Eileen's Life Lessons

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Are you old enough to remember the conservation efforts of the Jimmy Carter era? When the president asked us to do our best to cut back on energy consumption, I took it to heart. I’m revisiting those ways of thinking now during this Indiana summer plagued with record heat and ongoing drought.

Instead of using the dryer, I’ve hung the towels out to dry. (Not on a laundry line—those are prohibited by our homeowners association—but on the backs of my patio chairs. I’m pretty sure that’s a more offensive sight than those the regulation was trying to avoid!) And we are using water collected in the shower on landscape and house plants. By the time the perfect temperature is reached, we have a stock pot full of clean water.

I still have my downfalls when it comes to environmental efforts–I drive a gas-guzzling minivan, for goodness sake–but I like to think that, overall, Jimmy Carter would be proud of me.

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One young man spent an evening writing a song to a young prom prospect. The serenade ended sadly, his heart wounded.

One young man made a bad decision (or maybe a series of them—I don’t know) which caused him to be expelled. He’ll finish up his remaining months of senior year at a different high school, one where he knows few friends, earning a diploma that will hold less meaning for him.

One young man took a risk, followed his dream and applied to a military academy. Outstanding and upstanding in every way, he received his disappointing news today: Denied admission.

My heart goes out to these young men and others suffering through similar struggles. My heart goes out to the parents thinking of what to say to their sons, how to be a comfort, how to encourage them not to give up.

Fortunately as adults we know that this too shall pass—they will get through it. Another girl will come along, another college choice made and they’ll move forward. But fair or unfair, parts of life are really tough and there’s no way to teach it—it’s gotta be first-hand experience—or to avoid it, I guess. I don’t know what to say to them except, rejection hurts! and I’m sorry it didn’t work out.

Dear friends,

In this age of quick e-mails and abbreviations, we tend to skip a step in addressing our correspondence, just jumping into the “meat” of the matter without any introduction. I guess we can figure out that a message is intended for us if it shows up in our Inbox.

True too we can figure out who sent the message, even without a signature, by the Sent address. But without some sort of salutation at the end of a message, sometimes it feels incomplete, like the writer was interrupted, like when someone leaves without saying good-bye.  I’m frequently guilty of shooting off an e-mail without any social grace, but I’m more engaged when I take the time to address my subjects and choose a salutation at the end. Signing off at the end of a message adds a little something special.

Certain people in my life are known by their signatures. My mom is Love always, Mom. Sometimes she adds forever in there too. Ivette uses Big hugs, and I actually feel her embrace. I knew our friendship had reached a new level when my friend started signing her notes with Vi—what her college friends called her—instead of Vivian. Same with people I’ve worked with forever: We just use our first initials instead of typing out names. To some people I’m ED, to others I’m E.

For years I signed my letters with Peace, which I borrowed from my brother-in-law Terry. I still smile when I see his cards signed that way because I know he means it: He wishes you peace, and that’s a really welcome wish. Nowadays I tend to sign off with Take care, which I borrowed from a co-worker Brian. It seems to fit most relationships, and I ALWAYS really mean it as I type it, whether it’s to a friend who is having a hard time or my tax consultant. Some people are cautious about using Love, but I use it when I feel it.

So here’s to wishing you lots of correspondence today—which means you are popular and/or in demand, at least not being ignored—and lots of opportunity to share your greetings and salutations.

Take care, Eileen

P.S. Have a nice day!

I love movies. I especially love seeing new releases in the movie theater–it’s a whole different experience than watching HBO at home.

My movie buddies and I don’t have especially high standards for our movie selections. We go see every chick flick and teenie-bopper movie without consulting the critics’ ratings. After all, I have my own rating system that doesn’t really jive with the 1-4 stars or “thumbs up” notations. I rate movies on how many tissues I need to get through the touching scenes.

To appreciate my tissue counting system, you’ll have to understand that I am rather easily moved to tears. I’ve been known to cry at commercials and songs I hear on the radio, in church at my favorite songs or readings (my gentle husband seems to always have a Kleenex in his pocket for me), or if a speaker has hit on a topic I can relate to. But I’m especially emotional in the dark escape of a movie theater for some reason. I never enter a theater without at least two tissues.

Last week I went to see a Heartland Film Festival-recommended movie based on a book that I read, Sarah’s Key. I expected it to be a tear-jerker, as the book is about a young girl who escapes the concentration camps of the Holocaust. Turns out it was only a two-tissue movie. The directors didn’t rely much on their soundtrack, and apparently it is music that makes the emotional moments intensified for me. I’ve cried more during Disney films than I did during last week’s movie.

It is a little embarassing leaving the movie theater wiping my eyes, especially after seeing a Vince Vaughn comedy, so I try to play it off as my eyes having trouble adjusting to the light again. But we all know better–I’m just a sap!

I love vacation! Time with family undistracted, sight-seeing, dining out, the break from the routine. Before the post-vacation laundry is caught up, I’m already planning the next trip we’ll take. But after each time away, I also love coming home.

On this vacation I discovered that I do not love New York City. Molly, my 13-year-old, bought one of the iconic T-shirts: I [heart] NY, but I think I’m wavering closer to “like” rather than “love.” Now if they’d offered an I SURVIVED THE HEAT IN NY or an I SPENT ALL MY MONEY IN NY shirt, I’d’ve been all in on that sentiment.

In fairness, once you get used to the assault on your wallet and on your senses—the crowded streets, the constant honking, and the myriad of rather offensive smells—there’s much to enjoy in the Big Apple.

1. Fun shops. Dylan’s Candy Shop was a colorful experience. Name a candy, you can find it there: personalized chocolate bars, gummy anything sold by the pound, fudge, ice cream, the biggest gum balls I’ve ever seen. Three stories of sweet treats.

2. Food vendors. At almost any intersection you can find a hot dog, bagel, gyro, kabob, ice cream or other vendor. Our favorite (thanks to a recommendation from the Van Almelos) was Mr. Softee ice cream. I hope somewhere in Indy I can find the frozen coconut treats I enjoyed there!

3. History. We took some fabulous photos of Lady Liberty and spent the better part of an afternoon reliving the immigrant experience at Ellis Island. Thousands of people left their homelands for the promise of America. Quotes from interviews with interpreters and immigrants from the early 20th century were heart-warming—and sometimes heart-wrenching.

4. Current events. We walked around Ground Zero, saw the Freedom Towers, and visited a storefront museum dedicated to the events of 9/11. Very touching. That was a two-kleenex day.

5. Culture. Here’s why we really went to NYC: to see a Broadway show. And we got to see two in one day thanks to the half-price ticket booth, some inside scoop, and our stamina. The lady who sold us the second set of tickets was so excited that we were having what she called a “two-show day.” Brooke Shields and Roger Rees were marvelous in The Addams Family and Daniel Radcliffe was very impressive in How To Succeed in Business. Who knew this Harry Potter-star could move like that!

So while Molly and I won’t be wearing matching T-shirts, I do appreciate that NYC was the site of some great family time. Just don’t ask me to go back in July.

I love those “pay it forward” commercials. It was a great campaign by Liberty Mutual, each scene showing how one good deed leads to another. Jake and I could’ve starred in one last week if the cameras had been rolling.

It wasn’t really my idea. I speculated that the old church bus/van stalled at the turn light would be too heavy to push. I guess Jake took that as a challenge and suggested that we pull over and give it a try. So we traipsed across traffic to announce to the van driver that we’d come to save the day. At least she didn’t laugh at us. Did I mention that I was in a summer skirt and sandals?

Twenty seconds into the effort, we hadn’t made it budge. I guess the guys in another car didn’t think we could do it on our own so they jumped out and joined our force. Pretty soon the van was rolling out of the intersection. Then a man driving a heavy-duty truck volunteered to push the van, bumper to bumper, down the road and into a parking lot a block away. Problem solved, with a group effort.

I like to think that others who witnessed our rescue went on to do more good deeds, just like in those commercials. But I’m actually grateful cameras didn’t catch me, dressed more for church than for damage control, pushing a 15-passenger van through traffic.

I love my dog, Cooper. Although we aren’t sure of his exact birthdate, since we adopted him from the Humane Society, we celebrated his 5th birthday yesterday. He is very obedient and has come a long way in the 3 1/2 years he’s been part of our family.

I do not love how much he sheds in the spring. And I do not love that, being a protective part-German Shepherd, he scares the BEJEEZUS out of everyone who comes to the door. One little noise outside and he goes crazy. Ten seconds later he’s your best friend, but initially he’s fierce! Except yesterday, when I heard a noise in the garage. Where was my guard dog then?

The noise instantly reminded me that I hadn’t closed the garage door. I also knew instantly that someone was stealing my bike, the second bike taken from our garage in as many weeks. AAHHH!

All 5′ 3″ of me ran after the hoodlum racing away on my bike, yelling about what a jerk he is. It took me about 10 seconds to realize, while seething with anger, that I could hop into my van and catch up with him. Unfortunately our subdivision has just enough turns that I couldn’t find him–and he should thank his lucky stars! I pictured myself slamming this kid off my bike, laying him out flat with one kick to the gut, and taking my bike back home, the perfect television-scene triumph. In my mind I called that kid every name in the book, for all the good it did.

Hours later I recounted the story to my son and I found myself gritting my teeth–a reaction I haven’t had since childhood fights with my own dear brother. Describing the events obviously relit my Irish temper and I felt more swear words coming on. Jake suggested I calm down, I was scaring him, and my laughter at that thought defused my anger for the moment.

If you know me, you probably have a hard time imagining me like this. I’m usually pretty mild mannered and rather sane. But this violation brought out the worst in me.

I should make it a habit to close the garage door between outings, but part of me–the vengeful part of me–hopes this little thief comes back again to take the only bike left, a Malibu pink two-wheeler that Molly’s outgrown. We’ll be ready for him, me and my dog. And both of us have been called “scary” this week…heh, heh, heh.


Mid-Life Realizations & Reflections

43 years of life experience,
19 as a wife,
16 as a parent,
15 as a writer
= thousands of mistakes made,
lots of lessons learned (some learned more than once), and immeasurable amounts of grace received

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