Things Jesus Doesn’t Do

I am fixing my computer. I’ve issued a few “#$%$#%’s,” “GDs,” “F’s” and other words that color the rainbow. When I say “I’m” fixing my computer, I really mean someone I’m chatting with at Apple is so doing, as was the awesome guy with the Australian hat at the Genius Bar earlier today. He’s fixed my stuff before. I try to hide behind my long hair like Cousin It as the Genius does things like wipe the dust off my screen and do other things I should’ve done before going in.

I look at these Geniuses as if they’re demi-gods. I want to be like them, trying not to laugh at silly things people like me do. Right now, I’m being assured we’ll get this set today, but while we’re at it, lets just take a few hours to update my OS.

Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 5.35.07 PMI should have prayed. I’m peaking at my social media feed between chat bubbles which indicate a couple of good football games passed while I was in the Land of I Don’t Care. Every post said “Jesus be praised” or “Thank you God!” Some were multi-line prayers of gratitude.

I never thought to ask God or Jesus about the password I forgot or to help set up my Gmail after several errors appeared on my restored system. I should’ve. He apparently sides with football teams. My mom gets him* to do amazing things–besides the real big things that people need, he takes time to find her parking spaces when she asks nicely.

I think that he’s busy. I’d like to establish a list of things God and Jesus do not do:

1. Jesus doesn’t play or fix football, baseball, or hockey. I know this because the Whalers didn’t get to stay in Hartford, now the only thing Hartford has going for it is some awesome Jamaican food on Albany Ave.

2. I’m not sure God finds parking spaces unless people aren’t feeling well and need to park close. He finds them for my mom, because she does a lot of extra good work for him. Parking closer gives her more time to help others and not run errands. God does, however, curse people who use other people’s handicapped plates or keep theirs too long just to get a space.

3. God does not help students who didn’t study for tests. You can’t go around being all faithful saying “Who needs to study for O-Chem? I have Jesus.” I think that gets him mad.

4. Jesus does not start cars. Especially if you don’t change your oil or follow the maintenance schedule.

5. God doesn’t create spontaneous sales in grocery stores unless you’re especially faithful, down on your luck, and share food with others. Then, he will give you all the pasta or eggs you want.

6. He doesn’t make kids behave. I know this, though my son knows the difference between the “good Jesus Christ,” as in when people pray, and the “bad Jesus Christ,” as in when someone (not me) says JESUS CHRIST!  I wish JC would take a moment, get rid of free will and make kids obey. Free will’s overrated. In any case, it shouldn’t be installed until kids turn 18. Or 21. Or when they move out of the house.

7. Jesus doesn’t get kids into college or get them financial aid. It’d be nice. Refer to #3.

Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 5.38.33 PMIf you want to know what God and his associates really do, take a look outside first thing in the morning. You’ll see the sun peek over the horizon, hear the beauty of the birds singing a song, and feel the cool air on your face. You may even wish for the first flakes of winter snow. You’ll look into the face of your child or your other loved ones, and you’ll take a step or two toward beginning your day, which you can, because you’re alive, well, and graced by the power to live, impacting the world in an amazing and unforgettable way. God and the universe hope you do.

That’s what God does. Gives you the tools. The rest is all you. You’ll be great. Magic. A force to be reckoned with. Because that’s what you’re supposed to do.

Now, if I could only fix this Mac. Jesus?


*I chose the pronoun “he” fully realizing God transcends gender.

[Image: Buddy Christ from Dogma and “Birds at Sunrise, Sam Stearman]

Avoiding the Chainsaw Massacre: Ode to My Fake Tree

For years, the holiday season didn’t start until we hiked deep into the tree farm and cut our tree. There’d be a marathon pre-visit to choose and tag our tree followed up by several swears by the adults when we cut it down. We’d drag it to our non-truck, and bind it up so it didn’t fall, and drive carefully home, so we could enjoy language more colorful than the lights which were painstakingly tested and untangled.

Eventually, the tree would be up, blanketing the house in pine. Nothing beats the experience of the real Christmas tree. Once or twice, we found a tree with a bird’s nest. It was a special treat which now seems just a bit mean. Sorry homeless bird.

Sure, there were some disadvantages to the real tree, such as the spiders, and stepping on pine needles that stood at attention somewhere in the rug. But the tree was the official start and end of the Christmas season. My mom got us an ornament each year, so that by when we moved out, we’d have several to start our own trees. Each ornament has a special story.

I am now grown up and live in my own house. For years, we got a real tree, too. It was something I never compromised. Until…I kept getting sick. Every year at Christmas I got sick. I’d get a nice sinus infection, a raging cold, and I’d be miserable. I figured I made too many cookies, had too much holiday cheer, or maybe I was burning out from the first half of the year of teaching.

“Have you considered your tree?” Mom said. “There’s a lot of mold in a tree.” Turns out she had the same problem. Get rid of the tree? Unthinkable. Inconceivable…

The next year, it happened again. The following year, having noted the coincidence, I conceded to “try” a fake tree for one year. Miracle of miracles, I wasn’t sick. I enjoyed the Yule. I partook in the holiday cheer. I admitted, in public, my mom was right. And I saved a copay or two at the doctors.

Mom made this in 1983.

Mom made this in 1983.

I do miss my real tree, but not the stress of cutting it, hiking it home, and putting it up. We went one step further this year… a three-piece pre-lit tree. It took exactly three minutes to put up and didn’t require one “f” word. That’s the definition of holiday cheer.

This one's from when Rusty was a baby. There's one for his sister Carol next to it.

This one’s from when Rusty was a baby. There’s one for his sister Carol next to it.

I took the ornaments out of the box. I put them on the tree with Declan, and I told the story of each ornament. The “first year” ornaments, Daddy’s special ornaments, the train ornaments, the funny squirrel. The rainbow balsa wood ornament my mom made the year she didn’t have money to buy us our yearly ornaments, and the salt-dough ornaments I’d made in the Great Recession when circumstances were the same for me.

TrainThe ornaments showed Christmases in good times and in bad, and how the true meaning of the holiday always shines through in terms of the love of family, friends, and the miracles God and the universe bestow upon us, presents notwithstanding, if we are attentive enough to listen. Turns out, the Christmases with the least presents have the most blessings of them all.

Dough ornamentOur ornaments, this year, are on a fake tree, where they will be every year until they become someone else’s ornaments, for them to decide. Our tree is beautiful because each little bangle and ball holds a memory of love, even if they are hung on PVC branches made in China and not a home-grown Douglas Fir. I’ll look at them and smile. Declan will take them down when I’m pretending not to look and enjoy them. And then I’ll sneak up behind him and tell him the story of each one one more time.




Sleeping with the (little) Devil

Screen Shot 2013-11-27 at 5.37.35 AMSomewhere in the middle of the night he comes to bed. Never quietly. Always in the same pattern, like a hurdler or high-jumper going for the record. Bounce, bounce, PLOP. Sometimes the plop lands over me successfully, gold medal achieved. Often it comes crashing down on a vital organ or two before he squiggles, claiming space. If I’m not already facing the wall, he turns me. He fits his pint-sized body in a jigsaw space. He puts his arm around me. I’m mostly asleep. Too tired to put him back to bed. I smile, even though I know the rest of the night of sleep is shot. Fluffy bashes me in the face.
Fluffy is the first “buddy” he got, a gift from Grandpa before he was born, a lamb with a nice pink bow. Fluffy is a boy, make no mistake about it. When Fluffy assaults me, I wake up. I fall back to sleep. Soon after, I hear hysterical laughter. A long, deep belly laugh. I am missing the joke, but lifts my heart to hear him so happy, even in his sleep. I smile, even though I am losing more sleep. I fall back to sleep. I wake up to a question. The type of question that friends carry deep into the night over tea or wine, knowing neither will want to get up in the morning, but the problems of the universe must be solved now.
“Mommy.” He’s not good a the nighttime whisper.
“Yes, Declan?” I would very much like just a little sleep…
“Do you think God can bring back the dinosaurs?”
“I don’t know.”
“But God can do anything.”
“Then he can help you sleep. It’s sleeping time.”
Pause….(It aint over till the fat lady sings. And I don’t hear music…)
“I’ll ask Santa.” It’s decided.
He’s already asking Santa for a cat and all the toys to which I said no. He’s bypassing me. Now he’s bypassing God.
“It’s sleep time, Declan.”
“YES?” The part of my brain that’s conscious gets ready to blast him.
“I love you.” I soften with guilt in the way a parent does when misjudging intent.
“I love you too, Declan.” Before I know it, I feel his body relax. His arm slips off my body, his hand out of mine. He and Fluffy roll over, giving me a square inch or two of bed real estate I’ve so richly earned but never seem to enjoy. He giggles. He has full sleeping
conversation about something he wouldn’t tell me in school. He giggles again. Before long, it’s 4AM. Late enough for me to get up, drink coffee, and write. I slip away, not unnoticed.
“Mommy! WHERE are you going?”
“To the bathroom,” I fib.
“DON’T go work. Come right back!”
“Okay.” I lie. I know he’ll be sleeping, laughing, and giggling before I reach the door.
He gets up two times and interrupts my writing. I send him to bed until six rolls around. Then I sit him on my lap and tell him how when I was little, Grandpa used to go to work very early, and we’d get up and drink tea together.
“I don’t like tea.”
“We also had Carnation Instant Breakfast.”
“What’s that?”
“It’s like a vanilla milkshake.” Good grief. Now he wants vanilla milkshakes for breakfast. I tell him no. He sits on my lap for a while and hugs me. Life stops. It’s quiet. The wood stove glows, the sunrise starts to peek through the window, and I think of all the work I planned to do….work that I am most decidedly not doing now, because I am sitting. My friend Claudia, yogini extraordinaire, told me to sit for an hour each day. Not meditate. Just sit. I laughed because even though she is right–she’s always right–I wanted to ask her if she remembered about Declan. But here we are, sitting. Together. In peace. Waiting to tackle the universe.
And then, it is over.
“Okay, Mom, please get me my show. I want Scooby Doo on Cartoon Network.” I put on Scooby Doo,  get him a snack, and I move over on the couch.
Night is officially over. Time to tackle the world…for real.

Looking into the Artists’ Eyes

It’s easy to give feedback. But there’s something about giving honest and genuine feedback while looking into the eyes of an artist that’s emotional, different.

View of the Congregational Church that started the festival in 1967.

View of the Congregational Church that started the festival in 1967.

The Scituate Art Festival is one of the largest festivals of its kind in the nation. We’ve been coming for years. It’s my husband Rusty’s hometown. He always wanted to move back here but the time was never right. I’ve found the time is never right for most big things in life–changing careers, having a baby, moving…making any life change, really. The time is never right.

Sometimes, the universe intervenes. Other times it sends people to drop kick me. This time, it was both. The airport began to swallow up homes behind our house threatening to take our last shred of value. Selling wasn’t easy–who wants to move into a neighborhood where the roofs are part of the tarmac? Moving is tough–stressful, expensive. It’s never time. We found this house in the woods in my husband’s hometown, the town with the huge art festival and postcard New England village, and a buyer who was grateful to get from an apartment to a house. We escaped. And now this art festival is our hometown event.

“You’d better get rid of your hyphenation,” my husband said, “It’ll do you no good here.” This is his hometown. His last name gets nods. Mine, not so much. This is the type of town where people have lived for generations. I’ve been grandfathered in. “Oh, you have that house…” Everyone knows the house by description. People tell me stories of each generation who lived here, and the stonemason who built it. It’s the type of history I love.

As a real resident of this town, I pay attention to the festival. I listen to the old-timers, talking about the way the town was and used to be. The real history. The kind you can’t find in a book. The Greatest Generation telling the way things use to be, could have been, and sometimes still are.

The food court is everyone's favorite at festivals.

The food court is everyone’s favorite at festivals.

The Art Festival is the way it always is, a finely tuned operation that draws 2-300K people in a good year. Locals and people flock in for the artisans and the New England foliage alike.  We stop here and there for a small-town greeting or an apple dumpling–the type I eat every year, once a year, like clockwork. The civic organizations, school clubs, and people of the region set up booths and all the repeat revelers know how to find the best BBQ, the biggest sausage and peppers, the most perfect fries…and that apple dumpling.

And of course you can’t run a New England town without chowda and clam cakes.

Everyone in town bakes, mans a booth, volunteers or attends. Artists from all over the world show their crafts. As an outsider, I appreciate the variety and efficiency. As an insider, I see the community. I am starting to attach.

I see the antiques booths, the painters, the artisans. What started as a twelve-booth event in 1967 has expanded to pay for repairs to the Congregational Church has become something to behold.

But the best feature, by far, is the artists and artisans. I used to look at art through the eyes of a simpleton, an ignoramus.  Now, I look through the eyes of the creator. Just for an hour or two, I imagine myself painting, sculpting, bringing forth woodwork or pottery into the world, instead of writing, and showcasing my creations for the public. I look at the soul of the artist sitting, quietly showing his or her work. What courage to put oneself out there, in the middle of 300K people passing by casually, blending as people say things like “Beautiful,” or “Oh, no, that’s awful,” or worse yet, passing by without a single glance. The heart and soul of the artist unnoticed. Brilliance blending into the background of clamcakes and doughboys. There can be no greater insult than that.

I see the soul of the artist with the brush, crayon, typewriter, or lens. When possible, I talk to them. I appreciate them. We’re all the same, no matter the genre. We all put stuff out there, hoping someone will appreciate it. Or maybe, just maybe, that it’ll make a difference.

That’s what I see at the festival. Community, cohesion, and people making a difference. It’s the way every community should be, and can be, if we all just smile, create, and share. I’m grateful to be a part. Even if the screaming boy makes me leave early. Some day, this festival will be his.

Friending the Pope on Facebook


The Pope crossed my Facebook stream. I wondered if it was really the Pope. I’ve friended Jesus H. Christ, Jesus M. Christ, and Jesus (Plain) Christ already, just to make sure I get the right one. I couldn’t find the Buddha on Facebook but Rumi is on Twitter–he’s pretty inspirational, and of course the Dalai Lama says something nice to me every morning. I love his tweets.

Yesterday, when I saw El Papa (that means “the Pope.” “Big Papi is someone else). I was pretty excited. I checked his friends so see if it was really him. Much like watching people look for mystery mechanical malfunctions under steaming hoods of cars, I must confess, I don’t really know who his friends would be–I guess I was looking for Cardinal this, Father that, or Rabbi Schmuley. I did see a bunch of good Catholics I knew from growing up, which means that they think this is the real Pope, too.

I had a fleeting thought that some computer nerd put the Pope’s likeness on Facebook. You think computer people are serious, but that’s really not true. This is just the type of thing someone who’s been coding too much drinking eighty Red Bulls a day would do, “Hey, guys, I can’t find the bugs, let’s take a break and answer some prayers.” I can see them responding to all the in-box confessions right now. Or it could be the kid in my Period  3 class who’s always looking down at something.

But just in case it’s really the Pope, I wanted to be in on the festivities before he got five thousand friends and I can’t be one. I have one friend like that who hit his Facebook limit. He has too many friends and Facebook won’t let us be friends. I have to be his follower. I don’t like to be my real-life friends’ followers, because next they’ll expect veneration or something. That wouldn’t be so bad for the Pope, but for a normal person, it can go to their heads pretty quick. And anyway, how can Facebook put friend limits on God’s leaders?

As I continued to look through the Pope’s feed, I noticed a few things that made me think my Red Bull theory might be true–or at least the one about the kid in my Period 3 class. There are mistakes in grammar and use of texting protocol in posts, such as the lowercase “I.”  Jesus would never permit the bastardization of grammar. Certainly, the head of his church wouldn’t post in textspeak. Unless…texters are the target audience to be saved…

Also, there is a request to email a Yahoo address for donations. There is no organizational link to this organization. I wonder if the IP address will be in some country I can’t spell that is in the international news for fraud. Hmmmm… But we should trust, I guess, and helping some guy using proxy servers to solicit donations is probably as good as helping the actual disadvantaged, because if it weren’t for the “donations,” he’d be disadvantaged too… Right?

I’m going to keep “the Pope’s” friendship. It’s a small price to pay if it is the real Pope. And if it isn’t, I might just send some prayer requests to Red Bull coder or Kid in Period Three or whoever you are.  I’m not sure what I’ll pray for, but I’ll make sure it’s good and juicy. Like salvation on crack. And it’ll be up to you to answer, oh God of Red Bull…

Let’s see what you come up with. Our eternal life is on the line…

Irish Blessing for Teachers (God Help Us, Every One)

Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 6.28.26 AMI need a prayer to inspire the first day of school–a prayer useful to the religious and secular alike. I took a philosophy course on a bet once, learning about the nature of prayer in the process. My friend, the future electrical engineer, said he was smarter than me–that engineers, moreover, were smarter than liberal arts majors.

My major was Russian–it was an amalgamation of history, bad economic forecasts, political upheaval, and really long depressing literature–it’s the reason I make people cry with my emails, having earned the nickname “Madame Tolstoy.” I’m improving–wouldn’t trade my academic path for all the engineering salaries in the world. The spirit of the Russian people taught me a lot about teaching–about creativity, making something from nothing, about getting the job done without a lot of resources. Russian philosophy is a little like zen, but with a despot lurking in the background.

For our bet, we chose a neutral class.  The academic DMZ. Philosophy 101. He skipped class. I learned about how to spend an inordinate time fixating on the smallest detail, the meaning of God, what constitutes a pile, and other useful things. For example, if you have one piece of hay, it’s not a stack. If you have two, it’s not a stack. If you have a stack and take a piece off, it’s still a stack. At what point does it become a stack or lack of a stack? You can use this in life. Just substitute manure. If you’ve got a bit of manure in your life, it’s not a pile. If you add a bit more, it may not be a pile, but at some point, it becomes a pile. You have to shovel it away. Farm wisdom that can help you transcend the day-to-day BS in any career and still smile.

The second thing I remember was about God. Many people believe in God and many do not. If God exists, and you messed up on earth, that’s an epic fail. You’re going into the inferno forever. If God doesn’t exist and you were good just in case–well, you don’t go anywhere for eternity but you make people smile in your time on the planet. Is that so bad? It’s a simple cost-benefit analysis.

My friend won the bet. He is smarter than me. He showed up for two classes–the midterm, and the final. He smoked me. I got to learn about the great Western philosophers, the nature and philosophy of prayer, and earn my first C-, my only low grade unless you count Calc, which I dropped twice before finally getting a “just go away” C, escaping higher-level mathematics forever.

Without further adieu, the prayer, “The Irish Blessing,” in its original form and it’s adaptation for education: The original is in italics.

May the road rise up to meet you. May you not get a flat tire on the way to work, and may the potholes not wreck your oil pan.

May the wind be always at your back. May you avoid hurricanes, storms, and floods that force you go to school until July.

May the sun shine warm upon your face; Likewise with snow days.

the rains fall soft upon your fields Don’t drink too much, because there’s no bathroom nearby. You’ll have to wait till 2:11 to pee.

and until we meet again, I won’t see you for 180 days.

may God hold you in the palm of His hand. May the school year not kill you. God help us all. 

May we have the best school year yet. May we do the greatest of things.

A Long Road to Enlightenment

We are at the farm.

“Mommy,” he says, “I have something to tell you.”

“What?” I reply, “And hold my hand before you get squashed by that tractor.”

“I know about God now.” I often get in trouble for not teaching my son well enough about the God of religion and conquest. He knows about kindness, love, the power of the universe, karma, the meaning of the magic in nature, helping, but balks at the gargoyles and medieval statuary bleeding sacred hearts on the ground. Once, he came upon a nativity scene–at Santa’s Village, of all places.

“MOMMY! LOOK!” he said with an urgency that stopped me in my tracks. “What?”

“Who is THAT?”

“It’s Jesus. Baby Jesus with his family.”

“It is NOT JESUS!” he said. He was angry. I felt like a negligent parent, who neglected teaching her then four-year old to even recognize the baby Jesus. Wasn’t it bad enough he confused his baseball, football, and basketball, shouting “touchdown” the rare time he saw a baseball game?

“Yes it is, that’s his mom.”

“THEY TURNED JESUS INTO A STATUE!” There would be no convincing him otherwise, and to some degree, he was right–the God of love is often pressed flat between the pages of books nobody bothers to read, especially his people.

But today, he has figured out about God.

“What do you know about God now?” I ask.

“Well, one time, I was thinking about God and I had to poop.  I didn’t want to wipe myself. So I asked God if he could make it a hard poop, so I wouldn’t have to wipe,” the look of intense concentration and reflection on the importance of this detail cannot be mistaken. I follow along, with a face matching his in focus and intensity. I angle my head just a bit to show I am seriously listening.

“So” he continued. “That day, I had a hard poop. I didn’t wipe at all!  And that’s how I know that God is real. And that he listens to us all the time and that he cares about us. And that he is my friend.”

Pretty good logic. We’re often reminded to ask God for our needs, no matter what they might be. Sometimes, our prayers are answered, and other times–for good reasons unbeknownst to us, the answer is no. At those times, we should remember not to hold it against Him. There’s something in the scope of universe being set in motion–we just have to wait.

Today, I heard Declan in the bathroom reciting his prayer out loud. Soon after, there was a shout of disappointment, “Oh! It didn’t WORK, I have to wipe!”  I tried to explain that sometimes the Almighty has bigger fish to fry and loaves to bake. And that humans must be understanding.

“Fine!” he said. “If God’s busy, I’ll just go watch Scooby Doo. But I’m asking Santa for a kitty for Christmas.”  I’m afraid we have a long, long road to enlightenment.