Monday, December 29, 2014

“Budgets and Balance Sheets”

 
            I begin every month with taking a legal sized envelope and folding it into fourths. Each quarter gets a week’s designation, and each week receives a spending limit. I record all expenditures on the virgin exterior of the envelope—whether it be a major outflow like $142.15 for groceries or something as minor as $3.14 for a Sonic Slush. At the end of every week, I total the damage, feeling smugly triumphant if I’ve kept our spending in the green, or vowing to do better if we dip into the red. My obsession with number crunching allows us to indulge at the end of the month if anything extra remains. Most of the time, though, we simply break even. By the end of each month, the overstuffed envelope’s surface is covered with numbers and notes on spending habits. It remains in my upper desk drawer until the credit card statement arrives as a means of double checking the balance for our month’s expenses. 
            My obsession continues into my record keeping. I have ledgers dating back to those first months of our marriage where we stretched $850 a month income across apartment rent, utilities, insurance, school loans and food. The numbers may have changed over the years, but my strategy remains the same. I know exactly where every penny goes, can use one year’s budget to project into the next year, and based on one year’s spending will plan financial goals.

            I rarely set the goal of saving money just to save it. We don’t have some huge balance accruing that hasn’t been assigned an end purpose. The chunk of money accumulating in our Money Market goes to taxes on our home this month and anything left over will stay in place for April’s income taxes and work on the car. All of the budgeting and balance sheets pays off in the long run. We work together as a family to reach very specific spending goals. By watching the outflow carefully, we’ve plugged up leaks and pooled funds into building a secure future.
            Sometimes I wonder if I’d hold onto the monthly envelope and colorful ledgers if our income ever rose. Would I stop tracking that dollar spent here? Or that five spent over there? Then I admit with chagrin that number crunching flows through my veins. It’s part of who I am, how I think. Whether I have only a teacher’s retirement income or a million dollars doesn’t matter. I’d track my spending, set my goals, and record all expenditures.
            Maybe I’d just have a larger envelope! 
 
Copyright 20214 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Sunday, December 21, 2014

“Downsizing Christmas”

 
            My quest to simplify seeped from not putting up a Christmas tree over into decorating only the dining room table and purchasing just a few holiday gifts.
Only decorations out this year!
            My husband, son and I each picked a couple of items to put on our wish list. As I’d spent months lusting over a second camera lens, my family didn’t think twice about the perfect gift for me. My husband decided to refurbish his old Vox, and my son managed to locate companies that sold the necessary parts to make the guitar look new again. Teddy bear pendants topped my son’s list-again something unique that we found online.
            My siblings proved as easy to shop for since my sister always says, “Nothing,” when I ask her what she wants. And she means it. I will probably send something small through the mail the week after Christmas as an unexpected surprise. My brother, on the other hand, needs and appreciates everything. We often pull together a necessity box that contains items like Tide (which is so expensive), soaps of various scents, his favorite body wash and shampoo, and other household cleansers that tend to eat his grocery budget. These practical items will allow him to spend more of his budget on food. Usually, we also purchase something for my brother that he wants but won’t get for himself. Since he mentioned clothing for this year, and he has to work on Christmas day and the day after, I suggested we go out together on the 27th on a shopping extravaganza to find the items he wants.
            I handed responsibility for my in-laws’ gifts over to my husband. In the past, I would have handled the shopping for them, but simplifying means stepping away from even this task. My husband found something easily for his sister’s home and ordered it weeks ago. He still hasn’t decided on what to do about his brothers, and stated that if he doesn’t find anything it’s not a big deal. My “old” self would want to jump in and hunt for some kind of present—even if it were a token gift; but this is an assignment for him, not me. Talk about an eye opening experience! Why didn’t I sidestep some of these duties years ago?
            I know paring back Christmas and all of its festivities and traditions won’t turn into a permanent lifestyle change. It has, however, caused me to re-examine many things I do around the holiday season and forced me to hone I on the important ones.
            What about our Christmas breakfast of Eggs Benedict and Mimosas?
            Well—some traditions are just too sacred to mess with . . .
 
Copyright 2014 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Saturday, December 20, 2014

“Dental Floss”



Cheap dental floss    
—not the desired brand—    
            Frays    
            Leaves strands    
                        trapped    
Frustrated before sunrise    
            I fling the new container aside—    
                        thumping it into the trash    
                        announcing my irritation    
Temper flames my words,     
            “We had an entire conversation about this!”    
Feeling trivialized and minimized
            I cut to make him smaller   
And I braid those fine wax fibers 
            into Porter’s rope  
                        Giving it weight—
                                    Importance
Until 
            my snarling reflection    
            snaps me to The Big Picture 
It is—  
            after all—    
Only dental floss   


 

Copyright 2014 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

 

                       

Sunday, November 30, 2014

“Tradition? Or Rut?”

            My goal to slow down and analyze the reasons behind my actions shifted beyond focusing on my housework habits and led me to scrutinizing my holiday traditions. When September marches onto the calendar, I haul out a few fall decorations. Halloween means I adorn shelves with bats and witches, and I follow with scarecrows and gourds for Thanksgiving.
           
Today's project
The first week of December, I pack away all my russets, gold and gingers in favor of Christmas sparkles. I spend day after day unloading bins of festive décor and finding the perfect arrangement for a cluster of Santas or a herd of reindeer. Then, I tackle the tree. Most of our ornaments reside during the rest of the year in their original boxes. Removing them takes time and effort, and replacing them once the holiday season is behind us takes its own day—even if I recruit help from my husband and son. And although my family appreciates my passion to festoon garlands throughout the house, they mention it’s a ton of work that has to be “undone” within a month.
              A month ago, an unexpected freeze meant I didn’t have time to go outside and cover plants. Instead, I hauled them all inside, arranging them next to the living room window—the spot where our Christmas tree traditionally sits. I commented that I loved the greenery, but would need to lug everything back outside and rig my winter “greenhouse” once December arrived.
Hmmm . . . how do I make this into holiday décor?
            “Why?” asked my son.
            And I thought before replying. For several days I let that question linger and swirl around. Why should I relocate all of these plants to put in an artificial tree? Why should I spend days adorning it with ornaments, and then days taking it down again?
            I questioned, “Is this tradition?  Or am I in a rut?”
            For me, the decision to skip putting up the tree is huge—but when I opened my mind to other possibilities, I almost exploded with ideas. Within the cluster of green, I’ll snuggle in poinsettias and colorful bows. I’ll pick up more live plants—little pines and rosemary!
            Yesterday, my son commented, “You know, you’ve been using the same stuff for years. And I know you like all the memories that different things hold, but maybe this year you could start a new bin—with decorations that are different from everything you already have.”
Just the beginning!
            My eyes sparkled, my pulse kicked up a little, my brain zigzagged with possibilities. New decorations? And I know I won’t go out and buy something all from one place. Instead, I’ll start with a few new items and spend the entire month “growing” into the different holiday trimmings. The rush to adorn our home with gingerbread men and snowmen shifted immediately to a desire to slow down to savor creating a fresh look for the house.
 
Copyright 2014 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

“The Second Year”






Two years  
Cramming days so full     
That exhaustion tumbles me into bed each night   
Drawing old friends into my orbit   
As I spin, spin, spin   
And throw-off grief and loss   
I pull on your fuzzy blue robe   
And snuggle into your warmth   
Comforted   
Memory lets me linger with your laughter   
Takes my hand and leads me to your crooked smile   
Tugs me out of those months of shadow and spills me into sunshine 
I speak of you, your battle, and the years of care  
Without weeping   
Softness swaddles my sadness   
Sorrow defines the second year   
 
 
 
Copyright 2014 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman


Monday, November 24, 2014

“A Layer of Dust”

 
            I clean.
            When stress edges into my day, I wipe down the countertops. I follow the dog and pluck his fluffs of fur from the carpet. Manned with a bottle of Windex, I polish and shine every glass surface of our home.
            I clean.
            My childhood chores so entrenched into my lifestyle that discomfort sits in my belly if I don’t fold the throws and line up the pillows on the couch every morning before heading out for work.
            I clean.
            Armed with vinegar and bleach, sponges, toothbrushes and rags, I lay siege to floor grout and countertops, shower stalls and toilet bowls.
            I clean.
            And I grumble and mumble. I nag about the endless tasks that I must tackle day-after-day, week-after-week. You know the drill. Martyrdom as I bemoan my endless list of duties and try to guilt others into helping me achieve the unattainable. Perfection.
            And so my quest for personal growth veers into a new direction.
            A layer of dust.
            A layer of dust settles throughout the house.
            I bite my lip and ignore the urge to run the cuff of my sleeve around the speakers of my laptop. I force my eyes to front and center in great effort to walk past the étagère where a dancing figurine floats in dust motes.
            A layer of dust.
            And although my willpower currently controls my urge to wipe every surface clean, I hope to eventually live with less perfection.
            A layer of dust.
            And the world hasn’t come to an end.  
 
Copyright 2014 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"Veterans Day"


           “Is that Daddy?” queried four-year-old Lizzy as she pointed her finger at a man dressed in green fatigues.
         The young mother squeezed her daughter’s hand tighter as she answered, “No. I’ll tell you what you need to do. Look at the caps the men are wearing. Your daddy’s cap is dirty.”
         Ten-year-old Paula nodded in affirmation. “Dad needs a new hat.”
         Restlessly, the two children watched as airmen purposefully strode across the tarmac. Suddenly, Lizzy tugged free of her mother’s grasp and dashed toward a man wearing a dirty hat. She wrapped her arms tightly around his legs in the tightest bear hug her little arms could muster. The young man attempted to disengage himself from the small child, his face growing red as he scanned the area.
         “Elizabeth Anne,” the girl’s mother dashed forward. “This man isn’t your daddy!”
         “But his cap is really dirty!” Lizzy exclaimed earnestly.
         The airman pulled his cap into his hands, embarrassed by the child’s observation and confusion.
         “My husband’s been on a long TDY,” the mother explained.
         “I understand completely,” the man said as he sidestepped the little family and continued on his way.
         Hand on hip and head shaking in disapproval of her little sister’s faux pas, Paula pointed to another cluster of men approaching the fence line. “There he is!”
        And there he was! Dad with a brand new cap cocked on his head. He jogged away from the other men and scooped his girls into his arms.



Karl F. Abrams--circa 1948
         For years, my family teased me about the time I flung my arms around the man with the dirtiest cap, converting the story into a running joke that I threw myself at men. As an adult, though, I realize how much that childish mistake must have stung both of my parents. My mother did her best to talk about Dad when he left on long trips, but keeping his image strong in the mind of a four-year-old proved an almost impossible task. Tight on money, my parents didn’t have many photographs of each other around the house. After my mistake, my father gave me dashing picture of himself from when he first joined the Air Force to keep in my room.
         For Veterans Day, we pause to honor the men and women who serve in our military, but we should also reflect upon the sacrifice the families make. When a young man or woman decides to serve our country, his or her entire family becomes a military member. The soldier misses birthdays, Christmases, and anniversaries. The soldier misses that first step, the lost front tooth, the touchdown, and the first broken heart. Every moment of every day, the families of these men and women ache for the lost moments. Our tributes to these veterans must recognize the full scope of their sacrifices.


copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Saturday, November 8, 2014

"Connected"



            I’m up early this morning, swaying with Suzette Lawrence and the Neon Angels as they Tear Up the Honky Tonk in my own bedroom. A grin spreads across my face as my memories dance through time back to earlier days where I sat in a smoky venue and watched my friend preform with her family.
            Imagine my joy in having this friend’s voice wrap around me in the morning sunshine, or lull me to sleep at night, or entertain me as I make my own journey home.
            The years between our visits never severed the bond we wove back so many years ago. With some friends, the kinship beats heart deep and flows through our veins.
 
Copyright 2014 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman 
 
 





 

Monday, October 6, 2014

"The Fall"


 
            The day begins with me alone on a front porch swing, taking the time to savor the morning stillness before anyone else awakens.
            Yesterday right after dawn, I donned my tennis shoes, hung the Canon around my neck, and made a short hike down the road to a gate that guarded river access. I spied a trellis heavy with grapevines; its fruit long lost to birds. Moving cautiously downward, I found a clearing where water shallowly pooled. Snapping pictures, I captured sunlight and water—rocks hidden under a rising mist.
            I tiptoed across a natural bridge of stepping stones, attending to each one to make certain my feet found purchase as I made my way across the moss slickened steps. Trying to gather morning’s essence, I hunkered down on a ledge to change angles, finding beauty from east to west.
            I dangled my camera around my neck, its heavy weight bumping against my chest, and its weight reminded me to take care. But a loose and slippery rock foiled my sensible shoes and snail pace, catapulting me into a cartwheel. Instinct snapped into place, and I caught the camera before it plopped into the water. Who cares about a bruised hip, battered shoulder or bumped head? My hands cradled my camera as my head bounced a second time. Like a mother who’s swept in to pull her child away from catastrophe, I checked my “baby” for damage as I swiped at the lens and casing with a dry corner of my shirt. Reassured that water hadn’t seeped beyond its hardened shell, I powered it down and began to laugh.
            Water trickled down the right side of my body and my right shoe squished as I made my way further up the bank, pulling away from the river’s edge. For a second, my blurred vision worried me. Had I hit my head that hard? And then I realized that my glasses lay somewhere behind me. Half-blind and half-drenched, I searched my way back down the path—hoping my glasses had tumbled onto the ground when I took off my light jacket—fearing that they lay under water.
            I backtracked onto the spit of rocks, avoiding the one that spilled me into the water; and began to patty cake the cool surface, squinting in an attempt to sharpen my vision. My fingers found my frames before my eyes, and I plucked them gratefully from their hiding place under a large leaf.
            My mishap meant I meandered around the water’s edge with wet pants and a soggy shoe as I preserved wild flowers blooming one last time before the coming of Fall.
 





Copyright 2014 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman   

           

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

“The Class of 2015”



Too lost to care  
            Too stunted to share   
Too lazy to learn
            Too drugged to yearn
Too behind to hope
            Too bitter to cope  
Too angry to grow
            Too blocked to know 
Too starved to thrive  
            Too damaged to strive 

 

Copyright 2014 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

“Labels Make a Difference”

 
            The news of Robin Williams’s suicide sent me spinning. I recalled his interviews where he admitted his struggle with substance abuse and depression. The two often go hand-in-hand because many people with depression “self-medicate” with alcohol or drugs. I don’t want to go into the biology of the brain when considering both addiction and depression, but I do want to talk about the label “Mental Illness.”
            Why do we treat individuals suffering from brain chemistry disorders as though they are second class citizens needing to feel shame for their differences? We section off mood and psychotic disorders into an entirely separate category from the rest of our bodies, and that differentiation impacts how our society views wellness. We cling to a mindset that illnesses that affect the brain and personality are personal weaknesses.  
            No one blames the patient who slowly slips away with Alzheimer’s disease, nor ridicules the Parkinson sufferer for not controlling his motions. Instead, we run marathons to find cures for these diseases. And yet we treat patients with depression as though they’ve done something wrong. They are somehow responsible for the malfunctioning within their brains. If they really wanted to, they could “snap out of it” because they have good lives—people who love them, care for them.
            By labeling an entire range of disorders as “Mental Illness”, we’ve fooled ourselves into a belief system that these diseases aren’t as important to treat or cure.  Every time a tragedy rips through a family—like with a suicide; or a society—like with a mass killing, we pretend to care. For a week or two our media bombards us with signs, symptoms and treatments. But nothing really changes.
            And so sadness envelops us the day after another loss. I’ll read all kinds of articles about “Mental Illness” and feel frustrated because the label itself carries its negative connotations. And labels make a difference to that fourteen-year-old girl starving herself to shed another five pounds, to that seventeen-year-old who cuts herself just to “feel something.” Labels make a difference to that mother who cannot bond with her baby, to that alcoholic grandfather who must drink just to function.
 
Copyright 2014 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman
           
 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

"Padme"




            Padme, Princess I’m A Dolly Kitty curls next to my laptop. Her spots for snoozing move around the house, changing periodically. I don’t know if the warmth from my computer draws her to my side, of if she enjoys the indulgent head rubs and chin scratching I throw her way as I write. Either way, she now spends a chunk of her day dozing by my side.
            I love telling the story on how Padme joined our family. We’d gone out of town for Memorial Day weekend, and had left my son’s iguana in his cage by the back patio doors so he could have light. I’d placed a book on the top, just to make certain he didn’t pop off the screen. However, I didn’t think about our cat, Sassy, deciding to free the iguana. When we returned home, the cage sat open and empty.
            We spent days searching for the iguana with no luck. I’d warned my son that one day we’d move something in a closet and probably find his mummified corpse. Not a pleasant idea, but part of life when you have small pets like reptiles and rodents. After a few days of searching, we decided to head to Polly’s Pet Shop and pick out another iguana.
 
            Of course, no one can enter a pet store and not swing by the puppies and kittens. We’ve stood outside those windows hundreds of times and never felt the urge to bring one home, but on that day two kittens wrestled in a tangle of newspaper. My son fell in love with both of them. Since we already had another cat and a dog at home, I told him he could only bring home one. It broke our hearts to know that we would separate the kittens, but . . .
            Padme entered out home in a non-descript brown box. We wanted to surprise my husband, who expected us to return with an iguana, not a kitten. His surprise to find a ball of fur instead of something sleek and green made us laugh.
            We quickly realized that Padme’s small size made her an easy target for moving feet. One night, my husband stepped on her head, sending her into convulsions. One of our guests for dinner that night had experience as a vet tech, and he felt certain she was fine, but we rushed her to the pet ER just in case. After that incident, she always wore a bell!

           Our Padme’s very outgoing. Many people thought we only had one cat because our other cat tucked herself away whenever company came. But not Padme. She’d stroll up to someone, bat them with her paw, or head bump in affection. Her wild mane drew everyone’s attention, her personality kept everyone under her spell.
           
 Last year, when our other cat died, Padme stopped eating. Her grief worried all of us. I moved her bowls into the kitchen to monitor her eating. By this summer, I headed back to the same pet shop for their advice on the best foods for elderly cats. She nibbles on dry Instinct—rabbit, duck, or chicken—throughout the day. And her special treat comes in lamb, pork or pheasant three times a day. She’s desperately thin, even after months on this diet, but she is gradually regaining weight.
            So I take full advantage of Padme resting next to my computer because I don’t know how many years she has left. At nearly fourteen, she’s “getting up there.” She still loves to play and still draws attention to her when company comes since she is such a princess.   


 


 

 
Copyright 2013 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Thursday, July 17, 2014

“Background Noise”

 
            Sometimes, when I sit down to write, I’ve no idea what words will appear on the page. My diligence to my craft means I put pen to paper every day (or in this case fingers to keyboard) and simply write. Many of my journal entries recount mundane trivialities of a simple life, some dip into a distant past while others slip into a hopeful future. My thoughts may focus on something currently in the news, but it’s just as likely for me to focus on the fact that it’s Friday—again.
            Then those days come where I shove aside all of the ideas that pulse in the forefront of my attention and spend time concentrating on sighs, the impatient pant of the dog laying at my feet, the distant drone of the dryer as it whubs—background noise that lets me transcend the ordinary.
            Then I hear the words whispering to my subconscious. Soft. Seductive. Evasive. A whiff of perfume that lingers in an empty room. And I hold my breath, fearful that the slightest movement would frighten my words into flight. Send them scurrying back and deeper into darkness.
            So I hunker down on my haunches, hand held outstretched with palm open in supplication. I practice patience. Wait motionlessly, head cocked to the side so I can perceive the words surrounded by heartbeats.
 
Copyright 2014 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman
             

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

“Lizard Brain”

A clear objective—survival       
Tuck head down and traipse through desert sands—       
            An Arrakis boiling with religious certitudes,     
                      ancient political nuances   
Multitudinous paths leading to destruction       
Ignore the razor winds that slice through reason   
And only hone instinct   

Survive   
Clutch the knife of insanity in your righteous fist   
Rip into the enemy’s flesh   
Retaliate—an eye for an eye—until all are blind   
Blades become bombs   
Homes reduce to rubble housing mutilated families   

Logic stumbles through the wreckage   
And gets lost in the stench of decay   
Becomes overburdened and overrun by molecular rage—   
            (Passed down from evangelist to fanatic     
                       to zealot to extremist)   
Until it dries up and dies   

 
Copyright 2014 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman 

 

 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

"Tone of Voice"

I’m okay, fine       
she whispers without eye contact       
I’ve got it handled       
Don’t worry       
He misses the hollowness of her words        
overlooks her subtle cues—       
her Woman Speak       
She tucks her feet onto the couch,     
pulls herself into a tight ball under a red throw       
stares at the television without seeing       
sighing deeply       
Oblivious, he flips the channel       
to his station       
assuming—       
all’s right       
content to listen to her words       
instead of her tone of voice       
Her annoyance and sadness battle across her features       
surreptitiously, she wipes her silent tears       
waits for him to notice her heaviness       
His attention rivets on the game       
its motion mesmerizes him      
takes him away and isolates her     
She grabs hold of anger over sorrow       
indignation throws her off the couch       
propels her into their bedroom       
fuels the door slam        
He sits with bewilderment      
lost         
Cautiously, he approaches the closed door     
tentatively tapping       
Can I do something?       
No. I’m okay, fine        
I’ve got it handled       
Don’t worry       
He opens the door anyway       
pulls her into his arms       
In tenderness, he wipes the tears from her face       
We’ll handle it       
he soothes and reassures with understanding       

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman