Sunday, February 28, 2010


The courthouse dome at Carthage Illinois. You can't miss it, it's in the middle of the square. In 1973, my '66 Ford Galaxy, Honey, probably "did" the Square, the lake, and the main drag (highway) about a gazillion times. Just me at the wheel and 5 or 6 friends, cruisin' Carthage. Gas was cheap and life was good. It wouldn't have been unusual for Jacque and I to pull out guitars and sit on the courthouse steps making music.
See the following Blog to learn more about Carthage.

Carthage Illinois

For days I've been trying to come up with a meaningful topic with Universal interest. Today I read Charlie's blog on Phoenix (Professor B. Worm) and I knew immediately what I needed to write about.

Carthage Illinois is a very sleepy little Mayberry snuggled amid corn and soybean fields about 12 miles from the Mississippi River where Illinois, Iowa and Missouri all come together. It's good farm land. Gooooood farmland. If you can't grow corn or beans there, then you just can't grow them.

It's the county seat of Hancock County. In fact, I'd say that the court house in the middle of the Carthage square is the prettiest one in Illinois. Maybe Iowa, too. It's got a dome with stained glass, marble staircases, fancy heavy woodwork, AND and elevator!

The only person legally executed in Hancock County was defended by a young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln. If you know your Mormon history, you'll remember that Carthage was the sight of the Mormon Prophet, Joseph Smith's martyrdom or execution - depending on your perspective. The "Old Mormon Jail" draws lots of visitors every year, there's a visitors' center and gardens now. The Old Mormon Jail isn't the same as the "Old Jail," which is on the square and is some sort of visitors' center, too I think. There's a new jail out on the highway now.

When I grew up in Carthage, we Carthage kids knew we were more sophisticated than the Hamilton kids. We knew we were million percent more urbane and savvy than the Warsaw or Bowen kids. Of course, it was to be expected. We were just so much more privileged.

Carthage had a ten lane bowling alley, the T&C bowl. I had my first date there. Bruce actually paid for my bowling. The place has since burned down, but it had nothing to do with Bruce or me. It was right across the highway from Scofield School and you could get something to eat and drink there including a made-right sandwich and a cherry coke. But no alcohol of course. There used to be several diners in town, the East Side, Grab-a-Snack, and Smiths on the square and the Appain Way Pizza Place on the highway. Yes, it was spelled wrong.

Back in the day, for a drink you went to the Lake Inn, since burned down, or the Wood Inn (if you were really brave) or the Peacock out on the highway. I have never been in the Peacock and you can't prove I have. I'm not that kind of girl. I've been out to Basco, though, for Friday night catfish fry and a beer. These days the Wood is a down right respectable place - food and everything. Luckily the new owner, Mark, has the good taste and sense of history to preserve the original ax scar in the bar and will gladly tell you the story if you stop in. Little Rickey has a place out on the highway now, too where you can get a beer and a pizza and dance to the jukebox if you want.

Scofield School had fifth through eighth grades and had a cafeteria where you could get hot lunch. The kids from Lincoln School which had Kindergarten through fourth grade, rode a bus over at lunch time. The high school had a gym, a baseball diamond, and when I started there, a new football field so the Blueboys no longer had to play out at the college field.

Yep, we had a college. We had Carthage College while I was small. Then Carthage College moved to Kenosha Wisconsin. They even took the kissing rock. Later we had Robert Morris Junior College, then some other strange stuff, and now I think it's a school for how to farm hogs or something like that. Most of the really beautiful old buildings are long gone. The college had tennis courts. There were lots of cracks in the concrete courts and the "nets" were made of woven wire fence and there were no lights, but we had the courts.

We also had the lake that had a spillway and more than a couple of little dark lanes you could tuck a car into for some privacy. Of course, if you wanted serious privacy, there were tractor paths between the corn fields where no one without a UFO would find you. Those boys from Bowen were really good at finding those spots. The wall at the spillway is marked every year with brave souls from the graduating class. My class, the class of '73, was a bit slow, but we finally got around to it at our 25th reunion.

You aren't allowed to swim in the lake. There was a swimming pool for that. Back in the day no one knew about sun block and a great swimming pool sun burn was a mark of honor. When I was little there was a boat dock on the lake where Steve's parents would rent you a row boat and sell you some worms for fishing. In later years you could go borrow Burlings' inflatable raft and get out on that lake. A time or two Kathy Nichols and I might have been swimming in that lake, but I'm sure we had a good reason.

Carthage had the Woodbine theatre. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday you could go catch a flick. Cool kids with dates often sat in the back row. I don't know who sat in the balcony. The Woodbine is now part of a car dealership, I think. Back in the day, movies weren't rated by anyone but the Catholic Church and that was good enough for all of us - Catholic or not.

Carthage also had a skating rink, the Crystal Ball Roller Rink, and the grade school kids went there faithfully for skating parties. It's still there, rolling along. You can rent skates if you don't have your own. When I was small, Swift's pond would freeze over in the winter and we'd go ice skating there. It was actually a little lagoon behind a cheese factory. Enough said.

There is a 9 hole golf course out by the lake. If you want 18, just do it again.

Carthage did and does have a hospital. We always had enough doctors in town and a dentist, too. Dr. Georges office was upstairs on the square and you had to walk up about a hundred steps. The family practice doctor of the year in the whole USA a few years ago was Carthage's Dr. Korte. She delivered my babies.

My big brother, Paul, was the barber in Carthage for 25 years. I'll bet he knew everything that went on and he probably heard lots of things that never happened, too. If you wanted to do research there was a library. Still is one. And Dorothy Frazee was the best librarian (and best next door neighbor) you could hope for.

We had lots of stores. If you wanted nylons you would go to Kennedy's and Lena would help you select the color you wanted from a display and she'd get them from behind the counter. If you wanted men's clothes you'd go to Califf's and Phil would help you. Royalty's had clothes and fabric, there were a couple of hardware stores, a flower shop, and a dime store, Ben Franklin, where you could get anything. For a while it was the rage to get a chameleon with a string tied to his back leg attached to a safety pin you'd pin on your shirt; or a tiny turtle with flowers painted on its back.

Ben Franklin is now a craft store and you can't buy little lizards there. Royalty's is still there. There are some cool little shops still around, but no one is going to help you select nylons.

Carthaginians back in the day wanted for nothing. We could roller skate, ice skate, go to a movie, bowl, play tennis or golf. But even if we didn't have that stuff, we wouldn't have been bored. In the summer we'd organize neighborhood-wide kick the can games and walk down to the Tastee Freeze for a late night treat. We'd lay on our backs in the grass and watch the parades of clouds drifting past in ever changing shapes. We maintained our offices in the cherry and apple trees and didn't bother with shoes in the summer time. In the winter we'd sled at Billy Goat Hill. As young teens we'd meet at one or another parents' house on Saturday night for Creature Feature on tv and eat Sterzings potato chips and drink R.C. Cola. The boys would walk the girls home safely because it was the gentlemanly thing to do.

Carthage isn't what it was, but it is what it is and it's still there. If you go to visit, you tell them who sent you. But let's keep the bit about swimming in the lake between us, ok?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Predicting Sunshine in my Soul

Today it's sunny and it feels like spring, so I'm hanging my laundry on the line where it will exchange damp and cold for sunny and fresh. There is nothing like sleeping on sheets that have dried in the sun earlier that day. It's better than any sleeping pill.

It's been rainy and unseasonably cold lately. The sort of cold and rainy that comes from somewhere behind that place right at the bottom of my sternum and then spreads out to the entire Universe. I am the center of the Universe, you know. That sort of soul weather sometimes begins as a reflection of the Earth's weather and then it grows. Sometimes it begins in spite of the Earth's weather and then it grows. It grows and grows unless you possess the wisdom of Barney Fife and nip it in the bud. Unfortunately, my bad weather has recently come to nearly full bloom.

But today the Universe tapped me on the shoulder via friendship, sunshine, and a Shitsu. Then it kicked me in the butt because I needed a good kick in the butt. Kicked me right into the sunshine.

And I'm billowing gently in the breeze, exchanging cold and damp for sunny and fresh. And tonight I'll sleep in sheets that will remind me of the day. And I'll dream well.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Little Grey Cells, Little White Spots

In every life there comes a point when falling down goes from funny to not funny. I think I'm well into not-funny, but others may disagree. I'm also predisposed to falling. Just one more way that gravity is no friend of mine.

Walls just jump out in front of me. I have my own personal earthquakes. My feet seem to form attachments to certain spots of floor and don't want to leave. I really can't remember the last time I didn't have a bruise or six somewhere on my body turning my see-through white skin to various shades of black, blue, purple, and greenish yellow.

Most recently I fell at work. The important thing to remember about this fall is that I did it at the intersection of hallways in full view of the waiting room and I was wearing a skirt. I think it's important to entertain as many people at a time as possible.

I was walking and talking with my acting supervisor at the time. He turned down the hall to our offices. My right leg turned, but my left leg went on strike. I went right down. He turned and looked down at me and asked, "Did you mean to do that?" I, of course, told him that I did and asked him for a hand up. (I wonder what it says about me that my supervisor would think I might just sit down in the hall like that, mid-step.)

Of course, just falling wasn't enough. I had to fill out a detailed report about doing it. What could I say? I fell. No, I didn't trip. There was no ice, banana peal, nor piano wire stretched across the hallway. I just fell down. I didn't break anything. My body was pretty sore the next couple of days, though not as sore as my pride.

So I have colorful bruises. One friend (a good one, evidently) asked if I was being beaten. So I told him about the little white spots on my brain. I didn't used to tell people I have M.S. because it's really no one else's business. I didn't want people to think I was weak or defective or something. But lately I've realized that people are likely to think I'm drunk or high or being beaten up regularly. So I tell them.

I think it's important to be able to joke about a disease that rusts my brain, don't you? I mean what could be funnier than losing my ability to function physically? Oh, yeah, there's that possibility that it will screw with my vision and cognitive functioning, too. Yeah. That's a scream.

So for me, falling doesn't really seem all that funny. But I'll joke about it because I can't seem to find a middle ground between laughing about it and wanting to sit and cry or punch a wall. I reckon I've got lots of time to sit and cry later. And if I tried to punch the wall, I'd probably miss and fall again anyway.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Blue Genes

I have my mother's nose, my German grandmother's height and shoulder width, and my Scots-American grandparents' see-through skin tone. We are, every one of us, a bit more a product of our genetics than we would like to think. I think.

When my children were children I would often grab at words that came out of my mouth that I swore never would. My mother's and father's words would come out. Not the kind encouraging ones, but the ones that made me crazy. The words that made me feel less than good. Those are the words that I could never quite catch in time to stuff back down into the depths of me before they hit my children's ears.

There has never been a time in their lives that I would not happily have given my life for the happiness of my children. So why would I ever let hurtful words come out of me pointed at them? I don't know. I don't understand it. And I'm sure that in addition to the ones that slipped out, there were many other words that I never even realized had sharp barbs attached.

Such is the circle. We have genes. We have learned behaviors. And we can't escape all of the icky ones any more than we can escape the air we breath. In fact, truth be told, we can't even identify all the icky ones.

But we do break bad cycles. We don't continue every bad thing that ever happened to us. Sometimes we totally change things.

Some boys grow up with a father who never says anything encouraging to them. He thinks he's building them up to be strong men, not realizing how much it hurts. Those boys grow to have boys they spend lots of positive time with and now and then tell them to "stop acting like a little girl." Those boys in turn may grow to have sons to whom they never mention "acting like a little girl." They may even have little girls whom they encourage to be just who they are.

Gene pools change. It's true that it seems some are over-chlorinated while others are left to fester, but they all eventually evolve. As do our learned behaviors.

One lifetime is not nearly enough to change everything about us that we'd like to change. Therefore we have to learn to be patient with life. We have to trust to the next generation to change some of the things we didn't get around to improving. And we have to learn to be forgiving of our genetic donors and behavior teachers. They had their plates full, too.

And while we're about it, let's not forget to be grateful for our beautiful eyes (even if they don't see sharply), our intelligence (even if people call us nerd), our sensitivity (even if it causes pain sometimes), and our creativity (even if it isn't always clearly understood.) We have also inherited those good, joyful things.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Antibacterial Thinking

In my job I have to wash my hands continuously. There are those hand-sanitizer dispensers everywhere and I use them because I don't want to catch every single bug that's going around. But mostly I just wash my hands. I've noticed though that now our office restrooms have antibacterial soap. It kills all the bacteria, good and bad alike. When we wash our hands correctly (and you're a smart person, you don't need detailed instructions, just do it thoroughly) they get just as clean with regular soap as they do with antibacterial soap.

I have a septic tank at my home. It's out there buried somewhere and I really hope I never find out exactly where. I'm careful about what I send to it. I don't want to send it antibacterial soap or antibacterial anything. In fact, I send it helpful bacteria each month to help it break down all the stuff I don't want to think about. Lots of the chemicals people use to clean their homes totally screw up a system like that. And my little septic tank system is just a smaller version of a city's waste treatment system.

We need a balance of bacteria in our lives. Killing them all is the same attitude that brought us DDT. Insects are not out to kill us and we needn't be out to kill them either. They'll do a pretty good job balancing if we stay out of their way. Same with bacteria.

We're hearing so much now about pro-biotics. Commercials tell us to eat certain yogurt because it's good for us. We need a good balance of bacteria in our guts so they can work right. When we use broad spectrum antibiotics and kill all the bacterial, the yeast gets real happy and overgrows. Then we have to find some way to get live acidophilus back into our mouths, guts, and tummies.

We just love overkill it seems. Bugs in the garden? Kill 'em all! Oh, wait, we need pollination for the Earth to live. Bacteria in our bodies? Kill 'em all. Oh, wait, we need some to digest properly. Bad guys in funny clothes? Kill ‘em all. Oh, wait, maybe that’s not a great idea either.

My college roommate told me that just because you can catch a fish, doesn’t mean you should keep it. The same goes for killing things. Just because we can doesn’t mean we should. I’m not saying that we should never kill anything. I’m all for killing the viruses that cause me to get sick. I just don’t think we need to kill everything that’s a bacteria or a virus when we’re doing it.

When little beetles have munched on my bean plants, I’ve been happy to pick them off and feed them to the chickens. I just didn’t see any point in spraying chemicals on my garden that would kill every bug there. If a person with blond hair tries to kill my child, I would try my best to feed that person to the chickens, too. But I wouldn’t then try to kill everyone with blond hair. That would be insane.

So think about using just regular ol’ soap. You don’t have to kill everything living down the drain, just the flu bugs on your hands. And if that message rolls over into other areas of your life, well just let it. We may all be healthier for it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Big, Fat, Ugly Ego

I apologize ahead of time for people who will be embarrassed by my openness in this blog. Maybe you should stop reading now.

I am not perfect. Neither are you, but this one is about me. I am insecure and crave strokes, love, positive attention, whatever you want to call it. I suppose we all do, but I crave that too much. It is unhealthy. I allow it to hurt me.

I'm hurt when I'm not good enough to get the prize. My paperwork isn't good enough to make it through a peer audit perfectly. People I work with do not want to spend time with me away from work. I'm not chosen for extra assignments because I'm just so ding dang good at everything I do. No one nominates me for employee of the quarter. I know these are silly little things that healthy people don't even notice. But lately they hurt me.

When no one comments on my blogs, I immediately think that they were poorly written or that I didn't have anything important to say. I'm really hurt that friends don't follow this blog. Yes, yes, I know it's ego. I know it's poor self esteem. I know the hole can never be filled sufficiently by the outside.

Regardless, lately I'm feeling less than worthy because everyone in my life whom I love does not love me. I love easily. It's easy for me to find lovable things about people. I'm hurt that I'm not they don't all love me back, though it would be unreasonable to think they would or could.

For all my feminist talk, when I talk to men I often feel like a little girl. I feel less than the highly intelligent woman I really am. When I talk to women, I feel less beautiful and/or accomplished than they. When I picture myself as a cartoon, it's of a very faint, small person, apart from the group, with a bubble above her head that shows she wishing for a gold star sticker. I very often pretend I'm my sister just so I can walk into a meeting. She is graceful and intelligent and the things I'd like to be.

When I am in a session with a client (in case you haven't been following, I'm a psychotherapist - go ahead laugh now) I have no problem relating to her feelings. I have felt them. I understand. And often I can help her, which makes me a good therapist, I think. I have the ability to be empathic with out pitying.

But that doesn't make me a good person. I want to be a better person. I really, really do. I want to stay in the attitude of gratitude every second. I want to forget my HUGE ugly ego and be joyful in my place in the Universe. I want to take anger that is taking up too much of my soul and dump it somewhere where it can do no harm. I want to not hurt and I want to never hurt others. I want to be satisfied with being good enough and not feel like I have to be perfect.

I say these things, but this whole post is about me, me, me. It's all about me, which rather proves my point. This is not easy to write, but I'm taking my own advice and writing it anyway. I think in order to become better, I need to recognize and admit my rather numerous imperfections.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

If At First You Don't Succeed - Celebrate!

The bridge master who tried very hard to teach me to be a good bridge player often said, "If you don't go set 1/3 of the time, you aren't playing with enough ovaries." Although I never became a great bridge player (I always enjoyed the refreshments, though) I have taken that saying into many areas of my life.

I really think that the reason we don't reach our goals isn't because we fail at attempts, but because we get all weird after a failure and give up. There are all those famous stories about how many times super baseball players struck out compared to how many home runs they made. But I don't know diddly squat about baseball, so I don't have those statistics. Just know that the number of strike outs exceeds the number of home runs.

Actors just don't nail every audition they go to. No one gets every job she applies for. No one excels at every job he takes. If he does, he isn't reaching very high.

A college professor told me once that I needed to practice failing. I thought he was right off his nut, as professors tend to be. But as it turned out, he was right. My teaching contract at a community college was not renewed (I got canned). I was simply amazed. I'd been pretty good at everything I'd done for just the longest time and I couldn't figure out what was going on. I went back to my professor who congratulated me.

He said, "See? You're still alive. You are just as good a teacher as you were when you had a contract." The man was right. It wasn't so bad. I went back to school.

Recently a young friend of mine was fired from her job. She was upset and embarrassed. She had tried a job that was totally different from anything she'd ever done before. She gave it a good shot and it was not for her. I told her about the times I'd "lost" jobs. We had a good laugh and a couple of beers. She's now in a different job and enjoying life again.

I love to cook. I hate to measure. Usually my creations are quite eatable if not wonderful, but now and then they are just meant for the compost bin. It happens. I could stick to tried and true recipes that have been made over and over and over again, but that just sounds so ding dang boring. I'd rather feed the compost bin now and then than become bored with cooking.

As long as we're afraid of failing at something we are going to be less than great. Failure only hurts when your ego gets in the way. If a baseball player let a strikeout make him give up on baseball he wouldn't be a pro. A pro knows that strikeouts and losses are part of the game. I'm not a failure if I fail at something. That's a silly concept. A fail-er isn't a failure. Failing is temporary. A fail-er is someone who is in the process of winning. Failing ain't no thing. Quitting is.

When I was a little bit of a thing a horse I was riding got his head down in the homestretch and when he turned to go into the barn, the saddle and I landed on the very hard track. The wind went right out of me. My papa came over and dusted me off and asked if anything was broken beside the cinch. Then he took me and the horse to a corral, and put me back on that beast who bucked me off in a front somersault right over his head. Papa dusted me off again, this time warning me not to mention this to my mother, and put me back on that evil equine. I rode him before we went home. It was a question of me trying more times than the horse. It was painful, but a good lesson. (I suppose now it might be considered child abuse)

I've heard CEOs of huge corporations talk about the number of times they've gone bankrupt. They don't brag about it, but they aren't ashamed of it either. It's just a part of it. It's like taking pictures. The key to getting really good shots is to take lots and lots of pictures. Sure, most of them will be trash, but you'll probably get some really good shots, too. And with each bad picture, you learn something about how you might have made it better.

My dance teacher told me that grace wasn't about how many times I fell, it was about how well I got up. I still fall a lot, but now I do it while walking. I always get back up. And if I let fear of falling keep me from walking I'm going to be one stuck woman. People who know me don't think much of it and people who don't know me. . . who knows what they think. That's none of my business.

My bridge master was just full of little helpful sayings. However that's the only one I remember now is the one I hear when I feel bad about myself because I've done poorly at some task. I am not great at everything I do the first time. I am not perfect, but by golly parts of me are excellent.

And whether or not you have ovaries or play bridge, I promise you this. The less you fear failing, the more you will succeed.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Most

Yesterday I made slaw out of the densest (most dense?) cabbage I've ever encountered. Just think about that. Of all the cabbages I've met in my whole life, 54 and a half years, this was the most solid. It got me thinking.

For every thing and event there is one that is the most ______ in our lives. That is, there has been a time when I was at the highest altitude in my life. I don't know when it was, but the moment existed. Maybe one day I'll be higher than that. Who knows?

It's hard to say when I was happiest, since that's so very hard to measure, but there was a moment when the serotonin in my brain was at the very best level. There was a time when I was colder than any other time. Possibly I was walking back from sledding at Billy Goat Hill, but I can't be sure.

There has been a time when held my breath for the longest time, laughed the loudest, and slept the least in a week. All of these records have occurred and I didn't even mark them.

My mother used to tell me to do my best, but what does that really mean? Can't I only do that once? Maybe I want to save it for my 60's. Or maybe it means that I'm supposed to do the best I can at any given moment, considering the situation, my general health and state of mind, wind speed, etc. If that's the case, then don't I always do my best?

Maybe instead of telling ourselves and others to do our best, we should just say, "Be well," or "Have enough," or "Enjoy excellence." There's less pressure.

You should have seen that cabbage, though. It was really, really dense.