Taking My Passion to the Next Level

Fifth grade was a tough year academically for me, but when it came to my chorus experience, I would have loved to stay in fifth grade forever. But I was optimistic about the transition to middle school because in sixth grade, choir was a class, not an extracurricular activity which I thought would give it more legitimacy. In sixth grade, music was a required part of the curriculum, but students could choose to meet this requirement with band, orchestra, choir, or general music. Of course, I chose choir. What I hadn’t anticipated in my young mind however was that choir would attract students looking for something more interesting than general music, and perceived choir as an “easy” class. The choir teacher was planning to retire after my sixth grade year, and I think our class re-enforced this decision. Some students were so disruptive and made choir rehearsals so chaotic that she lost her cool a couple times and shouted at the top of her lungs “Stop talking.” Maybe this wasn’t the most professional approach to the situation, but I cannot blame her for this reaction because if I were her, I might have reacted the same way. Just as I am sure classmates who took sports seriously and loved gym class must have hated having me on their team because I am not the slightest bit athletic, I was the athlete of choir and longed to be with people who took singing more seriously. My dream actually came true temporarily that year the Wednesday after Labor Day when the teacher announced an event called Singing in Wisconsin where serious singers from all over the metro area would rehearse a set of songs, and then we would meet on a Saturday morning that November at Carroll College, rehearse the songs together all day and then give a performance that evening. I signed up for this opportunity right away. The small group of us interested in this event rehearsed these special songs after school, so while I still had to put up with my disruptive peers during the regular class, these rehearsals on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school were so peaceful and productive that they became the highlight of my week. I don’t remember all of the songs we performed that day, but I do remember this was the first time I ever sang For the Beauty of the Earth, a song I would sing a lot in the years to come and which is still one of my favorites for its simple beauty and inspiring message.

On that Saturday at Carroll College, all of the groups represented were introduced and I heard them announce the Waukesha Children’s Choir. I perked up when I heard this choir announced, not because I knew anything about them but because that was what planted the idea in my mind of how exciting it would be to sing in a choir not affiliated with school, a choir for serious singers, just like my brother’s club volleyball team. Shortly thereafter, I expressed this to the choir teacher who suggested auditioning for the Milwaukee Children’s Choir, as it was bigger and would give me all sorts of exciting opportunities, including the chance to sing with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. So on a Monday night in August before my seventh grade year, Dad took me to an office downtown where I auditioned for the Milwaukee Children’s Choir.

Although it was called an audition, I remember the director saying that no one is rejected. After all, if you didn’t care for singing, why would you audition for this kind of choir in the first place? The purpose of the audition was more about the director evaluating our voice and vocal range to determine what part we would sing. Because it was my first year with the Milwaukee Children’s Choir, I was accepted into the Concert choir, which was the middle ground between the choir for really young children, and the advanced Cantorei Choir, or as the director said once when reminding us of proper posture for standing on the risers which included not fidgeting or scratching itches nervously, “you are in between the scratchers and the statures.” At first I was embarrassed because at the first rehearsal when we went around introducing ourselves, I realized I was the oldest one there, with most students being in the fourth and fifth grade, and a few students as young as third grade. But I quickly came to realize that unlike school where everything is so segregated, age difference really didn’t matter in this choir and I quickly made friends.

But despite being a choir for younger children, the director was not soft on us. I will never forget the first rehearsal when the director was teaching us the choir scale “do re mi fa so la ti do.” She wanted us to sing the scale and do hand motions to go along with it, but of course I couldn’t see the hand motions. So I practiced the advocacy my teachers always encouraged at school and raised my hand to ask the choir director to show me the hand motions I was supposed to be doing, to which she responded “that’s your homework.” I think this shocked me into silence the rest of rehearsal. That year, the choir rehearsed at a church downtown and that first year, Mom sat quietly in the back during rehearsals. This was partly due to the fact that it didn’t make sense for her to go home since rehearsals were only an hour and a half once a week. But she also just wanted to be available in case I needed anything, especially if I needed the restroom, which by evening I often did due to the medication I had to take at the time. So Mom heard this exchange between me and the choir director, and in the car on the way home, she explained that in the public school setting I was accustomed to, the teachers had to accommodate me, but in a private organization like this choir, they did not have to. This didn’t mean I couldn’t be in this choir. It just meant that I would need to handle things more on my own. So Mom showed me how to do the hand motions that week, and while my teacher’s aid would transcribe the words of the songs for the school choir into braille for me, Mom read the words of the Milwaukee Children’s Choir songs to me and I transcribed them into braille myself. At the second rehearsal, the choir director asked me a question about something we were singing and in this way caught me dozing off as I was not used to evening activities yet. But after that, I found my footing and Milwaukee Children’s Choir rehearsals became the highlight of my week.

Disruptive behavior was extremely rare in this choir because everyone in it was serious about singing and wanted to be there. On the rare occasion someone did get carried away and misbehave, the director would march over to where they were sitting and reprimand them sternly. Even when no one was misbehaving, this director had a stern demeanor, and I remember one Saturday when Mom had to work and Dad took me to a special rehearsal, I heard him tell Mom later he couldn’t believe how stern she was with us because compared to the Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops my parents used to chaperone, cthese choir students were angels! This director actually was a lot of fun. You could tell she loved working with young people and as the year progressed, she seemed less stern to me. Maybe it was because I liked this sternness and had gotten used to it as it was refreshing compared to the chaos that often defined school rehearsals. (The Milwaukee Children’s Choir had a policy that if your school had a choral program, you were expected to participate in it as well because we could be valuable assets to the choir with the advanced training we were getting, and because they didn’t want us to develop a snobby attitude and think of ourselves as being too good for our school choir.) But I also think this director was intentionally more stern than usual at the beginning of the year to scare off any singers who weren’t going to take singing seriously, and to establish high expectations.

I didn’t get to sing a full-fledged concert with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra that year. That opportunity was reserved for the “statures.” But I did get to sing with the symphony for an educational program they put on for second graders all over the metro area. I actually remembered going to this program when I was in second grade, so it was exciting to come full-circle, knowing that quite possibly, there were future choir members sitting in that audience just as I had been five years earlier.

The following year I auditioned for and was accepted into the Cantorei choir, and this is where my passion for singing blossomed the most. The director of this choir worked for a music publishing company and thus was nationally renowned. My aunt who was a music teacher in Indiana at the time knew of her. I loved how this director made us feele grownup by giving us fancy leather folders for our music, and when it was time for rehearsals to begin, all she had to do was raise her hand and hum the C above Middle C and the room would snap to attention. Many singing dreams were realized that year, including the opportunity to perform with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. That holiday season, we collaborated with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the adult Symphony Chorus to perform Hansel and Gretel, and the Holiday Pops concert which was conducted by Doc Severinsen. In the summer following that year, I went to Italy with this choir where we had the privilege of singing at Saint Peter’s Basilica. I was always appreciative of the sacrifices my parents made for me to have these opportunities. In addition to driving me to the many rehearsals these opportunities required, I remember Mom picking up a lot of over-time shifts so that we could go to Italy. I tried to convince her to let me go by myself so she would only have to pay for one person, as traveling abroad was never a draw for her anyway. But she didn’t feel comfortable sending me alone given my special medical situation, and she wanted me to have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But it wasn’t until I was older that I found out how expensive the tuition was for each semester in this choir, and now that I am more aware of how much poverty and inequality there is right in my metro area, I have a deeper awareness of how blessed I was to have these opportunities.

The church we rehearsed in that year is still my all-time favorite rehearsal site as well. It was an old Lutheran church that had that old wood smell that I love. But what was most interesting about this site was that on the wood floor of the room where we rehearsed was a painted labyrinth. At one time I knew what the labyrinth signified, but now I forget. Anyway to protect this labyrinth, the church leadership did not want anyone wearing shoes in this room, so before rehearsal, we all took off our shoes in an entry-way on the lower level before climbing a flight of stairs to the rehearsal room. I don’t know if I ever mentioned this in past posts, but I love being barefoot. The first thing I have always done when returning home from school or work is take off my shoes, and I switch to sandals as soon as the snow melts, and wear them until the first snowflakes in fall. I would wear them in the snow too if Mom allowed me to. If I were a prairie girl living in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s time, I would not have liked the bugs coming right into the house through windows with no screens, but I would have loved being barefoot all the time! I just feel so much lighter and freer without shoes, or when I can at least wear shoes that let my toes breathe. Now that I am in an adult choir where most of the other singers are senior citizens, we are seated the entire time on a typical rehearsal night, only standing for long periods of time at the dress rehearsal before a concert, and for the performance itself. But in the Milwaukee Children’s Choir, the director had us standing a lot, and I honestly think my feet hurt less after rehearsal that year than in the years that followed. But more importantly, I loved this rehearsal site because I think the room had a high ceiling because our sound echoed beautifully in this room, so I essentially got to sing in a cathedral once a week that year.

This choir also made my eighth grade year an amazing year from a social perspective as well. In elementary school, there were a few bullies in the before-school daycare I had to go to a few mornings a week from third grade through fifth grade, but overall, I had a lot of friends. In fact, since I was the only blind student in the whole school at the time, I sort of had celebrity status with even students in other grades asking me questions about being blind, and sometimes if I was walking somewhere by myself and another class was processing down the hall on their way to gym, art or music, the whole class would say hi as they walked by. I didn’t know what to make of this celebrity treatment at the time but looking back now, the teachers must have found it adorable and maybe even kind of funny. In these years, I never had a problem finding a partner when we had group assignments. But in middle school when puberty strikes, it was as if a switch flipped. I still had a couple of close friends, but mostly I was ignored. Teachers would have to assign students to work with me for group projects, and I could go whole days in a kind of silent bubble, walking from class to class quietly minding my own business but not speaking to a single peer all day. One of my close friends was in the school choir with me, and we both helped each other. She was new to the area, and because cliques were already well-established by seventh grade, I got the impression she felt ignored to, so we provided mutual companionship and moral support. She was also extremely helpful with logistical things like getting me to my spot on the risers at concert time which was a huge relief for me because the choir director was new to teaching and was not helping me as much as past choir directors had. So I have good memories of school choir in middle school too. But eighth grade in Cantorei choir was like stepping into another world. Once a week, I got to be with “my people!” I felt like a rockstar again surrounded by a happy group of friends at breaktime, and when we would take bus trips, I wasn’t the only one singing on the bus anymore! Even the boys were more mature in Cantorei choir. There was one boy in particular whom I especially enjoyed spending time with. We never officially declared ourselves a couple, maybe because we were both mature beyond our years and didn’t go for the silliness associated with this declaration. But he always came to talk to me at break times and if there was a special event, we would often sit together at lunch or on the bus and talk about religion, politics and music. Life took us in different directions and I haven’t kept in touch with him, but the time I spent talking to him in this choir was the closest I ever felt to having a boyfriend.

Perhaps because this director was nationally renowned for her work publishing music for children, I loved most of the songs she selected for us to sing. Perhaps because she came from Texas, her taste for gospel music was especially amazing. There was one song especially, Music Down in My Soul composed by Moses Hogan that was a favorite of the choir, and on concert days when this song was in the program, we raised the roof and got audiences hollering with joy. Rehearsing this song and others similar to it also filled me with joy that carried me through the week even if school was tough. My parents never had to worry about me turning to drugs or alcohol for happiness, because who needs drugs or alcohol when you can be high on song, floating down the hall between classes singing “Love in my heart! Oh yes I’ve got peace in my soul! Oh yes I’ve got joy in my heart! Joy today!” I even started a new tradition with this song. One rehearsal shortly before the spring concert when we were going to perform this song, I remember singing it and thinking that adding clapping into the refrain would be the icing on the cake of this amazing song. But this wasn’t part of the music, and there is an unwritten rule all serious choral singers know. That rule is that you don’t dare do anything to upset a choir director when concert day is near. I love and respect choir directors, but they are as a rule perfectionistic, especially the last week or two before a concert, and therefore, their fuses are very short. I feared incurring the wrath of the choir director more than I feared God. But a week after the concert, there was a final send-off rehearsal where the choir director would recognize the students who were aging out, and also give us a chance to sing the songs one more time, just for fun. This I decided would be a safe time to clap. So when we got to the refrain, I started clapping to the beat, and then a couple friends around me started clapping, then a few more, and before long, the whole choir of 100 or so singers was clapping! At first I was a little embarrassed when I asked and a friend confirmed that I had indeed instigated this, but that embarrassment didn’t last long as we were all having a blast. The choir director must have loved it too because the following year when we sang this song, the director told us we could clap for part of the refrain when the piano stops playing.

I would continue to sing in this choir my freshman year of high school as well, but unfortunately some of my best friends, including my almost boyfriend aged out of the choir as they were a year older than me, and the director quipped at the time that she did not want to teach students old enough to drive themselves to rehearsal. In addition, my freshman year, the choir rehearsals moved to a newly built Youth Art Center which most saw as a better rehearsal site, but I missed the acoustics of this old church, and the chance to rehearse barefoot. But I still had friends in the choir, and the director was still amazing so I had a blast my freshman year too.

Well I thought I could talk about my childhood choral experience in two posts, but I had so much to say that this post is already long and I haven’t even gotten to my high school experiences. So I will need another post or two. I think I ended my previous post with the director of the fifth grade chorus saying “I hope this is just the beginning for you.” I think it hit me when singing in Saint Peter’s Basilica that this teacher’s hope for me had been realized. Three years earlier, singing for parents in the school gym was a big stage, and now here I was singing in the most famous and beautiful church in the world. And I was still young, with many more opportunities and years of singing ahead of me.

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Convicted: The Mother’s Day I Threw the Book At Mom

I know I said I was going to write two posts about choir, but the second post is not finished yet, and with today being Mother’s Day, I felt compelled to re-post an essay I wrote on Medium for a contest in 2014. I heard about this site from a Facebook friend and then shortly thereafter, I saw an article in Reader’s Digest that was originally published on this site, so I decided to give it a try. I decided I much preferred writing here, and my Medium posts didn’t seem to get much traffic. I am not going to re-post the other essays I wrote there, but you are welcome to read them here. But below is my favorite of the essays I wrote on Medium, and a perfect one for Mother’s Day. The theme of the contest that week was “I shouldn’t have written that.” Enjoy!

The year I was in third grade was a difficult year for my mother. She had started a new job in October that required her to work rotating shifts, one week of days and one week of nights. Just when she had adjusted to one shift, it was time to switch again so she was always tired. But my mother never complained. Despite being exhausted, she plugged right on, cooking dinner every night, never missing my older siblings’ school activities and still finding time to play with me. But the week leading up to Mother’s Day, my mother caught a nasty cold that normally might not have stopped her, but on top of day-night rotation, almost knocked her down. She did the household stuff she had to do, but was too tired to play. “I’m really tired right now. I promise I’ll play with you later,” she had said every day that week as she took another sip of tea and continued watching some boring grown-up TV show.

This disappointment was all forgotten, I thought when toward the end of the week, the teacher announced that we were all going to make special picture books to give to our mothers for Mother’s Day. I loved my mother dearly and despite how much I probably drove her crazy whining for her to stop watching those boring grown-up shows and play with me, I knew she loved me too. I couldn’t wait to tell her through this book how much I loved her and how much she meant to me. The teacher gave us prompts to fill in for each page of the book like “my mother enjoys ____,” or “if I could give my mother anything in the world, I would give her ____.” The teacher’s aid helped me write my messages in both print and braille, and helped me make line drawings with puffy paint. Then the books were sent to an office in the school called the publishing center where they were given beautiful glossy covers.

I was so giddy with excitement over giving my mother this beautiful book I knew she would treasure forever that I couldn’t stand waiting any longer than Saturday night to present it. I ran up to her the way little kids do and threw it in to her hands and said “Happy Mother’s Day,” in a voice quivering with eager anticipation. As I expected, she gushed over the beautiful book when she peeled back the wrapping paper, but I didn’t expect what happened next. With all my siblings around the table, she opened it up and started reading, and laughing, hysterically. “What’s so funny?” I asked, a bit confused. It turned out that without even realizing it, I had written a book that was really more of an indictment. “My mother enjoys drinking tea and watching TV on the couch.” (picture of a tea cup) “My mother looks prettiest in her soft silk nightgown.” (picture of a nightgown) “If I could give my mother anything in the world, I would give her a cottage and a boat on a lake so she can relax.” (picture of a boat on a peaceful lake) I forget what the other prompts were, but basically every page made reference to how lazy I thought she had been lately.

I apologized repeatedly for that book over the years as I matured and came to have a better appreciation of how hard she worked and how selflessly she tended to us. “I could throw it on the next bonfire I attend,” I said once. “Don’t you dare,” she said, “I love it. It is a cute book I will treasure forever. I just laughed because all of your teachers who helped you with it probably think I am a lazy bum, and because I had been convicted.” Perhaps the lesson my third grade teacher had intended was for us to practice our writing while also learning about the joy that comes from a hand-made gift a mother will treasure forever. But the lesson I came away with that I still keep in mind today in everything I write is that the subconscious mind is a powerful thing.

The Beginning of My Passion for Singing

This past Saturday, I sang in my final choir concert of the season. It was a wonderful concert with a diverse set of music that included a couple songs in latin, German and French, but the theme of the concert was Girls Night Out because all of the songs were written by female composers. After this concert, it occurred to me that while I have briefly mentioned my love of singing in posts about other topics, considering how passionate I am about this art form, I have not given it the attention it deserves on this blog. So for this post, I want to share how my passion for singing began, and then in the next post, I will talk about the joys and challenges of choir as I got older.

My mom told me that before I could even talk, I was singing. She recalls listening to a Christmas album when I was about a year and a half, and she noticed that when the singer sang “Walkin’ in a winter wonderland,” I was “singing” too. “Webah wabah webah wabah woo!” I sang emphatically. I didn’t understand the words yet, but I knew the melody. That was just the beginning of what would become a lifelong passion. Right from kindergarten, music class was my favorite class. My first concert of sorts was a kindergarten Christmas program. The theme was “Christmas in the Forest.” Unfortunately I don’t remember much about the concert itself because I feel like I was coming down with a bad cold that day. But I remember we were all asked to bring teddie bears that we held for one of the songs, and the rehearsals leading up to the concert were an absolute blast! The one song that has stuck in my memory from that concert that I still laugh about today was “we fish you a hairy chris-moose and a hippo new year.” One of my many favorite Christmas songs today is a song from the country music band Alabama called Thistlehair the Christmas Bear because it reminds me of those kindergarten Christmas songs from a time of magic and innocence.

Outside of music class, I was singing all the time: on the bus to and from school, walking down the hall at school, and around the house. But at that time, my dream was to sing in the school chorus. Unfortunately, while band and orchestra were open to third, fourth and fifth graders, the chorus was only open to fifth graders. That was when I first realized the truth of that adage that life is not fair! Twice a year, once just before Christmas, and again toward the end of May, the whole school would assemble in the gym for a concert. I remember sitting in the bleachers thinking how loud and obnoxious the band pieces were, and during the orchestra pieces, I would get bored and the teacher’s aid who worked with me would have to reprimand me for fidgeting. Since then, I have come to appreciate the fun nature of band pieces, and the beauty of orchestral pieces. But when the chorus came onstage, I was thrilled and mesmerized. To hear so many kids singing and sometimes clapping in unison sounded like heaven on earth, and I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to join this party onstage. Fifth grade seemed like an eternity away, but at last that wonderful year arrived and when the music teacher asked who wanted permission slips to join the chorus, my hand was the first to shoot up. I received this permission slip on a Friday and while most other permission slips would not have been signed until Sunday night, if I even remembered to give them to Mom or Dad then, I remember handing the permission slip to Mom Friday night, and I made sure to turn it in Monday.

In my elementary school, the chorus was considered an extracurricular activity, so rehearsals took place Tuesdays and Thursdays during the second half of lunch in lieu of recess. This was both a blessing and a curse for me. It was a blessing because I was one of those rare kids that hated recess. If I could have spent recess doing a craft or playing a board game with a friend indoors, or even reading in a quiet corner outside, I would have enjoyed recess. But because teachers said I needed exercise, I was forced to go down slides, climb jungle gyms and play stupid running games with shrieking classmates during this supposedly free time. So with chorus, I finally had a valid excuse to get out of recess, and unlike first and second grade when there were two other recess times during the day, and third and fourth grade when there was an afternoon recess, lunch recess was the only one in fifth grade! But it was a curse because I am a slow eater. When I was younger, the classroom teacher and aid made a deal with me that if I could get outside for at least five minutes of the 20 minute lunch recess for a certain number of days—I think it might have been two weeks, I could have an afternoon recess indoors doing a quieter activity with a like-minded friend. But now that chorus, not recess was at stake in fifth grade, I had to learn to eat faster. It was rough at first. I was late to rehearsal the first few times, and a lot of food probably got wasted, but I wasn’t going to let my slow eating stand in the way of my dream of singing in the chorus.

Singing in this chorus was everything I had dreamed it would be. I don’t recall there being any disruptive behavior during chorus rehearsals like there often was during music class, perhaps since recess had to be sacrificed to sing in the chorus, a sacrifice which not every fifth grader was willing to make, only students who really wanted to sing as much as me participated in the chorus and because they wanted to be there, they behaved well. And that first experience singing in front of the whole school and then again for parents later that evening was magical and I still remember smiling ear-to-ear the entire time. That first concert, we sang a song about how children all over the world say hello, My Christmas Tree from the movie Home Alone, and everyone’s favorite, The Everlasting Fruit Cake. For this song, I think there was a special set brought onto the stage and a fake fruit cake. At the end of the song, the principal who loved to be silly and have fun, rang a doorbell and pretended to be a delivery man delivering the fruit cake again, to which we all pretended to groan “not again!” The audience loved this performance, and so did we. A couple weeks later, we got to sing our pieces at a local mall to get shoppers in the Christmas spirit, and the way I anticipated and talked about this trip for weeks, you would have thought I was going to Carnegie Hall. In the spring, we sang a song about Albert Einstein that involved choreography and snapping your fingers, the classic Oldie Doo Wah Diddy Diddy and I had a solo in the song “Colors of the Wind, which is still one of my favorite Disney songs. “The rainstorm and the river are my brothers. The heron and the otter are my friends. And we are all connected to each other, in a circle, in a hoop that never ends.”

The aid that saw me light up when the chorus came onstage worked with me from first grade through fourth grade, but in fifth grade, she was assigned to a younger student. But I got to see her after the concert and she told me she had tears in her eyes when she saw me onstage with the chorus because she remembered how much I longed for that opportunity all those years. The chorus director didn’t spend a lot of one-on-one time with me, but she was a sweet person with a natural passion for working with kids, and she saw my passion too and I will never forget when she said “I hope this chorus is just the beginning for you.”

It was just the beginning for me. I would sing all my years in school and be blessed with many unforgettable opportunities which I will talk about in the next post. I am involved in an adult choir now and hope to sing all my life. Although the music is more challenging now, and sometimes after a long day the last thing I want to do is attend a grueling rehearsal, deep down, I still have the same passion for choir that I had as a child all those years ago, a passion that comes alive again every time I take the stage as I did last Saturday and experience a slice of heaven on earth once again.

Senior Citizens of the Pet Variety

In the five-year hiatus I took from blogging, I have had so many spiritual, political and career insights that I was itching to write about, and there is still more I would like to write about. But I want to take a break from these posts to reflect on Gilbert who is still my guide dog, and Snickers my kitty who have not gotten the attention they deserve in my blog.

With both Gilbert and Snickers, their senior citizen status snuck up on me, as I bet it does for every loving pet owner. I suppose it is a similar feeling to the feeling parents describe when they will say that it seems as though their children were just babies yesterday as they send them off to college. But with pets, the sad difference is that they are not growing up and embarking on an exciting new journey, but are growing old and soon will no longer be with us, at least not in this life. In the amazing book I read about the Restoration, Eldredge says that perhaps our beloved pets will run to greet us. I have also read things that say animals don’t have souls in the same way humans do because humans were specially created in God’s image, so our departed pets don’t go to heaven. This is an intriguing topic I would love to explore further, but whether God re-unites us with our departed pets or not, we will not be disappointed because we will always have our happy memories of them from this life, and maybe the experiences we get to have with pets in this life are just a small taste, a foreshadowing, of the even more magical memories we will make with animals in the Restoration, when we will form bonds with wolves, bears and lions, animals that were too dangerous to bond with here. But I digress. Gilbert and Snickers are both still alive and well, and seem to be enjoying their golden years. I am enjoying them in their golden years too.

In 2014 when I was getting my paralegal certificate at Milwaukee Area Technical College, I had class with a non-traditional student who worked at a pet store. One day after class, she told me she thought Gilbert had the beginnings of arthritis as he seemed to walk stiffly. At that time, he had just turned eight. She suggested I talk to the vet about putting him on glucosamine supplements. I did notice that Gilbert was moving a little slower and taking a little longer to get up, but he still enjoyed chasing the cat, and had no problem with long walks or jumping in and out of the car. So I decided not to make a special trip to the vet but just wait for his regular annual check-up and bring this up with the vet at that time. Sure enough at his appointment the following July, the vet watched him walk and agreed that he was indeed showing signs of arthritis. The vet suggested giving him TriCox chewable supplements that would help his joints, and also gave me Carprofen that I could give him if he seemed to be in a lot of pain or if he had exerted himself more than usual. With that we carried on with our lives. Just as we had done at Carroll University, Gilbert and I both met the requirements of the Paralegal program, and Gilbert helped me make many friends along the way. In April 2015, we joined the ranks of the employed, but for the first time in his life, Gilbert had to start taking sick days.

One day last winter, about an hour after Mom dropped us off at work, Gilbert shifted on his dog bed under my desk, and then started whimpering in a way I had never heard before. Hearing my buddy who is usually so happy whimper like that sent me into a bit of a panic, and not thinking clearly, I jumped up and tried to rush him outside. Fortunately, my boss who loves dogs and sits near me was there and calmed me down. She said Gilbert didn’t need to go out but looked as though he was in pain, and said he needed to go home. So I called my mom while my boss and I took turns consoling Gilbert for the half an hour or so it took for Mom to come back. When Mom got there, I think my boss helped Mom lift Gilbert into the van, and later that day, the boss asked me to call Mom to see how Gilbert was doing. He had ran through a deep pile of snow that morning while doing his business, something he used to do without a problem but now caused his arthritis to flare up. After a couple days of rest, tri-cox and Carprofen, he returned to work but had another flare-up a couple months later. This time, he had to stay home for several weeks because the vet prescribed a temporary regimen of Prednisone, Gabapentin and Tramadol. Just like with a human employee, we didn’t think it was wise for Gilbert to go to work impaired, and the prednisone caused him to need to pee a lot more often which would have been too much of a disruption. But then, just as Gilbert was feeling better, my mom had surgery which left her unable to drive for 3 months. Dad drove me to work on the way to his work, but because he was using a company car, he didn’t want Gilbert to ride along. So Gilbert did not come back to work with me until July. If my job were in one of those old government buildings with long, twisty-turny hallways, not having Gilbert would have been a huge hardship in terms of orientation and mobility, but fortunately the office where I work is small and extremely cane-friendly with narrow, straight-shot hallways. But I didn’t realize until he wasn’t with me how much I would miss just his presence by my side. My co-workers missed him too. But I think Gilbert missed going to work most of all because when I would come home from work, my mom would inform me of new, naughty habits like sneaking into Dad’s home office and eating paperwork he left on the floor. I have heard from owners of other retired guide dogs that this behavior is common as they are upset about suddenly being left home and separated from their owners all day. Some handlers even have to find new homes for their retired guide dogs for this reason. But when Gilbert exhibited this behavior, I decided that he didn’t need to officially retire. I probably would have had to retire him by now if I worked in a big city with a long route to a large office building. But since I live with my parents who drive me to work, and my office is small, he is still able and eager to go to work with me at eleven and a half years old.

When he did go back to work, I bought him a ramp to climb in and out of the van since the vet recommended that he not do too much jumping at his age. Occasionally he will have flare-ups where I keep him home because he seems like he might be in pain, and in January, he came down with a sudden urinary tract infection. But he goes to work with me most days, tail wagging. I like to imagine that if he were human, he would be that sweet old man who thought he would enjoy retirement after a long successful career, but found that he was bored and missed the routine of going to work, and the social interaction of getting out and being with people. So he took an easy job that allowed him to work at his own pace. He always has a smile when he comes to work, and his positive attitude makes everyone’s day a little brighter.

A couple years ago, my parents and I noticed that Snickers seemed to be meowing more and sleeping a little more, but still found the energy to jump onto the table and counters and make mischief too, so we weren’t overly concerned. Then a few months ago, Mom noticed that she was peeing a lot more and drinking a lot more water, so on March 15, Mom and I took her to the vet. After running some tests, the vet determined that Snickers’ kidney function was deteriorating. Other than a fluid administration procedure which Mom and I thought Snickers wouldn’t want to be put through, there was really nothing that could be done to reverse her condition. The vet was extremely compassionate, and pointed out that although Snickers’ exact date of birth is unknown since she came from the humane society, we adopted her as a kitten in 2000, so she was around eighteen years old, which is about 95 in cat years! The vet basically told us that at this point, we should focus on keeping her comfortable. So with heavy hearts, we brought her home, and the first thing I did when we got home was text the sad prognosis to my sister. The summer I was ten years old and she was sixteen, we forged a special sisterly bond as we talked Mom and Dad into adopting a cat, and spent several summer afternoons at humane societies meeting kittens. She asked if the vet indicated how much longer Snickers might live, and I said Mom and I didn’t want to think about that yet so we didn’t even ask. We would just do what we could to keep her comfortable and cherish every moment with her.

The vet sent us home with samples of a prescription renal friendly cat food diet to see if she would eat it. We were not sure if she would eat it because she has been a very picky eater in the past, but the vet said if she wouldn’t eat it, we could just bring it back for a refund. To our surprise and relief however, when we started feeding her this new food, she gobbled it right up! And after just a few weeks on this food, we could tell she felt a lot better. Her water consumption and urination returned to normal, but most incredibly, she almost acts like a kitten again, causing more trouble than she has in awhile. We must either drink from water bottles or cups with lids, or make sure we don’t leave glasses of water unattended, or she will jump onto the table and help herself to our water despite having a giant bowl of water available to her and Gilbert in the kitchen. She has also taken to licking our plates after we leave the table. Just the other day, Mom was making scrambled eggs for breakfast. She had cracked the eggs into a bowl and whisked them with a fork, and then turned her back for just a second to do something before pouring the eggs into the skillet. In that short time, Snickers had snuck onto the counter and was lapping up the raw egg from the bowl! When this behavior started, we increased her food from one can to two cans a day thinking that with her improved health, her appetite was getting better. Obesity was never a concern for Snickers as she has always been slim. She is a very active cat who can jump from the floor to the top of the refrigerator, or from the counter directly to the table. In the summer, she also enjoys chasing birds and bugs from window to window. But on March 15 when she was weighed at the vet, we were shocked to find out she only weighed 5.3 pounds. But her food mischief didn’t stop when we increased her food, so I like to speculate that either she is that sassy, noncompliant patient who craves what the doctor says she shouldn’t have—in her case, protein—or maybe this mischief is just her way of saying “don’t write me off just yet. I may be 95 years old, but I’ve still got fight left in me.” If she were human, I like to imagine she would be the spry old lady who asks her family to take her skydiving for her 100th birthday, and if some naïve person tried to snatch her purse or something assuming she was an easy target because she was so old, she would punch them in the nose and snatch her purse right back! (On March 15, she hissed at the vet, a sound I hadn’t heard since Mojo used to pick on her.)

About six months after our beloved german shepherd Indy passed away in 2002, my sister and I missed having a dog in the house so much that Mom relented and we went to visit dogs at the humane society. At the time, Mom saw a sweet, 10-year-old beagle that she wanted us to consider, but at the time, I was vehemently opposed to adopting a senior pet. I am still not entirely sure how I feel about adopting a senior pet. What if we brought home a senior pet that would only live a short time, and then we would be right back where we started, grieving and longing for a dog again? If the dog had a lifetime of traumatic experiences, or even if he lived with a loving family for many years but that family could no longer care for him, would he ever really bond with us before he passed away? But I wish I would have been more open-minded and given a senior dog a chance. The puppy we ended up adopting had behavioral issues we were not equipped to handle and we determined it would be best to take him back to the humane society where hopefully, he would find a more suitable home and live a happy life. But also, now that Gilbert and Snickers are seniors, I am finding that I love and appreciate them in a whole new way. I love how their demeanors are more laid-back than when they were young, in that they both sleep more and move a little slower, but they still get into mischief sometimes, as if they are both reminding us that while they may move a little slower, they are still the same creatures they have always been. In addition, because they are only capable of living in the moment, they don’t overthink things like death the way humans often do, and thus they are always cheerful, just living in the moment and not worrying about the future. I know that eventually, the sad reality is that they will no longer be with us, but I am taking a lesson from them and striving not to think about this eventuality, but live in the moment myself because they are still here today. And in forty years or so when I reach senior citizen status myself, I hope I will live my life this way as well.

Campaign for Causes, Vote for Good Character

One morning early in the 2016 primary race when Donald Trump was gaining traction and winning in a few states, my mom and I were eating breakfast and watching some morning news before work and I half-jokingly told my mom, “If Donald Trump gets elected, I’m moving to Canada!” “I’ll come with you,” she said, “but he won’t win.” Well, I didn’t follow through on this statement. In all seriousness, fleeing to another country would present so many legal and logistical hurdles that I would only consider it if faced with war or persecution like those poor people in Syria. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who had this idea however. Shortly after the election, I was watching Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. It is not a show that would appeal to everyone as John Oliver is quite generous with the F-bombs, but if you can look past that, he does make good points. That week, he basically told viewers that while the idea of moving to Canada is very alluring at the moment, we should not do that because we are needed here. We should stay and fight for a return to the values our country was founded on. That reminded me of discussions from my political science classes in college where we talked about how the people are the foundation of any institution or organization, so it is up to them to preserve its values. When Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada was interviewed on 60 Minutes, he sounded so much kinder, more intelligent and more rational than Donald Trump, but when Justin Trudeau’s term ends, who knows who the next prime minister will be. What I mean is that the grass may seem greener in another country right now, but in this fallen world, political situations are ever-changing, so our efforts are better spent fighting to preserve our country’s values, rather than just running away to another country. I love the tagline on the web site of the American Civil Liberties Union which says, “Because freedom can’t protect itself.” And that reminded me of the bible study with my Jehovah’s Witness friends months before the election when I learned that Jehovah’s Witnesses are neutral when it comes to political affairs, meaning they don’t vote or run for political office.

“I know the problems of this world will never be resolved under this current system,” I remember telling them, “but if we had more people of good character like Jehovah’s Witnesses in office, people of integrity, humility and high morals, this world could be a whole lot better.” To this they responded that there are good people in office right now but because Satan influences all worldly governments, these good people are unable to be effective. I tossed this around in my mind a lot in the months that followed and realized they had a point. As hard as good people tried to speak out, warning us about Donald Trump’s low character and trying to stand up for what was right, these civil, rational voices were overpowered by Satan. At the same time however, the bible also says that Christ’s followers should be salt and light to a hurting world, meaning that although there will always be trouble in this world until Christ returns, we are called to try to make the world a little bit better, and to me the Jehovah’s Witness approach of completely separating themselves from this world is the religious equivalent of moving to Canada, or in other words, throwing in the towel. At this point in my life at least, I am seeking to find that happy medium of not separating myself completely from the world, but not worshipping political figures to the point of wearing Obama underwear either. To that end, I have been thinking about two goals for approaching politics in the future. First, I want to campaign for causes, not people. Then on Election Day, I want to vote based on character alone.

I have heard that many of the people who voted for Donald Trump didn’t like his vulgar comments and mean-spirited behavior at all, but voted for him out of desperation. These people were often poor people who couldn’t afford healthcare or who had lost their jobs when the factories moved overseas or the coal mines closed. The forces that cause factories to move overseas, healthcare costs to rise, or coal mines to close are largely beyond the control of any president or even the entire congressional body. But they saw Hillary Clinton, a career politician, as a continuation of the status quo, whereas Donald Trump, an outsider with no political experience, would shake things up. I will go into more detail about the hypocrisy behind this thinking in another post. But the point is, Donald Trump, with his fiery rhetoric, simple solutions and lack of political experience struck a chord with a lot of people who thought he could bring about real change. There are certain situations that require the steady-handed, decisive leadership of one person, most notably the decision whether to launch nuclear weapons. This is where the importance of character comes in, which I will discuss shortly. But when it comes to economic forces and social issues, both of which are too complex for one person or government to solve, and which don’t impose an imminent existential threat, it really doesn’t matter who we elect. Even if a candidate’s platform says for example that he/she is going to bring back factory jobs, it is important to remember he/she is often just making these promises to get voters motivated because when the candidate actually gets into office and realizes how complex the issues are, , he/she may not be able to make good on these promises anyway. And even if a candidate is able to make good on a campaign promise and pass a law to address a cause important to you, passing the law is the easy part. Due to complex factors, many of which are beyond government’s ability to control, implementation of the law is when the real hard work begins, and thus it is not uncommon for laws passed with good intentions to fail upon implementation. So if you are a single-issue voter who votes for someone just because he/she supports one particular cause that is important to you, you will likely be disappointed.

The other reason I think we should campaign for causes rather than people is because at least in my opinion, neither party platform is completely in the right. For example, the Republican platform campaigns for entitlement reform which I think is necessary because the current rate of spending for these programs is unsustainable and if something isn’t done, these benefits may not be available when my generation is eligible for them. But the Republican platform also campaigns for de-regulation to foster a business-friendly climate. While I understand the value of a business-friendly climate, I think some regulation is necessary, like the Dod Frank regulations that were created to hold banks accountable and prevent another recession like the one in 2009, and limits on carbon emissions because I believe climate change is a real concern. This puts people like me in a conundrum. If we had to campaign for a candidate, who should we campaign for? Both causes are important, so if we worked for one candidate’s campaign, it would have to be at the expense of one of our causes. I did buy a Hillary for America t-shirt in 2016, the proceeds of which went to her campaign, but from this point forward, my goal is to never work for a campaign, or donate to a campaign even if it is just buying a button. That way, I am free to support the causes that are important to me even if they are contradictory on a particular party platform.

But by no means am I advocating for abstaining from the voting process because if citizens who want leaders with good character don’t exercise their right to vote, leaders of bad character will seize upon this apathy and rule unchallenged. I believe that if we can get Donald Trump out of office in 2020, he will go down in history as an anomaly, from a time when the people were grappling with complex issues and feeling desperate and just were not thinking straight, and thus I don’t think he will pose a long-term threat to our freedom. But if voter apathy continues, there is no guarantee our country couldn’t go down the path of Russia and North Korea because “freedom can’t protect itself.” And in addition to corruption and economic inequality, guess what else unchallenged rulers of bad character now and all through history have in common? They see religion as a threat, and will thus impose laws that conflict with God’s laws. Sadly, it is too late for Christians in countries like Russia and North Korea to change their situation as their tyrannical rulers are well-established now. But we still have a chance to make things right, and if people who want leaders of good character exercise their right to vote before a leader of bad character takes this right away, we could continue to steer clear of the religious persecution millions around the world face.

When it comes to judging a candidate’s overall character, it is unusual for the differences in character to be so stark, so cut-and-dry as they were in 2016. No additional research was necessary in 2016. It should have been obvious just by listening to the words that came out of Donald Trump’s mouth that Hillary Clinton or any of the other sixteen or so candidates Donald Trump beat in the primaries demonstrated higher character. But under normal circumstances, which I believe we will return to, it can be difficult to judge a candidate’s character. They all have slick commercials, speak well and seem as though they genuinely care about the people they are running to serve, even if their ideas of what the right path for the country looks like are different. I also confess that I have been a lazy voter in the past, voting for someone because I liked how they presented themselves in the debates, or because I was influenced by peers who liked them and just jumped on the bandwagon. But from now on, my goal is to be a super-informed voter who decides who to vote for based on objective character assessment alone. Here are a few ideas I have come up with as to the questions I would ask. If more ideas come to mind, I will post about them and of course, feel free to comment with your own ideas I may not have thought about.

What is the candidate’s level of honesty? When nonpartisan fact-checkers rate the candidate’s statements, what percentage of them are rated true or mostly true, and what percentage are rated mostly false or “pants on fire?” If a candidate is incapable of honesty regarding small statements during the campaign, they will lie to us in office when the stakes are far more serious. Has a candidate accepted large amounts of money from a particular interest group, becoming a puppet of that interest group rather than being an independent voice free to do what is in the best interest of everyone he/she serves? What is a candidate’s past voting record in the house or senate? Is it consistent, no matter which party has the majority, or do they scream about irresponsible government spending when Democrats are the majority, and then vote for huge increases in government spending when Republicans become the majority? Even if I don’t personally agree with a candidate’s views, I have more respect for people who stand by these views than people who are hypocritical. On a similar note, has a candidate held a particular position for many years, or does the candidate’s position on an issue mysteriously change just in time for an election? When a candidate is confronted with a group of protestors, or an unflattering article someone wrote about them, do they attack and belittle the opponent, or do they take the high road? Does the candidate have a track record of bipartisan cooperation, or a track record of jamming through legislation without inviting anyone who disagrees with them to the negotiation table?

I think if we all scrutinized candidates objectively, keeping a file on our computer, or a notebook where we record the answers to these questions, we would automatically eliminate candidate’s of bad character or extremist views, making room for rational, moderate leadership on both sides of the aisle. Is it a perfect system? Of course not. Until Christ returns, there will always be injustice in the world and important causes that will not get the attention they deserve because many of this world’s problems are too complex for earthly governments to solve. But the odds of addressing at least some of the injustices of the world are far better when the government is controlled by people of high character than they would be under a tyrannical regime. But even if a cause important to us is never addressed in this life, if we elect leaders of good character, we can at least continue to preserve the most important cause of them all, our freedom which includes freedom to practice our faith.

A Better Government is Coming

I will never forget Tuesday November 8, 2016. I was in the thick of my job anxiety and was burnt out and depressed most days. But that morning, I felt energized because after work, my mom and I were going to vote, and then we were going to come home, put a gluten free pizza in the oven, and watch the election returns on television where Hillary Clinton would crush Donald Trump. I was so certain that this would be the outcome. I did not idolize Hillary Clinton. Things I have heard her say in the past indicate that sometimes she chooses political pandering over sincerity, and she definitely used poor judgement regarding the private e-mail server. But her intelligence far surpassed Donald Trump’s in the debates, and I got the sense that while she is human and has made mistakes, she would have been a steady leader, a leader who truly wanted to serve and do good for the country, unlike Donald Trump, a narcissist who knew nothing about serious foreign and domestic policy who was simply on an ego trip and turned what had always been an honorable, dignified position into a reality circus. I was well aware of Donald Trump’s rabid supporters, but surely when it came time to actually vote, people would stop and think. As one by one, state after state fell to Donald Trump, including shamefully, Wisconsin, my mom felt sick to her stomach and it was a long time before we could eat that kind of pizza again. I was just in shock and disbelief. Maybe this was just a bad dream I was having. Maybe when I woke up Wednesday morning, we would find out the votes had been miscounted and this result was a mistake.

Over Sunday morning breakfast last week as we were watching Meet the Press, which was talking about fired FBI director James Comey’s soon-to-be-released book, and how angry Trump was about the special counsel’s investigation, my parents and I wondered out loud for what seemed like the millionth time what our fellow Americans were thinking when they elected Donald Trump. In this conversation, my dad made an interesting and sobering point, which is that even though we never even considered voting for him, we were all a tiny bit complicit in his success because we were entertained by him. He had a point because although I was horrified by his behavior, there was definitely some train wreck psychology at play because I looked forward to getting home from work to see what stupid thing Trump said today. But like I said, I never considered voting for him, and I felt compelled to make this known to people in our very Republican community, so in May of 2016, I bought a T-shirt on Amazon that said “Stop hate, dump Trump” and although I wasn’t allowed to wear such a shirt to work, I made sure to wear it on Saturdays. The first Saturday I wore it to the Farmers Market, my parents wanted to put some of our purchases in the car before going back to buy more things because it was getting difficult to carry everything. Usually when they do this, they find a spot for me to stand and wait, but that week, they wanted me to go with them. I found out later they didn’t want to leave me by myself with that shirt for fear I would get beat up by a Trump supporter. I was annoyed when I found this out, but their fears weren’t entirely unfounded. Never in my lifetime had I heard a candidate for President of the United States encourage people to punch protestors in the face at his rallies and offer to pay their legal fees, and my parents had never seen this kind of behavior either.

I always watch televised presidential debates, even during the primary season, but most election years, I have a hard time following who stands for what during the primaries because there are just so many voices onstage to keep track of. After the debate, I will sometimes say, “I really liked the candidate that said X,” and Mom or Dad will say “that was Joe Biden” or whoever. In this way, I start to get a little bit of an idea who I like, but I have a much easier time when the field is narrowed down to two or three candidates. But in this last election cycle, while I lost track of the voices of the other sixteen or so Republicans onstage, Trump’s voice was unmistakable. My mom and I noticed right away a striking difference between the Democratic and Republican primary debates this past election. While the Democratic debates definitely got heated sometimes with disagreements between the candidates, the Democratic debates really felt like a civilized debate between grown-ups. By contrast, the Republican debates felt like watching a bad reality show, all because of Donald Trump. When high school and college civics teachers everywhere used to encourage students to watch these debates, I bet they never imagined a debate would degrade to the level of implying things by the size of Trump’s hands, if you know what I mean. Trump never had anything intelligent or substantive to contribute to these debates. His contributions were either personal attacks that one by one, caught the other candidates off guard so that they did not perform well and were voted out, or overly simplistic statements like “we don’t win anymore,” “I alone can fix it,” or “we’re going to bomb the s**t out of Isis.”

But his remarks off the debate stage were even worse. When Trump said that Mexico wasn’t sending us their best and brightest, but was sending rapists, murders, and “a few, I suppose are good people,” I remember thinking It’s over for him. Sure, a few crazy racists will like that kind of talk, but the vast majority of Americans are enlightened and will be so horrified by such a statement that he’s done. When he made that remark on that radio show about Megan Kelley and blood coming out of her… I remember thinking There goes the vote of any self-respecting woman, or any decent man who respects the women in his life for that matter. He cannot win without the support of women and decent men, so he’s done. After the release of the Access Hollywood tapes in October 2016, I thought the same thing. But somehow, despite these shocking remarks, his popularity kept growing, and on Election Day, while he technically did not win the popular vote, enough men and women in key states voted for him that he became our president!

On Wednesday November 9, as Mom and I ate breakfast before work and watched the morning news, all we could think was Evil has won. What is going to become of our country. I was so sad to come home from work that evening and read articles about how latino children were bullied in schools that day, and teachers almost became grief counselors for children whose parents were undocumented who feared their families would be torn apart. And I will never forget watching Saturday Night Live that week, when the actress who played Hillary Clinton on the show opened by singing Leonard Cohen’s Halleluia, and then with a crack in her voice as if she was speaking at a funeral said “I’m not giving up, and neither should you.” It really did feel like the America we knew had died in a sense. Although America has a dark history, and although I knew we were far from perfect in terms of achieving the ideals our founding fathers envisioned, before Donald Trump became president I thought we were becoming more and more enlightened with each passing generation. While I knew that hateful groups like the Kuklux Klan still existed, until Donald Trump emboldened them, they were hidden under their rocks, and the vast majority of society seemed to have moved on from such ridiculous attitudes. But with the election of Donald Trump, I don’t think I was alone in feeling as though our country had taken a major step backwards.

In the fifteen months that Donald Trump has been president, his behavior has not changed and in many ways has gotten worse. My mom and I were talking the other day about how with all of our past presidents, we could trust that they had the best interests of the country, not personal grudges or their ego at the forefront of their minds even if we didn’t always agree with them on some policies, and thus we could just vote and then go about our lives. But with Donald Trump as president, each week brings a new scandal, or a new shocking remark, and we have felt as though we need to stay tuned to the news constantly to keep tabs on him. On Tuesdays and Thursdays when Dad is working—he complains that we watch too much news–Mom and I have gotten in the habit of listening to CNN while we eat lunch, and we also enjoy podcasts like The Daily, released by the New York Times, and Embedded from NPR which has done in-depth investigations on Donald Trump and others in his circle. When Donald Trump is no longer president, we might not know how to fill our time anymore, but that will be a nice problem to have.

But I have not lost hope. In the earthly sense, I have not lost hope because a few Republicans are starting to speak out about Trump’s behavior and are working to remind Americans that this is not normal. I also saw a story a couple days ago where Republicans said that if Donald Trump ran for a second term in 2020, they would not endorse him. They should stop endorsing him now, but saying they won’t endorse him in 2020 is a good start and a sign we may be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I also think the 2016 election woke up a lot of people, especially young people, who chose not to vote, so I bet there won’t be the apathy in 2020 that we saw in 2016. But I have also found peace in a higher hope.

The Friday evening after Election day, I went to my Jehovah’s Witness friend’s house for bible study because she had something going on the next day, so we thought rather than missing a week, we would have our bible study on Friday. Months earlier in one of our lessons, I learned that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not vote. They also abstain from patriotic celebrations, military service or political office, and teach their children not to say the pledge of allegiance in school. The idea is that they are campaigning for a higher government, the righteous world-wide government that Christ will establish when He returns, and their campaign would be ineffective if they were loyal to any earthly government because all governments in this current system are influenced by Satan. The Bible teaches that we need to respect laws put in place by the earthly government we live under to maintain order while living in the current system, unless of course those laws conflict with God’s commandments. If Jehovah’s Witnesses are forced to do something that conflicts with God’s commandments like saying the pledge of allegiance which they believe worships country above God, they will go to court and fight these situations, but other than that, they just take what comes as far as things like taxes or healthcare, knowing that a better government is coming. Nondenominational Christians believe this as well, but few put this belief into practice the way Jehovah’s Witnesses do. At this point in my life, I cannot bring myself to take this belief as far as not voting, which I will talk about more in the next post, but that Friday, over dinner before our lesson, this friend, her husband and I had a wonderful conversation about the hope that we can have knowing a better government is coming that has been a tremendous source of peace during these crazy fifteen months. If Christ does not return before 2020, I hope that good will prevail to the extent that is possible in this earthly system, meaning that we can elect leaders who will be far from perfect, but will serve their country rather than their own ego or personal business interests, demonstrate integrity and humility, and seek to unite rather than divide us, so that maybe we can start to heal our country from the wounds left by Donald Trump. But no matter what happens now or in 2020, rather than being discouraged by another scandal, or another story that makes the prospect of positive change seem hopeless, I try to remember that eventually, good WILL prevail.

Incense Woman

There are several more light-hearted posts (said facetiously) about religion and politics lined up in my head that I look forward to writing, but today I thought I would give you readers a break and write about the wonderfulness of wax melts which I bought with a couple Amazon gift cards I got for Christmas this year and have thoroughly enjoyed this winter.

Sighted people tell me that a fresh coat of paint, or pretty decorations or large windows that let lots of sunshine in really brighten up a room. For me, rooms that smell wonderful make me smile. My favorite work day is Wednesday because on Mondays and Fridays, I work until 4:30, so Mom usually cooks dinner after we get home. But on Wednesdays, I work until 6:00 in the evening, so on Wednesdays, Mom usually puts a casserole in the oven just before leaving to pick me up from work. (This week, she made a new recipe of pork chops, potatoes, cream of mushroom soup, Dijon mustard, vegetables and spices that she put in the Crock-pot. The smell of dinner cooking is wonderful any day of the week, but there is something about walking into a house that already smells wonderful that makes me smile after a long work day. Once a week, usually on Tuesday or Thursday, I make a bean soup in the crock-pot—which I will tell you more about in a future post—and this soup also makes the house smell wonderful and inviting.

Growing up, I also associated smells with people and memories. My vision teacher always wore a certain kind of perfume, so even before she had said a word, I knew when she had walked into the room. I had a couple of English teachers in school whose classrooms always smelled wonderful, so even though I don’t remember much of what I learned in their classes, I smile when I think back on how inviting their classrooms were. By contrast, in middle school, there was a weight room that had a rubber mat on the floor, and maybe because of the rubber smell, mingled with the smell of sweaty hormonal teenagers, that room smelled nasty to me and I hated having to go in there for gym classes.

But I have always wanted to do something to make my bedroom smell better in the winter. In the summer, I have two windows I can open letting in lots of fresh air, but in the winter, my room starts to get a kind of stale, musty smell. It didn’t help that last Spring after a rash of bad headaches that Mom thought could be allergy-induced from the cat sleeping on my bed all day, we decided to keep my bedroom door closed. My mom lights candles in the dining room and kitchen in the winter, but since I am blind, I didn’t think it would be smart for me to have an open flame in my room. Then in the winter of 2016 after a rash of stinky incidents at work–people cooking sardines for lunch and burning popcorn—the company decided to buy a couple wax burners. I loved it, and in fact, even though I was in the thick of anxiety during that time, walking into an office that smelled so cozy and inviting brightened my mood a tiny bit. My favorite wax melt they bought for the wax burner was lily of the valley, but a lot of my co-workers didn’t like it because they thought it was too strong. But one of the receptionists shared my affection for this fragrance, and we had fun quietly conspiring a couple times to sneak it in and enjoy it until someone complained. Our office does not use the wax melts as much anymore because the fragrances bothered a lot of people, and people have become a little more mindful about what they make for lunch. But it occurred to me in 2016 that this would be the perfect solution for my room.

I didn’t get any Amazon gift cards for Christmas in 2016, and a wax burner just seemed like a frivolous expense I wasn’t sure I should incur at the time. But this year since I got Amazon gift cards, I decided to go for it. I couldn’t find lily of the valley, but I did find lilac, another favorite flower of mine. I love taking walks in May and June and smelling the neighbors’ lilac bushes, and there is a restaurant near our house behind which my dad noticed a beautiful lilac bush. So one Friday in the spring of 2016, my dad and I decided to be crazy and drive to this restaurant after dinner, just to loiter behind the restaurant and sniff the lilac bush. I wonder if anyone noticed us, but in any case, no one reprimanded us or called the police. (smile). My boss’s dad is an excellent gardener and last year, he gave her some lilac flowers in a vase which she brought to work, and my desk is right by hers so I was in heaven! If there is an appropriate opportunity in the next couple weeks as we approach May, I look forward to reminding her of this and will tell her to tell her dad he made one employee very happy and he should feel free to continue the trend this year! We tried to grow a lilac bush ourselves but haven’t had good luck. It seems like they either don’t do well after transplanting, or animals eat them. So I was so excited to find a lilac scented wax melt. Unfortunately, the lilac wax melt I bought didn’t smell as nice as real lilacs to me. Maybe that scent is too potent for small spaces like my bedroom, but to me it smelled more like strong soap than lilac. A boy in my young adult bible study group gave me a lilac wax melt from a different company for my birthday and this one did smell closer to lilac, but still is no substitute for the real thing.

Yankee Candle is the company everyone has heard of, but I went with a different company, Hat Creek Candle Company because I saw they were based in Wisconsin and their scents overall seemed to have better customer reviews. I bought one sampler pack of three cubes to see if I would like it, and loved it so much that a few weeks later, I bought three more packs. (The lilac melt I didn’t like as much came from a different company). I have loved all the scents from this company, as they are very strong, but pleasant to me. My absolute favorite scent so far has been the second cube I burned from my first sampler called Log Cabin. I think I loved it so much because it brought back happy memories of going to Granny and Papaw’s house in Indiana. It was an old house built over 100 years ago. My mom was ten years old when her family moved into that house, and her dad (my papaw) who loved do-it-yourself projects renovated it a lot, but it never lost its certain smell that my mom thought came from all the old wood in it. Papaw passed away in January 2008, and after a car accident in November 2016, my Granny was no longer able to live independently and manage this house, so she sold it to my cousin just last month. My cousin is the type who is embarrassed to have people over to her house, so sadly, I may never set foot in this old house again, but maybe I will order more of the Log Cabin cubes to keep the memory of Granny and Papaw’s house alive.

So far, I have enjoyed the Cabin Retreat sampler and the Holiday Classics sampler. Last weekend, I started on the Deep Thoughts sampler, and by the time I get through Mountain Sensations, hopefully I will be able to open my window and experience the fragrance of real nature again. But having these wax cubes burning has made my room more inviting than ever before, and I honestly think these scents have helped to relax me and make me more contemplative because this winter, I have been inspired to write more than I am most winters. To my delight, I have also come to notice that the scents I burn permeate my clothing, so at work when I raise my arm or move just right, I will get a faint whif of whatever scent is burning in my room which makes me smile. My dad has also noticed the scents on my clothes, and has taken to calling me “incense woman” because he will get a delightful wave of fragrance every time I walk by. I laugh though when I think about how my sister would hate me if she lived here because she is very sensitive to fragrance. Fortunately for her, she is not coming home until summer, by which time I will hopefully be able to have my windows open, so I will no longer be using these wax cubes. But if she comes home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, we may have some conflict. (smile)

In January, my parents, Grandma and I went to the Fireside Theater, an old-fashion dinner theater about an hour from our house and saw Phantom of the Opera. I was at first disappointed because it wasn’t the famous Andrew Lloyd Webber version I was expecting, but the original version, so I couldn’t sing along, but this disappointment quickly faded as it was an excellent show. But there was time after dinner before the show to peruse the gift shop, and this is where my dad found a wood wick patchouli candle. I had never heard of this scent, but my parents were excited because this scent reminded them of the hippy days in the college dorm. I think there is a little hippy in me too because I love music from that era, and natural healthy food. I came to love this scent as well when my mom burned it in the dining room. So I was thrilled to find this scent included in the Deep Thoughts sampler pack. Speaking of which, I have been burning the eucalyptus cube from the Deep Thoughts pack for a few days now and it is starting to lose its scent. So I think it is time to put in the patchouli cube right now. It is going to start smelling groovy around here!