Friday, June 29, 2007

A Few Things To Consider...

My newest favorite CD! I'm busy memorizing the words to all the songs, but I have to recommend this to everyone I know. It's a little folksy, terrific songwriting, and definitely my style. It's rare for me to find a CD that I immediately love. Usually they have to grow on me. But this one, "Ruby Red" by Christine Havrilla, is phenomenal. As soon as I can sing all of these songs by heart, I'll go check out her newest release, "Velocity". One thing at a time, though, okay?

Well, okay, two things at a time. I also just finished a tremendous book by an author I adore, Ursula Hegi. You may be familiar with her book "Stones From the River", but I picked this one up at the used book store last week and stayed up until 2AM reading it. I love that it takes place in parts of the world with which I'm familiar, but I was even more struck by the fullness of it all. It's rich in language and texture, emotion and reality. Ooh, check it out!

This is going to have to hold you all for a while, though, because I'm off to have more fun with the girls. My daughters are reveling in all of the giggling and storytelling and grown-upedness they're getting to be a part of, but we're ditching them with the hubby tomorrow and going out to paint the town. Stories will come later.....

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Gonna Have A Good Time!

I have this friend for whom I am incredibly grateful. It's not just that we've known each other since we wore braces and had 80's hairdos. It's not that we've never, ever had any sort of fight. I can't quite put my finger on what makes this friendship so terrific, but I'll try.

She is fun and funny. She is brash and bold and not afraid to speak her mind. No doubt she's found herself in a pickle (barrel) or two because of that, but it's something I can count on no matter what. We have a lot in common - our politics, our age (we are a mere 3 weeks apart and, if you must know, I am the older one), our love of books and music. We also are incredibly different. In high school, I almost always took the traditional path - aspiring to go to college and major in pre-medicine, dating the quarterback of the football team, running for student council, you know - goody two-shoes. Miss Devylish is very bright and, while she excelled in her studies as well, she was more willing to put herself out there and try out for the school play and introduce herself to the foreign exchange students. After we graduated, I went off to college and she went to Norway as an exchange program. We had taken French classes together and she had originally requested Paris as a destination, but was instead sent to Oslo. Hmmm, no faltering, she went and struggled her way through learning the language until things fell apart and she was sent home - but I'll let her tell that story someday... (sorry, dear).

She inspires and encourages me to do things I would not normally consider and I am always cheered up by her sunny disposition. We have the sort of relationship that allows us to insult each other ('shut up, bitch') and tease each other about our, shall I say, challenges without taking each other seriously. She is the auntie who introduced my girls to the existence of belly-button jewelry and nose rings and she was the one with whom they went to their first real concert. They adore her. My husband loves to tease her and cook for her in his manly outdoor kitchen and is constantly on the lookout for an older man to pair her with (good luck with that, honey!) She brightens my life in so many ways I cannot even begin to do it justice.

Because of her, I have renewed contact with another girlfriend from high school, Ammo Girl. AG is flying in tonight and the three of us will spend the next five days playing with my daughters, cooking, drinking some damn fine wine, eating chocolate, laughing and catching up. I am so excited I can barely stop vibrating and it's all thanks to Miss Devylish. Thanks, sweetie! I don't know what I'd do without you.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Summer Storms

Sometimes I stand outside in the baking summer afternoons as though I were an astronaut getting her first glimpse of a new landscape. What is this place? Houses sprung up out of the hard packed earth like a Lego village on the side of the moon. This neighborhood sports split level homes, each with a good-size front and back yard, stacked next to each other. Every one with a similar color scheme - shades of brown and beige and cream. The only color comes from the newly planted lawns that run up and down the street. Each morning at 7:30 garage doors open and disgorge their contents one by one. The men head off to work, a parade of ants climbing the steep slope to the stop sign at the top where they pause and then disappear into the shimmering heat of the day.

Most afternoons the wind kicks up, bringing with it the sweet, crackly scent of a rainstorm. The fine fur on my arms stands up in warning and I close my eyes, anticipating the rolling rumble from above as the purple-black clouds are pulled over the neighborhood like a shade drawn to keep out the sunlight. The empty lots behind our house showcase enormous funnels of dust swirling and dancing, sometimes sweeping up unsuspecting tumbleweeds and playing with them until they tire of the fun and finally spit them out. I stand on the sidewalk in front of the house and listen to the sound of children racing their bikes home, mothers sliding windows shut and locking them firmly. We know the drill. The tall aspens and firs, cedar trees with their soft, reaching boughs that I long for in my thoughts could never survive here. I imagine watching them as they are pulled slowly from the ground and dragged down the street by the insistent wind.

I can smell the over-ripe fruit smell even more strongly now. The rain is moments away. I miss the rain and wish I could stand outside and raise my arms to the sky as it fell, welcoming it and soaking it up like one of those 'grow-your-own-sea-creatures'. Pulling the rain drops into every cell, plumping them up until they are ripe and round and full, standing tall and impervious to everything.

I can hear my stepmother calling. The lightning is coming. I will go inside and take advantage of our position on the hill to watch it strike in the valley down below and listen to the rain pummel the house. This is my favorite part of living here. Maybe the only part I truly love. Sitting inside the house, safe and dry and warm as rivulets of water carve themselves into the hard-packed earth and race down the hill. Listening to the drops fall like marbles onto the roof and the thunder roll across the sky above - bowling balls down the alley. The wind is invisible. There are no trees to mark its strength.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Two Steps Forward, One Lesson Learned

I have been doing so well. Friends and family who have watched my ankles grabbed by the twin sea serpents of depression and anxiety as I swim ask, "How are you doing?" In the beginning my answers were tentative. Sticking a toe in to test the temperature of the water at the precise moment I was asked, I was often relieved to find it comfortable and could answer honestly, "I'm okay." As time went by, I became bolder, expecting to find the water like a bathtub. Over the last two months, I thought I'd learned to gauge without even testing. My immediate answer was that I was doing great. I was surprised by it myself. Dad's sick, Grandpa is dying, my husband has still not resolved his health issues...but I am okay. Had I found some magical balance? Was I able to splay my limbs out, face up to the sky, floating in the water unconcerned with the creatures below and above, knowing that they would do what they would regardless of me?

Summer is a time of strengthening. Flowers and plants that have begun to grow in the Spring spend the summer becoming - setting fruit, reaching for the sky, opening up to their full potential. I feel that push. Magazines offer 'bathing suit bodies', Target displays are full of bronzing products. Resolutions to learn Spanish and drop 20 pounds, finish my book and organize my house form a scrolling billboard playing in my mind's eye. I am committed to becoming better. Better wife. Better mother. Better friend. Better woman.

Cramming every minute full of potential, writing, cooking, cleaning, taking the girls swimming, visiting with friends and family I have neglected lately. I don't stop to realize I'm packing Pandora's Box. This morning Pandora came. Scratches at the lid as I lay in bed, 'I don't want to get up today.' Shhh, it's Saturday - nothing to do that I don't really want to do. Quiet, my dear. An orange flash at the bottom of the computer signals a dear friend wanting to Instant Message me. I summon my husband instead - I can't take the time for this right now. Instead, I retreat to my writing space. Pandora knocks at the lid, 'Let me out. There is no space to breathe in here.' Reluctantly I leave this comfortable room and follow her.

The lid opens. Stomach cramps, sweating, anxiety frizzles around in my brain, bouncing off my skull like lightning looking for a place to escape. I search for some linear explanation: too many cherries from yesterday's Farmer's Market, wine with dinner too many nights in a row... I know, though, that Pandora is manifested in my gut because I've not taken a cue from Mother Nature. Summer may be a time of strengthening, but what I'm doing is not that. The pea vines don't strive to become dahlias. They don't criticize their flowers because they're not showy enough, their mission is to take what they're given and use it to become the very best peas they can. Another lesson learned. Beauty is not in the do-ing so much as it is in the be-ing.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Working Out Gives Me Hives

I have a treadmill in my bedroom. The only daily use it gets is when my kitten sharpens his claws on the belt. A couple of weeks ago, though, I was foolish enough to stand on my bathroom scale as I waited for the shower to warm up. Never, ever do that! I had been content to notice that my pants were getting tighter without registering anything other than, "Hmm, must be time to go shopping online!" Once the absurd number flashed up at me in red digits I was no longer able to deny that I am getting...well, more Rubenesque, shall we say?

As a general rule, I am opposed to curbing my eating habits. I love to cook and I love to eat my husband's fabulous cooking and chocolate is a staple in my diet like tortillas in Mexico, so I decided to get back on the treadmill. The only problem, I remembered 10 minutes into my exercise routine, is that I find working out excruciatingly BO-RING! No TV in my room. No CD player. Just me and those other red digits ticking away s l o w l y. I did manage to make it through 30 minutes, encouraging myself by visualizing the lines my favorite underwear have begun to carve into my flesh as I expand.

Another plan would have to present itself, though, because this vision cannot sustain me for long. Today, I came up with the brilliant idea to multitask. I adore multitasking, especially when it entails doing two things I'm not especially excited about simultaneously. I borrowed my eldest daughter's CD player and popped in a 'Living Language Spanish Series' disc. I really want to know Spanish. I just don't want to have to learn it. I also really want to be in shape, healthy, not at risk for a heart attack or high blood pressure. I just don't want to have to stop eating chocolate or pasta or bread or drinking wine to do it. Viola! Listening to the CD and repeating the inane sentences after Maria (what else would her name be, after all? Ursula?) distracted me just enough to not notice the time literally flying by. I was so inspired that I even raised the incline and sped up a bit and at the end of 30 minutes I was dripping with sweat.

I have dieted (hate that word) enough in my life to realize that the first several pounds I will lose will be what is known as 'water weight.' I'm okay with that. In fact, if I can sweat like a pig while learning to say, "yo necesito ir al heladeria" a few times a week, I'm all for it. Purge the sweat, er, 'water'!

Unfortunately, within minutes after disembarking from the evil machine of doom I was reminded of something unpleasant: working out gives me hives. No, really. That's not just some lame excuse to avoid exercise altogether - it's actually true. Despite standing in a cool shower for ten minutes and dressing in a tank top and shorts, I found myself blooming. The most obnoxious one sprouted at the base of my neck so that I had to contort my arms to reach it and scratch. Another presented on my upper lip - still more behind my knees and on my lower back. Flapping my still-wet hair and spraying droplets of water on them made no impression.

I cannot sit in a sauna. I do not enjoy lounging in a hot tub. No matter how cold it is outside, taking a long, hot shower is not for me. Heat = itchy, mosquito-bite-like bumps that stay for hours on my skin. This is why I like Pilates and yoga and going for walks outside with my dog. Ben & Jerry's Caramel Sutra does not give me hives. I don't itch when I eat Belgian chocolate. Red wine = no scratching.

WebMD provides all sorts of helpful information on hives, also known as urticaria. Descriptions, possible causes, and treatments. I then went searching for photos to post and realized what a wimp I am. I may get hives from overheating, but I have never experienced anything like the poor people in these photos.

So, I'll go on with my Spanish lesson workouts and suffer the hives afterward as a kind of martyrdom. I suppose I can always use the pint of Ben & Jerry's to help me cool down...

Leaving the Northwest, Part Two

(Part one can be found in my archives in March 2007) Thanks to Jess for inspiring a return to Green River stories with her cross-country road trip.

She was determined to turn this desolate brown moonscape into a lush green paradise. My new stepmother had spent hours sketching designs full of curves to soften the corners and harsh geometric shapes that surrounded us. The house to our left sported a square patch of lawn bounded by a shiny new cyclone fence. The street itself rose sharply. Riding my bike up three houses to Jeremy's raised my heart rate as much as hearing the dry rattle of a snake in the rocks of the hill we climbed for fun.

This woman was made for this. Green was the color of healing, new life, promise. The hard-packed earth seemed too much to penetrate. I wasn't sure it was capable of sustaining life, but she was not to be swayed. We were her recruits. I woke to the blap-blap-blap of the rollshade maniacally sucking itself up and the white light coming through the window. No trees here to soften the glare at 7am.

She was already dressed in shorts and a knit tank top - her standard yardwork uniform. I could smell her excitement. It smelled like sweaty leather gloves and cocoa butter. Her shoulders were already brown with sun and peppered with freckles and small spots where she'd been sunburned and peeled. My sister didn't move.

Finally we were all assembled in the yard. Dad and his new wife hauled stacks of benderboard into the back while the three of us rolled our eyes and kept moving. Find tumbleweeds and pitch them over the fence. Half the time the wind blew them right back at us and instead of laughing, it pissed us off. This sucked.

Bam! Bam! Stakes pounded in to the cement-like dirt in a figure eight. Sweat soaked the curls at the base of her neck and wound them tightly. She lifted her wrist to her forehead and wiped the moisture away, leaving a streak of dirt in its wake, never breaking her stride. She and Dad worked side-by-side, laying out the framework for the grass. As we took a break for lunch and lemonade, they wove the pliable boards through the stakes. Tomorrow the grass seed trucks would come.

I swung my legs over the step and munched my sandwich watching with reverence. I could see the vision now. This woman could conquer anything. She worked without complaint. Her strong body, bent at the waist, sweat running in streams down to her ankle socks, carved away at this inhospitable place. Her work was unwavering. Even as we brought her ice water to replenish the fluids she was losing and warned her about the burgeoning crimson spots between her shoulder blades, she barely paused.

Finally the stage was set. The enormous white truck with its elephant trunk snaked into the backyard. We were fascinated. Two men positioned the hose inside the figure eight and another flipped the switch. The air was filled with the scent of wet leaves and grass. I hadn't realized how much I missed that smell until it replenished me like the cold lemonade the day before. The neighborhood kids all rode their bikes over to watch as the mechanical hum spewed the pulpy blue-green mush onto the dry, cracked earth. I wanted to roll in it and cover myself with the smell of something new. Something that grew. An ache of longing for trees and lakes and bushes pressed on my heart.

My stepmother's face shone. She was transforming this place and making it her own. I decided to hang on a bit longer. Sidle up to her and see if some of her determination and optimism would transfer itself to me. Maybe I could live here after all. Maybe.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Thank Goodness Nobody Asked Me That Question!

Circumcision is in the news this week, and while I am lucky enough to have avoided all discussion of whether or not it's okay since I have two daughters, I do have a story to share. Far be it from me to not add my two cents, you know...

I was working as a surgical assistant for a group of plastic surgeons. I had assisted on cosmetic surgeries like face lifts, tummy tucks, eye lifts, liposuction (eww, the grossest of all), nose jobs. I witnessed amazing reconstructive surgeries to remove burn scars and skin cancers. I had sat for hours helping to reattach nerves and blood vessels in hands and even assisted on a surgery to remove a man's big toe and put it on his hand as a 'new' thumb after he lost his in an industrial accident. Our surgeries ranged from 30 minutes for a carpal tunnel surgery to eight hours for microsurgery or complicated reconstructions. I was pretty sure I had seen it all, but I wasn't ready for James (not his real name).

James was a 15 year old African American boy whose parents had chosen not to have him circumcised at birth. His parents emigrated from Uganda where it was unusual, if not downright strange, for male children to be circumcised (the stories of female circumcision are another issue altogether and one I'm not ready to address here). They hadn't even considered the possibility although the doctors at the American hospital where James was born encouraged them strongly in that direction. James was born in the 1980s when most American physicians were of the opinion that circumcision was 'cleaner' and 'more hygeinic'. They were also convinced that it was painless since the babies couldn't express their discomfort in actual words.

Unfortunately for James, high school is a time fraught with conformist tendencies and, although he was a handsome, athletic young man, showering after gym class had become torturous. Not only was he in the minority because of his skin color, he was the only boy who was not circumcised. His peers had never seen an uncircumcised penis and were convinced he was deformed. Word spread like wildfire in August and soon this young man was ostracized because of a decision his parents had made upon his birth. He begged his parents to let him get circumcised.

I was assigned to assist with the surgery and, although I felt sorry for James that he would have to suffer through having a female in the room while he was naked, I was intrigued. At the age of 26, I had never seen an uncircumcised penis either, and I was curious. We agreed that the doctor, a black man of Nigerian descent, would do all the pre-surgical counseling so as not to further embarrass James, and I would only enter the operating room after he was asleep. They discussed the option of local anesthesia, but the thought of someone poking a needle into his penis was nearly enough to stop James' breathing right then and there.

In contrast to the atmosphere in the OR during most of our surgeries, this was a quiet affair. The CD player broadcast a Seal album and there was no joking or discussion of our weekend activities. Dr. M meticulously explained the anatomy and talked about how this procedure wasn't even taught in many of the world's medical programs because it was unheard of outside the U.S. The reverence in the room was thick as we thought about the clash of conformity and culture. The surgery was simple and took no more than 15 minutes and I left the recovery room before James awoke. The physician gave him the follow-up instructions: ice, pain relievers and minimal activity for a few days.

The next morning I listened to the messages that had come in overnight. James' mother's voice was shaky and brittle - he was in a great deal of pain. Was there some prescription we could give him? Another message an hour later was slightly more concerning: there was some redness and a great deal of tenderness. Could we please call back first thing in the morning? I checked with the doctor and called to reassure his mother. Had he been moving around a lot? Being careful to wipe after urinating? Had he continued to ice the affected area? She was mortified to ask, but not nearly so embarassed as he was to answer her.

Three days later James returned for a post-op check. He came in wearing baggy grey sweatpants and a t-shirt whose slogan was obscured by the slump of his broad shoulders. He shuffled across the waiting room refusing to meet my eyes. It took all of my restraint to keep my mouth shut and my hand from rubbing his shoulder as I would do for any other patient of mine. I opted to stay out of the exam room but the doctor came out with a furrowed brow and some concern about the amount of swelling.

It took about 10 days for James' surgical site to fully heal and the swelling to subside, but I wonder if he'll ever be able to shed the sharp pain of embarassment from the entire ordeal. I also wonder what he'll decide to do if he has a son...

Saturday, June 16, 2007

An Embarassment of Riches

This week has been one of family and friends and, although it has felt at times like I've been sucked into a whirlpool and spat out at the other end, I am left with an overwhelming feeling of fullness and love. There has been the chaos of having two times the normal number of bodies in our house, cooking and cleaning and settling squabbles between children who don't normally play together. The dog accepted the added energy with a "join 'em" attitude and put his two cents in wherever he could. One of the cats decided he'd make himself a nice warm nest behind the dryer until the storm blew through, and the other one simply stayed on my bed.

We had the excitement of the school carnival and the fun of watching the kids run around with faces painted and temporary tattoos throwing water balloons and lining up for their turn in the bouncy castle. We visited the tourist attractions and collapsed in the evenings on the back porch with our drinks to catch up as much as we could before everyone went away for another year or two.

This morning began with dance recitals and will end with a choir concert. Friends and family were more than eager to attend, taking time out of their lives to acknowledge the work our girls have done this last school year and applauding them enthusiastically.

Walking our very best friends out to their car and watching them drive away I was filled with a sense of how lucky I really am. I was blessed with the opportunity to spend my week with people I don't often get to see. We were able to laugh and play together, cook and eat together, and watch our children bond in a way they won't soon forget. I am exhausted and the kids are terrifically overstimulated, but I am satisfied in the knowledge that we are loved. That we opened our home and our hearts to others and had it returned tenfold is incredibly gratifying.

Tomorrow will be just the four of us. We will spend the day honoring the girls' father for all that he does - playing together and strengthening our bond as a family, knowing that this is what is most important. I am overflowing with thanks that we are so fortunate to be surrounded by people we have this kind of connection with. I will rest with a happy heart.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Sad Tale of a Five-Year-Old Addict

It all began with my first born daughter. After struggling for six hellish weeks to master nursing her, we figured it out and things went along brilliantly. Quicker than I expected, she was walking and talking and experimenting with table foods (avocado being her favorite) and it was time to wean her. Unfortunately, she wasn't intrigued by cow's milk. Warm it up? Don't care. Pour it into a cup instead of a bottle? Won't touch it. Ugh, now what?

My pediatrician suggested Ovaltine. Yup, the very same drink Ralphie sucked down in the movie A Christmas Story in an attempt to gain enough points for a Little Orphan Annie Secret Decoder Ring. I was a little confused. Other than Ralphie, I didn't know anyone who actually drank Ovaltine. I remembered Tang - drink of the astronauts - but Ovaltine was a mystery to me. The doctor explained that breast milk is sweet compared to cow's milk and by adding a tablespoon of Ovaltine powder I could trick her and gradually decrease the amount of Ovaltine until she was drinking plain cow's milk. It worked like a charm!

Not only that, it was nutritious! Full of vitamins and minerals, the nutrition label pleased the new mommy in me to no end. My daughter now began every morning with a cup of warm milk spiked with a tablespoon of chocolatey Ovaltine. Yum!

Fast forward to my second daughter: we began our nursing relationship with no troubles at all, but like a pesky second child, she was determined to do everything earlier than her sister had. She walked earlier, talked earlier, climbed earlier, and weaned herself at twelve months old. Abruptly. No warning, just, "Mom, I'm done. No milk for me." Huh? Enter, Ovaltine.

Hit that ff button again and we're here in 2007. My youngest has just turned five and her first demand every morning is, "Ovaltine, please." No fooling her with just one tablespoon of powder, though. She's learned to read, remember? The label on the container reads Serving Size: 4 Tbsp. Every morning before she gets dressed, we fill a cup with milk and Ovaltine powder, put it in the microwave for one minute and she sucks it down in 28 seconds. Her lips touch the rim of the cup once and do not break contact until the last drop of this sweet, sweet nectar is gone. We repeat the ritual between 1:00pm and 2:00pm every afternoon. She endures teasing about the fact that it takes longer to make than it does for her to drink with a shrug and a smile. That's her process. My husband is sure she'll be the girl at the fraternity parties who can chug beer better than the boys and hopes he gets invited along with her. It's his gene pool that allows her to open up her throat and literally pour the liquid down, you see. My eldest daughter and I have no such skills. Nor do we want them.

I confess that I often wonder how long this addiction will remain with her. My oldest gave up Ovaltine long ago. Honestly, it is even a struggle to get her to empty a glass of milk at all these days. I waver between ignoring it as a benign issue and worrying that I ought to just stop buying the stuff at all. Maybe now that she gets an allowance I should let her buy it herself. Ya think?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

I Can Choose My Own Adventure!

As a kid, I loved reading these books for their endless possibilities. A fantasy scenario was laid out on the first page and at the bottom, you got to choose which path you would take. Before the story even began, the reader was warned that there was no guarantee you wouldn't fall prey to some frightening creature, find yourself in a dangerous situation that could lead to death, or not reach your ultimate goal. But the thought of exploring numerous options and being presented with the opportunity to go back and change my path if I'd gotten on one I didn't like was too much to resist.

I was always fearless in the beginning. I chose the path that I most certainly would have avoided in real life, knowing that I could have as many do-overs as I wanted to. I lived vicariously through myself, trying to be brave and avoid an abrupt ending simultaneously. I hated it when I turned to a page that marked the ending of that path. No choices set forth at the bottom of the page, just 'The End' stamped below the final paragraph. If I were reading in the car, I would turn the page away from my brother so as not to let him know I'd made a choice that ended my journey before I could go back and start it over.

My eldest daughter has discovered these books at the library and wants me to sit with her while she reads. She is intimidated by choices and asks me to make the decisions for her - living vicariously through my adventurous spirit and knowing that if we die, she can blame me. These days I choose the path I deem most risky for her benefit, hoping that she will become increasingly comfortable with the notion that it is just a story and we can go back at any time.

Although I know it is important to take into account the consequences of our decisions, for ourselves and those who surround us, experiencing these books as an adult has reminded me that I can be more courageous with my choices. I can opt to do something I'm afraid of, take a path whose end I can't be sure of, and enjoy the sights along the way. If I hit a dead end, I'll just come back and see where the other path leads me. Of course, I'm not exactly desperate to avoid the abominable snowman in my daily life, but I do tend to take the safe route, the predictable route, the habitual route. Maybe I'm up for an adventure today instead...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sticking to my Guns

I have abandoned the idea of having a garden this summer. Sort of. Well, to be honest, I revisit the idea several times a day and abandon it all over again with a lot of struggling and self-talk. In March, my vision was to expand our garden significantly from what it was last year now that the girls are old enough to help out and have more fun with it. I drew outlines, made lists of vegetables to plant, daydreamed about rigging up drip-systems and soaker hoses buried under the mulch. I called the local equipment rental shop to inquire about the cost of using a tractor for a day to till a huge plot, and I considered different ways to get rid of the sod in the spot where I envisioned my bountiful garden.

In March, it rained. April was monsoon season, and by May, I had still not managed to reserve a tractor or remove the sod, so I reluctantly put off the garden expansion until next year. The girls were getting excited about summer camps and they are in school until June 22nd, anyway, so I wasn't sure how much time we'd have to actually plant and weed and nurture our garden in the end. When Mother's Day dawned sunny and gorgeous and I was forced to begin filling the bird feeders on a daily basis to keep up with the ravenous appetites of our winged neighbors, I reconsidered. Again, after looking at the calendar for June - weekends full of birthday parties and Father's Day events and dance recitals - I put the garden aside for another year.

We have had two solid weeks of sunshine and hot weather. My peonies are the showiest they've ever been. The birds are staying away from my strawberries for once and the herb garden is growing out of bounds. Abundance surrounds me and instead of satisfying myself with that, I long to get my hands dirty planting snow peas and watermelon and cucumbers. Several times a day, I walk past the spot I've come to know as "the garden" on my way to the doggie septic tank. Each time I slow down and run options through my mind, trying to see a clear way to make the vegetable patch a reality this summer. Every time I have to force myself to remember that I put it aside in order to simplify my life this summer. I have a tendency to see any idle moment as something wasteful. The need to fill my days with activity and purpose is one I'm trying to overcome.

Instead, I will change my vision to one of me sitting on the back porch with a glass of pinot grigio watching the neighbor kids swoosh down the slip 'n' slide in our backyard, rinsing off the sticky residue from the Otter Pops they've just consumed. I'll take my kids to the local farmer's market to get our sweet carrots and cucumbers and we'll plan for next year. I think.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Lovely Quote I Found...

"Whatever we learn to do, we learn by actually doing it: men come to be
builders, for instance, by building, and harp players by playing the harp. In
the same way, by doing just acts, we come to be just; by doing self-controlled
acts, we come to be self-controlled; and by doing brave acts, we become
brave." Aristotle

I know that I have learned this over and over again in my life. I have watched my children learn to do things (and say other things I wish they wouldn't) simply by observing me and testing the waters. When I first started working as a surgical assistant I was alternately horrified and excited by the oft-used phrase, "see one, do one, teach one". Horrified because I worried about those unsuspecting patients who were paying their physician to perform a surgical procedure on them, not to stand by and watch while a resident or intern or medical assistant did the procedure instead. Excited because I was lucky enough to be that trusted assistant. Over several years I was allowed to suture wounds, reduce fractured bones, and remove benign skin growths under the hawklike gaze of my mentors.

As nervous as I was to wield a scalpel on another human being, it becomes addictive. For a self-described control freak, the simple act of fixing something compares to nothing else. The clients who came into our clinic had made their way there via the Emergency Room in most cases. It was our job to reattach blood vessels, tendons, nerves, and, often, fingers. Other times, there were great gaping holes in faces or horrific burn scars on limbs that would need extensive repair. The physicians I worked with were equal parts scientists and artists, capable of sizing up both medical and aesthetic needs in mere minutes. They were egotistical and self-important, completely sure of their abilities, and while that grated on my nerves on a daily basis, it was a special kind of balm to a frightened patient who just wanted to look and feel human again.

None of these surgeons were infallible and, while it was difficult to imagine them as scared med students, they had to start somewhere. At some point, they each had to decide to lift the scalpel and make that first cut. At some point they put aside their doubts and fears and began to practice the work they had chosen to be theirs. We learn by doing. Practice what is important to you in order to become proficient. In order to accomplish the goals we set out to achieve, we must take that first step and be consistent in our forward motion. Something for me to revisit every day, I think.

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