Monday, July 4, 2016

The Fish That Got Away

When I was growing up, my parents and grandparents spun many a yarn about their lives. One of my all-time favorites was from a time when my maternal grandparents went deep sea fishing. Living near the coast, they would go fishing as often as they could.

fisherman, fishing, fish
My maternal grandparents

One day back in the 1950's, they decided to make their fishing trip a little more interesting by turning it into a friendly competition. The competition rules were: whoever "boated" the biggest fish that day, won. To "boat" the fish meant neither could help the other reel in, or bring on board, their catch. They had to do it all by themselves.

My grandfather stood about 6'1" tall, while my grandmother was a petite 5'4" tall. My grandfather's size gave him a bit of confidence with his ability to cast further, and reel fish in faster, than my grandmother.

The prize for this competition? Bragging rights. 

Little did they know how far, or for how many years, the bragging rights from this friendly competition would continue.

The fishing competition commenced with each of them using a cane fishing pole to catch bait fish. A cane pole is a piece of bamboo which was fashioned into a fishing pole. Once they caught a small fish on the cane pole, they would transfer that fish to their "good" fishing poles, in hopes of catching bigger fish.

All was going well when my grandmother's cane pole began to dance around. Thrilled she had caught a bait fish, my grandmother quickly grabbed the cane pole and began to bring it in.

The harder she pulled on that cane pole, the harder the fish fought back. Within minutes, she realized she had something larger than just a bait fish and started hollering for my grandfather.

"Help! Help me!" she cried.

When my grandfather turned toward my grandmother, he was greeted with a view of just her elbows and fanny, and both wiggling around frantically. The rest of her body was bent over the side of boat fighting against whatever was on the other end of her fishing pole.

A second later, she stood upright, causing her cane pole to bend nearly in half. The weight and fight of the fish on the other end of the pole pulled my grandmother so she was bent over the side of the boat. 

Back and forth she went as she fought to gain the upper-hand. Just as she would stand upright, the fish would fight back and cause her to be bent in half again.

Again she cried out "Help! Help me!".

Being that this was a friendly fishing competition between the two, and my grandmother was holding her own in this battle of fish vs. human, my grandfather took a moment and asked "Is this fish going to count?". 

"Yes!", she exclaimed.

He chuckled as he replied "Well, then no ma'am I won't help. You have to boat that fish yourself, if you want it to count.".

Her reply was lost as she was, yet again, bent in half when the big fish fought against being a trophy. My grandmother may have been petite, but she came from a lineage of strong women and was every bit as feisty as the ancestors before her. She dug in her heels and pulled, and tugged, and pulled some more. 

Back and forth she went with this fish for a good bit of time. Finally gaining the advantage, she pulled the fish in close to the boat and yelled for my grandfather to grab the fishing net to lift her prize into the boat.

Eagerly, my grandfather moved close to my grandmother as she brought the fish to the surface, ready to see what size fish had caused such an epic battle. Just as he leaned down, the fish surfaced, only it wasn't just any old fish. 

shark, fishing
Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia Public Commons

It was a shark! 

Ok, so it wasn't the 20 foot great white shark pictured above, but when you're the one hanging over the side of a boat with their hands in the path of a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth, it probably looked like Jaws. It was, however, a good four to five foot very displeased shark, to be more exact.

My grandfather shrieked and jumped back. After making sure all of his digits were still intact, he declared my grandmother the winner of their contest and made the wise decision she did not need to boat her catch. Grabbing a tool from his tackle box, he carefully cut the fishing line and set the shark free.

You may wonder what happened to the cane pole that stood strong throughout this competition. It was permanently bent in an arc from that legendary battle of wills and would be brought out of the storage closet whenever anyone asked to hear the story of how my grandmother caught a shark.

My grandparents had planned on keeping that fishing pole indefinitely, unfortunately, their home was burglarized a number of years later and the burglars made off with all of their fishing equipment, including the bent cane pole.

So, if you ever come across someone with a bent cane pole from ca. 1950's, it could very well be from an epic battle where my grandmother caught a fish "this big"......... but it got away.

Written by Christie Bielss

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Winningest Loser

As the clock strikes midnight at the start of a new year, I usually make a list of things I want to accomplish in the new year. Rarely does anything from that list come to fruition because I either: a) lose interest; b) am not committed enough; or c) I am too chicken.

This year I made a pact with myself that I was going to do at least one thing outside of my comfort zone. One thing which would not only make me cringe at the mere thought of doing it, but quite possibly make shake in my boots too.

Just after I made that pact, the gurus who select what you see on Facebook plopped an advertisement for a writing contest into my newsfeed. I clicked on the link and began reading the entry requirements....... and the butterflies started fluttering around in my tummy and the self-doubts crept in. 

The competition was for the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition. The doubts of "who am I to be writing anything for a competition named after one of the greatest humor writers of all time" and "Ha! You don't even know the difference between an adjective and a participle!".

With some encouragement from family and friends, I stuck to my plan and wrote an essay for the contest....... and even submitted it. Knowing that I never win anything, my expectations to win were pretty much non-existent, but, by having submitted the essay, I had already won. I had conquered one battle over my fear.

The results were announced a couple of weeks ago and, as usual, I won no awards or accolades for my essay; however, I feel like I won an Academy Award for having the gumption to have actually submitted it.

As part of the rest of that pact I made with myself, I am posting the essay I wrote. So here it is in all of its "must be less than 450 words" winningest loser glory: 

The Lawn Mower Man

It begins with a few wispy clouds scattered across a beautiful blue sky.  Within minutes, the sky is covered in dark, ominous storm clouds.  The bright flash of lightning and sharp crack of thunder permeate the stillness of the afternoon.

The sound of an approaching storm causes normal people to seek shelter, but my husband is not like “normal people”.  When thunder starts rolling, he steps outside, sniffing the wind like any good bloodhound trying to catch the scent of its target.  At the first whiff of dust settling in the air, he transforms into a superhero. His work clothes go sailing through the air as he dons his superhero costume. With a wife-beater tank top, cut-off shorts, and a towel as his cape, he becomes “The Lawnmower Man”!

Faster than a speeding bullet, he runs and grabs the weedeater out of the garage.  As the storm gets closer and the thunder grows louder, he deftly edges around the yard and levels the grass next to the flowerbed.  With lightning flying around like fireworks on Independence Day, The Lawnmower Man realizes the time is perfect to unleash “The Turfinator”.

The roar of the lawn mower challenges the god of thunder for supremacy.  Zeus hurls lightning bolts while our superhero raises his fist in defiance.  Other men may duck and run for cover, but The Lawnmower Man just snorts and continues to mow as though he’s on a leisurely stroll through a botanic garden.  Lightning blinds the average man, but The Lawnmower Man is able guide his mower through the blazing brightness in perfectly straight lines within his predetermined directional mowing plan.

As rain begins to fall, he summons the next weapon in his arsenal, the fertilizer spreader.  Sprinting back and forth across the yard faster than an Olympic gold medalist, he rushes to get the grass fed in the rain.  In a torrential downpour, The Lawnmower Man will wrap the top opening of the spreader with kitchen plastic wrap, like a prized Thanksgiving dinner leftover, to prevent the fertilizer from dissolving before he is able to spread it across the lawn.

If he finishes spreading the fertilizer before the thunderstorm ends, he steps up on the porch as though it were an Olympic platform, to receive the gold medal before an imagined stadium packed with cheering fans.  If the thunderstorm dies off before he finishes, he hangs his head and repeats the defeated athlete’s pledge to be in better shape and better prepared for the next match-up. As the storm clouds clear, The Lawnmower Man realizes the neighbors are watching closely, wondering if they should record his heroism ………or dial 911.

Monday, February 29, 2016

The Escalator Escapade

One day while shopping at the mall, I observed a very attractive and well dressed woman step onto the grooved platform of the store escalator. She carried herself with a regalness rarely seen outside of Buckingham Palace. As I made my store purchase, I watched as the escalator carried her up to the next floor.

She stood on the conveyor step and surveyed the harried shoppers much as a queen looks down upon the peasants in her kingdom.  As she neared the crest of the escalator mountain, she prepared to disembark. In the process of shifting her position on the steps, one of her expensive high heeled pumps became lodged in the grooves of the people moving contraption. This well coiffed and fashionably dressed woman tried, to no avail, to daintily wiggle her foot in order to dislodge the stuck shoe. 

She was lifted ever closer to the peak when the sound of the stair steps collapsing into the metallic jaws of death caused the fashionista to panic.  Abandoning all sense of propriety, she grabbed her shoe with both hands in an effort to pry it loose from the vise-like grip the escalator had on it.

My jaw fell open as I watched the drama unfold. The words in my mind must have spilled out of my mouth, causing the sales associate I was working with to turn and view the spectacle. Before the sales associate could react, a young male sales associate jumped into action. He quickly pressed a button, stopping the escalator's movement while rushing to assist her.

When the escalator finally stopped, the heel of the costly shoe was wedged into the metal teeth of the landing platform. The young man wiggled the shoe back and forth as he tried to free the stiletto heel. Putting a little more muscle into his efforts, the shoe finally popped free........... minus the stiletto heel. Horrified, he reached down and plucked the heel from between the step's grooves. 

As the young man handed the mangled shoe and heel to the beautiful woman, she looked sadly upon the damage which had been wrought and began to laugh. She thanked the associate profusely for his chivalry. After plopping the detached heel into her handbag, she put the mauled shoe upon her foot and attempted to walk away.

The three inch height disparity between the two shoes made walking with any semblance of dignity utterly impossible. With unmatched confidence and majesty, she kicked off both shoes, flung them over her shoulder like a pair of flip flops, and walked through the store barefoot, as though she were a queen walking on a private beach.

As the sales associate and I watched the woman disappear into the racks of clothing, the sales associate leaned over and said "I would much rather walk up ten flights of stairs than trust my good shoes to a contraption that is similar to what the recycling plant uses to crush beer cans.". And with that comment, I realized all of the grace and majesty had left the building and just us commoners remained.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Renewed Hope for the New Year

Every year on New Year's Eve people expect to experience magic at the stroke of midnight. New Year's Eve has friends throwing parties, families enjoying and celebrating each other's company, and old movie buffs watching "An Affair to Remember" with a box of tissues close at hand.

The new year is a blank slate and we get to craft and design how we hope it will develop. We make lists of goals, wants, and desires. We start organizing our lives, families, homes, rooms, and living spaces in hopes of giving ourselves the best opportunity to be productive and successful. 

Sometimes our plans for the year go just as we envisioned, and sometimes everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. It really is a crapshoot as to which direction the year will take.

Right out of the gate, 2015 detoured from the path we had carefully crafted and lined out for our family. As the year progressed and 2015 was showing itself to be a year filled with change and stress, I started wishing for 2015 to hurry up and just be over and done with. I was ready to experience the magic of a new year, preferably a year that went according to the plans we had laid out.

As the holidays came upon us, friends would ask how things were going. Instead of wanting to go through the litany of issues we were dealing with, I began responding with "is it 2016 yet?". The thought of being able to kiss 2015's challenges away at the stroke of midnight was, quite simply, glorious.

While navigating our way through the food coma known in America as Thanksgiving Day, there was a little whisper in my heart to look back over the whole year before it came to a close. The pessimist in me started going through a litany of the extremely difficult days we had experienced. It was quite the laundry list of challenges.

After Thanksgiving, we began decorating our home for Christmas. With the unpacking of Christmas lights and ornaments, our children's excitement for the holidays began to build, causing us to put a little extra love and effort into decorating.

As we all got into the Christmas spirit and looked for more ways to "Christmas-up" our home, that little voice inside me, the same little rascal who told me at Thanksgiving to look back on the year, was now telling me to look harder and to dig deeper. It pushed for me to open the eyes of my heart and look at all of the good we experienced in the midst of the hell we had walked through. 

While my husband and kids were outside creating a light display to rival Clark Griswold's spectacle in Christmas Vacation, I sat down and closed my eyes. In those quiet moments I saw how my family was never alone. Not even once. In every single moment of difficulty and trial, there was a physical presence with us, holding our hands, calming our fears, and whispering in our hearts that He was (and continues to be) with us.

From that point on, as each day edged us ever closer to the new year, my opinion of 2015 changed. Yes, 2015 was a very difficult and trying year, but it was also a year where we experienced unprecedented strength, faith, and hope.

As we move into 2016, I know we will have continued challenges and obstacles to overcome, but this year I am carrying with me a strength and determination which could have only come from the fire we walked through in 2015. 

Just as the Psalmist says, He refined us and made us stronger. 2015 wasn't the prettiest of years but it will be one of our most memorable and, at some point in the future, there will be things we will look back on and find humor.

Here's to hoping and praying that life is able to stay on the path this crazy redhead has laid out for 2016. Thanks for hanging in there with me. Happy New Year to each and every one of you! Now enough of the deep stuff, let's get back to finding the humor in all of life's craziness.

Christie Bielss

Monday, August 17, 2015

What Parent Type Are You?

When I was growing up, there were only 2 parenting styles: strict and lenient.  It did not matter whether you were that parent's own child or someone else's. If you got into trouble or did something wrong, you received an immediate correction by whoever's parent was closest to the center of activity.

Growing up, my brothers and I learned the hard way never to misbehave in the car. We were sure that during childbirth, God gave our mother a second set of eyes which were located in the back of her head. When she napped, we would pick at her hair trying to find those eyes.

We knew they had to be hidden behind somewhere in that giant 1970's beehive of a hairdo, but we never could find them. No person, without a set of eyes in the back of their head, could see the way she could.  She always knew which child was instigating trouble. She could drive the car perfectly while backhanding any misbehaving kids in the backseat faster than Superman could change clothes in a phone booth.

Between our mother and the other mothers in the neighborhood, all the kids in the neighborhood were watched to see what we were doing. This scrutiny meant we learned right from wrong at a very early age.

Things have changed dramatically since I grew up.  One of the biggest changes has been the creation of so many different parenting labels. There are so many different labels used to describe how a mother chooses to rear her child(ren), it could confuse Dr. Spock.

Tiger, Helicopter, Free-Range, Elephant, Little-Emperor, and Lighthouse Moms are just to name a few. The labels all seem to have a defining characteristic: you are either an animal or a machine.

Personally, I don't want to be known as an Elephant Mom. The older I get, the more I battle ankle wrinkles. I've also heard as you age, your ears and nose never stop growing. Put these issues together and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus may send me an invitation to join the circus.

While I may be a redhead with a fiery temper, calling me a Tiger Mom might get you a close-up view of my retractable claws.

Since I grew up believing I was a princess, raising my child like a Little-Emperor would totally be a conflict of interest. I'm really not prepared to share my tiara.

When I hear people discussing the Free-Range label, I don't imagine kids playing outside on their own and growing through self-exploration. I see a bunch of hens pecking for feed around a chicken coup. It takes me back to the 1970's Saturday morning television shows featuring the Looney Tunes cartoon character Foghorn Leghorn, who is always playing pranks on the Barnyard Dawg, and is usually on the losing end of his own prank.

If parenting labels had more flair, I might be more inclined to associate my style with them.  There could be the Audrey Hepburn Mom - one who not only teaches their children to have a classic personal style and speak 5 different languages, but to be gracious and give of themselves to help others. I could definitely get into wearing chic sunglasses and big hats, but am thinking the mismatched hodgepodge clothing style of my son may exclude us from this label.

There is also the June Cleaver Mom. She not only keeps her house perfectly clean with two sons tracking heavens knows what into it, she would shoo her boys out of the house daily for exercise and sunshine.  Dinner was served promptly in the dining room where no electronic devices interrupted the dinner conversation, and she always wore pearls.

The children's homework would always be complete ahead of the due date and their rooms would be clean.  They may even get their children to shower daily without begging and pleading. Considering my children's penchant for waiting until the last minute to do 3 weeks worth of homework projects the night before they are due, and that the only way my kids' rooms will be clean is if the empty snack pouches are carried away by the Godzilla size dust bunnies, I'm thinking our admission application for this parenting label will be denied.

In reality, I probably fall into the Slacker Mom label. I don't create a schedule for my children's projects because I require them to do it. I am not very creative or inventive and never made sandwiches into animals or pancakes shaped like Disney characters. I slapped food on a paper plate, said "Mmmm.... Yum! Eat up!", and they ate....... usually.

My children aren't overscheduled. I sign them up for one sport at a time and I'm doing good to remember what days/times to get them to their activity. If I'm really on the ball, my kids will have finished eating dinner before we are in the car on the way to their sporting event.

I would love to be the mom who is ultra-organized and has everyone's schedule entered into the calendar on her phone, which is synced to her computer, laptop, and tablet. I admire the woman who sorts her children's daily school paperwork and immediately addresses each item, versus letting it pile up until it becomes a fire hazard.

When it comes down to it though, does it really matter what kind of parenting style you have, so long as you are actually involved and parenting your children? Do we really need one more label in this world?

Christie Bielss

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Legend of PrayerBear

You may be wondering what happened to this crazy redhead the past few months.  This summer my daughter underwent major surgery. It was an extraordinarily stressful time for my husband and I. Leading up to the surgery, my stress levels were so high, I could not think beyond how many days were left until surgery, much less think of writing a single word for the blog.

While we were confident our daughter had the very best surgeon and was in the best hospital to attend to her needs, the doubts and "what ifs" still somehow crept in. In the days leading up to the surgery, I could not fathom how I could possibly handle watching as the hospital staff wheeled my daughter away. I did the only thing I knew to do during this time:  I prayed, and prayed, and prayed. 

My little girl made me make a promise a few days prior to surgery. She made me promise I would not cry in front of her when they wheeled her off to surgery. I agreed, even though I wasn't sure I could keep that promise..... but I was determined to give it all I had. 

As she was wheeled back for surgery, her prayers were answered and I did not shed a tear. For the next nearly 7 hours, I prayed, and chatted with one of our church's ministers. And then I prayed, and walked to the hospital's chapel and prayed some more. As I walked back to my seat in the parents' surgical waiting area, the surgeon walked through the doors beaming from ear to ear. Our baby was on the road to recovery.

One day while she was still in the hospital recuperating, she had a particularly rough morning. The nurse gave her some medication to ease her symptoms, which also had the side benefit of helping her sleep. While she napped, I stepped out into a parent lounging area to update my parents on her condition.

I was on the phone with my parents and watched as hospital volunteers quietly dropped off a teddy bear to her room. They giggled as they came out of her room, thrilled a child would wake up to their surprise gift. I smiled and got a bit choked up at the delight these 2 women took in bringing cheer to sick and injured children.

A short time later my husband arrived with our son, so he could visit with his sister. As we walked in, our daughter was just rousing from her nap. She immediately laid eyes on a lovely creamy white teddy bear which had been placed on the bed tray in front of her.

She squealed with delight over waking up to this adorable stuffed creation and, upon lifting it up, discovered a book had come with the bear. I read aloud the name of the book "The Legend of PrayerBear" by Annie Miller. My daughter said immediately "That's my bear's name. PrayerBear", and then asked me to read the book to her.

I sat down and read this beautiful and touching story of a bear that just wanted someone to love and hug. I was doing a great job of holding my tears inside over this heartwarming tale until I got to the last page.

I barely made it through the first line on the page when all of the tears I had held so tightly inside started escaping the vise-like control I'd kept on them. I stopped reading for a moment and took a deep breath, trying to get hold of myself. 

The story had taken a twist when PrayerBear had been given to a young girl who was in the hospital and was sad because she wasn't well enough to be able to get up and about. This story was hitting so close to home, I was having no success controlling my emotions. When I got to the final 2 paragraphs of the story, the proverbial floodgates opened wide:

          "I thank you for my PrayerBear,
            And for the friend so dear
            Who cared enough to send it
            To remind me God is near.

            Every time I feel afraid
            I'll hug my PrayerBear tight
            For I have friends who care for me,
            And I will be all right."

Christie Bielss

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Standout Teacher

When I was in high school a long, long time ago, I had the honor of having a couple of teachers who stood out from the rest.  Yes, these teachers were getting paid to teach, but they had also made it their mission to make a difference in children’s lives. While I can pinpoint the contributions each of these teachers worked so tirelessly to make, there was one who was a force to be reckoned with. She was a hard taskmaster and she did not accept halfhearted attempts at homework.

Mrs. Betty Stapleton

She was known for prodding, pushing, and shoving you, kicking and screaming if need be, into digging deeper inside of yourself. She was the teacher that when you picked up your class schedule and you saw her name, you would groan at what was to come. When your friends saw whose class you had been placed in, they would pat you on the back while telling you everything would be okay.

She was Mrs. Betty Stapleton, an English teacher on a mission to educate above and beyond the norm. On the first day of class, your fears were realized. She threw down the gauntlet and challenged you before the class roll was ever called.

Her goal was to challenge you to think beyond the printed words on a page. If, in a piece of literature, there was a scent described, she wanted you to be able to smell it. If there was an emotion, she wanted you to feel it. And if there was a noise, you were to hear it.

To this day I can hear her reading Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” to our class. The way she read the poem made it come to life. It was no longer a required assignment with weird, old world language we were being forced fed. It became a fascinating piece of literature which drew us into its rhyming stanzas and dramatic prose.

Mrs. Stapleton not only drew us into the world of classical literature, she also taught us to reach deep within our souls when we wrote our own essays. It definitely was no easy task for her to try and get me, a guarded redhead, to dig deep and open up my soul for others to see.

Her words of encouragement were very uplifting, but she utterly flabbergasted me when she told me she enjoyed reading my written work. It was the first time a teacher had ever told me they enjoyed my work. I, an overly verbose redhead with a relatively poor grasp of grammar, was left speechless. Her class was one of the hardest I have ever taken, and yet the most rewarding.

The level of encouragement she provided saw me through my college years and sticks with me to this day. While looking for a way to contact her to thank her, I discovered she passed away in 2002. I did not even consider this possibility when I began my search and was surprised at how sad I felt when I made the discovery. I wish I could thank her personally for her tireless dedication and for making an imprint on my soul, but I waited too long.

Do you have a teacher who lit a spark within you? Someone who went above and beyond the norm? I would love to hear your stories! If you have ever felt the desire to let that special teacher know how big of a difference they made in your life, don't wait.  Let them know now.

Christie Bielss