Sunday, September 30, 2007

Up From Below

Tar pits are formed when petroleum deposits bubble up from deep underground. Bubbles rise to the surface and pop when the bacteria that live inside the tar digest vegetation (and the odd animal who found itself trapped in the tar) and produce methane gas.
Saturday morning as I drove down I-5 toward Deb's house, a big burp erupted from the tar pit of my soul. Nearly twenty years ago a huge animal fell in and disappeared from sight beneath the muck. I fished around in there off and on for several years to no avail and finally gave up. Now, just when I had forgotten about it and assumed it was gone forever, up comes the gas. Loud, smelly and impossible to ignore.
Instead of spending my weekend fine-tuning some pieces I'd written months before with my writing group, I made it to Deb's house just grateful for a friendly face. I spent an hour trying to chip away at the story so that it would make some sense, all the while shaking my head in disbelief that it was surfacing again. The chipping away wasn't working. I couldn't put it in any sort of context that explained the fulness at the base of my throat, the tears welling in my eyes.
After dinner Deb and I sat and talked it through. By 11:00pm her gentle wisdom and insight had begun to clear the fog. By midnight I was sitting at the edge of the tar pit, in it up to my elbows. I was getting to the core. By 2:00 the next afternoon, three cups of coffee, two pieces of toast and hours of conversation with Deb and her generous spirit later, I was holding on to the bones of this beast. His name is Shame and it is going to take a lot of work to pull him up out of this muck. Fortunately, I've got friends like Deb tugging on the rope with me.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Everything I Needed to Know About Meditation, I Learned From My Dog

As you read this, I'd like you to substitute the words "Kari's brain" wherever you come across anything referring to an action my dog takes on our walks. As we took our not-quite-daily jaunt through yet another new neighborhood this morning, it occurred to me how similar the progression of our walks is to my meditation practice.

The excitement builds from the moment we get in the car to take the girls to school. The leash has been snapped on and CB is allowed to leap in to the car and take his place between the girls - squashed down between the two car seats, tail thumping a steady drumbeat. As I pull the car up to the curb and scrape the front bumper against the concrete the girls both cringe and call out in unison, "Mom, I think you're there!" CB feels the motion of the car stop and immediately leaps up, tongue hanging out one side of his mouth, ready for action.

"Not quite yet, buddy," I remind him as I hold him back so the girls can grab their stuff and hop out to walk to their classrooms.

By the time I return he's perched on the back seat of the van, vigilantly keeping watch for me out the back window. As I start the engine and pull away, scraping the front bumper back across the concrete he lies down with a huge sigh. Dang! More driving before we walk.

When we first get out of the car, the straining on the leash is almost out of control. His 80 pounds of pure muscle provide my biceps with a good workout while I try to restrain him a bit. He sniffs every new bush and critter along the way, tasting beetles that frantically skitter across the sidewalk from him. Horse poop is particularly interesting and depositing a few drops of pee on every fence post and sign post is mandatory. He zig-zags back and forth across the trail in front of me, forcing me to switch the leash from hand to hand fifty times. He pulls forward and I call over and over again, "Slow down, CB". My tone starts out as playful - I know he's just excited, but as the minutes pass by and he still pulls I begin to get frustrated and give a little tug on the leash as I say the words. Occasionally he finds a particularly interesting scent and I have to pull him forward and tell him to "Leave it".

His other odd behavior centers around his desire to find just the right place to poop. He won't go on the sidewalk or the street and he won't deposit it in the grass, either. On top of low bushes or ground covers is his preference, thank you very much. Once he has found the perfect place, we stop for him to do his business. Then, as we walk, I hold the blue 'doggy bag' by my fingertips, scanning the path for a trash can. Five minutes later we complete the same sequence again. I'm struggling with his weight pulling against me, wanting something to distract me through this first part of our walking routine. I flip open my cell phone and scroll down through the list of stored numbers, wondering who I can call that would be free to talk right now. About fifteen minutes in to the walk, we finally settle into a rhythm. Exploring the new scents has lost its attraction and he no longer has anything unsettling in his stomach. The leash has some slack and swings slightly from side to side like a metronome on a piano. I can take long, even strides and his head is held up, looking forward, tongue lolling out the left side of his mouth and he pants in even breaths.

Now I can begin to take in the sounds and smells that surround us. The trees are beginning to turn, reds and oranges just slightly coloring the edges as if they've been tentatively and cautiously dipped in paint. The crabapples are falling from the trees and making a slippery mess on the trail. There are no birds chirping today and all I can hear right now are the clicks of CB's nails on the sidewalk and his panting, panting, panting. My breaths are deeper and my shoulders drop and fall back, widening my chest to the day in front of us. Another fifteen minutes and I will be anxious to get back to the car, wanting to flip my phone open to check the time but somehow finding the resistance within me to avoid it.

I know these walks are good for me and I look forward to them but they are the first thing to suffer at the hands of a busy week. The first part of the walk drives me crazy but I can't seem to find my way to the peaceful, mindful part without traveling through the 'business' part first - the exploration of our surroundings, the clean-up, the peeing on every post.

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Couple of Links for Your Reading Pleasure

I have to send everyone who needs a laugh to Nurse Ratched's Place today. Her mother sent her a very true list of translations for men to help them understand what women are really saying.

The Coming Home Project is the other place to go today. I read about this fantastic organization in the current issue of "Tricycle" magazine. Their purpose is to help war veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan cope with their war experiences while trying to re-enter American society. The work they do is funded solely through donations and volunteers from all faiths and world views and they organize retreats and workshops to help those people who are feeling isolated come together and share their pain and caring for each other. Now that's the kind of news I love reading! I can't wait to find ways to support this kind of initiative.

Happy Monday!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Around and Around We Go

Just when I think I've settled some part of myself I'm tested again. I'm learning to say no. I'm learning to cherish what is important. All summer long I've looked forward to having mornings at home to myself so I can really dive in to working on my book again. Monday morning after dropping the girls off at school I rushed home and within five minutes of popping open my laptop the old rush of passion and excitement came back. This is my project! This is what I've thought about doing for a decade or more and I am really going to do it! I am so happy to be working on this book.

I made some pretty good progress in just a few hours, had lunch and headed off to work a few hours at the job where I actually get paid. This year I decided since both girls would be in school all day, it might be nice to have a low-key job where I could make a little money, get back into the workforce and have some superficial, pleasant social contact with other adults. Lo and behold, I was offered a job at the front desk of the school my girls attend. Three hours a day, five days a week, filing, giving families tours, maintaining the website, writing the monthly newsletter. All things I am perfectly capable of doing. The job came with a paycheck and a tuition discount (yahoo!) and I love it. It is fun and laid back and I never bring any work home with me. Who could ask for more? Man, I'm lucky!

Monday evening the phone rang. Right in the middle of Prison Break. I don't like talking on the phone as a general rule and, since some genius invented caller-id, it's rare that I actually answer the phone unless I'm expecting a call. But during the season premiere of Prison Break? Dream on, caller! Except that my husband got up and answered it. And it happened to be for me. And I should have known right then that there was something strange afoot because he hates the phone, too, and he didn't recognize the name on the caller-id but he answered the phone anyway.

Tailspin! It was the CFO of a company I used to have dealings with before I had my children and he was referred to me by a very close friend of mine with whom I used to work. He is in need of someone with medical and technical knowledge who will create and maintain a database for his company. Because I know the business and I have done this kind of work before, he thinks I would be perfect. He's willing to bend over backwards for me and let me work from home because it's a part-time job. I'm instantly sucked in. How flattering! He's right; I would be perfect for this position. What the hell am I thinking? I have a part time job already. He's a few months too late. He's wondering whether he can send me the job description via email and maybe we can get together this weekend when he will be up in my area. Of course he can! There's no harm looking at it, right?

Hanging up the phone, I turn to my husband and fill him in on the details. He's proud of me. Wow - after all these years of being a stay-at-home mom, out of the workforce, my reputation is still good enough to get me job offers. Pretty cool! Crap! You're like a dog with a peanut butter treat. Flattery and praise is all you need to compromise your own free time, isn't it? Yup.

Tuesday morning I forward the job description to S., hoping he'll help me craft some insightful questions about the position so I can get an accurate idea of just how much work I'm getting myself into. He comes through with flying colors. I email the questions to the CFO and start to figure out when I'll fit the work in during the week. The kids are in school from 9-3 - that's a ton of time, right? There ought to be plenty of time for me to do this job. And it will bring in even more money and maintain those contacts in the biz. No matter that this 'biz' is something I voluntarily left ten years ago and it's not exactly my life's passion.

Wednesday morning I can barely drive the girls to school my stomach hurts so much. I'm exhausted despite logging eight hours between the sheets and suck down a cup of coffee to get going. As soon as the girls are out of the car and in their classrooms, I hightail it home and crawl onto the couch. Ugh! What did I eat? You mean, what are you thinking? Don't tell me you don't recognize this particular brand of stomach ache - you've had it before when you tried to cram too many other things into your life in order to feed your need to be needed. Oh. Yeah.

I spent the next hour on the phone with my mother and a good friend who gave me just the ice-cold bucket of water over my head that I needed. It's nice to be wanted and sometimes, even nicer to be needed, but my plate is too full. Filling my time with 'productive' and 'paying' work is honorable, but filling it with things I'm passionate about that replenish my energy and focus are far more important. How many more tests until I've learned to recognize this on my own? I don't know. But until then, thank goodness for friends who are willing to put it in perspective for me.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

No Fair!

Let me first say this: Weight Watchers Online is a terrific thing. No meetings for me to attend. The last thing I want to do is sit in a room with other people trying to lose weight trading critiques of lowfat desserts or sugar-free chocolates, justifying my lack of desire to get on the treadmill today.

I can track my daily meals and, during that first week of re-enrollment (yeah, I sign up at least three times a year for a month or so, lose a few pounds and foolishly think I can go it alone) I am reminded how often I walk past the counter and pop a few grapes (or chocolate chips, or leftover crusts of PBJ sandwiches or slices of cheese) into my mouth on a daily basis. That's the first thing to go. That's what makes it tough working from home. The kitchen is RIGHT THERE!

The second thing to happen is that, after losing a few pounds, I realize that in order to continue to indulge in my daily (sometimes twice or three times daily) chocolate-fix, whilst losing a few pounds, I am obliged to do something physical. And typing on my laptop, unfortunately, doesn't burn many calories. Another good reminder.

The third thing that happens is that my husband sees me losing a few pounds a week and gets inspired so he, too, joins. Great! Right? Not so much. You see, Weight Watchers gives you a weekly allowance of points based on your current weight and your target weight. The closer you get to your target weight, the fewer points you get so that eventually you can learn to maintain a healthy weight. They encourage you to eat 5+ daily servings of fruits and vegetables and points are assigned for foods based on their relative calories, fat, and fiber. You can eat what you want, but if you go over your daily allowance of points, you won't be losing any weight.

Sounds good. Here's the rub. Men get more points. Even if they are close to their ideal weight. No fair. He can sit there chowing on a turkey sandwich with avocado and mayonnaise and even a slice of real cheese while I'm stuck with a bowl of lettuce and tomatoes with a half a cup of tuna fish on top. Thank God wine is only 2 points per glass! I might turn into an alcoholic, but I'll fit into my favorite pants!

Now, along about the third week into this, something even more frustrating happens. I weigh in every Monday. The first Monday, I usually have lost two or three pounds. The second Monday, one or two more. I can fit into a slightly smaller pair of pants, or the ones I wore last week are not quite so tight. I'm feeling good. The third week, I begin to get a very strong craving for salty snacks and chocolate - lots of chocolate. Oh, crap! By Sunday night, the bloat begins and I know my period is coming. Monday morning I get on the scale and, yup, I'm back to my original weight. Water weight. Bloat. Not fair. The first two weeks as I logged my weight a little smiley face popped up on the site, encouraging me to keep going - I'm doing great. Today as I enter my I'm-having-my-period-this-week-so-I-can't-fit-into-anything-and-most-of-my-calories-will-consist-of-dark-chocolate-weight, I am 'rewarded' with a sad face and a trite "Thanks for logging your weight this week. Maybe you should revisit your goals and try some of our recipes to get back on track." Ugh. Meanwhile, my husband has lost another three pounds and he's off to have sushi for lunch with the guys.

Let's see, at two points per glass of wine, two points per latte and 12 points per Dove dark chocolate bar, I can have dark chocolate, one latte, and four glasses of wine today. But wait! If I walk the dog for an hour I get, let's point. ONE! My husband went out and pruned for three hours yesterday and earned eight. Was this site designed by a man?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Analyze This!

I truly do believe that there is something to be learned from one's dreams. Theoretically. I know that I dream often, but rarely do I remember the details of those dreams beyond the actual transition from sleep to wake. Unless, of course, they are menopause dreams. These I remember in detail - pinpoint-sharp detail. I can't even begin to decipher what these dreams mean, other than the fact that my brain is slogging through some hormone-induced insanity. Read on and analyze:

Dream #1, September 13, 2007

I am in my house (which is not my house at all - the layout and furniture are completely different, but it is my house in the dream nonetheless) with a dear high school friend and my two daughters. The day is dawning and I somehow sense that my girls may be coming down with some virus they've picked up at school. My friend, we'll call her Molly, meanders downstairs to make some coffee and I follow slowly, hearing the girls chattering away in the kitchen and knowing that I need to get them ready for school.

As I enter the kitchen I see the door to the pantry wide open and the girls each with a bag of animal cookies (the pink and white frosted ones with candy sprinkles) in their hands, munching away. Worried that Molly will think I'm some sort of lunatic for letting my children eat cookies for breakfast, I snatch the bags away, roll the tops down tightly so they won't get stale, and tuck them in the back of the pantry. All of a sudden I have an urgent need to find the thermometer. E. has a temperature of 102, I'm sure of it, and I have to confirm it. Unphased by the removal of their sugary breakfast, the girls bound off to play. As I get upstairs to my room, the need for a thermometer transforms into a need for a robe. Something modest. What am I thinking walking around in my jammies?

The girls come screaming up the stairs, L. doing a serious 'potty-dance' and E. informing me that the toilets downstairs are broken and her younger sister "really needs to go." They refuse to let me get my robe on until I come investigate. It turns out that the first toilet (all black, but not shiny - dull black and plasticky) has no water in it. It also seems to be up against the wall in the living room. Hmmm.

"Did you try to flush it and see if it fills back up with water before you came racing up to get me?" I ask, fully exasperated. I'm remembering that I still haven't found the thermometer.

"But, Mom, look!" E. points to the wall behind the toilet. A spider egg sac is exploding with hundreds of baby spiders who are rapidly making a web that fills the space between the wall and the back of the toilet. So much for using that one!

We pad off toward the kitchen, a slow, quiet parade of three. Molly is still there, fussing with the coffee maker, but not acting at all frustrated. It seems that the second broken toilet is in my kitchen. Double hmmm. This one has had the lid and seat completely ripped off of it. They are lying up against the wall. The seat is white with pastel confetti colors sprinkled over it and it seems to be missing most of the hardware I might need to re-attach it. As L. increases the frantic pace of her gyrations and chants, "I gotta go, I gotta go, I gotta go", E's teacher walks in.

"Are you ready for your spelling test this morning, kiddo?" she says to my eldest daughter who is crowding me -seriously crowding me and making it so I can't see what I'm doing.

"Oh! I need to find the thermometer! I think she has a fever of 102, so I'm not sure she's coming to school today," I stand up from my crouch and wipe my hands on my short pajamas.

The teacher's eyes widen as the full scene hits her. I'm in my pajamas, L. is dancing around in an attempt to contain her pee as long as she can, Molly is still trying to make coffee, and there is a toilet in my kitchen.

"O......Kay," she says slowly, turns on her heel and walks out quickly. Just the way you would if you were trying to escape from a rabid pit bull. Walk. Don't run.

The End.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


The three of us clustered in the square of sun on the floor of my office. We each had our own, color-coded goal sheet in front of us and I was encouraging the girls to just brainstorm for now.

"Think about three things you'd love to accomplish this school year."

"What's 'accomplish', Mommy?" the youngest furrowed her brow.

"It means three things you want to learn how to do or do better. Like, my three goals for the school year are to finish writing my book, exercise at least three times a week, and get a lot better at speaking Spanish," I wrote these three things in the green spaces on my sheet.

E. flopped down onto her stomach, pencil in hand, staring at her page with her bottom lip tucked in. Through the open window I could hear the neighbors' little terriers yapping at the lawn mower.

L. started firing away, "I want to learn how to do a bridge kickover and turn on the XBox 360 by myself with no help from anyone, and I want to learn how to ride my bike with no training wheels and do my own bath and write my last name. Maybe I'm too little for riding my bike like that now. So what if I try to write my own story with no help or pack my own lunch for school. And I want to read a chapter book all by myself."

I flipped her bright pink goal sheet over and began scribbling.

"That's way more than three things, dork!" E. shot her an eye-rolling, head-shaking, big sister look.

"That's okay. If she accomplishes one of her first ideas, we can look on the back and add a new one," I pointed out the spot on the table where we can write the date of completion of each goal to both girls.


"Okay, now can you pick the three you most want to do for now?" I read off the list. She chose bridge kickover, completing her own bath independently and learning how to set up the XBox 360 by herself. I filled in the lines and she took off to post it on the wall in her room.

E. was struggling. "I can't think of anything, Mom."

"Well, how about some things at school? Like getting no more than one spelling word wrong on your tests for three weeks in a row? Or something at gymnastics like your sister? How about doing a back handspring? The goals are meant to be something you work on for the next nine months so there's no pressure to do them right away - just work on them slowly and steadily."

She looked away and let her long bangs fall over her face, "I don't want to do any of those things."

"Okay! I did the first one!" L. came bounding back in to my office waving her hot pink paper, a huge grin splitting her face. "Let's mark it off and put another one in there."

E.'s head jerked around, "Whaaat? Does she get something for doing one already?"

This wasn't exactly going as I had planned.

"What did you do?"

"I just did a bridge kickover in my bedroom. After we choose another one, I'm going to go to my room and try to read a chapter book so you guys need to be quiet in here."

"Sweetie, I was hoping these could be things you would work on for a while. There's no prize for completing them, other than the knowledge that you worked hard for something you really wanted to do and figured it out," I rubbed her back as her smile shrunk a little.

"I want to learn how to knit, Mom. That's something I really want to do, " E. spoke in a soft voice.

"Great! Put that one down, then."

"Do you know how to knit? Can you teach me this afternoon?"

We finally finished filling out the goal sheets. L. was frustrated that I didn't consider her first goal 'complete', but she's determined to convince me. I am struck by how desperately they want to get to the finish line instead of accepting the reality that so much of life is the journey and the struggle to determine just where you think you're headed. I can't say that I don't feel some of their anxiousness, and I certainly understand it. I'd love to sit down for a week straight and work on my book without taking breaks to pee or eat or cook or walk the dog or tuck the kids in or run them to school. There is a part of me that wants it done - something tangible in my hands to produce as evidence of my work. The other part of me realizes that that is why it's been so long since I worked on it. I lost the joy of the journey somewhere along the way. At one point I made no promises about when it would be done. At one point I was simply loving the process of interviewing people and hearing their stories and trying to tease out gems of light and hope. The goal sheet is posted on the wall in my office as a reminder of my desire to get these stories out. Perhaps going through this process with my kids is the bigger reminder. If I don't embrace the path I'm taking to reach that goal, it will be an empty victory.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Together and Apart

Pulling in to the parking lot on the first day of school, the manic movements of parents walking their children into the building, driving in circles looking for spots, children squeezing the blood from their mothers' hands; the intensity level is equal to that of the emotions inside the car. My oldest is bouncing in her carseat, unable to contain her excitement at finally going back to school. My youngest is radiating waves of anxiety. She is not ready to be a Kindergarten student - she thinks it means harder work and more expectations that she can't possibly live up to.

"I don't want to be away from home. Away from Mommy," she wailed at dinner last night.

Entering the building is akin to examining the emotions under a microscope. Confused parents search lists of student names inside the doorway, wishing they'd found the classroom before today. The sound of frightened cries travels down the hall and around the corner toward us. Front desk staff bow their heads to their computers, calculating account balances and straightening out glitches in the class lists as parents stack up behind the counter like Legos.

The classrooms are full of soothing adult voices, chattering children pushing their way through the bodies to find friends or scooting to the window to wave one last time to their parents. My right thigh is encircled by timid five-year-old arms. Her favorite teacher comes to greet her and instead of letting go, she buries her face in my yoga pants. I bend down to kiss the tip of her warm, soft nose and encourage her to hand her teacher the flowers we picked for the classroom this morning.

"Go sit with your friends, baby. There are Alison and Susan, see?" I smooth her hair and rub her back and assure her I'll be back to say hi at lunch.


The overripe blackberries and fading lavender have given up their oils to the rain overnight. The scents mingle and cluster at the edges of the golf course as I walk briskly past, attempting to exorcise my sadness and believe she'll be just fine. Already is, most likely.

"Gentlemen, you've seen my driver for the last time today," a burly 50-something in standard issue Ralph Lauren polo shirt addresses his buddies.

"Damn! 5,5,5,6! If Chris' ball marker hadn't been blocking my ball, I'd have had that shot," the tall skinny one complains with a smile.

These four have come together in a different way. They have an easy cameraderie, joking, piling all of their large bodies into one golf cart for the trip to the next tee. Their jovial exchanges lift my mood and I am pleased at witnessing this other kind of togetherness. One that is planned, pleasurable, fluid.


The houses that surround the golf course are of two kinds. There are some that are stand-alone, with three-car garages and wide, open floor plans. The others are duplexes made to look like single-family homes. The entrances are at opposite ends of the structure and the outside common wall is split down the middle so that each half has a different color scheme, making it look like two houses just ran into each other.

Some of the patios that face the golf course are open, with stepping stones beckoning friends to come down and sit at the table for a cool drink in the summertime. Others clearly chose to be on the course, but built tall fences to ensure their privacy. Most of the fences are pretty - cedar with embellishments like copper post-tops or alternating boards to allow some light. I find myself put off by the ones that aren't softened by climbing plants - clematis or grape vines. They seem so stark, so pointy, so harsh. These people don't want the world to intrude on their slice of life here.


After nearly four weeks of having houseguests I am celebrating my moving apart. My husband has returned to work and the children are back in school. I am watching their coming together with others anxiously, hoping that the transitions are smooth and they are able to embrace these other experiences and find pleasure. Today, I am not venturing out to connect with others in that way. I will stay behind my fence and find ways to embrace what is within. I have had enough coming together for now. I understand the anxiety my youngest feels - having to summon the energy to interact with still more people, anticipating their desires and responding to them is more than I want right now. I will sit in my courtyard, watching the coming together and moving apart of others and contemplate how we accomplish these things.
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