Mimsy and I Fend for Ourselves

Mrs. Poppy went to a concert tonight with some friends, leaving Mimsy and I to fend for ourselves. We could have gone through some fast food drive-thru, Mimsy would not have objected to some French fries, but I wasn’t in the mood, and I was the one that would have to drive since Mimsy can’t reach the pedals, so we just stayed home.

A quick inventory of the pantry yielded the makings for a respectable meal; orecchiette pasta, some tiny “gourmet” tomatoes, and a wedge of parmesan cheese. It was tailor-made for a variation of “cacio e pepe.”

I could have sautéed the tomatoes, but roasting would yield a more intense flavor and provide me with some time to putz around on the computer.

Mimsy was content with a gourmet meal I prepared, consisting of a 50-50 mix of dry kibble and soft dog food. She rarely critiques my food prep skills.

It’s rare that I’m cooking for one, it certainly complicates things. Pasta is a great solution for controlling portions, just toss in as much as you need.

Mimsy is not much of a conversationalist, leaving me to do most of the talking. This must be how  Mrs. Poppy feels, as I tend to be the quiet one.

Some chopped spinach was a last minute, unplanned addition to the pasta, but a welcome one.

I’m a little over a year away from retirement. There is always the question of how spouses react from being together a few hours of the day to being together 24-7. I think we will be just fine.

Right now I need to go down and clean up the kitchen, and maybe toss a few McDonalds wrappers around.

Why Me? (a most human cry)

It is said that even more intimate, more personal than the phrase, “I love you,” are the words, “I understand.”


If you live long enough, there is a good chance that you will experience one of these situations:

  • The doctor walks into the waiting room after what seems days, not hours, the expression on his face is grim. He delivers news you do not want to hear … you or someone you love dearly has a terminal disease.
  • You receive a call from a law enforcement officer or a family member informing you of a …  tragic auto accident … drug overdose … suicide … unexpected death.
  • Your spouse informs you that they do not feel fulfilled and are seeing someone else.
  • Your boss takes you aside, thanks you for your years of service, then informs you that those services are no longer needed.

You feel abandoned, betrayed, … the human reaction is to look skyward and scream … “Why me?”


A little over two thousand years ago the God-man hung on the cross and in his dying throes cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

As the divine left the human, as hope fled, as a sense of abandonment and betrayal settled in, he could have just as well said in modern English … “Why me?” What did I do to deserve this? And this coming from the last person without sin.

Of course we know this was not the end,  the story continues. These were not his last words on the cross. His final pronouncement in purely human form was, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Words of reunion, words of an absolute trust in the darkest of times.

Those are words of hope and promise and I cling to those words, but I also take comfort in those words uttered when things seemed hopeless and dark.

As someone who is very much human, I can relate to “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I can relate to, “Why me?”

This is a reminder to me that as Christ walked among us, he experienced the ups and the downs, the good times and the bad. He experienced loyalty, but also betrayal … life, but also the death of someone he loved. Most importantly it lets me know that in addition to His unconditional love … He understands!

Happy Easter, Poppy

I Almost Clicked On It!

Mimsy needed to go out one more time for the night, but it was too early for our last stroll of the day. To kill some time, I went down to the kitchen to finish cleaning a skillet that was soaking. I told Alexa she could resume the playlist that had accompanied the evenings meal prep. Somewhere between drying the skillet and cleaning the chef’s knife that shouldn’t go in the dishwasher, I checked my phone. By checking my phone, I don’t mean examining the disconnected rotary dial instrument hanging on the kitchen wall, the one with the long curly cord. I mean the smartphone that was in my pocket, the one that goes pretty much everywhere I go, the one I have a hard time ignoring.

I had an alert informing me that a new post had been created in the 15 minutes since I last checked my phone  … “25 uses for Wood Ash.”

I almost clicked on it.

It’s not like it was an announcement for Vampire Sex Kittens … there is certainly nothing wrong with wood ash, but I don’t have any wood ash. I also don’t have the time, capacity or interest, to know what to do with wood ash … yet I had to fight the urge not to click on the link. (Admit it, you secretly want to know the 25 uses for wood ash).

I am what is referred to as “of a certain age.” For those in their 30’s, I’m frightfully old, for those in their 80’s, I’m wistfully young. There are scarce rewards to being of a certain age, but there are a few. One of those benefits is perspective. I remember driving cross-country as newlyweds with Mrs. Poppy. We drove for days armed only with a wad of traveler’s checks for currency, a bag of paperbacks for entertainment, a roll of quarters for toll roads and AAA TripTiks for navigation. We blissfully didn’t miss GPS systems, satellite radio, or smartphones, because none of those were yet invented. Somehow we survived.

Being of a certain age, I’m also learning my limitations. I own a 32′ extension ladder that fully extended will barely reach the gutters of our 1890 house. No thank you. Not gonna happen. At one time, yes, but not anymore. A man needs to know his limitations.

I can’t prove this scientifically, but I believe one of my limitations is how much information my brain can hold, whether it’s important information like passwords, which seem to dissipate into the nether about 15 minutes after creating them, or truly useless information like the latest CNN headlines.

I have a fear that if I upload the 25 uses for wood ash into my brain, that it will displace an equal amount of information out the back of my brain, never to be retrieved. A man needs to know his limitations.

I’m hardly a Luddite, in fact I love my technology, yet I can’t help but wonder if the net sum doesn’t fall into the negative territory. The internet is an endless series of rabbit holes, constructed for us to jump into, only the emerge from the other end 15 minutes later having learned nothing of true value, or worse being exposed to half-truths, innuendo and malice.

If I added up all the time spent on jumping into those rabbit holes could I have written “The Great American Novel?”

Probably not.

But maybe, “The Average to Slightly Below Average American Novel.”

A man needs to know his limitations.

Poppy

A Giant Leap of Faith!

Somewhere between 4 and 64 (my current age) I realized “Superhero” would never be on my résumé. I had to accept that I will never leap over tall buildings with a single bound, I will never have Spidey-sense, shape-shifting or invisibility abilities. Crowds in the street will never gaze skyward as I defend them from invading aliens. Not having any superpowers was great disappointment to me.

My first clue to my non-superhero status came about age 5 or 6. I constructed a cape from an old bed sheet and tied it around my neck. Arms thrust in front of me, I ran as fast as I could across the backyard, but gained no altitude. Undeterred, I reasoned that perhaps jumping from a height would yield better results. Our backyard was tiered with a set of concrete steps leading down to a patio of concrete blocks. I jumped from the top step, it was a leap of faith. Once again I gained no altitude but proved the law of gravity was still in effect and that the density of concrete was greater than my palms and knees.


I have a fair amount of kitchen gadgets. Some of them gifts, some I have purchased. Many of the gadgets are rarely used. If interested, I have a food processor, untouched, still in the original package. I’m sure it’s a fine processor, it got great reviews on Amazon, but I’ve gotten pretty good with a chef’s knife and it’s a lot easier to clean than a food processor.

There is one gadget however that I would have a hard time living without,  my Amazon Echo. It doesn’t slice or dice, but it does compile a running grocery list as I get low on ingredients but most importantly it provides a musical score while I cook. Over the years I’ve created many “stations,” some based on artists ranging from Dave Brubeck to Jimi Hendrix. Some of the stations are seasonal, such as Christmas music, some based on broad categories, like piano jazz. When we brought my mother home to live with us during her final days, I created a station of southern gospel music for her to enjoy.

Often the events of the day will suggest an artist and I will select Nora Jones, Johnny Cash or Alison Krausse accordingly. Many times though I will just tell Alexa to shuffle my stations. This is when things get interesting. To hear anything by Lightnin’ Hopkins meld into Eric Clapton’s acoustic version of “Layla” is a thing of beauty.  The transition from Nora Jones to Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” restores my faith in humanity.  But the jump from the Allman Brothers to Paul Simon to the Gaithers can be jarring. And  it’s darn unsettling to hear Bing start crooning “White Christmas” in the middle of July.

I could cull down the list, but prefer to keep it as it is. To me, it’s a metaphor for life, because you never know what’s coming next.


Somewhere between 4 and 64, I’ve learned that life rolls out in front of me in ways  I could never imagine. It doesn’t ask my permission or seek my advice. Sometimes its pleasant, sometimes unexpectedly bad. Life can jump from “soft jazz” to “heavy-metal” in a nanosecond. Not having any true superpowers to get me through these transitions, my only option is “to just not suck,” and that’s on a good day.

Life comes with no guarantees … well there is that “Law of Gravity” thing, I’ve learned to count on that. But beyond always falling down and never up, pretty much everything else is a step into the unknown. There are no money-back options or free trial periods in life.

We learn at an early age that life is not fair, whatever “fair” is. As we get older and acquire some wisdom along the way, we learn that grace and mercy are desired over fair. Fair implies justice … no thank you!

Mimsy has this funny thing she does when we take her to the vet. As the veterinarian checks her heart beat, pokes and prods during the examination, Mimsy will look straight ahead, never making eye contact with the vet. It’s as if she doesn’t acknowledge what is happening to her it will just go away. I’m tempted to take that approach to life. If I slowly sip my morning coffee, if I sidle out the front door, never making eye contact, perhaps life will leave me alone for the day. Sadly this never works.

You might as well brew your coffee strong. chug it down in big gulps, take a running start on the day and jump as high as your can, because life is one giant leap of faith!

Happy landings … Poppy

 

Where Does the Love of God End?

It has been a week of shock and revulsion. It has been a week of “how did we get to this place as a civilized country.” It has been a week of weeping for the most innocent and helpless among us. It has been a week for Psalms 139.

Even the most hardened of atheists would not deny the beauty of the poetry found in this Psalm. For those of faith, its beauty extends beyond the poetic.

It begins with the acknowledgement of God’s unconditional love through every part of our lives from our mother’s womb, For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made… to If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there,  If I rise on the wings of the morning, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me.”

The Psalm ends with the writer’s struggle in dealing with evildoers, If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!” (sentiments I can relate too)

It is a Psalm written thousands of years ago, it is a Psalm written for today.

It is also a Psalm of intimacy, a Psalm of a one-on-one relationship between us and God, a Psalm of “You” and “I”, . (You know when I sit and when I rise).

Even more intimate than, “I love you,” are the words, “I understand.”

The King James translation says it like this, “thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.”

Sanctity of life extends beyond the unborn, newly born, impaired or aged to all of us. It is God saying, “I understand” through every trial and difficulty life throws at us. As Christians the same love and compassion we wish to bestow on the unborn must also encompass their mothers and all people. To the best of our abilities, we must mirror Christ’s love to everyone.

To answer the question at the beginning of this post, the love of God has no limits.

 You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
 You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
 You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
 Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
 You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

 Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
 If I rise on the wings of the morning,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
 They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
 I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Peace, Poppy

Scenes from an Italian Restaurant (with apologies to Billy Joel)

The years and life experiences had softened and rounded both her figure and personality …

St. Louis is thick with Italian restaurants, ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime. Within that range, on a scale from 1 to 10, I would have given this establishment a 7. Family owned, most of their menu selections created within the restaurant, you didn’t get the feeling that everything served there was loaded off a Sysco truck. It was situated along the service road of I-270, in an unpretentious strip mall, in a slowly declining part of town.

My first meal at that restaurant occurred decades ago. My office at the time was on that same service road. I had gone out for lunch with some co-workers and remember ordering the Chicken Spiedini. This is fairly remarkable since it’s a struggle to tell you what I had for lunch two days ago. Fast forward years later, Mrs. Poppy and myself now live just two miles from that same restaurant. It became part of our regular dining rotation when I wasn’t cooking. Most of the time I would get take-out after work, bringing it home for a relaxed dinner with Mrs. Poppy.

The hostess was a middle-aged woman, her given name was Karen, if I ever knew her surname it is long forgotten. She was nondescript in almost every way. The years and life experiences had softened and rounded both her figure and personality, but her eyes were bright, smiles offered generously, her laugh infectious. We had plenty of time to chat as my orders were prepared. She moved back to St. Louis from Florida to live with her mother after a divorce and a serious stroke left her unable to keep her job in the construction industry. She had connections with the family that owned the restaurant and her sister worked there as a bartender. A hostess job seemed the perfect solution to re-entering the workforce after her illness.

Cavatelli Primavera, Tortellini Alfredo, Cannelloni Bianco, Beef Sotto, and of course Chicken Spiedini were all alternately ordered then boxed for the journey home by Karen. We continued to chat during this process and along the way discovered a common interest … books and literature. She rattled off the names of some prominent and prolific authors, laughed and told me she read a lot of their works after her stroke, not because she was a big fan of theirs, but because the plots were so predictable she felt it helped her brain synapses reconnect. Over the years we debated the merits of various authors and traded paperbacks as my orders were prepared.

More often than not, when I returned home and unboxed the take-out, there would be a bonus package; a serving of cannoli or cheesecake, courtesy of Karen. I was particularly happy when it was cheesecake, because Mrs. Poppy is not fond of cheesecake, alleviating any guilt associated with eating the entire portion by myself.

I entered the restaurant after having been away for two or three weeks. Karen was not at her station. I didn’t think much about it and started to walk over to the bar to place my order when the owner hurried over and pressed a generous glass of wine in my hand. He told me that Karen had another stroke and this time it was fatal. It was a somber meal that night.

I continued to go to the restaurant and place my take-out orders at the bar. They had a dependable group of regulars. Conversation was never lacking. Discussions on weather and politics could be counted on. The state of Cardinal’s baseball was a staple of debate … but no one talked about books.

A few months ago, I returned to the restaurant only to find the lights out, the doors locked and a for sale sign in the window. I was not prepared for the emotions and memories that came over me as I drove away from that shuttered restaurant, and it had nothing to do with Chicken Spiedini.


As I mature get older, I am learning about the things that positively effect my quality of life. It’s not about the make of my car or the brand of my clothes. At least for me it is all about relationships.

I am blessed beyond measure to be part of a strong, loving and caring family, my wife, my daughters, my grandchildren. They are my foundation, the bedrock of my life.

I am privileged each week to do meaningful work alongside talented and dedicated co-workers. They and our vocations enrich my life in ways I’m sure I don’t truly understand or appreciate.

I am also learning the value of micro-relationships. The brief interactions with the check-out guy at the grocery store, when he notices my t-shirt and a 15 second conversation ensues about a shared interest.
And of course talking books with the hostess at an Italian restaurant.

Peace, Poppy

Thanks Billy for the title and a great song!

 

 

Sandy and the Accidental Cat

Sandy and I weren’t next door neighbors, at least not in the traditional sense. His property adjoins the rear of my lot at a ninety degree angle. If I walk to the back half of my yard, I can see his house. My first encounter with Sandy occurred not long after we moved in. A tree in my back yard yielded to gravity and fell across the lawn. I was doing my best to cut it into manageable sized pieces with the tools I had on hand, when Sandy strolled over with a chainsaw and an antique logging tool I had only seen in photos.

He stood about 5′ 8″, thin and wiry, bowed legs protruding from a pair baggy shorts. From beneath a Cardinal’s baseball cap, escaping tufts of hair gave a clue has to how he had acquired his nickname.

“Hey, neighbor,” he called out with an accent associated with the Northeast, “Want a hand?”

“Great,” I thought to myself, “Just what I need.” But it didn’t take long to figure out Sandy knew a lot more about cutting up trees than I did, and despite the large gap in our ages, I’m pretty sure he could have worked me into the ground. After our logging labors were over, we retreated to the small deck at the back of his house for conversation and a few congratulatory beers.

Turns out Sandy had been a navigator in the Air Force, flying bombing missions during WWII and later the Korean conflict. He regaled me with stories of his adventures both wartime and peacetime; like the time his crew decided a flight departing from Alaska would be the perfect opportunity to test the bomb bays capabilities for keeping  a load of King Crab legs frozen until they arrived at their home base in Texas … maybe not illegal, but certainly not regulation. Imagine the scene when the bomb bay doors were opened after landing and hundreds of King Crab legs spilled out onto the hot Texas tarmac. There were a lot of happy (and surfeited) airmen that day.

Turns out Sandy also had a fondness for cats. There were no less than 8 to 10 cats sauntering about his property. Sandy was not sentimental enough to give the cats names, he just referred to them based on their coloring and markings. “That calico over there, she just had kittens, I think that orange one is hers and maybe the white one with back feet.”

Sandy’s clowder of cats (yes, I had had to look that up), grew over the years and they started migrating north to our back porch, among them a nondescript grey tabby, that had recently given birth to a litter of kittens.

In the spirit of full disclosure, we are a family of softies. Mrs. Poppy is well known for her habit of escorting insects out of the house rather than squish them. The exceptions being mosquitos, roaches and brown recluse spiders (God have mercy on their little buggy souls).

However “soft” our family might be, that didn’t mean we wanted a crew of feral cats camping out in our backyard. We had to figure out a solution and taking them to an agency where they might be euthanized was not an option.

A little research yielded what seemed to be the perfect solution. St. Louis County had a free (with the help of my tax dollars)  service where they would lend you a live-trap and when you caught the feral cats and brought them in, any kittens or cats they deemed adoptable would be put up for adoption. Older cats would be neutered and returned to you or placed with farmers or someone who might have need of a mouser. Sign me up!

They gave me more details as I filled out the government paperwork. Adult cats who were neutered, while they were under anesthesia would have the top of one of their ears cut off as a means of identification in the future. I answered a series of questions, the last one being … “Any adult cats that we neuter, do you want us to return them to your property or place them elsewhere?”

“Somewhere else,” I quickly replied.

It took several trips to catch and deliver all the cats. I turned the trap in with the last load of felines and returned home feeling smug and smart.


“There’s a cat on the back porch that looks like that grey cat except it’s missing part of one ear, ” Mrs. Poppy tells me three weeks later.

Kismet … there are times when you just have to give in to fate. Through typical government inefficiency, we now have a cat. We could no longer keep calling her, “that grey cat,” so she became “Mrs. G.”

Her ribs are no longer showing and she now has a heated cat-house during the winter months. Mrs. G is a fierce hunter, she is not big but is incredibly fast, her grey coat allows her to become almost invisible in the dusk. To show her appreciation for food and housing, we are regularly gifted with her kills on the front or back door mat. Mice, voles, birds, even small squirrels. To these creatures she must appear as the T-Rex of Elizabeth Avenue.


Sandy is gone.

I am not one to dig up past mistakes, there are so many of them, I’m content to let sleeping mistakes be. I don’t need zombie mistakes shuffling and drooling behind me, besides I have new mistakes to make tomorrow.

But I am not without regrets. Most of those regrets are relational. Times where I could have been more patient, times where I chose to stir things up, rather than be a peacemaker. Times where I could have taken 10 minutes out of my “busy” schedule to spend with someone who needed some company.

Sandy could not cook, he lived off of frozen dinners and prepared foods. I knew that. After major holidays, I would take him some of our leftovers … but only occasionally.

Sandy appeared on his deck as I mowed the back yard. I would occasionally walk over after mowing and talk baseball and politics … but only occasionally, most of the time I was too “busy.”


The chain on the back porch screen door pulls shut with a sound unique to old houses and old screen doors, Mrs. G hears the sound and comes running. I settle on the top step of the stairs leading down to the driveway. She rubs up against my ankles and I reach down and scratch behind her ears.
It is time well spent.