Thursday, December 20, 2012

What I've Always Wanted for Christmas

To be a published author.  On paper. And now, a mere five days before the day itself, I have proof that I am!

Several months ago the lovely, wise Michelle alerted me to a call for submissions she thought would be 'right up my alley.' It was.  Cherry Bomb Books was putting together an anthology in response to what the media was calling the "War on Women" in the United States.  I submitted an idea, the editor decided to run with it, and the last few months have been a whirlwind of writing, re-writing, editing, more re-writing, and more editing.  Kim Wyatt has my undying gratitude for her masterful ideas and the way she pulled more out of my words than I ever could have alone, and I can't wait for people to read this book.  Follow the link to Cherry Bomb's site to learn more and preorder the book.  It will be released on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, January 22, 2013, and I am so proud to be included in this list of magnificent writers.

Eve and Lola saw the cover art and raised their eyebrows, read the title and promptly said, "We can't talk about this to Grandpa!" and giggled.  I agree it's provocative, but that's the point, isn't it?  More to the point, however, is the myriad of perspectives from a terrific group of women 40 years after Roe v. Wade became the law of the land, despite the battles that have been fought over it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

That's the Way We Roll: Holiday Version

It is our first Christmas in the new house and so far, it has been a lot of fun to figure out how exactly we will do things differently this year.  Where is the best place for the Christmas tree? Where will everyone sleep when they come? Which bathroom gets the holiday towels, or should we put them in the kitchen?

Some things don't change, like the girls putting on Santa hats and Christmas music while they decorate the tree together, Bubba and I popping in to stuff something yummy into one mouth or another and hang a favorite ornament.  Others had to change; we have no lights on the outside of the house this year because this 100-year old gem doesn't have an electrical outlet outside.  We mixed a few things up by going to the Nutcracker for the first time in years to see four of Eve's classmates dance and by getting our shopping done early so we could have time to prepare for the arrival of Bubba's entire family this year.

But what won't ever change is the odd little things that make us who we are.  You know, those unexpected events that you just can't plan for or that make you laugh when you realize how others must see them.

For example...

Every year around Halloween, Eve and Lola begin deciding what they'll make for everyone for Christmas.  I started this tradition when they were toddlers with salt dough ornaments that they painted and gave to grandparents and aunts and uncles.  As they aged, the girls had fun exchanging homemade gifts with their cousins, too, and every year we work to come up with something that will be fun and meaningful without being useless.  Just in case any relatives happen to read this before December 25, I won't reveal what Lola chose to make for everyone, but Eve, well, since we had to come up with Plan B, I can say that she wanted to make dark chocolate almond biscotti for her gifts this year.  We amassed all of the ingredients and spent hours on Sunday making our own gluten-free flour blend, toasting almonds, and mixing the dough.  I have never made biscotti before and didn't realize it is a two-step process, where you bake the loaves of dough once, cool them, slice them and then bake them again until they are crisp and crunchy.  The house smelled divine.

We finally finished late Sunday evening and couldn't package the treats until they were cool, so we set them aside until morning.  Monday morning was a mad dash to get to school on time and I nearly came home and tucked each biscotti into its own gift bag but decided Eve would probably really enjoy doing that herself, decorating each one with ribbons and labeling them appropriately.  I ran around the house, cleaning up and making lists and when I left to get the girls from school the biscotti still sat in neat rows on the cookie sheet near the stove.  When I came home the pan was overturned, the kitchen floor was coated in a fine dust of crumbs and the dog lay under the kitchen table moaning, his whiskers sprinkled with evidence.  He had eaten them all.  Off of the kitchen counter.  In the 20 minutes I was gone.

Predictably, Eve was furious at the loss of hours of hard work and panicky that we wouldn't have time, between basketball practice and homework this week, to make more.  I was disgusted with the dog and myself for not packing them all up safely, and more than a little worried that the dog had ingested a lot of chocolate.  Beyond being incredibly thirsty all night, he didn't seem to show any outward signs of illness, and I figured we would be lucky if he just ended up with a serious case of constipation.

Tuesday morning I took him for a walk after dropping the kids at school and was rewarded with, well, chocolate biscotti.  Not only was he not constipated, but he filled three bags with poop that was dark, dark brown and studded with almonds.  Slightly different shape, same look.  If I hadn't known better....

So this morning I headed out to the UPS store to mail the goodies the girls made to family members we won't see this year.  I had everything divided in to three groups that just needed boxes and packaging.  As the clerk began typing in the addresses one by one, he remarked that each of the destinations was within a short distance of the others with two being in the same town.

"Too bad these people aren't all getting together for the holidays, and you could just send it all in one box and save yourself some money."

"Nope," was my reply. "They all know each other, but..."  my voice trailed off as I realized the irony.

As the groups of gifts were lined up, they were going to

a.  my dad's first wife (my mom),
b.  my dad's second wife,
c.  my dad's third wife.

With a line of people behind me, I pointed that out to the clerk who laughed and admitted he'd never heard that before.

Oh, well. We're quirky like that.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Messy Kind of Gratitude

On Friday I was inconsolable for much of the day, my grief only giving way to let flashes of anger and indignance in as I posted sharp calls for gun control and increased funding for mental health on my Facebook page.  Mostly, though, I sobbed.

At some point, I knew I had to turn off the radio and move forward, however slowly, and so when I picked Eve and Lola up from school, I decided I was done for a bit.  We talked about the Newtown school shooting until Lola plugged her ears and begged us to stop and then we all huddled together in a shaky hug and agreed to let it sit for a while.

The weekend was full of affection and family time.  We didn't turn on the news at all - radio or TV - and instead went to see The Hobbit and baked holiday treats to share with family.  I checked Facebook and my email very sparingly and only once or twice asked myself whether I was avoiding something I ought to be paying attention to.  I didn't answer myself.

Despite a friend's suggestion to watch President Obama's speech at the interfaith service held on Sunday, I skipped it.  I am not sure whether I was afraid it would crack me wide open again or if there was something else at work but this morning I feel as though I know how I can best frame all of this for myself.  At least for now.

I started a gratitude practice about a year ago in an effort to ward off depression.  When I was really wrestling with darkness, mornings were the most challenging time for me.  I often woke up with only one eye at a time so I could gauge whether that semi truck of pain and longing was heading for me before I put my feet on the floor.  A friend suggested that before I open my eyes, I start a list of things for which I am truly grateful. A sort of shield against that truck hurtling my way.  I figured it couldn't hurt.

In the beginning it was hard to come up with a list. Not because I don't have many, many blessings in my life, but because I have an innate tendency to qualify them.  As soon as I think of one, I either compare it to someone else and feel guilty that, say, my kids are healthy and my friend's aren't, which effectively soils the gratitude, or it feels trite and petty, like being grateful that I have enough money to pay my bills.  Even in my gratitude practice, I found myself wanting - either for more 'pure' things like love (which feel too nebulous to me to be grateful for sometimes), or for deep, profound items on my list.  I am nothing if not stubborn, though, and motivated to keep the depression at bay, and so, pathetic as my lists could be sometimes, I kept going. I hoped that maybe tomorrow I would come up with something beyond my kids, my husband, and my health to be grateful for.

I have, to be sure, developed my understanding of gratitude over the past year, but this morning I came to a much greater sense of how to incorporate it into my life.  Since I began this practice, I have seen gratitude as a balance sheet, a yin and yang where the black never bleeds into the white.  Where the two sides are separate and I can choose to exist in either one world or the other at any given time.  Where even if I saw something on that ugly side of the page that felt overwhelming like the Newtown shooting I could quickly jump to the other side and say to myself, "My kids are healthy and safe at their school right now. I am so grateful for that."

This morning things got a little muddy.  Because the fact is, I do exist in both of those realities simultaneously and I don't want to compare the two things.  I came to realize that I can be knee-deep in the muck that is my sadness and grief about the events of last Friday and still find beauty in the world.  The two things simply are.  One does not cancel the other out.  One does not mitigate the effects of the other.  One does not explain or deny the other. They both simply are.  And I can be in both at the same time and have both utter desolation and an appreciation for the gifts I experience without judging.

When my father was dying and we both knew it,  we were devastated.  We could sit together and acknowledge that we wouldn't likely have much time left together and still find joy in silly things like stories about my girls' antics or watching a football game.  It wasn't about forgetting or denying that he was dying, it was about recognizing that and allowing it and sitting with it as we found love and companionship.

I think, too, it is about acknowledging my particular place.  That I can be a force for love and light in the world when I remember to do so. And that there will be times I am fully flawed and I spew anger or create chaos, but that both the dark and the light exist within me, not in discrete spaces sealed off from each other, but swirled together in a vast, cosmic mud puddle where I will sometimes squish into the muck and other times splash with joy.  And I am but a small reflection of the world in which I reside that also contains both of these elements.  In this way, choosing to honor those things for which I am grateful is not a denial or refusal to look at the things I find painful or ugly, but an acceptance that they are as real and as valid as the other.  Today, that makes the beauty a little messier, but no less wonderful.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

News Flash: I Don't Have All the Answers. No, Really, I Don't

I finished my Christmas shopping yesterday.  And before you stop reading and curse me, letting phrases like, "F*&^ you!" and "well, la tee dah" fly, I want to take you on a thought journey.  Please. Indulge me.

It all began with an afternoon latte and a friend who was talking about a business class she once took. Never mind that the entire notion of her taking a business class shook me nearly out of my seat - she was a theater arts major with a beautiful singing voice and I have known her for more than half our lives. I didn't have the presence of mind to stop her narrative to ask, WTF? You? Took a business class?  She is a fast talker - my father used to call those of us who love to talk 'motormouth' - and she blithely continued on before I could stop her. Good thing. Because she started talking about something called manageable chunks. Not prioritizing or triaging or anything that places importance on one set of tasks or ideas over another, but manageable chunks. And it occurred to me that this is a vanilla enough phrase that it can mean many things to many different people.  And that is precisely why I liked it.

You see, for me, editing my latest book review was not manageable yesterday. Neither was phoning my naturopath's bookkeeper and then the insurance company and then the administrator of my HSA to talk about why my deductible has not yet been met even though it is nearly the end of the year.  Even less manageable for me would have been sitting down to crunch numbers on the landscape project Bubba and I are toying with doing.  Manageable? Shopping. Driving to some cute local stores to look at stocking stuffers and purchase a book or two to round out my holiday gift lists.  Coming home and hauling all of the wrapping paper and ribbons out of storage and staging a Santa's elves helper area for the girls to fully immerse themselves in - that was manageable. Yesterday. I'm not saying it would be next Tuesday.  Or any other day. But yesterday, that was the one piece of my To-Do List that I felt I could tackle with the mindset, energy and ability I had.

And then, as the girls and I sat swapping scissors for tape for ribbon and doing our best to make all of the packages pretty despite the black fur that was sticking to everything (we were wrapping in front of the fireplace which is where the dog and the cat do most of their lounging), I saw it on the news.  A lone, masked man entered a busy shopping mall in Portland, Oregon yesterday and began shooting randomly, killing two people and wounding a 15-year old girl before killing himself.  I have been in that mall many times.  My sister used to work there.  My friend Carrie took her son to see Santa there 24 hours prior to this horrible incident.  I was struck still.  No thoughts, very little breath, no movement.  No emotion, even, for a moment in the beginning.  And then I was sad and then grateful that more people weren't injured. And then I wondered who this poor man was and why he felt as though he had to do something like this. And then I was still again because I have no answers. And that is where I stayed (mentally) until now.

Logically, I know I don't have all the answers. Viscerally, I disagree entirely.  Logically, I don't even want to have all the answers. God forbid someone call me up one day and say, "Kari? Good, you're there. I'm taking a break for a bit and I need you to mind the Universe until I come back, okay? Thanks."  I would wet myself.  I would stutter and sputter and perhaps vomit.  Because that, my friends, is a lot of responsibility.

But sometimes I fantasize that whomever that person is that is in charge will call and ask me for one piece of the puzzle.  That I can eloquently and articulately present my argument for, say, organic foods or holistic health care or safer environmental practices and leave them saying, "Damn! You're good! Of course we will implement that right away. We are so glad we asked you. Can we keep your number in case we have other questions?"

Often I rail at the powers-that-be who must surely possess the wisdom that I have and, yet, are not doing a damn thing about it to change some of the major things that bother me: poverty, environmental degradation, and human rights abuses, to name a few.

And before you think you know where I'm going with this (manageable chunks) I will throw you for a bit of a loop.  Because it occurred to me that every moment of every day there are things being done.  Things that I don't even know about or understand and didn't set in motion.  And while they may not entirely cancel out or eradicate the things that make me gnash my teeth in anger or frustration, they constitute motion.  It occurred to me that, even as I notice a new crack in my index finger - a result of the eczema I deal with every year at this time - my body is working to repair some other damage or create some new cell somewhere else that I can't see.  So maybe I can give my finger a leg up by slathering some cream on it and trying to keep it out of hot water and mitigate some of the work my body has to do so it can use it elsewhere.

I am surely part of the solution, but only part.  And I can only operate within the boundaries of what I know as Truth (remember this post?) and do the rest of the Universe the enormous favor of not challenging every damn little thing it says or does.  Because I don't have all the answers. And I can't see the whole picture, but I do know that everywhere, simultaneously, throughout this vast wondrous place we live in, healing is happening at the same time as harm.  And I believe with a very strong conviction that as long as I stick to my manageable chunks, progress is being made.

Ironically, admitting that I don't have the answers is a little, teensy bit freeing.  While the Teacher's Pet in me is right now kicking my shins furiously and sticking out her tongue, it is a huge load off to accept the fact that perhaps I don't have to go out there and fix things all the time.  And it is an even bigger revelation that part of the reason I have avoided certain people and situations in my life is because I felt as though I was expected to provide some solution that I honestly did not have in me.  While I generally chalked those avoidances up to less enlightened things like, "She's a total freaking mess and it's not my responsibility" or simply, "He's an ass," it turns out that what I was really avoiding was the fear of acknowledging the simple truth that I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO IN THIS INSTANCE.  Once I face that fear and shove it out of the way, there is room for compassion - both for myself in all my ignorance and for the other person who must be feeling really shitty right now.  Having spent most of my life trying to convince everyone that I was mature/intelligent/capable enough to handle anything, it's a little bit of a turnaround to suddenly realize I'm not any of those things.  I suspect it will take practice. Lots of practice.  And faith that somewhere, someone has a few of the answers I don't have and still others have their particular pieces of the puzzle, and me? I have my manageable chunks and my not-so-manageable chunks and I have a few answers. Just not all of 'em.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Birthday Melancholy

Eve stayed up later than usual last night.  After I went upstairs to kiss her goodnight, I came back down to the family room, settled on the couch and began my nightly ritual of scanning the on-screen guide to see if there was anything on TV that I could stand to watch.

There wasn't.

Just as I was pressing the power button, I heard the stairs squeak and Eve's head peered around the corner.  She sat on the opposite end of the couch from me and looked all around my face, avoiding my eyes.  At first I thought she was afraid of getting in trouble for coming back downstairs, but it didn't take me long to figure out what was really going on.

It was the last night she would ever be twelve.
The last night before becoming a teenager.
There was no going back.

Eve is generally fairly stoic, at least when it comes to uncomfortable emotion.  She is perfectly happy to  show her support or enthusiasm for something and feels free to express her excitement in most every situation. What she doesn't do easily is talk about things that bother her or cry in front of anyone.

I waited.

She talked a little about something that made her mad that day and said she wished I didn't just assume I knew how she would react.  And then it came,

"...just because I'm older. Just because I'm a teenager now, doesn't mean I don't care about that stuff anymore."

I put my hand on the blanket beside me, welcoming her to come sit with me.

"Why?" It was more wary than questioning.

"Because I want to give you a hug. I'm sorry you are unhappy and I will do my best to ask you for your input each and every time, no matter what your age from now on."

She booted the cat off the couch and snuggled into my side, her hip in the curve of my waist, her head tucked into the side of my neck.

And I told her a story.  About being pregnant with her and knowing that I had all the answers. I decided that my kid wasn't going to be a "binky baby," that she would be exclusively breastfed and that she would always, always sleep in her own bed.  And I knew with certainty that if I just started out this way and never wavered, it would be a piece of cake.

Turns out cake doesn't agree with me (unless it's gluten free).

By day 3, I was tired of spending my days with my pinky finger stuck in her mouth as she sucked to self-soothe. I picked the shortest route to Target and bought a dozen pacifiers, stuck one in each car and in every room of the house, and tethered one to the frontpack I carried her in.  Finally, peace and a non-soggy finger!

Eve and I were the world's worst breastfeeding duo. I had inverted nipples and enough milk to feed a small African country and she had a gag reflex that rivaled any I've ever seen.  She was starving, I was bleeding and pumping off three or more ounces every couple of hours just to get her to latch on.  It was miserable.  We did finally figure it out, but it took six weeks for me to feel comfortable leaving the house when I thought I might have to nurse her in public because it was such an intricate dance.

And the sleeping.  Well, that was the hardest part.  On paper, it sounded like the right thing to do.  We had a bassinet in our room for her, but it was winter and she was cold in there. Plus, I carried her around all day long in the front pack, so she was used to being nestled up right against a human while she slept.  And the thing is, I loved it.  I loved going through my day sniffing her soft downy head and taking every opportunity to reach down and stroke her chubby little cheek.

We would put her to bed in her bassinet and within 30 minutes she would howl.  I knew that I would be feeding her at least twice in the night anyway, and it was so much easier to bring her back to my bed, nurse her and fall asleep than it was to finish feeding her and get out of bed to put her back.  And even back then, Bubba traveled a lot for work, so having her next to me in bed was lovely and comforting.

Eve was never a snuggler. Bubba's dad was frustrated that she wouldn't just climb into his lap for a story as a toddler. She wanted to sit next to him and turn the pages, but not on him.  She didn't like other people besides Bubba and me picking her up, even as an infant.  She gave great hugs, but didn't cuddle like some kids.  But when we were asleep, she would curl right into me for a little while and sigh. It was absolute Heaven.

As I look at her now, turning 13 today, I know she is filled with excitement and trepidation. I know she can't wait to have some of the trappings of teenager-dom, but she is feeling a little melancholy about growing up.  I am, too.  I am so proud of her and the person she is becoming and I miss rolling over and seeing her dark hair splayed out across the pillow on the other side of the bed.  I feel so lucky that she sat with me on the couch last night and let me play with her hair and tell her a story of how much I cherish the sweet times we had together.

Happy birthday, my girl! You are my treasure.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

My Latest Book Review and Other Books I Read for the Fun of It

I just finished reading Susannah Cahalan's Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, for BookPleasures. You can find my review here. It is a quick read, but frightening in the way psychological thrillers can be - that is, if you're prone to being a tad bit of a hypochondriac when it comes to your own mental health.

I have also read several other good books lately that I thought I'd pass along in case anyone is looking for something to give to themselves this holiday season.  I generally read more than one book at a time, one on my iPad, one from the library, and one I couldn't resist buying from the used bookstore.  In addition to that, there are always magazines lying around in different places, propped open to various pages, that I can pick up and peruse when I only have 15 minutes or so before dashing off to do something.  My favorite magazines are The Sun and Natural Health, but my new favorite is a literary magazine out of Portland, Oregon called Stealing Time. It is geared towards all things parenting and may be a new place for all you writers out there to send submissions. It is truly fantastic, with poetry and photographs and essays both fictional and non-fiction.  

The books I have read most recently on my iPad, in no particular order, are:
  •  Louise Erdrich's "The Round House" (she is a wonder, this one - I love everything she writes), 
  • Alex Mitchell's "All Gone" - a memoir about her mother's memory loss/dementia and how the author copes by cooking up memories of her childhood dishes. I enjoyed this one, but am glad I didn't spend the money for the hard copy because it was such a quick read.
  • Karen Thompson Walker's "The Age of Miracles" - I am sad that this one is on my iPad because I know both of my girls would LOVE this book, but they have Kindles, so I may need to buy it again for them.  The premise is incredibly unique and the story was fascinating, especially to someone who tends to get lost in philosophical reverie. I didn't even know it was supposed to be a teen book until after I read it. Loved this one!
  • Amanda Coplin's "The Orchardist" - this one felt like a Pacific Northwest, caucasian "Roots" in a way. It was epic, spanned generations, and completely sucked me in with the imagery and the fact that I live not far from where it was set.  Tremendous read. 
  • M.L. Stedman's "The Light Between Oceans" - this book made me cry in a good way. Again, the premise was unique and made me think well beyond the pages of the book. Loved it.
  • Darcy Lockman's " Brooklyn Zoo: The Education of a Psychotherapist" - a memoir of Lockman's residence in a Brooklyn psych hospital. Well-written, quick read. Mostly it made me sad about the state of our healthcare system (especially as it relates to mental illness) and how we train our physicians. 
  • Sarina Berman's "Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World" - Amazing story! Amazing. I devoured this book and was so sad when it was over. One of my favorite works of fiction this year.
  • Laura Moriarty's "The Chaperone" - fun, light read that I would recommend for summer vacation.
  • John Irving's "In One Person" - I had to work to finish this one.  Actually, it was the first third of the book that was work. The rest was pleasurable, but I only kept reading it because I heard Irving interviewed on a local public radio station and I find him so fascinating.  Ultimately, I enjoyed it, but felt like it could have used some editing. (Look at me - novice writer saying that about John Irving! Ha! Who do I think I am?)
  • Liz Moore's "Heft" - My friend Carrie raved about this book, and I trust her taste, so I downloaded it. What a beautiful story! Another favorite fictional work, for sure.
  • Tupelo Hassman's "girlchild" - I think I wrote about this book earlier this year, but I have to say it again - I think it's brilliant.
  • Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken" - this one made me grieve so much for the folks fighting wars all over the planet. It also made me wish they could all unburden themselves of their stories and see them in a different light.
I just gifted myself Anne Lamott's new book "Help Thanks Wow" and Brene Brown's newest, "Daring Greatly." I can't wait to start them, but first I have a teen fiction book to review that I have to finish because Eve read the back the other day and is chomping at the bit to read it when I'm done.  

Happy reading!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Where My Mind Shouldn't Go

Three posts in four days. That used to be the norm, but in the last year, I have gone to one or two a week and felt just fine with it.  I know I'm working something out in my psyche when I feel the need to write here more often and I also know it when I start to live in the stream of consciousness.

Stream of consciousness thinking is a way for me to dissociate. It feels like skating on a frozen pond, gliding across without any fear, gazing down below my feet and noticing fish darting about.  Every once in a while I magically breach the ice and reach in to get a closer look at one particular fish and sometimes I follow it for a while before letting go and coming back up to the surface.

I think that this process allows me to divorce myself from my normal routine or patterns of thinking and simply float through thoughts until one snags my attention.  Strings of thought emerge as I begin to notice which kinds of things are pulling me in and often I am able to come to some deeper understanding than I would have if I had diligently worked on finding a solution.

Sometimes, though, the things that catch my attention pull me in ways I'd rather not go.  At my physical yesterday, my doctor told me she felt a lump on my thyroid gland and wanted me to get an ultrasound to look at it.  She wasn't concerned at all and figured it was simply a benign nodule, but she wanted to be sure.  I took my original cue from her calm demeanor, scheduled the ultrasound for the next day, and went on my way.

Over the next 24 hours I skated on that pond, only looking at the fish that reminded me of my mother's thyroidectomy some 20 years ago and the one that suggested maybe my hair was thinning and that might be a bad sign.  I skated past signs that said pithy things like, "If you're going to get cancer, thyroid cancer is the one to get."  I read my friend Emily's blog, Holy Sit, where she writes about spending a year eradicating her cervical cancer using alternative medicine.  I woke up a full hour before my alarm went off, wishing I were tired because when I sleep I forget.  Opening my eyes, I looked at the dark room and rattled off a list of things for which I am grateful and that's when the shaking began.

I managed to get the girls to school without betraying my emotions, only letting tears fall as I walked the dog around the block to pee.  I wondered who would help Bubba raise my girls if I die. Or who would run the household for me if I get sick and lie in bed for a year.  I shoved the dire predictions out of my head with an impatient shake and decided to skate circles on that pond until my appointment, floating above everything else as long as I could.

When I got to the radiology department, more practical concerns entered my head.  I have a 'thing' about my neck.  I don't like things touching it.  I wondered idly what would happen if I started gagging or giggling when the technician pressed the wand into my throat.  I wondered if I would be allowed to swallow while she did the exam.  I wondered if, on the off chance I started to cry, she would be able to discern the lump in my throat on her screen.  I wondered what causes that lump, anyway, when you are about to cry.

I had to lie on my back with a foam cylinder under my neck that tilted my head back and exposed my throat. I felt like a chicken on my great-grandmother's chopping block.  'Make it quick!' I imagined myself saying and felt like laughing at my own joke.  I had to turn left and then right as she swirled the wand over my throat through the warm goo, clicking keys on her keyboard and taking 40 pictures or more.  When I swung my head to the right, I could see the screen clearly and watched as she marked off measurements, "THYROID SUP," "L LAT THYROID."  Then she started marking off smaller areas just to the side of my thyroid and a tear slid from the corner of my eye into my right ear.

After 30 minutes, she handed me a towel and told me she saw nothing out of the ordinary.  There are nodules.  They are perfectly normal - happens to a lot of people.  It may not affect how my thyroid functions at all, but now that we know they are there, we will want to keep an eye on them.

When she left the room so I could change out of the gown, I let myself cry hot tears of relief.  I buried my face in the gown and sobbed. And then I went to the grocery store.  After all, Eve's birthday slumber party is tonight and we have to have supplies.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Post-Holiday Stream of Consciousness

I guess, technically, it's pre-holiday, too, considering that Christmas is coming up, but Thanksgiving and Christmas always sort of lump together in my mind and heart like one long slow hill up to the top of this rickety roller coaster that dumps me down a thrilling dive to Christmas, up another little dip and down again on New Year's.  I wonder when or if I will ever see these holidays as different.  My image of them has been shaped by the school calendar, anticipating the break from routine just as much as the actual decorating and annual Nutcracker viewing and rip-and-tear on the morning of the 25th.

I had my annual physical today and was grateful for so many things.  The doctor who comes in and doesn't touch me for at least 20 minutes as she asks me how I'm doing and what's going on in my life. The fact that she remembers the stories I told her of stress and my husband's health history and my writing three months ago when I was there.  The enormous, green vein nestled in the crook of my left elbow (antecubital fossa - that's forever my favorite anatomy term) that is easily visible to any lab tech and gives up blood without rolling or closing down or even making a squeak.  I was enormously grateful to Bubba for being in town to get the girls ready and off to school so I could schedule my physical first thing in the morning and not have to go without coffee or food for too long.  Tremendously grateful for health insurance that allows me to make this annual pilgrimage to keep tabs on my health.

I am having so much fun shopping for the kids in the family this year. I always do, but forget about it throughout the year. Even if some of them won't be with me when they open them, I delight in finding goofy little things that conjure up memories or that one special item I know they can't get where they are. I used to start shopping in August because I thought I was supposed to get a jump on the holidays, but I always ended up with a closet full of gifts, too many to give each person, embarrassed by the amount of money I had spent.  I shifted to making lists  of possible ideas starting in August, but quickly realized that stressed me out more than anything - making sure the items would still be available when I was ready to buy them. When we shifted to drawing names for adults so that each of us only bought for one other person, I began to get back into the joy of finding that one special gift.  We still buy gifts for all the kids, though, and that is my favorite part.  Like most things, I'm much more sanguine about that these days, picking up things as I come across them in my daily errands or leafing through catalogs in the evenings.

A few years ago I started making anti-gift lists for Eve and Lola in an effort to avoid the things we either had too many of or simply didn't want in the house. Barbie dolls, Polly Pocket, anything pink (in Lola's case)....I may have added a few things to that list that weren't preapproved by the girls but I figure that's my prerogative as the mom.  This year, I happened to mention to my sister-in-law that if she got Eve gift cards to either Hollister or Abercrombie (which she put high on her list of desires), she could get me a corresponding gift by offering to take her shopping there for me.  I hate both of those stores for so many reasons.  I have a girlfriend who calls them both "the naked boy store" because the shopping bags have black and white photos of half-naked boy-men on them with their jeans pulled down to show their hip bones.  There are posters of these boys throughout the store - not that you can see them very well because the stores are so dimly lit that I have been known to mortify Eve by pulling out my phone to shine it on a price tag or two.  There is an overwhelming stench of perfume, so much so that within five minutes of being inside, I can taste it in the back of my throat and begin hacking like a cat with a hairball.  There is never anyone at the locked dressing rooms which means someone has to go hunting for help. At first, I offered to stand in line while Eve went, but that generally resulted in her becoming distracted by other items she wanted to try on and inevitably I stood there for 15 minutes before she finally came back and said she was too shy to ask anyone.  There is only ever one person behind the checkout counter, with five or six other employees scattered throughout the store folding clothes and putting them back on racks.  This means that I stand in line while Eve wanders to look for other things and then I have to step out of line while she goes to try "just one more thing" on. I may have spewed all of this frustration to my SIL. I may have been a little vehement about it.  I may have just put the kibosh on any gift cards from either of those stores. Depends on how badly she wants to be the celebrity aunt. Or how much wine she has before shopping...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Holiday Revelations

Time spent with extended family is always a bit fraught with anxiety for me.  For years I assumed it was the chaos, routine disruption, and extra bodies in the house that put me on edge, but over the last few gatherings I have come to realize that those things don't bother me at all. My discomfort stems from one thing in particular: comparisons.

When we were kids hanging out with our cousins, sleeping all sideways, sprawled throughout my aunt's bonus room in slippery sleeping bags, we loved the extra stimulation.  The kids we only saw a couple of times a year had new games to play, new pranks to pull, and gave us enough bodies for a true game of hide-and-seek or basketball.  We compared ourselves with respect to relative height or free-throw skill, things we felt sanguine about because we knew they would change soon enough. Someone would sprout up over the winter and by the time we all got together again next summer, the arrangement would be different.  We did a little measuring up, but mostly we spent our time and energy playing.  We grudgingly came to the table for meals, squirming with energy until we could be excused to go set up a new game of War or booby trap Uncle Mike's bed.

As an adult, I find myself constantly assessing and comparing myself to my siblings and in-laws.  Trying to make sure that I am "good enough" to be part of Bubba's clan despite the fact that I came from such a vastly different place than they did. Feeling as though my siblings and I ought to find ourselves in similar places because we all started out together and fighting waves of guilt because we aren't.  The simplest things add to the balance sheet in my head; when my dog misbehaves and someone points out that it took them only a week to train their puppy with some special technique they used, or when a niece or nephew comes up to me and wistfully says how much they wish they had something we have.

I have written about (and thought about) comparisons and their power to bring me down so many times. I know it is a trap I ought not to fall into and yet, the tendency to weigh myself and my life against others' lives is so strong.  As I stepped out of the shower this morning I remembered how much I used to love those crazy, chaotic family gatherings and decided that as I continue to struggle with learning not to compare myself to others, maybe at least I can stack the deck in my favor for now by harnessing some of that joy.  Perhaps the parameters I use to measure against can include not only my perception of my sister-in-law's skill in one particular area, but also my own historical lack of skill.  Those can be the bookends and I can find myself in the middle, having progressed beyond where I was before.

Much like we did when we were kids, I can assume that there will continue to be growth in my own life and, when we all get together again things won't be exactly the same as they are now.  If there are things that I deem important enough to work at, I will have progressed.   When we were young, we didn't put much stock in differences because we didn't feel as though we had much control over how things changed.  We certainly couldn't predict who was going to grow a few inches and who wasn't.  We knew that Kim and Karen would be better at volleyball because they played it more often than any of us, but we also knew that Chris would learn to drive first, simply by virtue of his age.  There were so many points of comparison, so many strengths and weaknesses and perks and circumstance-driven changes that beyond making the occasional joke about how bad someone was at something, we quickly gave up comparisons in favor of hanging out together having fun.

I don't know when I will stop looking at my life through the lens of "measuring up," although I suspect it will be one of those things that will happen without me knowing it.  In the meantime, I will work to acknowledge the things that have changed about all of us and then get back to enjoying time spent playing with my family.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I Miss My Easy Bake Oven

*Note: This photo is not of me. This girl is waaaaay younger than I was when I got my Easy Bake. I got it from Wikimedia Commons

Times have changed.

Man, even thinking about uttering that phrase makes me feel old - as old as I thought my grandparents were when I was a kid, and that's ancient!

I was having coffee with the mother of one of Eve's friends yesterday and somehow we got to talking about the things we fear most about having a teenage daughter.  It's hard to even begin to know what we are up against, given how different their world is from what we knew.

The two of us shared the requisite stories of summer days spent completely unsupervised by anyone other than our older siblings (who often meant us as much harm as not).  Those mornings when we would dash out the door in packs, or looking for the roving packs of neighbor kids, to the familiar refrain of, "Be back in time for dinner!" were absolutely priceless.   Not in small part due to the fact that if our parents had known half of the stupid stunts we pulled, their hearts would have stopped no less than a dozen times a day.

We did things I wouldn't let my girls do one tenth of. I rode my bike barefoot or with flip-flops (and lost toenails when I crashed). I rode on the handlebars of my brother's bike as he tore down our steep hill as fast as he could.  No helmets. Only a front brake that would catapult both of us off the bike in a heartbeat if he squeezed it.  Oh, and did I mention that at the end of the street was a set of train tracks running perpendicular to it?  We never stopped. We never looked. Despite the fact that I lie in bed at night listening to the whistle of those trains coming through, it never occurred to me that one might come ripping down those tracks at the very moment we were bumping across them in a mad dash to get to the park that lay on the other side.  Never.

I could go on, but I suspect we all have stories like that from the 1960s and 1970s. Stories of freedom and exhileration and death-defying stunts that we only realized were incredibly stupid when we became parents ourselves.

And then the car seat laws had been enacted.
And we knew about sex predators lurking and lying in wait for unattended children.
And we bought bike helmets and knee pads for our kids and made them wear them.

And the dangers became more nebulous. Like online stalking. Cyberbullying. Sexting.

At least while we were endangering ourselves, we were having fun.  Real, actual, physical fun. We were playing slingshot tag (yes, someone sat in a tree with a slingshot and hurled a bb or a gravel bit or a plastic pellet at people running by and if you got hit, you were 'it,') or exploring construction sites or playing hide and seek in the condemned house down the road.  If someone pissed you off, they did it to your face and, often, others in the group would choose sides and it would be settled right there.  Generally with blood spilled or rocks being thrown, but it was settled face-to-face.

When I think about Eve turning 13 and wanting a Facebook page and her own cell phone, my head hurts.  I am fully aware that I don't know most of the things that could go wrong. Yes, we've talked about being careful not to share too much personal information about herself and not "connecting" to people online that she doesn't know in person.  But, just like my parents, I'm certain that most of the things she will encounter are not things that I could have anticipated, and it's because of this that I wish I could get her to trade me her digital identity for some of those other things we had as kids.

I'd give her a woodburning set for her Facebook page.  Sure, my brother used it to threaten to brand me if I didn't do his bidding, but that's how I learned to stand up for myself. And think creatively (it took me a while, but I finally figured out that if I broke the tip off the damn thing, he couldn't sear his initials in my left butt cheek).

I'd give her an Easy Bake Oven for her text minutes.  My sister and I kept ours in our bedroom. And lest you think we had rats or ants, let me be clear that we only baked cakes in it for the first week we had it. After that we experimented with Shrinky Dinks and our brothers' socks and Barbie dolls. Yes, in our room. Yes, it's a wonder that we didn't burn the freaking house down.

Okay, maybe I wouldn't trade her any of those things.  But I do hope that someday she has a friend that she can reminisce with about all the insane stuff she and her sister pulled behind my back. And I truly, honestly, deeply hope that none of it has anything to do with the Internet or cell phones.  Lawn darts maybe.  Or a bb gun. Or a bungee cord.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Driveway Moments

Just in case you hadn't heard the term before (clearly you are not an NPR-listener if you haven't), "driveway moments" is a phrase used to describe what happens when you are en route to a particular place with the radio on and become fully engrossed in a story or interview that is happening on NPR. So fully engrossed that, despite reaching your destination, you are loathe to leave the car and miss the end of the story/interview/program.  In our family, we have our own version of this, compliments of the move to the city.

Last year and the year before, I drove carpool to and from Eve's school in the city several times a week.   On any given carpool route, I could have between three and six girls in my car who ranged in age from eight to 14.  Oh, the things I heard!  (Just as an example, check out this post from last year.) And we had fun. I always provided snacks because the trek from school to home was generally around 45 minutes and for a middle-school-girl to wait that long after school to eat is, well, impossible.  On Fridays, I always had chocolate which somehow became known as "carpool love," and it wasn't long before my car was officially named the Party Bus. I was always teasing the girls and asking them irreverent questions about their day and sometimes I was really quiet and hoped they would forget I was there and talk about things they didn't especially want their parents to hear. It worked.  I really miss that this year.

But...

This year, the trip to and from school is only eight minutes and the only girls in my car are Eve and Lola.  And it rocks.

You wouldn't think (I certainly didn't) that we could have much of a conversation in the eight minutes between school and home, but we can.  There is something about having us all in the car, looking in different directions that feels informal and open.  Generally someone will ask an innocent question or share some snippet from a book they're reading or play their favorite song for us and that's all it takes to get the ball rolling.  More and more, as I pull up to the curb outside school and watch girls pile out of cars and run toward the building, Eve and Lola and I are snug in our car finishing up a conversation about life or teachers or just about anything else you can imagine.  More and more, I have to urge them to gather their things and head inside before they are late, not because they are resisting school, but because we are having a "driveway moment" of our own.

It's a beautiful thing.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Taking Another Look:Corrected

M.C. Escher knew it.
The Dalai Lama knows it.
Timber Hawkeye talked about it.  He puts it this way:

"The opposite of what you know is also true."

Not, 'the opposite of what you know is true, but also true.

It was rather an arresting comment.  If there had been anyone in the room whose attention was drifting, that sentence brought it back.

"The opposite of what you know is also true."

I think the most important word in the sentence is 'know.' Because so often we fool ourselves into thinking that what we know is absolute. Finite. Provable. Truth with an uppercase 'T.'

Timber expanded on the notion by giving examples.  He saw a TED talk by Derek Sivers, who talked about traveling in Japan and asking for an address so he could find a particular place.  He was given the name of a block.  He asked for the name of the street.

"The streets don't have names. They are simply the empty space between blocks. The blocks have names."

He was confused.  Clearly there was some language barrier.  The person giving him directions asked, "What is the name of the block you live on?"

His reply: "The blocks don't have names. The streets have names. The blocks are simply the empty spaces between streets."

See?

He offered another example from the same TED talk.  In remote, rural China, each small village has its own doctor.  Every morning, the doctor makes his rounds of the houses in the village, collecting coins from a box hung near the front door of each house.  If he comes to a house where the box is empty, he knows that someone inside is sick and his services are needed.  You see, in this model, the doctor is supported by the entire village for keeping them healthy. He is not paid when treating them for an illness and, thus, is given an incentive to prevent everyone in his village from getting sick.

"The opposite of what you know is also true."

Since hearing this phrase and digesting the examples, I have seen it in action.  I was reading an article about a documentary film that followed homeless teens in Seattle and came across the story of a young girl who left home after being molested by a family member.  She talked about how filthy her mother's house was, with rotting food and dirty laundry strewn throughout, and what a relief it was to live under a bridge in the city because it was actually cleaner than her home.  She found places to wash and brush her teeth and worked hard to keep herself presentable and live according to her standards of cleanliness.  It was only a few weeks before she realized, however, that being young and female on the streets makes you incredibly vulnerable and that not washing or paying attention to how she smelled was the best way to prevent herself from being raped.

The words keep kicking around in my head, finding me in the quietest times and in the loudest.  Much like stubbing my toe, I keep bumping up against my own ideas of what I "know" and challenging them.  I suppose that, before this, I would have seen a filthy young girl on the street and assumed she was either mentally ill or been disgusted by her - maybe both - instead of thinking about what it must be like to go against your own convictions in order to simply survive.

Yesterday, I came across this photo on Facebook:
At the original site, there were comments ranging from "right on" to nasty, blaming, shaming diatribes from people who "pulled themselves out of poverty without any social services."  My first instinct was to rise to the defense of the person who posted this photo, and then I stopped to consider what I "know."

I know what my experiences are. That is all I can know.  I don't have to know everyone else's reality or even strive to.  All I have to do is realize that there are limits to my knowledge and that, while it feels terribly, starkly real, it is not "Truth." Except for me.  And so I cannot go out into the world trying to spread "Truth." I can only go out into the world with compassion and a desire to understand and expand my own experience and knowledge and not make any judgments or actions based on my own brand of knowing.

Because the opposite of what I know is ALSO true.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Legalizing Marijuana: More Questions Than Answers

So I live in a state that voted overwhelmingly to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes Tuesday night. I didn't have any notion going in to the election whether or not the measure would pass, but when I saw the election returns I was shocked. In retrospect I probably shouldn't have been.

Last week on our local NPR station, the host interviewed a panel of five voters on a range of issues, including this one.  The voters represented the Republican party, Democrats, and the Tea Party.  There were women and men, and their ages ranged from 30s to 70s.  They had a calm, respectful discussion on issue after issue and, while I appreciated their educated perspectives, I wasn't caught off guard until they started talking about legalizing marijuana.  All but one of the panelists was in favor of it.  I listened to their measured arguments about tax revenue and likening marijuana to alcohol use and sparing law enforcement for more important work in the community.  The lone dissenter was a young family practice physician who wasn't necessarily viscerally opposed to the idea of legalizing marijuana, but she was reserving her judgment until she had more information about the long-term effects of marijuana use and the actual regulation and implementation of the law.

I had long-since resolved to vote against the measure and was a little taken aback at the overwhelming bipartisan support represented by the panel on NPR. I even began questioning my general feeling that it shouldn't be legal to possess an ounce of marijuana in the state of Washington without a doctor's prescription.  What I discovered is that I have many more questions than answers.

1.  Is it possible to get a little bit high? As someone who smoked her fair share of pot between the ages of 14 and 19, I don't know the answer to this. During that period in my life, the entire point was to get as high as possible.  We didn't smoke to alleviate some physical symptom or relax us a little bit, we imbibed to get obliterated.  I was lucky enough to not have a particularly addictive personality or much disposable income so I indulged only when friends were willing to share (which was plenty often) and was able to take it or leave it.  By the time I hit college, I realized that while it didn't feel bad to get high and there was no real attendant 'hangover,' what I really experienced was an extreme laziness and antisocial personality and I got bored and frustrated. I had too much to do to sit around feeling like I was plastered to an armchair in a smoky room and I quit abruptly.  So I don't know if it is possible to take a couple of hits off of a pipe or a joint and get some pleasant feeling akin to having a glass of wine without impairing one's ability to drive or make calculated decisions.

2.  Is it possible to get a little bit high? No this is not a typo. By this, I mean psychologically.  Do people smoke moderate amounts of marijuana in order to achieve some sort of relaxation (like taking a Xanax) or is it generally the pursuit of being high that drives marijuana consumption?  I don't honestly know.  I realize that there are a lot of comparisons being made to alcohol and, yes, there are many - in fact the vast majority of adults in the US - who drink occasionally as a social pursuit.  We have crafted legal limits in order to curb dangerous activities like drinking and driving. Will we do the same for marijuana? Is there a threshold that exists that we know of where the amount of THC in your body is measurable like blood alcohol levels?

3.  Is smoking marijuana the preferred delivery route?  Back in my youth, it certainly was, either via pipe or hand-rolled joint.  If so, do we recognize that we have made enormous strides in teaching about the dangers of smoking cigarettes and there is some hypocrisy here?  There are no filtered marijuana cigarettes that I know of, and even filtered cigarettes cause cancer.  There is no getting around the fact that the human body wasn't designed to inhale smoke on a regular basis without consequences.  So by legalizing marijuana - if indeed people aren't simply going to be munching MJ brownies every day - we have backslid a bit public health-wise by not recognizing the challenges with normalizing an entirely new set of unhealthy behaviors.  Yes, we may be gaining tax revenue at every step of the process here, but how much of it will end up being spent combatting lung cancer and emphysema?

4.  Given that only a few states are legalizing marijuana, how much impact will it have on the drug trade overall?  If one of the goals is to reduce drug trafficking and violence, how does taking away the market from the drug cartels soothe things?  My first instinct is that they will step up their efforts in other states to maintain their market share, or they will end up selling their drugs cheaper than the public market, or they will begin pushing alternative drugs that may be more dangerous.  Are there better ways to combat drug violence that get at the root of the issue?

These are honest, I-don't-know-the-answer questions. If anyone out there has some answers, I'd love to hear them.  I am genuinely curious, although I suspect that it will be years of crafting rules and facing court challenges before corner marijuana stores begin popping up.  We have already outlawed smoking in public buildings (and within certain boundaries outside of them), so at least I won't have to sit in a smoky bar when I want to go have a drink with someone.  I seriously doubt that the Feds will be lying in wait outside on the sidewalks to bust the folks who go out to smoke a marijuana cigarette in the cold, but I am interested in seeing how they mount a challenge to these states who have sent the message that they want marijuana legalized.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

And Now, For Some Refreshingly Un-Political Information...

Last Thursday I went to a book-signing in town.  Not so unusual, except for the way this one went.  I found out about it from a friend who knows the author, Timber Hawkeye, and went in part to explore a new bookstore I had yet to go inside, and in part to support a fellow writer.

The book is called Buddhist Boot Camp and the author recently gave his first TED Talk.  He has a website, a Facebook page, and a blog, none of which I had encountered.  I went in knowing little of him and, in retrospect, I'm glad I didn't spend an hour or two boning up on who he was before I went.

Upon entering the room, I saw a short (6-inch) plywood-wrapped-in-carpet stage at the far North end with rows of chairs facing it. Typical book signing/reading, right? Until the author stepped down from the stage and began rearranging the chairs into a circle.  As people filed in, around 40 or so, we all chose chairs and waited.  Timber spoke,  "I haven't ever done one of these before, so I don't really know how it goes, but I do know that I want to hear from you all tonight.  I don't want to be on a stage - this is not about the messenger, it's about the message."

For the next hour and a half, we proceeded to share stories of meditation practices, our individual journeys to Buddhism, and ask rather frank questions of Timber (such as, "Who named you 'Timber Hawkeye?' - the story is an entertaining one that I won't ruin for you in case you ever see him speak; ask him yourself).

The message in this case is pure, unadulterated, unencumbered by ritual or dogma, Buddhist principles. The book itself is short and the chapters are each only one page long.  Whether you are Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, some or all or none of the above, the topics explored in "Buddhist Boot Camp" are simple, basic, and resonate deeply.  I came home wishing I had bought several copies to give as gifts (I still may) and determined to spend a little time each day exploring one of the ideas in the book.  By the end of the week, I had resolved to spend a little time each week discussing one idea with Eve and Lola.

I often wonder if I am doing my children a disservice by not incorporating some sort of formal spiritual practice into their lives.  I know that as a child I was thrilled with the mystique and drama of Catholic rituals, but couldn't really reconcile them with the patriarchical dogma that was delivered in a vengeful, punitive way. Ultimately, when my parents divorced, it was a relief to leave the church.  I have, from time to time, talked to the girls about Buddhism, but Timber's book may be just the ticket to helping my girls more fully understand why I am drawn to these teachings as a way of life.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Reckless With Our Money

I am certain that, regardless of the outcome, when this Presidential election is over, I will get approximately 27 fewer emails per day.

I can't wait.

Never have I felt so alternately sanguine and frustrated with an election season.

Sanguine because I truly, honestly, deeply in the marrow of my bones feel one thing:

1. Barack Obama will prevail for another four years (don't ask me how I 'know' that, I just do. I feel certain that the pollsters are reaching all of the wrong people and haven't corrected for those of us who avoid them like the plague and only have cell phones)

Frustrated because of the obscene amounts of money being spent and callous disregard for how the rest of us want to live in the future.  On both sides.

Last week, before this horrible, horrible hurricane became front page news, I heard on the radio that President Obama (I refuse to call him "mister" like much of the media does - he has earned the title of President and deserves to have it used before his name) was embarking on a last-ditch '48 hour fly-around campaign marathon extravaganza.' His plan was to visit as many of the critical swing states as possible in 48 hours, ending up in Chicago where he would cast his ballot. He began in Denver and headed to Iowa, Las Vegas, Tampa, Virginia and Cleveland, among other places.

I was disgusted.

First of all, each of these rallies brings out supporters. He is preaching to the choir. They both are - he and Mitt Romney. I know people want to see them in person, but there are generally thousands upon thousands of attendees at each rally point, so how many people actually see their candidate 'in person?'  In this day of technology, why are we spending BILLIONS of dollars on air travel for these candidates to speak to people who already support them? Why is it unacceptable to pick a rally point, set up an enormous projection screen and have a live streaming speech? It would serve the purpose of getting people together who are like-minded, who are supportive of a particular candidate and who want to physically be in the same space cheering and rallying their voices...

WITHOUT costing exorbitant amounts of money,
WITHOUT consuming thousands of gallons of fossil fuels
WITHOUT spending time flying from one place to the next (anyone for efficiency?)
WITHOUT tying up traffic in each of the cities where the candidates appear.

Honestly? Are you telling me there is a compelling reason to pay hundreds of Secret Service agents tens of thousands of dollars to fly around with the candidates to protect them when they could be sitting in an office rallying their supporters?  Are you saying it makes sense to block off airports and streets and entire city blocks every time a candidate comes to town?

The calculations of how much money each of these campaigns has spent is absolutely nauseating.  The number of times a day I am asked to simply 'chip in $5' via email has gone far beyond annoying.  The fact that scare tactics like "Mitt is outspending us!" are used to try and get me to pony up more money makes me want to scream.

So maybe my sanguine attitude about Obama winning a second term is simply a way of avoiding the guilt about not spending more money on his campaign.  Or maybe I don't want to be a contributor to a presidential campaign that can be bought.  This is not a slam on Obama's campaign at all. I truly feel as though we live in a country whose political campaigns have gone out of control and become all about money just like everything else in America (medical care, food supply, you name it, it's all about money these days).

I believe that Obama is the right candidate for the job, but I am sad that he hasn't stood up to the status quo by refusing to spend exorbitant amounts of money when he doesn't have to.  I for one don't feel it is necessary to see him at a rally in Seattle in person in order to hear his message and I would be a lot happier if the amount of money spent on all of the campaigns didn't feel as though it were wasted. If I'm giving $5 or $500, I want to know it is spent thoughtfully and carefully.  Unfortunately, I think that vast amounts of money come all too easily to these enormous campaigns and they don't have any incentive to spend it wisely.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Shades of "Wicked"

Bubba's out of town this weekend so I decided we were having a Girls' Weekend.  I found some tickets to "Wicked" that weren't crazy ridiculous expensive and made a reservation at a nice restaurant.  The girls were excited to get dressed up and head out for a night on the town and going to see a musical sounded a heck of a lot more thrilling than going to yet another movie theater to eat overpriced popcorn.

After a fantastic dinner of Spanish tapas followed by pumpkin flan (have I mentioned how much I appreciate the girls being adventurous eaters?!), we walked the two blocks to the theater.  None of us had ever seen "Wicked" before, and we had pretty good seats with no NBA-size humans blocking our view or sniffly patrons sitting next to us.

Eve sat in the middle, being a little stranger-phobic, so it was intermission before I could check in with Lola to see what she thought. She is typically very thoughtful at shows, not revealing any outward signs of appreciation or distaste, so I fully expected to have to wait until the show was over to get her full assessment.  The only thing she asked was if she could switch seats with me for the second act so she could get a little better view.

Eve, on the other hand, was thrilled. She repeatedly turned to me with her mouth hanging open in reaction a hilarious moment or a particularly good solo. She was obviously having a ball. When we arrived home waaaaay past bedtime, I asked Lola for her full assessment.

"It was okay. It wasn't the best, but it was good."

Huh?
Really?
Did I hear that right?
Carefully, so as not to make her feel bad, I asked her why "it wasn't the best."

"I wanted her (Elphaba) to hurry up and get wicked. I wanted her to be bad. I kept waiting for that."

For anyone who doesn't know the story of "Wicked," it is the backstory of the Wicked Witch of the West from the "Wizard of Oz." It cleverly and artfully tells the real story of Elphaba and how she got to be so hated and reviled by everyone in Oz (if she actually was hated and reviled by everyone in Oz).
Turns out she wasn't all that evil. A lot of it was bad press and how she felt about herself all folded in with some misunderstandings and a bit of entrapment.

Enter the land of Moral Ambiguity.  Of course,  this is the land we all live in, but it doesn't often rear its head in entertainment. Kids' programs are rife with Good v. Evil, Hero v. Villain.  There is very little moral ambiguity or compassion or striving to understand why the bad guy is the bad guy and how he got that way.  When your child is two or three or four, the world is explained to them in terms of can and can't, yes and no, good choices versus bad ones.  It's faster that way and easier for them to understand.  But at some point, this world view comes into question and doesn't serve any of us anymore.  Unfortunately, it makes things a lot murkier and more challenging to understand, and I think Lola is wishing for the simplicity of that black and white Universe again. How the heck do you know who to root for when Glinda the Good Witch isn't all good and Elphaba isn't downright deplorable?

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The Girls' Weekend wasn't all tapas and theaters.  Earlier in the day, the three of us decided to work on a project I've been wanting to start since we moved in June.  We made it about 10 minutes before the girls' opinions clashed like two cymbals, sending reverberations through my brain and chest.  Lola, having chosen not to eat breakfast, lost her mind like she always does when her blood sugar drops, stomping down the hall and slamming the door to her room, throwing herself on the bed and screaming into a pillow over and over again.  Eve rolled her eyes and made some comment about how she was clearly in the right here.  I decided to cut my losses, abandon the project and go start some laundry.  As I walked away, Eve exploded.

"Oh, so just because she won't compromise I get punished? You just walk away from me?"

As I stopped a few feet away and turned to face her the diatribe continued.

"She ALWAYS does this! She NEVER wants to think about what anyone else wants!"

Deep breath. In - two - three - four - five. Out - two - three - four -five.

I opened my mouth to refute the claim that Lola is the poster child for selfish behavior.  "That isn't true and you know it. She is very generous and thoughtful --"

"HA! She is not! Every single day she is mean and whenever I ask her to compromise she throws a fit!!"

I had to choke back laughter. I am not sure who she was talking about, but Lola is not anything like Eve was making her out to be. Unfortunately, Eve was on a tear. She had crested the top of the hill and was steaming down the tracks 120 mph. No way I was standing in front of that thing with my hand raised. She was not about to listen to anything I said that didn't fit neatly in to her idea of how evil and wrong her sister is.

Thankfully, five minutes later she had run out of steam. I let her sputter to a stop and sat down.  I pointed out that Lola had likely been sitting around the corner in her bedroom listening to every single nasty word about her that came out of Eve's mouth.  I suggested that maybe hearing her sister characterize her as a selfish, mean-spirited, hateful person just might feel pretty awful.

"If she hears you saying those things about her, she just might believe you mean them.  The fact is, you were both inflexible and you both got angry. There is no one of you that was being the Angel to the other one's Devil."

Huge eye roll. "Oh yeah? She is the Devil! She is! She is so mean to me every single day!"

Clearly we aren't done here.

"She isn't. I can point out to you dozens of times when your sister thought about you before thinking about herself.  I know it's easier to remember the times when she was mean or pissed you off, but if you're being completely honest, you have to admit that there are more times when she treats you with love and respect than there are times when she is nasty and mean. And I truly believe that she is taking your hateful words to heart right now. That she is probably feeling really terrible that you think she is 100% awful and unlovable."

"I was exaggerating, Mom! I was angry! I didn't really mean that she's that bad!"

"How does she know that? She's upset, too, and There is no Right person and Wrong person. There may be times when one of you is more willing to be flexible than the other, but that doesn't mean one of you is bad and the other one is good."

Of course, so much of what the girls are experiencing in the world right now is about this sort of black and white thinking.  While I am doing my best to not vilify anyone, it is often difficult for me to not paint political candidates in shades of Right and Wrong.  And even if they aren't getting it at home, the radio and television (and the neighborhood yard signs) are full of polarizing slogans and messages that pit candidates against each other in the most oppositional of ways.  We are fully soaked in A vs. B, Good vs. Evil until Election Day and I'm feeling a little overwhelmed.  On the one hand, I'm with Lola, that if there is a clear choice between Glinda and Elphaba, I feel better about making a decision. But I'm old enough to know that nobody is all bad or all good and I wish it wasn't human nature to characterize each other in that way so as to justify our own actions and reactions.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

May Be Just the Nudge We All Need

to start eating more actual food versus the convenient, prepackaged stuff that comes from a laboratory somewhere.

Normally when I see headlines in the vein of, "8 Ingredients You Never Want to See on Nutrition Labels," I get a little smug and assume that, due to the food allergies in our household and my constant efforts to buy more whole foods and cook most of our meals, I am not likely to need this particular advice.

Huh. Consider this article I saw this morning. (Don't worry if you don't particularly feel like reading the article - while it isn't long, I will definitely be paraphrasing parts of it in order to make my point).

Item #1: BHA -  a chemical that is used to prevent foods with added oils from going rancid. Okay. But (and I quote), "BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) has been shown to cause cancer in rats, mice, and hamsters. The reason the FDA hasn't banned it is largely technical--the cancers all occurred in the rodents' forestomachs, an organ that humans don't have."  Me talking here: I don't have fur or beady eyes, either, but a lot of things that cause cancer in rats have been proven to cause cancer in humans. Cancers are not that picky about which cells or organs they attack. 

I'm going to skip right over items 2 (parabens), 3 (partially hydrogenated oil), 4 (sodium nitrite) and 5 (caramel coloring) in order to get to the one that has me the most stumped. Please, by all means, read about the ways in which you can get cancer from the aforementioned ingredients, but for my purposes, I am far more intrigued by

Item #6: Castoreum - generally labeled "natural flavorings" by food manufacturers. I'm thinking probably because (and I quote), "Castoreum is a substance made from beavers' castor sacs, or anal scent glands. These glands produce potent secretions that help the animals mark their territory in the wild. In the food industry, however, 1,000 pounds of the unsavory ingredient are used annually to imbue foods--usually vanilla or raspberry flavored--with a distinctive, musky flavor."  Now, let's break this down, shall we? 

  1. Whose idea was it to MINE A BEAVER'S ANUS FOR FOOD FLAVORINGS? And why? If we can make synthetic banana syrup in a chemistry lab (I know we can, I did it in Organic Chem 101 my first year in college), WHY, OH WHY would someone CHOOSE to get a "musky" flavoring from the hind end of a beaver?!? (The little devil on my shoulder taps me on the head and says, "Duh - if they did it in a lab, they couldn't label it "natural" flavoring.) True dat.
  2. What happens to the beavers after their scent glands have been mined? Is it a process like taking your pug to the vet to have his anal glands aspirated? Do they keep these poor creatures in a cage and extract "musk" from them multiple times? Or, instead, do they capture the beavers, surgically remove their glands and then either release or, ahem, retire the critters?  Inquiring minds want to know!
  3. How many beavers does it take to yield 1,000 pounds of secretions? 
  4. Does this mean that even foods that bill themselves as "vegetarian" or "vegan" cannot accurately do so if they contain castoreum? Methinks so...
  5. Most importantly, HOW MANY OF THE FOODS IN MY PANTRY CONTAIN "NATURAL FLAVORINGS?" I will be purging them immediately.
Item #7 is food dyes. I will also skip right over this one since we have heard stories for years about how food dyes (especially red ones) are known carcinogens.  I hope I don't unwittingly have any of them in my house....

Item #8: Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein - sounds fairly harmless.  I mean, when I hear that I think hydro-water, lyzed - broken, vegetable protein. No big.  Until I read this (and I quote), "plant protein that has been chemically broken down into amino acids. One of these acids, glutamic acid, can release free glutamate. When this glutamate joins with free sodium in your body, they form monosodium glutamate (MSG)....When MSG is added to products directly, the FDA requires manufacturers to disclose its inclusion on the ingredient statement. But when it occurs as a byproduct of hydrolyzed protein, the FDA allows it to go unrecognized." WTF? So after all the work I do to ensure that myself and my kids are NOT getting gluten in any form, the FDA has decided that this particular little gem can hide in foods I buy? I can't tell you how many times I have felt rotten, as though I somehow got gluten in my diet, but couldn't figure out how that was even possible. It happens from time to time and makes me feel as though I'm crazy, suffering symptoms when I can't locate the source.  

The more lists like this come out, the more I realize that we are slowly poisoning ourselves by looking to chemists and giant food companies to figure out how to feed ourselves.  For centuries, we have known how to grow good, healthy food while keeping the soil healthy enough to sustain us over time.  We are intelligent enough to understand that letting nature take its time to grow its bounty in the way it was meant to yields nutrition-rich whole foods that won't give us cancer or heartburn or grow salmonella or listeria faster than we can contain them. 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go mine my pantry for beaver scent sacs.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Birthday Stream of Consciousness

Today is my dad's birthday. I said that to someone who hasn't known me for long and she brightened, "Oh? How old is he?"

"Well," I paused and closed my eyes, "he died five years ago, but he would have been 70 today."

Later, I thought about whether or not I should have phrased things differently. Maybe it's not his birthday anymore. But it is. My entire life, Dad's birthday was on October 11. It still is his birthday. To me, it always will be.  And as the child who was always vying for his attention and praise, I reveled in sharing a birthday month with my Poppy. Like it was some special, exclusive club we belonged to and our privileges couldn't be revoked. I mean, you can't change your birthday, right?

Last week I started thinking about how the UN has declared October 11 "Day of the Girl." Wondered what that means cosmically - that my dad, who was a macho, manly-man of the first order shared his birthday with such a designation.  And while I remember him being a chauvinist, it is tempered with the knowledge that he was a product of his generation and upbringing.  While he resisted my efforts to do 'boy' things like play soccer, he ultimately came around and taught me how to wax a car and change the oil, he supported my desire to go to medical school and married more than one bra-burning feminist (not my mother).  By the time I was a mother, he was firmly in the camp that believed that my girls could accomplish anything and ought to be afforded the opportunity to try.

And then, just fifteen minutes ago as I filled out a fax cover sheet (who requires fax communication anymore, people? Honestly, let's just go to email, can we?) I realized that the full date today is 10/11/12. To me, the numbers speak of a moving forward, an inexorable march of progress.

I know that these are completely random observations, but I can't help feeling that there is some congruence, some magic about today.  Maybe it's my way of conjuring up my dad once again and finding ways to honor him and his growth curve.  He truly went from being one of the most rigid, wounded souls I have ever known to a loving acceptance of himself and the people in his life in the span of the 35 years I knew him.

Happy birthday, Poppy.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Forging a New Path



My heart aches, is raw from sadness as I watch someone I love dearly struggle to find solid ground on which to put her feet, roots to curl her toes around as she weathers a storm of her own making.  I long to reach in and grab her by the nape of the neck and whisk her out of the howling wind, tuck her beneath a cape that is soft and warm and protective until the gale passes.  And yet, I know the cost of such a maneuver. I know that it would make both of us feel relief. I know that this path, well-worn and familiar to us both, needs to be abandoned, it's trailhead adorned with yellow blinking lights and CAUTION signs.  While it beckons like the seductive aroma of coffee in the dark dawn, irresistible and redemptive, it carries with it a punch that is only felt much, much later.

Doing my best to justify my inaction to my sister-in-law the other night, I felt the blood in my wrists begin to move faster. I felt that urgent sense of desperation to convince her that I care.  That my resistance to get involved does not signal selfishness or indifference, but a desire to do the right thing. To let this other friend find her own path, learn from the experience, raise herself up and feel empowered.  My pulse beat with a mix of love, despair and self-preservation.

She, my sister-in-law, no stranger to such decisions of action and inaction and powerlessness in the face of suffering, nodded her head and understood.  And then she said the most profound, most giving, most wonderful thing:

"Sometimes you can use all that energy with the best intentions and not make a bit of difference."

I was instantly absolved.  Because I want to make a difference. I want to use my energy, my love, my intentions wisely and to some good end.  I want to effect change.  How many times have I acted out of discomfort on my own part - "it's too hard to watch her suffer/go through this/repeat this pattern" - and only succeeded in wearing down the same old path and not making any substantial change?  Too many to count.  How many times have I instead sat by and held the power of light and love for her, trusting that her path is her own? Not enough.  But when I do, what I discover is that she doesn't feel any less supported in the long run.  When I show her that I care and that I trust her to find her way she is frightened and a little resentful, but she also feels empowered and begins to believe in the notion of unconditional love.  We, both of us, had to be taught how to accept love at face-value, divorce it from our actions and intentions or anyone else's assessment of our worth and believe in its absolute existence.  We are both still in need of reminding.
"I wasn't especially happy as a kid, and if you don't get the hang of it when you are young, you're never really good at it." Linda McCullough Moore 

And so I sit and close my eyes, imagining my love pulsating out in waves of golden light, from me to her, surrounding her, lifting her and reminding her.  I love her. I wish only the best for her.  That energy feels directed and tangible.  The cape scenario feels muddled and messy and unpredictable.  When I focus on the energy imprint of the two alternatives, I am certain, settled, positive that sending love and light is the most effective response.  
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