Monthly Archives: September 2010

Her mother’s words of instruction still echo in my head, “Girls, go wash you hands!” That’s the first thing we always heard as the front door closed behind us at Phyllis’ house. Not “Hi, how are you, where have you been, or what have you been doing,” but “Wash your hands!” All these years later, it was obvious she was decades ahead. Signs are now posted everywhere, Wash Your Hands. I always wonder about the ones in restaurant bathrooms: Employees must wash their hands before returning to work. Is that a reminder to the employees or is it supposed to serve as comfort to the patrons?

Lately I’ve begun to realize there really was something to, “Gross, he has cooties!” He really did. We all do. It’s just some of us handle our cooties better than others. And washing hands is the best way.

Germs come in four major forms; bacteria, virus, fungi and protozoa. There are ways to live in harmony with the microscopic critters. I think the best way is to stay out of the pediatrician’s office, or if a trip is necessary, take a large jug of Purell and a can of Lysol. How many times have kids been in for a well child check up and two days later wake up with a fever? It’s even more frightening to think about what lurks in hospitals.

I’ve always thought public restrooms had to be the germiest, but I recently read a corporate office desk is creepier than a toilet. And, even though men are messier, women’s restrooms were found to have more germs. The reason; women spend more time in there and they bring the germ magnet children with them.

I have to block germ knowledge and the 20/20 reports out of my mind when I check into a hotel. That’s all I’ll say about that.

So unless we wear Michael Jackson masks and gloves, we’re exposed to the germ gremlins. As Phyllis’ mom said, “Wash your hands.” However, the nagging question still remains; why are the snotty nosed kids with filthy hands the ones who never get sick?


The look in her eyes said more clearly than words, “I’ve had it.” Many times it’s easier to understand body language than what a person says. Even though I had just met her, she was easy to read. She was ready to rip someone apart, but the polite person in her was holding it in check. I could tell one tiny wrong move in the conversation might send her into orbit, so I tip toed very carefully.

Every conversation starter question I asked seemed to irritate her. “So, what does your husband do,” I finally asked thinking I was safe. I knew he was very successful, so how could I go wrong? “Oh, he has several companies and is starting a new one,” she said and went on to explain what he did.

“Wow that sounds exciting,” I said truly interested. “Whoop-de-do for,” him she answered, obviously jealous of her own husband’s success. All I do is take care of three children.” I finally decided my best bet was to enjoy lunch and let the other women at the table carry the conversation, because this was going no where.

Later that day one of the women from lunch shared her concern for her friend. “She seems to be sliding down a slope and won’t grab anyone’s hand. Everyone has tried to help, but things just keep getting darker for her. She used to be so happy.”

“She’s like trout in a fish net,” I offered. “Excuse me?” the woman looked at me.

“Have you ever watched a fisherman scoop up a trout he’s caught? When it’s lifted out of the water, the fish wiggles and squirms and fights the net. Even when the net is lowered back into the water for the fish to be released it still fights. Until it finally relaxes it stays tangled up wearing it’s self out. When it finally calms down it easily swims out.”

“No matter how much help everyone offers her, until your friend looks at her life and understands for herself how blessed she is, she’ll stay tangled up. Until then it’s like talking to a fish,” I added. She nodded and smiled.

“A heart at peace gives life to the body…”
~Proverbs 14:30

A friend of mine asked me not long ago, “What are you happy about?’ I don’t now why such a simple question stumped me for a minute. I just stared at him smiling. I wish I could say, “Oh that’s just me, happy all the time.” But lying always catches up with you, so why bother. On the other hand, Jim Brawner is happy all the time. OK, 95% of the time. To be honest it can be somewhat irritating living with someone like that.

I am the first to admit I hate conflict, but you know how sometimes it just feels good to vent and rant and rave? When I come to that point Jim generally laughs and then I end up laughing too. It always works. However one time it didn’t.

During that “blissful” first year, a couple usually dances around trying to figure out how this marriage thing works. It’s a wonder we made it through ours. But Jim kept me laughing. When we were setting up house he unboxed a Miller Light cube calendar with a peel off stick on back. His uncle owned a pool hall and one of the sales reps had so graciously given him an extra so he gave it to Jim. How handy to be able to flip the cubes around and always know the date!

I walked out of the room and when I came back he had stuck the calendar on the kitchen wall. At first I thought it was a joke and reached up to move it, but it wouldn’t budge. Seriously? That was probably my first ranting and raving episode in our marriage and it wasn’t pretty. I even accused him of brain cell loss from being hit so many times playing football.

So in attempt to fix the situation, he pulled the source of conflict off the wall taking a hunk of sheetrock with it. We both stared blankly at each other, then he walked out the front door.

Hours later life was back to normal. We left the wall torn up until we moved three years later to remember, it’s not worth it. Most of what we waste time having fits about isn’t. Secretly I still think an ugly calendar stuck on my kitchen wall was fit worthy.

It is what it is … or is it? Seeing things as they appear to be is typically what we do without even thinking. A massive bank of puffy white clouds may look like a massive bank of puffy white clouds until you stretch out in the grass. Magically a whole zoo full of animals appears in the sky. I lived in a house for a year and never saw the perfectly shaped owl on the end of the custom oak breakfast island until I sat down on the stairway one day. Before I discovered the owl, it had simply been a breakfast island. The carpenter died before I had the chance to ask him if it was intentional or accidental artwork.

Recently I watched an interview with Anne Beiler, the founder of Auntie Anne’s pretzels. It’s impossible for me to walk within 25 yards of an Auntie Anne’s in the mall or an airport and not give in. I always justify it telling myself I haven’t had one since the last time I was in a mall or airport like I rarely get to either of those places.

I envisioned Auntie Anne a stay at home mom who stumbled on to a way to bring in extra income for her family. She and her husband, Jonas, started the company in 1988 and sold it in 2005 with 850 locations. Today there are over 1000 Auntie Anne’s located worldwide. At first look, I saw a lucky woman who is worth millions. As the interview unfolded I stared amazed and admittedly a bit ashamed because I had thought she was just another inventor of a money making machine.

She is one of three sisters who grew up in a tight knit Amish community in Pennsylvania. For several years she slogged through deep agonizing pain beginning with the death of her toddler daughter. Anne’s sister backed over her when the child ran behind the tractor she was driving. Then she went on to explain a chain of events involving her pastor, her betrayal of Jonas and alienation from her sisters. It was heartbreaking.

She did finish the interview talking about her journey though redemption, love, grace and forgiveness. I discovered the person behind the mega millions pretzel was so much more than a smiling woman in an apron.

That interview made me consider the times I’ve written someone off or prejudged a circumstance. Things aren’t always what they seem. There’s more than likely a back story to be uncovered. I want to become someone who takes the time to look beyond the obvious.

I’ve always been fairly confident that if accosted, unless there was a gun or knife involved, I could hold my ground. My plan of action was to jam an elbow or knee where necessary to take the guy to the ground, then run and scream like crazy. Everything sounds like it will work when listening to plans in your mind.

Late in the summer just after our first anniversary, Jim and I moved into a duplex not far from the university campus where he was in the middle of two a day football practices. The tiny space had wasn’t air conditioned, so all the windows were propped open with box fans set on high. I think the fans just stirred the heat.

Early one morning after Jim left, I heard someone calling his dog through my open bedroom window, but ignored it and went back to sleep. The next morning right after Jim left, I heard the guy calling his dog again, “Blondie, Blondie. Come on over and see me.”

I sat straight up in bed when I realized this guy wasn’t calling his dog. I jumped up, closed and locked all the doors and windows, grabbed my 15 pound Dachshund for protection and sat down in the hall like I was in a tornado drill. At that time no one but Dick Tracey had a cell phone and Jim wouldn’t be home until noon. It was 7am.

All my imagined courage evaporated when I was actually faced with a situation. After an hour in the hall drenched in sweat I suddenly realized my plan of action only worked in my head and I got mad; mad at myself for being such a baby and mad at a person I had never seen for harassing me. The next day the almost perpetrator was evicted. As it turned out he was known in the neighborhood and was harmless, but in my mind he was a potential ax murderer.

Bravery is tested only when you come face to face with your fears. Each of us is courageous, just in different areas of our lives.

Erma Bombeck once said, “All of us have moments in our lives that test our courage. Taking children into a house with white carpet is one of them.” I don’t know if that’s a test of courage or a lack of sane judgement.

She folded her arms, rolled her eyes and said, “You don’t know anything. You are just stupid!” The ten year old girl’s mother looked at me and sheepishly said, with her daughter glaring at her, “Oh she just in that transitional age. Not much can be done.”

I could taste blood and realized I was literally biting my tongue. Not much can be done? Really? I wanted so badly to tell this woman she had just openly admitted she wasn’t smarter than the fifth grader staring her down.

In reality a whole lot can be done and I felt sorry for the mother in advance. If her 10 year old was treating her with such disrespect now, the thought of the girl at 16 was a bit scary.

I was in the cereal aisle at Walmart when I heard the grade school aged boy standing next to me say, “Come on Mommm. This is ridiculous. Make a decision and let’s go!” His mother very calmly turned around to face him and said, “You watch your mouth. I brought you into this world and I can also take you out!”

I don’t necessarily recommend that tactic, but, hey, she made her point. The boy dropped his head and said softly, “Sorry, Mom.”

Jim Brawner didn’t insist on a lot of regulations when our kids were growing up, but disrespecting your mother was close to a federal offense. I’m not naive enough to believe my kids didn’t discuss my random spells of ignorance among themselves, but they never said it to my face. Jim had drawn line in the sand.

According to Webster, honor is to hold in high respect, extend courteous regard or show special distinction. When God was giving Moses the 10 commandments, in #5 “Honor your father and your mother” he added “that it may go well with you.” Even though our parents get smarter when we get to be about 24 or when our first child is born, we sometimes feel like stupid creeps up on them every once in a while. God didn’t say honor them when you think they are smart, He just said honor them.

A waiting room is a great place to read interesting articles. Of course, some of the magazines are five years old and when you turn to page 134 to finish the article, someone may have torn the coupon out on page 135 leaving you wondering what the 5th point was.

I read an intriguing article while waiting recently; Things To Never Say In A Job Interview. The author discussed the importance of not going on and on about how much of a people person you are and that bad grammar makes you look dumb even though you may have a Masters degree. She also emphasized can’t and impossible shouldn’t be in your vocabulary. What fascinated me most was her reasoning why a job applicant should never use the word crisis.

Evidently touting the ability to respond calmly and intelligently is commonplace during an interview. The problem arises when applicants use the word crisis to describe what, in reality, is just a challenge. It can make the interviewer wonder if they are alarmists. The best terms to use are problem or challenge.

When I thought about it, problems have solutions and challenges can be overcome, but a crisis is just bad. Most people run around like their hair is on fire during a crisis and to be able to respond calmly is admirable. But in an office, I suppose it’s important to know what a possible employee considers a crisis.

A fax machine jamming when important papers are being sent, not hitting a quarterly projection, and missing the 4 o’clock mail deadline, though important, are not crises. A hostage standoff, floodwaters rising, and an AIDS epidemic are each a crisis.

The majority of what we face every day is not critical even though we react like it’s life threatening. In 1970 when a small explosion happened on Apollo 13, one of the astronauts radioed, “Houston, we have a problem.” If he responded calmly to that, why can’t I when pancake syrup boils over on the stove. It’s not even a problem, it’s just a mess.

So unless my life is flashing in front of my eyes, I want to remember; it’s just a problem and problems have solutions.