Monday, September 26, 2005

Sausage on the Street Corner

Over the weekend, my friend Cindy and I decided to drive 6 hours to Milwaukee and spend 48 hours going to baseball games, drinking a few adult beverages and dancing with "boys."

When you spontaneously depart on a whirlwind trip such as this, you don't normally choose Milwaukee, WI as an ideal location. But I'd like to think that my friends and I could pick up our party and take it to any city and have a good time. And that is just what Cindy and I did.

Sometimes a girl's just gotta get away for a day or two. You've gotta turn off the news and put away your work and go somewhere. Anywhere. You've gotta throw caution to the wind. It does a girl good to escape. Even if that escape is truthfully less than 48 hours in Milwaukee, WI. Because escape can bring relaxation and discovery and fun.

My time away brought a lot of discovery. Little things. But in the big picture, I believe each tiny discovery speaks volumes about me. I will let you interpret for yourself. Afterall, I spent all weekend doing the discovering.

With the state of the world and our country being what it is, with so much tragedy and pain striking wihtout warning, what used to be a simple road trip weighs a bit heavier on my mind. During the 6-hour trip, I thought numerous times, "What if something happens while I am gone and I can't get to my family?" I don't ever remember thinking that before in my life.

I now know for certain that there are two things in life that should always be red: Barns and Fire Engines.

If you talk to enough people, you will eventually meet a bull rider.

Compliments go a LONG way and everybody needs them. Even the 6'4" gorgeous guy from the east coast who is a Boston Red Sox fan.

Women are moving to a place where it's ok to talk and make new friends. Life isn't always a competition. And most of the time you meet standing in line for the bathroom.

Sometimes the guy you think you are the least attracted to is the guy who makes your stomach flutter and your knees weak.

You should never be as mean to someone else as they have been to you. In the end, getting revenge won't make you feel any better. It is much more satisfying to walk away with your head held high. Nobody else will know what just happened. But that mean person will and will probably think about it ALL NIGHT LONG. That's revenge enough.

New shoes should be cute AND COMFORTABLE. And they sure as hell should NOT gouge a hole out of your heel. But, if they do, a few beers will make it less noticeable.

Finally, when you leave a bar late at night and you are hungry, there is no better discovery than a Sausage Stand on the corner. A big, ol' Italian sausage and a can of soda make the walk back to your hotel a rewarding and pleasant experience. Especially when you are carrying your new and UNcomfortable shoes in your arms...

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


From the moment of his conception, even before we knew he would be a HE, Kirk has been the love of my life. He is a mighty ball of energy, of joy and unending fun. He beat the odds to get here and some how, deep inside his 3-year-old being, he seems to know that. And already he savors life, taking advantage of his every waking moment and believing, much like his aunt Michele, that there will always be time to sleep... LATER.

Because my sister's story is not mine to tell, I won't. I will simply say that for over ten years, she has battled Bi-Polar disorder. And, from an outsider's perspective, it is a disease that seems to me to be more of a demon at times than a sickness. I have watched as it has attempted to rob me of my only sister and I have stood by as it has stolen precious time with her. So when she got pregnant, our excitement was quickly replaced by worry and fear that once again this ugly creature would march boldy into our lives to claim not only my sister but also the life she held inside of her. And it did march in. Boldy and fiercely. And we fought tooth and nail. We all did. Each of us in our own way. And while we fought, Kirk sat back and waited patiently for his time to come. But through the 9 months, Kirk and I became very close. We chatted a lot. I loved feeling him move inside my sister's growing belly. And it seemed he recognized the sound of my laughter because he turned flips in response.

On July 8th, 2002, Kirk was born. He did not come without complications of his own, needing surgery just hours after his birth. And he spent some time in the NICU before he was allowed to come home. But I visited him daily, holding him and singing a song or two while we rocked in the rocking chair.

While I already adored him, it was his reaction when I entered a room that sealed the deal for me. His big, wide, toothless smile eventually became a cry of "AUNTIE SHEL!" I think it was the first time I heard those words that I became certifiably addicted to my nephew.

I have never known love like the love I have for this child nor like the love I get from him. In fact I never really thought it was possible to feel this way. I would do anything for him and most days I think he would for me too.

At three, he is a big fan of Scooby Doo. So his pet name for me is now Daphne. And depending on the day, he is either Fred or Scooby. He calls me on the phone at least every other day. If I am not home he leaves a message saying, "Please call me back." The other day, we were stuck in traffic and sweetly he said, "Aunt Michele are you mad at me?" I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. I said, "No Kirk, I am just frustrated with the traffic." And he started saying, "C'mon traffic! Move!" (Anything to make his auntie happy again, I suppose.)

He loves the color orange. Hence the type here. And he just started pre-school but already this morning he told his mom that he was "just too tired to go to school." He loves to help my mom cook and he's a pretty good baker already. He made me a very special cupcake the other day. I am not sure what the special part was supposed to be but in this case, it was definitely the thought that counted.

Kirk is a huge fan of TOY STORY. He quotes the movie all the time. When he isn't watching his favorite movie, he loves to go to the ballpark to take in a Cardinals game. Last week he and I caught a game with my dad. On the way to the stadium from the car, he said, "I see my stadium, Aunt Michele!" Every experience with him is bigger than life. The little moments are magnified into the great experiences they are meant to be.

Today he met me at work at 5 o'clock. I had spent the entire day wondering if I was going to get in trouble or get fired or who knows what. And when I stepped off of the elevator, I saw him standing in the lobby with my mom.

"Hi, buddy," I said.

Kirk caught sight of me. Then, racing through the small group of people who were leaving in front of me, Kirk made his way to me, jumped into my arms, wrapped his skinny little arms around my neck and squeezed as tight as he could.

That must have been my reward for getting through the day.

But there's one thing I know for sure today. And that is that whether I am coming out of work after a long day or dragging myself out of the gutter, that little boy loves me. And I love him.

More than a page full of orange words could ever possible say.

(I love you, buddy.)

Suspicious Compliments

A kind word goes a long way. Sometimes a kind word can hep you get through a day you never   intended to survive. A kind word can rescue you from the depths of depression or remind you, in the midst of overwhelming self doubt, that there is some good deep inside of you. A simple compliment can lift you up out of the muck and mire of self-loathing. In plain words, hearing that your hair looks great can help you forget how fat you feel in your pants. Or knowing that someone else recognizes your hard work and appreciates your job well done encourages you to stop beating yourself up over minor mistakes.

For some, however, a compliment raises suspicion.

Perhaps I am a victim of my experiences. Maybe it's my distinct inability to trust. Or it could be that I just don't believe I am good enough. But I don't take a compliment well.

God has blessed me with the gift of song. So in my singing life, I know that I am good. And when a compliment comes my way following a performance, I am thankful and I respond as such. But if the compliment is too strong, I wonder if the giver is just trying to make me feel good. Or if they just want me to THINK that they think I am good. And there are times when the source of the compliments causes me to question the motive for the offering.

In my work life, the compliments come few and far between. I have often been the target of almost slanderous accusations and petty reprimands. Management has repeatedly bashed my personality and suggested that I amend who I am to blend in a little better with the multitudes. So on the rare occasion that a kind word is cast my way, I am left to question, "am I being set up?" That may seem silly. You are thinking I should just take what I can get, right? Consider this: when you are told over and over that you are not good enough, that you are not a good fit, that you are a trouble maker... You begin to expect to hear that. And on the day when you are suddenly the hero, suddenly good enough, suddenly the chemistry is right, why would you believe that?

Where my personal life is concerned, there is even more psychosis with which to deal. As you know, I am a big girl. Everyone from my classmates to the movies to that horrible woman Janice Dickinson (the "world's first supermodel") made sure that I knew every step of my way through life that I am fat. Hell, by Janice's standards, anyone bigger than a size 3 is fat. But my mom and dad have always told me that they think I am pretty. Even in my fattest moments my mom was sure to tell me, "Michele you have such a pretty face." But you're parents HAVE to say your beautiful. How many times have you looked at a really ugly baby for the first time and heard the parents say, "isn't he just adorable?" Point made.

These days, I get most of my compliments from women. "You have such pretty hair." "I wish I had your lips. " And I get a good share from my married or unavailable guy friends who really only love me because I can talk sports with them and cook 'em a good meal at the same time. But when I get a compliment from a man or when a guy shows interest in me, my walls go up instantly. Why would he be interested in me? Is he hitting on me because he thinks fat girls are desperate? He must be testing his good stuff on me until something better comes along...

I don't intend to demean the power of a compliment. Words are intensely powerful. And they should be treated as such. And they should be accompained by actions that demonstrate their sincerity. Say what you mean. Mean what you say. And don't be afraid to back up your powerful statements with a mighty action to drive the point home.

To the complimentors: I implore you to pepper your days with compliments. Pass them out to family and friends and co-workers. Send a kind word the way of a stranger or the mailman or the cashier at the gas station that you visit every Thursday morning. Offer a smile or a gentle nod to the driver in the car next to you in traffic. Send signals of kindness into the atmosphere. Create an environment in which everyone who comes in contact with you CAN receive your compliments. Build bridges. Don't burn them. Choose your words wisely. Ponder before you speak. Know that everyone gives and receives differently so when the response you get is not the one you wanted, don't give up on the giving. Try again tomorrow.

To the complimentees: Receive kind words with grace and humility. Savor them for a moment but don't revel in them. Pay it forward.

And to the ones who are like me: Step out of your comfort zone or your uncomfortable zone, whichever it may be. And know that for every one that might be worthy of your suspicion, there are many kind words of which you are deserving. If you try to believe, so will I.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Waiting to be Found

Life does not seek you out.
Opportunity, contrary to the old cliche, does not come knocking at your door.
There IS some truth to the idea that you have to be in the right place at the right time for certain situations to work in your favor.

So, while I am well aware that you have to encourage opportunity by putting yourself in situations where life can easily find you... there is a really big part of me that is just waiting to be found.

I waiver back and forth from being content with my life as a single woman and wanting to find a life partner. The single girl in me laments the sacrifices necessary for cultivating a successful life-long relationship. And to a certain degree, that same single girl struggles to believe that somewhere out there is a man who could be crazy about me. I can't imagine someone loving me. And it's that thinking that makes it easy to foresee a lifetime of singleness.

On the other hand, somewhere deep inside is that little girl still hanging on to her fairy tale dream of being swept up by the man of her dreams, marrying him and having a house full of kids. She thinks she's pretty enough and smart enough and gifted enough. That girl still believes she is worthy of unimagineable love.

And it's the romantic in me that is just waiting to be found. I don't want to seek it out. I don't believe that is our job as women. I believe men should do the work. From the moment he sets eyes on you and feels whatever it is that he feels that tells him you are the one... He should pursue you. He should prove that he wants you, that he needs you, that he can't take another breath without having you by his side. You should feel comforted but not overwhelmed by his need to have you in his life and there should never be a doubt in your mind that when you need him, he will be there. And the proof should be in his actions.

There's a story in a book I read recently about a female bartender. She was working one night and one of her customers asked her out. She laughed heartily as she leaned over the bar and said, "Do you know how many guys ask for my number and never call?"

The guy felt a bit beat down but straightened himself on his barstool and leaned in. "Come on," he said, "I really want to take you out. If you give me your number, I will call."

The bartender shrugged him off. "Yeah right," she said.

But the guy persisted throughout the night. Finally, as she wiped down the bar for the final time, the bartender stopped and offered, "I'll tell you what... My name is Janie Jones. I am listed in the phone book."

The next day, that guy called all eight Janie Joneses in the book until he found that bartender.

He did whatever it took. He saw something in her that drove him to pursue her. It thrust him into action. And he didn't let her down.

For the record, I am easy to find. I'm in the book. I have had the same cell phone number for almost 10 years. (How many people can say that?) When I sing at events around the country, they announce my name and most of the time they post it on the jumbotron. I am loud, most of the time. If I meet you in a grocery line, I will talk to you. So, I know a lot of people. Chances are that if you want to meet me, you probably know someone who knows me already. At the most, we are separated by only three degrees. What I am saying is if someone wanted to find me, he could. It would be a simple task.

Sadly, there doesn't seem to be a search party out trying to find me at this time. In fact, noone has ever searched. Not to my knowledge anyway. I am not an ugly girl. So, it isn't altogether unfathomable that someone might have serached at one time or another. Perhaps I am just unaware. Oh who am I kidding? My parents have lived in the same house for 37 years. If you WANT to find me, you can.

What's even more sad? Well, more sad would be that I have even dropped hints, given guys clues about how they could find me if they wanted to once I was gone. I realize men don't take hints. The word HINT is not even a part of their vocabulary except when they are asking, "Was that supposed to be a hint?" But in attempt to alter fate, I have tossed out some bread crumbs, hoping a guy I liked would follow the trail to my house.

Don't feel sorry for me though. Perhaps being found is not in the cards for me. Maybe I am meant to be single. But if I am not and there's a guy on his way, I am confident that I will know he's the one. Because he will be the one who just shows up. He will be the one with the great story about what he had to do to get here. And he will be the one with bread crumbs on his shirt.

You are here for a reason

You are here for a reason.

I am a firm believer in fate, in pre-destination, in the idea that from the moment you were conceived there was a plan for your life. I believe that your beginning, your middle and your end were mapped out by God. He anticipates a need that will come about in the world, designs a plan to conquer that need and creates a person to implement that plan. You are born into the time in which you can most effectively fulfill your purpose. And, yes, you are born with a purpose in mind. God doesn't waste his time creating beings who will waste space in the universe.

That said, I also believe in free will, in your right to choose, your ability to shift the plan for which your life was designed. When you come to a fork in the road of life, it is up to you whether you will stay to the left or stay to the right. And based on those decisions, the map is altered, the plan changes slightly. But the purpose stays the same.

You are here for a reason.

For some, I believe, that reason is simply to help others get through. Those people are the ushers, the tour guides, the chauffers of life. They serve up advice in times of need, offer guidance in times of confusion and pour out encouragement in times of doubt.

For others, picking up the pieces and putting life's puzzles back together is the purpose. They are the strong, the courageous, the brave, the wise. They donate their knowledge to family, friends, co-workers, the man on the street. They are mighty and clear-thinking in times of crisis, helping others to sift through desperation to reach the core of the situation and develop resolution. They are the huggers with big shoulders to harbor many tears. They are the comforters.

There are some who've been sent to set an example. Their path may be short or their road may be long. But they travel through life demonstrating the wonders of the simple things. Reminding us to gaze upon the stars that fill the black night sky, to drink in the sunshine on a hot summer day, to draw in the scents of a field filled with daisies... They are eternal hope. They implore others to appreciate family, home and a warm cup of coffee on a cold winter day.

I know that God wants me to contribute to the lives of others in various ways. People have often told me that my biggest weakness is that I have too many talents. But it's the Jane-of-all-trades that reaches many different people, that speaks to the masses. At any rate, I have the tools I need to fulfill my own purpose. And, in the process, along my rocky, crooked road, I am taking some time to mix it up a bit. There are moments when I think I have simply been sent to stir the pot a little. And I am.

I'm reaching into God's pot of people stew, gathering the differences in my great big ladle and stirring them into my life. Then I'm dishing it out to everyone I know in the hopes that eventually, we will all come together on one level or another.

Come on up to the table, grab yourself a bowl...

You are, afterall, here for a reason.