Wednesday, November 29, 2006

One is Enough. Really.

No, honestly. Don't listen to the children. One snow day is plenty. Especially considering that, thanks to teacher conferences and Thanksgiving, we haven't had a full week of school in the last three weeks, I think the children really ought to be exercising their minds.

Three days ago my children saw a wishing well. Their grandmother, a wonderful woman who loves to indulge her only granddaughters, gave them each a dime to make a wish. A dime. Each of them. Can you guess what they wished for? Snow. I'll have to remind her that, from now on, a penny is ample for wish-making. Apparently when you combine two holiday-inspired little girls with a wishing well and 20 cents, that's some pretty powerful juju.

The layer of ice beneath the three inches of snow is an inch deep and has proven impenetrable to salt and sand. A new weather system is slowly moving in, determined to dump anywhere from three to six inches of fresh snow on top of this mess and, then, about midnight tonight, the meteorologists predict that freezing rain will come in to top it all off like a rotten birthday cake. Which, I suppose is perfectly okay if you're Oscar the Grouch, or a kid who is not particularly interested in going back to classes until next Monday, but I don't happen to be either of those.

I happen to be a mother whose husband is currently in South America, working, visiting friends, eating like a king, and basking in the sun. A woman whose Christmas shopping is not done, who hasn't even actually purchased Christmas cards yet, much less begun to address them. A woman who was desperately looking forward to having two hours for tea with her best friend tomorrow morning while the children are all AT SCHOOL. 'Scuse me. I think I need to go meditate. Or is that medicate? Hmm, I'll let you know which one works...Until then, toss a quarter in a wishing well for me, eh? You know what to wish for!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Yup, no school, no work, and my holiday guests can't leave. An absolutely unprecedented storm dumped four inches of snow at my house in about 45 minutes last night and we are stuck. Now, you readers in the midwest or Eastern parts of the U.S. or other parts of the world that are used to snow are thinking, "What a bunch of pansies! Four inches is nothing!" I know, I know. But here in the Pacific Northwest, we never get snow without its evil companion, black ice. Lying quietly and treacherously beneath the fluffy blanket of white is a sinister layer of high-gloss, just waiting for someone in a rear-wheel drive car to come innocently around the corner.

My kids were out gobbling up the fat flakes as they fell and rolling snowballs until dinner last night. They woke up at 6am to tell me they doubted there would be school, and by 7am, they were suited up and making snow angels. The dog, an almost-two-year-old who has never seen snow, wasn't sure what to do with himself. The girls tortured him by throwing snowballs for him to fetch and fell down laughing when he chased after them only to whirl around a moment later when they got lost in the rest of the white. He finally resorted to writhing on his back, making his own version of a snow angel, and eating as much of the white stuff as he could. The girls are cautioning the neighbors to look out for "yellow and brown snow" and building snow forts.

My husband phoned this morning from South America - his first business trip since the surgery. He is glad not to be here for the snow and cold and informed us that he is spending his days wearing shorts and sipping iced tea in the 85 degree weather.

I love sitting on the sidelines, watching the kids and the dog romp in the weather. They are grateful for some outdoor time after the weeks of rainy, grey weather we've had, and I'm happy just to see sunshine again. I'm baking blueberry bread and pecan cakes to stick in the freezer for the holidays and hoping the soft covering outside will muffle the noises coming from my brain today. Cloak the to-do lists and countdown to Christmas in a downy white blanket and leave them for another day. Today is a snow day.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

How Long is Long Enough?

"Americans are obsessed with longevity," my therapist said, cocking her head like the RCA terrier and raising her eyebrows, "You know that, right?"

Yeah, I know, and it seems a little weird. On one hand, we are the most unfit, obese nation on the planet. On the other, we scour magazine stands and evening health segments on the news in order to glean new ways to lengthen our stay here. We want to live forever, but we don't want to "get old". We spend millions of dollars a year on potions and treatments and advisors who will help us live longer.

But how much is enough? Is what I'm doing with my life now important enough to sustain forever? If someone asked me how many years I want to live on this planet, what would my answer be? Do I want to make sure I have enough time to be a mother, a wife, a career woman, a grandmother, a great-grandmother, a hot air balloonist? The happy retirees I see around me are not rushing off to do more, to get more accomplished. They are slowing down. They are enjoying families and friends, golfing, walking, playing bridge.

There is a man who bags groceries at my local supermarket. No matter how long the line, I always maneuver my way through the choices to get to where he is. I want him to bag my groceries and help me out to the car. He jokes with my girls, he always has a smile on his face, and he pretends to know everyone. Rain or shine, he pushes my cart through the parking lot and never ever lets me help him unload the bags into the back.

"You love this job, don't you?" I asked him one day.

"What's not to love? I used to be a stockbroker, now I get paid for flirting with pretty women and giving stickers to kids. Benefits, too!"

He doesn't have to work to supplement his retirement income. He does it because it gives him a sense of purpose to get up and go do something every day. He doesn't have to hire or fire anyone. There is no pressure to "produce". He just comes to work, does a good job, and goes home with a paycheck.

My 85-year-old grandfather spent much of the last year undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments for bone cancer.

"I can't tell you how much time you have left, D. But I can say that it will be the cancer that will take your life," said his physician. The radiation treatments shrunk most of the tumors in his chest and we all sat up a bit straighter. The chemotherapy wore him out and made him miserable. Three months ago he decided to quit. He couldn't sleep, he didn't want to eat, let him live without the toxic chemicals pumping into his body every week.

Last week another scan showed a new tumor in his esophagus. My mom made plans to fly down and spend some time with him. Her sister did an online search and found a man living near them who claims to possess a miracle cure for cancer. It only costs $15,000.00. She got the videotaped testimonials and watched them before urging her siblings to do the same.

Nobody wants my grandfather to die. He is the mortar between the bricks of his family. He is the moral center, the one who always knows how to look at a situation with love and logic. He has lived for 85 fantastic years, traveled the world for pleasure as well as war. He raised a fantastic family, owned several businesses, golfed his fill and watched his wife of 50 years die slowly of Alzheimer's disease. He has threaded silk strands of his strength and love throughout my family and allowed us to be better parents, siblings, and partners by example. How much is enough? Do we spend these last weeks of his life frantically chasing a mystery cure or do we sit with him and tell him the things we haven't made time to before? He will die soon, but he will never be gone. My daughter has his hands - long tapered nails and strong, capable fingers. My mother has his compassion, and every time my uncle laughs, my grandfather's eyes sparkle in his face. He has lived. Enough.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Ripples in the Pond

Every time you make a choice, you change the future. The future, not your future. Our interconnectedness, while more apparent sometimes than others, leads us to experience the consequences of each other's actions more often than not.

There are times when our lives would be much simpler if we were able to isolate ourselves in order to make an important decision. Unfortunately, however, it is a condition of life that we are dependent on external forces for our survival and are unable to live inside a vacuum. Regardless of whether we can anticipate the exact changes that will come about as the result of a choice we make, the changes will occur. Occasionally, the effects are so far-reaching that their true measure cannot be assessed for months or years later.

Thirty years ago, our country went to war in Vietnam. During the height of the fighting, a decision was made to deforest the jungle in order for our military to have better strategic vision of the "enemy". The long-term effect of this action on the environment and the innocent civilians who inhabited Vietnam was not taken into account. The decision was made in order to "win" this war decisively.

Not only has the environment not recovered from the thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals that were rained down upon it, but the people of Vietnam have suffered countless medical anomalies and genetic defects generations later. They have attempted to farm the poisoned soil and fish from the tainted rivers and lakes so that their children may eat. Instead, they are contracting cancers and giving birth to babies with no eyes and enlarged heads. We neglected to acknowledge that the citizens of Vietnam were our fellow human beings, even when their leaders made decisions we did not agree with. Poisoning their food supply may have enabled democracy to rise victorious over communism in that small corner of the planet, but it also has disabled generations of innocent human beings and animals from thriving in their own land.

The United States went to war in Iraq over alleged "weapons of mass destruction". Saddam Hussein has been found guilty of using or attempting to use biological warfare, but America has yet to apologize or pay any kind of reparations to Vietnam for succeeding in doing the same thirty years ago. Agent Orange was most definitely both a WMD and a biological weapon and its effects have been more devastating than anyone could have foreseen.

Most of the decisions I've made when I am angry or judgemental of another person have turned out to be the ones I most regret later. As we begin to remind ourselves of the power we have to affect others, perhaps we can begin to respect it more and examine our own motivations for making the choices we make.

A group called "Vets With A Mission" devotes itself to repairing some of the damage done by the military in other parts of the world. If you wish to make a donation or see the work they have done, visit

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Coming From a Place of Hope

"Chronic Jet-Lag Conditions Hasten Death in Aged Mice" shouted the headline from my email inbox. A resigned breath pushed out of my chest as possible responses scrolled through my mind. I know this person was just trying to be kind and alert me to the possible dangers of my husband's incessant business trips, but neither of us wanted this kind of information sent to us, well-meaning or not.

I still haven't responded, and I'm not even sure if the sender would care. My first instinct was to rise to a defensive position, justifying our choices as just that OURS, and explaining that, for right now, the choice to travel internationally poses more of an opportunity than...hey, wait. Why am I doing this? All of a sudden, four neon-red letters began blinking in my brain


This person is coming from a place of fear. They fear anything that changes their normal life. Illness, death, extreme weather, muggers, car-jackers, anything unpredictable that comes their way is frightening. At least once a week my inbox contains some sort of email instructions on how to protect myself from identity theft, carjacking, or rape in a darkened mall parking lot. I appreciate the concern that is being shown for me in this way, but I don't want to get sucked in to the fear. I hate that place.

I know from experience that it is not possible to talk yourself out of that particular ZIP Code. Logic does not penetrate that strongest of all emotions. But today, I am coming from a place of hope. I don't fully understand how I got here, but I am grateful that my core is at peace for now. I'm not going to worry about whether I'll find myself transported back to that dark scary place tomorrow or Friday or next week. For today, hope is in my heart and my head and I can look out the window and see the earth curling in to her slumbering position to rest for a while. I can feel the warmth of the love I have for myself and others unfurling inside me like a banner. I will radiate this today and submerge myself in it like a hot bath. I will let it steam my mind and heart open and surround me.

"Neither we, nor our children, will avoid change, loss, and death. But our children will interpret these things through the vision we give them. If you can manage to see through your fear of these three things, your children will have the greatest vision possible." William Martin, The Parent's Tao Te Ching

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Words I Love

Okay, this is a totally random post, but since monsoon season has officially begun in the Pacific Northwest, that's how my mind is working today.

I love words and language. I only really know one (okay, I'm passable in French), but I love the sound and feel of words on my tongue and the way they travel around my brain when I'm reading. I love that sometimes a single word will get stuck in my head, just like a catchy tune, and I can say it over and over again, feeling it morph in my mind. There are some words I just love for no discernable reason at all, and others I love for what they mean to me. Here goes:

choice (duh, of course I love this word - it represents possibility to me)
plethora (even though I don't often say it out loud because it sounds a little pompous, I like the way it looks and feels on my tongue)
salsa (a Seinfeld episode comes to mind with this - I think Jerry said, "People just can't stop sayin' salsa."
pendejo (actually a mean slur in Spanish, but it's fun to say with the silent j - try it, you'll like it. But don't say it in public, or to anyone who knows Spanish - they'll take offense for sure!)
blogger/bloggerific (I used to hate the word blog because it seemed so meaningless, but it has grown on me)
cocodrillo (Spanish for crocodile - it's fun to say, too)

I know there are more, but I'm getting distracted saying those fun Spanish words to myself. Anyone else have any ideas?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Head for the Hills!

This just in: Dick Cheney is spending Election Day at a hunting retreat in South Dakota. All you liberals, watch out! He may be channeling Elmer Fudd in honor of the second Tuesday in November, "Oooh, I'm hunting Democwats!"

Okay, okay, I realize this is a bit of a mean-spirited shot, but it seems fairly bold to be planning such a trip after the ill-fated consequences of his last one. After he accidentally shot his lawyer-friend last year, the disc jockeys of a local radio station wrote a song in honor of the incident which I, somewhat guiltily, find amusing.

You can hear the song by going to this site, or if you don't particularly want to do that, just get the Aerosmith tune to "Janie's Got a Gun" in your head and follow along with the lyrics...

Cheney's Got a Gun
(Parody of Janie’s Got a Gun by Aerosmith)

Dick Cheney’s got a gun
Dick Cheney’s got a gun
The safety’s come undone
Squinting in the Texas sun

What did our leader do?
Who’d he put a bullet through?
They say when Cheney goes to Texas
You’ll find him huntin’ fish and game

His buddy had it comin’
Cuz when Cheney’s got a gun
He’s just not that good at takin’ aim

Cheney’s got a gun
Dick Cheney shot someone
Cindy Sheehan better run
Better watch her liberal buns
Tell him that the war’s not through
He’ll probably put a hole in you

He tracked a little bitty birdie
Hopin’ to blow out its brains
They say the spell that he gets under
From double barrel thunder
Makes his eyes pop out like he’s insane

Run away, run away from the Vice President
Run away, run away, run from Dick Che-ee ay-ee nee

Dick Cheney’s got a gun
The safety’s come undone
Cindy Sheehan better run
He’s a weapon of mass destruction
Cheney shot someone

Now, get out there and vote, people! Regardless of your political leanings, make it count.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A little gem for all you Zeppelin fans who are now parents...

This is the song my husband was singing in the shower this morning:

"Five little ducks went out one day
To the land of the ice and snow
With the midnight sun where the hot springs blow
Aaaah, ah"

Nice amalgam of the Immigrant Song and a kids' classic, eh?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Dia de Los Muertos

Burying the dead is a solemn ritual in nearly every culture. People of Greek descent shriek, tear at their hair and clothing, sob loudly and share their emotions very publicly. The Wiccan tradition includes a gathering where a poem is read and various herbs are sprinkled on the ground to encourage rebirth. Some cultures use animal sacrifice to appease the gods, others have a wake or feast following the memorial service.

Talking about death is difficult for most of us, but as we age, we begin to form definite ideas about our wishes for our own "death ceremony", whatever that may be. I have a friend who has ordered that nobody be allowed to cry at her funeral. She would like everyone to wear bright colors and share stories of her life, eschewing the traditional wearing of black and public mourning. My husband and I have decided that we would like to be cremated upon our deaths and I was surprised to find that he was nervous to share that decision with his family, lest they object for some reason.

I have known families with children who have died that refuse to move from the town where the child is buried, lest the child's grave be abandoned. Our link to the living is powerful, and at times, it seems as though our ties to the dead are no less important to us. Many who have lost loved ones have attached themselves to the importance of having a physical, tangible memorial to that person.

Some of the most heinous crimes we can conjure up involve desecration of cemeteries and exhumation of the dead. There are those who have been known to discard of bodies in mass graves for profit or simplicity, and those who have manipulated the bodies of the dead for their own pleasure. Autospsy and dissection of the human body has forwarded the causes of medicine and science immeasurably, but there are those who object strenuously to donation of one's body to science after death.

Mary Roach authored a wonderful book called "Stiff" in which she investigated what happens to bodies that are donated to science. I read it with complete abandon and found myself laughing and crying and, at times, nauseous. I left it with a sense of awe at the ways we human beings have changed our views of death and dying over the centuries. Autopsies and dissections were punishable by death mere hundreds of years ago, but as the wonders of surgery became more and more known, we have adapted our laws to allow for medical advances in order that we might avoid death for longer periods of time.

I empathize with the desire to have a concrete, tangible altar to visit and honor the dead, but personally, I find the intangible memories of my loved ones more satisfying. I can sit at home with a cup of tea and my animal companions and conjure up my great grandmother's legacy. Her strength and humor are more real to me than the gravestone which bears her name and date of death. I recall her love of strays of all kinds, people, animals, plants, and her overriding compulsion to care for them for a little while. Her vitriolic hatred of Ronald Reagan was terrifically amusing to me as a teenager and I loved it when she would see him on television and curse in Ukranian while spitting on the floor. I remember watching The Wizard of Oz with her for the first time and her childlike giggles of glee and wonder at the "special effects" of the flying monkeys still echo in my head. I hear her sotto voice sometimes when I am tempted to say no to my girls yet again and I feel the silken wrinkles of her hand covering mine on the wooden spoon as I stir the piroshky dough. My heart is full of her and my head follows its lead. Her legacy will outlive any stone memorial I could erect so long as I am committed to sharing it as she did.
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