Things I’ve Learned from Anal People

I describe myself as a recovering perfectionist. I used to think being a perfectionist was a good thing. After all, this trait has come in handy as an editor. But alas, I have learned that as long as there are human beings involved in a process, there will be mistakes.

Once, when I was working with a really picky acquisitions editor at Thomas Nelson, I found a mistake on the first page of  a book I’d edited. The author had been difficult to work with, the book was running behind schedule, and endorsements came in at the last minute. I hurriedly proofread the endorsements and sent them on to the graphic designer. I did not discover the mistake (a misspelled word) until the book was printed and I got my copy.

My stomach flipped when I saw the error. I wondered how my editor would react, and then I decided that I might as well ‘fess up. I called her and apologized profusely. She surprised me by giving me grace. “Anne,” she said, “that just proves you’re human. We’ll correct it at reprint stage.” Whew. Survived that one.

An only child, I had a great desire to please my parents, and I often got blamed for whatever went wrong around the house. Thus I developed the traits of sensitivity and an unhealthy sense of responsibility when things go wrong. It has taken me most of my adult life to recover from this.

I didn’t really think about what it was like to live with a perfectionist until I read a book on relationships in my late 20s. “Perfectionists are miserable people,” the book said. “They have unrealistically high expectations of themselves, and they are hard to live with, because they often cannot accept imperfections in others.” Ouch!

That book started me thinking about how I tended to focus on the negatives in regard to my husband. In the early years of our marriage, it drove me crazy when he left his socks and underwear on the floor or hung clothes on the quilt rack or any handy corner. I spent a lot of energy fuming about that habit. I talked to him about it (quite nicely, I thought) and told him that it bothered me when he left his clothes everywhere. You see, I was raised to pick up after myself (to the point of obsession), make my bed every morning, and keep my room neat. I was a neat freak.

Then I married this lovable guy who grew up in a home with less demanding standards for neatness. After I called attention to his habit of leaving clothes everywhere, he tried…he really did…for a while to at least put dirty clothes in the hamper. But soon he was off doing something creative…and the clothes on the floor multiplied. Finally, after a week of seeing whether he would pick up after himself if I left the piles on the floor, I gave up and just started picking up the piles. There! I felt much better. (Update: The longer we’ve been married, the neater my husband has become, and the messier I’ve become. We’ve met somewhere in the middle.)

So what have I learned from anal people?

From my stepmother: I discovered how to cook green beans in a healthier way than the way I cooked them: use 1 beef bouillon cube instead of fatback or bacon. (Although I must say I prefer green beans cooked with a little bacon.) She also got me in the habit of rolling up the tub mat and standing it on end so it could drain and not get so much mildew. And I learned how to match all 4 corners on the towels when I hung them in the bathroom, as well as wipe up every drop of water spilled on the sink. Once, when I took the initiative to make my own coffee and didn’t quite get the lid screwed on the carafe, I witnessed a real hissy fit about my being a slovenly guest. I had tried to clean up after myself and thought I got the mess sopped up, but she found coffee grounds in the circles around the top of the carafe. Out came a Q-tip to clean up these misbehaving stray grounds. Meanwhile, I watched agape, wondering what difference this would make in 5 years. (I never again made coffee in her kitchen when she was home.)

From an anal boss: I learned to try my best and accept if I didn’t quite please him or her, because I never was very good at playing Battleship (the game where you can’t see your opponent’s gameboard and you try to guess where the other player’s ships are hidden). I also learned not to take the exercise of writing performance standards too seriously. The years I’ve obsessed over every word and set really high standards for myself haven’t seemed to produce much better results than other years when I wrote them in a rush.

Probably the best lesson I learned from an anal boss was to look for another job … because I was going to get fired if I didn’t. Turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. I did not, as the associate department director said someone else had done, come back to thank him for firing me. I still think he’s a jerk. My direct supervisor, not so much. But it took years for me to forgive her and get over the blow to my ego. I questioned my editing ability. One time I ran into her at an event, and she casually told me that another department at LifeWay was looking for a good editor. I just looked at her, thinking, “What? If I wasn’t good enough for you, why would you wish me on someone else?” Maybe it made her feel better to tell me that. I don’t know.

From my mom: I learned that dirty dishes will wait til the next day. She did not teach me this; if she’d had her way, I would stay up late doing the dishes. I learned from my mother’s example that I did not want to be a teacher because that would mean sacrificing time with my family to grade papers at night. My mother was a workaholic. Most of my fun times were spent with my dad. So she taught me not to let my career consume me. (Or so I thought, until my son, Daniel, told me, in the heat of an argument, “You and your precious work!”)

From my dad: I picked up the habit of critiquing lots of meals I cook. Daddy used to taste something he’d cooked and make this little smacking noise as he analyzed it. He’d immediately point out some ingredient he could have used less or more of.  When I do the same, John says, “Okay, Walter,” sending me the message that I’m being just like my dad.

From an aunt and my mom, to whom I’m very thankful, I learned to speak and write grammatically correct sentences, because they pounced on every mistake I made. (My aunt was a principal with a master’s degree in reading; my mother was a 6th-grade schoolteacher. I also had an aunt who taught high school English. My love for literature is in my genes.)

I guess that’s enough for today. I have some funny tales about anal people in the recesses of my mind, but all I can think right now is that I’m grateful for some of the people who have been the biggest pains to deal with. They have made me stronger, prodded me to be creative and a little wily, and they have made me laugh (more than they know).

What Makes Me Happy

“Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be,”  Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying. I agree wholeheartedly. While I certainly understand sadness and depression, having spent some time in that desolate territory, I do not wish to pitch my tent and dwell there.

Some days and seasons are hard to live through.  Sometimes you have to recognize when you’re in a situation that’s over your head and you need help. Sometimes you need a listening ear, even perhaps a professional counselor, to sort through all the mess and confusion.

But research has shown that people who focus on happy thoughts and put a smile on their face, even when they’re feeling down, are just happier folks.

Today I’ve been thinking about some things that make me happy. Here are a few, in no particular order:

A child’s laughter

A good belly laugh


The aroma of lilacs

Learning something new

Being able to say something in Spanish or French (the latter, I’m not tres bien at…imagine that accent “eggu” over the “e” in “tres”)

Laughing at myself when I do something silly

Doing something silly just for the heck of it

My kitty stretched out on my lap with her paws extended over her head,  in a posture of complete relaxation

The ditties my husband makes up and sings to me in his slightly out-of-tune voice

Seeing my children do something kind for someone

The smell of molasses cookies baking


Making a dish for a neighbor or someone who’s sick

Having a conversation with what would be considered an old person

Reading a good book

Reading a trashy novel every once in a while

Getting a letter from a friend

Hearing someone giggle

A thought-provoking quotation

Cartoons (both printed and animated)

Taking a mental health day from work

Puttering around the house

The smell of laundry fresh from the dryer

The feel of folding clothes

Finding mates for socks (the washer usually eats one or two)

Going on a scavenger hunt

Playing volleyball

Taking a walk and stopping to smell a flower or look at a beautiful tree

Good conversations

Meeting interesting people (I gravitate toward musicians and artists)

Trying to figure out what makes people tick (although this is often frustrating)

A beautiful, sunshiny day

Watching snowflakes outside my window

Hiking, especially in autumn

The crunch of leaves as you walk through them

Radnor Lake

Walking on a trail in the woods by myself

Wine with a good friend

Babies after a bath, with their flyaway hair (and hooded towels are just too funny)

Finishing a project and feeling like I’ve given it my best

Drawing, coloring, painting

Enjoying an art show

Reading the Psalms, pondering the Gospels, trying to fathom what in the world the apostle Paul meant by some of his writing

Speaking or writing words of encouragement to lift someone’s spirits

My family having a good discussion around the dinner table

A humble author

Watching TV with our entire family (seldom happens; we don’t have many shows we all like, nor are we all home at the same time)

Seeing positive developments in my children’s lives

Holding hands with John

Hearing Daniel say “I love you” as he signs off the phone

Having lunch with a friend

Watching Julie take pride in keeping her car clean

Laughing together at a joke

E-mail jokes from Jim and Gail

Knowing I’ve listened to someone else and tried to understand that person’s point of view without telling my own story


Making music on the piano

Finally enjoying singing in Latin at church (it took a while for me to get there)

Watching people in my congregation…especially during baptism and Communion

Hearing our children’s and youth choirs sing

A little Bach, a little Beethoven, some Three Dog Night, Elton John’s early music, The Eagles, Mozart, Norah Jones, Latin music, classical guitar…oh, there is so much good music and great musicians, this is just a mere sampling

These are just a few things that make me happy or bring me joy. There are many more that I can’t think of at the moment. Oh, one joy is knowing I’ve got food in the crockpot for dinner and I won’t have to think about it later in the day when I’m tired. This happens about once in a blue moon. 😀

What I Hope for My Children

As I was musing about this blog, I originally planned to write “What I Hope for My Daughter,”  but I realized that I desire many of the same things for my son. Here goes:

* That they will feel loved unconditionally for who they are,  not for their achievements

* That they will find their own bliss, their unique calling and purpose

* That they will believe in something larger than themselves

* That they will love other people unabashedly and passionately and that they will receive the same kind of love from good, solid people and will remain faithful to the loves of their lives

* That they will care about the needs of the less fortunate and find ways to show their concern

* That they will have their own children someday and experience the joys and challenges of raising their children to become independent, loving, healthy, happy adults

* That they will remain curious  and will be lifelong learners

* That they will manage their money well and generously give to others

* That they will realize that careers aren’t everything … that balance in all areas of life is desirable

* That they will be tolerant of people who are different from them and will try to see others’ point of view

* That they will leave this world a little better than it was when they entered it

*That they will have faith, hope, and joy

* That they will be resilient in the face of troubles and never give up

* That they will experience much laughter and fun!

* That they will take responsibility for their own happiness and not blame others

* That they will remember a fraction of the things their daddy and I tried to teach them and will gracefully forget about the times we haven’t been the best models

* That they will always be surrounded by love

* That they will continue to develop their creativity and discover new talents

I guess that’s enough for today. My happiness does not depend upon what my children do or how they turn out. So far they’ve proven themselves to be kind, dependable, compassionate, intelligent, responsible people. They will only get better as time goes on.

On Sharing a Car with My Son

Daniel, our 25-year-old son, and I have been sharing a car for several months since he totaled his 1993 (or was it 1994?) Maxima at the end of September 2011. This is the third time in three years that we have been forced by circumstances to share a car for a while. The other two times we helped him find another car.

This time, our young man is on his own. We figured he would learn some valuable life lessons by saving for a car and that maybe, just maybe,  he might drive a bit more carefully if he knew what it took to save his own money and to find a car.

One of the unexpected pleasures that has resulted from this time of waiting is watching Daniel grow up. Before he took a part-time job at Barnes & Noble Vanderbilt in December, he was in the habit of sleeping most of the day. I teased him (sometimes impatiently) that he took sleeping to the level of an Olympic sport.

I wondered whether he could make it out of bed, night owl that he is, in time to get to work by 8:30 a.m. at first and now 8:00. Some mornings I heard his alarm go off repeatedly but there were no signs of life afterward. I’d knock on his door and say, “Daniel, are you awake?” His reply was usually something like, “Working on it.” I’d say, “Last call” and head downstairs to finish getting ready.

For a while this was our pattern, and I felt somewhat guilty for “enabling” him to by prodding him awake like a child in the morning.  But we (he, his dad, and I) wanted him to succeed at this job, because Papa John’s, his other employer, had drastically reduced his hours since his September accident, which removed him from being able to drive and deliver. He was getting about 10 hours a week inside the store, compared with around 30 hours a week before his accident.

Somewhere along the way he began to take responsibility for his own waking up. In recent weeks he has stayed home on nights before he has to be at work at 8:00 a.m. We had suggested that many times previously, but he had to come to his own conclusion that he couldn’t enjoy the night life with his friends until 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. and expect to wake up at 7:00 ready to function at work for 7.5 to 8 hours.

Much of parenting a young adult (and I never thought when I was in my earlier years of child raising that I would still be parenting at this stage) involves shifting from the authority figure to a consultant/coach. It’s hard sometimes watching young adults make mistakes as they strike out on their own, but it’s a necessary stage in their development. They need the freedom to fail and not be rescued by well-intentioned parents; that only hinders the process of becoming a responsible adult.

Sometimes they come up with wonderful solutions to problems, and the parent gets educated about creative ways to respond to challenges. Maturity is a two-steps-forward, one-step-backward process, and it’s sort of messy. Come to think of it, that is also true of life in general. One of my aunt’s sayings comes to mind: “You have to learn to roll with the punches.” (Ouch, those punches sometimes hurt.)

One serendipity that has resulted from these months of sharing a car is getting to know Daniel better. He has a quirky sense of humor, and you have to be quick to catch it.  I am beginning to appreciate his unique slant on life. This is the son whom I described in his younger years as an “old soul.” When he was 9 and we were talking about moving to another house, he said, “I want a place with a creek and a hillside where I can go sit and watch the sun set.” That sounded pretty good to me.

We didn’t move until his senior year of high school. Our backyard does slope downward, so I guess he has his hill. There is no creek really close to our property, but there is one in the neighborhood. I don’t think he’s spent a lot of time at home contemplating, but what do I know? Our children lead secret lives away from their parents. They are really gifts from God, and I’ve grown to treasure them more and more the older they get.

Sometimes I hear them repeating things John and I have said to them. It’s a little disconcerting sometimes to have your own words tossed back at you in a manner you didn’t intend when you said them. 😀 But we all are still learning at this stage of our journey. May it ever be so.

My Best Friend Rosa

Rosa Alice Steele, my maternal grandmother, was born on May 7, 1887. Every year around her birthday I remember her. I think of her a lot at other times, too. You see, my mamaw was my most faithful friend during my adolescence.

I was fortunate to live next door to my grandparents and my Aunt Reb. When the walls at my own house  felt like they were closing in, I could go next door to hang out with Mamaw Robinette, and of course she was always there.

I sort of tolerated my grandfather, who was in his 90s and was “off his rocker,” as we described dementia then. He wasn’t the most pleasant person to be around. Papaw was an angry old man who raved (usually random scripture verses that never made sense to me … one phrase I remember was “how great is that darkness!”) and struck out with his cane at anyone who tried to help him out of his chair. Once he got to his feet and his blood was circulating a bit, he’d be okay.

Mamaw, on the other hand, just got sweeter as she aged. When I think of her, I mainly remember her and Papaw sitting in their rocking chairs in the sunny den of Reb’s house. Mamaw made funny remarks about everything. I can’t recall many of her sayings except for one, “Hurrah, Bessie!” which she used whenever anyone made a racket in the kitchen or dropped something on the floor. Whether or not the scenario was true, that saying made me envision her sitting on a stool as she milked her cow, talking to the cow as it kicked over the bucket.

I recall many happy hours spent in that den. It was a place where I could go and feast my eyes on the “idiot box,” as my mother called the TV. I watched “The Brady Bunch,” “Petticoat Junction” (Mamaw loved that one), “Dragnet,” “Jeopardy,” “The Beverly Hillbillies” (another of Mamaw’s favorites), “Gomer Pyle,” “The Partridge Family” (while I drooled over David Cassidy), and the nightly news with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. On Saturday nights my family gathered in that small den to watch “Lawrence Welk” and his bubbles (and the beautiful women who sang; I loved how cheesy it was) and “Hee-Haw” (perhaps a foreshadowing of my future home, Music City, USA).

To this day my husband of almost 30 years doesn’t understand why watching TV is such a social event for my family. He wants to watch a show uninterrupted, and we usually do at our house, except when one of our young adults enters the room and wants to tell us something. (Thank God for being able to record shows and pause them at will.) My family of origin talks through TV shows, making a running commentary on whatever is going on, especially during “Jeopardy!”

Anyway, back to Mamaw. When I was in 7th grade, she and my grandfather were separated into different bedrooms. At the time, I was told that it was because Mamaw was wetting the bed, and Papaw couldn’t handle that. My mother arranged for me to sleep in the same bedroom with Mamaw. (It was only later, when I was married, that my uncle told me the real reason Mamaw and Papaw slept in separate bedrooms. Papaw had a strong sex drive even in his 90s. He was driving my grandmother crazy, and dementia already ran in her family.) Somewhere during that time she had a “nervous breakdown, ” and I’m not sure what came first, the breakdown or some heart problems for which she was hospitalized. The doctor gave her some medication to which she had a psychotic reaction. She never was the same after that, but it was a happy kind of crazy.

Thankfully, I was blissfully unaware of the real reason I was assigned the responsibility of staying with Mamaw. I would slip into my twin bed at night after she’d been asleep in her hospital bed that my aunt bought for her (to keep her from falling out of bed). I’d turn on the lamp on my bedside table, and Mamaw would wake up and talk to me for a bit. Usually I told her whatever was going on with me that day, and she listened and made witty comments. I knew I had talked long enough when I heard this little puffing sound, signaling that she had fallen asleep and was snoring.

I don’t know how I would have fared during my teen years if it hadn’t been for Mamaw’s patient listening, even when she was losing her grip on reality. I poured out my soul to her, and she received my confused thoughts and ramblings as if they were a gift. Perhaps she could relate to them because her own mind was slipping away.

Mamaw lived to be 96. My grandfather lived to the ripe old age of 101 (he died when I was 16). I was married and living in Nashville when I got my mom’s phone call informing me that Mamaw had died. It came during a Tupperware party that I was hosting. John went into the living room and informed our guests of the news I had just received. All I did was weep that night.

When my family planned Mamaw’s funeral, someone asked me and two of my cousins to sing. I said, “I can’t do it.” I know of many musicians who sing at their relatives’ funerals, but I was just too close to Mamaw and emotional about her death that I knew I couldn’t sing without crying. I wound up playing the piano, and that was okay, because I could cry and play at the same time.

One hymn I remember Mamaw singing was “Farther along we’ll know all about it; farther along we’ll understand why…cheer up, my brother, live in the sunshine. We’ll understand it all by and by.” I don’t remember what hymns I played at her funeral, but I can still hear her singing those words.

Rosa Alice Steele. A teacher in her young adult years. Mother of six strong, opinionated women. Humble, patient, hard-working, loving (though underneath there was some rebellion) wife to a demanding husband who was a farmer and ruled his family with an iron fist. Grandmother to 7, of whom I was the youngest. By the way, she was my namesake. My middle name is Rose.

I am so fortunate to have had her in my life.