Frieda, the dog biscuit, and what exactly wakes up?

 For 16 years, we had a wirehaired dachshund, named Frieda.. After retiring from security detail as “The Dog” at the age of 4 when we got our red smooth haired dachshund  Poo, as a puppy, Frieda spent much of her time asleep. Sleep was her favorite activity,.

    Since Frieda spent so much time passed out belly up, Steve and I used to take advantage of this by amusing ourselves at her expense. Since this involved food, she didn’t object. Otherwise we would have been treated to a show of gorgeous, perfectly white, straight and deadly set of teeth. She did NOT like being laughed at. Her teeth were big for her size, and she could have been an understudy for “The Big Bad Wolf” in the book Little Red Riding Hood.

   We’d get a tiny dog biscuit and we’d wave it back and forth over the underside of her nose, which was facing up. Eventually, the nose would start to twitch. Then, like a trap door, the snout would slowly open. We’d drop the dog biscuit in the open trap, and then it would close. Then, barely perceptible, you would see a slight movement of the jaws as she chewed, making me think of gears on a drawbridge. Otherwise, nothing else moved. The only thing on her that appeared to wake up was the nose and the trap door she opened to receive the dog biscuit. Everything else stayed perfectly still. The eyes never once opened.  We were never entirely sure just exactly what on this dog woke up, because otherwise she was perfectly still. It was amazing. We never got tired of doing this because it was so funny to watch, and as long as there was something in it for her, Frieda was always willing to comply. Frieda’s goal was always to get the maximum amount of gain for the least amount of effort.  She succeeded, for the most part, admirably. She took laziness to an art form.

  It’s been years since Frieda passed on. I think of her often, because my computer’s wallpaper is a drawing of her in a major sulk.

    I miss her moodiness. I miss her inflated ego, and extreme sense of entitlement. I miss the power fights in which neither of us would back down, sometimes forcing me to find a muzzle. But I also miss the hysterical lengths she would go to keep from exerting one more muscle than necessary. And then in my mind’s eye, I see a nose twitch, the jaws slowly open, and then close over a dog biscuit. I see the barely perceptible chewing, and somehow she doesn’t seem so absent.  She could make me angry, and often I would be in tears. She also made me laugh.  They were the best of times, as they say, and the worst of times. I’m glad I was there for every minute of it.


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Dachshunds (ours) and their contracts


We have a little dog, named Molly. The Moll, as we call her, is a cross between a dachshund and a Papillion. She was found abandoned at the age of six months and given to us.  From the very beginning, her dachshund heritage was unmistakable. Already obvious was a long body, dachshund chest and the crooked front legs. Her ears were dachshund ears, but they were set wrong. They wouldn’t lie down. Her non-dachshund features made us and a Sheltie breeder think of sheltie, but as Molly grew, her Papillion heritage became obvious, both because she developed a bit of the butterfly fringe over her ears that papillions are known for, and the cascade of fur for a tail that curves over the back.

   Molly has both the dachshund and the Papillion personalities, but she doesn’t mix them. Either she is one, or the other. She either wants to please us, or she’ll have a “screw you” attitude that dachshunds get when they do NOT want to cooperate.

   Molly’s food is kept in a galvanized trash can with a lid. We buy her 20 lbs of food at a time and it lasts for quite a while. I’ve come to think of buying her food as “renewing her contract.”

    Why do I think of buying food as renewing her contract? Because if I buy food it means that I keep her and she continues on in her role as dog.  We do however, have a contract. It’s not on paper, or a computer file, but we have it nonetheless.

For agreeing to be housebroken, Molly requires a small dog biscuit for going outside. While I think Molly would be housebroken without the “cookie” as we call it, it was in the contract that we had with our dachshund Poo, and Poo expected the cookie because it had been in Frieda’s contract when Poo, the cute shorthair red puppy joined the big black wirehaired dachshund. So, because 25 years ago, I had to add a cookie clause to a dachshund’s contract or she would use our carpet as her bathroom,(boldly in front of us.) Molly, our dog today benefits from the cookie clause.

   I eliminated the cookie clause from the dachshunds once and was successful for a year. Then one day, while outside, Frieda got to thinking about how she really resented the cookie clause being deleted from the contract when we moved to West Virginia. She apparently talked it over with Poo, and together they went on strike.

  All of a sudden they would stare at me and demand a cookie every time they came in, and they wouldn’t back down. Not that a dachshund is known for backing down anyway, but for once, I gave in on this issue. The cookie clause was written back in, and the dogs were happy, at least until Frieda found another power fight to wage against me with.

     One of Frieda’s loves was cheese. When she was about three years old, she took a big block of cheddar cheese that had hardened out of the trash and ate the whole thing. We found her wild eyed in her cage and an empty cheese wrapper where there should have been a hardened block of cheese. She had the tummy ache from hell. Since we knew that she wouldn’t be miserable for ever, we left her alone, checking on her occasionally.  We’d laugh, and she would glare.

   This did not break her of stealing cheese. Instead, it was the instigator. There was a cheese dip that was popular when we lived in Texas. You took some velveeta cheese and a can of rotel and put them in the microwave and ate it with corn chips. Frieda would lie underneath the coffee table when we served it to our friends and would moan loudly until she got some. Not wanting to hear that obnoxious moan, Frieda  got lots cheese dip, earning her the title of “The Queso Queen”, Queso being the Spanish word for cheese.

       Molly likes cheese every bit as much as Frieda did. While she’s never had opportunity to steal it, I’m sure she would. My life revolves around the tortilla, and with tortillas comes cheese.  As soon as she sees or hears me opening the bag of shredded cheese, Molly alerts and sits in the kitchen between me and her food bow, wagging furiously, and as excited as she can be. She knows what’s coming next: namely; that I will take a pinch of cheese and toss it in her dish.

I’ve come to refer to this as “The Cheese Provision”, because Molly now expects it. It doesn’t matter to her that she gets just a tiny amount. What matters is that we fulfill our part of the contract.

   We got Molly food recently, thus, as we have every time she has needed food, renewed her contract. While Molly’s contract has some leftovers of contracts from years past of dogs long gone, much of her contract is unique to her. She knows that she WILL get some cheese. Frieda had to get obnoxious and demand it because as much as she loved it, we never wrote it into her contract. With Molly, a few stands of cheese gets put into the bowl and she doesn’t bother us for cheese after that. There’s also something else that SHE has put in the contract. Upon entering the front door, no matter how tired you are, or how full your arms are, you MUST drop everything and acknowledge the dog by picking her up, petting her and sweet talking to her. If you do not, she will howl in protest. It’s a cute, funny, feminine howl, but it’s a howl. We aren’t often quick enough for her.

We have a small antique pew in our entryway by our front door. Molly rarely lets me past the pew before she howls at me in wounded protest for not adoring her sooner. Sometimes I’m not even given time to shut the door behind me. Because of this, I start sweet talking her the minute that my key hits the lock.

      Frieda didn’t have this written into her contract because she honestly didn’t care whether we came or went. We would walk through the door and she would be stretched out on her side, reminding me of a side of beef. She would raise her head up an inch and give us a look, making this thought pop into my head :”Oh. It’s just you.” Poo would always want to be greeted unless she had done something. But she didn’t get vocal and complain if we put our things down first. Molly also has a clause for going for fast food runs because she loves drive through. She doesn’t get many of these runs any more, but she loves them when she does. If we come home bearing food, she always gets her own very small hamburger. She constantly nags us when we are eating, because she knows that this isn’t something written in the contract. It’s not a given that anything will be tossed to her. I’m often forced to stop eating and tell her “Stop this. GO somewhere”, which I’ll admit is a big vague, but she knows what it means because she gets sulky and slinks resentfully out of my line of sight.

   If you have an animal, then you’ve got a contract with them, too. Before you stop and protest, think about it. Are there things that you do that your pet EXPECTS will happen? Sure there are. You’ve got yourslf an ironclad contract, and your animal will be resentful if it’s not met. The amount of clauses in the contract depends on negotiation.  If you’ve stood firm, there shouldn’t be a long contract. If your pet has you wrapped around the smallest toenail, then they’ve written the contract themselves and keep you running. The only way to change it is to rewrite the contract and not give in to demands of  “But you’ve always done this before!”

   Frieda tried to renegotiate her contract every day in her favor. We were there to serve her and she got increasingly demanding as her ego grew through the years and the sense of entitlement hardened in her little brain. We’d always refuse to sign, and the next day it would be once again, a power fight trying to get us get with the program and cater to her every whim. We called her “The Queen” because of this.

   Over the years she manipulated people into playing into her hand, by not moving when it was time to go outside so she would be carried, playing dead so she would be the center of attention, and in the case of one person, had him up every 10 minutes by going up and moaning at him. This was Frieda language for “Go get me a cookie”. One day I watched in horrid fascination as that man let our obnoxious dog make him get up from a recliner every 10-15 minutes because she could. By mid afternoon, I was tired of her bullying and put a stop to it.

   Be aware when  renew your next contract with your pet. But choose the specifics carefully, because once it’s in, you’re locked in and duty bound to comply because “It’s in the contract.”

I wish you well in your next negotiation. If you have dachshunds, hang on. It’ll be an arduous and lengthy ride.

And with that, I’ll go back up to my cell and the very, very, top of the Abbey.

Molly in a classic "What do YOU want" pose

An angry Frieda in a classic sulk

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Christians and Common sense

I have a question that burns a hole in my brain.  I get the stuff that we are supposed to trust God to meet all of our needs, and that Jesus has saved us.

But this I don’t get.  Why, WHY do Christians check their brains at the door when they pray the sinner’s prayer? Why do they give up every last shred of self esteem and sense of self worth? Why DO they check their common sense at the door?

  There was an acronym when I was growing up that went like this: JOY Jesus first, Others   second, Yourself last. I have a problem with this. It encourages you to run yourself to the ground, and ignore your own needs, and desires. It encourages you to let others take to take advantage of you and to submit yourself to manipulative churches.

 How do Christians throw their common sense away? The argument for this is “God’s ways are NOT our ways”. Well, that’s true. We’re NOT God.  But I hear things like “Well, we’re waiting on God”.  Or, “I know God has a special purpose for me”, or “I know that God has a person for my life” in reference to a spouse.  So, knowing that God is going to do all of this for them, they sit, waiting. They do nothing.

Or, they need money or employment. They wait on God for that, too. It never occurs to them to go job hunting or ask someone for money. God, you see, will do it all for them.

I don’t think that Jesus calls for us to live a life of passivity and dependency, but activity.

Paul says to “pray without ceasing”. It’s a good idea. But some people mean that to beg God to decide every mundane detail of their lives, going so far as to consulting God on their every move from what to eat, what to wear, to even helping them pick out their underwear.

   They devalue themselves to be so worthless as to be unable to even pick out their own spouse. They’re so stupid, you see, that they’ll mess it up if they do it themselves. Guess what? Christians have the same divorce rate as the rest of the word. If you divorce “the person God has for you” does that mean that God made a mistake? Or are you going to explain it away by saying that you veered away from God’s will? The only way you’ll meet your spouse is to circulate. If you see the same boring people every day, and are interested in none of them and see nobody else, how is this going to happen? Is someone supposed to show up on your doorstep and announce “I’m the person God has for you”?

 I’m not saying that God is uninterested in our lives. But, either He gave us free will or he didn’t.

Either we are puppets unable to think for ourselves, or we’re not. To me, there IS no middle ground.

If any of your utilities go off, you call the utility company in question to get it turned on, unless it’s a bad storm and you know why it’s off.  Even then, a lot of us still call to find out just when it will come on.

You don’t sit there and pray for it to come on if you didn’t pay the bill.  Not normally. If you didn’t pay the bill, you either pay it, or beg, borrow or steal the money. You don’t sit there and hope that it will come on like magic.   God should NOT be reduced to magic. Can God do things instantly? Yes. He can. He does. Those are called miracles. Miracles, despite what the “name it, claim it” people will tell you, do NOT happen every day. That, to quote my husband, is “Why they call them miracles”.

Have I see miracles? Yes. I have had them happen to me. I got healed of a serious, painful illness when a group of people across town, unbeknownst to me, prayed for me . I didn’t deserve it. I didn’t have “faith” that I would be healed. I didn’t even know I was being prayed for. Did I expect it? No. Am I grateful? Oh yes!

  A dear friend of mine was diagnosed a few years ago with a slow acting form of cancer.  We were all horrified. None of us wanted to believe it. People visited him in the hospital and told him what he wanted to hear: that God was going to heal him, and that he wasn’t going to die from it. His pastor told him that, too. Because he was told that God was going to heal him, he made no plans for his wife.  He did nothing to put his affairs in order. He died. His wife was left destitute.  I was heartbroken to the point where I could not go to the funeral because I couldn’t stop crying loud, heaving sobs.  To this day I am SO angry. I was devastated when our friend died, although I was expecting it. I was angry that a man with his amount of common sense heard what he wanted to hear and made no plans “just in case”.

I don’t believe that he died because of a lack of faith. He died because people get diseases, and they die. God doesn’t always heal. I don’t know why I was healed of a serious illness and this man was not. Certainly this man was more holy, and a valuable resource to his community. I’m not going to say that I don’t question God. There are a lot of times when I yell skyward :”What in HELL are you doing?” But God doesn’t have to answer to me. I’m ok with that.

I find the tendency of Christians to use God as an excuse to keep from doing something as troubling. People who will see doctors when they break their leg, or are in some kind of pain, suddenly throw up a wall when it comes to anything having to do with the mind.  They’ll blame depression, sadness and insanity on spiritual problems, or the sins of their fathers. They’ll do elaborate rituals and go through hours of prayer to keep from doing the sensible thing: which namely is: “See a mental health professional and get help”.

I believe in the power of prayer. I find it healing and soothing. I find it troubling, however when I see people using prayer and God to keep from doing things that they can do to make them own selves healthier, physically and mentally, and to keep from taking on responsibility for themselves.

 I’m not likely to sway many people to my way of thinking. When you feel that God has called you to be a doormat to let others take advantage of you and drain you, your energy and resource dry,  you’re not going to listen to me.

  But I am a firm believer in the fact that God gave me a brain, and created this world for me to livei n. If God created me in his own image, why in fact am I truly worthless?  Do I believe that I sin? Oh, yes. I KNOW I sin. But I also know this: God gave me free will to make choices. He did NOT make me a door mat. He gave me the sense to trust Him, and to use my common sense to make decisions. He did not make me to lay in wait for manna to fall from Heaven and to sit there awaiting his grand master plan for me to unfold and put my brain in neutral while I wait for him to do everything for me.


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The Ghosts of Christmas past…good and bad.

This year I am overwhelmed with memories of Christmases past. I have very good memories, and very bad memories.

Every Christmas eve as a child I had to listen to Gene Autry’s Christmas record. It wasn’t Christmas even until I listened to it. The fact that I got most of the words wrong because I couldn’t hear didn’t matter. I loved his voice.

One of my best memories  is outside in near freezing weather on Christmas day trying out my new pogo stick. I never got very good, because I have bad balance. But I loved that pogo stick.

    My painful memories involve my family. My parents often fought. I had two older sisters and a brother. I seldom saw my brother since he was 15 yrs older. My oldest sister was out of state from the time I was 1o until I was in high school. The sister closest in age is 5 yrs older. She left home as soon as she could, not that she had a choice. Dad threw everyone out when they turned 18….except for me, because if he did, Mom was going, too.  

Christmas dinner had everyone at the table, and I dreaded dinner. There was one family member who never tired of reducing me to tears by telling my most embarrassing moment to everyone who would listen.I wanted to die of embarrassment. Why this humiliation was allowed to contine every Christmas, (Thanksgiving, too), I don’t know. It was the one thing I knew would happen every year and it did without fail, until I got married, moved to Germany and never went home for Christmas again.

     My good memories are of church, and of the times spent with my two best friends, Maria, and Tootsie.  My mother began a tradition  of having them over for breakfast on Christmas morning, and Mom, Dad, and we three girls looked forward to it every year. Mom would cook a big breakfast, and we would all exchange gifts. We did this until I got married and moved to Germany, and Tootsie went by herself one year.

   I loved Christmas eve at church. I went to a little Presbyterian church that was my lifeline. On Christmas eve, we always had a service of Lessons and Carols. You read scripture, and then you sing. I loved it. I became close to two young women that were older than me when I was in junior high. Martha was 6 years older, and Angie was 5 years older, the same age as my sister. It was because of them that I joined the choir. Angie played the piano and the organ and until I grew up and got married was what I wished my sister had been. We looked so much alike that people thought we were related. Wed do share the same ethnic background. We’re both descended from a group of people that are called Germans from Russia.  My husband thought we were sisters, even though he had never seen us in the same place. How he explained to himself why my last name was Keiser and hers Richert,  I don’t know. But I lived for Christmas eve when Angie and I would exchange gifts.  I adored Angie.She could do no wrong. I know I had to have been a big annoyance. But she was patient with me, and very good to me I was her shadow. However, we are no longer in touch, and as I think about her this Christmas, it pains me. The break was over my husband and my choice of churches. The fact that I am now Catholic would probaby be considered even worse. But I miss her. It hurts and in the last year especially I have shed many tears over this estrangement. There is much I would love to tell her. Before I could read music, I used to annoy her by picking up when she made a mistake on the organ. No one else in the church would have heard it. But I did. How I could do that with a severe hearing loss and worthless hearing aids is beyond me.  Since our estrangement, I have discovered that I can sight read enough to save my life when I don’t know a song, and that I can play the melody to almost anything I can think of by ear on the guitar. I’d love to tell her how her encouraging me to join the choir at the age of 13 impacted my life and that I have sung in choirs ever since.  But I can’t. I don’t know where she is, and she doesn’t want contact with me. Neither does my sister, who is the same age. But I don’t grieve over that. It’s a relief. I don’t know where she is, but I do know one thing. She can no longer hurt me, and that is good.

   After I got married, we lived in Germany for 3 years. My favorite time of year in Germany is Advent and Christmas,, There are Christmas markets during Advent, and much to eat, drink, and buy. I lived to buy Christmas ornaments. I’ve missed it ever since, and the three times I have been back to Germany have all been during Advent.

   I used to be very lonely at Christmas, because I missed the the Lessons and Carols service and the breakfasts with my parents and Maria and Tootsie.

   Now it’s just me, my husband and the dog, and that’s enough.  I sing with my church choir for Christmas eve, and we come home and unwrap our gifts. The dog gets really excited and unwraps her gifts, and that’s fun. She loves to play with toys and she knows that if we hand her a wrapped gift, that there’s a toy for her, and she tears it open as fast as she can to get her toy. It’s a lot of fun.,

 On Christmas day, for the past 10 years, we’ve gone over to Christmas dinner at the house of some very good friends. They have two boys, and I have greatly enjoyed watching them grow up.  I’m grateful for the ten years of good memories, and hopefully more to come. 

  So this year I ache for the painful memories, and for friendship lost. I’m grateful that the abuse that I suffered in long over.

I’m grateful for  good friends, a loving husband, a funny dog, and the blessings of not only having all of my needs met, but almost all of my wants, too.   I couldn’t ask for more, other than this one thing. Angie, wherever you are, I miss you terribly.

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You can’t always go home again, but sometimes you stumble upon something pretty close…

My best memories growing up are of church. I had a painful childhood, and home wasn’t a comfortable place to be. My escape was church, since I was the only one that went there. Four blocks away was East Side Presbyterian Church. It’s not there any more. It is, and it isn’t. The building is still there. It’s still Presbyterian, but it’s a Spanish speaking Presbyterian church, which is as it should be. Even in my day, the language spoken by most of the neighborhood was Spanish. I’m glad that the church is in use, but it also hurts, because what I knew is no longer there. First of all, the Presbyterian elders that I respected, and the Sunday School Superintendent that I avoided because he was always roping me in for something, are all long gone. The people that I respected and looked up to were all older than me.  East Side Presbyterian church’s sanctuary is small. I think it can hold 200 people. We had a small but thriving congregation during my childhood and teenage years. I was lucky to be there during the era that the church had the biggest youth group. We were up to 30 at one point. We had retreats, and activities, and were pretty busy, but I had relationships that the rest of the youth group didn’t have, with the older adults, whom we referred to as “The old people”. It makes me cringe now, because it sounds disrespectful. But I was friends with the old people. There was one couple that I adored, Mr. and Mrs.Randolph. We talked often and they were good to me. When the youth group had fundraisers such as bike-a-thons, and walk-a-thons, I signed up all the older adults as my sponsors. When I blew off the last bike-a-thon because I went to a square dance on a date the night before and was too tired the next morning, that Sunday I went to every single one of my sponsors and said “I didn’t go”, and explained why. I got treated to some great stories of their memories of having gone square dancing, and I got my sponsorship money from every single one of them. My fellow youth group memebers were disgusted with me.

Our church, like all Presbyterian churches are run by a group of people called The Session. The Session consisted of twelve elders. To be on the Session, you had to be ordained as an elder.  Our elders had a lot of power. Those on the Session made decisions and all of them served communion on Communion Sundays. We had Communion every six weeks, and they were my favorite times. In the Presbyterian church, you sit in the pews, and the elders walk down the aisles and pass these big silver trays of  “the elements” as our pastor called them. First they would serve the bread, and then go back and serve the grape juice. There was time before communion for private reflection. Since serving communion took a long time, we sang. We would sing the same songs over and over again in a worshipful manner. They were  serious,solemn, holy and peaceful times. I loved them. I very rarely had the attention span to remember sermons, but I did remember music. I soaked up all the old hymns on Sunday mornings and old camp meeting type songs on Sunday nights. We often sang spirituals both Sunday morning and evening. We had an African American choir director named Percy Smith, and he had the choir sing spirituals for some of our anthems. Some of the anthems had copyright dates like 1902 and I hated some of them. But I loved the spirituals. The choir didn’t just sing them. I learned them at every age growing up. Percy wasn’t everywhere. But for some reason, this little, mostly but not completely white Presbyterian church included a lot of spirituals in their worship. In the youth group, we didn’t sing hymns. We sang praise and worship songs. We also sang spirituals.

I had a lot of angst as a teenager, and a hard head. I realized one time that you could tell me until you were blue in the face that God loves me, and I would blow you off. However, sing it to me, and I’ll listen to the message.  For me, my spiritual and church life has always been about the music.   So I absorbed the music I heard in both morning and evening church. And I absorbed the songs our youth group sang. We would often sing our praise and worship music an hour at a time.

Years passed. I went away to college, and sang in a church choir there. I learned more music. I came home to be married in my dear home church and then went to Germany for three years. We came back reluctantly, and settled in San Antonio.  Eventually we left San Antonio for the Dallas-Fort Worth area, so my husband could attend seminary. These were some hard, hard, times. The churches we attended played mostly praise and worship music, and we continued to learn them as new ones came out. Music comforted me when it felt like life should be over. I clung to the comfort of God’s love that those songs threw to me.

If you play music now for me that I have known for many years, my mind will go back to where I was when I learned the song, or sang it regularly.  My memories are all tied up in the  music that we sang.

It’s been 30 years since I went to East Side Presbyterian church. I miss the solemn, holy times and the majestic hymns. I miss the worshipful spirituals. Play any of them, and suddenly I am 14 years old sitting in church, singing, and quietly reflecting about my relationship with God.

Recently, East Side Presbyterian Church has come back to me. It hasn’t come back to me literally, but its music has.

My husband Steve recently met Fr. John, who is the pastor of St. James Episcopal Church in Portsmouth, Virginia. Steve met Fr. John when Fr John came to the Navy Hospital to visit a very sick parishioner.  They started talking and became friends. Fr. John invited Steve to church. It’s small church with a small congregation. It is very historic. It is THE historic church that the Episcopal African American population in Portsmouth have gone to since 1890, when the church has founded. The congregation has doctors and lawyers, professional people and retired  military people You see people from all walks of life. There’s a lot of history there. It’s a warm, loving congregation and you feel enveloped with love and welcomed when you go. Steve fell in love with St James, because it reminded him of his family’s church in West Virginia. I had liked the WV church for the same reason, that I had liked East Side.

Eventually I visited St James.  It had the homey feel that I missed, and the solemness, serious worship that I’d grown up with. The music was and is the exact same type of music that I grew up with. I was unprepared for this and  was suddenly transported back 30 years in time.  I wept. I wept for the memories of the good times, and the worshipful times. I wept because those times are no more and I can’t recreate them. And then I wept because I was finally hearing and singing the old songs after 30 years.

When I can, I accompany my husband to St James. I haven’t gone very many times, but I plan to keep going with him.  Every time I go, I’m suddenly whisked back 30 years in time, and my heart breaks. I cry, and I cry hard. I cry for the friendships now lapsed, and I cry in remembrance.  Sing the old song “Break thou the bread of life, dear Lord to me, as thou didst break the bread besides the sea” as we did today at St James and it’s 1974 . I am 15 years old. I’m caught up in worship and lost in the song as we sing it over and over and over again. I see Elder Herschel Schaefer pass out communion. I see my old Sunday school teacher, another elder, passing out the trays as well. I’m there. And then suddenly I’m not. I’m sitting in a pew at St James in Portsmouth Virginia. It’s the year 2009 and this year I will be 50 years old. And the tears are pouring down my checks uncontrollably, as my memories take me  back to where I was with almost every song.  I love hearing the old hymns.  I really, really do.  But they’re painful, because they remind me that what I had is no longer and I can not go back.  But at St James Episcopal Church, in Portsmouth Virginia, I come awfully close.


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Steve, Ketchup and National Security

We have a cupboard in our kitchen that is to the left of our sink over our microwave. With all the glassware we have, you’d think we’d put it to good use. That’s not the case. At the present time, it holds in addition to the dog’s heartworm pills, mostly junk. Every month when I open it to find the dog’s heartworm pills, stuff falls all over me, mostly ketchup packets. I hate those little packets raining down on me, so I seldom open the cupboard.

For reasons unbeknownst to me, my husband hoards those little ketchup packets. You know, the ones that come with fast food. There are tons of them. It does me no good to toss them, because more of them appear.

Steve is a sensible man. I can’t imagine why he hoards these things, unless he knows something I don’t.

He’s been to the Army Medical Service Corps basic course, the Army Chaplain basic course, the Army  Chaplain advanced course, and the Navy Chaplain basic course. He’s got the Marine Command and Staff college under his belt. He took a chemical and biological warfare class when he was in the Army and we’d returned from Germany. He’s finishing up a second masters’ degree in military history.

All I can think of is that eventually the dollar will devalue to the point where people burn it, use it for toilet paper, or paper their walls, and that we’ll need all these annoying little packets of ketchup…causing our own variation of what happened in Germany during the Weimar Republic.  I don’t know for sure. I do know that since Steve has hoarded ketchup packages for years,  that he doesn’t tie this with the current administration.  I keep imagining that as their military instructors are lecturing them, in military schools across the country, that the one constant in all of these classes is the admonition to hoard ketchup so they can survive when the dollar collapse.  He won’t confirm or deny this to me. However, he has a security clearance. He can’t tell me everything he knows.

All I know is that he hoards ketchup. I wonder. Will we have to pay for things in person with packages of ketchup, or will you be able to transfer it electronically like we do with our current currency? Will the government replace ketchup packages that have been emptied or destroyed, or will we be out of luck?

Will ketchup stains replace the red dye packets that explode in money that’s taken when people rob banks? What’s the logistics of carrying this stuff in purses and wallets?

I had a government job once. I didn’t have a security clearance. I did, however, have to sign something that said that I would not disclose information that I knew through my job. That was as far as it went. I didn’t have a real security clearance, so that may be why I don’t know anything. I was never privy to any real sensitive information, other than the fact, that because I worked for the organization that paid all of the Army’s commissary bills in the Midwestern US, that I knew that Oscar Mayer, at least in the late ‘80’s owned Jello. I used to make myself ill trying to figure out the WHYS of that possibility.  It still bothers me when I think about it. But now I’m concerned about more important things.  Will our world economy eventually run on the ketchup standard? And do we have enough ketchup packets to support us in our twilight years? If you’re another civilian, you won’t know, and if you’re a government employee I know you can’t tell me, or you’ll have to jail me for giving away state secrets. I understand completely. But that still doesn’t keep me from wondering.  So, every time those annoying little things fall on me, I dutifully stuff them back in. And I wait…wondering….


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Hearing aids and Phonak’s new technology

Today has been a day that I have been both dreading AND looking forward to.  I’m being loaned some new, high tech hearing aids for a few days.  I can’t keep them, and they have to go back.

Hearing aid technology makes leaps and bounds so fast that the technology that they had even two or three years ago become obsolete very quickly.

I have, what experts in the speech and hearing field refer to as a senory neural hearing loss that is prelingual. In plain english, it means that I have nerve deafness, and that it occurred before I had the opportunity to learn to talk.

I have little hearing in the high frequencies. If you don’t know what a high frequency is, think birds and smoke detectors. I can’t hear those. Nor can I hear an s sound. Or an sh. Nor always a ch. You can’t say what you don’t hear, so I had to be taught to say those sounds. God Bless Betty Oswald, my first speech therapist, who taught me to speak at least clearly enough for people to understand. The first letter I remember her teaching me was a “T”. For some reason I couldn’t say “table”. It came out as “cable”. I remember Betty saying a “T” and showing me how to say it, and from then on, I had no problem with the letter “T”.  I remember spending hours hissing in front of a mirror, and I remember her teaching me the difference between an S and a Z. She spent four days a week with me from second to fourth grade, and I thought my young life was over when she left speech therapy to teach deaf children. She was my oasis. The kids were constantly ridiculing me because I talked funny, and school was a living hell academically for me, too. Home was no better. I was abused by a sibling and terrorized by my father. Betty was the only positive constant for me, so I had good reason to be devastated when she left.

I had more speech therapy as the years went by, and even had it as recently as a couple of years ago. I’ve been complimented all my life on my good speech, and I’ve been proud because I’ve worked so hard. But, people could always tell. When I got asked in a fabric store if I signed or read lips, and threw a temper tantrum when I was finally alone in the car, I realized that if it bothered me, it was my problem. So I startes speech therapy, and it was a lot of work. I finally learned the mechanics of saying the S sound. You curl your tongue behind your teeth and you hiss. I finally nailed down the CH, and I improved the quality of my voice.

Despite difficulty hearing, I have always been passionate about music. My parents refused me music lessons because I would fail. However, it never occurred to them that it was odd that not only could I sing, I could sing on pitch.

I was at least allowed to sing in the church choir when I was old enough. By junior high, my parents weakened. I wanted to play the piano, and my grandmother gave me hers, which was in such bad shape, it was only fit for the trash heap. My sister in law gave me a guitar, which was too big for me.  My mother scraped up enough money to get me a 3/4 sized guitar, and I took lessons until my teacher moved. Frankly, I hated the guitar. But, I learned how to tune beautifully, and I learned to read music. When I started dating, I kept my boyfriend’s guitar in tune because he was and is, since he’s now my husband, tone deaf.

I continued to sing in choirs, and after I got married, got new hearing aids from the Army when my husband was active duty Army, a set later from the state of Texas, and later when my husband went back on active duty in the Navy.

I found a good audiologist when I moved to Virginia, who has learned to ignore what most people would see as my limitations and go by the way I function. She’s recommended coclear implants for people with my hearing loss that do NOT do well.  I push the boundaries to the max when it comes to technology. I can tell when someone changes key in a song if I’m either familiar with the song or looking at the music, and I can tell by looking at the music if someone veers away from the way it is written.

A c

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