“Ava the Brave,” One of Many Chapters

Introduction: The Crankee Yankee and I are proud grandparents of Ava, who will soon be four years old. I began writing little stories for her some time ago, and will post them here.

So far, there are four chapters. This one is Chapter Four, called “Ava Gets Into Trouble.”

Chapter Four: Ava Gets into Trouble

One day in the beautiful land of Holli, Princess Ava (also known throughout the animal kingdom as ‘Ava the Brave ,’ ‘Ava the Kind,’ ‘Ava the Good,’ ‘Ava the Comforter,’ and ‘Ava, Picker-up of Crying Ones’) and her parents, Tall King and Golden Queen, were having breakfast together.

It was mid-August, and they were all enjoying crispy pancakes topped with freshly-picked strawberries, blackberries and blueberries. The two dogs, Sir Jack and Sir Ross, were sitting under the table, hoping for a pancake or two.

Tall King announced that he was going to trim the fruit trees that day, and Golden Queen said that she was going to weed the gardens. They asked Princess Ava to put the dishes in the sink and brush the dogs.

As everyone got up from the table, Princess Ava quickly tore a pancake in two and gave half to Sir Jack and a half to Sir Ross.

Princess Ava watched her parents start their work, and she went to get the brush for the dogs. She carefully brushed both dogs until their coats shone like glass. Satisfied, she went outside with them to show them off to Tall King and Golden Queen.

But when she opened the door, both dogs ran straight for the pond, which in the warm weather had turned into a large mud puddle. Before she could say a word, the dogs happily jumped right in the middle of the mud and rolled and romped in it. Their coats quickly became full of wet, sticky mud, and their previously clean coats were sodden and filthy. Princess Ava rolled her eyes and called them back. But they were so happy being dirty that they ignored her and went right on playing.

So Princess Ava decided to walk down to the river to see if they would follow her, jump in and get clean again. As she walked, she heard the contented ‘chug-a-rum, chug-a-rum’ of the frog king, King ShoShee, singing to his large family. She sat on the warm wooden dock, took off her shoes and dangled her feet in the cool water. As she idly splashed her feet up and down, she noticed a large dark shadow just beyond her feet. She looked down and saw a large fish swimming by. It kept swimming near her feet, and she leaned forward to get a better look.

SPLASH! Princess Ava overbalanced and fell right into the river. She remembered Golden Queen warning her to never swim by herself as the current could be strong. She knew how to swim, but she felt the current pulling at her feet and legs and, as hard as she tried to swim back to the dock, the current pulled her away. She began to panic, realizing that no one knew where she was. She tried harder to swim to the dock, but her arms and legs quickly become tired and harder to move. Her head slipped under the water, and she came up fast, coughing and choking.

Suddenly she felt two rubbery objects under her feet, and she realized that two somethings were holding her up. A ring of frogs appeared around her, and a chorus of little voices cried, “Don’t worry, Ava the Brave! King ShoShee and his brother, King Ranta’an will hold you up!” Princess Ava saw that she was surrounded by dozens of frogs of all sizes, some of whom she remembered moving from the pond to the river when the pond was drying up.

The ring of frogs moved close together until they surrounded Princess Ava. As the two kings steadily held Princess Ava up, they began swimming her toward the dock. The rest of the frogs supported her arms and they all slowly moved her back to the dock. Once she grasped the ladder, she pulled herself up. King ShoShee and King Ranta’an popped up and cried together, “Princess Ava, are you all right?”

“Yes, I am, thanks to you and your family!” said Princess Ava, her arms wrapped tightly around herself. “I thought I could swim back on my own, but the current is so strong!” She shuddered.

“Yes, yes, we know—it is very strong, but we frogs are used to it now. Princess Ava, you must promise us that you will never swim in the river alone again!” said King ShoShee.

“Princess Ava,” began the other frog, “I am King Ranta’an, brother to King ShoShee. I and my people know of your bravery in moving his family from the pond to the river. Because you did, my brother and I are together again and have merged our families.” He nodded to the circle of frogs, all of whom smiled and nodded at Princess Ava. “I, too, must ask you to please be careful from now on. You are much too important to risk your life, and any of us would gladly give our own life for you.”

Princess Ava bowed to King ShoShee and King Ranta’an, and thanked them and their people. She had been thoroughly frightened and was very grateful for their help.

Suddenly a very dirty Sir Jack and Sir Ross appeared over the hill, saw Princess Ava and ran to her. All the frogs ducked below the water with small plopping sounds. “Thank you! Thank you all!” cried Princess Ava. She hugged the dogs, mud and all, and together, dirty but happy, they walked up the hill to the house.

As soon as they got to the top of the hill, Tall King and Golden Queen came running to meet them. Princess Ava hung her head, knowing she would be in a lot of trouble. But she had no way of knowing that the two frog kings, King ShoShee and King Ranta’an, had already sent messengers ahead, Squire Greenspot and Squire Plinkott. They told the king and queen what had happened, and that Princess Ava was safe.

That night, over a dinner of sliced ham with sweet potatoes and an enormous salad of mixed greens, fresh tomatoes, black olives and chopped celery, Tall King and Golden Queen heard all about the brave frogs from Princess Ava. She promised them that she would not go near the river again without them, and they promised that they would always look after King ShoShee and King Ranta’an and their families.

As Princess Ava lay in bed that night, with her arms looped around Sir Jack and Sir Ross (now clean again), she remembered how frightened she had been in the river and how her friends, the frogs, saved her. She thought about how wonderful it was to be part of a family and to have friends.

As the moon climbed higher into the sky, far beyond the treetops, Princess Ava listened to all the frogs singing their songs. They sang about her, Ava the Brave; and Sir Jack and Sir Ross, Tall King and Golden Queen, about friendship, love and family. As she drifted into sleep, she still felt the small but strong bodies of the two kings under her feet, lifting her up.

When the moon was high enough to bathe the house and grounds with silver light, Princess Ava was fast asleep, dreaming and smiling.

The One Word, The One Name That Matters

I have become quite a fan of the Kindness Blog (check out kindnessblog.com and you’ll see what I mean). There are many, many stories of the power of kindness and how that power changes lives.

I recently read “One Word That Can Bring Us Back to What Matters” — by Rachel Macy Stafford, posted March 16, 2015, which is all about the power and the magic of hearing our own names spoken aloud. It is said that we respond mentally and viscerally to the sound of our own names. Hearing our name said aloud resonates within us as nothing else can.

This is from the end of Ms. Stafford’s entry; she said she felt as if she had been given a formula for a more meaningful connection in this impersonal tech-before-people age, and it is this:

“Speak his name.
Sing her name.
Whisper his name.
Cheer her name.
Pray his name.
Celebrate her name.

Say it with fondness.
Say it with tenderness.
Say it with reverence.
Say it with kindness.

Attach it to soul-building words like:
You are my favorite.
You are enough.
I believe in you.
I’ve been thinking about you.

Take a moment to remember the time, thought, and care that went into choosing the name of the person standing before you and then say it—say it as if it’s the most beautiful word that ever came from your lips. This one simple action holds the power to strengthen weak connections … make lowly shoulders rise … let someone know he is not forgotten.

Today, let us not forget.

With one single word, we have the power to heal the past, pause the present, and illuminate the future.

Simply say it with love.”

Spiders Know I Hate Them

I don’t like spiders. I have never liked spiders. I hate to be picky, but they embody two things that I really hate: 1) they’re creepy-looking, and 2) they scuttle. I think that if they just strolled around instead of scuttling, I might like them better.

No, I wouldn’t. There is absolutely nothing I find redeeming about them, and I’m a person who can find something nice about nearly everyone. But spiders? No. They are horrible, and worst of all, they all know I hate them.

One time I found one on my window shade, which was down at the time. I quickly snapped the shade up so it made that satisfying ‘flappity-flap-flap-flap’ that meant it wasn’t coming down anytime soon. I figured that the spider must have expired; I mean, to a spider, that would have been like a train wreck, right?

Days later, when the sun became so bright I had to pull the shade back down, there he was. And he was not dead, either. He slowly pulled himself up to his former size and then scuttled off. I just know he knew I did it, and was going to come after me in the night. So I stayed overnight at a friend’s house. I would have moved right out of the apartment, but couldn’t afford to. The next day I vacuumed every square inch of the place, hoping I sucked him up. Just in case I did and he was still in there, I put the vacuum cleaner out in the hall.

I read somewhere that most of us will unconsciously eat several bugs (including spiders!) while sleeping. So I tried sleeping with a gauze mask over my mouth, only to find it on the floor in the morning. I certainly never remembered taking it off, either. I think that spiders removed it, and then jumped into my mouth.

Years later when I found I had sleep apnea, I was thrilled to go to bed each night wearing a bipap mask. HA! No way those eight-legged little suckers could stroll down my throat whenever they pleased! I slept extremely well not only because I was wearing the mask, but also because I knew that there was no way any spiders could get to me.

And then I thought, ‘oh no! The HOSE!’ There is a long hose that attaches to the mask, and I started thinking about if the spiders figured out how to sneak down the hose. That way they could bide their time until I attached the mask to the hose, turned on the machine and then they would be jet-propelled into my airway!

So that meant an entire afternoon of taking the machine apart and cleaning it and the hose, then closing the end of the hose with masking tape. That way I could be sure that my hose, mask and airway would be spider-proofed until I hooked up for the night.

Well, creepy little masterminds that they are, they begin to appear that very night one by one on the ceiling right over my head. I was forced to detach myself from the mask, turn on the light and then hunt them down and kill them. Only then could I get back in bed and re-attach myself, settle into sleep. Then I thought ‘wait a minute. If you see one spider, there must be more!’ Then I’d have to get up again and go hunting.

Well, I suppose that by now you think that I’m making this much more than it needs to be. But really, they are smarter than we give them credit for–they really do know that I hate them and they are out to get me.

But at least we don’t live where the spiders are as large as snow crabs and hairy to boot. Let’s hope that they don’t have some kind of arachnid “Inter-web” to let the big ones know where we live.

So Not in Control

No, I’m not talking about losing your TV remote. For those of us afflicted by GBBPS (Great Big Bossy Pants Syndrome), we feel we have to have control over everything. Oh, we say don’t care if someone who offered to vacuum that day didn’t–but we do. We just smile when someone forgets to pick up the cake for the surprise birthday party, but behind the smile we are gritting our teeth to powder.

I’ll tell you from experience that it’s no easy job holding up every corner of my world. In our house, I’m the one who stays up and makes sure that the porch light is on, the doors and windows are all locked, the stove is off, the computer is shut down, the dishes are put away and the dried-on glup on the kitchen counters is scrubbed off. It’s not that I don’t trust that others (and by others I mean the *Crankee Yankee) will do what they say they will do…ok, yeah–I do mean it. I am also a big second-guesser.

It’s just that I feel I do some things better than anyone else. Especially making the bed, folding the laundry, and making sure that the toilet paper in the bathroom goes under, not over. Trust me, I can name many more activities.

I’ll admit it; I’m looking at OCD in the rear-view mirror. I like having some things in my life predictable. Last night I lazily mentioned to the Crankee Yankee that I would like it if we could paint the living room ceiling (we put up sheetrock seven years ago). He told me that, in order to paint the ceiling he would have to strip the wallpaper off the walls, one wall at a time. WHAAAAAAAAT?!?!

I said, “all that just to paint the ding-dang ceiling?” Of course, that led into a conversation about how things like this should be done. After all, he has been an excellent carpenter all his working life. In my view, just paint the ceiling already and leave the wallpaper as is–even though I hate wallpaper, it’s preferable to stripping it all off, a wall at a time…which means prepping the wall, putting new sheetrock up, priming the wall, then painting the wall.

And of course all furniture will have to be moved and covered while this goes on–ONE WALL AT A TIME. The very last bit? Painting the ceiling!

But that’s how life goes in a house–there is always something that needs doing. I grew up in a pre-fab house, which meant very little needed to be done. Anything major that did need doing was hired out; done and done. After I left home, I lived in different apartments where, if something went sideways, you just called the landlord and he got it fixed…eventually. So I never had the dubious pleasure of living in a partial construction zone.

So a control freak like me is pretty much riding a permanent roller-coaster in our circa 1953 house where there are many things that need to be done, should be done, and “might could” be done. But you know what–that may just be the saving of me and my GBBPS. A very dear friend of mine recently reminded me that facing the hind-end of our comfort zones is where real progress starts.

In the final analysis, there is this–I will probably never stop all my pushiness, but I can certainly dial it back some. In our nearly 13 years together, the Crankee Yankee is much more flexible about changing plans and adjusting his expectations. Then there are the three cats, all with their own agendas. But we all can agree on one thing: we love each other and we are willing to give each other a break.

Control is two thirds illusion anyway.

*My mom informed me recenlty that I can quit putting “(my husband)” after the “Crankee Yankee;” that surely everyone knows by now who he is.

Being Our Own Cheerleader

I had a long and heartfelt talk with a dear friend last night and we talked about many things. Not *shoes and ships and sealing wax and whether pigs have wings, but of life and fear and challenges and changes. We distract ourselves often so as not to face these things, but there they are, all the same.

I have been a writer since I first learned how to write, and my best communication is done through writing. I am not a good speaker, and am an easy crier as well, which doesn’t help me communicate any better. Hence, I write my feelings out. Writing is easy to edit; spoken words are not.

This friend of mine gently pointed this out, and while my preference for communicating is to write, hers is to talk. We had a heartfelt meeting of the minds, cried a little, shared a lot, and at the end, we both promised each other to reach beyond our comfort zones. I’ll call more, she’ll write more. Per Neale Donald Walsch, “life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” I couldn’t agree more.

She also mentioned ‘being our own cheerleader’. That comes when no one is around, there are no distractions, and friends and family have their own issues that take up their time–that’s when you’ve got to pull up your pom-poms and wave them like mad. We have to cheer ourselves on, but before we can do that, we have to face what’s bothering us.

If you are anything like me, you squirm and wriggle away from unpleasant things. You’d do anything to avoid unpleasantness, and trust me, I know all about distractions to keep out of my own head. Just show me a mental mess I really need to deal with, and I’ll take anything on to keep from facing it. Some of my favorite avoidance tricks include:

  • Brushing our only long-haired cat. He hates it, but it keeps me busy.
  • Cleaning the bathroom (what a metaphor for cleaning up your own s***!)
  • Making jewelry.
  • Going out to lunch.
  • Complaining and sighing (loudly) about all the work I have to do.
  • Filing paperwork (just about as exciting as watching paint dry).
  • Looking for (and finding and cleaning up) hidden spots of dried cat vomit under the bed.
  • Organizing my jewelry.
  • Deciding I need to make chicken soup from scratch.
  • Playing my ukulele.
  • Going for a “nature walk.”
  • Clearing off the entire kitchen counter top area, and then cleaning up everything that was on it.
  • Organizing the fruit in the fruit bowl by color.

…and so on, just to keep from looking too far inside at what really needs fixing. Fear of what might happen is my biggest downfall. Despite all my cheery talk of being positive and proactive, I often find myself stuck like a fly in amber emotionally–I can neither move forward nor back. The only way I can pull out of this is to pretend that a friend is sitting in front of me, worrying her head off. I tell that friend that worrying is like rocking in a rocking chair. (Sure, you’re doing something, but you’re not getting anywhere.)

Then I take it a step further, and admit to myself that I am that friend, and take my own advice. Sometimes this works for me, sometimes it doesn’t.

So, I thank my friend for reminding me to go straight to my virtual pom-poms, avoiding my usual time-suck of distractions, and just face it, already. Good friends don’t always agree with us; sometimes they tell us what we need to hear. Hearing becomes doing, and doing becomes cheerleading.

Today I am dusting off my pom-poms.

 

 

*From “The Walrus and the Carpenter” by Lewis Carroll (from Though the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872).

 

Doubt? Fear? Worry? This is Not Who We Were Meant To Be

Anyone who watches the news is daily bombarded with negativity and fear. A boiler in a home blows up, sending shrapnel flying, narrowly missing a sleeping child. A tiny country near Australia is nearly decimated by a cyclone; nearly all businesses and homes are washed away. A home invasion turns deadly, and most of a family is killed. A plane carrying over a hundred souls vanishes without a trace. Terrorists shoot shoppers in a mall.

And so it goes, hour after hour, day after day, week after week. The sheer negativity is stifling, and we begin fear everything and everyone. We fear to go to public places because there may be another mad bomber out there. We are afraid to travel; terrorists may take over our plane, train, bus, etc. We worry when our loved ones are away from us; terrified that something will happen to them that we could have prevented.

This is so hard on our minds, bodies and souls. We are not meant to be so fearful–we are magnificent souls inside marvelous bodies and sound minds. We are here for a reason and a purpose–we are here to live our lives to the fullest and make the most of them.

So how do we break away from that big black cloud of worry, fear and negativity all around us? How do we find happiness, peace of mind, tranquility and joy in and amongst it all?

I stumbled upon this web site: http://breakthroughmindandbody.com. It’s pretty interesting. On it, I found the following eight things that happy people do:

  1. They accept change. Change is one of the only certainties in life. Happy people don’t resist change, they roll with it and accept that it can happen at any time.
  2. They build healthy habits. It takes 21 days to create a life-long habit. Happy people put in the time to build a healthy life of eating well, exercise, personal development, gratitude, hobbies, giving back, and everything else they find fulfilling.
  3. They have strategies for coping. How you respond to challenges in life is what shapes your character. Happy people have developed coping skills and other techniques that allow them to deal with anything thrown their way so they can return to their usual happy state as soon as possible.
  4. They avoid social comparisons. Comparisons can be poisonous. Comparison discredits & dismisses any progress you’ve made. Happy people are aware of the times they feel the need to compare themselves to others, and instead choose to only compare their current state to an earlier version of themselves.
  5. They actively pursue their goals. Goals are mere ideas or dreams when you don’t pursue them. Not taking action only allows you be happy when you’re in that ‘daydream.’ Happy people take constant action to reach their goals.
  6. They give. Happy people understand that being generous never made anyone broke or unhappy. Whether it be time, money, resources or their wisdom, the happiest people I know are also some of the most giving people I know.
  7. They value relationships. At the end of life you probably won’t be thinking about all the time you spent at work; you’ll be thinking of the time you shared with friends and the special moments with loved ones. Happy people place a lot of focus on their personal relationships. They understand that putting people before money is a powerful tool.
  8. They follow their passion. Whether it be a miserable job or toxic relationship, happy people are okay with moving forward. Happy people aren’t afraid to leave their comfort zones to pursue something they truly care about.”

These eight things stuck with me. We may not be able to do all eight, but even one or two is sufficient to make a positive change. Even just turning off the news for a while will help. Reaching out to a friend helps. Trying out a new hobby helps. I recently started taking ukulele lessons and am enjoying it so much.

Each night the Crankee Yankee (my husband) and I set out cat food, water, and beds (cardboard boxes lined in thick fleece blankets) for the strays who may shelter up under our porch. We leave the door open about a foot, and we usually get a conglomerate of one or two cats, skunks and raccoons nearly every night. It isn’t a big or momentous thing to do, but we sleep better knowing that “our critters” have bed and board.

Little changes, small things–they all add up to less fear, more love, more kindness, more compassion, more joy, and more positive things. We must not, can not let fear rule us. I say we take reasonable precautions; i.e.; check your boiler, lock your doors and windows, eat your vegetables, don’t take candy from strangers, etc.

Let’s live as we were meant to–happy, healthy, free, positive and with great joy.

 

 

Elephants

The elephants, they sway

In majestic array

They go where they please–

Baby pachyderm sneezes,

And finding water, they play

Douse each other in spray–

Aunties help lift the baby

Out of the water, and maybe

Let him sleep safe between their knees

Snoring and smelling of honey bees

The adults’ massive feet that pound the dirt

Are gentle when one they love is hurt–

Their trunks stretch out to pat

Any hurt places others have that

They can’t reach alone,

So others gather and loan

Their help where it’s needed.

They give silent thanks that are heeded

By all who walk together,

In all the changes of weather–

They can be a chatty bunch

Or can be cranky when missing lunch.

But their community is strong

Where even when one is gone,

They are remembered in elephant dreams–

Here and there a tear gleams

In an ancient and wrinkled eye.

And they move on with a collective sigh.

When elephants grieve

They know when to leave–

Their tributes paid,

They walk away.