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Coaster, sans arachnid

Once, as I was watching TV, I reached for my hazelnut coffee. It was placed on a coaster that resembles a throw rug with tiny strings on it. As I drink my coffee, I have to make sure it’s centered so it doesn’t spill. Usually I just grab those little strings to adjust it. This time, I wasn’t paying attention. I grabbed the strings and tugged, only to look down and realize that it wasn’t the strings of the coaster I was pulling on. It was the legs of a spider!

Mildly freaked out, I said “Aaah!” He said the spider version of “Aaah!,” making a jerking motion with his legs. All those crazy legs. Mercy. He ran off and I started to go after him to squish him (there wasn’t time to capture him with my trusty Bugzooka and take him outside).

I realized that he’d gotten my message without my even trying.

He wasn’t coming around me again, not after that tiny torture session. Tickling my toes? What manner of fresh heck is this? What are you, giant creature with flame-orange hair?

As a general rule, impinging on my space will never get you a warm welcome.

This goes for spiders on my coffee coaster, of course, but also for:

  • People who decide to park their car in front of my driveway.
  • Salespeople peddling stuff I don’t need that I’ll end up putting directly into the attic.
  • Zombies sent to my house inadvertently by a faulty GPS (Gory People Search.)

The best way to make a point, no matter how important you feel it may be, is to give people their space. So if you’ve found faith and want to share it, be sure to ask permission. Respecting others’ decisions speaks well of your religion.

Here’s a picture of the singer, Pink, cooking in her home, carrying her baby in a sling in front of her. When I saw it, I was concerned that the infant was too close to the frying pan and might get splattered with grease. I also noticed that the child in the back, climbing on the counter, looks distracted and may fall.

Now, is having this opinion actually another way of saying that I’m “Mommy-shaming” the singer? I don’t mean it to be. I suppose it’s all about intention and tact. She’s obviously doing her best to take care of her kids, as we all do. It’s hard to know how much you should say to or about another parent.

Once when my son was three years old, we stopped at a local donut shop. I kept him right in front of me, pressed against the counter so that no one would snatch him. A lady nearby was just paying for her coffee and said quietly into my ear, “They put the coffee right there on the counter near your child…just saying the coffee is really hot.” And she left.

Of course, I was offended and shrugged her off with the body language equivalent of “Well! I never!” But you know what? She was right. There was a definite danger that my son could be scalded by the cups of coffee that were being placed inches away from where I was vigilantly keeping him safe from child abductors. Sometimes we’re so hard-wired to watch for large, looming boogeymen that we don’t see the small vipers in the garden in front of us.

If conversation is constructive and considerate, there’s nothing wrong with respectfully disagreeing. Pink is doing fine. Her kids will be fine. Trolls will live under bridges, as well as in the shadows of cyberspace. Life will go on, not to worry. I look at it this way. It’s better to be kind than right. It’s better to be blessed than to be a budinsky. For our younger readers, a “budinsky” is just an old-school way of saying “troll.”

So I ordered a pizza, and the delivery guy came to the door. I noticed that he had that piercing thing where the earlobes are missing, and decorative circles were in their place. What’s he rebelling against? Earlobes? What’s up with that? I said to myself.

Then I remembered something my mother had said when I was a teenager after I came home from the mall with a second piercing in my ears. Who needs two pairs of earrings in each ear? Who does that? She noticed a small vial on my bed. Are you doing drugs? I opened the vial and told her to sniff it, but she backed away. It’s a perfume sample, Mom. They give them away at the mall.

Guess it’s a tradition. The young try new things. The old get set in their ways.

Maybe teenagers are just doing their job when they use themselves as a canvas. So they get a mohawk. It’s only hair. It’ll grow back – although, to be honest, I don’t know if earlobes ever return.

Thinking back to the pizza guy with earlobe holes, I have to admit that his earrings (is that what you call them?) were interesting looking, like colorful little art pieces. Also, he was polite and respectful. Most important, he got the pizza to us on time, and it was still hot. Always a plus.

Long story short (it’s too late for that, you say? Cheeky devil!) I got over myself and remembered that we’re not all supposed to look the same. And that your early years are the time to experiment with your look, your clothes, heck, even your worldview. If you don’t evolve over time, best take a quick look in the mirror. You may actually be an amoeba!

So go ahead, pizza dude (and the rest of the world, too, for that matter.) Be yourself. I’ll put aside my crotchety kvetching and get back into “live and let live” mode. I’ve decided that the world is big enough for you, me, and at least one large pizza pie. But please. Hold the anchovies!

“Are you a teacher?”

The Uber driver had looked at me in the rearview and asked the question.

“No, but everybody asks me that. Must be the cat’s eye glasses,” I said. “I did teach ESL years ago.”

“Really? How’s my English?” he asked.

“Not bad,” I said.

“I’ve only been here four years and I’m always trying to improve my English.”

“You’re doing fine,” I told him.

He said, “It’s more important than ever to blend in. Trump is making my life harder.” He felt the difference in the last year in the way people look at him, talk to him. “They think I’m here to cause chaos. I’m just trying to feed my family, y’know?”

Just like everybody else.

Last week in the news, police in Nice, France, were filmed forcing a Muslim woman wearing a burkini to disrobe on the beach while other sunbathers watched. A person on the scene said that some even applauded. A local official said that if people don’t feel safe, or are offended by someone’s outfit, it needs to be addressed. It’s a risk to public order, he said.

Thong bikinis and speedos are okay, but a fully-covered woman is a public crisis.

But what I want to know is this: what’s the difference between a burkini and a scuba suit?

Everybody has biases. One of mine concerns t.v. reporters wearing casual clothes. It seems every female reporter is wearing a tank dress to show her toned arms, and every male reporter on a news scene is wearing skinny jeans. You’d think they just came from a nightclub!

Of course, I know it’s just a matter of taste, and it’s my own hang-up. No need to hassle them, as happened when this weather reporter was told while live on-the-air that she needed to cover herself up.

Just as the Uber driver profiled me as a teacher, we can choose to view others through the filter of faith. Ah! Another blessed, beloved child of God on the road of life.

And maybe, just for today, the fashion police can take the day off.

This Land is Your Lang

Vim and vigor.

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

These are words that don’t fully exist without their partner terms.

On this Independence Day, I’m reminded that “America” and “freedom” go together – even though it might sometimes seem like an elusive ideal.

It’s a lot like God’s grace. It’s not a selective thing, only available to beautiful people, or those “in the know.” It’s open source, as they say in the computer world. Free to all, for anyone to use at will.

But in recent times, it might seem that some Americans believe that freedom doesn’t apply to everyone.

A man from the United Arab Emirates was mistaken for an ISIS member while visiting Ohio last week. Footage from the police body cam was unsettling. In response to this incident, the Emirati government issued an advisory to its citizens not to wear traditional garb while traveling.

They can’t dress the way they dress at home? That’s like telling me I can’t wear a cardigan and cat socks! I’ll be drummed out of the Lil Ole Lady Knitting Club!! 🙂

If freedom doesn’t apply to what people can wear, what does it apply to?

I’ve always admired people willing to wear their faith and heritage on their persons. Muslim women who wear hijabs, Jewish men who wear yarmulkes, Catholic priests and nuns. In a world that is often hostile to religion, they dare to proclaim that they believe in something! It’s outrageous.

Now, I haven’t held a seance, so I’m not speaking directly for the founding fathers, but I’ve got a pretty good idea of what they would say if they were here today.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” applies to everyone. No exceptions.

We all came to this country for the same reason: to be ourselves. Being an American means we can think, speak, and dress the way we see fit.

And if I want to wear a Fedora and fuzzy slippers to the diner for the Early Bird? Well, why not? It’s still a free country.


The weather was beautiful today here in New Jersey, and everyone on the block was outside, trying to make the most of it.

One neighbor had his convertible top down and rolled into his driveway, music blaring. The volume was so loud that I could hear the drum beat and bass line thumping in my house. The Judge Judy in my head nudged me: Kids today! How rude!

But in truth, the thing is, he’s trying to be heard, albeit in a way that may not be well-received by those around him. He likes that song. He can afford that nice car. He thinks he has good taste in general, and he wants to be known for that.

Another neighbor was outside, blow-drying her lawn. Now, I know the term should be “leaf-blowing,” but the thing is, there’s not a leaf in sight. She primped her yard all day long and that constant, high-pitched whir really got under my skin. The Judge Judy in me barked: You’ve proved your point! You’ve got a lot of time and money on your hands, so you spend it all on your fabulous yard. Congrats! But the thing is, it’s her money. It’s her yard. Her landscaping isn’t directed toward me as a slap in the face, even if I might choose to receive it that way.

On the block behind mine, kids were playing tag in the street, screaming at the top of their lungs. Normal, you say? Well, the thing is, even though they were playing, the screams were blood-curdling, as if someone was in danger. They “play-screamed” things such as, “No! Stop! Help! Get off me! You’re killing me!!!”

Once I saw their father coming outside, I thought he’d put an end to these heart-wrenching screams. Instead, he just joined in! Now he was “play-screaming,” too! The Judge Judy in me shook her head: A mother would never do that! But perhaps she would. And maybe this is just how they express themselves. The thing is, I could spin it in my mind to say, At least the kids are outside on a beautiful day, and their father is spending time with them.

The thing is, it’s a big world, and there is a wonderful way for me to share it with all my neighbors: knock off the stone-throwing and the nit-picking and focus on the bountiful blessings in my own life. And, while I’m at it, I’d better put the Judge Judy in my head on mute.

Mayim Bialik, an actress on the sitcom, the Big Bang Theory, showed up at an event dressed conservatively. The caption in a magazine read, “Because she’s an Orthodox Jew, Bialik is forced to dress modestly.”

Huh. That got my dander up. My point is, what’s wrong with dressing modestly? Unless you’re Amish, or, I don’t know, the Queen of England, people look askance at those who dress modestly.

It seems to me that most of the younger generation of stars are habitually unable to find their pants in the morning. “Chronic Pants Loss” must be a thing now. Why else would they show up, as Beyoncé does with astonishing regularity, with only a sparkly top and sheer hose when performing on stage? Surely she can afford slacks, with all of her money, and Jay-Z’s combined. At least a pair of capris!

Don’t get me started, already. I suppose I’m getting to be an old fogey, but here’s some advice for Miley Cyrus. You’re going to be seeing the chiropractor in your golden years, that’s for sure! Twerking? I don’t think so. In my world, that’s called an involuntary spasm. I think there’s a pill for that, dearie. And – confidentially – it’s really not pretty to look at either.

All that said, I really don’t have a beef with any of these celebrities trying to express themselves in whatever way they see fit. It’s still a free country. When I was young, I wore many an outfit that made my mother shake her head, so I know it’s part of the process of finding yourself and your own style. These young folks can dress any way they see fit, but by the same token, no one else should be made to feel bad for choosing to dress modestly.

It’s a big, wide world, and there’s room enough for all of us – Modest Mayim, Blouse-only Beyoncé, and me, sitting here in my Sensible Shoes and Comfy Cardigan. Now, this is living!

One of my guilty pleasures is celebrity magazines. I recently saw a picture of Renee Zellweger, and heard snide comments on social media about the plastic surgery she seems to have had done. Then, a picture of Bonnie Bedelia seemed to show that she’d had work done on her face as well – I thought, she looks like Jennifer Grey, version 2. By that I mean, after Jennifer Grey had her nose fixed, she no longer looked like herself anymore.

But it would never occur to me to make rude comments about them. And I wondered why it is that people feel that they can mercilessly mock celebrities about plastic surgery.

They’re not cartoon characters, devoid of feelings. They read what you’re writing, and it hurts. They care about what others think. And that’s what led them to do this to themselves in the first place.

They’re really not some different breed of human being, living on starlight and moonbeams. They’re you and me.  Whatever it is that we think will make our lives better, our worlds prettier, our struggles more bearable, we do it.  Through the years, I’ve dyed my hair with a canary yellow streak, tried Zumba, gone to Weight Watchers. You name it, I’ve tried it.

In a way, we’re really painting the wrong canvas. It’s not how we look to the world that really matters. It’s how we look at the world.

If we think that everyone is only a sum of their parts – that women are only valid as long as they are young and beautiful and men, as long as they’re strapping and rich – we don’t live in a world that welcomes us. In some ways, we don’t live in the right neighborhood in our minds.

Light yourself up from the inside, and everything you look at on the outside is more beautiful. No nips or tucks necessary. Going under the knife won’t set your life right. The constant care and feeding of your soul is what makes you whole.

Not everything from high school English class stayed in my brain. After all, it was twenty plus years ago. I’d tell you exactly how many years it was, but then I’d be doing math. And that, I just will not do!

But I recall a word that made an impact on my noggin – syllogism, which is a phrase that contains a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion.

An example of a syllogism is: “All men are human; all humans are mortal; therefore all men are mortal.”

So if you buy the implausible premise that all men are human (no offense, males of the species! I kid!!), and agree that all humans are mortal, then all men are mortal. If both of the sentences seem to make sense to you, the major and minor premises would morph into the conclusion.

But a syllogism may also be defined simply as a specious argument.

So this word means either a logical premise leading to a reasonable conclusion or an utterly invalid argument. Huh. Well, that’s quite a broad spectrum.

This is the thing about faith that has been on my mind lately. You can fully, completely, unequivocally believe in an idea, and yet, it can be an absolutely false notion. On the other side of that concept is the fact that many things we do not want to believe in are one hundred percent true.

I’ve noticed many people of faith quoting scripture to make different groups feel that they aren’t welcome to God’s grace. Last time I checked, grace meant “unmerited favor.” Nobody can earn it; it just is. It’s not based on you, but on God.

All of us are children of God. Some of us are gay. Therefore, all gay people are children of God.

Know what I mean?

All of us deserve to be treated with respect. Some of us are atheists. Therefore, all atheists deserve to be treated with respect.

And conversely:

All people of faith pray. Some of us are judgmental. Therefore, some of us who pray are judgmental.

God’s grace speaks for itself, and there is nothing that makes anyone “eligible” for it. Wear your faith like a soft shawl, not armor or spikes, keeping everyone at bay. Live and let live. Still the best advice anyone could ever give.


Have a Mary Little Christmas

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