Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Finishing the Year With a Vital Question

These past months have been inordinately busy ones for me, and while I can point to a long list of productive things I've accomplished, I was able to make an important distinction yesterday between being good at something and being passionate about it.

As a Catholic child of the 70s, I was raised to believe that I had been given a gift or gifts. Something that I was inherently good at that would lead me to serve the world in an important way.  Like most little girls, I desperately wanted that gift to be a talent that would make me famous - perhaps the voice of a superstar or the athletic prowess of a prima ballerina.  And while I did have moderate talent as a ballet dancer and the drive to succeed, my father's move to Green River, Wyoming where nary a ballet studio existed put the nail in the coffin of a seven or eight year run of ballet for me.

I had long since found and capitalized on something that I was very good at by that time, though, even if I didn't identify it as my 'gift.' I was a fixer, talented at assessing complicated situations and identifying what might fall apart first so that I could patch the hole.  I quickly learned the art of the 'workaround,' finding ways to circumvent obstacles or reframe challenges in pursuit of constant forward motion.  I fixed things for my mother, my siblings, myself.  And as I grew up, I began to thrive on the adrenaline rush that came with the first glimpse of a frail system and the pride that ensued after I worked hard to shore it up.

It was nearly a decade ago that I found myself unable to breathe from the constant cycle of looking for things to fix and fixing them for others and decided that something had to change.  Being good at something does not mean that I have to do it. I am no longer tied to the Catholic belief that God bestowed certain gifts on me that I must not forsake. I don't have to make it my life to fix things for other people, or even myself.

And yet, it is so easy to sink right back in to old habits.  As we attempted to finish up our remodel this fall, my days were spent coordinating subcontractors, reviewing bills, and troubleshooting city permits. I was also navigating ever-more-complicated schedules for the girls and working with two veterinarians to coordinate a treatment plan for the dog after his melanoma diagnosis. Bubba continues to travel a great deal which leaves the running of the household to me for the most part, and when the city forced us to take a dangerous tree off of our property and repair the sidewalk in front of our house, I had to find an arborist and a contractor to complete that project as well.  As if the Universe were testing me, Lola's shower sprung a complicated leak in mid-October that ended up opening Pandora's Box and led to a twelve-week demolition of both her entire shower and half of our kitchen ceiling before it could be repaired.

Throughout all of this, I have been, by turns, exhausted and overwhelmed and pleased as punch that I kept all of the balls in the air and managed to still get out of bed every morning.  Just before Christmas, Lola got the flu (confirmed H1N1), and we packed up to head to Oregon for a week to see family.  The dog popped his stitches out for the fourth time, leaving a gaping hole in his leg that just won't heal and I spent a lot of time walking and meditating and breathing deeply.

We arrived home two days ago and after a solid night's sleep in my own bed, I awoke with a question hanging in the air:

What do I want to spend my days doing?

Each and every morning I awake to do the things at which I am accomplished. My day starts with feeding the cat and dog, assessing the needs of the children, emptying the dishwasher. It is as if these activities serve to stretch the canvas of my life and I've gotten so caught up in creating the backdrop that I've forgotten to splash a little paint on there to liven it up. I have spent time racking up canvas after empty canvas, rarely ever taking a moment to decide what I'll adorn them with. It's wearing me out, but only when I stop to think about it. The truth is, if I only ever listened to the adrenaline and the momentary hit of pride I get from tying up loose ends and smoothing out wrinkles, I might go through the rest of my life tired and frazzled, but feeling accomplished. And while this work is important, it is most certainly not my life's work, the work that will bring me a deeper sense of joy. It's time to listen to my gut and start splashing a little paint around. But first, the all-important question: what the heck am I going to create?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Noodling

I really like that word and all it conjures up for me. I "noodle" a lot on any given day. When I read something that strikes me or a particular circumstance piques my attention like it hasn't before, if I give myself the space and time to think on it, I often find nuggets of wisdom or a way of seeing the world differently.

Yesterday, a friend posted a link to this article on bimodal sleeping. If you have the time, go read it. It's really interesting and basically says that our ancestors used to go to bed early (around 8:30pm), sleep for several hours, awaken in the middle of the night and spend a few quiet hours reading or writing or praying or even communing with friends and family, and then go back to sleep for several more hours before beginning their day. It struck me for two reasons. First, because I know many perimenopausal and menopausal women who wake for several hours in the middle of the night and fret about it. This might be a new way of seeing that time in a more productive, relaxed fashion. Or not.  But the second reason I was taken by this article was because of the philosophical question the author asked about the nature of time and how we treat it. He says,
"I can definitely see the benefits of recognizing, and attempting to live by, a new understanding of time. Time as quality. Duration. Flavor....It’s not important to quantify time like we do. Maybe what’s needed is to step back and be present..."
All of a sudden, I envisioned us like fish in the sea, swimming in time. What if I can begin to see time as simply a medium through which I move instead of something that is finite and exhaustible? What if, instead of feeling like I can work like mad now and "store" time for retirement (ie. sleep more, relax more, do more of what I like when I have "more time,") I don't put so much emphasis on time itself? If it is simply the water through which I move as I pursue those things that are truly important, it ceases to be a taskmaster to which I answer every day.  Worth noodling on, I think.

I walk the dog at the same time every morning. We stroll the same path every time, encountering the high school students rushing to class and an occasional neighbor walking their dog, and it is a short walk, but there is comfort in the sameness of it. The dog does his business in pretty much the same place every day, rain or shine, and we see the same faces and houses every day. While there are minor changes from time to time - the leaves on the trees or the sidewalk, Halloween or Christmas decorations adorning the houses - they are the things I am drawn to because the basic structure and framework of the route remains the same.  This morning I happened to notice how dark it was outside and as the dog paused to sniff at something interesting, I noodled on it a bit. Two weeks ago we were in the midst of my favorite kind of days, the ones that bring cold, clear skies in the morning and brilliant sunshine in the afternoon that barely melts the frost on the grass. These mornings are fraught with a riot of color streaking the sky, the sun painting the few low clouds with glorious pinks and oranges and reds, and they are light.  For the past several days, we have awoken to dense fog or cloud cover that blocks the  morning sun and makes me feel as though I got up an hour too early. As I stood scanning the sky I could see clear spots pockmarking the clouds here and there and I marveled at how much a thin cloud cover can block the morning light.  I was reminded of the way that works in my brain, as well. Sometimes all it takes is a little frustration or stress to begin my day in darkness instead of light. Maybe now that I know this, I can work a little harder to find those pockets of clear sky and remind myself that the sun always comes up and just on the other side of those clouds is the warmth and clarity I want to reside in.

And for those following the saga of the ultrasound, an update: While there were no glaring issues, there was at least one question raised that prompted my doctor to request further testing and I am torn. I am thrilled that most of the results were negative for anything really bad, but since I have been feeling pretty darn good since about a week before the ultrasound (of course), I am tempted to chalk it all up to perimenopause and assume that my hormones will assert their will over my body for several years before they finally give up.  This may all change when and if I start feeling badly again, but for now what I really want for Christmas is to avoid the doctor for a while.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Prayer for Peace

I can't find the original citation for this photo, but if anyone else knows it, let me know so I can give credit where it is due.


The President of the United States travels to South Africa for Nelson Mandela's memorial service and all the news outlets can talk about is his (shocking) handshake with Raoul Castro.

Seriously?

God forbid we entertain the notion that everyone deserves respect.
God forbid we ever consider that each person contains both light and dark.
God forbid we we treat everyone who comes across our path with humanity and kindness.

I hope that President Obama never hesitated or analyzed whether he ought to shake Castro's hand. I sincerely hope that on that special day he was filled with humility before the legacy that Mandela created and compelled by a sense of hope and wonder for all that this man did throughout his lifetime. I hope that he was buoyed by possibility and optimistic for change and carried forward by the momentum of love for humanity.

I wish the politicians and news media would shut up.

In other news, I am very much feeling the weight of the upcoming anniversary of the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. I am sitting in the very room I was in when I first heard of it and my throat is tight with tears, my sinuses prickling with remembrance of the horror and sadness I felt, the images of my girls that hung firmly in my mind as I rocked back and forth on the floor with the dog, grieving for the parents and children and loved ones who lost people on that day.

May we all find the courage to shake the hands of those with whom we disagree.
May we all see the humanity in everyone.
May we all create peace in ways big and small every day.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Finding Gratitude in Cold Places

These things make for a raw start to the day.

Going to bed wondering if the puddle forming beneath the boiler in the basement might turn out to be more troublesome than we think.

Going to bed wondering whether the dog will manage to tear another stitch or two out of the wound on his leg despite the fact that he is toting around a giant plastic cone.

Going to bed knowing that tomorrow morning won't bring my customary latte because I'm fasting for an abdominal ultrasound.


I woke up to a house that has finally succumbed to the "cold snap" the news has been talking of for a week. The boiler gave it up while we slept and the radiators are frozen hunks of iron, no good for warming my towel as I shower. The dispatcher warns that it might be days because most of the folks in town have no heat, either, and haven't for days.  I am grateful for the gas fireplace and the electricity to run the fan that pushes warmth out to the family room and kitchen.  I am grateful for the dryer that dispenses warm clothes I can bury my cold nose in as I walk up the stairs.

I woke up to a gaping wound on the dog's leg, trailing drops of blood throughout the house. His head is still unwieldy with the cone of shame, and I marvel at the doggy yoga he must have performed to get his teeth around the stitches and tug.  I am grateful for hardwood floors that I can simply swipe with a wet paper towel to clean the mess. I am grateful that the wound is clean and free of infection for now. I am immensely grateful to the vet who chucks him affectionately under the chin and injects a local anesthetic to put him back together again.

I sit in the waiting room watching the other people here for bone density tests and x-rays and ultrasounds. I eavesdrop on the couple in their late 6os, she the patient with the clipboard who looks to her husband for the answers.

"Do I put what kind of cancer? Or just when?"
"Medications? Do I put all of them?"

She is not confused. Simply leaning on him for validation, assurance. She is not wavering in her emotion or fragile, he is not paternalistic. They are simply there together. A team. Two halves of a whole.

The young man (ten years younger than I, I know because I heard him say his birthdate to the receptionist) who is there for an ultrasound. He is well-groomed, healthy-looking, and I wonder what part is being ultrasounded. I hope it's nothing. I hope it's not testicular cancer or something like that.  He sits down with his clipboard and I look away. My eyes well up with tears when a young woman walks in and heads straight for the chair next to him. He isn't alone. He has someone to wait with him.

There is a woman in her late 50s or early 60s sitting alone across from me. She pulls out a knitting project - fat, fluffy yarn the color of mint leaves in the spring. I know exactly what it would feel like just by looking at it. There are thicker knobs of yarn interspersed with thinner parts and I think She must be making a scarf. A Christmas gift for someone. Her hands are small and a little gnarled, but she knits with comfort and precision.

I am brought back to an exam room and given a gown that opens in the back. As the technician leaves the room I think how absurd it is that I have a gown that opens in the back when they will be doing an ultrasound of my abdomen. I briefly consider putting it on backwards so that I can just open the two halves to expose my belly when she comes in, but opt for compliance. If I follow all the rules, everything will turn out okay. That is my 8-year old self talking, but she still occupies a powerful place in my head, so I do what I'm told.

After a few strokes of the wand through the warm gel, I close my eyes in order to resist the temptation to interpret every movement the technician makes. If she raises one eyebrow, I instantly begin analyzing what that might mean; where is the wand on my body, does it hurt there, could that be a signal that she saw something she didn't expect? If she shifts in her chair suddenly is that to get a closer look at something? When she clicks the mouse to record a measurement, is that normal or does that mean she found a mass to measure? Closing my eyes is the only defense against her silence. I know from experience that she won't tell me anything, that she isn't allowed to. So, in closing my eyes, I breathe life into the idea that there will be nothing amiss. That it will be frustrating because there aren't any answers, but any answers that lie within my abdomen aren't answers I want, anyway. I inflate that balloon and let it float above my head.  I am grateful. I am grateful. I am grateful.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Christmas Cards As Meditation

Yup, it's that time of year again. Did I buy enough cards? Do I have current addresses for everyone? Can I get enough holiday theme stamps?

I don't really remember when I started writing Christmas cards, but I think it was my first year in college.  I was fresh off of high school graduation, having addressed envelopes to each of my aunts and uncles and grandparents stuffed with graduation announcements and once again with thank-you notes for the cash gifts they sent.  I'm pretty sure I felt like it would be a nice (and terribly grown-up) thing to do if I sent them all holiday greetings as well, now that I was 'on my own.'

Over the years, I have continued to send cards to friends and family, deviating once or twice to experiment with a holiday letter typed up on my computer or a photo collage of Bubba and I with the kids. Each time, though, I took the opportunity to at least sign my name by hand and address each envelope by hand.  I'm not sure why. I don't judge others who send computer printed envelopes or holiday newsletters - I'm thrilled to get the mail and hang the cards up in the house to make it more festive.

It was a week ago that I found myself in a book store and suddenly realized I had yet to purchase this year's cards. I wasn't my usually picky self, given that I only had a few minutes before picking Eve up down the street, but I still made certain to get a few different boxes of cards. I like hand-choosing which family or friend gets which message (for example, I always try not to send my cousins who are siblings the same card in case they ever compare notes), so having an assortment of cards is absolutely necessary.  Yes, that's a little over the top. No, I don't care. It's me. That's the way I roll.

This morning when I sat down to begin writing the cards, I felt a momentary sense of drudgery and chalked it up to being so long out of my routine of writing and walking and reading. I wondered what would happen if I turned this task into a meditation. It turns out that was precisely what I needed today.

With each turn of the page in my address book, I took a moment to think about the next person or family I was sending holiday wishes to. I carefully chose which card they would receive, pictured them in my mind, and felt the pen flowing across the slick surface of the page.  More often than not, a memory popped into my head about a time spent with them or something they once said, and by the time I had written the address across the front of the envelope and sealed it, I was filled with gratitude for their place in my life.

I made it through the "Es." My maiden name started with E, so there are some pretty special people in that section of the address book, from my big brother to my Dad's widow to my paternal grandfather. A couple of those envelopes aren't sealed yet since I have to slip Eve and Lola's school photos inside, and I took a minute to wonder what happens when these snapshots fall out of the card as they are opened. Do they instantly get compared to last year's? Are there exclamations of delight or amazement at how much the girls have grown? Is there a desire to reach out and connect soon? I don't know.  What I learned from this morning, though, is that this ritual is a warm, grounding one for me. A reminder, as I sit quietly and write out a short sentiment, of just how important each of these people is in my life; a touchstone of connection, of shared history, for which I am grateful. I will never again begrudge the time I spend engaging in this special, simple practice of reaching out to those I love. Thank goodness my sense of duty twenty-some years ago called me to start sending holiday greetings. Thank goodness I stuck with it. Thank goodness it's that time of year again.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Making My Way Back

It's been a crazy couple of weeks and with each day that got away from me it became harder and harder to imagine the long trek back to productive writing.

We have had some very unexpected events here at home that have required much project management by me (despite the fact that my insurance company appointed an agency to do just that -- turns out the kid who got chosen was in over his head for weeks and couldn't figure out how to cry, "Uncle!") and I have felt foiled at every turn.  The phrase "comedy of errors" has bounced around in my brain more than once as I sidestepped a series of miscommunications by subcontractors, ironed out details in scheduling and logistics over and over again for everyone involved, navigated bureaucracies I never knew existed and forced myself not to cry when one more person didn't show up to do their job when they were supposed to. I also managed to keep my cool when a very contrite 50-something plumber made his way to the kitchen the day before Thanksgiving to tell me he had accidentally put a sledgehammer through my shower wall into Lola's bedroom, scattering sheetrock dust and tile bits all over her desk and knocking her art off of the walls.

When I awoke this morning to a house free of guests and the prospect of one more day of kids at home I was optimistic that I might somehow find my way back to writing today. Or at the very least, doing something I wanted to do, given that the last several weeks have consisted of me reacting to a series of events I had no control over.

By 2:30, I had had enough of plumbers, carpenters and the crew demolishing the sidewalk outside my house and decided to take the dog for a walk.  As we strolled the neighborhood on a crisp, gloriously sunny afternoon, I retreated in to my mind, intending to revisit the last few days' worth of news and family holiday stories in order to find connections I might write about.  And while a few headlines whizzed by and I was able to recall some pretty cute moments from the past weekend, mostly I felt unable to access any sort of mojo at all.  It wasn't for lack of desire, and while I am really terribly exhausted, I am rarely too tired to write. It was more like I was trapped in a long, dark hallway with beautiful doors on both sides of me and I couldn't find the knobs. I simply don't have access to the goods right now. I can't get in.

The good news is I don't feel desperate. I'm certain that it is only a matter of time before I can settle back in to my comfortable routine of finding things I'm passionate about to share.

The best news is that throughout this entire frustrating process with contractors and subcontractors and insurance companies, I have discovered that I no longer have a taste for anger. I used to love getting angry. As a teenager, I can remember wishing that someone would say something particularly ignorant to me so that I could unleash an indignant lecture on them, righteousness flashing in my eyes, and put them in their place.  I would invent entire conversations in my head, playing both sides, just so that I could say all of the things I had always wanted to. As a freshman in college, I had a roommate who watched soap operas in her down time and I recall thinking how fantastic it would be to play the role of the villain, spewing rage out at people who would never take it personally. I was a particularly mean driver, flipping people off and honking and riding their bumpers if they didn't drive as fast or as deftly as I wanted them to. Anger felt good. It fueled me, and while I was never hateful or nasty to my friends or family, when I could yell at a stranger who screwed up or tell a story to a friend about how pissed off I was at so and so, I loved it.  Anger was warm and exciting.

I haven't felt that in years and it embarrasses me now to admit that I used to feel that way, but over the last few weeks, while I might have been justified in yelling at someone for making a giant mistake that cost me weeks of  my time (or for putting a sledgehammer through the wall that means we won't have these people out of our house until nearly Christmas, now), I haven't. I have composed pointed, detailed emails to people in authority outlining the series of errors that have been made. I have had phone conversations where I respectfully demanded that someone take some accountability and try to see my perspective.  I have made it clear that I will never again employ most of these people, nor will I recommend them to anyone. But I have not raised my voice, threatened, thrown anything or called anyone a name other than the one their parents gave them.  I have tried to facilitate progress and see this situation for what it is - a sad mixture of communication errors (systemic in at least one of the companies, and not something I can ever hope to effect) and lack of accountability.  And in the end, the majority of folks to whom I have spoken about my frustration are happy to bend over backwards to do what I ask them to do now. I still have no hope of having them all out of my house anytime soon, but even as many of my friends and family say I ought to be unleashing rage upon them all, I find that I can't do it. Somewhere along the way, that warm feeling I got from being angry turned to mush and now it feels dirty and wrong to vilify someone else, no matter how incompetent they might be.  Maybe I've finally learned that holding on to anger and rage is harmful to myself more than anyone else. Maybe I know better now that everyone is human. Maybe this is the result of learning not to take anything personally (thanks, Eve, for beating me over the head with that lesson - nothing better than a teenage daughter to bring that one home).  I don't know, but I will say it's easier to have perspective from the clear sight of exhaustion than it is through the fog of rage.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Maybe I Can Learn Some New Tricks...


"Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance." Brene Brown

Whoa.
Wow.
Oh.    Yeah.

We all want to belong. It is a basic human necessity to be part of something bigger than ourselves, even if it's just a social group. We are wired to seek out others with whom to collaborate and communicate and once we have done that, we want to contribute.  But it's hard to do that when we don't feel like we are worthy of being a part of that group, even if we are good at faking it, because on some level, we can never let go and fully participate in that fully-immersed way that comes from NOT worrying about our performance or how others see us.

I have always had a bit of a sticking point with this.  And while I've gotten exponentially (no, really, light years ahead of where I was) better at it, I still have a hard time inserting myself into a group or proposing my own group and inviting others. It feels skeevy to me somehow, the same way going door-to-door selling magazine subscriptions did when I was a kid. Like I'm invading your space to convince you that you need something you probably really don't and that makes me a complete asshat for taking up your time and making you feel guilty with my little-kid face at the door (especially if I'm your neighbor and every time you see me after that you'll feel bad all over again).  Like that.

I had the enormous good fortune to be handed an epiphany yesterday that is helping me re-frame how I think about my way of engaging in the world.  Building on something that Carrie's amazing astrologer told me a few months ago, Kris told me that she believes I generally only feel comfortable participating in a group when I am invited in.  She helped me to understand that this is not something to be 'fixed' or changed about me, it is simply the way I am designed.  The more I thought about it, the more sense it made to me.

I have spectacular hearing; a real champion eavesdropper.  But I would never overhear something and then ask you about it. Never.  I would also never inquire about something in your life that I feel is personal or none of my business unless you indicate to me that you want to talk about it.  I have several close friends who think nothing of probing for information, not in a mean or overbearing way, but in a genuinely caring, inquisitive way and I don't think any less of them for it, it's simply not who I am.  I always assumed that was because of the way I was raised, namely to always err on the side of being seen and not heard and that politeness is the most endearing feminine trait.

But if I look at my publishing successes this past year I see that they all were instances in which I responded to a call for submissions rather than writing something and going out to 'sell' it.

I am often shocked when I am invited to be part of a group in some sort of leadership capacity, but am much more likely to do that than I am to create a group based on my own agenda and thoughts or (gasp!) ask to join an already established group.  It is proving challenging to fight my immediate instinct that this need to be invited doesn't represent a weakness, but I'm determined to do it because I can only imagine the possibilities if I can begin to accept this as a part of who I truly am and capitalize on it.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Of Diets and Nonsense

I have written about food and food allergies off and on here over the years, but it's been a while, so I must be due for another post in that vein.

Over the years, I have had times where I felt like the bulk of my waking hours were spent engaging in activities related to food and cooking - shopping, meal-planning, meal prep and research. While I enjoy cooking a great deal, every once in a while I feel as though I have been treading water for a long time and I'm just so tired.  I feel overwhelmed by the amount of information out there about which foods are healthiest and which ones I ought to avoid.  A year or so ago when the information about arsenic in rice came out and even the FDA (who I generally don't put much stock in since I'm fairly convinced they are tucked neatly in to the pockets of many major food corporations) got on board, I was thrown. As a family of gluten-free folks, this was alarming. We eat rice a lot, especially brown rice, and brown rice is purported to contain more arsenic than white rice. Add that to the 'dirty dozen' list and the research coming out about what GMOs and livestock fed antibiotics do to us and I don't even feel like eating ever again.

As I have refined our gluten-free lifestyle, I have gradually moved from using things made with simple starches (white rice flour, potato flour, tapioca starch) to creating my own whole-grain flour blend thanks to a tip from Shauna Ahern, aka Gluten Free Girl. And last year, at the urging of my naturopath, I eliminated most of the grains from that flour and substituted seed flours such as quinoa and amaranth and nut flours instead.  Of course, the story truly begins with my naturopath who has repeatedly advised me to go on a Paleo diet. All of this came about when I started having some strange symptoms that we couldn't pinpoint. Severe PMS symptoms, aches in the muscles between my ribs, and trouble taking a deep enough breath. We finally tagged the latter symptoms (along with some left side chest pains that radiated into my armpit - SCARY!) to an excess of gas in my upper GI tract that seemed to be cyclical with my periods.  The doc did some research and discovered that there is some correlation of all of these symptoms with an imbalance of estrogen (too much) to progesterone (too little). We have known about, and treated, my progesterone deficiency for several years now, but these pains were making me nuts. I was fairly certain I was having a heart attack several times a week, despite the fact that physical exercise didn't exacerbate the symptoms and they literally disappeared for 10-14 days every month for no discernable reason.

My doctor believes that all of this is a response to my adrenal glands being stressed from food allergies and liver stress from years of food allergies and inability to process B vitamins.  She recommended I eliminate all grains, legumes, dairy and sugar from my diet.

She continues to recommend that every time I see her.

I can't do it haven't done it.

About two years ago I went off dairy for a month. It was doable, and other than losing about 10 pounds and discovering that every other kind of milk tastes nasty in my latte, nothing changed.  I was thrilled to head right back to the dairy aisle every week.

I keep hearing about the Paleo diet (and I have a few cookbooks based on it), and the TQI diet (also known as the anti-inflammation diet), and the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. I have heard the amazing stories of recovery and honestly believe them.  But there is this quiet voice in the back of my head (and a really loud one attached to Bubba) that says, "Nope." That voice also says, "everything in moderation."

That voice in my head also takes on a slightly petulant whine when it reminds me of how good I already eat. I cook 90% of our meals here at home with organic, non-GMO ingredients. I make my own flour blend and use very little sugar, instead substituting local honey. Every dinner that hits our table has a balance of protein and vegetables with a little starch in the form of rice or GF pasta or potatoes from time to time. We do not have cookies and ice cream stashed in the pantry and breakfast is generally yogurt or fruit and granola or toast with nut butter - not pastries. On the weekends, we eat more decadently, mostly because Bubba is in charge and he does love to grill or smoke red meat, but it's lean and grass-fed.  We drink lots of water, very little juice, no soda, and 2% milk with no hormones added. We love cheese in this house. Probably more than we should.  But we don't eat fast food and we don't have prepared snacks or meals with preservatives in them unless we are really in a pinch.  The kids have potato chips maybe once a month and I never do.  My biggest vice is the glass or two of red wine I have while cooking dinner several nights a week. Yup, I'm petulant. A whiny baby, "I eat better than most everyone I know, why do I have to give up dairy and beans and sugar wine, too?"

I know that comparisons are BS - everyone's body reacts differently to different things and what is good for me may not be good for someone else.  I know that I'm being a whiny baby. But I still can't bring myself to limit my diet so severely. I am worried that limiting myself to a diet that uses only nut flours to bake with or coconut oil to cook with might end up making me prone to problems with those items, simply because I have over used them.  I am also unsure whether the symptoms I am currently experiencing have more to do with the freight train called "Menopause" that is hurtling toward me than any food I might be eating.

The problem is that I can't find any answers that convince me one way or the other. My naturopath is urging me to try and see what happens, but turning my life upside-down like that for a "wait and see" outcome seems crazy right now.  The last few MDs I've seen have either told me flat out that the ND is nuts and I should just take Prilosec for the rest of my life to combat the gas symptoms and deal with the PMS because 'it's on the normal range of the spectrum' for someone my age or they have shaken their heads in confusion and ordered blood tests that show nothing.

Yesterday I ran into a friend who is embarking on the TQI diet because her doctor did it and had amazing results for her back pain.  It got me thinking again about where to go from here and I have to admit I just don't know.  I have my annual physical scheduled in three weeks with a new MD and I'm past the point of even entertaining the thought that she will find some smoking gun. I am simply hoping that she won't pooh-pooh the fact that I see a naturopath and maybe, just maybe, be willing to consult with her to see what they can come up with between the two of them. I just hope they don't add any more vitamins to the mix because the list of the ones I'm already taking is setting me back a pretty penny every month.

Is it supposed to be this hard?

Friday, November 08, 2013

Games Rich Companies Play

I was planning on writing a post today about yesterday's breakfast with Donna Brazile (and roughly 699 other people, but still...).  It was pretty amazing, especially given that I got to hang around with a few dozen other people afterwards for an hour or so to ask her questions.  Sadly, that post will have to wait because I have a little rant I'd like to go on.

As most everyone knows, Twitter went public yesterday. Now, I will be the first to admit that I know very little about the nuanced workings of an IPO or the stock market itself, and I will also tell you that I have no intention of learning the ins and outs of this convoluted financial game in this lifetime.  I will say that, although I am certain I have benefited from the knowledge of others and their investments on my behalf, I still think this game is the most ridiculously rigged American institution out there. To me, it seems like one of those high-stakes poker games that only the crazy-rich or wildly bold really profit from and the story I heard on NPR this morning only solidified that for me.

You see, even though the vernacular states that Twitter "went public" yesterday, the truth is, they went private the day before.  They sold initial shares to huge investors at $26/share on Wednesday and by the time of the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday, the shares had shot up so much that most regular investors were shut out. Not to mention the fact that most regular investors couldn't even have gotten leverage to buy a share even if it were within their price range. Most of the trading yesterday benefitted the folks who were allowed to get in at the $26 price and those who hold massive influence on the floor of the stock exchange because they have enormous client lists and lots of money to burn.  NPR talked to one Texas stockbroker who was hoping to purchase some stock for his clients, but was unable to because of the skyrocketing price.

Now, think for a minute about what happened here.  A visionary company made a boatload of money for their efforts. That's kind of cool. But more salient is the fact that lots of rich investors made themselves richer while shutting out smaller investors whose profits would likely have gone more directly back into their communities.  Even if you still believe in trickle-down economics (don't get me started - I am no economic wizard, but I have read and witnessed enough in my short lifetime to think that was all a giant scam), what are the odds that the astronomical sums of money made by these large investors yesterday will find their way down to the middle class?

To paraphrase Donna Brazile (hey, I worked in a reference to yesterday after all), if you aren't part of the group when the rules are being written, the deck is likely stacked against you. If the rules are written to benefit one group of folks and you can't add your voice to the discussion, you're never going to win. What would happen if we made it easier for smaller groups of individuals to invest in the stock market and initial public offerings? What sense does it make to keep shuffling the deck to give the money out to the same folks over and over again? I know Twitter was handsomely compensated for their hard work and innovation and I appreciate that.  But offering pre-sales of popular stocks to those who already have money is like saying the families who can afford to pay for their kids to attend private pre-schools will get first right to enrollment in the Head Start program.  I know that engagement in the stock market is not an entitlement and I am not advocating priority for anyone. It just seems ludicrous to me that there is such an uneven playing field that virtually shuts most of middle-income folks out of the game when they could be benefitting and investing in their communities with the money they make by helping to support their own families. It is disgusting to watch the ever-increasing rolls of those living in poverty whose food-stamp benefits are being cut while others are literally making money hand over fist after being allowed early purchase of IPO stock. Am I the only one who feels this way?

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Book Review of "I Am Troy Davis"

I love writing book reviews that end up prompting the author to contact me. I love it even more when it turns out the author lives in my same area.  Here is my latest book review for BookPleasures. Check it out if you are interested in nonfiction works about social justice.  Also, if anyone lives near Whidbey Island, the author, Jen Marlowe, will be speaking about the book tomorrow night. This is the link to information about that.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Do You Expect Joy?

"In a culture of deep scarcity - of never feeling safe, certain, and sure enough - joy can feel like a setup."  Brene Brown in Daring Greatly

I lived those words for most of my life.  Every time I found myself knee-deep in joy I fantasized about when someone would come pull the plug and it would all drain away.  When the girls were two and four, Bubba was traveling more often than not, struggling with an undiagnosed illness that left him hospitalized every few months, and I was scared.  I was wracked with stomach cramps and sinking deeper and deeper into depression with every passing day and I somehow felt right at home.  While I couldn't accurately predict what any one day would bring, dealing with crisis after crisis kept me busy and feeling competent. I could put out fires all day long and, while I was exhausted at night, dealing with one fire meant that I didn't have to worry when or where the next one would flare up.  If a day passed without anything falling apart, my nerves were stretched taut as I waited, hypervigilant, scanning the landscape for the slightest new flame.  I expected danger. I anticipated fear. I did what most of Brene's research subjects talked about; I lived in fear so that when something awful happened, I was already in the trench and wouldn't have to feel the pain of falling or climbing back down. It was easier to stay in the dark than to suffer the loss of light.

Or so I thought.

These days I expect joy.  Despite a very challenging summer and early fall, struggling with a major construction project that is two months behind schedule, one pet's death and a cancer diagnosis for another, and a very close call with one of our daughters, I have somehow managed to stay positive.  Instead of waking up each morning in trepidation, worried about what this day may bring, I open my eyes and seek the light.

In Daring Greatly, Brown writes about gratitude being the antidote to fear of joy. She says that people who practice counting their blessings aren't afraid to feel joy like so many others.  I believe that wholeheartedly and credit my own daily gratitude practice with helping change my perspective on life, but I think there is another step beyond gratitude that is even more powerful. If the spectrum starts on the left at fear of joy (or, as Brown says it, "foreboding joy" - that feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop the second you realize you are happy beyond measure), gratitude is nearing the other end, but I say that the far right end of the spectrum is expecting joy.

I wake up every day expecting joy. Knowing that no matter what challenge or sadness I may face today, there will also be joy. Something will happen today that will bring me pure happiness.  This is probably the single biggest thing ever to happen to me.

"Do we deserve our joy, given our inadequacies and imperfections? What about the starving children and the war-ravaged world? Who are we to be joyful?" Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

Indeed. Who am I? Why do I deserve to be joyful? I used to ask myself this question, and then, at one point, a friend pointed out to me that I certainly deserved it, given the struggles I have had in my life - from a difficult childhood to my husband's prolonged illness and beyond.  I calculated up the traumas I have faced and had to agree with her that I probably did 'deserve' joy on some level.  But this entire notion of deserving joy is something I am patently uncomfortable with.  For one thing, as a mother, I don't want my children to have to EARN their joy by enduring hardship, or worry that if they do live joyful lives, they will one day have to pay for it with trauma and unhappiness.

The fact is, there isn't some High Priestess of Joy doling out happiness according to a balance sheet she's been given about who deserves what.  Joy is out there in the world. We simply have to train ourselves to recognize it, acknowledge it, expect it.  Joy coexists with sadness, it doesn't cancel it out. When I look at my sweet puppy boy lying on his bed, feet twitching as he dreams, I feel a tenderness and an outpouring of love for him and the relationship we have and that love sits side-by-side with the knowledge that he has malignant melanoma and will die sooner than I want him to. The joy and gratitude I feel at having been so lucky to have him in my life are deepened and enhanced by the knowledge that one day soon he will not be here anymore.

We humans like things to even out. We love balance, but we also like to be ready for disaster.  The irony is, as we use our energy to prepare for calamity, we rarely prepare for joy.  We walk around searching for potholes to avoid, ready to duck if something comes flying, but very few of us spend any time practicing opening ourselves to receive or recognize opportunities for joy.  We are creating our own imbalance.  I have decided to turn that on its head and, instead, wake up every morning expecting joy, believing that, if nothing else, today I will discover at least one thing that will stop me in my tracks with wonder and awe.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Learning to Think Like Salmon

The house we lived in when Lola was born bordered a protected salmon-spawning creek. While I'm certain I had seen it on television or in a film at the science center somewhere, nothing quite prepared me for what it would be like to see spawning salmon in real time.

The creek itself was about twelve feet across and, in the summer and early fall, rarely more than five or six inches deep except for some hidden pockets.  Because this is the Pacific Northwest and we take our salmon seriously, there was a 150 foot setback on both sides of the creek that prevented anyone from altering the vegetation even slightly. Both banks were crowded with alder saplings and older maple trees, thick with Himalayan blackberry and stinging nettle and holly that choked out the Oregon grape and ferns.  Using his farmboy skills, Bubba whacked a deer path wider for us with a rusty machete handed down from his father so that we could walk out and stick our toes in the thick mud in the summer.

The first October we lived there, I smelled the creek fifty yards before I got there - the rich, sour smell of rotting fish hung in the air like fog.  Another ten yards and I could hear splashing but couldn't conjure a picture in my head of what was causing it.  Finally, I stood on a piece of plywood we had laid across two rocks on the bank to keep our shoes clean and gaped.

Hundreds and hundreds of salmon whipped their tails side to side, packed in next to each other so tightly I could have crossed the creek on their backs. The water was so shallow and these fish so large that fully two or more inches of their bodies protruded above the creek.  Water sprayed in wide arcs as they frantically pulsed their tail fins to push forward, upstream. Their heads were silvery-grey and their bodies flashed red-orange in the daylight.  When I scanned the sides of the creek I saw dozens that had given up the fight and lay dying or dead on the banks.  There were a few who had found refuge behind fallen branches, in pockets of deeper water, where they hung out resting before they forged ahead again and I nearly wept in recognition of their fatigue.

There have been times in my life when I was that fish - the one taking a quick breather before heading back into the fray, barely holding on to breath but knowing that there was no going back, if only because there were others behind me that were plowing ahead and I would get in their way.  And I have wished for the world to stop for a bit, for the flow of the creek to hit pause so that I could breathe without quickening my pulse, without watching the clock, without steeling myself for the rest of the journey.

In a dream the other night, I had a change of perspective.  Instead of being on the outside looking at that fish and empathizing, I was the fish. I was surprised to discover that, instead of dreading what was to come, hanging out in the cool, deep water, I was anxious to continue on.  Instead of focusing on the fatigue of swimming upstream against the current, I was excited for the journey towards something, and I felt the solidarity of all my fellow fish in the water. We were all swimming with purpose, certain of where we were going and why, clear in the knowledge that it was bigger than all of us.

The phrase "like a salmon swimming upstream" is forever changed in my mind.  And as long as I don't linger too long on the fact that the salmon all die shortly after completing this journey, when I begin to feel too tired to go on, I can remind myself that I am moving in the direction of something important and kindle the excitement instead of giving in to exhaustion.

Monday, October 14, 2013

There's More Than One Way to Skin a Law

Since Blogger won't let me edit the "My Other Work" part of the sidebar for some strange reason, I thought I'd post a link to my latest 'outside' work here for those who haven't already seen it. I am thrilled to have been featured on the top of the front page of The Feminist Wire this weekend.

Here it is!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Girls and Leadership: Are We Asking the Right Questions?

Over the last few years I have been lucky enough to be involved with an amazing organization called the Women's Funding Alliance. My first real awareness of them came at their annual fundraising breakfast and sparked a series of blog posts that started with this, which you may remember.

Last night they sponsored a Town Hall event that focused on the idea of what it means to be a girl in this day and age.  Four speakers with varied backgrounds and perspectives came to talk for eight minutes each about their notions of what it means to be a girl now and why it is so important that we acknowledge and address the challenges they face.  A robust Q&A session followed and I found myself nodding my head and taking deep breaths and, in a couple of instances, rubbing the goosebumps on my arms that arose in response to a particularly revelatory comment.

This event came hot on the heels of last week's screening of Raising Ms. President, a documentary about the dearth of female political leaders in this country.  Eve and Lola both attended the movie with me and we had an illuminating discussion about it on the car ride home.

There is a lot of talk in the "women and girls movement" about leadership and I wholeheartedly believe that for many girls, it is important to see someone who looks like them in influential roles, if only so that they can begin to imagine themselves there and give themselves permission to shoot for the stars without apology.  Eve and Lola attend a school whose mission, in part, is to create female leaders.

That said, perhaps the most dramatic moment of last night's event for me was when Erin Jones, a mother, teacher, and internationally recognized educational activist said (and I'm paraphrasing, I didn't write down her exact words, unfortunately),
We are all leaders in our own way. Leadership isn't connected to titles. We are all teachers. As long as we are all being our best selves, we are leaders and have the capacity to effect change.
Oh.
Yeah.
I don't have to have a Ph.D. in order to be a leader.
I don't have to have "CEO" in my job title to be a leader.
In order to make the world a better place, my daughters don't have to aspire to be President. Of anything.

We are all teachers because we are all learning, all the time.  We learn by watching the people around us, by listening to them, by observing how they make their way through the world.  So long as we are clear on our own values and are being our best selves, we are leaders. Even if it seems like nobody is following.

In that paradigm, we do not have to teach our girls to grab power, to "lean in" to the power structure that currently exists.  Power and influence are not external, finite resources. They exist within us all and it is merely a matter of reframing that allows us to begin to understand what our own unique power is. Often, it takes a little convincing to help another person recognize their gifts and honor them, to give themselves permission to use them.  Acknowledging that we are all allowed to be leaders, called to be leaders in our own right turns everything upside-down.

In that paradigm, the most important thing we can do for girls is to nurture them and give them the encouragement to protect and grow their own passions and ideas about the world.  One of the other speakers, Nan Stoops, the director of the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, gave us all an idea of how to do that.  She referenced a TED talk where the speaker, Adrian Penza, illustrates the idea of "exponential growth" by talking about folding a piece of paper in half over and over again.  After 42 folds, the paper is tall enough to reach from the surface of the Earth to the moon.  At 43, it is tall enough to reach to the moon and back.  What does this have to do with nurturing girls?  Simple. If we imagine each message of support to a girl as a 'fold,' think about the effect we could have by doing that 42 times or more.

I was lucky enough, during a difficult time in my adolescent life, to have someone who did that for me. My father's second wife was consistently in my corner. She was always available to listen and offer her perspective to me, to build me up when I was feeling unsure of myself, and to assure me that I was capable of doing the things I most wanted to do.  After a while, I started to believe her. She helped me excavate the passion and power I had buried under layers of conformity and cultural expectations so that I could begin to make my way through the world with pride and confidence.

While it is certainly important for our girls to feel as though they have the same opportunities and rights to be leaders in the boardroom and the capitol building, it is also vital that we teach them about other kinds of leadership. If we become a society who buys in to the notion that there are only a finite number of spots available for these traditional 'leaders,' we are denying the talents and gifts of everyone else. I think that we need to spend time on the message that we are all leaders whether we know it or not.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Why Gardasil Makes Me Nauseous

When I took the girls for their annual back-to-school physicals in August, it was to a new doctor. The pediatrician they grew up with had a few strikes against him including the fact that he is male and my girls are getting to an age where that feels weird.  He is also a professor at the local medical school which means his hours are limited in the clinic.  I did a little research, as much as is possible online, to find a new doctor who might be more open to my parenting methods (ie. not mocking me for keeping my kids gluten free despite the fact that neither of them has Celiac disease, not prescribing antibiotics for every single thing, not pressing me on the chickenpox or HPV vaccines).

The girls both really liked this new doctor, but at the end of Lola's visit, she still pulled out the state's printout of their current vaccinations and pointed out that they are both missing the chickenpox and HPV vaccines.  I told her I wasn't comfortable giving either of them those vaccines and she implored me to rethink it, telling me that she feels like they are both perfectly safe.  I didn't have the balls or the time to ask where she formed that opinion.

I have since read more and more about the HPV vaccine (namely, Gardasil) that scares the crap out of me.  In the interest of paraphrasing for those of you who don't wish to read the clinical studies or spend nearly an hour watching the YouTube video below, let me share what I've learned thus far.  And, in the interest of full disclosure, I am NOT a physician or a clinical researcher, but I did graduate college with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry and spent eight years as a medical/surgical assistant in various settings.  I feel pretty confident in my ability to dissect a medical study.  Here goes:


  • The HPV vaccine was created based on the premise that the human papilloma virus is responsible for some cervical cancers.  It is also touted as an effective way to prevent infection by HPV in the first place. However, fully 70% of HPV infections resolve themselves without ANY treatment in the first year. That number climbs to 90% after two years. As a good friend of mine says, there is nothing stronger than a human's own immune system.  So, of the 10% of HPV infections that persist after two years, less than half of them are present in cancer of the cervix.

  • There are 104 different strains of HPV. Some studies say that four of them are correlated with cervical cancer, others say three. The Gardasil vaccine is designed to guard against two of those strains.  It seems unlikely that the rate of prevention of cervical cancer is high enough in those two instances to warrant vaccinating everyone over the age of 9.

  • Pap smears are responsible for the vast majority of cervical cancer diagnoses in the world and cervical cancer is one of the least fatal cancers around, considering it's ease of treatment. In addition, HPV is not considered to be the sole cause of cervical cancer and it is unknown whether it works in concert with other factors.

  • The current death rate in the United States from cervical cancer is between 1.5 and 4 per 100,000. A physician who works for Merck (the company that created Gardasil) admitted that the rate of reported side effects from the vaccine is higher than the rate of cervical cancer. Please keep in mind that for a side effect to be considered "adverse" it has to result in significant illness or disability or death, generally after an ER visit. So those kinds of effects are MORE LIKELY to occur than the CANCER ITSELF.
  •  As if that isn't enough, here's another shocker: rates of adverse vaccine effects are based on a ratio of the number of reported adverse effects to the number of vaccines distributed from the manufacturer. Wait for it...that means that they are completely disregarding the number of vaccinations that are actually given. There are vast numbers of vaccines that are thrown out every day in this country thanks to expiration dates or power failures or damaged packaging. That means that the ratio of REPORTED adverse effects is actually much higher than reported by the drug companies because they are not counting those vaccines that are discarded. Even higher than that, because according to the American Journal of Public Health (and some common sense thinking), the vast majority of adverse effects are never even reported.


And speaking of 'adverse effects,' the YouTube video embedded here *(for some reason, the link doesn't show up in the post, despite showing up in my HTML version, so here is the URL in case you're interested) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CoWUSuGCo-I  details the lack of interest by Merck or regulating bodies in the effects Gardasil may be having on fertility rates in girls. There have been many reported incidences of girls receiving this vaccine and going into menopause. Yes, you read that correctly, their ovaries stop working.  And because this vaccine is being pushed to girls as young as 9 in the US, we don't even have information on their menstrual periods because most of them haven't started yet, and they may never reach menarche because of this vaccine.

I could go on, but I suspect your eyes are glazing over right about now.  There are two reports here and here that cite scientific studies and explain a great deal of what I find frightening about Gardasil. One caveat: I do not necessarily agree with all of the rhetoric accompanying the facts in these two sources.  One is adamantly 'pro-life' and goes at it from the viewpoint of the sanctity of life and abstinence teachings and the other one is very adamantly anti-vaccine. That said, both back up their arguments with solid, scientific fact and easily reproducible information.  If you have an extra 48 minutes and feel the need to investigate for yourself, I recommend the video as the doctor who presents it did a great deal of research and is very careful to show her process throughout. I have no reason to believe that she is anything but concerned about the safety of this vaccine. I know I am.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

It's the Ripples, Stupid!

I don't work for the federal government.
My husband doesn't work for the federal government.
We don't need federal assistance to help us feed ourselves and our children.
We don't need federal assistance to get medical care or housing.

And yet.

My mom, who has been a real estate agent for most of her adult life, told me last night that she is worried about the government shutdown and the effect it will have on her because most of her transactions in the past three years have been short sales. The paperwork is endless and labyrinthine and often refused for some small technicality and the banks who handle these sales rely on government workers to approve them.

I heard a story yesterday about a man who owns and runs a hot dog cart near the capitol building in Washington, DC where he expressed his fears about a long-term shutdown. He is a hard-working individual who relies on foot traffic to make his living and there is none these days. Tourists can't visit closed buildings and monuments. Government workers who walk past him daily aren't coming to the office right now.

These are the ripples. And the thing that occurs to me is the larger lesson here. You can't have ripples without connection. Without interdependence. Without commonality.

Very few of us in this country live Unabomber-style, off the grid, isolated, without any human contact. The rest of us rely on each other in ways big and small and, whether we like it or not, we are all connected. That is what I worry we are forgetting.

What is bad for one of us is bad for all of us. The good news is that the opposite is true as well. What is good for one of us is good for all of us. A rising tide lifts all boats. We all benefit when one of us benefits.

Of course, the truth of that hinges on the word 'us,' and our ability to embrace it.  It is hard for me to think about what is good for Ted Cruz being good for me, but the fact is, I don't think he is buying in to the notion of 'us' as a large collective, an entire, inclusive human race. I interpret his rhetoric to be inclusive of only those individuals he deems 'worthy' by his own standards (I won't attempt to say what I think those standards might be).

The basis for taxation is collective. Everyone buys in so everyone can benefit.
The basis of the new Affordable Care Act is collective. Everyone buys in so everyone can benefit. The healthier we are as a nation, the more we can help each other. It makes no sense to exclude entire swaths of our population from services and options that can help them because in the end we are hurting ourselves.

I don't know about you, but I have no interest in accounting for who gets what. I simply want to live in a world where collective humanity is a given, where we all support each others' endeavors (and right) to get what we need to thrive because that is how we all ultimately thrive.  There is no such thing as exclusion. If there were, there wouldn't be ripples. No matter how much anyone might want to deny it, we are all connected. We all feel the effects. We have to step outside of this artificial notion of Individuality. Yes, we are all unique individuals with strengths and talents and potential. But we are also possessed of desires and needs that we cannot fulfill alone and it is only through coming together with others, supporting everyone, that we can begin to thrive ourselves.

Monday, September 30, 2013

I'll Be a Better Mother Tomorrow

Time is my friend, and my children's friend.   The other night when I came up to tell Lola goodnight I was in a hurry. Bubba had been traveling a lot lately and we had some catching up to do on our couch-snuggling, Breaking Bad routine.  He was waiting downstairs and I was hoping for a smooch on Lola's forehead, a tug of the covers to snug her in and a quick exit. She asked me to give her a meditation. I whined.

Dude, it's late. You should have thought of that before you goofed off for 15 minutes instead of brushing your teeth and getting your pajamas on.
I want to go down and hang out with Dad. He's waiting. 
You know that if you want a meditation, you have to be in bed before 9....

Saturday night when I made the trek to Eve's room to tell her goodnight she stuck out her tongue for me. She has been fighting a chest cold for nearly two weeks now, no fever but congestion and a wet cough that she swears doesn't hurt. "It's just annoying."  She has been sidelined from her cross-country team and is anxious to feel better, so every night I plug in the humidifier and all day long I pump her full of homeopathic remedies and probiotics and hot tea.  But now something is going on with her tongue.

It's thrush, I tell her.
An overgrowth of yeast. Your immune system is wiped out from this virus and it can't compete with the yeast.

She panicked. Ran to her laptop while I set up the humidifier for the night and shooed the cat out of her bathroom and looked up thrush online. She immediately jumped to the part where it talks about spreading to your esophagus in some cases, requiring an endoscopy or x-ray to diagnose. Eve has health-anxiety that I suppose relates to how sick Bubba was when she was little - always in the hospital for something or other - and she nearly always jumps into the deep end of worst-case scenario when she doesn't feel well.

"What if I have to go to the hospital? I don't want a tube down my throat! I can't miss a ton of school and this is horrible!"

I rolled my eyes.

Seriously? You will be fine. I'll do some research tonight and figure out how to handle it. We'll tackle it tomorrow. You're not going to need an endoscopy. Good night.

In both instances I felt guilty within five minutes.
In both instances the issue was my own inability to distance myself from the discomfort of my children.

I felt Lola's stress acutely that night when she asked for a meditation and it was hard for me to be with her and hold space for it right then.   I was feeling my own stress and, ironically, the meditation would have done wonders for both of us, but I reverted back to the "suck it up" school of parenting I know so well (it having been modeled by my own parents) and walked out.

Eve's anxiety ratcheted up my own on Saturday. Not that I truly believed she was seriously ill, but to see my usually-confident and capable daughter so worried threw me off.  I used the sarcasm my father was so famous for to make her feel small and shut her up.

In both cases, the next morning brought clarity.

When Lola asks me to be present with her, to help her ground herself, the best thing I can do is reinforce that. Instead of shaming her for seeking help or telling her to do it alone, I need to embrace the opportunity to teach her that this is a powerful thing to do for herself. Never again will I dismiss her request for a meditation before bedtime.

When Eve reacts so powerfully to something I say, I need to acknowledge her feelings instead of making fun of them.  I ought to have said, "I know you're worried right now and I understand that. Is there anything I can do to help ease your fears?"

I am so sorry that I treated my girls like this and I know I've done it many times before.  I can only hope that from now on, I take a moment to remember what that night of sleep brought to me in terms of understanding how to support my children when they are asking for help, even if it doesn't seem like a convenient time for me.


Friday, September 20, 2013

What Kind of World Do You Want to Live in?

Last night I had the incredible good fortune to spend the evening with a group of dynamic, passionate, clever individuals. Most of them I have never met before, but we all share one vital quality. We all want to live in a world rooted in humanity, honesty, compassion and a shared sense of fulfillment and we are all willing to begin acting as though we do in order to effect that change.

There were writers and engineers, human resource experts and folks who fund and support start-ups and one individual passionately committed to restorative justice. There were men and women of all ages, most of us parents, each one of us visionary in our quest to find new ways to connect individuals and groups in ways that are authentic and meaningful and based in respect and caring for one another.  It was not a fund-raiser. It was not a sales pitch or a cult initiation.  It was simply a group of people coming together over a delicious meal to talk about how we can begin to realize the dream of living in a different kind of world.

We were challenged at the beginning to be as honest as we could about who we are, what we want, and how we make our way through the world. To be hyperaware of how we talk about our own lives. I was reminded several times throughout the evening of three books that have had an incredible impact on me and whose fundamental lessons I have to remind myself of often:

Don Miguel Ruiz's The Four Agreements,
Brene Brown's Daring Greatly,
and
David Whyte's The Three Marriages.

I dreamt about some of the conversations we had overnight and as I head out to a weekend without my laptop, I am certain the notebook I am bringing along with me will be well-used, filled with lines of inspiration and epiphanies sparked by this amazing gathering of people.  The ripples from this night will continue for days and weeks to come and I am so energized, so grateful to have been introduced to this movement that will change forever how I view my place in the world.  There is something so powerful about being reminded that people crave connection and community that rewards them for being exactly who they are, that being an 'idealist' is not a bad thing, that it may one day change the way we all live for the better.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Post-Traumatic Processing

One of my favorite words is "friable." It is a word I learned when I was working as a surgical assistant and it made an enormous impression on me for two reasons. First, it was accompanied by a visual cue. Second, it sounded to me like what it meant.

friable - adj. easily crumbled or reduced to powder; crumbly

Tumors or masses that were easy to remove from the surrounding tissue were either fluid-filled cysts or other dense collections of cells. But occasionally we would encounter a mass that, when you grabbed it with the forceps to hold it away from the surrounding tissue - to cut it away - little pieces would break off in the tips over and over again. It wasn't that it was tightly adhered to its location in the body, but that it was fragile and easily broken and it was often challenging to be sure that we removed all of the mass because you couldn't get it out all in one piece.

Today I feel friable. Not fragile, like glass that will shatter if dropped, but friable, as though if I am pulled on, small fragments will begin to fall off. It is the aftermath of how I felt yesterday which I am not sure there is a word for.

Yesterday afternoon for a few hours I felt very clear. If I were a fiction writer, a novelist who writes about space travel or psychological thrillers, I could use how I felt to form a compelling scene. It is that feeling you don't get often that immediately follows the diversion of a major catastrophe. Similar to the adrenaline rush you get after narrowly missing another car on the road or barely righting your bicycle when you skid on a patch of wet gravel, but more profound. It is the calm after the initial heart palpitations in which you have a sort of tunnel vision, a clear, calm certainty that you have just done something very important, something that very definitively prevented a horrible set of events from being put into motion. A floating sort of feeling in which the parts of your life that are trivial literally fall away and you are left with a clarity that brings into focus every scent in the air, the dappled color of the leaves on every tree in your path, and each inhale and exhale that fills your cells with oxygen.

Yesterday as the dog and I walked through the neighborhood, I reveled in that feeling. In fact, I bathed in it. I had no other feelings. I harbored no anger toward the person whose heinous actions I prevented. I retained none of the abject fear I had possessed mere hours before, sobbing ugly, ugly tears at what we might have lost. I felt only clarity. I was yet hours from feeling gratitude for the way things worked out, and even farther from today when I simply feel friable.

As I have busied myself in the hours after the girls left for school, making phone calls and paying bills and baking blueberry muffins for the week's breakfasts, I have felt competent and calm with an underlying sense of this crumbling, a sort of detached knowledge that if I am put under any kind of pressure, I may fall to bits.

*I know this is cryptic, but because of the particulars of the story and those involved, I do not feel at liberty to share the details. I did, however, feel the desperate need to share how it made me feel, if only to write the words down and get them out of my head.

Friday, September 13, 2013

And That's All it Took


The other day on the plane a woman sat down next to me and began eating a McDonald’s cheeseburger. I don’t know how many years it has been since I had one of those; at least 25? But at the mere scent of it, I could picture the translucent rice-sized onion pieces scattered across the red-stained bun, feel the texture of the plasticky American cheese slice on the roof of my mouth. Saliva flooded my cheeks to meet the saltiness of the patty and I recalled perfectly the way it first resisted my teeth and then broke apart all of a sudden, yielding to the pressure. I remembered precisely how the bun felt soft and warm against my lips as I bit down, the slight sweetness of the ketchup and the bite of the yellow mustard. The feel of the yellow wrapper folded back and brushing against the tip of my nose was visceral, as if I were eating the cheeseburger myself and not the woman next to me. As if there were no greater reward in life than to tuck into a fast food icon like the hockey-puck-size McDonald’s cheeseburger. As if it wouldn’t send my stomach into spasms and my immune system into red alert, fully guaranteeing my near-permanent residence atop a toilet seat for most of the next 72 hours. I am certain I ate my share of these little beauties as a kid and I know full well how toxic they are to me as an adult. And yet, this remains one of the single most volatile and crystal-clear food memories I have. One that requires only a scant whiff of it as a stranger on an airplane unwraps it to send my mind and body reeling into a vortex of pleasant sensations. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Lancet, Worldwide Rape Prevalence, and Raising Confident Children

There is a certain false sense of security that comes with having my daughters in an all-girls middle school. There is a modicum of relief that washes over me when I hear other parents talking about the flirtatious interactions and attractions, both clandestine and overt, that their children experience daily, hourly, continuously.  My girls get to go to school and not have to endure 'accidental' jostling or groping from the boy whose locker is adjacent to theirs. They are not awash in titillating situations between or during classes.

But, like I said, this is a false sense of security. Because the fact is, both of my girls identify as heterosexual at this point and both are attracted to boys - both the celebrity variety and those they know peripherally.  And while they may not see boys on a daily basis at school, they know boys and interact with boys over text and Skype and email and Facebook and I have recently begun wondering how these non-personal encounters will ultimately affect their comfort level with boys in the actual flesh.  This, of course, leads me to wonder how boys and girls learn to communicate with each other in general (and not on a sibling-level which is vastly different than both friend and partner interactions).  Should we be talking to our kids about how they present themselves, talk about themselves, assert themselves in person with someone they might be physically attracted to?  I think so.

Yesterday The Lancet published a study they conducted on the prevalence of rape, specifically, "Prevalence of and factors associated with non-partner rape perpetration: findings from the UN Multi-country Cross-sectional Study on Men and Violence in Asia and the Pacific." (Yeah, I know - it's a mouthful.)  I was blown away by what they found.  If you wish to examine the study and attendant findings, it is here. If not, I will attempt to accurately paraphrase the portions that shocked me to the core.

First of all, in surveying these men, ages 18-49, they did not use the word "rape." Rather, they described circumstances that are most definitely qualified as rape and asked whether the men had engaged in any of these actions. One example was to ask whether the respondent had ever "forced a woman who was not your wife or girlfriend at the time to have sex” or “had sex with a woman who was too drunk or drugged to indicate whether she wanted it." The numbers were staggeringly high.

In New Guinea, more than 26% of men self-reported having raped (by the above definitions) at least one woman. This ranged down to the lowest percentage of men (2.6%) in rural Bangladesh, but the numbers on repeated or multiple incidents was frightening as well.  There were no countries in this study where the sample did not contain at least one percent of respondents who had raped multiple women.  The table of results is here and includes data on men raping other men.

In nearly every country, 50% of the perpetrators committed their first rape prior to the age of 19, China being the exception.  My heart stopped when I saw that statistic.

This from the study itself: "All men who had raped were asked if they agreed or disagreed (on a four-point Likert scale) with a set of statements about why they did it. The statements expressed sexual entitlement (or the belief that if a man wants sex he has a right to have it, irrespective of the woman's views: “I wanted her”, “I wanted to have sex”, or “I wanted to show I could do it”); entertainment seeking (“I wanted to have fun” or “I was bored”); anger or punishment (“I wanted to punish her” or “I was angry with her”); and drinking (“I had been drinking”).

And this, folks, is why I think it is vitally important that we talk to our children about the way they interact with the opposite sex. I will grant that this study did not take place in the United States and there were some correlations with violent conflicts (civil wars) and men's attitudes towards women (a similar study in South Africa shows that nearly 28% of men admit to multiple rapes of non-partner women), but I wonder how much different the answers might be in our country.  When interactions of a personal nature are increasingly less personal (sexting, Skype 'sex,' etc.), how can we truly appreciate physical cues and tone of voice? When girls are objectified by the media (think: "Toddlers and Tiaras," "Dance Moms," any magazine advertisement for clothing or perfume or accessories in your local hair salon) and boys absorb those messages whether or not they mean to, how do we learn to talk to each other about ourselves in an authentic, meaningful way? How do we begin to have honest conversations about who we really are and how we deserve to be treated?

I don't claim to have the answers, but I am certainly going to begin encouraging my girls to find ways to be in casual social situations with boys where they can practice simply being who they are. I imagine it will be an education for them as well as the boys they are around and I can only hope it will build their confidence to the point where they look beyond stereotypes of what a boy 'ought' to be like to the person inside as well as letting their true personalities emerge.

God help me.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Scarcity and Gratitude

Enough.
The first day of school can't come soon enough.
There isn't enough time to get everything done before I leave for a long weekend.
I didn't get enough sleep last night.
I don't have enough clarity about CB's cancer diagnosis.

These are the thoughts that run through my head and body like cars on the expressway, zipping and zooming past each other, weaving in and out, their red lights illuminating the night as I watch them retreat.  These are the thoughts that create a tightness in my jaw and shrink the spaces between my vertebrae as I wilt beneath their weight.

These are the thoughts of scarcity.
These are complete bullshit.

As I sit here with the dog's warm chin straddling my feet, I sit up a little taller.  There is more than enough. It took me a long time (40 years or so) to recognize the fallacy of 'not enough,' and my own tendency to see things through that lens, but I'm working on it.  Truthfully, when it comes to the things that really matter, there is plenty.

There is so much love that surrounds me if I just choose to stop and see it.
There is as much time as there ever has been and if I am deliberate and thoughtful about how I spend it, I have more than enough to accomplish the things I truly care about.
There is creativity and cleverness in my children, my husband, the laborers working on my house to help us realize the vision of a relaxed gathering place for friends and family.
There are so many avenues open to me at any given moment and when I shift my gaze from scarcity to possibility, I am overwhelmed.

My spine lengthens. My lungs fill up a bit more. I can bask in the warmth of enough. Scarcity is a trap, a construction of my own mind. It is borne of comparison, a thing I already know is toxic, and the most insidious part of it is the assumption that chasing more and living in dissatisfaction will eventually get me to enough, or to the enemy of happiness - perfect.

The truth is, I am already there, so long as I choose a place of acknowledgment and gratitude. When I opt to look at how full my life is, brimming with love and connection and opportunities to learn and grow, I feel an embarrassment of riches.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Runaway Emotion

I sit in the front seat of the car outside the vet clinic where I just dropped my baby boy off for xrays to rule out metastatic melanoma.
I feel the prickling behind my eyes and recognize it as fear. One step farther down the path from pain.
And I wonder, what if I stop at honoring the feeling and don't go so far as to name it?
What if I sit with this ache behind my eyes,
the heaviness in my chest?
Just sit.
How do I arrive at this point and not give in to the inertia that pushes me forward to the next?
The questions.
What if...?
How do I...?
Stop.
I recognize my own tendency toward forward motion. Moving always. Through,
or past.
Even if it means moving into fear, panic, anxiety.
What will I do without this lovely boy?
The question flits into being.
I let it go.
Don't move past,
through,
away.
Sit with this moment in honor of my boy. This moment is all there is. It won't last forever but the least I can do is feel it while it's here and give it space.
And as I sit and breathe, floating in this moment, I discover a place of okay has opened up to me, offered itself, and I sit.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

My Two Cents on Miley Cyrus

Photo from AP Wire
Somehow, the topic of Miley Cyrus came up in our house a few weeks ago. Yes, before the MTV Video Music Awards and Miley's latest public appearance.

My girls are just old enough that they used to really enjoy watching "Hannah Montana" and Bubba and I used to be forced to listen to them sing her songs over and over again.  It has been a few years since that show has appeared on our television - Lola prefers 'Seinfeld' and 'The Simpsons' and Eve is a total 'Pretty Little Liars' fan - and neither of the girls owns any of Cyrus' new music that I know of.  It is, however, nearly impossible to miss the tabloid headlines and magazine photos of her with her partially-shaved, blond-dyed hair and new, much edgier look.

When we started the conversation, I encouraged the girls to say what they thought about her and both gave me some version of the statement "she isn't classy."  I have to say that I agreed, but I did manage to paraphrase this quote from her that I admired:

"People think that I was made in Burbank in the Disney building."
When Kelly Osbourne asked her about her transition from childhood to adulthood as a celebrity, she answered,

"It's called puberty....Everyone's done it from the beginning of time. I'm just doing it, so you're zooming in on it and you're fascinated by it." 
The reason I held that up for my girls to think about is because I think she has a valid point.  Some teens go through a period of major rebellion and others stay pretty much the same as they always were. Some manage to hide their testing behaviors pretty well from their parents and others don't.  Miley Cyrus ought not to be expected to stay the same innocent (if she really was that innocent - hard to know since I don't know her personally) young girl she portrayed on television any more than anyone else.  She is growing up. She is allowed to get a tattoo or shave her head or sleep with whomever she pleases, whether or not we like it.  Whether or not we find it uncomfortable to look at.

I think it is patently unfair to so closely scrutinize Miley Cyrus for daring to take some chances with her physical appearance as a young twenty-something.  She is playing with her own boundaries, something she is absolutely entitled to do so long as she isn't hurting anyone else or endangering herself in any way.  If she were anorexic or playing fast and loose with drugs and alcohol, that might be another situation, but still not one that's any of my business and I would hope that her family and close friends would step in and try to help.

Of course, when the VMAs rolled around, I was shocked at the amount of disgust and disdain shown for her performance. Granted, I didn't watch the entire thing (too busy catching up on 'Breaking Bad'), but from the description of her stripping down to flesh-colored bikini and bra and incredibly suggestive dancing with Robin Thicke, I didn't see anything that was much different than past performances from Madonna or Katy Perry or Britney Spears or even Lady Gaga.  Why the backlash against Cyrus? Is it because we all still want to see her as Hannah Montana? Are we uncomfortable with her growing up before our very eyes?  Frankly, I am far more disgusted by the lyrics to Thicke's song "Blurred Lines" and its nod to the idea that women don't actually know what they want when it comes to sex and they need men to give them guidance than I am by the idea that Miley gyrated her hips against his crotch on stage.  I've seen far worse. She was called out for grabbing her own crotch. Huh. How many male pop and hip hop stars do that almost constantly? When was the last time they were admonished for that kind of behavior?

So when the conversation came up again today and the girls had heard much of the discussion of her performance (neither of them has seen the broadcast of the VMAs), I was careful to ask for their perceptions first again.  They both felt like she was still "not very classy," but Lola pointed out that she really felt a little sad.

"She has such a good voice and it's too bad that these kinds of things take away from the attention on that."

I think she's right.  I say that, if Miley isn't hurting anyone or exploiting anyone with her behaviors, we ought to leave her alone.  She may be making some decisions that will come back to haunt her in the future, given that these photos and recordings will likely never go away, but their her choices to make and unless her actions or words are harmful to anyone else, she has every right to do what she thinks is right.  I have seen some essays discussing her 'appropriation' and 'exploitation' of black culture and I honestly don't feel like I can speak to that with any authority at all, so I'll leave that to others.  Ultimately, I wonder if a lot of the public outcry over her VMA performance has more to do with the fact that Hannah Montana isn't growing up to be the young woman many people expected her to be.  I don't think we have any right to impose our society's ideas on her simply because she was famous as a child.

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