On Assigning Blame

I know that we all have different beliefs, different ways of looking at things, different reactions and different methods of processing information. We are all different; we all have opinions, biases, fears, beliefs, truths and untruths. These things can divide us or unite us.

In the aftermath of the school shooting in Florida, we are at turns saddened, outraged, angered, hurt, scared and worried. How do these things happen? What makes a person turn his anger and hurt and neglect into the cold-blooded and systematic murder of  innocent people?

This post is not about this single incident in our history. It is not even a diatribe against those who failed to act when they could have saved lives, and those who should have spoken up and followed up but didn’t. It is not political, it is not about laws, it is not about ‘see something, say something.’ This post is about assigning blame.

Upon hearing so many say, ‘where was God in all of this? How could He have allowed this to happen?’ This and all other horrible and senseless acts like this, in my opinion and in my heart, is not about God. It is about people. What I personally believe is this: we were born into this world with all of our talents, gifts, our good and our bad things, our potential and our attitudes. We were also given the gift of free will.

Free will means that God or any other deity does not run our lives; we do. It is our choice to be wonderful or horrific, good or bad, kind or unkind, honest or dishonest. Certainly who we are also hinges upon how we were raised, what are our circumstances were, who were our role models, did we have parents who cared about us and taught us how to be decent people, or were we orphans with no one to care for us? Did terrible things happen to us to make us hate ourselves and everyone else? And the list goes on.

When we decide to do something good or bad, worthy or destructive, kind or malicious; that is a decision we make. It isn’t as if we are all programmed with a “STOP!” button when we chose to do harm. If so, we would all be robots with no will of our own. Free will means that we are responsible for our own actions. This also means that, too often, innocent people are affected.

With all my heart, I mourn the loss of the innocents. I cannot wrap my head around what makes a person launch an attack against others. I weep for those lost, and for all those who are in the agony of those losses. God or whatever deity anyone believes in did not cause this or any other terrible thing to happen; people cause these things.

Free will is both a gift and a double-edged sword. Let us use it wisely.




Now I Can Laugh About It

Oh, the anguish I used to put myself through when I was younger! Did I look all right, were my clothes in style, did my hair look ok, did I have enough/too much makeup on, did I say the right thing to so-and-so? And on it went, each and every day. My mother often said wryly, “the entire world is not waiting for you to grace it with your presence! Go to school!”

All those little trivial things I worried about back then just seems laughable now. That’s the wonderful thing about getting older; the plain truth is that so much of all that just didn’t (and doesn’t) matter. You can’t see it that way when you’re young; but when you get older, you truly understand how unimportant those little trivial things are.

Recently I got an email from a very dear old friend; her brother had found my blog and let her know about it. We connected via email, and it turns out that her mother (who was my mother’s dearest and best friend) now lives with her and her husband. She encouraged me to call as her mother wanted to catch up with me. Of course I was thrilled to catch up with “Auntie Lucy” as well; she and Mom pretty much grew up together.

I called yesterday, and had a great chat with my friend, and a great one with Auntie Lucy. She told me things about my mother’s early marriage with her first husband that I never knew, and was thrilled to hear. I think that Mom was always a little ashamed of that first marriage; or as she would often say to me, ‘the best thing that came out of that marriage was you.’

I never heard a whole lot about my biological father. Any questions I had about him were quickly squelched by both Mom and Dad (who adopted me right after he and Mom married). As a kid, all I wondered about were things any child would want to know; did I look like him? Did I sound like him? Did I have any traits he had? And so on.

Since they wouldn’t tell me anything about him, I grew up wondering if he was some kind of awful person and, if so, did that make me an awful person, too? However, when Mom was in home Hospice in 2015, she was ready in every way to “move on;” to die. She would often grow impatient, saying, “why can’t I GO already? I’m ready to go!”

One day when I was visiting her, she told me that she knew why she hadn’t died yet; she felt she hadn’t been fair about answering my questions about my biological father. She told me everything, and nothing was terrible; they were just two people who were incompatible together.

I thanked her for that, and was relieved to see that burden lifted from her. I felt that the last thing she needed was to feel guilty. So I told her I loved her more than ever, and thanked her again. My reward was to see her face light up with relief.

However, being in contact with Mom’s best friend opened up a new world for me. We talked on the phone for a solid hour, and I heard stories about my mother that I had never heard before. Oh, nothing terrible or shameful; just things she never told me. And, since Auntie Lucy had known my mother since forever, I learned a lot more about my mother.

These stories were like gold to me, and I laughed and laughed all through our conversation. I don’t ever remember feeling this good since before Mom died, and hearing Auntie Lucy talk about her brought her right back to me.

Mom married when she was just 18 years old. She had me a year later, and, in order to put her young husband through college, she baked *beans and sold them. She also took in laundry. She cleaned the little apartment they had until, as Auntie Lucy said, “you could eat off the floor.”

A few years later, she realized that things weren’t going the way she felt they should. She knew that it was time to get a divorce. Her reasoning was this: either three people could be miserable together, or a divorce could free us all to move on with our lives.

Listening to Auntie Lucy gave me both joy and closure. I felt that finally, finally I was hearing about my mom as a real person with issues and problems just like me and everyone else on this planet. I never have missed meeting my biological father because I had a real father in Ned Bullock, the man who married my mother in 1955 and adopted me as his own.

It’s like what I constantly say about people who aren’t strictly “family” but who become family just the same; they are “**ohana.” Blood doesn’t make a family; love and respect does. Talking on the phone to my dear Auntie Lucy gave me gifts I couldn’t have dreamed of; she filled in those tiny little bits of my family I didn’t get to hear before. For this, I will be forever grateful.

Now I truly can laugh about it all!

*Her baked bean recipe is my gold standard for baked beans. If you’re interested, here’s the recipe:

1 lb. dry beans (Soldier beans or Jacob’s Cattle beans are best)

8 cups of water

Soak the beans overnight. Drain. Refill the saucepan with 8 cups of fresh water. Boil until the skins crack open when you blow on a spoonful f beans. Drain and save the liquid. Add to this liquid:

1/2 cup molasses

2 T. brown sugar

1/2 T. salt

1/2 t. dry mustard

1/4 t. ginger

In the bottom of a bean pot place one small onion (peeled of course), add the beans, and top with a chunk of salt pork or one thick slice of bacon. Add the liquid mixture to the top of the beans. Cover. Save the reserved liquid.

Bake for 4 hours at 275. Use the reserved liquid to add to beans as needed to keep the liquid on top of the beans. (If you run out of liquid, just add hot water as needed.)  Remove the cover for the last hour of baking.

Note: the finest compliment I ever received in my life was when I made these beans for Dad; he tasted them and said, “Just like your mother’s!”

**Ohana: “Part of Hawaiian culture, ʻohana means family (in an extended sense of the term, including blood-related, adoptive or intentional). The concept emphasizes that families are bound together and members must cooperate and remember one another.’ (From Wikipedia)


The TV Monitor and Other Unasked For Duties…

Our cat, Bailey (who is #5 in our cat menagerie), was originally my mom’s and dad’s cat. Since their passings, he is now our cat. He has been with us and the other cats for nearly a year, and fits right in with the gang.

That said, he has a habit that none of the others have: he knows exactly where to sit on the TV table to block the signals. He never listens to our “hey—down in front!” pleas, either. For him, it’s the perfect spot to check on everyone, to wash himself, and best of all, to control our entertainment.

We recently found out that Bailey also has another talent: evidently, he can tell time. Now, I don’t mean the kind of time-telling where all the cats decide that it’s meal time. I mean that he walks over us in our bed, takes a long look at the clock, and he knows it’s time for the humans to get a move on.

We have a feeding schedule that works for us all: 9am and 3pm, then 9pm and 3am (luckily, the Crankee Yankee usually handles that last one!). The cats know this, and if we are a few minutes late, they let us know it.

Bailey can emit an ear-splitting howl that wakes up everyone. No one sleeps through it. He also enjoys having what we call a “nightly nutty.” This means that, for no reason we can see, Bailey starts tearing around the house in the evening, and up and down the stairs. Once at the bottom of the stairs where his voice really carries, he will howl his head off so that we ALL can enjoy it…

The other cats are kind of nonplussed about it; they all just look at each other, and shrug in a mutual “meh.”

It’s amazing how cats’ facial expressions can let you know exactly how they feel. All cats seem to do this; they know which expressions will “work” their humans. If we are on the couch, enjoying a cup of frozen yoghurt in the evening, Bailey will park his butt as close to us as possible. Then he does his patented “oh, look at the cute kitty!” look: he looks at the cup and tilts his head over to one side appealingly. It’s mighty hard to resist, and no one knows this better than Bailey.

Well, what can you do? There is an old saying, which we know from our own cat family is absolutely true: “Cats were once revered in Egypt as gods. Cats have never forgotten this.”

And, yes—we completely understand that we are the slaves, not the masters. We’re all used to it….


A Reason NOT to Always Wear Clean Underwear

Note: I posted this a few years ago, but the message still stands true today.

We’ve all heard from our moms or grand-moms: “Be sure you have on clean (also non-holey, non-stained, non-ratty) underpants just in case you get in an accident!”

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure that, if I get into a serious accident, I will probably void each and every orifice in my body at once. So, wouldn’t it be smarter to save those really nice panties for a special non-accident occasion? If I do get into a major accident, the ER folks will probably cut off all my clothes anyway. So why waste my good underthings on people who no doubt toss my torn-up clothes into the toxic waste bin?

It’s not like I have a stash of Victoria’s Secret whoopee-wow undies anyway. My short-lived fling with thongs ended decades ago. As a noted female comic once said, “I spend most of my life trying to get my undies OUT of my butt-crack; why on earth would I buy underwear that will end up there on purpose?”

At a certain age, coverage is not only a good thing––it’s a GREAT thing. In fact, as a sidebar to this entry, if I could invent the perfect underwear for me now, it would be a really good bra that starts at my thighs and goes all the way up to my neck.

But back to the whole ‘wear clean underwear just in case’ argument. I really don’t think that the good folks who save lives daily in the ER would blink twice at a pair of hole-y, stained, ratty underpants. Quite frankly, I’d a whole lot rather have them laugh their heads off about the state of my droopy-assed underpants as long as they save my life. In fact, I may have the following phrase tattooed on my back that reads, “Save ME, not my underwear!”

Seriously, people–-let’s prioritize.

Easy-Peasy Light Suppers

The Crankee Yankee and I are finding that we feel better if we have a big-ish meal around noontime than around 6pm or later. So I am slowly adapting to make “light suppers” that are good for us and pretty delicious. Oh, and easy to put together. (That’s the best part!)

Here are a couple of simple meals we’ve been enjoying this winter:

Simple Meal 1: Baked naans (naans are East Indian flatbread that you can buy in the grocery store). They come two to a package, and are in plain, multigrain, and my favorite, roasted garlic flavor. I have topped them with the following:

  1. A splash of olive oil, chopped garlic, crumbled feta cheese, black olives and shrimp.
  2. A splash of olive oil, sliced tomatoes, onions and mushrooms. Top with cheese if you like.
  3. A splash of olive oil, sliced tomatoes, bacon, spinach (fresh or frozen) and cheese.

Once you’re “decorated” the naans with the toppings, bake them in the oven at 400 degrees for 3-5 minutes.

Along with the naans, I make a simple salad from endive, sliced cukes, green olives with cilantro lime dressing. Another quick salad is simply sliced tomatoes and sliced cukes with some vinegar and salt and pepper.

Simple Meal 2: Pick up one of those wonderful roasted chickens at your grocery store. Once you get it home, strip off the meat and put it aside. (Keep the carcass for making soup later if you like.)

Cut the chicken into easy-to-eat pieces and set aside. Boil up some rice (brown is really good); if you have some chicken broth, use it instead of plain water to give it more flavor. While the rice is cooking, chop up any vegetables you have; red or green peppers, onions, mushrooms, green beans, carrots, tomatoes, etc., and cook them gently in olive oil or butter in a frying pan. Add salt and pepper, and any other seasonings that you like. (I often add a shake or two of tumeric myself.)

When the rice is done, divvy it up into two (or more) bowls, and add in the chicken and vegetables. If you have some roasted cashews or peanuts or sunflower seeds, they are great add-ins. If you want to give the dish an oriental flavor, you can top the bowl with bottled peanut sauce. Or you can make your own; blend smooth or chunky peanut butter with some soy sauce, a bit of sweetener (agave works well, and a little goes a long way).

Simple Meal 3: Buy one of those handy-dandy Caesar salad kits; it comes with chopped romaine lettuce, a small bag of croutons, one of shredded Parmesan cheese, and a pouch of Caesar salad dressing. If you have some leftover ham, chicken, shrimp, steak, etc., add that in as well. Serve with sourdough bread, cheese bread, etc. Easy and delicious!

Simple Meal 4: Then there is the good old soup and sandwich supper. You can’t go wrong with tomato soup and grilled cheese. We’ve made the grilled cheese with ham and hot and sweet mustard, feta cheese with sliced olives and tomatoes, cheese with bacon and onions, and of course, plain old cheese.

The Crankee Yankee and I have been enjoying these simple meals this winter and find that we sleep better having had a lighter supper. Give them a try!

Is It Helping If It Doesn’t Help?

Ever have someone say something that hit you the wrong way and hurt your feelings? As in when someone thinks that they are doing you a big favor when they say, ‘you really should lose some weight; you’d feel a lot better.’ And there you stand, gobstruck that someone would be that rude. Worst of all, when you tell the person that they hurt your feelings, they say ‘well, I’m only trying to help.

As if that absolves them from such a hurtful comment! I really don’t know how any sensible person could possibly think that shaming a person is somehow “helping them.”

While in my early 20s, I would often get lost while driving somewhere. I would get all turned around and end up being really late to wherever I was going. My mother would get exasperated with me, telling me that if I would only concentrate and pay attention, I wouldn’t get lost. (Actually, it turned out that my own over-thinking was what usually got me in trouble.)

Finally I got so aggravated with my mother for constantly telling me that I just wasn’t paying attention. Finally I said this: “when you continually harp at me for getting lost, and then telling me that I am not paying attention to where I’m going, it doesn’t help. In fact, it’s like telling a blind person that if they just paid attention then they could see.” This finally stopped the diatribes and, funnily enough, I stopped getting lost!

Sometimes it may be that the “I’m only trying help” person may be doing a power thing; that somehow they think they know what’s best for you more than you do. Not only that, but they dismiss the violation they have caused in your life because they were only “trying to help.” It’s as though they think that they have done nothing wrong and shouldn’t be called out because they felt they were trying to be helpful.

This is the time to announce that their help is NOT helpful. Either that, or just look them in the eye and say, “duly noted.” Hopefully this will shut them up. Years ago I dumped a friend who was actually no friend as it turned out. Her so-called friendship was harder to take because she demanded so much from the friendship:

  • “If you just did things my way, your life would be so much better.”
  • “A REAL friend wouldn’t treat me this way!”
  • “Your real problem is that you don’t listen to people (meaning her).”
  • “Hi, would you like to come over for dinner tonight? Great! Can you please stop along the way and pick up the chicken, a salad, some appetizers, a bottle of wine and a dessert? Thanks—that would be great—see you soon!

I could go on and on about that phony-baloney friend, but you get the picture. You don’t deserve verbal abuse from a friend or family member, and there is nothing wrong with telling them not to be so rude to you. Should they protest that they are “only trying to help,” tell them that their help is NOT helping. Then drop the subject.

Or, as they say on http://www.etiquettehell.com/ when someone asks a rude question at a party, you just misdirect them by saying “bean dip?” (Check out “bean-dipping on this site; it’s hilarious!)