Expectations

Back in March I experienced the first of the most incredible pain I’ve felt, other than when I had my knees replaced. This pain was an intense squeezing of the chest. I thought for sure that I was having a heart attack and was soon to die. But I said nothing at the time.

In fact, I experienced several of these episodes over a period of months before I finally said something to my doctor about it. She immediately thought of spasms of the esophagus, something I’d never heard of.

I researched the condition, and lo and behold, those were my symptoms!

The spasms continued, sometimes with incredible intensity, sometimes to a lesser degree, but altogether painful.

My doctor ordered a barium X-ray which showed that there was a hole in my diaphragm. My stomach had moved upward, with a good one-third sticking through the hole.

I was referred to a surgeon who is going to fix everything, but his first requirement was that I lose a substantial amount of weight before he would fix a date.

Time has passed. I have lost 32 plus pounds. My surgery will be this coming Friday, March 2.

While the months passed, I didn’t concern myself with the details. It seemed so remote that there was no purpose served in thinking about it. My main concern was losing weight.

Now that I am down to days, it has become real. Last night I found myself thinking about it instead of sleeping. I assume that this will continue all week, until Thursday night when I won’t be able to sleep at all.

It’s odd that I am concerned. I trust the doctor. While the surgery details may seem complicated, he made it sound like a piece of cake. I am confident in his ability to perform the surgery with no complications.

But that does not mean that I don’t think about it.

I’ve taken care of the details. I’ve packed my personal items, including a book, for Mike to bring me after my surgery is complete. I’ve packed my clothes that I will wear home from the hospital. I’ve purchased the liquid diet drinks that I will consume for the 8-10 days after I come home.

I will clean my bird cages before the surgery even though it’s two days early. I will change the sheets so that I come home to a clean bed. I will make sure that all laundry is done, folded and put away.

I am as prepared as I possibly can be.

Please keep me in your prayers and thoughts.

 

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Nighttime Adventure

It was not a dark and stormy night but rather a clear spring evening, the sun just going down, rays of golden light streaking across the sky. It was a night for being out, for great adventures, for having fun before the expected rains began to fall the next morning.

And so it was that Jon Michaels and Steve Johnson huddled against the back wall of the high school, obscured by shadows that had fallen as the sun slowly sank below the horizon.

Steve, the older of the two, had bulk and brawn on his side. He played football, basketball and baseball, the star of all three. The golden boy, the most popular kid in school, but not necessarily the brightest.

Jon, on the other hand was slim with narrow shoulders and hips. His head barely came up to Steve’s abs, but what he lacked in size he made up for in dexterity. His fingers flew over the keyboard, tapping out code faster than any other kid in school, even faster than his teacher.

For some unknown reason the two dissimilar boys were friends. Had been since Jon moved into the neighborhood during the summer before freshman year. Shortly after Jon climbed out of the family’s minivan, Steve showed up. Four years later they were still friends.

Tonight, however, would test the strength of that friendship and Jon knew it. Success depended upon him and he was so nervous that his teeth chattered.

Steve stabbed Jon in the chest, pushing him up against the wall. “Look, you can do it. You’ve practiced it a hundred times.”

“No, I can’t,” Jon whined. “My hands are shaking.” He held both hands out for inspection and then stuck them in the pockets of his baggy jeans.

“Just remember the steps,” Steve said. “It’s not rocket science.” He turned Jon around to face the downspout. “All you have to do is shimmy up, find the door and pick the lock. Piece of cake.”

Jon attempted to step away, but Steve had him trapped. “What if I can’t climb this thing? What if I get caught?”

“It’s Sunday night. There’s no one on campus. You won’t get caught.” He smiled encouragingly and slung his arm over Jon’s shoulders. “We’re buds, remember? Buds help each other out. I’ve been keeping you safe from the bullies, now it’s your turn to save me.”

Jon sighed. “What if there’s an alarm, hunh? I’ll be caught while you run away.”

Steve wrapped Jon’s hands on the spout. “Climb.” He held his interlaced fingers together, forming the first step of the climb. “Do it. Now.”

Jon put his right foot in Steve’s hands and using his own, pulled himself up to a standing position.

“Pretend it’s a rope. Use the clamps as leverage.”

Jon climbed, but it wasn’t easy. The bricks left his knuckles red and raw. His sneakers slipped over and over, causing him to slide down several inches each time he moved his hands up. The spout, despite being made of metal, seemed fragile. Jon was afraid that it would collapse, sending him flying to the ground where his body would break into a thousand pieces.

Because of his fear, it seemed to take forever, far longer than either boy had imagined.

The plan was simple. Scale the spout. Pick the rooftop lock. Go down to the first floor where English classes were held. Pick the lock to Grady’s classroom. Find the test on Grady’s desk and take just one copy. Then go out the front doors even though it would set off the alarm and run like heck. By the time the cops showed up, both boys would be sauntering down Main Street as if nothing had happened.

To prepare they had watched videos on YouTube about picking locks with nothing but a hairpin. Getting the pin was easy: Steve took one of his mom’s when she was watching television.  She’d never miss just one.

Unfortunately it took ten before they successfully picked the first lock, then another three before they could do it in five seconds or less. With his nimble fingers Jon was the fastest, which is why he was now scaling the spout.

Up and up Jon went, moving slower than a snail, but making progress. Steve whispered encouragement, not daring to shout for fear that a passing neighbor might hear noise and investigate.

It was scary enough waiting until all the groups of kids shooting hoops had left. Steve and Jon had joined in, pretending to be interested in the activity, all the while silently hoping that the others would soon give up and go home but it wasn’t until sunset that the playground was finally empty.

Jon reached the roof and slithered over the small wall at the top. He landed heavily on his left side, temporarily pinning his arm under his body. It hurt like heck. Added to that was the pain from the scrapes, the cramps in his legs and the persistent shaking of his entire body.

He lay there for what felt like hours but was probably only a minute or two. Once his breathing had stabilized, Jon stood, leaned over the wall and waved at Steve. But Steve was not there.

Jon looked all over for his friend, but couldn’t see him huddling against the fence or by the wall. He shrugged. “Might as well get to it,” he said.

Jon had never been on the roof so he had no idea what a maze of pipes and vents it was. He had to zig and zag to avoid tripping or banging against something. On top of that was the bank of solar panels that created deep shadows.

He was proud of the panels, though. It was nice to know that his school was embracing the new technology.

When he reached the door, Jon took out one of the hairpins which Steve had straightened using a pair of pliers so that it would easily slip into the keyhole. Jon bent down until he was eye-level and stuck the pin in the slot.

Jon maneuvered it as he had practiced, waiting nervously to hear the satisfying click, but nothing happened. He moved it up and down, side to side, over and over, taking way more time than any of the practice locks had taken. Finally, it happened. The click. Jon felt it and heard it. A sound so small that it there had been any noise, he wouldn’t have heard a thing. But it was there. It was real.

Jon turned the knob and pulled. The door opened and best of all, no alarm sounded.

It was dark inside, so Jon pulled a mini flashlight from his pocket, turned it on and flashed it around. There was nothing texcept a flight of narrow metal stairs, pretty much what the boys had expected.

He carefully went down the steps, wondering when he might trigger an alarm. But nothing happened. No screeches, no wails, no sirens.

Jon came to another door. He picked it, much quicker this time and pulled it open. That’s when it happened. The alarm went off so loud that it hurt his ears.

At first he froze, standing as still as possible, hoping the noise would end if there was no movement. But that didn’t work, so he ran down the remaining two flights of stairs.

At that point he had a decision to make: get into Grady’s classroom and steal the test or make a run for it out the front doors.

Steve would be angry if Jon didn’t get the test, so he headed to the room. As the alarm wailed, Jon calmly picked the lock. It only took one try. He ran in, found the test in the center of the desk and then took off down the hall and out the front doors.

As planned, he ran toward the trees next to the schoolyard fence and ducked behind the first one. He crouched down, making himself as small as possible. He hoped that his black clothes would make him invisible.

From his hiding place he saw a cop car pull up in front of the school, soon followed by another. Two cops got out of the first car, paired up and headed around the back of the building the remaining two went to the front. Jon watched their flashlights bounce as they walked. They scanned every window, most likely searching for a breech.

Jon had watched enough cop shows to predict what would happen next. He knew that once they found the unlocked doors, they’d search the neighborhood. So he took off running, hoping to find Steve huddled behind a tree or boulder.

He didn’t. He was alone with the stolen test tucked under his shirt.

When Jon came to the end of the trees, he stuffed his hands in his jeans’ pockets and strolled across the park as if nothing was wrong, even though the test seemed to burn his chest.

He came out on Second Street and turned left. He passed Melanie’s house which was lit up, a light on in every window. She was a senior like him, only super good at socializing. The type that belonged to every club on campus. Jon would have liked to be her friend, but he was invisible to her.

Next was Luke’s house. He was two years younger, but in his senior year. One of those super smart kids who skipped grades, graduating from middle school at twelve.

Jon strolled across Alder, waiting as a cop car zoomed by, lights flashing. He was surprised that the town had so many cops, then thought that maybe the chief had called for backup. That scared him so much that he almost peed his pants. He ducked behind a bush in front of a dark house and urinated against the wall.

Before stepping out, thankfully, he looked left and right. Another car went by, this time using its beacon to scan both sides of the street. Jon ducked down, making himself as small as possible, even though the smell of his urine gagged him.

He stayed like that until the streets were quiet. When he thought it was safe, Jon headed to Steve’s house.

When he threw a rock against Steve’s window, Steve opened it and stuck out his head. “Did you get it?” he asked.

“Yeah. But I almost got caught.”

“Hand it over.”

“Not until I get to look at it first. That was the deal,” Jon said, “and I’m sticking to it.”

Steve extended a hand and pulled Jon inside. “Let’s look together,” Steve said. “That way if anything happens to it, we’ll both have seen what’s on it.”

They sat on the bed. Jon took it out from under his shirt and smoothed it out. They bent over the paper, eager to find out what questions Grady was asking.

“Wait a minute,” Steve said as he shoved Jon in the chest. “You got the wrong test.”

“No,” Jon said. “I took the one from the middle of the desk, just like you said.”

Steve pointed at the top of the paper. “Read it.”

“First period. College Prep Junior English.” Jon fell back on the bed. “All that for nothing.”

 

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Seasons of Love

 When winter winds roar through the trees
And snows softly fall upon the ground,
I’ll think of you.

When spring rains dance in patchy puddles
And flouncy flowers fluff in color bursts,
I’ll think of you.

When summer sun beats down upon the parched land
And children’s cries chorus in syncopated laughs,
I’ll think of you.

When autumn arrives in sprays of orange and brown
And plump pumpkins prance on Halloween night,
I’ll think of you.

Whenever the sun rises and sets
And stars brighten the skies of my dreams,
I’ll think of you.

Wherever you are.
Whatever you’re doing.
Forever and forever.
I’ll think of you.

 

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Sing Today

Music calls me

To fly with angels

In an azure sky

With gossamer wings

And crowns of golden filigree

 

Cymbals, harps, and lutes

Create magical tunes

Giving glory to God

And all His mighty works

Music of the soul

Heavenly prayers

 

Voices lift in harmony

Filling God’s ears with

Sound rejoicing

Blending, splitting, lifting

Toward heaven in

Wondrous rapture

 

Joining in mysterious

Psalms choruses praise

God day and night

Filling my soul

With delight

 

Praise God all ye peoples

Of the earth

Join in perfect harmony

Sing with me today

Alleluia!  Alleluia!

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The Best Day

Sometimes writing prompts speak to me, giving me ideas of what to write about, but recently I read one which really has me in a quandary.

Of all the days in my life, which one is the best?

I’ve been thinking about this for over a week and I have to admit that I am stuck.

Could it have been the day I received my acceptance letter to USC? That was an awesome day. After all, it meant that I was going to go to college and learn something that forever would change my life. The problem is that I don’t recall exactly how I felt. After all, I was only 17 at the time and so much has happened since then.

After college graduation a series of years went by in which I accomplished a lot of firsts: my first car, my first real job, my first apartment. These all moved me along the path toward independence and all of them made me smile, but were any of them the best? No.

There was the day that I met Mike at the IRS office. I was intrigued by his blue eyes, ready smile and kind demeanor, but it took quite a while for us to jell, to become a unit. The day he proposed was an awesome one. The problem is that I don’t recall the details. I do remember that he asked my dad for permission to marry me, but that’s it.

The wedding day was a spectacular one. Talk about life-changing! Wow! I went from being daughter to wife in less than an hour. And I was so scared that I almost passed out at the altar. I remember smiling through the reception and being so excited about the honeymoon that I could hardly wait for it to begin. On that day my life changed forever, so I would rank it up there among the best days of my life.

The thing is, though, that from then on I achieved so much, changed so much, and reveled in so much, that there are many defining moments in my life.

I remember when I found out I was pregnant with each of our kids. Now those were special days! Each time I glowed with happiness and pride. And when they were born, I could hardly contain myself even though I was terrified of holding such tiny, frail little beings.

Each time a child accomplished something, even something as tiny as lifting a head, I could hardly wait to show Mike. Jump forward to swimming on a team, playing soccer or baseball or softball or learning gymnastics or working with clay or learning to play an instrument and the “best” days suddenly multiply into hundreds.

There were graduations from eighth grade, high school and college. There were the births of my many grandkids, each unique in their own way.

The purchasing of homes, beginning with ours. I beamed with happiness on the day we took possession! Our house! Which became a home for our kids. And then the joy I felt when each of our kids bought their homes! Wow!

Getting my first teaching job filled me with joy. Granted it was a tiny, part time job teaching preschool at minimum wage, but I was in a classroom. My classroom. Fulfilling a dream I’d had since first grade.

When I jumped to third grade, my heart skipped a beat. This was it! My goal had been reached. But I didn’t stop there. I kept exploring and reaching and trying out new things and learning new things and going from job to job, each time looking for the place where I truly belonged and then I found it at the high school. I became a Special Education teacher working with learning disabled students. A hard job, but rewarding.

My supervisor noticed my hard work and I got promoted to the equivalent of Department Chair. Wow! Think of the jump, from part time preschool to Dept. Chair! I walked around campus with a smile on my face. I had reached my pinnacle, the highest I could possibly go, and I was proud. That was another good day.

Time passed. I aged. I got tired and all I could think about was retiring. When that time arrived four years ago, that was another personal best. I counted off the days until the one when I turned in my keys and walked away. I left knowing that I had done the best job that I could have. That at no time had I failed to fulfill my job requirements, and that, in fact, I usually exceeded them.

As a retiree I continue to have “best” days. Each day spent with my husband is a great one. Each time we go for a walk around the neighborhood, I rejoice that we are capable of doing so. That we enjoy the simple act of being together.

We have traveled quite a bit since retirement. Those are all good days as well. I especially love visiting with my grown children and my grandchildren. Each of those trips is unique and filled with joy. Each is the “best” because of the time I get to spend with family.

What it boils down to is that I cannot single out one day that stands above all others. I have been blessed with so many awesome days, so many unique experiences that I cannot definitively state that this one, this day, is the best.

Instead I revel in the fact that each morning that I open my eyes, each breath that I breathe, each step that I take, counts as my best.

 

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Education

Magic bullet

Gateway to the stars

Door to continuous learning

Within easy reach

Requires some effort

 Constantly yearning

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Happy People

Gwyneth loved living at Euclid Retirement Home. It was clean, comfortable and she was well cared for. The staff was kind and helpful. Her room wasn’t large, but she didn’t have to share it with anyone, unlike friends she knew who lived in other, not quite so nice places.

Her favorite thing about Euclid, though, was how pleasant everyone was. There were no grumpy people among the staff or the residents. Everyone walked around with smiles on their faces. Even those whose communication skills were limited smiled all the time. It was as if Gwyneth had fallen down the rabbit hole and landed in the land of happy.

Before she moved in, she was sad and lonely. Her children lived in other states, far away, and seldom came to see her. Her friends had moved on, either through death or a lack of independence, so she had no one to pal around with.

Her days were the same: get up, eat, eat some more, read, watch television, go to bed. Sometimes she went to the movies, but it wasn’t the same as when she would go with her husband or friends. Who do you discuss the movie with when no one was there?

Sometimes she’d treat herself to a meal out, but then she was a sad, lonely old woman sitting in a booth by herself. She’d bring a book and read in order to have something to do, but it wasn’t the same as sharing conversation over a good meal.

Her life was one big lonely day after another.

Until she heard about Euclid. A friend discovered it first and moved in when an opening appeared. Nancy loved the place and spoke highly of the wonderful staff. Nancy bragged about how much better she felt shortly after moving in, that she no longer looked forward to death, and in fact, enjoyed every single day.

She invited Gwyneth over for lunch one day so Gwyneth could see for herself how happy everyone was. And she was right. The residents sat around the large dining room table with smiles creasing their eyes. The staff sang and danced as they delivered the food, and sang some more as they cleaned up afterward.

The atmosphere was so low-keyed that Gwyneth was surprised that anything got done, but the residents were clean, their clothes were spotless, and her friend Nancy’s room was dust free. The furniture in the common room was a bit dilapidated, but still comfortable. The walls and floors were clean, and when Gwyneth had her tour of the facilities, she was pleased with how sparkling clean the kitchen and bathrooms were.

It was so perfect that Gwyneth inquired as to whether or not there was an opening. There wasn’t, of course, but there also was no one on the waiting list. Gwyneth completed the necessary paperwork and that was it. All she had to do was wait until someone either died or moved out.

Meanwhile she sorted through the stuff in her home. She went through closets, drawers and cabinets. She got rid of clothes she hadn’t worn in years, blankets that had sat in cabinets waiting for company to need them, and excess silverware that she wouldn’t need. Placemats and matching napkins…gone. Tablecloths, even fancy ones, stuffed into giveaway bags.

Even the piles of cookbooks disappeared. Anything she wouldn’t be able to take with her to Euclid left the house. She kept enough furniture to live with, enough pots and pans to cook basic meals, and the clothes she wore every day. Well, a few good dresses, but that was it.

Her son helped her find a realtor and arranged for an appraisal of the house. Once she knew fair market value, she put it up for sale, thinking that if all worked out, an opening at Euclid would magically appear when she had no place to live.

And it did. No sooner had a buyer made a reasonable offer for her house, not just meeting the sales price, but adding an additional $75,000 as enticement, than a room became available. Gwyneth would move in her new place just as the buyers were taking over her house.

Even though she wasn’t sure she’d like living in a home, Gwyneth’s mood improved after the first meal. She felt calmer, more relaxed and happier than she could ever remember feeling, even when her husband was alive and her kids still lived at home. That night she slept well, with no nightmares chasing her thoughts.

She enjoyed being with those residents that were able to converse. Every night they had pleasant discussions about the current political mess in Washington or movies or happenings in the news. After dinner they competed against each other to get the answers on Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. Sometimes they played card games, which were rollicking bits of pure unadulterated fun.

Gwyneth knew she had made the right decision because every day was the same. Happy people, happy staff.

The only complaint that she had was that one resident, Lawrence, a grizzled old man of about eighty, seemed to have an unusual amount of company. Day in and day out people came to the door. Lawrence would take them to his room, and within a few minutes the visitors would be gone.

The staff seemed to like Lawrence more than the other residents, which was also bothersome. They also visited the man’s room quite frequently throughout the day, then would bustle into the kitchen. Amid the sounds of cooking would be giggles and loud guffaws.

One day the police walked through the door, dressed in what Gwyneth thought of as combat gear. That caused quite a stir. The residents were abuzz as the police searched the kitchen, opening every cabinet and drawer. They went through the massive china cabinet that stood in the dining room. They opened the envelopes that contained residents’ prescription medications and examined the contents of every bottle.

The cops went down the hall while the residents were sequestered in the front room. Another hour went by, while everyone speculated about the purpose of the visit, what they might be searching for.

Eventually the cops conferred with the manager who had been called to the home. Shortly after that, Lawrence was taken out in handcuffs and all the police officers left.

There was great speculation as to why he was arrested. Someone thought he was running a secret gambling operation on the computer in his room. Another guessed that he was a pedophile who was collecting images of children.

But no one would ever have guessed the real reason for his arrest if the manager hadn’t sat down with everyone and explained what had happened.

Lawrence had been buying and selling marijuana over the Internet. The police found over $20,000 worth of the drug in his room along with a stash of money, hidden between his mattress and box springs. He was being accused of selling drugs to the staff, to residents and to those non-residents who dropped by to visit him.

Gwyneth had wondered why anyone as popular as Lawrence would live in a home. After all, he seemed to have a goodly number of family and friends that came by, day after day. Well, now she knew that they weren’t family, but customers.

The next day there was an account of the arrest in the local paper. The police suspected Lawrence after seeing him approach a red sedan at the corner of Thornton and Fremont Boulevard, a sedan that was under surveillance for possible drug dealing. They followed Lawrence home and staked out the house for several days. After witnessing the number of strangers who came and went, they sought a court order.

And that’s how they caught him.

Everyone at the home was dismayed. Lawrence was a happy man and a good conversationalist. The staff members that were arrested were also good people. One was a mother of several small children and another was a cook who babysat her grandkids on weekends.

It was a shame. Lawrence’s arrest brought a great sadness to the home. No longer were the residents happy. Long gone were the pleasant conversations. No more did they compete over the game show for answers.

And the replacement staff wasn’t nearly as happy, either. Many of them were downright grouchy and seemed to resent working with a bunch of old folks. Slowly the house fell apart. Things weren’t as clean as before. There was grime in the bathroom and dust built up in the corners. The carpets were seldom vacuumed and the quality of the food disintegrated.

Gwyneth and Nancy organized the residents in the writing of a letter of protest, begging that Lawrence be allowed to return once he had served his time. They saw him not as a drug-dealer, but as the catalyst of all things good about Euclid.

Months later, when Lawrence was released from jail, he returned, but without a computer and without his car. He was restricted to the home and no longer did countless visitors walk through the doors.

But the mood slowly changed. It began with the staff. All of a sudden they were happy to be there. They changed sheets and diapers with smiles and laughs. There was giggling from the kitchen and guffaws as meals were served.

And then the residents began to smile again. And talk again. And compete over game show answers.

And Gwyneth was happy to be alive.

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