12 Jan

The Year of Mamahuhu

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Even before the confetti was swept up from Time’s Square, there were signs that the misfortune of 2014 would be sticking around for a while.

Black ice and car crashes.

Hungry cats and fur ball treats…with laxative effects.

No New Year Kiss.

So I went to yoga, trying to start the year off right, or at least trying to retain bladder control during downward dog. That’s when the hip young yogi instructor shared something personal with the class that her LuluLemons did not.

“Yogis, even though you can do your best, you don’t always have to. Your downward dogs can play dead. Your lotus positions can look wilted. Your warrior positions can go AWOL. But that’s OK.  Because sometimes, doing just OK is OK”.

“Thanks a lot, Miss Enlightenment,” was my first response. But after a few twists, I knew she was right.

Sometimes just OK is OK.

Which is why I declare 2015 the Year of  OK or Mamahuhu.

Mamahuhu is a Chinese expression that describe things that are just OK, or almost OK, like airline food, network TV, or Renee Zellwegar’s new face.

I declare 2015 the Year of Mamahuhu  because it will be at best, just  OK. It will mostly likely include more funerals than weddings, more bad lab results than good,  more dinner conversations about body functions I never used to think twice about, and  having to think twice about things I used to only think once about.

(Really, how many of us in our twenties would discuss where to buy  a toilet seat ring or adult diapers  for aging parents? )

2015 will include legal fees and interventions, bedbugs, and scary confrontations with panhandlers, meltdowns and therapy sessions, a colonoscopy and one other evasive procedure, late charges and travel delays,  multiple revisions and rejection letters from publishers and health insurance agencies, and the most dreaded activity of all: cleaning out the storage unit.

Mamahuhu literally means horse horse tiger tiger, which is a lot better than the upcoming year of the Sheep.   Chinese have ever planned their pregnancies to avoid giving birth in this unlucky Chinese Zodiac year.  Those born in the year of the sheep are predicted to be followers ,not leaders.

So here’s to Horse horse. Tiger tiger. A year of OK.

Sometimes that’s as good as it gets.

06 Jan

National Eat Ice Cream in Bed Day

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That day was anything but a bowl full of cherries.

The door to my sister’s loft opened, a frosty version of my husband appeared.  Ice crystals were stuck to his scruffy beard and eye lashes.

“Here,” he passed me a box and gave me a peck on the cheek. “It’s for your mother.”

I opened the cardboard box and peered inside. “A pie?”

“Yes,”Jeff nodded. “A pie.”

Not just any pie, but a Bea’s ho-made cherry pie, that travelled two days through blizzard and ice storms from Door County to Grand Rapids to get to my mom during her final hours of hospice.

I picked at the cherries poking through the lattice top. “She can no longer eat,” I wiped the tears from my eyes. “All she is taking is morphine through an eye dropper.”

“Well, let’s see about that.”

Jeff scraped up some of the gooey cherry juices to dab on her lips and put them on a spoon. Then he held my hand and walked me into my sister’s room which was transformed into a hospital ward.  My mom sounded like a steam engine, her cheeks puffing out with every breath.

“They call them death rattles.” I squeezed Jeff’s hand.

Her life was gone. Her spirit was gone. But her appetite for cherry pie?

It was alive as ever.

“Here Mom,” Jeff wiped his teary eyes. “It’s your pie. And it’s OK that you eat it in bed.”

We dabbed the cherries on her lips. She licked the juice and continued huffing away.

A few hours  my mom passed away.

I will always wonder if my mother was waiting to see her son in law or waiting for the pie.

That was one year ago today.

Mom was famous for bedtime snacks that went beyond cookies and milk. It wouldn’t be unusual to find her nibbling on an extra crispy piece of KFC or  have a pint of ice cream between the sheets.

That’s why I want to honor my mom by eating ice cream in bed today. And cheezits. and cherry pie.

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Mom got an unexpected visitor in heaven this week, Carolena Elowsky. Carolena had a genuine love for my mother, which will always be remembered.

Who  knows, maybe they’re eating ice cream, too.

 

22 Dec

Regifting

“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” ― John Bunyan

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It could literally fill a bathtub, that being the amount of jewelry that my  aunt had squirreled away  in hollowed books in her office.

It was willed to my mom, who she passed away last year about now. My thoughts would bump into her every time I’d hear a Christmas carol.

And now, I’d bump into her jewelry every time I turned around.

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The booty included strands of pearls, silver necklaces, semi precious gemstones  in  velvet boxes from companies  that are no longer around. Sarah Coventry, Service Merchandise, and Monet. Many with the price tags still on. All  with the subtle smell of my aunt’s face cream.

I looked  looked at the pile of jewels and wished I could ask my mom what to do with it but I couldn’t.  But she was floating around on a cloud eating chicken.

So I called my sisters for some ideas.

We decided to play Santa to the single moms living in the shelters of cornerstone outreach in Uptown, Chicago.  It would be a luxury they couldn’t afford for themselves.

I sorted through the the boxes for glittery surprises to give to sixty five mothers, each with an note of encouragement from my mom:

“Dear Mom. You have dedicated to life to your kids. I pray that you know that Jesus can give you strength. He helped me raise my children. Love Mother Joan.” 

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A crew of volunteers helped wrap and distribute the jewelry.

It was a good way to feel Mom’s presence this holiday and regift her faith .

And share my aunt’s generosity.

 

 

18 Dec

Food Wizard

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“Just a minute  Lord!  Before you serve that fish, let me dress it up with  a sprig of these!” the bearded boy   suggested as he plucked wild herbs  from this bush.

“Anything else, Mikey?”

“Be sure to hone your knife before you cut those loaves. You don’t want to cut your finger.”

And that’s how Jesus ended up feeding five thousand instead of his motley crew.

Mikey Raney is –or was–one of the head cooks at JPUSA. Lord only knows why he was here.

Stooping over his magic pots with a long beard  and wired framed glasses, Mikey reminds me of a food wizard  who has traveled though time, gathering recipes from every corner of the world.

Many of his specialties originate  from the Silk Road, including aromatic curries and lentils. Then there’s  paprika rich goulash from Czechoslovakia,  Mideastern dishes from ancient times.  Southern  favorites such as collards, dirty rice and cornbread.

He can transform a few spices and donated food scraps into magical meals with the  help of Christi, his wife and sous chef.

Yes, this food sorcerer took a wrong turn in Tibet and ended up in Uptown, Chicago.

While cooking, Mikey would select music to play as carefully as a wine to inspire the kitchen help.

But Mikey and Christy are making their way back to Florida. I will miss them, the residents of JPUSA will miss them.

Here is a video of our taste-buds saying goodbye.

 

 

26 Nov

Catch of the Day

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While most wills leave loved ones big estates, bank accounts or cars, I was left something bigger than I could ever imagine.

A seven foot marlin.

 

Julie and eyed the eighty four inch fish, reeled in by my four foot eleven Aunt and bequeathed to me.

 

It was hanging over her king size bed, the blue wash board fin larger than the headboard. She was helping me pick up “Marley” along with some other belongings that my Uncle Jack insisted I’d have.

Considering that the only possession of value that I owned was a wok, I was grateful for any handouts, including the two swivel chairs from the seventies, perfectly preserved in plastic covers.

“It’s all yours,” my Uncle Jack beamed, his bald head perfectly round. My eyes zoned in on the scab that’s been on his nose since the last time I saw him.

“Thanks Uncle Jack,” I smiled. “My thighs remember sticking to those chairs.”

He shuffled over to a bookshelf. “Don’t forget these.” Jack piled onto my booty three new books my Aunt wrote on nursing. They never made the New York Times best sellers list, but were translated in Chinese and Spanish nonetheless.

“Or this.” His stubby old hands picked up a flowered suitcase. The sight of the petite canvas suitcase unzipped a boatload of memories.

“What’s inside?”

“You’ll find out.” He smiled.

I gave my uncle a big hug, his flannel shirt dwarfing his shrinking body, then loaded the van.

The nose of the fish almost reached the radio, making changing stations difficult. We listened to a static-laden WXRT as we made it to Chicago, the marlin’s open mouth giving the impression it was singing to the Beatles.

As we pulled into the front of our building, the Friendly Towers, I scratched my head. “Okay Julie, now that I got the fish, how do I get it on the wall?”

Julie threw on her flashers. “Ben will help you.”

“Who?”

“Ben. He’s tall, with a straggly beard.” She turned on her flashers. “Sorta looks like Jesus.”

“All of the guys at Jesus People look like Jesus,” I grunted, “even the crust punkers.” “But Ben doesn’t have tattoos or a nose ring.” She popped open the back door. “Just a real  deep voice.”

Julie’s description helped. After we unpacked the van and managed to get the marlin into the lobby, I snooped around the dining hall for a tall, non pierced version of Christ and saw Ben, lurching over the fruit bowl with a banana in his back pocket. I asked him if he’d help me with the fish.

“Whoah, let me get me drill.” Julie wasn’t kidding. Ben’s voice was smoother than a baritone sax.

As Smooth Jazz Jesus put the fish on my wall, I surveyed my booty, placing the preserved chairs in the room and the pristine books on my bookshelf. I anxiously unzipped the flowered suitcase, wondering what was inside.

I was hit with a blast from the past– the smell of my Aunt’s face cream–which powered the musty smell of the other treasures. Letters from her brother during WWII. A tattered report card from elementary school. A faded Baptism certificate. Coral earrings and cocktail rings. Yellowing news clippings of my Aunt in various hair styles and eye frames, receiving accolades for her work.

Ben packed up his drill and nodded. “This fish ain’t going nowhere.”

“Thanks Ben.”

So there I was, in my fishbowl size room with one heck of a large roommate. Next to its nose, I hung up a two inch clipping, Local Girl Gets Post at Illinois U and smiled.

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I don’t know which  was the biggest catch.

23 Nov

A New Door

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Today, I entered a new door.
I moved into Jesus People USA, aka Hippies for Jesus. It’s community style living where the residents serve the poor and homeless in Uptown, Chicago, of which I am one of them. It’s where I’ll be staying until whatever door opens next.
Julie Andrews, the housing director, let me into my new home.
Make that a not so new.
While Julie shares the name of the world’s favorite singing nanny, her voice was closer to Peppermint Patty from Charlie Brown.
She brought me up the elevator of Friendly Towers, the building Jesus People share with an old folks home. My nose took in the smell of cigarettes and drywall.
Julie used her hip to pop open the old door. “Make yourself comfortable, but not too comfortable. You’ll be staying here for a few weeks.”
I looked at my new nano-digs, about four hundred square feet of Post modern grunge, complete with a hissing radiator and thirty layers of paint. It reminded m of the apartment you see on a police shows where the detective finds the dead heroin junkie in the Bronx. I pushed away the tattered curtain to peer out the window, trying to ignore the bullet size hole in the thick glass. I smiled when I saw who was outside my window: Christ himself.
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He was glowing on top of local church followed by the words DIED FOR OUR SINS.
“Want to peep the bathroom?” Julie smiled.
“Sure.”
Her hand reached for where the knob on the door should be.
“Where’s the knob?”
“Oh, there’s only one,” she chuckled, “Make sure you keep it on the inside of the bathroom when you are doing your business so you don’t get locked in.”
“You’re kidding.” I looked around the small bathroom. A row of dead plants on the windowsill, the walls screaming lime green.
“No.” She pointed to the community knob on the inside of the door. “So if you don’t bring the knob, bring your phone so you can call for help.” Then she pointed to the other knobless door.
“Or, you could knock on the door of Loretta.”
“Of who?”
“Loretta,” Julie tossed her long hair back. “You’ll be sharing your bathroom with her.” Julie shoved the knob on the door and popped it open, revealing a room that was bride’s maid periwinkle decorated with stuffed animals and butterflies “But don’t worry, she’s as timid as a mouse.”
I crinkled my nose her beanie babies.
“Relax about the knobs. Remember, you can only go thru one door at a time.” Julie placed the brass orb in my hand, the metal cold and smooth. “Call me later if you need anything.”
I looked around and wondered what new adventure I was entering Knowing that the knob-less junkie suite was only my temporary living quarters, I didn’t call HGTV for help. Instead, I placed my Prada boots on the ledge of the loft bunk, stickied a few photos of my mom on the wall, and then, kicked myself for not bringing a toilet warmer from China. The porcelain on the toilet was cold and it wasn’t even December yet.
Finally, I placed the door knob on my book shelf.
Maybe it was good I only had one. I tend to always care about “what’s next” instead of the door that’s directly ahead of me. I looked at my reflection in the brass and wondered what lesson it might hold, like one of those lofty quotes I had to memorize in the 8th grade. Doors to success, opportunity knocking, or a knob without a door trying to find its purpose.
Hmm. Maybe God is trying to teach me a lesson, I smiled.
But when I remembered the dead plants in the bathroom , I realized the true meaning of the one knob.
The building is managed by hippies.

26 Oct

Giving God the Finger

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Dear Readers,

Unfortunately, the blog posting entitled, “Giving God the Finger” has been pulled.

I really admire my niece for the courage she exhibits as a teen with Cerebral Palsy. However, others felt the post was an inaccurate depiction of her.

Hopefully this will not squash Chloe’s desire to be a voice for those with CP, “helping the world not label those who are disabled”.

Thank you

Ginger S. MacDonald

 

 

 

 

 

24 Oct

Breaking Bad

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If you’re in urban ministry, you know someone who is hooked on:

Methcathinone, better known as Crank.

Methylenedioxy-methamphetamine, better known as Ecstasy.

Or oxymetazoline hydrochloride, better known as Afrin.

You’re kidding? People are addicted to nose spray?

Nasal decongestants aren’t hip enough for their own TV series, but let me tell you,they are just as addictive.  And  you’re not alone if your nostrils get excited when you pick up  a package featuring the blue silhouette of nasal membrane  at Walgreen’s.

I decided to kick my secret nasal addiction  this past weekend at our family cottage in Northern Michigan with my brother-in law.

 

I realized he too had a problem when I saw a white long spray nozzle peeking out from his central console.

“I like the generic brand from Kroger,” he confessed.

“I’m into the industrial strength stuff from China.”I pulled out my stash from my computer bag. “I don’t know what’s in it, since the label is in Mandarin. All I know it that it’s strong enough to combat the air pollution in Beijing.”

 

When we pulled over at a Speedway for a fill up, I googled nose spray addictions and discovered that our schnozes weren’t alone.  By the number of websites and support groups, there appeared to be thousands of people who’d give their first born child before they’d give up their nasal decongestant.

I read tips on how to go cold turkey as Patrick steered, trying to avoid deer. “It only takes seventy six hours to break the addiction.”

“That’s four hours longer than it takes to get to the moon.”

“But at least we don’t have to pee in a bag strapped to our leg”.  I scrolled down posts from bloggers with names such as Proboscis Man, Toucan Sam  and Mouth Breather.

“This guy recommends detoxing one nostril at a time.” I started. “And, if that doesn’t work, he says to rub Wasabi  on your nose hairs.”

Patrick paused. “I wear a CPAP machine. That could get quite messy.”

So when we pulled into  the cabin, we vowed to go cold turkey, miles away from anyplace that sold nasal relief–  even mamby-pamby saline drops.

After three days of mouth breathing, crusty boogers and dry mucas membranes, we successfully kicked our habits. Not only were we able to wake up and smell the falling leaves and skunk musk, our noses caught whiff of a late blooming rose outside our cottage.

“Congratulations, Patrick, we did it.”

So, now that my sinuses are on the nasal spray wagon, am I in better standings with God?

After all, Christians point fingers at active addicts all of the time, thinking they have to be “fixed” before the junkie’s faith is valid. They can’t be a believer because they still shoot up or spray up. Nonsense!

We get so caught up on the recovery, we forget about the healing process.

Jesus hung out with drunks and those who hadn’t “broken bad”.  Not those that had completed a 12 step recovery program for Frankincense & Myrrh snorting. The only sin Jesus regularly slammed was that of  judging others.

So if you work with addicts in your outreach program, remind them God is with them every step of the way— not just at the end –of their recovery journey.

And if you can’t kick Afrin?

Jesus loves, you too.

 

27 Sep

Unsafe at Home

 

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Imagine you sent your only child eight thousand miles away to go to school in Chicago. Not a suburb, but Chicago, the murder capital of America with shootings heard around the world.

You trust your child at a faith based school, spending as much as $40,000 a year to live and study there.

And this is the only thing that separates your child from the headlines.

This door has been an object of contention between myself and uh, my former employer. I am once again homeless, this time due to my plight to stick up for a group of international students studying at a faith based school in Chicago.

While the doors to the school building are modern and of top quality, the door to the boy’s dorm is uh, let’s say, a hooptie.

When I took the position in August, the latch on the side of the door was loose, the screws hanging out.  The school assured me and my husband, the matter would be taken care of.

I had envisioned a door similar in quality to what is standard at dorms housing students, particularly those housing minors.  I thought the school would invest $800 in a door  with a self locking mechanism, possibly a fob for a key-less entry,  or one that was at least up to par with all of the other door locks in the neighborhood.

After all, this is Chicago, not the Little House on the Prairie.

Well, after a month of complaining, emails and “We’ll Get To It” responses, the door knob is still loose, the door found open, and  keys routinely get stuck inside, which was extremely embarrassing in when it happened in front of parents who flew in from the flip-side to check up on their son.

But the school admin assures me that “proper training of these students will keep the dorm safe”.

I am not sure this is the time or neighborhood to check a teen’s responsibility.  But hey, it’s a Christian school and Jesus will send an angel to save them.

Try explaining that to atheist students.

Meanwhile, the adjacent school doors (with no students sleeping behind them), have fumble free, state of the art locks like this.

 

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But now,  I am out the door .

Both the crappy and the nice one.

 

 

 

27 Sep

Guide to Unexpected Teen Pregnancy

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Peeing. Taking a whiz. Draining one’s dragon. Going to the can.

Nothing can give more relief than finding a sparkling clean toilet seat at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. But as much as peeing can make car passengers feel good, peeing on a pregnancy stick can bring fear and stress to the typical teen.

Strolling down that aisle at the drugstore alone, buying not one, but two pregnancy test kits  (just to double check) has been a horribly painful experience for many teen girls.

Feelings of loneliness, fear and remorse and that’s even before the baby is born, which will bring another wave of unexpected emotions.

If you are dealing with teen pregnancy at your church, Christian ministry or youth group, you’ll be dealing with these emotions, too. They are  not easy stuff. Along with the baby comes a new bundle of emotions for the teen mom. Learn more about the 3motions of Teen Pregnancy.