shifting, as she is not totally focused on acquiring the juice, she is also eyeing some things further up the aisle and fumbling with her purse. So the communications with the poor daughter are interrupted with "huh," "what" and "no not THAT kind" and "what did your father say?'" and "never mind about that" and "are you SURE he doesn't like that kind," etc. So at that point I am debating whether to try to squeeze between the rolls and the french breads, vault the croissant display, try to go through this woman's flailing arm like a red rover teammate, or just ram her cart with mine and keep on pushing until she is interred in the shelves with the juices. (Just kidding about that. I would never resort to violence. It was just a brief fantasy as I had plenty of time to fantasize while the juice discussion continued.) Eventually I got close enough to their disarray to say "excuse me," whereupon the woman whirled and accidentally elbowed me as she knocked a french bread to the floor. As she bent over to retrieve it, enough space opened that I was able to push on through and finally get to the deli. But don't think I was done with those people. Oh, no. Their aura of confusion follows them to every section of the store without exception. I can tell the difference between someone temporarily blocking an aisle because they can't help it, and someone who is a big fat Plaque Blockage to the grocery store. She was a plaque blockage supreme with extra sauce. I next spotted them in canned goods where they had the cart positioned DIRECTLY in the middle of the aisle. The woman was on one side of the cart scanning the tomato sauce products. ("So many varieties. Which ever one shall we choose?" I imagined her saying.) The daughter was on the other side trying to translate mom's opinions of the pasta choices. This left absolutely no room for other shoppers, two of whom were behind them already trying vainly to get Plaque Woman's attention. I skipped that aisle. Our paths crossed again in produce. In yet another maneuver designed to ensure other shoppers starved, she had her cart lodged in the busiest portion of produce, one hand on the cart while she stretched across to the opposite side and fondled various fruits with her other hand. The daughter meanwhile was completely unable to figure out how the plastic bags came off the plastic bag dispenser -- I kept a neighborly eye on that situation in case I was needed to prevent accidental suffocation. Our last encounter was near the checkout, where she had her cart angled in an uncertain direction so you couldn't tell if she was "in line" or perhaps pondering the paper towel bundles on sale. There was space between her and the cart so you couldn't get around her, couldn't get through her and couldn't get past her. "Excuse me," I said again. "Are you in line?" She looked confused. Why would other shoppers be speaking with her? What did I know about juice or paper towels? And where were her coupons? Finally after calling to her daughter, just a little distant in the Snack Aisle, she said, "I think so." After waiting for her to retrieve the daughter, find the coupons, and re-orient her cart, I was able to squeeze past. The problem with these Plaque shoppers is that they enter the store as if they are the sole planet in the Grocery Solar System. They have no idea that their orbits or gravitational pull affects other shoppers. Nay, they aren't even aware there ARE other shoppers in the store. They are always surprised, even shocked when other people want to get past them. And they don't make that process easy, even when it is belatedly brought to their attention. Sometimes, though, when I am shopping with my 3- and 5-year-olds, they serve to act as a clot-busting drug. Because I pack them into the cart with the plastic car accessory on the front, and they begin shrieking and making car noises. THIS type of thing is capable of scaring even the Glob of Plaque shoppers, and they are able to tear their attention away from their grocery-induced fog long enough to let us get past. So even though shopping with little kids is taxing, it does have its benefits. And I should also add that although the daughter was not the cause of the plaque problem in the aisles, this sort of condition tends to be inherited, so unless she takes active steps to combat the problem, it is very likely that in 10 years or so she, too, will be blocking the aisles of grocery stores. And so the story continues...

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Small Bodies Emit Scary Noises

Of our two children the 5-year-old has always been the calm one. The reason for this, I think, is God sends you the easy child first in order to persuade you to have another. THEN He chuckles knowingly, practical joker that He is, and sends you "the handful." In our case the 3-year-old is more like a sack-ful, or a a body-ful, as you can't drag him through a crowded parking lot using only your hands. They are both sweet children (when not in the presence of certain Evil Toy Idols), but the 3-year-old is far more likely to go off like a toddler grenade if you push his buttons or (gasp) pull his pin. For example, when he was a bit younger, between the ages of 6 months and 2 years or so, he used to GROWL at us when he was displeased. I did not know toddlers growled. I thought that was only for older children, and usually after a trip to the zoo. As an aside, we do NOT have a dog, and haven't come in much contact with dogs of any kind. So it isn't like he's got a four-legged hairy creature setting a feral example for him. I should probably point out that Hubby and I don't communicate this way either. We mostly just shout things like, "I can't HEAR you through the wall," followed by "Where are my DREETS?" and "WHAT?" "DREETS!" Eventually we find his car keys in a toy bin, or under a couch cushion, or in my case NEVER because they probably went out in the trash. Anyway we always felt the need to explain to people that our toddler was going through some kind of weird phase, because we hadn't adpoted him from Mowgli, Tarzan, Bilbo Baggins or any other forest-dwelling creatures. Also as a precaution we would tell people to keep their fingers away from him when he was growling, and not try to feed him anything unless he looked happy. The growling thing faded away after he was two. We decided once he acquired pretty good language skills he didn't need to rely on primitive instincts. Well lately a new noise is emerging, and it's equally odd. He is now HISSING at us. And believe it or not, I think the reason is that he actually has more self-control than he used to. Now when he gets angry his body goes into this aggressive hunch. His hands retract into claws. His cheeks sort of puff out like one of those frogs whose heads swell up when they're threatened. His eyes become slits. We see teeth. Then the weird hissing noise begins. It starts low and then picks up steam. He begins percolating. I look over at the 5-year-old, who has just taken a coveted Rescue Hero from the 3-year-old's play arena, where he has half a dozen of them set up in some kind of dramatic rescue. "Could you put that toy back, please?" I say. "I think your brother is going to explode." "But he isn't USING this one," the 5-year-old whines. "I think he was part of the action adventure," I say. "Put him back NOW." The hissing has gotten a lot worse. The 3-year-old sounds like a tea kettle on high. The claws are opening and closing, and he is edging closer to the 5-year-old. "Now, now, NOW," I implore him. "PUT IT BACK." The 5-year-old drops the disputed action figure, less due to my exhortations, and more, I think, because the hissing has gotten so loud. The 5-year-old of course can hold his own in a wrestling match with the 3-year-old, but there could be scratches. The hissing sort of scares me, but in a way I think it is a good thing. It means the 3-year-old KNOWS he should not attack his brother, and this is his way of showing restraint. The hissing just shows what's going on internally in the war with his emotions, and serves as an early warning system that a tantrum is about to erupt. Previously he would just launch himself into his brother without the intermediary hissing step. So for now, I guess, I think I'm okay with it!

Friday, January 14, 2005

Tsunami Story Started With Whimper, Ended With Bang

I know timing is everything in the news business, and these days anything more than 10 minutes old is "stale" due to the internet and the cable news shows. But I was getting ready to put some old newspapers out for recycling when the initial report of the Southeast Asian Tsunami caught my eye. It was in Sunday morning's paper on the day after Christmas, Dec. 26th. So the report was extremely preliminary. It appeared on page A-18. Headline: "9 Deaths, Big Waves Reported in Quake." Hoo boy. They had no idea how big the waves were. Or how much the death toll would rise. It WAS described as an "extremely powerful earthquake," and the number of deaths was based on a radio report that obviously had no idea the extent of the disaster. For some reason the geo-scientists couldn't decide if the magnitude of the earthquake was 6.5 or 8.1. Ultimately I think it ended up being close to 9, which is the strongest earthquake in 40 years. The contrast between this initial report and the eventual outcome was so staggering it is almost beyond belief. As was the event itself. History in the aftermath tends to look like a foregone conclusion. But it is a shock while it is happening. I read somewhere that the word Tsunami is now becoming enshrined as a word that can no longer be used in a casual sense. It is now a Serious Word, like Holocaust, or Ground Zero. But I don't like to see words retired from the langauge. I think people know the difference between a holocaust and The Holocaust. Between a tsunami and The Tsunami. I do know Cypress Gardens theme park in Florida named one of their new coasters The Triple Hurricane. But those hurricanes didn't cause nearly the amount of death and destruction that the tsunami did. But what about upcoming natural disasters? Will we have to strike "earthquake" from our vocabularies when the Big One hits California or the New Madrid fault in the central U.S.? Will we have to banish "volcano" when we get the next Pompeii-style eruption? Will "Iceberg" be frozen out of the language if a large one breaks off and rams South America? I don't know, but the natural disasters are coming so fast and furious lately that we are running out of words like "humungous" to try to describe them.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Death by the Numbers

I'm sure after watching all the watery footage the past couple weeks you're wondering what exactly are the odds of dying in a natural disaster such as a tsunami. And when did we stop calling them Tidal Waves? Is it some kind of hemispheric rule that we have to use the term favored by the people most affected? Like how we have to call it a "typhoon" if the hurricane happens on the other side of the globe? Or perhaps we are just enamored of the cosmopolitan feel of the word: it looks difficult to pronounce, but it isn't! Your odds of dying in a tsunami, in general, are 1 in 500,000. But since these are figures for U.S. residents, perhaps the odds are higher if you live in a hammock on a beach in Asia. The Number One cause of death in good ol' America is (drumroll) : Heart Disease, with 20 percent odds. Like we didn't know that. It is our preferred way of dying -- well-fed and then suddenly gone! Come to think of it, that doesn't sound like a bad way to go. Must add that notation to my living will. Really when you think of all we ask the heart to do, it's amazing it doesn't give out sooner. It has to beat all day, every day, hardly ever skipping a beat, like an Appliance with an Amazing Warranty. To that we heap on dietary challenges, such as eating raw cholesterol with salt and maple syrup. It is little wonder that by the time we're 75 the MRI shows our heart is shaped like a Big Mac. Plus it's always the heart that gets disappointed, crushed, eviscerated when Love Goes Badly. It deserves its own holiday on February 14th! Following closely after heart disease is The Big C: Cancer, with 1 in 7 odds that you will die of it. More people actually get cancer than that, but the treatments have gotten so much better that you stand a good chance of surviving long enough for your heart to give out, or for you to take that Asian Resort Vacation. Stroke is next in line, with 1 chance in 23 that this could cause your death. Treatments for stroke are also increasing life expectancy for patients, so the medical profession gets kudos for keeping us around longer. Accidental injury is 1 in 36 odds, and I believe this also includes car accidents, electrocutions and plane crashes. But for some reason, NOT fireworks discharges. (Dying from a fireworks display IS a spectacular way to go.) So if you want to put safety features around the house that's probably not a bad idea. In Buffalo we get a lot of falls where people tumble off the porch and impale themselves on a snow shovel, then have a heart attack on the way to the hospital when we realize the ambulance ride isn't covered on our insurance. Other types of dying with more remote odds are Assault by firearm: Best remedy, don't accept challenges to duels, join the army or go downtown at night. Fire or smoke: Keep those smoke detector batteries current, kick the cigarette habit, and get rid of the junk in the garage and basement. Natural Forces (heat, cold, storms, quakes, pestilence, Angels of the Apocalypse): Don't live in California, which is a magnet for all of the above. Basically we are living in a period of history where we are likely to be overwhelmed by Natural Forces, so just make sure you have enough underwear and deodrant to last 5-10 years or until you can trigger that heart attack. Legal execution: I like to think we have some control over this. Start by not committing felonies. Dog attack: You can carry one of those special whistles that are annoying only to dogs. (makes for a funny-looking keychain, though) Or a pepper spray that works on both man and beast. Saw a headline today: Nude Jogger Caught With Stun Gun. Haven't read the article yet, so I'm not sure if he or she was "discovered" running with a stun gun (and this would seem to be a natural defense if you're gonna run naked), or if the police were chasing him/her and they used the stun gun to "capture" him. I probably would surrender real fast if I was naked and someone was brandishing a stun gun at me. Asteroid impact: I heard one is on the way in. What, you think the headline today about that Deep Impact Rocket going to meet a comet is JUST FOR PRACTICE? hahahahaha. We are so gullible. Anyway the comforting thing about this one is that we'll all be going together. Now that I have just given you the odds I'm sure I'll end up dying some weird way, like with my head stuck in a bucket, and probably TOMORROW because you always jinx yourself with these things. But I'm gonna pray my Act of Contrition and not worry about it. See ya tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Local "Swamp Ape" Draws Stares

We have a local story here in Lakeland that has gone national, sort of, if you count publicity on paranormal radio shows and Weird News sites. A woman using only her naked eye has spotted some really scary looking hairy creatures at the edge of a local swamp. They were of human size and posture and liked to spit a lot. I think she basically discovered members of the Boston Red Sox having a good time before spring training begins next month. Center Fielder Johnny Damon in particular has been confused with Bigfoot whenever he takes public transportation, so it is entirely reasonable that other members of his razor-impaired team would be hanging out in a Florida swamp. Also, the Banana Splits' "Bingo" character has not been seen in several decades. Perhaps if we start seeing a Swamp Elephant and a couple Swamp Giant Upright Dogs, the mystery of that 70s Hair Band will be solved. But what all the radio hosts are interested in is the connection to other Mystery Creatures such as Bigfoot, also known as the SSSSZZZZzaaaaaHsqwaaaaaaaaaaaHTCH. It is an ancient Indian term meaning you've had too much too drink. Our local paper takes the story entirely seriously, even providing a color-coded map of Florida showing by county how many sightings of Swamp Thing have been reported. We have had quite a few right here in Polk County, with 3-7 sightings. So far the area around Tampa has had none, which seems odd because that is where the zoo is located. To be fair, not all the radio stations in question have been treating this story with the anthropological seriousness which it deserves. They think the Lakeland woman who saw Swamp Thing might herself be a little cuckoo. She herself says the story is totally true and not something she just made up to distract her husband from a dented fender or large clothing purchase. She describes the creature as being two-legged, approximately eight feet tall, with light circles under (His? Her?) eyes, and enough hair to cover a four-piece sectional couch. It appeared to be "foraging" and was making off with some DVD players and Rolexes. (I made that last part up. We don't know what it was foraging for.) Now she spotted this critter a couple days after Hurricane Charley hit, so I suspect she could have been dazed. And heck, some residents could've been so disheveled by the hurricane that we could've passed for Sasquatch. After reading this woman's account, ANOTHER local woman described her encounter a couple decades ago with a flesh-colored creature about five-feet tall that ran really fast away from her and her husband. (I am wondering, did they have beer-drinking teenagers at the time?) She said it hopped like a kangaroo, but still. Well I have my own theory about Swamp Thing. I don't think it is a unique, Florida-based monster. I think it IS the Sasquatch, and it has simply decided to retire to Florida like everyone else! I mean, why not? It probably has a condo here in Lakeland, and relatives that it visits on the coast, thus causing the other sightings. Why should Sasquatch be stuck in the Pacific Northwest or the Appalachians when he could be sunning himself here? I will try to be more alert when I grow grocery shopping. If I bump into Florida's Swamp Thing I'll be sure to let y'all know.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

The Buffalo Effect

Well it happened again, tonight, when I went out to pick up the family fish fry from the local Knights of Columbus Hall. The Buffalo Effect. It is similar to the term "Lake Effect" with respect to snow. A forecaster predicts a few flurries. Then the Lake Effect kicks in, and the next thing you know you've lost your medium sized dog in the drifts that have magically appeared in your backyard, and your driveway is a distant memory. The Buffalo Effect works the same way. I go out to a grocery store wearing some kind of Buffalo-related paraphernalia, and the next thing you know ex-WNYers are throwing themselves at me in the soup aisle, begging me for word of home or wanting to know where they can get a decent pizza. (Short answer: Not in Florida) Well today I had just donned a Buffalo Sabres T-shirt before going off to the Knights. It was an arbitrary choice. I didn't even realize what I had on until the guy packing up our fish frys said, "Buffalo Sabres, eh?" I said, "Yes, not that anyone's playing hockey lately." (For those of you who don't follow hockey, they are having labor troubles and not playing this year.) Then he said, "Well I'm from East Aurora." Of course he is. Buffalonians are everywhere. There are millions of them all over the country, and probably, by now, the world! I bump into them everywhere I go. Another example. This past fall, I was helping out at my son's school. Oodles of parents were needed for an outdoor Fall Harvest Festival and we had to man a bunch of stations involving games. Our particular group had five parents. Well we got to talking. Asking each other where are you from. Because "Where are you from" is the Parent of a School-Aged Child equivalent of "What's your major," from the collegiate era. You just automatically want to know so you can chitchat about Americana such as how great our superhighway system is, and too bad the price of gas is so high. Well in our group of five, four of us had a Western New York connection. FOUR. That is, 80 percent. Now, it wasn't like we were there for a Buffalo Bills football game or a high school reunion. It was simply a local Catholic school class activity. No reason to expect Buffalonians to predominate. One woman was from Hamburg, but her family had moved south when she was in high school. A man wasn't from Buffalo himself, but his father grew up in Tonawanda, so he was familiar with Buffalo folklore. The other woman, I forget what her connection was, but does it really matter what suburb she was from? And I am a more recent economic exile who plans to retire to Buffalo. Of course no one in Buffalo asks where a person is from unless they have some kind of funky accent. Because generally everyone in Buffalo sounds the same unless they're from the "Wesside" or Cheektowaga, which may have Italian or Polish undertones, respectively. We all want the same things here in Florida. We are desperate for decent pizza. Determined to find a real fish fry. Insistent on obtaining quality hotdogs and mustard even if they need to be flown in. And then there's the Kimmelweck Problem. You can't explain the salty Kimmelweck Roll to someone who has never heard of it. They will just look at you like you are one if those bug-eyed aliens and try to sell you an onion roll instead. But! Recently the local Publix Supermarket has added Kimmelweck Rolls to its repertoire. Real ones! It is so new that the bakery people don't even know what they are. They are those funny rolls with salt on them. Problem is, they are not available every day. Nor are they available on specific days. It depends on the whim of some kind of Bakery Nut. If the Nut is feeling salty, we get the rolls. If not, then have a croissant and shut up! So far I have had roast beef sandwiches on plain rolls (several times), and also been exposed to the kimmelweck rolls on days when the roast beef was out of the question. (Hubby does not eat meat on Friday, partly, I believe, in defiance of Vatican II, and partly because he LOVES fish. Oh, yes, and he's doing penance.) So it is difficult to coordinate the meat and the rolls. But when it happens it is a thing of beauty! The best pizza in Florida is merely adequate by Buffalo standards. All ex-WNYers will agree on this. You will be eating a modestly awful pizza, or pizza-like substance, and sometime after the first piece you will just get tired of chewing. You won't want to go on! Because what's the point? It is not going to taste on better than this. Ever. It is hardly worth the calories to continue consuming it. So you give up. And think about booking a flight to Buffalo. Buffalonians and ex-Buffalonians are everywhere. I think we plan to take over the nation one day soon. And I do hope the first order of business is reforming the nation's pizza parlors.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Well If a Tsunami is a WMD....

Sometimes the juxtaposition of two ideas in my mind causes the circuitry to fry. Or at least, to become very angry. This figure on the amount of aid we have pledged to the tsunami victims, for example. We started at $15 million and then bumped it up to $350 million. Very generous! That is from our official government and does not even count what individuals are sending. Actress Sandra Bullock has pledged $1 million of her own money, so the U.S. has no shortage of people willing to help. But I sort of blanch when I look at how much money we are spending in Iraq. That $350 million figure above represents the spending for 1.5 DAYS in Iraq. Yes, we are spending so many billions over there that it completely dwarfs what we are planning to spend on the tidal wave victims. My point is not that we are responsible for natural disasters on the other side of the world. I am wondering about the expense of the war. Is it worth it? You can alleviate a lot of human suffering with $350 million. You can alleviate even MORE with $148 BILLION. Which is the approximate amount we have spent so far in Iraq. But what, exactly, are we accomplishing there? The only reason I can read the news with any sense of equanimity is that I don't have a personal relative over there. Let's see, we have spent $148 billion in cash, 1,200-plus in lives, and probably 10,000-plus in injuries. Public relations cost? I won't even calculate that, but let's just say the war is less popular than fried dough at an Atkins Diet Retreat. And for what? To make the world safer for SUVs? I personally don't feel any safer from terrorism now than I did on 9/12/2001. It is as though someone robbed our house, so we are spending exorbitant amounts of money to bomb housing projects that might be the home of certain criminals (managing to blow up plenty of innocent people along the way.) Meanwhile, we never even bothered to add a security alarm to our house. We're just gonna get rid of the world's criminals one by one so we never get robbed again! I understood the rationale for our incursion into Afghanistan, and completely supported that effort to root out the Al Qaeda terrorist network. You can debate its success, but it was the right thing to do. Iraq was considerably more dicey. It felt as though we had unfinished business with ruling despot Saddam Hussein rather than a logical step in our Anti-Terrorism Action Plan. The whole Weapons of Mass Destruction argument didn't seem terribly compelling, even if they were over there. Was Saddam gonna airmail them? Then Condoleeza Rice told us that the White House didn't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud over one of America's cities. That imagery made an impression on me. I decided that the defense department must have some very disturbing information that they couldn't share with us yet that made it imperative that we go to war. Why else would we undertake such an effort? And why would we use such incendiary language to describe the threat? You know the rest of the story. But I supported our effort, at least mentally, until the Abu Ghraib scandals of last spring. Whatever moral authority we had I believe was lost at that moment. And I tend to think that type of thing is still going on, but it has been pushed underground so you don't get these awful pictures of it. I don't know what our legacy will be in Iraq, but we have leveled cities, killed civilians, permitted looting of archaeological treasures, left behind depleted uranium and demoralized our own troops. We've destroyed infrastructure, fanned the fires of hatred and crippled our sense of honor. We have shown the world what we look like when our intentions are self-serving, and how we react when we make a mistake. We pretend that we didn't. Is Iraq's oil worth all this? How else could we spend $148 billion and have something to show for it besides a wrecked country? Could we have spent it on developing alternative energy sources? Maybe providing health care to every kid in the U.S.A.? Trying to rid the world of poverty and disease? Because Economics 101 tells you that you need to spend your money on Guns or Butter. We have stocked that larder full of guns. Those bullets on our toast go down a little harder each day. Will it take an economic catastrophe to get us to stop consuming them?

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Can We Put That In Quotes?

So many fun things were said in 2004 it is hard to limit ourselves to reviewing just ten of them, but here they are, in no particular order: 10) "This is the best election night in history." Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe, after the exit polls but before the votes were tallied. Comment: Perhaps for the Republicans. 9) ""Not only are we going to New Hampshire ... we're going to South Carolina and Oklahoma and Arizona and North Dakota and New Mexico, and we're going to California and Texas and New York! And we're going to South Dakota and Oregon and Washington and Michigan. And then we're going to Washington, D.C. to take back the White House, Yeeeeeaaaaaargh!" Vigorous excerpt from Presidential candidate Howard Dean's Iowa concession speech. Comment: The media saw the whites of Howard Dean's eyes and begain firing accordingly. 8) This race is hotter than a Times Square Rolex." Folksy Uber-Journalist Dan Rather, creating a timely picture for CBS election night viewers. Comment: The safety of Vioxx and other pricey pain relievers is as well documented as a Dan Rather muck-raking report. 7) "As you know, you go with the army you have, not the army you might want, or wish to have at a later time." Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, commenting on U.S. troops lack of vehicle armor in Iraq. Comment: You answer questions with the brain currently residing in your skull, not the brain you might want, wish to have at a later time, or one which actually thinks before sending the "speak" signal to the mouth. 6) "You've done a nice job decorating the White House." Pop singer and Buffalo Wing lover Jessica Simpson, upon meeting the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. Comment: Jessica is one of the few people who can make Homer Simpson look brilliant. Perhaps there is a fourth Simpson sibling that Marge and Homer haven't told us about? 5) "You bet we might have." Said Senator John Kerry, when asked if he would've gone to war in order to disarm Saddam. Comment: I believe someone asked Kerry last summer if he considered himself indecisive. He has not yet answered this question but is pondering a nuanced response. 4) "Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere." President George W. Bush, at the Radio & Television Correspondents Dinner. Comment: And we begin bombing in five minutes. (We'll be winning this one for the Gipper, natch.) 3) "Wolf, be excited. This is JOEMENTUM here in New Hampshire." Presidential Candidate Joe Lieberman, commenting to CNN's Wolf Blitzer prior to his three-way tie for third place in the New Hampshire primary. Comment: I don't know if Wolf was excited, but I personally am thrilled at the new catchphrase JOEMENTUM. 2) "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." -President George W.Bush. Comment: We can never tell when he's kidding. 1) "I even accept for the sake of argument that sexual orgies eliminate social tensions and ought to be encouraged." -Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, speaking at Harvard. Comment: Some things just shouldn't be said in a situation where the media are present, even if you are a noted humorist like Justice Scalia. I am sure 2005 will bring us even more exciting statements by the rich and well spoken!

Saturday, January 01, 2005

What The Tsunami Really Means

Well it is January 1, 2005, so it is technically time for a frivolous Top Ten List, such as the Top Ten Vegetables Resembling Celebrities, or Top Ten Dictators Who May Play Bridge with Hitler and Stalin in the Afterlife, or Top Ten Annoying Inventions That Were Supposed to Make Our Lives Better. This year's candidate: The cell phone, for better AND worse. I feel a lifetime commitment taking shape. Starting at the precipice of New Year's Eve. But that Eve was an Eve like no other in recent memory, because so many people were mourning the devastation wrought by the Christmas Tsunami. It is impossible to write about that event in the context of a year marked by our Attention to the Ridiculous, starting with the tidal wave of media coverage of Janet Jackson's flimsy seams. So we are observing Death from a Distance, as we did a decade earlier when almost a million Africans died in the Rwanda tragedy. We see it with our eyes as though we are watching a movie. Visible suffering, no more moving than reading about ancient battles, volcanic eruptions, massacres and epidemics. It is as though we are watching history, passively, intellectually, without any investment whatever. Unless you have a relative vacationing in the area. What is the point of it all? I think there are several, at least several that come to my mind. We have just witnessed a large event, much larger than the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Greater than four major hurricanes slamming into Florida. More important, surely, than the efforts of the Space Program that convince us we are capable of anything. We are not. The past half century has brought changes that have improved our lives, broadened our outlook and immeasurably enhanced our self esteem. They have also assaulted the environment, darkened our understanding, and served divorce papers to our Creator. I would have used the term Empancipation in that respect, as a child would from a parent, but my sense is we see ourselves as co-equal with God, not dependent on Him. So in our minds it is a divorce. Oh, sure, we still love God, we are just no longer "in love" with Him. So we are moving on, as any evolving and self-aware adult would do. But we assure Him we will always remain Friends. No hard feelings, Buddy. You served us well when we needed you, back in the days of the Bubonic Plague when no one knew from one hour to the next if they would awaken to a new day. But not now. We have New Philosophies. More sophisticated ones that an Ancient and Unchanging God could not possibly understand. In fact, Pssssst. God doesn't actually exist at all. He is something we create for ourselves to serve our needs at the time. Now that we Understand Everything, now that we GET IT, we don't need Him. Certainly not in the form he has been presented to us for the past several thousand years. We will fix our genes without His help. We will fix our lives without His guidance. We will fix ourselves without His wisdom. We aren't primitives, after all. We have an intellect, a reasoning capability, and it is guided entirely by our very own selves. What more do we need? Indeed, what more? We have become so smart in the past 50 years, it is a wonder we didn't come to such conclusions sooner. God (or whatever we choose to call him these days: Vague Light, A Benign Force, A Life-Giving Acceptance of Whatever We Think Is Best) wants the best for us. Here. Now. On this planet. We can clearly see that. We have, after all, the KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL. We may forget precisely where we got that, or what genetically manufactured apple it came from, but we like it. And now this. A Tsunami. Where was the early warning system? Where was the technology? How did we forget that coastal areas are vulnerable? Does life mean anything, after all, or is it one long commercial break? Our problem is our vision. We are short-sighted to the point of needing a Spiritual LASIK Surgery to correct it. We think we have it all figured out. We are pretty sure, in fact, that God never revealed Himself to us, that our own ideas of what God "must be" are good enough. Well. It isn't going to continue much longer. Maria Esperanza, a prophet from South America who foretold 9/11 and was in fact present the day it happened, has died this year. She has said we will see Rivers of Light. And so we will. God will not allow us to drown in the contaminated maelstrom of our own faulty ideas. Many innocents were swept away in that tidal wave. Many guilty parties also. I am no less guilty than the rest, consumed at times with day to day living, making sure I am warm, comfortable, entertained and with a viable 401K. None of that matters in a world which is changing. It is changing now because we have lost our way. We have had major hurricanes arriving in a statistically unlikely, almost impossible to believe pattern. If you follow their paths they form a cross over Florida. (centered on the county in which I live, but I don't want to read anything into that, other than to remain on my spiritual toes!) We ignore the implications of the tsunami at our own peril. The president of our country needs to re-examine what he is doing, too, because if he is not serving God, then God's protection will be removed from him. The same is true of our country, blessed in so many ways for so many years. We need to be prepared to see God at any moment, from day to day and hour to hour. It is time to wake up from our self-satisfied slumber. We have had more than enough warning. Now we need to ask ourselves why we are alive on this planet and where we are going next. And question strongly if we are doing what we need to do to get there. Wake up calls are the act of a Merciful God. There is no sin that cannot be forgiven. Nothing so horrible that God would turn away from us as long as we are able to mutter a sincere, "I'm Sorry," along with, perhaps, "I didn't realize how wrong it was or how much it offended You." I think it is no coincidence that the movie "The Passion of the Christ" came out in this past year. That was another act of mercy for us. It is time, now, to sober up from the cultural, technological, and intellectual dishonesty we have been imbibing. We will need clear minds and clear hearts to face this new year. I don't often get on my soapbox, but when the world is awash in this much water, I can't resist pouring the bubbles. We all share the same bathwater. It is time to make sure we remember to Worship the Baby rather than tossing Him out.