Lawn Mower Battles

"I've gotta disguise myself!" said my enthusiastic 3-year-old son, bounding into the room and scanning the area for supplies.

"Disguise yourself?" I asked him, glancing out the window at my husband mowing the lawn, where my 6-year-old daughter pranced around in the freshly-cut grass.

"Yes!" he said breathlessly. "I've gotta fight off the lawn mower monster and save my sister!"

He grabbed his plastic sword, which handily doubles as a water gun, and shoved his chubby feet into some black rain boots. Then he plopped a cowboy hat on for good measure and dashed out of the room.

As he did, I called out some sort of caution about not getting too close to the lawn mower, and then jokingly yelled, "Be brave!" as the screen door slammed behind him.

Be brave, I thought. Immediately, my thoughts turned to the wives and mothers across our country that say the same thing to their husbands and sons in uniform. But instead of facing a pretend battle with a lawn mower, those troops are facing a real battle with a real enemy. I thought of my hairdresser friend, whose son ships off to Afghanistan next month, leaving a wife and an 8-year-old daughter at home. I remembered how the tears formed in her eyes as I watched her in the mirror and the scissors snipped. She told me how hard it is for her to let her son go and entrust him to the hands of God. I cannot imagine how she must feel. I thought of my grandmothers on both sides, who said goodbye to my grandfathers as they left to serve bravely in World War II before my parents were even born.

Words are simply not sufficient to express my gratitude to the courageous men and women who have put their own lives on the line for our freedom. They are over there at this very moment, sacrificing so much to preserve our way of life, and part of that means that my children are able to play in their yard without fear of real danger. It means that, thanks to those brave souls, my family can live, work, and worship in peace. Many of those who fought have paid the ultimate price. I remember them and honor them on this Memorial weekend.

My little boy wants to defeat his make-believe enemies. Of course, these days, he always manages to do so. I will not always be able to fight his real battles for him, as much as I wish that I could. But no matter what kind of challenges he may face in his lifetime, it's my prayer that he cultivates a courageous heart, the kind that is unwavering, persevering, and strong...like the kind of heart inside those who defend this country.

Lord, watch over them.


Lane Commitment Failure

Everyone knows what it feels like to commit to Lane 5 in the grocery store-checkout line, certain that it will move quickly, when, to your chagrin, the people in Lane 6 get out faster. I call it LCF, or Lane Commitment Failure.

Today I experienced the ultimate LCF. Pork chops in hand and under a time deadline, I quickly surveyed all ten lanes at Winn Dixie before committing to Lane 10. Other lanes were at least 2 shoppers deep, so I felt secure in my decision. In hindsight, I should have been more alert to the fact that a manager was present. That really should have tipped me off to reconsider. But I realized too late that there was some kind of conflict between management and the shopper ahead of me.

To my relief, it seemed to get resolved. The manager walked away. The lady's groceries were all bagged up and in her cart. All she had to do was pay, and bada-boom, bada-bing, I'd be checked out and on my way.

Then, to my utter astonishment, she said to the cashier...and I quote, "Oh, I need to go pick me out some pepper." Before the cashier could respond, the lady squeezed herself past my daughter and me, and strolled...not rushed...strolled over to the pepper aisle, which happened to be right behind Lane 10. I turned around to watch. She was carefully perusing the spices, hand on her hip, examining each of the pepper offerings. She picked one up, looked at it, put it back, and picked up another. And then another.

About that time, a gentleman in a starched white-collar shirt plopped his groceries on the conveyor belt behind mine. He looked at me, and at the cart in front of me full of bags, and at the cashier standing there with nothing to do, since all activity in Lane 10 had effectively been shut down. "We're waiting on a lady to pick out her pepper," I explained to him. He slowly nodded, the ridiculousness of the situation registering on his face.

"I'm so sorry," said the cashier. I told her that it wasn't her fault. The four of us stood there, awkwardly. I glanced back at pepper-lady. She was still there, apparently still weighing her difficult decision between name-brand or generic.

Finally, she sauntered back to Lane 10, and, with some effort, squeezed past starched-shirt gentleman, my daughter and me. Then she thrust the pepper into the cashier's hand without so much as an apology to anyone. I managed to keep my mouth shut. I just continued to stare as the cashier rang up the item and handed the customer her receipt. Amazingly enough, cashier-girl was actually able to thank pepper lady and tell her to have a nice day.

Pepper lady snatched the receipt and made quite a show of examining it closely, frowning, as if she were suspicious that she had been mis-charged. And then, finally, to everyone's relief, she pushed her grocery cart away from Lane 10 with an air of huffy dissatisfaction.

I am not sure if she was oblivious or simply inconsiderate beyond belief, but I lean toward the latter. Either way, I felt that she should be tattled on in a Seinfeld-esque manner, even if only in cyberspace.

If the pepper lady ever ends up behind me in Lane 10, I might just remember that I need to go select a Lean Cuisine.

Those always require advanced decision-making on my part.


My Love/Hate Relationship with Social Networking

I am a social networker. But I have issues...as they say. This is my manifesto.

I have been an official social networker for only a little less than two years. I joined facebook as a result of frequent nagging from my friends and my own insatiable curiosity. Now, two years later, I am stepping back to evaluate how the social networking phenomenon has changed my life.

My life up to this point has followed a predictable pattern - elementary, middle school, junior high, high school, college, grad school, marriage, children, jobs, and various relocations. They say that you're lucky if you make one or two true-blue friends in the course of your entire lifetime. Like most people, as the years passed I was able to maintain contact with a few friends from each one of my life stages, along with my one or two "superfriends."

But there have always been many, many others who had somehow gotten separated from me along the way. Time, circumstances, and the force of change frequently drive friends and acquaintances apart. I was left wondering, "Whatever happened to so-and-so?" And more often than not, the unsatisfactory answer in my head was that I would probably never know.

Then came facebook.

My first few weeks on the site were refreshing. It was like attending a class reunion without all the angst associated with actually having to go. I was astounded to receive friend requests from people I not spoken to (or even thought of, in some cases) in twenty years. I re-kindled old friendships and delighted...for the most part...in finding human connections every time I logged on.

The most fascinating feature about facebook was the allure of the status update. That oh-so-tempting question in the little box at the top of the page: "What's on your mind?"

Really? I thought. The world wants to know what's on my mind? Well, let's see here, a whole lot of stuff! I've got opinions, ideas, and a great life. So I'll just share all about it, since you asked! And while I'm at it, lemme peer into what's on everybody else's minds. I would like to share what I think about their thoughts, too.

And so it began. The endless compulsion to update. To reach out. To entertain. All through that little status update. And why was it so alluring? Because people respond! (Unlike this blog, which rarely gets any comments unless a New Kid on the Block tweets a link to it...full story is here.) But I can instantly tell my 450 facebook friends about the lady at Shoney's who claimed that a roach crawled across her plate just so she could get a free dinner, and instantly, dozens of them are agreeing with me that people have no dignity anymore.

I began to contemplate parts of my day in the form of status updates. In the midst of washing dishes, I found myself crafting a witty one in my head and then running to the computer to share it. And after wading into the waters of Twitter, I found myself doing the same thing there. Before I knew it, I had two separate social networks to manage, which took no small amount of time. Who among social networkers has not, at least once, fallen into the abyss of wasted time -- where what seemed to be only a short half-hour was, in actuality, two?

I asked myself the questions: why are these social networks so popular and successful? How have they managed to permeate our lives in these recent years? Why does every advertisement now carry a line at the bottom beseeching us to follow them on twitter or become their fan on facebook? And above all, why have I been sucked into this vortex?

Of course, there are the boring, practical reasons. It's a simple way to reach many people at once. If you're moving to a new town, then everyone in your social circle can know at the click of a mouse. If you want to invite as many people as possible to some event, it has never been easier to do so. And if you want to have a private group discussion with a few select friends, facebooking is even better than e-mail.

But there are some deeper issues at work contributing to the wildfire success of these sites. Every human being on the planet wants to connect with other people. We are made that way. Social creatures obviously like to be social. In some strange way, these communities are meeting some core human needs. Facebook exploits the term "friends" (as if one could ever assign a real numerical value to the number of valued connections in their life.) But simply look to your facebook profile, and there, for all the world to see, is the fact that you have X number of friends. Therefore, you can either pat yourself on the back, or, well, go to a corner and cry, if you actually take that seriously.

The term “followers,” as it relates to twitter, is also a loaded one, with a connotation of a throng of people behind you hanging on your every word (or tweet), a brilliant strategy on the part of twitter’s founders. So of course, all tweeters are conscious of their follower numbers, as evidenced by tweets like, “Oh no! I lost a follower!” And, “Wow, I gained 50 followers overnight!” And, my personal favorite, “Goodbye, follower, I didn’t need you anyway,” (which, if that were true, the departure of said follower obviously would not have warranted a tweet.) Follower numbers, as a whole, represent credibility in terms of influence. The more followers one has, the more “respected” that tweeter seems to be among the rest of the community.

But whether the voice is far-reaching or not, everybody wants to have one. We all want to be heard. Social networking provides a platform for us. Our very own soapbox, in some cases. And though some might not be brave enough to venture into the realm of politics or religion, they can, at the very least, express why they love milkshakes from Chick-Fil-A. Every time their friends click the "like" button, that facebooker is given not only another reason to bond with those friends, but a dose of personal validation. A pat on the back.

Generally, I tweet in the hopes that someone will respond to what I have to say. When they do, I am delighted. When they don't, I wonder why. When my tweets get “re-tweeted,” or forwarded, I feel especially gratified, as if that somehow proves the worth of my thought.

Which brings me to the more difficult questions I posed to myself:

Why should I care about what the rest of the world thinks about what I think/do/feel/like/say? Don't social networks provide rather shameless environments for ego-feeding? After all, everyone's pages are all about themselves. Millions and millions of numero uno's. After thinking of life in terms of status updates and tweets for many months, I realized that I basically get sick of myself. I also noticed that when I stepped away from facebook and twitter for a time, I felt like I could breathe. There weren't any "voices" in my head, chattering away about mostly meaningless and mundane things. My talking stamp collection got quiet, but for the sake of clarity, it was all for the best in my life.

I still update my pages. I do realize that the world has irreversibly changed. The way that we communicate has been revolutionized, probably forever. Now that social networks exist, they will never cease. However, I have a bit of a new perspective. I've learned several things in recent months:

1) Periodic technology fasts are beneficial, in the same way that we used to re-format floppy disks. Our brains need breaks.

2) Sometimes it is more gratifying to be content with one's own thoughts, rather than broadcasting all of them to the world...even the really good ones that are just burning to come out.

3) Time is precious and fleeting. A little bit of this stuff goes a long way. Just because the abyss is ever-present does not mean that we have to fall into it.

4) A phone call to a real person is infinitely better than a status update.

5) What we think/do/feel/like/say is not required to be validated by someone else's "like", "re-tweet", or "comment" buttons. It is true that we are social creatures, but we are individuals first.
Now, who wants to comment? Don't worry - I'm not holding my breath.

Until next time...


After the Final Rose: Penelope Tells All

Last August, our family ventured into the waters of pet ownership. Since we were not ready to commit to a hairy animal, a bird seemed to be the most appropriate choice.

Below is the riveting story of Penelope, the dud parakeet who had to be returned to Petco...and Oliver, the far superior replacement bird.

Sadly, during the most dramatic rose ceremony yet, a rose was, in fact, NOT extended to anti-social Penelope. The Farris family traded her in today for a friendlier and more active contender named Oliver. Despite the snub, Penelope was quite glad to re-enter the communal living of her former home. At press time, she was dishing about her experiences to the rest of the Petco parakeets on "After the Final Rose," while the media were lining up to interview her for upcoming articles like, "Beyond the Birdie Bin: One Bird's Story of What Might Have Been." Reports are surfacing that a book deal is already in the works for Penelope, who will undoubtedly cash in on her rejection.

"She just wasn't working out for us," said one of the Farris children, age 5.

"She couldn't stand me," said Mr. Farris. "I think she had issues with men."

Jennifer Farris had achieved limited success in breaking through to the problematic parakeeet, but agreed with the rest of the family. "The bird was simply not a good match," she said. "I never felt a connection."

To his advantage, Oliver, a bright green and strapping young specimen, does not have very big shoes to fill. If he does anything besides sitting dumbly in the corner, he stands a fighting chance to win the hearts of the apparently picky Farris family. In a statement this afternoon, Jennifer confirmed that Oliver will stay, regardless of his personality, which should be evident after the first 72 hours. "There is no plan C," she said.

Oliver Soars as Public Opinion Skyrockets

At a press conference today, Oliver went to great lengths to position himself in the minds of the Farris family as a more capable bird than his predecessor Penelope. Earlier this week, Penelope was returned to Petco, due to faltering public confidence in her abilities to carry out her duties as family pet.
Initially, the Farrises had plenty of reasons to believe that Penelope was “the one.”

“Unfortunately, the charisma she displayed in the Petco birdie bin did little to predict her future abilities as pet. She had the look. The charm. But I’m afraid it was all just a ploy to get chosen,” said Jennifer Farris. “Once we got stuck with her, we realized she was all fluff. It wasn’t long before her hidden agendas surfaced. Luckily, we were able to rectify the situation before the entire institution of family pet-hood was re-made in that bird’s image.”

Oliver, or “Ollie,” as he is affectionately known, was eating out of hands as soon as he reached his new home, and he happily puts on shows for everyone’s applause. Even his chirps and warbles have great potential. It’s what the Farrises want in their bird. They want one who will do what it’s supposed to do...who will serve the purposes originally intended for pet birds, as spelled out in the cornerstone document, “The Parakeet Pet-Owner’s Manual,”…without making any sweeping, or even sinister, attempts to overhaul the entire family pet system at once.

Though he does not bear Penelope’s distinction of being the first parakeet ever to enter the Farris home, Ollie is pledging to carve out his own place in history. By all indications, he is well on his way.

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